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Perfect Practice Makes Perfect Readers

"From K-3rd grade children learn to read - and from 4th grade and up they are reading to learn"

This is an axiom that I hear often when speaking with educators and school administrators. This is certainly a factual assessment of the current system’s approach to teaching children to read, however it is inadequate as an operating principle. I will explain why this is so, and I will offer my perspective on an alternative principle that is adequate to support all equally to become effective readers and therefore equal participants in reality.

In-class practice of the necessary vocabulary

When children are in kindergarten through 3rd grade, there is very little vocabulary to be learned. For example, in kindergarten, one learns the alphabet. And this is practiced for weeks and weeks. It is tested, feedback is given, mistakes are corrected. This is one point where the current teaching system is effective to a degree. Most of us know the alphabet song, yet if I ask what is the 13th letter in the alphabet, you will probably have to sing the song while keeping a count on your fingers. The point is you haven’t really learned the alphabet completely, you have learned a song to help you remember the alphabet. The point, though, is that you were able to learn the song. And you did this through practice. In grades K-3, the teacher guides the children through practice of the vocabulary so that it is integrated and can be applied.

The problem is that when children move on to 4th grade and beyond, the teacher is no longer guiding the children in practicing the vocabulary but only giving out the information to be learned. When combined with the fact that as one moves up grade levels, the amount of information in each level increases and the information contains new and unfamiliar vocabulary which is required to understand the material, a point of friction is created in the child towards learning which begins to compound. The child is expected to learn more words in each each successive grade then in the previous one. Yet, the child is spending less time in class practicing the vocabulary in class. And no actual tool is given to the child to learn the vocabulary outside of class. Generally, the teacher instructs the child to ‘study’, but what it means to ‘study’ is generally a mystery to the average student. And considering that the school system does not teach children to read above 3rd grade level, the expectation that the student be able to process the information in the 4th grade and above is unreasonable and only supports inner conflict within the child when what is expected of this is beyond their current ability.

Developing the ability to process the new information is, fortunately not beyond the capability of the student if they are, from the very beginning supported with an effective tool to build the necessary vocabulary.

A tool for building effective vocabulary

An effective vocabulary building tool is one that gives the child both the practice to successfully integrate the new vocabulary and also provides real-time feedback for the child to see that they are indeed learning the words correctly and successfully.

Such a tool should work with the child’s natural learning ability to integrate new information. It should not be based on memorization, which is unreliable and merely a coping mechanism.

Such a tool would need to be available to the child at home for several reasons:
1. less distraction
2. comfortability of the child
3. can be used according to the child’s schedule
4. child has ownership and sees the tool as an extension of self

Such a tool would need to have all the vocabulary necessary for all grade levels so that the child could learn new vocabulary before being introduced to the material written in those words.

The principle here is that given the proper tools, every child can become a successful reader and be able to communicate with the rest of reality. It is not valid nor acceptable to allow only some to succeed while others are left deficient. That is why we suggest that a solution must not be mind/memory-based, because this type of ‘learning’ only caters to those with pre-programmed aptitudes for certain intelligences.

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