Thursday, September 23, 2010

What's Engineered Text Got to Do With It?

What is Engineered Text anyway?  What does it have to do with kids learning to read?  A whole lot it seems.
Engineered text, as it applies to reading, means each word, each lesson, is sequenced in a deliberate and methodical way. One group of words in a word family starts the foundation for the next word family.

It does NOT mean mindless repetition that tricks children into memorizing text.

The word family is shuffled and used, over and over, in stories the child must decode ie sound out, crack apart, blend into a word.  Engineered text gives the mouth and the brain a chance to coordinate the tango fandango of reading.

The State of California passed legislation mandating reading must be taught with phonics systematically and explicitly while presented in scope and sequence text.  Let me tell you, that took some doing.  Sounds a little frightening, doesn't it?  It's not.  It simply mandated phonics must be presented in an organized way, right out there front and center; not sprinkled here and there in a text book.  Believe it or not, that is exactly what happened when phonics fell by the wayside.  So did the State of California's reading scores.

Several things came as quite a shock to me while sitting for hours and days in those legislative hearings.  The two biggest were first and foremost that a reading disability can be acquired by a child, where there was none, with faulty curriculum.

Someone please pick me up off the floor because I fell out of my chair.

And two, school text books are the bread and butter for publishing companies.  The world of educational publishing is very competitve, to the tune of bazillions of dollars.  Don't believe me?  Ask any college student how much they spend each semester on books.  Call your child's school district and ask how much of the district's budget was allocated for text books in each specific subject and when was the last time they bought new books?

The contracts are huge and school boards are wined and dined by publishers, so to speak.  They poor on the schmooze, make all sorts of promises, offer different incentives, mostly in the form of teacher training, which doesn't come cheap.  That's music to school board members' ears.  Unfortunately, not all text books are created equal.  And neither are school boards.  Do you know the credentials and views of your school board members?  They are the ones calling the shots.  Not the Superintendent or teachers, as you might think.

There is also something called scope and sequence.  Besides being systematic, the book must make sense in the long run.  It must have a plan.  It must go from point A to Z  logically. Each lesson builds upon the previous one.  This is scope and sequence; logical  but difficult to do.  It takes decisive planning, must be deliberately orchestrated and engineered. Hence, the term Engineered Text.

Well, surely, I thought, publishing companies automatically employ people to do just that, don't they?  Not unless they must.  Well, surely, then, school districts would only buy well written text books, would they not?
They are educators after all.  They have degrees.

Teachers, principals and superintendents usually have degrees, if  it is a district requirement.  Private schools may or may not require degrees.  Even so, these are not the people who generally decide which publisher gets the multi million dollar contract.  School board members do.  They vote on which ones to adopt.  They may give the Superintendent instructions to form committees and take in teacher and parent input but then again, maybe not.  Sometimes it is at a general meeting, sometimes at a closed meeting.  Something parents generally know nothing about.

Very few parents go to school board meetings.  Why should they?  They trust school board members.  They have no idea that a school board member can be anyone who knows nothing about education deciding which books are going to sit on their child's desk, which books the teacher is going to be bound and required to teach from.

Compare this confusing scenario to restaurants.  If you had a choice between an upscale, fancy restaurant with exquisite decor and fabulous service but tasteless food or an older, smaller neighborhood dive with the most incredible tasting, perfectly fresh, piping hot delicious food, which would you choose?  It is the same with text books.  Text books feed your child.  The teacher serves your child daily from text books. Looks can be very deceiving.  It is the content, not the pretty pictures, that is of importance.   Even the most skilled, competent teacher, with perhaps thirty years teaching experience, is required to teach from the books the district has selected.  No ifs, ands or buts about it.  It can drive a sane teacher mad to teach from inferior curriculum.

When California hit the bottom of the barrel compared to the rest of the United States in student reading scores, some very smart grandparents and parents went looking for answers. Mind you they were highly educated with backgrounds in education, and they went on a rampage.  These were their children and grandchildren failing school because they could not read.  They brought the best and the brightest to the state Capitol to speak before legislators.  When it was over, bills were passed and supported with millions of dollars of funding.

So you would think parents could heave a sigh of relief?  Unfortunately, no.  Mandates were issued for publishing companies to follow if they wanted their books to be allowed in California schools.  Some are better than others.  Way better.  Parents need to ask the child's school which books their child will use.  It's better to be prepared and inoculate a child against a subpart reading program.

Here is an easy,  flawless program.  It has withstood the test of time.  Have a look to see how the lessons build on each other, how nothing is left to chance.  Look how the child is given the chance to read story after story while perfecting his or her decoding skills.  This will give you a basis to judge other reading programs.

Parents can buy these books.  It is not difficult to teach a child to read.  A very small percentage of children  have a wiring difficulty in the brain that is cause for concern.  If your child does, that's a whole other ballgame.  The NHIS has been researching why a small percent of the population has this difficulty and what can be done about it.

Kids want to learn to read.  If they do not it is because the books being used are not making sense to their brain.  If the brain can not take in the information, organize and make logical sense, there is little hope of becoming a fluent reader.

SRA Basic Reading Series

Buy  only the text books, levels A-F  (two books in level A) total of 7
plus the workbook for each level, total of 6

Easy spelling  program that will reinforce decoding while teaching spelling in a systemic, logical sequence.

Don't be intimidated.  If you can read, you can teach your child to read with the right materials.

BE PATIENT and your child will be rewarded.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mapping Print to Speech-First Things First

Learning the sounds alphabet letters make, as opposed to simply their "name", is the basis for a child learning to read.  It's all well and good to point to a letter, ask "Which letter is this?" and then the child has no idea letters make sounds.  Children seem to understand when told that letters have jobs.  Their job is to make a sound.  Some letters even have two jobs; they make more than one sound.

If a child is in school and falling behind reading, this is the most crucial base to cover.  Have a stack of picture free alphabet cards made with index cards and a marker.  Show the child a card and ask what is the letter's "name" then what sound this letter makes.  If the answer is correct, start a "correct" pile.  Proceed through the entire alphabet putting incorrectly answered cards in another pile AFTER naming/sounding out the letter for the child.

Vowels can be tricky.  Knowing correct vowel pronunciation is vital. If not learned correctly, it will be a huge stumbling block down the road when bigger and bigger words are decoded, IE sounded out.


When testing a child, often times parents are quick to say their child has known the alphabet since the age of two.  I am more interested if they know correctly the sounds each and every letter in the alphabet makes.  Incorrect letter sounds are the pot holes which derail a child's reading skills.  It has flabbergasted more parents their child did not correctly know the alphabet sounds.


Go over and over the alphabet until the child learns all letters with their correct sounds.
It can be done in as little as five minutes a day.
Don't get exasperated.  The more exasperated you get, the longer it will take to learn.
If necessary, concentrate on three letters at a time, then go on to the next three.

If you have a young child just learning the alphabet, always always always, say the sound.

"This letter's name is A.  His job is to make a special sound.  The sound is AAAAAAA (short A sound).
Can you say AAAAA?"

This is called mapping print to speech.  Without this step we do not learn to read.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Four Month Old Teaches Her Grandmother a Few Tricks

We have a new baby girl in the family  She is rapidly approaching five months.  Five whole months.  Seems like yesterday she made her appearance in this world.  We wondered what was taking her so long.  She had her own plans.  Given the lovely Italian name Lillianna months earlier, she waited for her Italian paternal great grandfather's birthday to share.  He would have been thrilled.  She has the same twinkle in her eye as he did in his.  I think he planted a kiss on her head before she headed this way.

So what did this little sprite teach me, a veteran reading consultant/tutor?  That four month olds pay attention.
Very close attention.  To stories being read.  Yes, it stunned me as well.  This revelation came about while I was reading "Pirates Don't Change Diapers" to her four year old sister.  The baby was close by. And then I caught sight of her little face lit up like a Christmas tree and zeroed in focus.  Could it be?  Was she really?  Oh, yes indeed.  This little itty bitty baby was enthralled.  Completely and utterly enthralled with the pictures and my very bad pirate accent.   It caught me by total surprise. It shouldn't have.

Think about it.  Babies are focused learning language.  Completely and utterly consumed by it.  In two to three years time they command language.  So why wouldn't they like to hear and see a bright, vivid story book?

Lesson learned, start reading to children when they are born.  Or before they are born.  Especially sing song
nursery rhymes.  But any book with rhyming text is good.  It sets in motion all good things for phonemic awareness, which is, the root of reading.