Little kids need to learn pronoun-antecedent agreement

Pronoun-antecedent agreement is a reading skill we expect young readers to understand until we encounter some kids who don’t.

In the sentences, “The dog barked at me.  I was scared,” we take for granted that the child understands that “I” in the second sentence refers to “me” in the first sentence and not to “dog.”

But some kids don’t understand this, especially students learning English as a second language.  Relationships which some students implicitly understand need to be explicitly taught to these students.

In particular, younger students need to practice examples of

  • Singular pronouns which refer back to singular nouns.
  • Plural pronouns which refer back to plural nouns.
  • Masculine pronouns which refer back to masculine nouns.
  • Feminine pronouns which refer back to feminine nouns.
  • Neutral pronouns which refer back to neutral nouns.
  • Pronouns which refer back to words two sentences back.

One way you can test if a particular student understands pronoun-antecedent agreement is to provide the student with a reading passage containing several pronouns.  You circle the pronouns and ask the student to draw an arrow from each circled pronoun to its antecedent.  Or your color-code the pronouns with their antecedents.

Another way is to tape over the pronouns and ask the student to supply them.  Supplying words is always harder than finding words already provided.

A third way is to ask the student to write about a particular subject which involves singular and plural pronouns, such as first grade girls jumping rope at recess.

Some schools teach types of pronouns (subject, object, possessive), but delay teaching pronoun-antecedent agreement.  This is a mistake.  We use pronouns to take the place of nouns we have previously stated.  Students need to hear the relationship between pronouns and nouns in order to understand why we use pronouns at all.

 

Is it important for beginning reader to know the ABC’s in order?

No.  Knowing the ABC’s in order isn’t important until a child learns alphabetical order.child making letter T with his body

What is important is for a beginning reader to hear and say the 42 sounds of English, and to be able to associate each of those sounds with a letter or pair of letters.

Some reading specialists recommend not showing a child letters until the child can repeat the sounds.  In English, sounds come first.  Sounds are paired with one or more symbols (letters) so we can show sounds visually.Child sitting with legs outstretched, forming the letter L

When I teach children sound-letter pairings, I start with the consonants since most consonants, like “b” and “k,” are always pronounced the same.  Then I move on to short vowel sounds, saving “e” and “i” until “a,” “o.” and “u” are learned since “e” and “i” sound similar.  That still leaves more than a dozen sounds to match with letters or letter groups.

However, many teachers drill the ABC’s by singing the ABC song.  They might test beginning readers on the order of the ABC’s, making allowances for the “L, M. N, O” section which is almost always the last part learned.

Find out what your child’s teacher expects.  But to answer your question, no, knowing the order of the ABC’s is not important for beginning readers.

Colleges offer remedial reading and writing courses, but too late for most students

Many community colleges and four-year colleges in the US offer remedial reading and writing classes to incoming freshmen to raise lagging students to the base level expected for beginning freshmen.  These remedial courses offer no credit, so by the end of freshman year, students who pass these classes will not have accumulated the 30 or so credit hours expected for the first year of college education.  These students’ chances of graduating in two years from community colleges and four years from traditional colleges and universities are almost impossible.  And this means that many poor readers and writers drop out and never earn a college degree.

Colleges and universities are rethinking their remedial English courses for many reasons.

  • These remedial courses, in both English and math, cost about $7 billion each year.

 

  • Few freshmen who require remedial courses ever earn a degree.

 

  • 96% of two- and four-year colleges and universities enroll students in remedial courses.

 

  • In one state, California, more than 70% of community college students qualify for remedial English courses, and of those, only 60% pass the remedial courses and start credit courses, according to a 2016 study by the Public Policy Institute of California. Of those 60% who do pass, most never finish a college level English course with a C grade or better.  California is pretty typical of the rest of the country.

 

  • Starting in the fall of 2018, all such remedial courses will be eliminated at California State University, the largest public university system in the US. The stated purpose is to enable more students to graduate in four years.

 

What does this mean if you are teaching a young child to read?

Reading and writing are two of the most make-it or break-it life skills.  If a little kid is having trouble, now is the time to intervene.  The longer a student flounders, the more he falls behind and the less likely he is to catch up, even with help.  By the time a student reaches college, high school, or even middle school, it’s usually too late.  The time to learn to read and write is when a child is four, five, six and seven years old.

If you want your children to succeed, do whatever is necessary to ensure that they can read by the time they start third grade.

How to teach a child to read with little cost

If you are attempting to teach your child to read, and you go to Amazon or your local book store and find literally hundreds of instruction books, dozens of video games, and all kinds of apps and CDs, and boxes of flash cards, where do you begin?  Is all that “stuff” really necessary?

I suggest a method which includes spending time with your child but not much money.

Start with the sounds of English. There are about 42 in most parts of the US.  Say the sounds aloud, one at a time.  Let your child listen and repeat the sounds aloud.  If he can’t say one or two of the sounds, work on those sounds for a few minutes each day until he can hear and repeat all the sounds.  (Supplies you will need:  a list of the 42 sounds, available free on this website and online.)

Next, explain that we associate letters with those sounds.  Start with consonants and teach the child to match each sound with a letter.  Move on to vowels and explain that some sounds share the same letter.  (At this point, don’t try to teach digraphs or exceptions.)  Say a particular sound and ask your child what letter goes with that sound.  Show a handful of letters to choose from and add more options as the child gains accuracy.  (Supplies you will need:  a set of the ABC’s on cards, on letter tiles or written by hand on index cards.)

Once the child can associate sounds with letters accurately, form CVC (consonant—vowel—consonant) words, such as “c a t.” From years of experience I have found that letter tiles work best at this.  (I use Scrabble game tiles, but there are other kinds.)  Set the three letters an inch apart.  Say the letter sounds one by one.  Move the letter tiles together slowly and then more rapidly, saying the letter sounds so that they eventually slur together.  Help the child learn that when we put letter sounds together, we form words.  (Supplies you will need:  lists of CVC words available free online.)

At this point, your child can read many of the words in some books, such as The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham and  Hop on Pop.   Encourage the child to read the words she can and you read the other words.  If you own the books and don’t mind marking them, you can underline the words your child knows as she reads–a visible proof to the child that she can read.  (Supplies you will need:  a few early reading books available free online or for less than a dollar each at most resale stores.)

CVCC twin consonantsNext you need a plan to sequence the teaching of various types of words.   You can find plenty online.  Most plans start with two- or three-letter short vowel words like “cat” and “ax.”  Then they move on to blends, first at the beginnings of short vowel words (“blot”) and when those are understood, at the ends of such words (“blotch.”)  Adding “s” to form plurals is considered such a blend.  Then teach digraphs and sight (Dolch) words.  (Supplies you will need:  Lists of sight or Dolch words available free online.)

Some authorities suggest teaching two- and three-syllable short vowel words at this point, such as “catnip” and “tunnel.” Others suggest tackling one-syllable long vowel words beginning with words ending with a silent “e” such as “bake” and “tune” and then moving on to other long vowel combinations such as “ee” and “oa.”  There is no right or wrong sequence.  It is important to keep reviewing words the student already learned and mixing them up while you are teaching new kinds of words.  (Supplies you will need:  Lists of such words available free online.)

boy choosing right root for a prefixAt this point, you might teach prefixes and suffixes, or words which don’t follow rules such as two-syllable words with one consonant between the two vowels. Does the consonant go with the first syllable (“robin”) or with the second syllable (“robust”)?  (Supplies you will need:  Lists of such words available free  online.)

Three- and four-syllable words follow the same rules as one- and two-syllable words, but the problem is where to put the inflection so that they are pronounced correctly.  Help the child pronounce such words all possible ways until she hears the correct way.  You and your child might read books you own or library books, and when you come to long words, stop, and figure them out together.  (Supplies you will need:  Picture books, and lists of multi-syllable words available free online.)

By now your child is reading.  She might need help occasionally pronouncing a particular word, or more likely, understanding the meaning of an unfamiliar word.  But learning the sounds of English (phonemes) and linking those sounds to form words (phonics) is largely done.

Advantages and disadvantages of third grade retention

Advantages of third grade retention for poor readers:

If students are young for their grade (summer birthdays), retaining will make them among the oldest students in the class, often an academic advantage.

If students cannot read at a fourth grade level, promoting them to fourth grade sets them up for problems in all subjects which require reading.  If those students are instead retained, they have another year to prepare for fourth grade reading levels.

If all students, no matter their achievement level, are automatically promoted, they learn that they will advance through school whether they work or not.  This might lead to poor work habits.  Retaining students can make them more responsible.

If poor readers are promoted with their class, parents might deceive themselves about their children’s skill levels, and might not intervene until  students are hopelessly behind.

If teachers know their students could be held back, those teachers might try harder to meet the reading needs of poorer readers.

If the retained student receives additional reading help, his chances of starting fourth grade at grade level improve.

Disadvantages of third grade retention for poor readers:

If students are retained, they might have lower self-esteem which in turn might lead to depression, a poor work ethic and continued failure.

If students are retained, they will lose friendships they have made.  They might become the victims of bullying and ridicule.

Retained students probably will be angry when they learn what is happening, seeing themselves as failures, and wanting even less to learn to read.

If poor readers are retained, they may show a temporary burst in achievement, but compared to poor readers who were promoted, they might show less achievement over time.

A retained student costs a school district more than $10,000 for that extra year of schooling.

Students’ poor reading achievement could be due to social and familial reasons, which if not improved, might keep students at a low reading level despite retention.

Students who are retained are more likely to drop out of high school.  High school drop outs are five times more likely to have been previously retained.

If poor readers are promoted along with good and advanced readers, teachers will face students with a wide variety of reading levels in the same classroom.  Teachers will need to slow down and repeat, repeat, repeat for the sake of the poor readers, lowering the achievement of the non-retained students.

Important academic words for K-2 students to learn

Discouraged child thinks there are too many words in a book she is readingLittle children need to learn so many words, but 15 are especially important for answering questions in school and on tests.  For example, if students think “compare” means to show how two things are different, they will answer a test question incorrectly.  Knowing the meaning of direction words is vital.

 

According to Marilee Sprenger*, who analyzed the Common Core standards and other sources to develop this list, the words for kindergarteners, first graders and second graders are

  • Compare
  • Contrast
  • Describe
  • Distinguish
  • Identify
  • Retell
  • Demonstrate
  • Determine
  • Draw
  • Explain
  • Locate
  • Suggest
  • Support
  • Comprehend, and
  • Develop

These words are not everyday words for little children.  Children need to learn these words’ meanings from teachers and parents.  How?

First the adult says the word properly and explains what it means, using it in the context of something the children already know.  Next the children repeat the explanation, paraphrasing the adult’s explanation and using an example of their own.  Children then might draw a picture of the word’s meaning to show that they understand.  The adult should use the word many times and encourage students to write down the word and its meaning.  The adult should continue to use the word in situations where students must act to show if they understand the word.  Finally, occasional word games, like vocabulary bees and word BINGO games, reinforce the word and its meaning.**

Sometimes we suppose students know words because they have heard them over and over.  But that does not mean they know them.  I worked with a seventh grader who thought “compare” means “contrast.”  It’s important for us to take the time to teach these words so when children encounter them as directions for homework, quizzes or tests, they can perform correctly.

*Teaching the Critical Vocabulary of the Common Core; 55 words that make or break student understanding,  by Sprenger, 2013

**Building Academic Vocabulary:  Teacher’s Manual by Marzano and Pickering, 2005

Does your state require poor readers to repeat third grade?

Fifteen states plus Washington, D.C, require third graders who are not reading at a “proficient” level by the end of the school year to repeat third grade.  Those states include Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and Washington.  Three more states are about to join the list:  South Carolina at the end of the 2017-2018 school year; Nevada on July 1, 2019; and Michigan at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.*

Eight other states allow third grade retention but do not mandate it: Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

States offer exemptions to some students, such as ESL students, special ed students, students who have recommendations from parents and teachers, and students who have been retained once already.

Even so, almost half of all states require or allow a student who is not reading well at the end of third grade to repeat it.

Why?

  • Educators consider fourth grade a transition year. In kindergarten to third grade, students learn to read.  In fourth grade and beyond, students read to learn.  Starting in fourth grade, students can’t learn well unless they can read.
  • Research in 2015 showed that about two out of three American fourth graders could not read proficiently, that is, at a basic level. Almost 4/5 of African American, Native American and Latino students could not read at a proficient level.
  • Down the road, about ¼ of those below basic level readers won’t graduate from high school.

In  the next blog we’ll look at some of the pros and cons concerning third grade retention.

* http://www.ncsl.org/research/education/third-grade-reading-legislation.aspx