I’m sorry that I haven’t posted for the last three weeks. I was felled by the flu. But all better now – and it’s nice to be back. Regular readers will also note that I’m posting on a Monday! Yes – revolutionary, I know. Up until now blog day has always been a Tuesday. But for reasons I won’t bore you with blog day is going to be a Monday for the foreseeable.
I was at a bit of a loss what to post about so I went to WordPress’s Daily Prompt suggestion for today. The suggestion was to write a post entitled Twenty-Five Letters. The idea being that the post contains all but one of the letters of the English alphabet. I thought this was quite a neat suggestion – and I also decided to make the content about the Twenty-Five letters – so here goes.
For the last thirty-four years, I’ve been teaching children to read. In my job as a primary school teacher, I have taught all ages of children– from four- year-olds to twelve-year-olds. Some children find it easier than others to decipher the squiggles we call letters and to put them together as words. But most of them do learn to read – even those with dyslexia. I’m very proud of the fact that in all the time I’ve been doing it, I have only failed to get one child functionally literate. That particular child had the most severe form of dyslexia I’ve ever come across. And I’ve taught in several schools in all sorts of areas – including some where the levels of social and economic deprivation were severe.
For the last eight years I have been a support teacher. A lot of time is spent helping those children who are struggling to read.
I still marvel at the human brain’s capacity to read. It’s a mystical, magical process. I love taking children from being complete non-readers to that moment when they recognise a word on sight. For some it’s a relatively painless process, for others it’s more of a slog. But for all of them we begin with the letters.
Although there are officially twenty-six letters in our alphabet, there are only twenty-five sounds – because two of them sound exactly the same – those are ‘c’ and ‘k’ – not ‘cee’ and’ kay’ but the sound they make in, for example, car and kite.
And it’s vitally important to distinguish between the letter names and the letter sounds when you’re teaching someone to read. I always teach the sounds first and leave the alphabetic names until later. This is because if a child is going to try to phonetically decode a simple consonant-vowel-consonant word such as cat, then it is the sounds of the letters that need to be known. Saying ‘see-ay-tee’ isn’t going to give any clues as to what the word says.
The first sounds I teach – all on day one – are ‘a’, ‘p’,‘t’ and ‘n’. This is because after learning just four sounds, the children can be encouraged to read them in words – for example – pat, pan, ant, tap, and tan. Then we (daily) add more letters in groups of three or four – always in combinations that will lead to immediate word-building.
To help children distinguish between ‘b’ and ‘d’ – which are easily confused by those new to these squiggles – I would say think of the shape (side on) of a bed – a real one and the written form – the ‘b’ is the headboard and the ‘d’ is the footboard – and you could lie along the tops of the letters. If you reverse the letters you get deb – you couldn’t lie on a deb – the sticks on the‘d’ and ‘b’ would be in the way –so something’s wrong.
When I introduce ‘q’, I always present it as the shy sound because it will never go out without its braver friend ‘u’. I explain that ‘q’ doesn’t need ‘u’ to say anything, it just needs it to be there.
I find that the almost all children are enchanted by the vowels and the job they do – i.e. making it possible to pronounce English words. And I find that the hardest sounds for the children to grasp are ‘v’, ‘w’, ‘x’ and ‘y’.
Most of my pupils enjoy learning about the vowels and the power these five letters have – and they love trying to say their own names – and those of others – without the vowels
After the children have mastered single sounds, we then move on to the ‘partner sounds’ – such as ‘sh’, ‘ch’, ‘th’, ‘ee’, ‘ea’, ‘ai’ ‘ay’ etc, etc… This is where two sounds work together to make a completely new sound.
After that the children just need to be able to rapidly blend the sounds so that reading words becomes automatic and then of course there are all the non-phonetic words to master. And some of those non-phonetic words are amongst the most common words in the English language – ‘the’, ‘was’ ‘saw’ ‘they’…
Like I say, for many children, learning to read is an awesomely, magically easy task and they scarcely need to spend any time on the above.
However, for a significant minority these 25 sounds are pesky critters. And that’s where I come in. I still relish the challenge even after all these years. I try to present reading as an adventure – a journey into the unknown – destiny -literacy
And, mostly, we get there.
P.S. which letter of the alphabet doesn’t appear even once in the whole of this post?