You diagnose the reading problem

You diagnose the reading problems.Situation:  A first grader can read CVC words in lists and on flash cards.  When another consonant is added to create a blend CCVC word (cot to clot, or ran to bran) she stops, sounding out the first consonant and skipping the second consonant.  She asks what the four-letter words mean.

When she sees paragraphs, she cringes and says, “That’s too hard.”  Throughout a half-hour lesson she asks every five minutes or so if the lesson is over yet.  The mother is concerned that this child is behind her classmates in reading.


  • This little girl is already intimidated by the reading process. Her repeatedly asking if the lesson is about to end shows her discomfort with reading.  This child needs much encouragement.
  • Repeating successful work might be a good way to begin a lesson in order to give the girl confidence.
  • She could benefit from frequent but short lessons (ten or fifteen minutes), perhaps with a timer.
  • How two consonants work together to form blended sounds is a new concept for her. Working on one blend each lesson (“bl,” for example) might be a good place to begin.  She could be shown pictures of “bl” words (blue, black, blaze, bleed, blocks, blossom, blueberry, blush, blow, and blouse).
  • After sounding out the words and recognizing the “bl” sound, she could be shown the “bl” letter blend. Letter tiles moved slowly together to form BLVC words could reinforce the blended sound of those letters.
  • She also needs work on vocabulary, so as often as possible seeing a picture of the new word, or acting out the new word, might help her remember its meaning.

As for the mother’s concern that the child has fallen behind classmates, that might be true.  However, the girl is not far behind and can easily catch up with frequent, short, unpressured lessons.  Her mother might read to her strictly for pleasure, perhaps pointing out a CVC word here and there that the child probably knows.  The mother could keep a list of words that the child can read on the refrigerator, asking the child to add a word or two each day a day so the child and the mother can see progress.

Should my child go to a full-day kindergarten? I have a choice.

Yes!  Research shows that

  • Students in full-day programs learn more than in half- day kindergartens, particularly in reading and math. Most full-day programs are 4.5 to 6 hours daily, while most half-day classes are 2 to 3 hours daily (30 hours weekly v. 15 hours weekly).

    Reading time in full-day and half-day kindergarten.

    Making the Most of Kindergarten: Present Trends and Future Issues in the Provision of Full-day Programs by Debra J. Ackerman, W. Steven Barnett, and Kenneth B. Robin (March 2005)

  • Full-day programs allow the student to spend close to an hour on self-directed activities which are linked to long-term learning, compared to about a half hour for such activities in half-day programs.

However, most states do not require districts to offer full-day kindergartens.

  • Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, West Virginia and the District of Columbia require districts to offer full-day kindergartens.
  • Thirty-four other states require half-day kindergartens; however, many districts in those states offer full-day kindergarten.
  • Five states—Alaska, Idaho, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania—do not require school districts to offer any kind of kindergarten, though most districts do.

The trend to attend kindergarten full-days is growing.  Only ten percent of kindergarteners attended full-days in the 1970’s, while more than half do now.

What is driving this trend?

  • Research showing academic gains by children in full-day programs is convincing legislators to budget more state money for full-day kindergartens.
  • The rigor of Common Core standards may be spurring longer kindergarten days.
  • The emphasis on early learning in general (prekindergarten through third grade) and the push to make all kids readers by third grade has educators looking for more time to teach children.

My older two children attended half-day kindergarten in Michigan—all that was offered in the school they attended.  But my youngest child attended full-days in Georgia.  He had not attended a pre-K program, so he found the long day in school tiring at first even though, after lunch, the lights went out and the blinds were drawn while the children lay on mats and were encouraged to nap.  Within a few weeks he had adjusted, paging through picture books while his friends napped.

Did I notice an academic advantage in my third child?  No.  Would I send all three to full-day kindergarten now if I had that opportunity?  Yes.  The growing research convinces me that full-day kindergarten gives children an advantage as they start first grade.  Other research shows that many students eventually lose that advantage as they move on to second and third grades.  However, that cannot be blamed on the kindergarten program.  –Mrs. K

I think the issue of full day kindergarten has changed from years ago.  The real question is, “What will my child be doing during the other half of the day if he is not in school?”  If a parent is lucky enough to be a full-time, stay-at-home parent, then maybe the child will be better off getting more TLC at home.   But if both parents are working, then those parents will probably want full day kindergarten .

One of my children had full-day kindergarten.  The other one had half-day kindergarten and half-day daycare.  My grandson is lucky enough to live in one of the three states that offer free preschool for four year olds.  He attends a half day program five days a week.  It seems to me that this year of preschool for four year olds is very much like what we used to call half-day kindergarten.  –Mrs. A

How about you?  Did you send your child to full-day kindergarten?  To half-day kindergarten?  Did it make a difference?

How digital ebooks—including picture books—are evolving

Is your young child using a laptop computer, a notebook or a tablet in the classroom?  One in three students are, according to a survey by Project Tomorrow based in Irvine, CA.

Young girl 's reading choices include a print book and an eBook.Young girl 's reading choices include a print book and an eBook.Until now, most of the ebook material available has been at too high a reading level for beginning readers, but that is rapidly changing.  (For example, Mrs. A and I created five ebook stories for children learning short vowel sounds.)

The narrative or story ebooks (picture books) that would attract grades preK-2 are becoming more sophisticated as publishers experiment with the features these ebooks can offer.

  • The first such ebooks were scanned versions of picture books in their original form—same cover, same font size, same everything except that these ebooks were available on a digital platform. Some features of picture books were lost, such as the tiny size of board books or the large size of some illustrations, but other features were gained, such as the fun of using a computer or phone to read a picture book.
  • Later ebooks took the Reading Rainbow approach—a voice reading the book aloud, and pictures zooming in or out as if to show action. Instead of the child being in charge of the reading, and moving through the book at his own pace, the film director decided what was important, what words to emphasize and how much time to spend on any one illustration.
  • The next step in the evolution of ebook picture books was interactive ebooks. The design of the print version was altered to take advantage of features like “Read to me” (the child presses a button and a voice reads the book), music, sound effects and animation.
  • More recently, tablets and smart phones allow children to move characters about so that the reader becomes part of the story. The child reader can “help” a character by performing certain actions, or at the end of the story, complete puzzles, word games and coloring activities related to and enriching the story or the child’s reading skills.  Many of these new picture books begin life as ebooks, bypassing the printed stage altogether.

What’s next?  I suspect ebooks will become personalized, with the child able to change the name of a character to a name of his choice, and to change the outcome of the story to fit his mood.  He might be able to change the color scheme or to select more advanced vocabulary as his reading skills improve.  Look to video games, to wii and x-box 360 for technology that will eventually work its way into ebooks.

What would Dr. Seuss think?

One example of how to teach a four-year-old to read

For several weeks I have been tutoring a four-year-old, teaching her to read.

  • I started with letter tiles, placing one before her at a time and asking her what sound each letter represented. She knew many of them, but not all of them.  As I expected, she couldn’t sound out “e” and “i” and was vague on “u” too.  The consonants “d,” “j,” “q,” “x,” “y” and “z” also were mysteries.
  • On a paper I had written all the sounds associated with individual letters, and as she said them properly, I crossed them out, to know which letters we needed to focus on.
  • Reading tutor with 4-year-oldSince she was confident about “o” and “a,” I used those letters to form CVC words, real and imaginary, spelling them phonetically. With the letter “a” I sandwiched two consonants, one on either side, separating the tiles and then moving them closer and closer until they looked like a word.  All the time I was pronouncing the sounds, such as “c” “a” and “t.”
  • Since the hardest letter sounds for beginning readers to hear are the middle sounds in CVC words, I kept using the same vowel sound, the letter “a,” for one half-hour lesson. I put a “t” after the “a” and kept it there for several minutes, exchanging one beginning consonant for another as she read the words.
  • My little student caught on quickly that the sound in the middle and at the end of the word didn’t change, so all she had to focus on was the beginning sound. When we encountered one of her difficult letter sounds, I would say it and then she would.
  • At our next lesson, I repeated much of the first lesson, asking her to pronounce the sound for each letter tile. This time she sounded the “q” consistently correct, so I crossed out that letter sound on my list.
  • I made CVC words using the letter “o.” Some words were real; some were nonsense words or real words spelled phonetically.  What she showed me was that she knows the sounds of various letters.
  • The next week I used both “a” and “o” words. This was more difficult because my student needed to keep track of two sounds in CVC words.
  • This past week I used “u” as the vowel. At first, my student would forget the sound “u” represents, but by the end of the lesson, she was remembering it.

Because the lesson lasts just 30 minutes, this student hangs in there, but by the end of a half hour she is losing interest.  I compliment her work often, telling her, “You didn’t know that letter last week, and now you do!” or “You figured out that word all by yourself.”  Sometimes she acts out a word or tells me what it means, and I compliment her on that too.

These early lessons focus on letter sounds and how combining sounds gives us words.  It might seem boring to an adult, but brain research shows that there are no built-in pathways in our brains for reading, the way there are for movement and speech.  A novice reader, like my student, must activate much more of her brain to read “cat” than an experienced reader like me.  Over years of reading, my brain has built shortcuts to figuring out words that this child’s brain hasn’t done yet.

At our next lesson, we will do more CVC words using “u” as the vowel, and then exchange the “u” for “a” and “o.”  We will focus on letter sounds my student is still learning.  Her progress may seem slow, but it is steady.

Help your child make bookmarks to encourage reading

Are you looking for an activity to do with your child that will promote reading?  How about making bookmarks together?

Bookmark cut from a gift card.Bookmarks are usually long rectangles, about two inches by eight inches.  Traditionally they are made from card stock, available at your office supply store.  But you can also cut up file folders or those plastic covers of three-ring binders.  Notebook or computer paper works well too if you later reinforce it with clear tape or laminating.

What kinds of bookmarks can you make?  How about these?

  • A small picture of your child with her name and the date in her own handwriting. With a hole punch, put a hole at the top or bottom and attach a ribbon.
  • A drawing your child has made. He could do a large drawing and then cut it apart and paste parts to form a bookmark.
  • Tiny flowers from the garden taped to the bookmark. If they are laminated, they will last for years.
  • A list of words your child can read, or a list of books your child has read. Include the date so the child can appreciate her progress.
  • A drawing of her favorite book character downloaded from the internet.
  • A timeline of the child’s life.
  • The ABC’s in the child’s handwriting with the date, of course.
  • The child’s name in her own handwriting.

The child will be thrilled to use her hand-crafted bookmarks when reading her own books, whether she needs the bookmarks or not.  Or she can give them as gifts to Mom and Dad, grandparents, teachers and friends.  Inside a gift book, a bookmark makes a fine birthday present for another child.  Bookmarks can be saved for the future too, when they will become treasured artifacts from the child’s past.

Can English spelling b impruvd?

The English language’s antiquated spelling patterns make English difficult to learn.  Way and weigh, threw and through, Phil and fill—English is replete with spelling patterns that inhibit reading and spelling for young children and ESL students.

Can anything be done about it?

Daniel Webster was the last to have had a small success.  He studied the first English dictionary, written by Samuel Johnson in 1755 in Britain.  Webster found much to dislike.  In particular, he thought a dictionary should reflect the words and usage of the public, not of another country’s aristocracy.  His American dictionary of 1825 simplified some British spellings—eliminating the “u” in “colour” and “honour”; he changed some French spellings to better match their English pronunciations, such as “centre” to “center” and “theatre” to “theater.”

In 1837, Isaac Pitman, and in 1848, Alexander John Ellis proposed a phonetic alphabet.  Their efforts garnered interest but little support.

In 1876, the American Philological Society reformed eleven spellings which the Chicago Tribune started to use.  However, the changes didn’t take with the public.  They are


In 1883, the American Philological Association made 24 spelling reform rules, but to no effect.

In 1898, the National Education Association created a list of twelve spelling changes which were to be used in all its writings.  They were

Suggested spelling changes of 1898

(Spellcheck on my computer accepts all the old-fashioned spellings but two, and rejects all the recommended changes but three, showing how few of these changes have been implemented in the past 110 years.)

In 1906 the Simplified Spelling Board published a list of 300 spelling changes.  President Theodore Roosevelt ordered the Government Printing Office to make the changes, but Congress stopped it with a resolution to keep the old spellings.

And so it goes through the 20th century and into the 21st.  Some small changes have crept into the language—cigaret for cigarette, dialog for dialogue.  But substantial improvement hasn’t come.

However, there is hope from an unexpected source:  technology.  Texting is doing what hundreds of years of reformers have not:  making phonetic spelling commonplace and acceptable among large numbers of readers and writers.  And because Americans text so often in a phonetic language, they are bringing their easier, more logical spellings into everyday English.  Not into standard English—that hasn’t come yet.  But into everyday English, yes.

Texters use the word “tonite” rather than “tonight” because it is shorter, and takes fewer keys to press for a quick message.  “Because” is also changing to “becuz.”  I suspect that this bottoms-up approach—changes introduced by young Americans—will bring more change to spelling than the top-down efforts of the past two centuries.  And about time!

What do you think?  Is texting making inroads into standard English?  Or is it just a fad?  –Mrs. K

How do I help my child figure out difficult words? She stumbles, stops and looks helplessly at me.

Many reasons exist for children stumbling on difficult words.

  • It could be “the code,” the way that certain sounds correspond to certain letter patterns in English. Sometimes a review of sounds and their corresponding letters helps children to figure out new words.
  • Young girl trying to read mysterious on a poster,It could be the number of letters (or syllables) in the word. Longer words are more difficult to read than shorter ones—more sounds, more word parts.  Covering up some parts of the word while revealing another part can help the child to focus on a little bit of the word at a time.
  • Many difficult words are actually words with prefixes and suffixes. Teach your child what prefixes and suffixes are, where to find them at the beginnings and endings of words, and what those word fragments mean.  You can find lists of words with particular prefixes and suffixes on line.  If the child is trained to look for these little parts of words, she can often figure out what a word means.
  • A word might be difficult because it has more than one meaning. The child might be familiar with a commonly used meaning, but not with secondary meanings.  When you are reading with your child and she stops, ask what that word means to her.  Then tell her there is another meaning she might not know about, and explain.  Words with the same spelling and different meanings are called homographs.  You can find common ones online.
  • Sometimes the context helps a child to figure out difficult words, but sometimes context is no help at all. Sometimes a dictionary becomes necessary.  When I tutor children, I make it a point to look up one word each lesson.  This teaches the students how to use a dictionary and that looking up words is sometimes the smart solution.
  • Too much information in context can baffle the child. What is important?  What doesn’t matter?  As an adult, you might know, so eliminate the distractors by covering them up with your fingers.  That leaves less information for the child to analyze.

Check the reading level.  The book might be too difficult for the child, replete with sentences that are long, with esoteric vocabulary words, with small type and with little white space.  If your child doesn’t have to read it, take the book away and recommend reading material better suited to her skills.  If she does have to read it, talk to her teacher about her struggles and see if there are alternative readings, especially easier ones.  Sometimes if she reads the simpler version first, she can gain confidence to tackle the harder version.  And sometimes the simpler version is good enough.