We’re working as a school on improving our ability to grow students as readers. One of the ways we are doing this is by pulling students into small groups each day and reading with them. We use books that are just a little bit harder than they are able to read independently. We call this Guided Reading. This is a powerful structure wherein students are introduced to a new book, set up to read it successfully through an introduction, maybe some tips about the structure of the text or word work, and then set off to read independently as teacher carefully looks on. Individual students whisper read a part of their book to the teacher as she listens in. They stop at some point to retell what they have read to a partner. Again, teacher supports by listening in. We know we can grow our readers in this way.
Today I had opportunity to sit with several young readers and to learn from them. I sat with A. He began to read. He read really well. When he got to a part that puzzled him, or a word that he didn’t know he did something so smart! He looked at the picture, made the beginning sound for the word, then looked some more at the picture. Alex was able to sort out a number of words in this way.
Several other children who sat with me got stuck when they came to words they didn’t know. Even “simple” words. Words like “Mr.”. Try sounding that one out.
So often readers are taught to “sound it out”. Trouble is… there are so many words you just can’t do that with. AND once you work so hard at sounding out all the discrete letter sounds you’ve forgotten what you were reading about at all. We have found it far better to ask our students to stretch out the sounds of an unknown word. In this way, rather than saying each sound – d i f f i c u l t – they stretch one letter sound into the next. Dddddiiiiffffiiicccuuullltttt.
And even this powerful strategy is only one of the many we teach our young readers. We also teach them “word attack” strategies such as these:
- Look for a word you know inside of the unknown word.
- What part of the word do you know?
- What word would make sense there?
By teaching and practicing these and other reading strategies with our students we empower them and help them to know they can indeed read stronger than ever before. They can understand the world in a far deeper way because they are readers!
For more on reasons to teach strategies other than “Sound it out”, check out Adventures in Literacy’s blog post here.