Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I Gotta Be Me!

It is never my intention to cause offense, and yet I seem to do it fairly regularly. Sometimes I feel really bad about it and apologize at least twice as profusely as the occasion required. Other times, I feel bad that feelings were hurt, and yet I know I did the right thing and can only regret the emotional impact and not the act that brought it about. Such was the case today.

Candace Salima and I went down to a small town in Central Utah this afternoon to speak about literacy. While there, we were asked if we felt that the decline in literacy in the country is related to the way it is taught in schools. I firmly believe that it is linked, and shared the things I have experienced and learned on the subject, including the fact that schools today are not teaching reading the way they were twenty, ten, and even five years ago.

The biggest difference of opinion I have with traditional reading methods is that many people are only taught two sounds for each vowel, when there are in actuality four. When you are taught all four vowel sounds, this eliminates the need for sight words, as all words can now be sounded out. Candace shared some experiences of her own with nieces and nephews who began strugging in school as of three years ago, when the schools really began to shift to a different method of teaching.

There were a couple of retired school teachers in the audience this afternoon who had different experiences with their students and so did not agree with what I said. Although Candace and I both stressed that things have changed a lot in the last few years, after these ladies retired, I'm sorry to say that some feathers were ruffled. It's always very unfortunate when that happens.

We all approach life from different perspectives. These fine women had served their community as public school teachers and felt a measure of pride in the job they had done. I don't discount their contributions and their dedication to their jobs, not one bit. I, however, have tutored children who were unable to read using the method taught them in school and were frustrated with the whole process. When I taught them using phonics, and with all four vowel sounds, lights went off in their heads and they were finally able to comprehend what had eluded them for so long.

The fact of the matter is that current methods of teaching a child to read are not as effective as the methods that were used years ago. If they were, why is our illiteracy rate as high as it is?

I'm sorry I caused offense to the wonderful ladies we spoke to today. Again, it's never my intention. But I gotta be me, and it's my honest, sincere and educated opinion that the public schools are not teaching reading the way it needs to be taught. I speak about the need for proper phonics at every opportunity and will continue to do so. Reading is a powerful gift and it needs to be delivered properly in order to do the most good to the recipient.


Candace Salima (LDS Nora Roberts) said...

Gotta love it. We can only do what we do. Let's face it, the truth hurts!

Traci Hunter Abramson said...

When things like this happen, you have to remember that some people only listen to the first few words you say and then close their minds to everything else that follows. I'm sorry that some teachers (or former teachers) didn't agree with you, but the truth is that even from one classroom to another things are taught differently. These days, the best teachers are often the ones who ignore the methods of the day and stick with what works. After all, the kids are the most important thing, not the politics!

Josi said...

I don't know much about teaching methods, but I thought there were much lower illiteracy rates today than there was twenty years ago? My kids picked up reading and phonics really well with the new programs--and it's nothing to do with me because I'm horrible at even reading with them. I think different kids have different strengths, as to teachers and teaching methods. Sorry for the ruffling of feathers. That's never a fun thing to be in the middle of.

Cheri J. Crane said...

I agree, Tristi, it's important to be ourselves. This inclination often gets me in trouble. ;) I once spoke to a writer's guild in Utah. When asked by a high school teacher if I used an outline while writing each book, I truthfully answered in the negative. It took a long time to peel off all of that tar, not to mention the feathers, but I bravely stood my ground.

Jen said...

This is long, sorry...

Paul works with some of the top reading researchers in the country and the pendulum that goes back & forth between phonics & sight words is heading back toward sight words pretty swiftly. The research & results are pretty compelling-Sight word reading is much more successful when its taught right. The problem is few teachers know how to teach sight word reading correctly, nor do they know how to assess whether they are doing it correctly or whether the kids are working at their correct level. Since they are unsuccessful (because they don't know how,) that is when the pendulum goes back to phonics.
The biggest problems I see in the way reading is taught in the public schools are that

1-There aren't enough repetitions of words given to children before they are expected to be mastered. A child without a learning disability needs to read a word a minimum of 50 times to have it mastered. Children with learning disabilities need at least twice that. Most have much less than they need before teachers expect mastery, because teachers are expecting kids to be able to sound it out if they don't know it, rather than actually teaching the words to children.

Being able to sound out a word based on knowing the sounds takes too much time for adequate comprehension to happen and you end up with children who can sound out & "read" a passage "fluently" without having any idea what they just read.

2-too many new words are introduced at once (because kids are expected to sound them out & comprehend at the same time) so most kids are reading not at their instructional level, but at their frustrational level. Instructional level is being able to read a passage with 93-97% accuracy. Very few teachers measure this with their kids or know how to help a child who is struggling reach instructional level to comprehend a passage. This can be done in a matter of minutes or seconds for an entire class at once, but again the teachers lack training in how to do it.

Most kids in school are expected to read & answer questions about a passage they are only 80% accurate in reading. I've seen passages written to demonstrate this to adults with 20% nonsense words thrown in and its impossible to tell what they are saying. Bring it down to only 7% nonsense words and you get the gist of the story.

If children have mastered 93-97% of the words, then sounding out comes into play, and comprehension can come from context clues. If you get below 93%, expecting kids to sound out unknowns is a recipe for confusion.

Paul taught techniques based on these principles to a handful of teachers in our last school district and Special Ed rates in the entire district dropped by 6%.

I absolutely agree that teachers need more training in how children learn best, and success and literacy will go way up. We certainly need more quality instruction in the public schools.

W.L. Elliott said...

I'm SO with you! Education today is sadly lacking in every way! I have no intention of sending my children to public school.

It's gotten so bad in Oregon that high schools in that state no longer offer diplomas - now it's a CIM/CAM. (pronounced Cheap Replacement) Supposedly it is such a wonderful program that it would be nationwide by 2001. Strangely enough, six years later, no other state has ever heard of it! All three of my nephews struggled through the CIM/CAM program, barely graduating because they were let down by the lack of structured curriculum and lousy standards in public education.

So yeah, I'm not the one to go to if you want good reports of public schools! I'm sorry if that is offensive to anyone, but if enough of us speak out, maybe the powers that be will get the message. To say less would be dishonest, and a disservice to our youth.

Jen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachelle said...

Tristi, I agree with you and confess that I am worried sick about the school systems in general. It's hard to say too much around my family because my FIL taught HS English for over 30 years and did a wonderful job. But it's all of the new fancy-schmancy teaching ideas that are getting us off track.
I went through the public school system and did just fine (was bored out of my gourd many times and caused mischief too)but I'm concerned about the teaching methods that are being embraced today. My oldest is 4 and I am doing a group preschool for her this year--it's wonderful.
When I substitute taught for over 2 years in the school district, I was appalled at the amount of "busy" work that goes on instead of creative learning!
Obviously, this is a subject of interest for me and I'd love to hear more. Post for us again. Thanks!

Karlene said...

So tell me about this 4-sound per vowel version of phonics. How do I find info about it?

Karlene said...

So what is this 4-sound per vowel reading program and how do I find out more about it?

Annette Lyon said...

That too bad, Tristi. Way to keep your head up.

Interesting I learned from LuAnn Staheli (30-yr veteran of the classroom and counting) is that no one method works for all students. Some kids CAN'T learn w/ phonics. If memory serves, no method will work for more than 25% of students, so you have to mix it up in the classroom and hope you're hitting everyone.

Whether all teachers do that is another story. But I've been very pleased w/ my kids' school.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Jen, of course I published it! I want to hear everyone's experiences, even if they are different from mine. How else are we going to expand our horizons if we don't share experiences? (and as if I would ever not publish one of your comments!)

Karlene, I'm going to write a blog about it a little later today.

Annette, with this phonics method of which I speak (and will later be blogging) there has been a much higher than 25% success rate with it -- that's why I'm such an advocate for it. I will be sharing more about that a little later. I have never found look-say and sight words to be an effective way to teach reading in all the tutoring I've done. This is not to say that I devalue anyone else's experiences, it's just to say that mine have been vastly different.

Okay, I'm dashing out the door -- but I will go into more detail later.

Stephanie Humphreys said...

I think we are lucky in Canada to have a very good school system. My three children learned to read with varying levels of success. But,now they are all readers and love books. The thing I have noticed is that the spelling is terrible now. One teacher told me that he didn't really focus on spelling, figuring it would come with time. By the end of the first semester, he changed his mind because we had a whole grade of sixth graders who couldn't spell.

For those of you who home school, I totally admire you. I don't think I could do it in a million years. I don't have enough patience and I sure like having the house to myself. I sometimes "threaten" to bring my kids home and start home-schooling, but they protest loudly. They love school. (What a relief...I don't know what I would do if they took me seriously).

Jen said...

LOL Tristi-I just meant if you wanted your comment train to be more along the lines of your post (about being yourself even in the face of opposition) and less along the lines of what I think about teaching reading in a 3-page long tangent. :D

Tristi Pinkston said...

Jen, I'll take any comments that don't call my children ugly or call me names. Three pages or not!

Mandi said...

I'm a school teacher by occupation as well, and one thing I have learned is that there is no perfect system, and part of the job of being a teacher is looking for ways to improve in every aspect. I think people need to speak their opinion and experiences more often, as long as they are criticizing the system and not the people. Since you were obviously trying to improve the former, and were quite respectful of the latter, it is to bad that feathers were ruffled. I'm glad that you are striving to be honest and make a difference.

Lynne said...

Not having had children in elementary school for many, many years, I'm not sure about the teaching methods used presently. I do have my granddaughter, who is a senior, and from what she tells me (which I take with a grain of salt), her teachers don't teach. They simply tell the students to read a chapter then test them on it at a later date. No discussions, no lectures - just read it yourself. Maybe by high school, the teachers feel they don't need to "teach" any more. I'm speaking only of Shelby's high school teachers - and her impressions. Which may be way off base.

Tristi - I applaud you for speaking your mind, even if it might have offended some others. You are certainly entitled to your own opinions.

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