Tuesday, November 8, 2016

O. Really.

           Why are so many children doing so poorly when learning to read?
            Funny you should ask. But as long as you did, let’s take a quick look at one letter, the letter “o”.
            If we place the “o” after the letter “t” we have the word, “to” (which rhymes with “do” but not with “go”.) Two letters, each making a different sound, create a word. If we add the letter “m” to the end of “to”, we have the word (name), “Tom. The “o” is making a different sound. Add a final silent “e” to create the word, tome, and what do you know? The “o” makes a third sound (the same sound it makes in “go”). What if instead of “m”, we add “ss” for the word “toss”? Yep, a fourth sound. Use the letter “n” instead of “m” and you get the world “ton”, and we’re treated to the schwa sound.  What other words begin with t-o? And what do they sound like? In tow, town, toy, tough, and toil, the “o” is combined with other letters to make various other sounds.
            So what does this all mean?
            First of all, we adults know, there are many more opportunities for the young reading student to become fall into a ball of confusion, especially if they’re expected to figure all of this reading and spelling on their own. This is especially true for children who have been raised in poverty, or in a home where education is ignored or reviled. The child who’s been raised in a literate home has a huge head start in this quest and can sometimes figure this mess out with nominal help.
            For children born into the previously mentioned less than advantageous surroundings, wouldn’t it make more sense to give them a proper phonetic education so that the confusion can be, if not completely eliminated, at least minimized? There are reasons and rules for many (but not all) of the English language’s seeming inconsistencies. Sometimes, as in the case of “ton” it’s due to changing (some would say slovenly) speech patterns. Some are due to specific word origins. A knowledgeable teacher can turn these different sounds and spelling patterns into many “teachable moments” delving into history and literature and increasing student knowledge.
            Very few teachers are taught how. Most teachers are not knowledgeable about the workings of English. They flounder, miss opportunities, try to add a bit of “phonemic awareness”, try some useless interventions, and another generation of illiterates passes through their classroom.
            It’s  time to teach teachers to teach reading correctly, that is, phonetically.