Jan 30, 2008

How To Teach Your Kids To Read

ST Jan 30, 2008
Revamp to Reading Scheme Ups Its Pass Rate
Instead of remedial lessons, English Learning Support Programme focuses on skills
By Ho Ai Li

AN IMPROVED version of a programme that helps pupils who are weak in English has led to higher passing rates for them, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said yesterday.

The scheme, known as the Learning Support Programme (LSP) for English, emphasises pronunciation and recognition. Under it, pupils who had barely understood two-letter words later learnt how to read long passages and passed their exams.

Around 65 per cent of the 402 Primary 2 pupils in this pilot scheme eventually made the grade compared to only 40 per cent previously, the ministry said.

The new scheme has made such a difference that it has been rolled out in all primary schools.

Around 5,600 pupils who are less proficient in reading than their peers will come under this scheme. This comprises up to 14 per cent of each Primary 1 cohort.

While the old lessons were remedial and no different from the usual English classes, the new ones focus on skills, said Ms Thoo Mei Lan, a senior reading specialist at MOE.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Masagos Zulkifli gave reporters an update yesterday, saying that the ministry had looked into improving the LSP as its pass rate had been 'hovering at 40 per cent for a long time'.

Many pupils start Primary 1 not being able to read words like 'on' or 'is', said Ms Thoo.

Now, they are taught to recognise the letters of the alphabet and to decode and spell words. After going through the programme, they should be able to read even polysyllabic words such as 'sapphire', she added.
This article makes me feel a little sad. It's not that difficult for parents to teach their little kids to read.

My son knew all the letters of the alphabet even before he could talk. (If you wrote out all 26 letters of the alphabet, he would be able to correctly point out whatever letter you randomly asked him to point out). Before he could even hold a pen properly, he could already spell words like “cat”, “dog” or “house”.

My daughter is three years old and can recognize probably around 200 different words with no conscious effort. She has a good grasp of phonics and that enables her to break down more complicated words (“COM-PLI-CA-TED”) and figure out how they sound, even if she doesn’t know the meaning.

What’s the simplest way to teach a toddler his ABCs? Put him in front of a TV, and play a Sesame Street VCD. That’s it.

As the child progresses, you substitute with more advanced VCDs. I highly recommend “Between the Lions”, for kids who have learned their ABCs and moving on to learn simple words. The storylines are so wickedly humorous and entertaining and the music so good that as an adult, I enjoy watching the show too.

Many people think that TV is bad for kids, but that has not been my experience. In my opinion, it largely depends on what programmes you let them watch. These days, plenty of excellent children’s shows are available. You just have to choose intelligently.

Of course, books are also of vital importance.

The trick to teaching a little kid to read is to make it fun. There should be no coercion or pressure – it would kill the kid’s natural joy for learning.

Buy a wide variety of children’s books and leave them in your kid’s room. Always let the kid choose what he wants to read. If the kid loses interest halfway and doesn’t want to read anymore, just stop right then.

Where can you get lots of good children’s books, without burning a hole in your wallet? Look out for the book sales by Times or the National Library, at the Singapore Expo. At these events, books go at extra cheap prices. Buy in bulk. I go to these events with my suitcase, no kidding.

If you don’t want to wait for these events, go to the Children’s Book Store on the 4th floor of Bras Basah Complex. This is a place where kindergartens and playschools regularly source for children’s books. You get brand new books here at very cheap prices – most books would be between $3 and $8.

When you read to your child, be sensitive to the material. Different books can be used, and are designed to be used, in different ways.

Don’t read like a tape recorder. Keep the process interactive. Give the kid time to point and poke at the pictures. Before you turn the page, ask the kid to guess what’s going to happen next.

Read dramatically. Act out the story as you go along. Ask your child supply the sound effects (for example, if you are reading a story about the Dark, Dark Woods, ask him to howl like a lonely wolf).

As your child’s reading skills improve, take turns with him to do the reading – get him to try reading the next word, or sentence or paragraph. Invite questions – talk about the animals, or the flowers, or different countries, or good manners, or whatever the book is about.

Young kids often like to read the same book again and again. This is normal – they need the repetition to learn. Don’t be impatient or bored. Get innovative in the way you read. Entertain them, and yourself.

Reading with your child is a good way to bond. It’s also like aerobic exercise. 20 minutes a day, three or four times a week, is enough for excellent results.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Haha, I agree. When I was a kid, I re-read my story books many times and nice artwork actually makes it more fun.

And a while ago, I digged out some of my old story books which I used to read as a kid. I actually drew many funny things on my books with some comments like "ugly woman" on the stepmother in Cinderella. That was really funny. I didn't even remember I wrote that. LOL.

celestialbaby said...

When is the best time to start a child on books? I prefer my gal to play with something tangible..books are not.

Mr Wang Says So said...

It's not mutually exclusive. Your kid can have both toys and books, and outdoor play etc.

I started reading with my kids when they were babies. Of course at that age, they are just enjoying being cuddled in your lap while listening to your voice and looking at pictures. But this opportunity to listen to you talk is also a vital part of learning language (as you probably know, babies learn faster when their parents talk a lot to them).

yamizi said...

This may sounds a little irrelevance.

But that's why early intervention to detect whether an infant is down with any form of hearing impairment is important.

A study had done to show that children around (or before) the age of two can actually pick up 2000 to 3000 vocabularies.

So besides building the bond with your child, the child would have already started learning through his/her natural ability already.

Anonymous said...

if only parents read your blog and follows it... haiz... saw too many busy parents around who did not spend enough time with kids...

MOE is revamping mainstream english programme for lower primary (and hopefully upper primary) to introduce all the elements you have mentioned. Some schools already using this programme. Hopefully all teachers (and parents) will believe and that reading lays the foundation for the kids.

Wendy said...

the thing is i find that its good for children whose parents can't speak english and you have to recognise that even in singapore today there are people who can't speak english. my parents were chinese educated but i grew up in a time when we weren't expected to be able to read and form proper sentences by the time we were in primary 1

le radical galoisien said...

I think you oversimplify language acquisition, Mr. Wang. I note the part where children couldn't read two-letter words: that's a big clue that it's a cross-cultural issue.

The Chinese writing system is logographic, and each grapheme represents one morpheme. For English writing, each grapheme represents one phoneme (and these graphemes aren't consistent in length either).

The other issue is that the English writing system is far from regular. English is one of the only languages (besides Chinese, and maybe French) where years have to be spent to teach spelling. In Italian, "spelling bees" are virtually unheard of.

"It's not that difficult for parents to teach their little kids to read."

Note that the sheer majority of students do not fall under the scheme.

Personally, I think it's far more important to teach your child IPA and all the sounds of the world's languages -- because babies are very sensitive the subtlest sound differences during their extended babbling stage -- and if you continue stimulating them with the range of human sound production (from clicks to breathy voice to pharyngeal nasals) then when they grow up they will have little problem being multilingual because acquisition by immersion and listening comprehension will come easily.

A strong ear entails strong reading skills.

Mr Wang Says So said...

I actually don't believe that spelling has to be taught.

In my primary school days, I invariably scored full marks or almost-full marks for spelling, without studying for 'spelling' at all.

I was an early reader (like my children). "Spelling" was an incidental acquisition; it just came naturally with reading. Spelling tests in fact seemed rather meaningless to me until I realised that not all kids in my class can spell so easily.

I don't really see much practical value in IPA. I don't know it myself, and if I am hampered, well, so far I haven't noticed. Babies naturally learn the sounds of the language(s) that they are exposed to, ust by listening.

IPA may, I suppose, useful if you aspire to learn several languages. Fact is, I think that unless you want to be a translator or have some other specific purpose in mind, there isn't that much value in learning language after language (I think that the time and effort could be better used on other things). For my kids, I shall be pleased if they acquire fluency in English & Chinese, very happy if they later acquire fluency in a 3rd language of their choice, eg French or German or Bahasa Indonesia or whatever.

But as I said, there doesn't seem to be much point in learning a 4h language or a 5th language or a 6th language, unless you have a very specific purpose in mind (eg you intend to work in Korea, and therefore want to learn Korean etc).

le radical galoisien said...

"Babies naturally learn the sounds of the language(s) that they are exposed to, ust by listening. "

For their native language ...

But they lose their listening ability for other languages as they develop -- unless it is repeatedly stimulated, for example, by teaching them phonemic awareness through IPA.

It facilitates the learning of languages with radically different phonologies: e.g. Arabic, or various Sub-Saharan African languages.

無名小卒 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mr Wang Says So said...

Do click on the link. It shows a very young baby being exposed to books.

Note that the baby book is done entirely in red, white and black. These are the colours which newborns see best.

Anonymous said...

"When is the best time to start a child on books?"

一出世!

Anonymous said...

Hi all,

I remembered that I do not speak or read french until I was shown deliberately as an adult that this word, that phrase or this sentence sounds like this and not that - and for repeated times until I 'get it'. To me they are just abcs jumbled up in another language other than english.

There are young kids who speaks well and have vast vocabulary, but when it comes to reading, they could not recognise the written words are what they have just said if they are not exposed to those words with explicit teaching.

cheers

le radical galoisien said...

"you have to recognise that even in singapore today there are people who can't speak english."

Of course. Singapore needs a proper sociolinguistic survey free of government intervention.

"Fact is, I think that unless you want to be a translator or have some other specific purpose in mind, there isn't that much value in learning language after language (I think that the time and effort could be better used on other things)."

I fear that you're conflating cultural value with economic value.

Many people dedicate their lives to music even though it may not necessarily be lucrative -- and their discipline in music does have secondary benefits when they apply the same discipline to other fields.

"saw too many busy parents around who did not spend enough time with kids..."

The parental role in language acquisition is still quite murky -- at this moment I suggest that the greatest *onscious* thing parents can do is teach their children the sounds of non-native languages, so that when they do have to acquire them (you never know what the lingua franca of the world will be in 50 years) it won't be difficult.

"In fact, parents spend the majority of time correcting falsehoods (those little white lies) rather than correcting erroneous grammars. On the mere face of it, one would think children grow-up being little lawyers seeking out truths rather than little linguists seeking out correct hypotheses to their language. Thank God, the latter indeed prevails. "

http://www.csun.edu/~galasso/lang1.htm

Also, what applies for one person does not necessarily apply for all. You can call yourself "successful," Mr. Wang, and it is probably because the way you acquired reading was *exceptional* that you know find yourself in an exceptional role in life (as far as holding down a lucrative occupation goes).

The reason why most individuals may be below your position might be tied to the fact that they don't have a similar ability, or did not undergo the same process.

To draw proper conclusions, it's necessary to use psycholinguistic techniques to experimentally confirm hypotheses, rather than simply declaring, "oh this is how all children *must* learn..."

jueq said...

As Wendy and some others pointed out, not every child has the opportunity to be given books to read at a young age. For a start, their parents may not be English-educated and may be too busy earning a living to oversee the child's education. Or they could be non-English educated but kiasu and buy loads of books for their kids, but because the child is constantly immersed in a non-English-speaking environment or where poor English is spoken, he has no firm grasp of the rudiments of the English language unlike some of his more fortunate peers.

To say that spelling doesn't need to taught is oversimplifying matters. That is only assuming that everyone is able to receive the same attention, education and guidance as Mr Wang.

Mr Wang Says So said...

The "cultural value" point IS rather unconvincing to me, in the context of IPA and the learning of multiple languages. Two languages is good, a third may be useful - but it does sound quite useless to seek to imbibe four, five, six or seven cultures through learning that many languages. If anything, it dilutes your cultural exposure, because you have so much less time to immerse yourself in any one culture.

Finally, you are a linguistics student but I am a parent. I actually have kids to raise, so my concerns, like all parents' concerns, are much more practical and immediate. Parents cannot afford to wait for linguistics experts, scientists etc to experimentally confirm their various hypotheses through psycholinguistic techniques - how many more decades will that take? And how many decades have already been taken? My children are growing up now, every day.

le radical galoisien said...

" If anything, it dilutes your cultural exposure, because you have so much less time to immerse yourself in any one culture."

Hardly dilution -- what do people say of Singapore, which initially had literally dozens of thriving language groups to manage? (Unfortunately government suppression has since reduced diversity...)

If anything, one gains greater appreciation for one's existing cultures by embracing new cultures; for languages, one solidifies one's command of already acquired languages because he or she realises that this new language has concepts that are shared with previous languages (universal grammar) but such concepts were not realised before.

"Parents cannot afford to wait for linguistics experts, scientists etc to experimentally confirm their various hypotheses through psycholinguistic techniques - how many more decades will that take?"

So it's better to give parents snake oil advice?

I would think that untested hypotheses are dangerous to assume as truth, especially ones based on the fallacy of composition.

Mr Wang Says So said...

LOL. I write a post entitled "How to Teach Your Kids to Read".

I suggest that to teach your kids to read, you must buy them books.

I suggest that parents must read regularly to their kids.

I suggest that parents make reading an interesting experience for the kids.

You say that I am selling snake oil? Insinuating dishonesty and fraud on my part?

I am sorry, but at this moment, to put it quite frankly, I cannot help thinking that you are somewhat ridiculous.

Incidentally, I trust that when you are referring to IPA, you are not confusing International Phonetic Alphabet with Intensive Phonological Awareness programmes.

If you were referring to the former, then my response is as per my earlier comments.

If you were referring to the latter, then I agree, certainly, that phonological awareness is very important. If you watch the TV shows I have recommended, you'll see that it is the basis of Sesame Street and Between The Lions. And furthermore, it is something that parents can easily apply, when reading to their own kids. And phonological awareness in the English language is also being taught in the MOE programme I mentioned. And my kids are quite phonologically aware in the English language (see reference in my post to the word "COM - PLI -CA - TED").

What I don't agree is that it is feasible, practical or useful for parents to teach young children the International Phonetic Alphabet (that is, all the sounds in all the languages of the world, captured in a notation system) when these children have not even mastered one or two languages yet.

Needless to say, the idea also isn't feasible for most parents in Singapore, since most parents themselves do not know the International Phonetic Alphabet (at least not as well as they know their ABCs), and have themselves long lost the ability to distinguish between the sounds in languages other than in the one or two languages that they know.

However, if you are able to show me some links to show that linguistics researchers have used "psycholinguistic techniques to experimentally confirm the hypothesis" that it is beneficial to teach the International Phonetic Alphabet to little children, I would be interested.

And who knows, maybe I shall then learn it myself and teach it to them. So that they can immerse themselves in half a dozen different cultures, if they like.

(I have a feeling that there are other worthy areas in life they'd rather pursue. For example, instead of learning six languages, they may prefer to use that time to:

(1) learn English
(2) learn Chinese
(3) learn 1 musical instrument
(4) learn 1 sport
(5) do some volunteer work
(6) join the Boy Scouts, or the Girl Guides, or the Science Club, or History Society, or Photography Club, or whatever.

Which in my opinion, as a package, is a more interesting, all-rounded and holistic package than learning language after language after language after language after language after language.

But that's just my opinion. If my kids do have some strange urge to immerse themselves in Chinese culture, Malay culture, Indian culture, Russian culture, French culture and Brazilian culture,I wouldn't stop them.)

The other point is that you (here, I mean you, specificlly) mustn't be so quick to project the personal circumstances of your own multicultural background onto others. If my father was a white man and my mother was Chinese and we used to live in Singapore but then we emigrated to the US or Japan, then evidently there is some natural purpose and reason for me to be interested in, and exposed to, those particular languages and cultures.

But otherwise, no.

le radical galoisien said...

Uh, of course buy books lor.

I am referring to the part where you're challenging general teaching methods by saying there isn't any ned to actively teach them spelling, and all that is needed is to plop children in front of educational TV.

"And my kids are quite phonologically aware in the English language (see reference in my post to the word "COM - PLI -CA - TED")."

But is the /p/ part of the first or second syllable? Or perhaps it's part of both (geminated)? Do they know where to put the stress? When to aspirate? Etc.

(They actually might, but pointing out these features will teach them to be *consciously* very aware of language.)

Furthermore, when spelling is being broached, some might be inclined to use an outdated phonics system that really works only for Middle English (because there are too many exceptions). Why is the "a" in "complicated" pronounced like /e/ for example? Do your children know that?


"when these children have not even mastered one or two languages yet. "
The whole point is to teach them while they're young before their sense of phonology becomes fossilised.

It's not about teaching them 6 languages from birth -- it's preparing them for a multilingual, globalised world.

"have themselves long lost the ability to distinguish between the sounds in languages other than in the one or two languages that they know."

I self-studied the IPA and had to also relearn these distinctions myself -- but they're not automatic. Whereas if I had been literally taught from infancy, fluency would have come much easier.

"(I have a feeling that there are other worthy areas in life they'd rather pursue. For example, instead of learning six languages, they may prefer to use that time to:

(1) learn English
(2) learn Chinese
(3) learn 1 musical instrument
(4) learn 1 sport
(5) do some volunteer work
(6) join the Boy Scouts, or the Girl Guides, or the Science Club, or History Society, or Photography Club, or whatever."

You seem to imply that learning additional languages is time consuming.

But you know, on top of learning linguistics and my various languages, I take a plethora of Advanced Placement classes, swim, debate (I won third place in my entire state this year), run cross-country, do robotics, draw and paint, and take external college classes as part of dual-enrollment while still a high school student,

I'm not trying to boast here, but my point is to challenge the assumption that "time" is necessarily zero-sum -- e.g. time spent in one activity cannot be used for another -- and I would think that any pupil soon comes to be familiar with the concept of "multitasking". For example, I practice French by playing violent computer games by using Voice Over IP communication with my clan in Quebec.

The whole advantage of linguistics is that it is multidisciplinary, and can be applied to areas as diverse as genetics and historical demography (and in fact, connect the two), as well as cracking the secrets of the human brain (cognitive science).

"The other point is that you (here, I mean you, specificlly) mustn't be so quick to project the personal circumstances of your own multicultural background onto others. If my father was a white man and my mother was Chinese and we used to live in Singapore but then we emigrated to the US or Japan,"

Please do not mock me. I live in a single parent family and last year we were on welfare -- my parents were never expats. Rather, we went overseas (at my age of 5) for job opportunity, but divorce and separation sent me back. The country's inflexible education system sent me over again. Please do not doubt my cultural loyalty.

Anonymous said...

may i know where can i get the 'Between The Lions' series....have been trying all the major bookstores but none seems to carry it now...

Jerry said...

Children can be taught to read
at an early age. Keep up the good
work of encouraging reading.

I trust you are teaching them
to read the best book, the BIBLE.
Am sure there are many in your
beautiful country who love this BOOK.

Blessings to you and yours.

Anonymous said...

I taught my daughter to read using the "Native Reading" method. She learned at two, right along with learning speech, and she can read anything now.

By the way, Kailing, the author of the Native Reading book, also believes that spelling need not be explicitly taught, if kids learn early enough. Spelling becomes a problem when kids learn reading separately, and much later, from when they learn to speak. They then have to "relearn" all the weird spellings in a phonologically opaque language like English. Kailing also believes that some forms of dyslexia are a result of learning reading so long after learning to speak -- so that reading early could actually prevent many such difficulties.

Having taught my daughter early, I can't imagine her not being able to read. She learns so much from reading, and understands so much more of what is going on. It seems strange to me that other 3 year olds can't read. I think early, native reading will soon be the standard.