Why Kids Read Aloud in
Q. My son sounds like a robot when he reads
aloud. What's wrong?
notice it. Teachers bemoan it. Kids
are ashamed by it.
We're talking about reading aloud in
a monotone: a slow, emotionless, bland, boring delivery. It differs sharply
from human speech, fails miserably at pronunciation, ignores punctuation, and
makes you wonder if the student understands what he or she is reading.
This new problem of low-level fluency among young
readers is directly caused by the Whole Language method of teaching reading,
which minimizes the use of sound as a language acquisition tool.
The vast majority of schools, public and private,
use Whole Language style reading instruction instead of the phonics-ONLY
approach that almost always produces a melodious, fluent, accurate and most
importantly, happy reader.
But that's not what our schools are producing,
since they have done away with sound-based reading instruction. When a child
reads aloud without a lot of dynamics, and no inflection, stumbling over words,
and without the musical rhythm of the language shining through, it almost
sounds as if the child is deaf.
And that's no coincidence.
Hearing-impaired children learn to read by looking at pictures and printed
words. They can't learn to read with phonics - a simple system of decoding
language using the sense of sound - because they can't hear. When they read
aloud in a monotone, no one minds, because it's so wonderful that they can read
aloud at all.
But when a child who can hear is
taught to read without using his or her sense of sound, it's not
empowering. It's handicapping. It sharply limits comprehension,
vocabulary growth, fluency, accuracy . . . and most of all, enjoyment of
When educators saw how well silent,
read-the-pictures, "look-say" reading instruction worked for deaf kids, they
erroneously extrapolated that the same technique would work just as well for
hearing kids. But of course, as we now know, they were wrong.
Formal reading instruction in school isn't the only
reason for this. We can also blame parents who never read aloud to their
children, and don't converse with them very much. Kids who don't get much
practice with oral and written language don't develop an "ear" for speech and a
thirst for reading. An early childhood spent mostly listening to commands in a
day-care setting, or passively watching and listening to TV without generating
much speech, isn't good for a child's language learning. It's the same thing
with video games: no developmental advantages there. We know these activities
are depleting language learning in a lot of kids today.
But it is imperative that we
scrutinize reading instruction in K-12 schools for the lion's share of the dysfunction
in fluency, which is so detrimental to the child's reading progress and
vocabulary development, not to mention enjoyment of reading.
Phonics helps children connect the
sounds the letters make with the written symbols that stand for them on the
printed page. But most schools today try to teach reading with the visual
methods that predominate in the Whole Language philosophy, currently being
called "balanced literacy" or "eclectic" reading because they do mix a little
phonics along with other "cues" with the sight-reading process.
Sight reading - basically looking at
words and guessing how to decode them, either orally or silently - was
developed as a way to teach deaf children by Thomas Gallaudet (1787-1851). He
postulated that deaf children, who can't hear the sounds the letters make,
might be able to memorize the visual patterns of the letters in combinations,
as in words. He showed the deaf children illustrated cards with simple words,
and with these visual cues, they could "read." He opened the Hartford (Conn.)
School for the Deaf in 1817. His method was highly successful; a college for
deaf and hard of hearing students is named for him, Gallaudet University in
Among other things, his primer for
teaching deaf children to read begins: "Frank had a dog. His name was Spot." It
was the inspiration for the "look and say" sight-reading curriculum with the
tightly-controlled vocabulary, "Dick and Jane," that most people grew up with -
but unfortunately, it pushed phonics to the very back burner.
Early American public education
leaders Horace Mann and Thomas Dewey both promulgated Gallaudet's methods to
the point where most teachers and schools now believe it is superior to
The irony, though, is that very few
of them actually know how to teach reading with phonics-only methods. That's because
the vast majority of people in this country, including educators, were never
taught those methods in the first place.
And if they had been, they would
discover that nearly 100% of the children taught to read with phonics can read
aloud with enthusiasm, style, emotion and expression . . . because they're
really reading, and understanding what they read. Phonics: it's the key to
Here are school practices that build
fluency. Work with educators to get them in your school:
- Phonics-ONLY reading
instruction is given in kindergarten through second grade
- Speaking, listening,
reading, handwriting and composition are integrated
- There is lots of
singing, music, rhythm, motion and rhyme
- Classic children's
literature is taught at a rate of about 80%, with contemporary literature
(published within the last 20 years or so) limited to only about 20% of
- Speech and drama
activities are emphasized at an early age
- Poetry is directly
taught from an early age on
- Oral interpretation
is directly taught in later grade school
Chard and colleagues reviewed how to improve fluency in a young reader, and
reading with a teacher (or parent or day-care provider) is more effective
than audiotape and computer-generated models, which in turn are more
effective than no model.
a model also promotes comprehension.
tutoring is not as effective as cross-age tutoring. Peers are less likely
than older children to provide feedback. Older children, babysitters and
day-care providers are likely to have better pronunciation skills than age
peers, which will help build fluency.
increasing the difficulty of the text and providing feedback for missed
words is important.
the amounts of text to facilitate chunking (short-term memory acquisition
technique) does not improve fluency.
a text seven times is better than three times, which is better than one
see this article on fluency: http://content.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=4470