Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers
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Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers

Marilyn Adams

Dr. Marilyn Jager Adams is the author of several books on the reading process, including Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print and Phonemic Awareness in Young Children: A Classroom Curriculum.

Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers
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An Interview With Marilyn Adams

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Learning their ABCs...
You know, it seems almost too trite to say, but one of the very important things that you can do, and one of the most widely neglected lessons for young children, is to make sure that they're comfortable with their ABCs by the time they get to first grade. They need to be able to recognize them. They need to be able to name them. They need to be able to write them comfortably. I'm not talking about perfectly, but comfortably.

Some letters will be backwards till second grade for some children, that's not the issue. But if they don't have a comfortable familiarity with the letters at the beginning of first grade, there really isn't any way for them to begin to learn to recognize the combinations and permutations of the letters from which we make words.
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You have to give children the tools...
You can't drill and skill phonics, that won't work. Phonics, just like every other aspect of literacy, depends on understanding and thinking. The key to teaching phonics well is not just teaching them their ABCs, you must know the ABCs, but it's not just teaching them, helping them to learn letter/sound correspondences, but it's finding a way to get them to think actively about how the whole thing works so they'll learn. You can't teach someone how to read; you have to give them the tools and ask, ask them to learn.
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Reading shouldn't be that hard...
Not only is what phonics is intended to teach critically important, but it shouldn't be that hard. One should never, ever need to drill and skill kids. If one is drilling and skilling children that's a sign already that something is awry. That is, if you have to tell a child something 17 times, it's not because she or he hasn't heard you. You need to back up and find out what they're not understanding, why they're not hearing you.

Developing a ready working knowledge of phonics, of how words are spelled, of how to recognize them, of how to use the alphabetic principles to recognize them quickly, easily, is critically important. I also learned that it is entirely teachable. Every healthy child is fully capable of mastering the reading basics. There's no reason why any healthy child in our school system should be left behind.
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