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Lisa Gibbs - Tutor

Reading and Writing for Kindergarten through 4th Grade.



Hello and Welcome!

Welcome to the first blog post for my new site! I’m very excited to begin writing this blog, to help parents better understand how their children learn to read and write.

I thought I’d like to give you the opportunity to ask questions about your own child’s learning. Towards that end, I’ve created a form that will allow you to ask me questions that I can answer on this blog. Naturally, I won’t use any names. All questions will remain anonymous. But I thought this would be a good way to allow you to participate. And I love discussing the reading and writing process!

Of course, since my blog is brand new, I don’t have any questions to answer yet. So I’ve decided to answer a question I get asked frequently by parents - What’s wrong with encouraging a child to “sound out” a word? If you click on the next post on the blog page, you can read my answer.

I hope you enjoy what I’ve written so far. And please, write to me and ask me your own questions. I’d be delighted to try to answer them!



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My child confuses the letters d and b. Is he dyslexic?

Posted on March 6, 2016 at 1:25 PM

      As a reading teacher, I have been asked this question many times. When a child has trouble learning how to read, many parents wonder if a learning disability might be causing the problem. Parents often see their child confusing the letters d and b, or reading reversible words like was as saw, and wonder if this might caused by dyslexia.

      The truth is many children confuse the letters b and d (or even p and q.) Some children will even try to read the end of a word as if it was the beginning of the word or reverse the entire word completely. This does not necessarily mean the child is dyslexic. The ability to recognize the difference between reversible letters and words is connected to a child’s ability to control directionality. Most children have some difficulty with this in their preschool years, but outgrow it as they learn to move smoothly across the page from left to right. For a few children, this issue persists into first grade, and occasionally even into second grade. It can be a problem when it interferes with a child's ability to decode unfamiliar words or if the child reverses easy words and does not correct his or her mistake. It can become a particularly problematic if it becomes a habit which persists as the child moves on to more difficult text.

There are some simple prompts that can help:

• For children who reverse words, or look at the ends of words while ignoring the beginning (reading then as when, for example) simply say to the child "put your finger under the first part of the word. What do you see?"

• For children struggling with b and d, I usually teach them to write the word bed. They know what letter that word starts with, because they can hear the b sound. If you point out that the b and the d look at each other (I often draw little faces inside the letters) the child can use that word as a memory device to help sort out which is which.

      Obviously, there are some children who have much more serious problems with directional movement and could be helped by instruction from a teacher who specializes in learning disabilities. But there are many, many more children who just take a little longer to develop the ability to understand how to use directional movement. Most children will work these issues out as they become more familiar with the reading process, but it is important that this does not become a bad habit. A teacher or parent can help the child sort out these issues by calling the child's attention to the first part of the word, or by giving the child other strategies to help figure out the direction in which the text and the individual letters are moving. Even more important, the child must get into the habit of fixing mistakes made because he or she is not moving from left to right in an organized manner.


"Sound it out!" "Sound it out!"

Posted on January 27, 2016 at 3:50 PM

How many times have I asked a child who had come to an unknown word what he or she could do to figure it out, only to hear these words – “I could sound it out.” How many times have I seen a child struggling unsuccessfully to “sound out” an unknown word?

Why is “sounding it out” the one strategy that many struggling readers turn to when they don’t know a word? It’s often the only strategy many of these children realize they can use.

Years ago, a Pakistani student in my first grade classroom brought in some money from her home country. There was writing on it in Urdu, a language that uses an alphabet different from the one we use in English. The other children in the class asked me to read the words on the money. When I said I couldn’t because it wasn’t written in English, they told me to “sound it out!”

Well, what’s so wrong with the strategy of “sounding it out” anyway? I mean, isn’t that how we all learned to read?

Truthfully, people learn to read in many different ways. But we all employ three types of strategies, to different degrees and in different situations. One of those three strategies is the use of Visual information, which focus on the letters and sounds used in the words we read. Good readers also use Meaning strategies, which draw on the context of the text to inform our ability to figure out a word, and Structural strategies, which employ our knowledge of language structure (grammar, syntax, and usage) to understand how the words work within a sentence. Good readers don’t employ any one strategy alone, but rather use two or all three of these types of strategies in concert. They triangulate between what the word looks like, what it might mean, and how it sounds in the sentence to decipher the text they read.

English is a complicated language when it comes to learning how to read and write. It isn’t a completely phonetic language, because many English words are derived from a variety of different languages. As a result, English phonics can be tricky. The same sounds can be pronounced in a variety of ways in different words. And even some very short, common words cannot be “sounded out” at all – try “sounding out” the words “laugh” or “could”. I’ve heard kids get into all kinds of difficulties when they try to use only the strategy of “sounding out” a word.

“Sounding it out” is a Visual strategy. But it can be a limited one for words that are longer than a single syllable. And even with very phonetic, short words, there are Visual strategies other than “sound it out” that are easier and faster and, more importantly, promote better comprehension.

After all, comprehension is the name of the game. We don’t want children to just be reading words. We want them to be reading ideas. When a child stops to laboriously sound out a word, comprehension tends to go out the window because the child is far too busy working only on separate, unconnected sounds.

Well, if we don’t want children to rely solely on sounding out words, what DO we want them to do when they come to an unfamiliar word? Ah, that is the question! There are many strategies a child can use to help figure out an unfamiliar word. Some are Visual strategies, like “think of a word LIKE that!” In other words, a child who knows the word “take” can use it to figure out “make” or even “shake”. Later, when a child has figured out how to segment words, that same spelling pattern could be used to figure out words like “forsake” or even “forsaken”.

“Think of a word LIKE that” is a Visual strategy. But there are Meaning and Structural strategies I teach as well. A Meaning strategy might be as simple as “check the picture” for a child who is just beginning to read. But all children should be thinking about “What would make sense here?” And children can think more about Structure by asking themselves “What would sound right here?”

In short, there are many, many different reading strategies that go far beyond “sound it out”. And using multiple strategies helps the reader check what he or she is reading to see it is correct. Furthermore, it helps the child understand the text far better.

Children really do want strategies to help them when they have encounter a difficulty in reading. That’s why they cling to “sound it out” so fiercely. But they need strategies to help them read more than just one word. They need to be able to read the entire book. More than that, they need to be able to read lots and lots of books.