Making Reading as Joyful as Learning to Speak

If we ask why learning to speak is so joyful while learning to read can be so
challenging, we may discover how to change reading instruction to make it as
graceful and efficient as learning to speak.
When learning to speak the child is bathed in supportive interactions. When
toddlers say bah,bah, speakers playfully echo and may add a new sound. We
never correct the toddler’s early sounds or words. 
As toddlers speak single words, we put those words into a larger context. If the
child says cat, we say yes, meow cat. If the child says meow cat we say, yes, meow cat on chair. Meow cat is our friend. To which the child may respond, Meow cat friend. Pet meow cat. Thus, the learning occurs in well scaffolded, authentic social interactions.
This expert modeling is instinctive. We treasure this playful conversation that
perfectly scaffolds the learner’s ability, nudging the toddler to the next level. 
Let’s use similar modeling when helping students learn to read! Children learn to
speak in a way that is magically efficient. It’s an expression of absolute genius
when children effortlessly learn speech. 
We must overcome a feeling that because the pre-reading child is older, we
should teach reading in a more grownup, didactic, academic way. This movement from child centered to teacher centered is dysfunctional. We deconstruct reading into parts and teach the parts rather than exploring and modeling the whole as we do when a child learns speech. 
Yes, it’s true research shows that students who know phonics are better readers, but that doesn’t mean they need to learn phonics by direct instruction. Phonics can be explored in meaningful reading contexts as simply as comparing words like names.
The two principles from how children learn to speak that we can apply to reading
instruction are:

1) Use playful modeling and scaffolding to practice and explore; 2)
Keep interactions socially rewarding and conversational.
Instead of teaching the entire alphabet and the sound of each letter, which has no context, guide students to explore the sounds they hear in their own and each other’s names and in favorite words. 
Clap the number of sounds or syllables heard in names of family, friends and
familiar words like cow, dog, purple. Agreeing on the number of sounds or
syllables is unimportant. What matters is listening for different sounds.
To develop children’s ability to see words, give each child a name tag and ask
them to count the letters in their name from left to right. Now ask them to stand
next to another student with the same number of letters in their name. Now next
to someone who has one more or one less letter.
To develop beginning phonemic awareness and phonics skills ask children to
stand next to a student whose name begins with the same sound as theirs. What sound do they hear? What letter(s) make that sound?  
Expand this social exploration of text by having students wear or hold the name of their favorite color, number, food, activity, or animal.
These socially rewarding exercises keep learning personal, child-centered,
interpersonal and exploratory. They scaffold learning in ways that build pattern
awareness. Socially reinforcing and inquiry-discovery based learning will be more efficient and joyful than learning that relies on educator led drills, and this
approach beautifully reinforces STEM and SEL skills.

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