Blog Connect Set Theory and Reading Readiness

If we want children to feel they are successful when learning to read, we need to be sure they are ready, or have the prerequisite skills. At the visual, ordering, and naming level children need to be able to organize 3 different things that increase and abstractness, 1) objects like toys and foods that are not abstract; 2) images that stand for objects; and 3) and most abstract symbols that stand for objects and ideas.

Asking students to line up objects like a pencil, crayon, spoon, and fork involves ordering objects, just as letters in a word are ordered, but it doesn’t involve using symbols whose appearance is arbitrary—the letter / A / doesn’t look like the sound it makes and the number 6 doesn’t look like half a dozen of anything.

If we ask students to line up images like pictures of objects, we have moved to one level of abstraction. If we give students numbers or letters to put in an order, we’ve moved to a further and much more challenging abstraction.

This organization of objects, whether in their concrete natural form, like a radish, carrot, and a tomato, or in a symbolic form, like the numbers 1,2,3, is called creating a set. A set can have a mix. It can be fruits and toys or it can be fruits, toys, numbers, and letters.

Being able to see sets is fundamental to seeing text because words are sets of letters in a particular order. Set theory activities (grouping like and different objects on a table, in a grid, or set of boxes to establish perceptual and ordering skills. When students can see patterns of at least 4 or 5 objects and then images and reproduce the patterns, we can assume they are ready to work with a few familiar symbols, like the letters in their names.

To link sets of objects or images to words, ask students to count sets of objects from left to right to develop the visual register needed to see words of different lengths (a / at / cat/ chat, chatter...). This is like learning to see and thus read numbers like the following:1, 11, 123, 1,234, 12,345. We must have the register, grid, or set of columns in our minds to achieve the needed perception.

Once the guide (teacher / parent) sees the children can recognize simple sets of objects in a pattern or order and can recreate or copy the pattern while viewing a model, children can be introduced to the next level of abstract symbols, numbers. If we include zero, then there are 10 symbols needed to build a full register of numbers. This is much easier to see and organize than 26 letters displayed in lower and upper case.

So visual acuity and organization or building a visual register for seeing words precedes attaching specific sounds to letters as a function of location.

Once children see how words look and work, the parts of the words, and how the parts add up to the whole, they can begin to play the same kind of games with other people’s names or favorite words. Each child can choose a favorite color, number, animal, site word and get a word tag (rather than wearing a name tag which is the best beginning activity) and the students can compare the word they are representing with those of other children.

In this approach children are immersed (not taught) pattern analysis, a basic STEM skill, in a way that is very similar to how they learn to speak, and they are also applying the science of linguistics (linguistic analysis) to word patterns just as a linguist would apply this analysis to understanding a new language, whether written or spoken.

Finally, where drill & kill memorization lacks key STEM and SEL (Social Emotional Learning) traits, this approach reinforces important instincts to socialize and problem with others.


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