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Thinking About Teaching Literacy

Updated: Dec 3, 2020


Whenever I am teaching children, adolescents or adults, my mind it going in at least two directions - what concepts, facts and procedures do I need to teach a student and secondly, how is that student learning what I am teaching.

Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy trained me to do this, but many other models of thinking emphasize the same ideas. It gives us teachers practical strategies to delve into how our students are learning in depth, memorizing information instead of really learning it.

In my course, A Teacher's Guide to Teaching Reading and Spelling: Bringing the Science of Reading into the Classroom, Letter/Sound Patterns and Orthography, Syllable Types, and Morphology, I emphasize these two aspects of learning.

If you have a student who is a Friday speller, she studies her spelling words diligently during the week, takes the Friday spelling test, and aces it, then the next week misspells the words she knew perfectly on her spelling test, you want to know more about these two processes of learning.

A couple of examples from Structured Literacy will illustrate these ideas.

If I am teaching students about consonants, I want them to know the following facts:

  • Consonants are closed phonemes – they are pronounced by closing off the air with either your lips or your tongue and/or your teeth and then releasing the air – put your hand in front of your mouth and say /p/ and you will see what I mean.

  • Consonants can be either voiced or unvoiced and people often confuse two letters when spelling that are pronounced the same, except one is voiced and the other is unvoiced. Put your hands over your ears and say /s/, /z/ and you will hear the difference between voiced and unvoiced.

  • Consonants linguistically form pairs, two letters that are different letters, and sound different but are articulated with the same part of the mouth, the same airflow and the same movements, however, one is voiced and the other is unvoiced. Examples of pairs are T and D, F and V, S and Z.

I also want my students to be able to answer questions to demonstrate if they have remembered these facts:

  • Is this letter a consonant or a vowel?

  • Is this consonant made using your lips or your tongue?

  • How is the air coming out of your mouth in a stream or a puff?

  • Is this consonant voiced or unvoiced?

I want to see if my student understood the concepts and can explain the ideas in their own words.

  • Can you define the characteristics of a consonant?

  • Why do two consonant letters get grouped together in a pair?

I also want them to apply the ideas to new learning.

  • Here is a group of four consonants that we haven’t yet learned – which two form a consonant pair? Explain your thinking.

If my student makes a mistake when we are working together that is another extraordinarily important opportunity to focus on learning processes.

I want to carefully analyze in my head what and where and why they made the mistake they made. I want to ask them their thinking, because maybe what I thought was inaccurate and why it was inaccurate, may be totally different than their thinking. I then can reteach the ideas that they need to think through and then ask them a question with alternate answers, like “Is this letter a consonant or a vowel? OR Is this consonant made using your lips or your tongue?” and they can answer the question thoughtfully. This teaches them how to self correct!!!

If you want to learn more about these ideas and much more, come to my class in January, 2020 and visit my website, www.sashaborenstein.com

See you there.

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