Correcting Errors While Teaching Your Child to Read

While your child is reading text to you aloud, he or she is likely to make errors.  Your job is to correct your child’s errors with respectful guidance.  No one likes to be told that they are wrong or doing something wrong so please proceed with caution when it’s time to correct an error.  Your child needs to feel that his/her reading errors are an opportunity to learn something new, and not a situation where they’re being criticized.  Your language and tone of voice when pointing out errors set the stage for positive error correction.  When I hear a mistake when listening to a child read, I say something like, “whoops, let’s go back and take another look at this word” or “hey wait a second, that doesn’t make sense does it?”  This gives the child the opportunity to look for the error herself and try to find out where she went wrong. 

When the word with the mistake is identified, it is important to not allow the child to guess another word.  Without using letter names, point to the part of the word that was mispronounced and ask for the correct sound.  For example, in the following sentence, the word “break” may be pronounced “breek” while reading:

“Be careful not to break the mirror!” 

This is when I would mention that something doesn’t make sense.  I would point to the word and say, “you said ‘breek’ here but that’s not a word, what’s another sound you could try right here? [pointing to the sound picture EA].  If the child doesn’t know what else to try, I tell them immediately to try ‘ae’.  I also recognize what they did correctly by noting that “…yes, this sound picture can represent the sound ‘ee’ in a lot of words, but in this word its ‘ae’.  After we finish reading let’s take another look at all the sounds this sound picture can represent.”  This is a great time to pull in a review of all the sounds for EA (‘ee’, ‘ae’, and ‘e’).

I mentioned above that I tell the student what sound to try immediately if she doesn’t know because I don’t want to cause frustration.  If the correct sound doesn’t come to mind right away, just tell her the correct sound and move on.  If you spend a lot of time saying things like, “come on, you know this one”, or “this is easy, you just saw this in another word earlier” your child is going to resent the correction process and likely start guessing.  You want your child to have the correct information as quickly as possible so she stays in a positive frame of mind and learns the sound.  By struggling with identifying the correct sound your child has already proven that she indeed, did not know it, and that even if she pronounced it correctly in another word, she doesn’t know it well enough to transfer to other words.  Perhaps the word she read the sound correctly in was already a sight word. 

It is very important to discourage a child from guessing when they don’t know a sound or a word.  Always model how to correctly sound out a word or how to “dissect” it to show where all the sounds are.  If his pronunciation of the word is very close, its okay to re-read the sentence and have him try his pronunciation of the word.  For example, the word “please”, could be read with the pronunciation “pleass” because the student used the ’s’ sound instead of ‘z’ for the sound picture SE.  It is likely that based on the context of the sentence, he will then hear what the word is supposed to sound like.  This can happen a lot with words with more than one syllable.  Often, a child will have the entire word sounded out just fine, but not hear the right word because he’s not put the accent on the correct syllable.

Always praise and confirm your child’s self corrections.  She may initially mispronounce a word and then quickly change it when she realizes her mistake.  Point out what she did correctly.  For example, I would say, “Good, I’m glad you noticed that didn’t sound right with the sound ’s’ at the end. You’re really getting the hang of this!  Let’s keep going.”

Finally I want to advise you to only correct one problem at a time.  Let’s go back to the word “break”.  This time the student says, “breeks” when reading the sentence.  Start by correcting errors by leaving out, adding, or reversing the order of a sound.  So in this word, we want to bring attention to the ’s’ sound he added to the word.  You could say something like, “I noticed you said breeks. Where is the sound picture for ’s’ in this word?  [await response] You’re right, it’s not there.  Now let’s take a look at this sound picture….”  [then error correct for the sound picture EA as stated in the first example]. 

If you find that your child is having more than one error in each sentence, the reading material is probably too difficult for him at this time.  You want your child to be challenged but not to the point where he cannot remember what’s he’s read  by the end of the sentence.  I always have my students go back and re-read the sentence with an error in it to ensure comprehension. 

Ok, that’s it!  Keep error corrections a positive learning experience by providing assistance quickly and focusing on where the sounds are in the word.  Avoid letter names and praise your child along the way.  Learning to read is a process and your child deserves recognition for his or her efforts!

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Why I don’t teach “blends” in my reading courses…

Phono-Graphix is the method I use for teaching reading in my online courses.  It is similar to traditional “phonics” in that the focus is on the relationship between sounds and symbols.  That is pretty much where the similarity ends because in Phono-Graphix we do not teach rules, blends, letter names or word families.  I address the non-use of letter names in an earlier post.  I will address blends and word families here.  The avoidance of teaching rules for learning to read will come in a later post.

It is important to know that teaching “blends” and “word families” becomes obsolete when students are first taught, and show mastery in the basic code and the skill of blending.  Yes, we blend sounds together to form words in Phono-Graphix but we do not teach all the possible combinations of “blends”.  Once students know the sounds for all the letters and can demonstrate proficiency in blending those sounds, they do not need to memorize all the combinations separately.  They can decode words whether consonants are next to each other in a word or not.

There are only 134 sound pictures that need to be learned in order to excel in reading.  Adding every combination of consonant blends to this list is unnecessary and confusing.  Have you considered how many “blends” there are?  Here are just a few of the blends that can be learned without teaching them separately as “blends”:  st, nd, gl, gr, br, sl, sn, cr, cl, dr,fr,fl,pr,pl, tr  (Please don’t get me started on the three sound blends like ‘str’  and ‘spr’ !)

How can learning “blends” be a hindrance to learning to read?  I have had tutoring students that had learned their blends so well (in the regular classroom) that they could not “unglue” them when then time came.  So the word “gas” was pronounced “grass”  and the word “bat” became “brat”.  Students can become dependent on focusing on the first letter and guessing with one of their well-known blends.

The same phenomenon can happen when “word families” are taught.  Once a student learns, for example, the “at” family, every word they try to figure out has an “at” at the end of it.  For example:  the student reads “fat cat sat on hat” perfectly, then struggles with other three sound words like “fan, can, sap, and has” all are pronounced “fat, cat, sat, and hat” by the student.

Phono-Graphix is a common sense approach to teaching reading that only focuses on the absolute basic information needed.  By mastering the three basic skills of segmenting, blending and auditory processing, and knowing the code sets readers up for success.

When Should I Start Teaching Sight Words?

This is a common question parents and teachers ask, and although this answer is unpopular, I really want to respond with, “NEVER!”  Students should be able to sound out words before they are recognized by sight, so you never really teach sight words.  Sight words are developed by the child sounding out the same common words over and over again until they become known by sight.

So why do many early childhood teachers send sight word lists home and encourage students to learn them?  There could be many answers to this question, but I think it basically comes down to not knowing the latest research.  Many teachers teach the way they were taught in school so they perpetuate the practice.  By having young students memorize lists of words, they are unknowingly giving the impression that their students can read.  They hand over a progress report with a list or number of words learned in Kindergarten and are proud of themselves for teaching the young children how to read.  Caution: memorizing words is not reading!

In order to read, children must have the three basic skills for learning to read, as well as knowledge of our language’s written code. By teaching children to decode words rather than memorizing, we are teaching them how to attack an unlimited number of words.

The average child can memorize only about 2,000 to 3,000 words, enough to perform at about a first grade level.  By using other shortcuts like using pictures for clues or trying to guess the story line based on what just happened, the student can inadvertently fool his/her parents and teachers until the middle or end of second grade. Eventually the visual memory load will bottom out and all of a sudden the child has a reading problem.  Students begin to make mistakes with words that look alike. Students rely on guessing by looking at the first letter of a word and/or the shape of a word. For example horse and house.

It may seem like a great short-cut to have a child memorize a lot of sight words now but in the end the child would need to memorize 20,000 words that he/she will use in daily vocabulary.  Let’s see, 20,000 words or 134 sound pictures that represent the different sounds in English?  That’s a no-brainer right?  Let us teach children the 134 sound pictures and how to blend them together to form words instead.  Let’s teach them the tools they need rather than short-cuts that will catch up with them by the end of second grade.

In my experience as a Reading Therapist, I usually get the call for tutoring help from bewildered parents of third graders after the first parent-teacher conference.  “He was reading just fine all the way through last year.  I don’t know what’s happened!” They blame the teacher, the student for being lazy, or the distracting kid sitting next to him.  I blame sight word dependence.  Don’t let it happen to your child!

Ok, so now that you know why you should not teach your child sight words, let me give you a tiny exception.  (Pretend that this is in teeny tiny print)  There are a few common words in early childhood texts that do just need to be memorized.  I give you permission for only these two words for Pre-K through second grade readers: “one” and “two”.  Why these two and no others?  Well, they cannot be sounded out like all the other words young readers will encounter.  Only in the word “two” do we spell the sound /t/ with the letters T and W.  Further, the word “one” has several decoding issues:  1) It is a three sound word with a consonant, vowel, consonant pattern /w/, /u/, /n/ that follows a spelling pattern of vowel, consonant, vowel.  2) We do not spell the sound /w/ with the letter O, the sound /u/ with the letter N, etc.  How did theses two words get so confusing?  I’m sure there are etymologists that can explain how these words have changed since their origin but all we really need to explain to the student is that they just don’t follow the norm.  We just accept them as they are and move on.

Need to know how to teach your child the three skills for reading and the code knowledge?  I recommend the Phono-Graphix method.  There are several ways you can get the help you need from this method:  Buy the book READING REFLEX the Foolproof Phono-Graphix Method for Teaching Your Child to Read by Carmen McGuinness and Geoffrey McGuinness, or find a certified Phono-Graphix instructor near you, or enroll in the Reading Success Academy online course.   I welcome your questions and comments!

What are sound pictures, and why not just call them letters?

With the Phono-Graphix program, we use the term “sound pictures” because sound pictures applies not only to single letters, but combinations of letters that represent one sound.  Letters are pictures of sounds, however, many sounds are represented by more than just one letter.  For example, the sound ‘o  in ‘pot’, can also be “pictured” as ough as in ‘bought’.  This is an example of why our language is very difficult to learn.  The letter ‘o’ doesn’t always represent the same sound, and there are many different spellings for most sounds.

Example:  Let us consider the “long o” sound.  You will find this sound spelled in several different ways in our language (this list is not all inclusive):  go, boat, tow, note, soul, door

This happens with many different sounds in our language.  Did you know that there are nine different ways to spell the sound /oo/ like in “spoon”?  (All these different spellings for sounds are addressed throughout the Reading Success Academy courses.  Students first encounter two letters representing one sound in level three of the Basic Code Course.)

So, by identifying a sound picture that may have two or more letters, students can more easily sound out words that contain them.  If in the word “boat”, they know the sound that goes with this sound picture: oa   the word becomes a simple three sound word. /b/   /oa/  /t/   Although there are four letters, there are only three sound pictures, each representing one sound.

Did you know that teaching letter names can hinder reading instruction?

Did you know that teaching letter names can hinder reading instruction?

Yes, you read that right.  Teaching your child letter names before they are taught the sounds can hinder your child’s reading instruction.  Children need to learn the association of sounds to letters first so as not to confuse them as to the purpose of letters.  Letters are representations of sounds.  Yes, we have names for the letters but beginning readers really have no need to learn letter names unless you insist on having them spell words aloud, which really is not necessary when learning to read.

So how does it hinder reading instruction?  Students who learn letter names early are usually highly praised by the adults in their life for accomplishing such a feat. That early accomplishment toward learning to read is something the child is proud of and will hang onto tightly.  When it is time to learn the sounds associated with the letters they can get confused because many of our letter names start with a sound other than the one they represent, say for example, the letter F.  The letter name for F actually starts with the sound /e/ like in net.  The letter name for F has a total of two sounds blended together: /e/, and /f/.  Many children when asked to identify the sound that goes with F will say “e”.
The same holds true for other letters as well like C and G.  When a child is asked for the “sound that C makes”, he or she may answer, “s”.  Now we have a teaching point that is above their current level.  Yes, the letter C can be associated with the sound /s/, but this is not the time to introduce it.  You also can not tell the child that he or she is wrong, because indeed the letter C can be /s/ but we don’t want to reinforce the idea that the first sound in the letter name is the sound it always represents.  Too much information for a beginning reader.  Beginning readers need to know C as the sound /k/ in order to decode basic words at their level.  This also goes for the letter G whose name starts with the sound /j/, which again can be associated with G.  Yes, students are taught that some letters do represent more than one sound but beginning readers are not ready for this yet.  Reading “cat” and “dog” will be much easier if the student doesn’t have to decide which sound for C and G to use.
One last example.  I have had students tell me that the sound that goes with W is /d/.  Huh?  Yes, /d/ like in dog is what I’ve been told.  Why? Think about the first sound in the letter name W.  Yep, its /d/ “double U”.  Same holds true for the letter Y, in which I’m told has the sound /w/.
Still not convinced?  Here’s a bigger problem students have with letter names. Students depend on them to figure out words!  When faced with a challenge, you work with information you know right?  Some students who know letter names first will try to “sound out words”  with letter names.  Have you ever tried to figure out what a Seeyaytee is?  Well its one of the most simple words to read!  “C’mon, you know that word, sound it out!”   The letter names in the word cat sound like “seeyaytee” when blended together.  This simple word has now turned into a three syllable word that sounds nothing like cat, or any other word the student may know.   Students work with what they know, and if they know letter names first, that’s what they’ll go to.  Especially frustrating when a parent or teacher keeps telling you how easy the word is!
Naming letters is not as important as learning the sounds of letters.  I know, you may be thinking, “Well I learned my letter names before the sounds and I learned to read just fine!”  Well, congratulations.  I did too but it doesn’t mean it may not cause problems for your beginning reader.  Why not set them up for success at the start by teaching the most important thing first, the thing that they will hold onto tightly and depend on when faced with challenging words: the sounds.
So have you ruined your child’s chances for success as a reader because you’ve already taught them the letter names?  Of course not.  A good discussion with your child as to “why we aren’t using letter names anymore” is a good honest start. Using language like, “what sound do we say when we see this?”  while pointing to a letter will do the trick.  It takes some getting used to, I know.  I can take some of the load off of you by modeling the appropriate way to encourage learning the sounds.  My online tutoring course does the work for you.  Once you get the hang of it you can continue on your own or proceed with further lessons.  The program is comprehensive from “Fat Cat Sat” to multi-syllable words with special endings. (Click the Products link on my website for details.)
This post is longer than I intended but I think it leads easily into my future post about what words to use when teaching your child to read.