The present essay deals with children’s acquisition of literacy (alfabetismo) through the development of two language skills, reading and writing. In children’s mother language, these two skills are intertwined in early learning. For example, the physical act of writing letters and early words enhances the child’s ability to read. This complementary relationship between reading and writing continues long afterwards, so teachers can enhance children’s reading skills dramatically by encouraging the writing habit in childhood. Once children have become literate in the L1, that is, once they can read and write in the mother language, they are ready to start their process of becoming literate in the foreign language learnt at school.
Most children in kindergarten cannot read or write, but they have nonetheless developed many language and cognitive skills that form the foundation (cimientos) for learning to read and write. It seems important to focus on two skills that seem to lead to success in this area: familiarity with print and phonemic awareness.
Familiarity with Print and letter names
Children who have had many experiences with language, especially the experience of having someone read to them regularly, may have some concept of what printed words and letters are. They may realize that the print on a page is the source of the text information needed for reading or know that a reader looks at print from left to right. These concepts, referred to as concepts of print, are important for success in learning to read and children who have had limited preschool experiences with printed language will need to be taught them.
One of the strongest research findings in the field of reading is the high correlation between knowledge of letter names and success in learning to read. Young children need to develop the concept that printed words are composed of letters. While teaching children letter names does not in itself result in success in learning to read it can facilitate memory for the forms or shapes of letters and can serve as a mnemonic for letter-sound associations or phonics. English letter names can be introduced by the Alphabet Song.
Children in the beginning stages of learning to read need to learn that spoken words are composed of a limited number of identifiable, individual sounds or phonemes. This understanding, often referred to as phonemic awareness, is a very important factor in success in learning to read. Phonemic awareness involves building associations between written letters and speech sounds or phonemes. A phoneme is the smallest functional unit of sound. For example, the word cat contains three distinctly different sounds. There are 44 phonemes in the English language, including letter combinations such as /th/.
Phonemic awareness can be taught:
Adams (1990) suggests that rhyming activities can help children develop phonemic awareness. The reading and re-reading of books with clear, simple rhymes, offer abundant and fun opportunities for direct instruction in rhyming and the beginnings of phonemic awareness.
Another way to teach phonemic awareness is through phonograms. A phonogram is a spelling pattern for one-syllable words to which different initial consonants, or onsets, can be added. For example the phonogram “at” can be used to help students recognise and read rhyming words such as bat, rat, cat, mat and pat. The phonogram “ake” can be used for words such as lake, take, make, etc. There are about 40 most used phonograms that can be taught so children can learn to identify these sound units. By mastering these 40 units, children can learn to read approximately 500 elementary or basic one-syllable words. In addition to building phonemic awareness, providing instruction with phonograms also prepares children for reading words by analogy. For example, a child who never saw the word rug in print but who knows initial consonant sounds and how to read the word bug can very likely identify the new word if he or she has had practice manipulating onsets (initial consonants) and rhymes.
Of course, learning to read in Spanish is easier because Spanish spelling and pronunciation are much more consistent than English spelling-pronunciation.
In addition to identifying sounds, children must also be able to manipulate them. Word play involving segmenting words into their constituent sounds, rhyming words, and blending (mezclar, combiner) sounds to make words is also essential to the reading process.
It is best to begin with easier words and then move on to more difficult ones. Five characteristics make a word easier or more difficult (Kameenui, 1995):
1. The size of the phonological unit. E.g., it is easier to break sentences into words and words into syllables than to break syllables into phonemes.
2. The number of phonemes in the word. E.g., it is easier to break phonemically short words such as no, see and cap than snort, sleep or scrap.
3. Phoneme position in words: initial consonants are easier than final consonants and middle consonants are most difficult).
4. Phonological properties of words. E.g., continuant such as /s/ and /m/ are easier than very brief sounds such as /t/.
5. Phonological awareness challenges. (e.g., rhyming and initial phoneme identification are easier than blending and segmenting.)
Examples of phonological awareness tasks include phoneme deletion (“What word would be left if the /k/ sound were taken away from cat?”); Word to word matching (“Do pen and pipe begin with the same sound?”); Blending (“What word would we have if we blended these sounds together: /m/ /o/ /p/?”); phoneme segmentation (“What sounds do you hear in the word hot?”); phoneme counting (“How many sounds do you hear in the word cake?”); and rhyming (“Tell me all of the words that you know that rhyme with the word cat?”)
Opportunities to engage in phonological awareness activities should be plentiful, frequent, and fun. And, of course, exposure to language at home and exposure to reading at an early age affect the ability of children to understand the phonological distinctions on which language is built.
Children with learning disabilities have deficiencies in their ability to process phonological information. Thus, they do not readily learn how to relate letters of the alphabet to the sounds of language, so their learning is slower and they require special training. Children from culturally diverse backgrounds may also have particular difficulties with phonological awareness.
What kinds of skills are required to learn to read? Skilled reading requires the integration of several skills and abilities. You cannot learn to read an alphabetic language like English, unless you understand that the words that you hear contain smaller sounds called “phonemes.” Understanding that spoken words are composed of phonemes is critical because in beginning reading, new words are decoded by linking the phonemes to the letter symbols. Once children learn how to apply sounds to letter symbols, they must practice the process to ensure that their reading becomes rapid and fluent. Reading requires phoneme awareness, phonics, reading fluency, and reading comprehension skills. Each of these skills are necessary and none are sufficient on their own. They must be integrated through consistent and frequent practice. Learning to read is not a natural process–it requires systematic instruction.
(tomado de Magister) We will now say a few words on reading comprehension: reading comprehension failure may be due to one –or a combination – of the following factors: (1) the child concentrates on individual points and does not succeed in getting a clear idea of the overall meaning; (2) the child reads too quickly and does not pay attention to details and (3) the child interprets the reading text in the light of his/her own experience, in other words, these children cannot separate what the writer says from they think.
In order to overcome these difficulties, our pupils need to develop a number of subskills. The six main reading subskills are the following:
Predictive skills. Predicting what will come next.
Extracting specific information, by paying attention to detail. This is called scanning.
Getting the general picture, by quickly reflecting on what they are reading. This is called skimming
Inferring opinion and attitude. For example, understanding humour in a text.
Deducing meaning from context, since children will often encounter words that are unknown to them.
Recognising function and discourse patterns and markers. This includes, for example, knowing that a new paragraph starts a new idea, or new information.
Since our pupils will be able to read in Spanish before they start reading in English, what we need to do as English teachers is to re-activate the reading skills that they have acquired in their mother tongue.
Why do some children have difficulties learning to read?
Individuals who are most at-risk for reading difficulties are those who enter school with limited exposure to oral language interactions and little prior understanding of concepts related to letter knowledge, print awareness, and general verbal skills. Children from homes where little reading takes place are especially at-risk for reading failure. However, there are children who have had exposure to language, literacy interactions, and opportunities to learn to read who have significant difficulties acquiring reading skills. Whether the causes are environmental or genetic in nature, the reading problems occur due to deficits in phoneme awareness, phonics development, reading fluency, reading comprehension or, frequently, combinations of these.
(tomado de magister) Reading activities can be divided into three groups: Pre-, while- and post-reading. Pre-reading activities include, for example, preliminary discussion of the topic, and brainstorming, paying attention to illustrations, sequencing pictures related to the text they are going to read, etc. The main while-reading activities are skimming and scanning, and the teacher should provide adequate exercises for these subskills. For example, we can show students that understanding just a few words is often sufficient to get the message. Other while-reading activities can have as their aim, for example, deducing the meaning of unfamiliar words. Post-reading activities can be very varied: From making a drawing based on what they have read to participating in a role-play based on the text, or doing a crossword based on vocabulary taken from the text, etc.
Can reading problems be prevented? (si os gusta este párrafo y creeis que os da tiempo a incluirlo, adelante… si no, lo podeis suprimir)
Reading problems can be prevented if difficulties are detected early, in kindergarten and first grade and the appropriate early interventions are applied. Prevention and early intervention programs that teach phoneme awareness and phonics skills and develop reading contexts where children have an opportunity to practice skills are more beneficial than approaches that are less structured and direct. Help needs to be provided before nine years of age, after that time, children respond poorer to reading instruction. A major thing to remember is to make all of the language and literacy interactions positive and enjoyable experiences.
We will now focus on WRITING.
Writing is a basic language skill. Like reading, it requires knowledge of the written form of the language. Like speaking, it is a productive and creative language skill. We use it to communicate our own ideas and feelings to others. But writing is also a physical skill. Young children need to be able to handle pens and pencils and correctly form those strange marks on paper that adults call writing.
To do this, children must develop their fine motor skills: the small muscle movements that occur in the fingers, in coordination with the eyes. These skills don’t develop overnight. Teaching them to children requires patience — and it needs to be fun, too! Of course, children can develop their fine motor skills in other activities too, such as cutting out outlined shapes, placing and pasting shapes into outlines, tracing, colouring, drawing and doing puzzles.
Since writing is much more than the production of graphic symbols, our pupils need to master (dominar) certain subskills, just as in the case of reading. The main types of writing sub-skills are the following:
Graphical or visual skills, including graphemes, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, etc. Stylistic or expressive skills. This implies being able to express precise meanings, using adequate vocabulary, etc. Organisational skills include, for example, sequencing ideas and division into paragraphs. Grammatical skills, for example, using a variety of sentence patterns or constructions. Rhetorical skills. These include using cohesive devices such as connectors, to link different parts of a text.
Writing practice should begin at the word level. For example, making lists, completing crosswords, matching labels to pictures, classifying words under headings, or making personal dictionaries. These activities will also re-inforce the learning of spelling and vocabulary.
The sentence level comes next. At this stage, the following types of activities can be used: writing captions for pictures, and writing speech bubbles for cartoons, matching halves of sentences and copying, answering questions, correcting mistakes in written sentences, writing sentences based on questionarraires, etc. These types of activities will enable our students to construct sentences in English.
For the next step, the paragraph-level, it is convenient to start by providing “model paragraphs”, so students see a text and then use it as a basis for their own work. Hammer (1983) calls this “parallel writing”. We must also help our students organise their writing clearly and coherently, using cohesive devices.
Dictation is a useful writing activity. Although it is not a creative activity, it is useful to re-inforce spelling, among other things.
We will now briefly look at writing as a communicative activity. Harmer divides written communicative activities into six groups (tomado de magister): Exchanging letters and emails , constructing stories, relaying instructions , fluency writing, writing games , writing reports and advertisements
But we can add some others. For example, writing a personal diary, or even keeping a class diary. The most common type of writing activities is perhaps composition writing. At the end of the 6th year of primary education children should be able to write short compositions on topics that are relevant to their interests.
Learning to read and write is a critical achievement in life. Research reveals conclusively the link between early literacy and later academic and career success. To ensure that every child becomes a competent reader and writer is a responsibility shared by teachers, families and communities. The role of educators in early literacy instructionis to teach basic skills and to provide rich, meaningful, engaging learning environments supported by appropriate teaching practices. Each child comes to the classroom with different literacy experiences and abilities, and teachers need to consider each child’s needs and to provide balanced programs with explicit instruction and meaningful reading and writing tasks.