LALIT member Lindsey Collen has written a short guide on “What is a Reader?” for the Federation of Pre-School Playgroups, who will in turn circulate it with the set of 6 “readers” Playgroups have recently launched. This way parents whose children will be taking Kreol as a subject next year in Standard One will have a guide as to what a “reader” is for, and how it works, and to the massive help that the mother-tongue is in acquiring literacy. LALIT members have for long known that the children of LALIT members do very well at school, no matter how under-privileged or under-literate their parents are, and we attribute this to their exposure to the booklets produced by Playgroups and LPT in the mother tongues, often given as presents, and then to the slightly older children, from about 8 or 9 years old, very quickly starting to read leaflets and books in their own language, just because the literature is around the house. Lindsey Collen is also an experienced adult literacy teacher, and has a wealth of technical knowledge on the acquisition of reading skills. Here is her outline of “What is a Reader?”, which is available in bilingual form, Kreol and English.
WHAT IS A READER?
A child will now, for the first time, find out what a reader is. In the past, the confusion as to teaching a second language while introducing a child to literacy has meant that no child ever really had a “reader” at all. The suffering caused by this confusion is now beginning to end – for those children who have chosen Mauritian Kreol for Std I.
A reader is the first book that a child confronts with the intention to learn to read from it. It is no longer a case of the child listening to a story that is being read to them, and, even if on a parent’s lap, not following the hieroglyphics on the page. Nor is it a case of a child paging through a book, looking at the pictures, however much he or she may have been able to interpret the pictures. Now the child is concentrating on the squiggles we call writing, printed on the page, for the first time, and finding out what speech sound they signify, while simultaneously understanding what is being transmitted.
Purpose of a reader
So, the first thing about a “reader” is its purpose: it is a book for learning to read. The child realizes, and can be helped to realize, that this is a puzzle, rather than reading for content (as it is when we want to know what happens next in the story!). Working with a reader is one of the basic methods of learning the skill of reading. It is a totally conscious exercise, and cannot be “picked up”. It must be taught. It must be learnt by an act of conscious application on the part of the child. A series of “readers” progresses in degree of difficulty, and corresponds to the exact stage that the children are up to, in their education. These 6 booklets are first readers. Bolom Dolok and then 3 ti bengali, are the first two, among the 6. Tapaz is the last one. They are designed to be a support for the school texts and school classes.
Geography while using a reader
Because it is a conscious act of teaching/learning – and this brings us to the second point – the child must preferably be seated at a desk or table, on a little chair, feet touching the ground, and following the words and syllables with his or her finger, for the first few weeks or months. This also means that there is always an adult – teacher or parent – or an older sibling or a peer who has leapt ahead in reading, sitting next to the child, or, in the case of the schoolroom, the teacher supervising each child in turn in class, walking around desk to desk, while, in the early days of learning, each child follows the words physically with a fore-finger on his own book in front of him or her. That is the geography of a reader. Note that sitting with a reader should be for a short slot of about 5-10 minutes, not more, because of the high degree of concentration necessary, and should be regular every day.
Teaching how sound and sign are linked
Thirdly, there is the linkage between the sound (that is the role of teacher or helper) to the sign, whereby the child hears the sound of the syllable from the educator’s mouth at the exact moment that his or her finger goes past the shape of the relevant syllable. Because “o” and “l” are the easiest letters, in Bolom Dolok they are the centre-piece. “olo”. The teacher will perhaps once or twice draw attention to the shape of these two letters. The names of the letters should, in general, not be mentioned, but their sounds: “o” and “lll” (not “el” for “L” – this would be totally counter-pedagogical). [The names of the letters of the alphabet need to be introduced only when the concept of the order of words in a dictionary or the need to spell a word out, come into play – perhaps in the second year of school – once the child already reads fluently? MIE people can advise on this.]
By reading and re-reading page one of Bolom Dolok, children will all have picked up different sounds
- That there is a corroboration between sound and syllable
- That this corroboration is constant. Every time you hear a sound, you see the syllable corresponding more-or-less to that sound. (i.e. the child will know that it is not ideas being expressed, which it could be, and which it is, in some scripts.)
- The sound of “o” – almost all children will have learnt this vowel. And the aim is that every child should have learnt this.
- Each child will have memorized the corroboration between various other sounds and signs, in a less certain way, and to different degrees, for each child.
- Teachers will already have broached the difficulty of distinguishing between “b” and “d”, in the “bo-lom” and “do-lok” contrast right at the beginning.
Page two will, in turn, concentrate on “a” , which the teacher will need to draw attention to. Its different sound from “o” and the difference in its appearance from the letter “o”. And also the “m”. this bilabial has the advantage of looking like two lips, while two lips are involved in making the sound. Teachers can draw attention to this, of course.
Conventions learnt unconsciously
Fourthly, meanwhile, children will also have picked up other reading skills unconsciously, through this consciously taught process of reading the reader, including:
- That we read from top of the page to the bottom
- That we read from left to right
- That books start on a right hand page (curiously)
- That we all ignore the prelims at the beginning.
With the reader, fifthly, children can learn syllable recognition, with the help of the teacher. “Show me all the ‘lo’ on this page”, then go around and see how many they have found. (Accept the ‘lor’, you can just fuzz over this, at this early stage; ditto for the ‘ou’ complication.) This process of identifying and recognizing and knowing the sound of a syllable is called deciphering. It is an essential part of learning to read, and also of the life-long process of learning new words, to add to our reading vocabularies.
Whole word or even whole phrase recognition
Sixthly, the child can also learn whole word recognition. This involves seeing the entire outline of the word. “Where is there a ‘dolok’”? the teacher asks. This is also quite funny, and children know it. There is a real dolok and then this “dolok” on the page. Just as there can also be a picture of a dolok, which is also not the same thing as a real dolok. Whole phrase recognition can also be used “show me all the ‘bolom dolok’s you can see”.
[A good teacher will at once realize that a few of the children learn the text off by heart and avoid doing any deciphering or word recognition at all. This short-cut by the child must immediately be spotted, and the teacher must spend time helping the child become aware of the need to get his or her head around the link between sound and cipher. Obviously, this should be done, while congratulating the child on his or her good memory!]
[While using the reader for learning to read, it is advisable to refrain from using drawings, pictures, or actions, theatre, etc, but to concentrate on the actual process of reading.]
Seventh, the child can already start to learn speed reading, i.e. how to start to recognise whole phrases, and to read quickly. This should be done just as a game for the first months. This helps with the automatization of the reading process. (A bit like a pianist learns to forget where his or her fingers are relative to the keys, and just play by what has become an instinct.)
Eighthly, the child can learn, from very near the beginning, to read silently, too. The teacher just says “Now we will read line one aloud”, “Bolom dolok kote”, and now we will read it to ourselves “Bolom dolok kote,” moving our lips, then we will read it silently without moving our lips.
Flash cards to test your own teaching
Ninthly, as a way of testing one’s own teaching skills, disguised as a game, flash cards with the phrases on can be used with children one-by-one. “What does this say?” while showing the words “bolom dolok” or “o o o”, or “ala li la”. This way teachers pace themselves, by finding out who has learnt to read and who has not.
No other visual cues or supports
Tenthly, children are learning to read without relying on any picture, which might be used as a trigger for the words next to it. There are no pictures to distract attention from the word. Picture books, story books with pictures, are used in other classes, not when working with the reader.
Tunes for 3 of the 6 booklets
Eleventh, three of the 6 booklets, have tunes that go with the words, as a support while learning. This doesn’t interfere with the visual concentration, and helps some children learn quicker, because they are good at remembering the tune, and can thus practice at home.
Different ways of learning
Twelfth, remember all children learn in different ways. Some learn whole words before syllables, others learn more easily when there is a tune, others catch on when they see the words separately on a flash card, and so on.
Remember: it is in other sessions that you will be teaching writing. This goes in parallel with the reading sessions. And it is in other sessions still that you will be reading story books together. And in yet other sessions, you will read to the children. In other sessions still, you will introduce them to syllables.
Remember: By the end of the six booklets, all the children should be able to read.
iReprinted with the permission of the Federation of Pre-School Playgroups.