Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Phonics in oxymoron

October is usually my most hard working month at school.  It's the first (and maybe the only) month with NO holidays or vacations.  October is a good solid 4.5-5 weeks of uninterrupted instruction, which I personally love.  The first couple of months of the school year tend to be very procedure oriented and reteaching of everything the kids forgot over the summer.  In addition, we have Labor Day, multiple staff developments that take me out of the classroom, and pupil free or short days for conferences and meetings.  I find instruction is so very choppy in those first few weeks, that October finally gives me time to TEACH 2nd grade.   
It's also this time of year that I remember how frustrating the English language actually is.  While a handful of my students start the year not needing phonics or decoding instruction, most of them do and October is when we really get into decoding more difficult words.  Phonics rules are heavily studied and practiced.  And that's when the idea that most of the rules really only apply to such a small portion of our language.  So often, there are more words that DON'T follow the rules than there are that do.  Native English speakers learning to read struggle with them, but often their depth of vocabulary in English helps them sort through some of those times the rules aren't followed.  But my poor English language learners want to apply those rules (and why shouldn't they) to everything.  And since they are limited vocabulary-wise, comprehension is very difficult as well.  They have a very hard time compensating when the words break the rules.  Learning to read in English is HARD.  
So when I saw this the other day it made me chuckle but also want to shake my fist at our language as well.  
I know it's long and tiny, but it is linked to the site, where it is much larger.
2nd grade grammar focuses a lot on the irregular forms of words (plurals, verbs, etc).  I could write this same post for grammar.  Most of my instruction sounds a little like this...
Or basically, "Here are the rules that apply to this small group of words.  The rest, you just have to memorize because they don't follow any rule."  Gah!


  1. Yep, and I'm still going through it. I still have difficulty writing Britain. poor little mites.
    And you were doing this while ill ?, you nut !.

    I've wondered if kids like yours would gain from playing the 'where did they steal it game'. I know I would've gained from knowing poetry was lifted in it's entirety from Latin and Greek. That the only true poems in English are blank verse in style.
    We in Ireland have the same or similar problems. Even those that are historically English speakers, relatively few are from the area of England that bread the current RP dialect with most from the Devon-Dorset or the north and so have an easier time with the dialect of the Spencer's Faerie Queene. But the rest are in the tradition like the Spanish speakers of having an inflected language.

    How on earth do you explain to tiny one the concept of feminine and masculine, neuter. Why is a Ship feminine, why is a industrial nut feminine. But it's something they have each and every day in their own Spanish, Gata - Gato.

    1. Yes! Greek and Latin roots are taught to make the process easier, but not until the kids are a bit older. Would it make the process easier in the lower grades? Possibly, but it's also higher level than most 6-8 year olds can handle. It tends to be a lot for even our upper elementary kids, especially if they're ELLs.
      I agree we would do much better with the language if word origins were studied far more than they are. I think, for the most part, kids only skim the surface in our schools.
      Bred or bread? Don't even get me started on those homophones! :)

    2. To some extent the teachers here are ESL, as with you I suppose.
      I will say this, I've spent an unhealthy amount of my life correcting myself between the language of my youth and that of an educated man.
      But I feel for your kids and can't help but believe to some extent they should be educated in the language of their home. Showing them the beauty of Cervantes than Shakespeare. That man dances with that story in Spanish with depths that are but hintes in English translation.

      Got an intervalometer from the big breasted chick with the golden whip in the stars ans stripes pants. I'm hoping to nab a few fireworks this weekend.

      How do you get teh kids to make the leaps. I can remember trying to come to grips with concepts at 6-7-8 when my mind was like a bad engine trying to start on a cold morning, and failing.

    3. That's an interesting point about where you are. I think we all just associate you all with speaking "English" but the reality is it is a second language for you as a country, to some extent anyway. Even in English, as Kelly mentioned below, there are different dialects and pronunciation and even terms that are so greatly different. So ya, teaching English to kids (and adults) who didn't grow up speaking it or hearing the rules (or lack there of) is like teaching a second language learner, regardless of their first language.
      I'll tell you, it is not easy with some kids. I think there are a few reasons for that. First and foremost, all kids learn differently. Some kids pick up the phonics so well and are able to run with it, and for others it couldn't be more difficult. Being a native speaker, of course, helps as well. It doesn't mean those kids always pick it up easily either, but they tend to compensate better for those times when rules aren't followed. But I'll tell you what makes a good reader is one who reads and is read to A LOT. Those are the kids who pick it up so fast. They are the ones who know when the rules work and when they don't. Most of my kids were not read to, in English or Spanish, when they were young and it's like pulling teeth to get them to read at home every night - I even send my books home with them every night. We even tell the parents, let them read to you...just make them do it. But so many don't, and I can pinpoint exactly who practices and who doesn't based on their reading level and their progress over the school year.

    4. I didn't know if I could fit anymore in that comment so I'll go on... :)
      We have some schools smattered about in the state called dual-immersion programs and they are fantastic. Students are taught part of the time in Spanish (or whatever the language, but mostly Spanish here in CA) and part of the time in English - English speakers get half their curriculum in English and the other half in Spanish while native Spanish speakers do as well. In a class of say 50 kids, there are two teachers - one who only teaches in Spanish and the other who only teaches in English. I have a dear friend whose daughter is in one in San Luis, and it is remarkable. We don't have anything like that in my district or nearby. But it is an optimal learning environment for both English proficient and English learners.
      Enjoy your new toy! I'm assuming Jess won't be joining you on that photo shoot. Who is the girl with the whip and the starry pants? Can't be a sales person? :)

    5. An Amazon. There's a multiplier of 1.43 to any price in GB£ to get to the €uro/Irish price AND it's still 40% cheaper to buy on Amazon for most things.
      Rip off Ireland, even in a recession, idiots.

    6. Ah, got it!. We have these crazy local commercials that, especially around the patriot holidays, have people dressed in Uncle Sam-like outfits screaming at the camera. That's what I was envisioning with your description, racking my brain thinking who would be advertising like that over there. :) I'm glad you weren't subjected to that.
      How do companies expect to sell large quantities there if the prices are so high. Is it better quality? Everything here is relatively cheap (in comparison), but it's also relatively mediocre in quality.

  2. I can't tell you how often I've thought how glad I was that English was my native tongue. I would HATE to have to learn it "from scratch", so to speak. I was amazed at how much more grammar I learned and how much more sense it made once I studied a foreign language. It made all the difference in the world.

    I'm actually a pretty big fan of phonics. I learned to read before I ever began school, making my way through dozens of Dr. Seuss books and the like. I worked with my own kids using a phonics kit before they began school, too. All three became good readers, though one doesn't really like to.

    Even once you've learned English, it can still be confusing when you start getting into regional spellings, idioms and accents!

  3. I just clicked on the "Challenge" above and had more fun sitting here reading it aloud! Love it! ...and did quite well, if I must say so myself ;)

    It also made me realize there are many words that we do say differently, depending on what region of the country (much less the world) we live in. Regional place names can be difficult for others, too. Around here I'm thinking specifically of the words Ouachita and Champagnolle.

  4. And think of the word Lafayette. I know of three different ways it's pronounced.

    1. I was glad that I could read the poem too. Phew!
      I learned to read during the "whole language" generation, but learned phonics from my first grade teacher mom who knew that only phonics or only whole language doesn't make a good reader - it's a combination of both. And that's how I run my reading program. You did your kids well by working on it early. And I do think readers breed readers (or at least those who find it easier to read) because reading is a part of home life.
      It's funny that you mention the Dr. Seuss books. I LOVED them too, and because of the phonics piece, didn't have an issue with them. For many years I ran our school's Read Across America week that celebrate's Dr. Seuss's bday. I had several people - teachers, admins, parents - who told me that they struggled with those books because they were not strong in phonics. Even as an adult when they were asked to read one, they were quite hesitant.
      Regional names like the ones you mentioned can be tough! It makes me chuckle to hear out of towners pronounce places like Van Nuys, La Canada, Sepulveda, La Cienega- phonics comes out in full force and it's wrong every time. When I lived in New England, phonics pretty much went right out the window when trying to pronounce some of those places and getting laughed at. I wouldn't even attempt the ones you listed above. :)

    2. Reading to my kids (at bedtime, in particular) was a tradition. I'm sure I was read to as a child, but now would much rather read for myself than be read to. I'm a visual rather than audial learner and I think I've mentioned before that's why I don't care as much for audio books. Too easy for my mind to wander! There are times, though, I like to read aloud to myself because it seems to give me a whole different perspective. I especially like to do that when reading Psalms from the Bible.

      I belonged to a mail order club as a child where I received a new book every few weeks and that's how I got most of my Dr. Suess book, plus other authors like P.D. Eastman (who was a favorite of mine). I still have all those books and read them to my kids as well as buying them lots of books of their own. They loved the Scholastic Book sales at school and I always let them order. Do they still have those?

    3. Yep! We scholastic book orders still go home once a month. That may have been my favorite part of school...getting that catalog at school and marking up all the books I wanted! :) The prices have gone up in the last year or so, but even so they are probably the most reasonably priced books out there. They offer online ordering for parents and teachers now, which is nice. Most of my kids bring in baggies of nickels and dimes, but at least I can order them online. :)