How does an almost two-year-old read?

How does an almost two- year-old “read”?  What does such a tiny child “read”?  How can we encourage the reading habit in such a tike?

I spent a week in early September with a 21-month-old who wanted me to “read” to him many times daily.  He taught me:

Toddlers love to hold books, turn their pages, point to objects they recognize and name those words.

They do not like to be read paragraph-long passages.

They do like to be read text if it is short. “Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?” is an example of text that works.  Single syllable words, words the child knows, words which are repeated, tiny sentences—these hold a child’s interest just long enough before he wants to turn the page.

Pint-sized cardboard books are easy for a toddler to hold. The pages are easy to turn.  And the cardboard is able to withstand the rough handling that a tiny child gives.

“Reading” often means “studying” a picture to discover what it holds. “Balloon!” he might shout, or “Piggy eat.”

Order of pages is arbitrary to a tiny child. Sometimes he will prefer to skip some pages to head right for the picture he prefers.  Sometimes he will flip back and forth, making a connection between one page and another.  For example, he might find the moon on one page and then go back to a previous page to find the moon there.

Simple drawings are best. Bright colors with plain backgrounds help the child to focus.

Animals—especially baby animals with their mothers—fascinate many children. But one time an adult horse might be a “mommy” and another time that same image is a “daddy.”  There’s no need to correct.

Touchable books captivate toddlers. A child eagerly strokes books with inserted fabric for a sandpapery pig’s nose or a furry dog’s ear.  Books with flaps are fun to open even if the child has opened the same flap many times.  Books with cutouts—like the holes that the Hungry Caterpillar eats—are just the right size for a little one to stick his finger into.

Many times, you, the adult, needn’t read a word.  Rather you might wait for the child to take the lead.  He might point to a picture and say a word.  You might repeat his word to show you are listening or to offer correct pronunciation.

Many times all he wants is for you to listen, to share his reading time without distraction. By being willing to focus only on him, to listen wholeheartedly, you teach the child that you value what he is doing.  Your unhurried presence tells the child that this activity—reading—is important.

Bob Books author dies

The author of one of the easiest-to-read and most popular reading series has died.

Picture of 9 Bob Book sets.

Click the photo for a link to the Scholastic selection of Bob Books.

Bobby (Bob) Lynn Maslen, 87, author of the Bob Books, died August 16 in Portland, OR, of Alzheimer’s disease.

Mrs. Madden created the first Bob Book in the 1970’s when she was teaching reading to preschoolers.  One day she took typing paper, folded it in quarters, and asked her students to help her write a story.

The result was the first Bob Book.  It comprised about 12 pages and used just a handful of letters which spelled CVC words.  “Mat sat.  Sam sat.  Mat sat on Sam.  Sam sat on Mat.”  Mrs. Maslen stapled the pages together and sent the books home with her students to reread and to color.

The illustrations were almost as simple as the stories.  Eventually, Mrs. Maslen standardized her books into three sets of 12 books each.  She printed hundreds of copies and packaged them into little sandwich bags for her students.

Demand for her books grew.  Mrs. Maslen’s husband, an artist, provided new drawings.  The books were published by Portland State University, then by the Maslens themselves, and later by Scholastic.  Today more than 16 million books are in print, according to Scholastic.

Teaching reading to children with autism

In some ways, teaching reading to children with autism is like teaching anything else to them.  It is those similarities that this blog focuses on.  Many children with autism are sensitive to light, sounds, smells, busy walls, chairs that are too big, and the feel of their clothes. Before you begin a reading lesson, make sure the environment works for the child or he will be unable to focus.

Make sure the student is paying attention before you begin and during the lesson. If he is looking away, or if his eyes have that blank look, assume he is not paying attention.  Say his name.  Say, “Look at me.”  Only when you have his attention, begin or continue on.

When you give directions, say them in short sentences. If the directions have more than one step, say the steps one at a time.  Let the student complete the first step, thank him, and then say your second direction.  For four-year-olds and five-year-olds, pictures of what behavior you expect can help.  Sometimes asking the student to repeat the direction helps.

Make your directions and comments specific. “Put the book in the desk.”  “Stand up.”  Skip adjectives, prepositional phrases and any extra words that might muddle the message.  And don’t word your directions as questions.  “Would you like to put your book away now?” to you might mean “Put your book away,” but to a student with autism, it might mean something different.

No idioms. No inferences.  No sarcasm.  No humor.  Keep your comments factual and expect factual responses.

Warn several times that an activity will end. “Ten more minutes.”  “Five more minutes.”  “One more minute.”

Many students with autism find handwriting difficult. If the student must “write,” try using a laptop, tablet or even a phone.  Or allow him to respond orally.

Praise wen the student responds appropriately.  You don’t need to gush, but say “Thank you” when the student behaves as you ask.

When a word has a single consonant between two vowels, sometimes (not often) the consonant goes with the first syllable.

Usually when a two-syllable word has a single consonant between two vowels, the consonant goes with the second syllable.  This pattern forms a first syllable ending in a long or open vowel.  Some words like this include

  • minus
  • tulip
  • pupil
  • motel

Because the majority of two syllable words with a consonant between two vowels follow this pattern, children should learn this as the rule before they learn exceptions.  Lists of words like this are available in many reading workbook series or online.

But students need to know that a few words don’t follow this rule of pronouncing the consonant with the second syllable.  Some words are pronounced with the consonant ending the first syllable and forming a CVC first syllable.

I have not found readily available lists of words like these, so I am including some here.

  • manic, panic, colic, comic, frolic, sonic, tonic
  • oven
  • Janet, planet
  • punish
  • olive
  • livid, timid, valid
  • delta
  • rebel, shrivel, level, civil, devil, hovel, Nevil
  • deluge
  • lizard, wizard
  • driven, given, Kevin, seven
  • second

To find if a word is an exception to the rule, have the student pronounce the word with the consonant starting the second syllable (following the rule).  If the student does not recognize the word, then have the student pronounce the word with the consonant ending the first syllable.  Many times this second pronunciation will make sense, but not if the student is unfamiliar with the word.  In that case, you will need to pronounce the word correctly for the student to hear and explain the meaning of the word to help the student remember it.

Kentucky initiates new law to help children with dyslexia

What is dyslexia?  What are the best research-based practices to teach reading to students with this learning disability?  What governmental supports are needed to make this possible?

The definition of dyslexia varies almost as much as the 50 US states.  Some states have no laws related to dyslexia.  Others have created task forces to study dyslexia.  Still others mandate a specialist in this field in the state department of education.

But now Kentucky seems to have developed the gold standard to respond to dyslexia with the passage of House Bill 187 which went into effect a month ago, on July 14, 2018.  That law mandates the following:

  • A comprehensive definition of dyslexia (developed by the International Dyslexia Association) will govern discussions of dyslexia in Kentucky. Other states have adopted this same definition, but still others have less comprehensive definitions.
  • By January 1, 2019, Kentucky’s Department of Education will develop and provide a “toolkit” that includes guidance on the training of staff in any school district so that the staff can use practices backed by research in the teaching of students with dyslexia.
  • This “toolkit” will be designed to teach children in grades K through 3.
  • Kentucky’s Department of Education will work with colleges and universities to be sure teacher training includes information on how to identify and teach children with dyslexia.
  • Each local board of education is asked to develop a plan to identify and teach children with dyslexia, and to report to the state each year data demonstrating how many children have been identified and what efforts have been made to teach them.
  • Using three distinct school districts, the Department of Education will study the screening and teaching of students with dyslexia for three years beginning with the 2018-2019 school year. Data from this study will be used to determine the effectiveness of early intervention for children identified as dyslexic.

Georgia Senate to study dyslexia

With one in five Georgia students affected by dyslexia—a higher percentage than any other learning disability—the state of Georgia has created a Senate Study Committee on Dyslexia.  The purpose of the Study Committee is to study and publicize the  impact of dyslexia on Georgia residents, and to recommend  appropriate action or legislation.

Two students taking reading tests on portable NEO computers.

That committee will have its first meeting on Friday, August 17 and will end its meetings by December 1.  The purpose of the first meeting is to gain information about what the Georgia Department of Education is already doing to help students with dyslexia and their teachers.  Later meetings will gather information about how state agencies are affected by people with this learning disability.  Experts from across the country are expected to testify at later meetings.  Members of the public are also welcome to speak to the committee.

Addressing the committee at its first meeting will be Dr. Leslie Stuart, a psychologist, who will speak on “identifying and clarifying the definition of dyslexia”; Dr. Caitlyn Dooley, a deputy superintendent from the Georgia DOE, who will speak on “dyslexia identification and services in Georgia”; and Dr. Jennifer Lindstrom of UGA, who will speak on the causes and treatment of dyslexia,” including teacher training.

Chairing the committee is Sen. Fran Millar.  Also appointed to the committee  are Sen. Matt Brass, Sen .Gloria Butler,  Dr. Leslie Stuart (a clinical psychologist), and Dr. Garry McGiboney (from the Georgia Department of Education).

According to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, “Evidence shows if we can identify and address dyslexia at an early age – before students reach the 3rd grade – we can significantly improve reading comprehension and overall academic outcomes. Unfortunately, on average, only 1 in 10 dyslexic students are identified by standard screenings.”

According to Donna Nealy, Sen. Millar’s assistant, Kentucky has put into effect a new law relating to dyslexia this summer.  Georgia is studying Kentucky’s law, perhaps the most comprehensive in the nation, in hopes of learning from Kentucky’s effort.  (More about Kentucky’s new law in the next blog.)

If you are not able to attend, but would like to listen to the committee meeting as it happens, go to the following livestream at the time of the meeting:  https://livestream.com/accounts/25225500/events/8321724.

The challenges of teaching an autistic child to read

One of my students is a primary grades student with autism.  She speaks in single words, much like a toddler.  Sitting still for her is hard , so she eats an apple or some Cheerios while we work.  But that diverts her attention.

Through previous years of schooling, she has learned her letter sounds and many CVC words.  After working with her on how to pronounce blends with CVC words and observing her for many lessons, I have concluded that my phonics work may be in vain.  She seems to have memorized all the words she recognizes.

So now I am bringing flash cards with pictures of items and their names on one side, and just the names on the other side.  I am attempting to increase her reading vocabulary using a few sight words during each lesson, a method which I know is less effective than phonics.

Working with her is discouraging because she cannot tell me what works and what doesn’t.  I must observe her behavior, and based on my findings, figure out how to proceed.

Although I have taught several children with autism who are less impaired than this student, I have not taken courses in this field of special education.  On my own I have researched how to teach reading to a child with autism.  I have found that

  • Some children with autism cannot learn to read using phonics, but some can.
  • Teaching nouns is easier than teaching any other part of speech.
  • If you are teaching action verbs, it helps if you “perform” the verb—jumping, waving, singing.
  • Reading factual information—nonfiction—works much better than reading fiction.
  • Reading about a child’s interests helps motivate a child for a reading lesson.
  • Forget inferences. A child with autism cannot pick up subtle clues.
  • Expect no questions.

With my young student, I have made some inroads.  She accepts me as a teacher, as someone who interacts with her weekly.  She enjoys reading words she knows and receiving compliments and high-fives from me.  She willingly starts each lesson though she says “all done” many times throughout.  She scatters my materials with a brush of her arm less frequently now.  She no longer screams during our lessons.

But have I taught her any reading?  I honestly don’t know.