Just as there is another man in my life (Mick Jagger), there is also another pastime, bedsides music. I am a reader…admittedly, I don’t seem to have the time or energy (or eyesight) to read anything much more highbrow than pastel coloured paperbacks about unrequited love, but I always have a book ‘on the go’ downstairs…one upstairs and one on my phone.
Despite being a huge fan of all things Mathematical, I am trained as an English teaching specialist and I wrote my University dissertation about how boys can be encouraged to read, using ‘Dr. Who’ and ‘Metal Gear Solid’ as mediums.
So naturally I thought that I would be a bit of an expert when it came to teaching and encouraging my own son to read. I’d have him discussing Hamlet’s descent into madness and Philip Larkin’s poetry (maybe not ‘They fuck you up, your Mum and Dad’) before I knew it. Ho-lee-shit was I wrong!
Owen is learning to read in the opposite way of how he ‘should’ be learning to read.
There are two sides to being able to read; the first being ‘decoding’ which is the actual reading of a word. I used to teach five and six year old children who were in those crucial first stages of learning to read. We started by teaching the individual letter sounds (beginning with the set of letters S A T P I N) and then transferring that knowledge to ‘real’ words in their reading books. We’d then teach them how to segment a word (sound it out) and blend those sounds together to make a word. This would be accompanied by lots of games, writing letters and small words in chalk on the playground, writing their own labels for displays etc.
For the majority of children, this works beautifully and they become confident and hopefully enthusiastic readers. Is this how Owen is learning to read? Of course not. Owen is trying to read in this manner because that’s how he’s being taught at school. He loves his foam letters in the bath, can tell you that his name is spelt ‘Oh Wu Eh Nnnn’ and can spell words like ‘Pixar’ but it’s not because he understands the phonics; it’s because of that amazing visual memory. He’s seen the word ‘Pixar’ so many times at the beginning of his various films that he’s memorised the word.
(I am being forced to watch the same Pixar films repeatedly. Send help.)
There are certain words that all children have to learn to read in the same way that Owen does, simply because they cannot be ‘sounded out’…examples being ‘the, for, my’. He’s quickly learnt the majority of his key words flashcards just by being able to read them on-sight. The hitch with learning to read this way is that if and when he comes across an unknown word, he doesn’t have the tools to figure out what it says for himself. He needs somebody to tell him what it says. Once he knows, he never forgets and one of his first words he was able to read was ‘dehumidifier’. This is why I still plough on with the learning to segment and blend words.
The other problem, which is the same for a lot of children, is that you can’t be sure if he actually understands what he is reading. This is the second side of learning to read; comprehension. All children begin learning to read by memorising stories and the delightful tales of Biff, Chip, Kipper and their hapless Mum and Dad lend themselves beautifully to being learnt by heart.
Owen knows the story of the time that Floppy the dog jumped through the window of a burning barn to save the puppies completely off the top of his head. This could be seen as a negative but as he’s saying the words, he’s seeing them written on the page, making the link between the two and remembering them for next time. How do I know that he understands what he’s reading? By asking him questions about the story. The pictures in books play an absolutely vital role in helping children understand what they are reading and the Biff and Chip pictures do this so well. Does this word say happy or cross? Let’s look at Mum’s face and see if that helps us! (It’s always cross…Dad broke the washing machine in the last book).
Owen’s speech disorder does mean that it can be difficult to ask him about what he is reading but seeing him laugh at Dad pinching a sandwich or Kipper screaming ‘NO!’ when Dad suggests pulling his tooth out with a giant pair of pliers suggests that his comprehension level is better than what he lets on.
The important thing is that Owen LOVES reading and is getting better at it everyday. He knows exactly who has sent me a message if I ask him to check my phone and is a never ending source of amusement at shouting out words he probably shouldn’t be able to read yet.
He is, as ever, an enigma…but then so is my beloved Mr.Heathcliff from ‘Wuthering Heights’.