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Grammar Granny        < Previous        Next >


Printing Practice: Key to Reading and Writing?


A grandfather who helped his own grandchildren learn to read has worked with kindergarten teachers to determine the keys to reading success and is convinced that a lot of practice with simple printing of letters is how to bring a child to the threshold of reading.


It has to do with the children's ability to visualize the shapes of the letters instantly as they see them in reading, because they had a lot of practice kinesthetically forming the letters with paper and pencil. The more fluently and accurately they could print the alphabet letters, he found, the more fluently and accurately they could read. Virtually all children who are lagging behind in reading in the early grades of school cannot print the alphabet letters very fluently.


Bob Rose of Jasper, Ga., conducted an ad hoc field trial of 106 kindergartners, using a yahoo! listserv joined by kindergarten teachers around the country, who pre- and post-tested their pupils.


Rose says the idea dates to education innovator Maria Montessori, who contended in 1912 that if kindergartners got sufficient practice printing alphabet letters, they soon would learn to read spontaneously and successfully. Reading expert Marilyn Jager Adams has noted that, down through the centuries just until recent times, children were guided to consistently print words in spelling drills as the main way of inducing literacy.


Rose concluded that, if the shapes of the alphabet letters aren't extremely familiar to a child through lots of printing practice, the child's mind has to decode text too slowly as it recognizes the individual letters. Reading disability is sure to result if that isn't corrected. He quotes the Roman rhetorician, Marcus Fabius Quintilianus ( ca. A.D. 35-98?), as saying, "Too slow a hand impedes the mind."


Rose urges parents to give their pre-kindergarten children printing practice, but don't overdo it. Because of the limited attention span of the typical 4- or 5-year-old, he suggested that you keep the practice sessions to about five minutes. It's best if your child can do this printing at a low table or desk, in a comfortable chair, with both feet flat on the ground, so that the child is seated in balance and able to form the strokes effortlessly.


Teach your child the proper pencil grip and how to tilt the paper to the left just a bit (left-handed children will tilt to the right).


Purchase an alphabet guide at a school supply store that shows with arrows how to make the strokes of the letters, along with short, lightweight pencils and guideline paper, and let the child practice at his or her own pace for a while. It's OK if the child just wants to make all-capital letters at first, although the vast majority of letters in text are lower-case, so you might want to shift to them by and by.


After a few days or weeks doing this for just a few minutes here and there, the parent can begin timed tests - but don't worry, only for 20 seconds at a time. See how many legible alphabet letters your child can print in 20 seconds. Multiply it by three to get the letters per minute rate.


Rose believes the "threshold" pace for a beginning reader is about 40 letters per minute.


By Susan Darst Williams Grammar Granny 049 2007


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