Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Sound It Out

                                                   “Sound It Out”

Early in my career as a second grade teacher, my student “Sam” was reading aloud to me as part of the “listening in” portion of a guided reading lesson.  The story is about a dog who can’t make up his mind of which way to go.  Sam reads, “And the dog ran off in a new ____________.”  When faced with the word “direction”, Sam stops.  I prompted him with the only strategy I knew- “Sound it out Sam”.  Sam tries the strategy I gave him- “duh-ihh-rrr-eh-k-taa-ihh-aww-n”.

When I look back at this (and how I failed this poor reader) what I should have prompted him with was “Think about what is happening in this story and reread the whole sentence”.  Be sure to say the first sound of that tricky word when you get to it”.  If Sam would have had this better teaching prompt and read “And the dog ran off in a new direction”, I would then say “Does that make sense? Does that look right? Does that sound right?”

Sound it out” has always been the go to strategy for many teachers and parents when a reader encounters an unknown word.  This is because many of us were likely taught this way when we encountered difficulties with words in our own reading.  Unfortunately, “sounding it out” is often not efficient or sufficient in decoding all words.  We would better serve children by teaching them to flexibly apply multiple strategies when coming to an unknown word.  Decoding a new word is best seen as a problem solving activity and readers need to use a variety of strategies to solve the problem.

Skilled and automatic decoding is necessary for reading, and visual information (phonics) is crucial.  We also want our readers to use their knowledge of English to say a word that sounds right and their knowledge of the story (context and illustrations) to decide what word would make sense.

For example, complete the following sentence;
The boy studied for the big test all ___________.
Chance are you generated words like:  day, night, evening, afternoon, morning, week.

Notice that all the words were nouns.  Proficient speakers of English know that a noun will come in this place in the sentence- only a noun would “sound right”.  You likely generated nouns of time.  Because we expect English to “make sense” we use our semantic understanding to predict a meaningful word for the context.

Now, look at this sentence;
The boy studied for the test all n____________.

You are likely to say “night” because it looks right, sounds right and makes sense.  If you tried to sound out “night” you may run into trouble, especially as a developing reader if you do not know that the “gh” is silent. 

“Sounding it out” might be useful, but not a sufficient tool for an early or striving reader.
So, if you are working with a reader at whatever stage they are at- remember there are more strategies than just “sounding it out” (visual cues).  Understanding of the story (meaning) and understanding of the English language (syntax) can be useful as well.

‘Children are small; their minds are not.’ – Glenda Bissex

Twitter Questions
Q1:  Introduce yourself and name your favorite Dr. Seuss book.
Q2:  What do you remember about your own process of learning to read?
Q3:  Describe an instructional strategy you have used with a developing reader when they encountered an unknown word.
Q4:  Should students be taught phonics in isolation, or in a meaningful context?
Q5:  How can writing enhance phonics skills?


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