Friday, January 23, 2009

Why Memorizing is NOT Cheating

So you are reading this right now pretty quickly, much more quickly than a young child would. How are you doing this? You have a sight vocabulary of many thousands of words. In regular person language, this means you have a lot of words memorized. Almost all the words you read are memorized. So when you read, you see whole words. You put these together to make meaning. Congratulations! 
But what did you do in the face of all these daunting black squiggles on the page back when you were a little person who didn't yet possess this amazing skill? Well, you did a number of things. ONE of them was sounding words out, but that didn't come until you were already a little bit of a reader. Believe it or not, sounding out words is a pretty advanced skill, which comes after a few other things in the reading teacher's playbook.
So back to memorizing. If your child's books have highly patterned language and highly supportive pictures, memorizing the pattern and using the pictures to figure out the part that changes is the most effective way to make meaning. So the book goes like this:
The dog is walking (picture of a dog walking)
The dog is jumping (picture of a dog jumping)
The dog is sleeping (yes, picture of a dog sleeping)
and so on
Do not try to get your child to sound out all these words. If the book is a good fit, the words may still be too hard to decode in this way. Instead, talk about the book as you look at the pictures together. 
Say, "Oooh, look at all the things the dog is doing! What is the dog doing here?" Then your young genius will say, "The dog is walking." That's when you say, "Wow, that's exactly what the book says! Here, say that again and point under the words this time. I bet they'll match up!" Now the child should say, "The dog is walking," WHILE POINTING to the words. The finger and voice may not stay synced, so your job here is to coach your child to point to the same word she is saying, right as she says it. You may have to demonstrate, or go back and forth. Make sure to give lots of compliments and do lots of cheerleading. That's what will make your child want to keep on trying.
At the end, don't forget to talk about what the book was about, even in a sentence or two. The purpose of reading is not to say words, but to make meaning.
In order to be able to work on this skill of matching spoken words to printed words, children have to memorize the text. They are putting plenty of mental energy into trying to get their fingers synced up to their voices, so don't worry that this is some kind of easy way out.
As children get older and their books get harder, they will move away from this and into more rigorous decoding. This phase can't last too long, because as soon as children outgrow heavily patterned books, they're forced to move beyond memorizing.
Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

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