Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The One About The Education of Tiny Humans
So the Eggroll came home from pre-school the other day all puffy and proud of herself telling Himself and I that she learned a new word. She plunked herself down at the table, handed me a sheaf of papers, and proudly began spelling.

"B..E..F..O..R..E..!" she crowed triumphantly. "Before! See Mama, I learned a new word!"

"What do you think it means?" I asked.

"That there's a princess and a castle..."

"There's a princess and a castle? Is that what before means?"

And the whole thing spiraled down the rabbit hole. I should have gone through the sheaf of papers first. Had I done that, I might have discovered that the Pre-K teachers had decided that it would be a fabulous idea to teach the kids to read. And that they were kind enough to include some homemade flashcards and a lovely letter that explained why we, as parents, should be ever so grateful that they will be teaching our children to read by using "sight identification" or "Sight Words". I AM NOT GRATEFUL! NOT GRATEFUL AT ALL...

The premise of this silliness is that almost half of written material is made up of 100 of these 220 words. The Dolch Sight Word List. And that these words are best learned by sight, rather than phonetics. Many of these words are known as "exception" words, that is, words that don't adhere to basic phonics. The idea being that the child will be successful early on. The definition of success in this case is being able to identify the word on the flashcard.

We teach phonics in this house. I learned to read that way (and read by the age of three) and Himself learned to read that way (he also was reading before kindergarten). To be fair, as children we both tested out well above the "gifted" level at the time. He more than I. The first step, obviously, is sounding out words,and then "chunking" where certain letters that appear together often are sounded out (e-a, o-u, o-a). These two steps gives children the tools needed to be able to sound out any word. Not memorize a word based on a flashcard. Take that word out of context (flashcard) and studies have shown that 80% of children can't sound out or identify the word. 

So needless to say, I have problems with this. First, I think it's teaching to lowest common denominator. Every child in the class gets a pat on the back since they can recite the words. Hell, half the kids probably don't even have to think, they can just harmonize with the rest of the class.

Second, I don't think it give children tools. Once kids have the correct tools, they can read/learn at whatever pace they choose. Phonics is a tool. It can be used on any word in the language, not just 220 that appear on a list.

Next is comprehension. What about the words on a page that aren't part of the magic 220? What then? Speaking of that, what about the success thing? Does the child then fail because they don't know or can't sound out a word that isn't on the list??

I want my child to have self-esteem. I think everyone does. But I want my child to gather her self-esteem from the actual learning, the actual act of doing something well, figuring out something herself, using her tools. Not from being able to recite a list of words along with everyone else.

I also must admit that this system has me thinking that the teachers truly are lazy. It must be tons easier to have a group of kids recite a list of words than it is to make sure each child is pronouncing each sound correctly. And I can't help but be sore about that one because I'm paying for this....

If there are any parents out there who would like to offer their opinion on the matter, I'd love to hear from you.

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