Friday, January 30, 2009

Reading at Sight: Lesson 1 (Part One)

This post is intended to give an example, step-by-step, of an actual lesson with an actual child (mine!) using the Charlotte Mason method for teaching a child to read as detailed in Home Education. I hope to post a more concise version in Word format soon for others who may wish to try these CM reading lessons with their own children.

"Lessons in word-making help him to take intelligent interest in words; but his progress in the art of reading depends chiefly on the 'reading at sight' lessons... The teacher must be content to proceed very slowly, securing the ground under her feet as she goes. Say - 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are," is the first lesson; just those two lines." Home Education, page 204

In an effort to adhere as closely as possible to Miss Mason's reading methods, I chose "Twinkle, twinkle" to be our first reading lesson, just as the passage above illustrates. Punkin had had fairly good success with the first word-building lesson, but I really wasn't sure about what to expect with this first Reading at Sight lesson. I taught my older girls sight words, but not this early on in the reading process and not with this methodology. I was interested to see how the lesson would go. I had read the passage on pages 204-206 of Home Education at least a dozen times within the few days before the lesson and I reviewed the pages again before we began. My hope was to follow Mason's instructions line by line. We did this lesson on Wednesday. Here's how it went (again Miss Mason's words are in italic)...

"Read the passage for the child, very slowly, sweetly, with just expression, so that it is pleasant to him to listen. Point to each word as you read."

I had typed and printed a good, clear copy of the poem in font that I thought was pleasing and easy to read. Before I began reading, I explained to my little girl that it was important for her to pay careful attention to each word as I read, because I was going to ask her to remember what each word was later on. She nodded. Then, I pointed to each word as I read slowly (and sweetly), trying to engage Punkin in the lesson. She was smiling. So far, so good.

"Then point to 'twinkle', 'wonder', 'star', 'what', - and expect the child to pronounce each word in the verse taken promiscuously..."

By the word "promiscuously", I take Miss Mason to mean what we would say today as "randomly". In other words, expect the child to tell you any of the words as you point to them at random. So, I did just that. Immediately after I read the two lines slowly (and sweetly), I told Punkin that now I wanted her to tell me what each word was. I pointed to 'twinkle'. Blank stare. I encouraged her to try to remember and I pointed again. Blank stare. She looked up at me for a clue. "You can do it, sweetie", I said. Then she guessed - "star?".

Uh oh.

Now what? Miss Mason doesn't give us a two page explanation of what to do if your child doesn't magically memorize all ten words after a single slow and sweet reading. Should I read it again? Should I just tell her that I'm sorry she wasn't paying more attention and simply put the lesson away for the day? Honestly, that was never an actual thought of mine, but I could hear a few CM devotees suggesting that option. I thought, "Okay... context. This child is four. This is her very first reading at sight lesson. She might need to practice this a little." So, we started at the beginning and did the whole thing again. Blank stare. Oh, boy.

When I taught SweetP and Shug to read early, it was completely through sound blending exercises until we were well into short vowel words, and even then sight words were introduced maybe two or three a day. Never, ever ten in one sitting. Definitely not ten in one reading. I'd be lying to you if I said that I had very strong doubts about this particular lesson. "Maybe I should've just gone straight into the Letter Box lessons?" or "Maybe we should've done word-building for a little while before the first Reading at Sight lesson". You name it, I probably thought it in those few brief seconds as I pondered what to do now that Punkin clearly was not getting it.

I thought maybe it would help if we tried a slightly different approach. I decided to fast forward to Miss Mason's next step for this lesson:

"But we have not yet finished the reading lesson on 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star". The child should hunt through two or three pages of good, clear type for 'little', 'star', 'you', 'are', each of the words he has learned, until the word he knows looks out upon him like the face of a friend in a crowd of strangers, and he is able to pounce upon it anywhere. Lest he grow weary of the search, let the teacher guide him unawares (without him knowing it) to the line or paragraph where the word he wants occurs."

Again, I had a page typed, printed, and ready. At this point, I decided to forget the second line and just hope for some progress with the first line. I read the first line of the poem again and pointed to each word as I went. I then pointed to individual words in the line, asking Punkin to remember them. She did better than she had done when I read all ten words before asking. So, we moved on to the search for those words. I told her that we were going to search for the words that she just learned. I showed her how to point her finger and scan the page, looking for 'little'. On the first go around, one of the words she had done well at learning was 'wonder'. For some weird reason, as she scanned the page looking for 'little', she kept stopping at 'wonder'. But she would say, 'little'!! Did I say "oh, boy" once before?

Because - oh, boy.

I really wanted to end this lesson on a good note. I wanted her to be encouraged. I wanted to be encouraged! But, I had been timing it, and we were already past ten minutes. I decided to narrow the lesson even more. I pointed to several places on the page where 'little' was printed. Each time I pointed to a new 'little', I said "little". Then, I told Punkin to stop me when my finger came to 'little'. Slowly, slowly, I ran my finger under the words. I passed several 'little's before she stopped me, but she did stop me under the word 'little'.

I got really excited for her and gave her a huge hug. She's not easily fooled, though, and I knew that she knew that she hadn't learned all of the words in the lesson. I told her that learning to read can take a lot of practice, and that I was really proud of how hard she tried and how she listened so well. She didn't seem too broken up over it, so I hugged her again and told her that I was looking forward to our next "Twinkle, twinkle" lesson :)

It was a complete bust. Really. I've never had such a flop of a reading lesson. BUT, I'm not giving up, yet. This was our first go at it! I'm going to read the Home Education passage again, pray, and think about what makes my daughter's little mind tick. Something just wasn't clicking with that lesson... I just have to figure out what the problem was.

We had a little troubleshooting session before our next sight reading lesson, and made a very helpful discovery :) You can read about it here.