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Submission + - Efficiently teach your child to read

jbrazile writes: Evidence-based practice is currently getting its share of attention in the health care debate. Maybe just in time for school, some attention can also be given to evidence-based practice in teaching kids to read. Chapter 7 of Ayers' "Super Crunchers" devotes itself to this subject, but let's cut to the chase. Countless academic studies including decades of field work on thousands of children have consistently shown that Siegfried Englemann's "Direct Instruction" approach is effective for any/every 4-5 year old child. His most well-known "for parents" implementation is published as "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" — a completely scripted set of 20min lessons designed to have a child reading within about 4 months — assuming the script is consistently and regularly followed...

Here is a programming analogy of teaching kids to read and wrie in English. Let's say you need to program a computer to perform a task that seems logical, but has an enormous set of exceptional cases. Fortunately you know a lot about how this weird machine works and have known the problem domain intimately for years. Most developers would start here: pick a language, design the program and start hacking.

But Engleman saw a more efficient approach for this quirky machine. He experimented with then-recently-learned shortcuts and had the insight that it would be possible to bootstrap a slow but powerful, high-level interpretter that could understand a few primitives. Together with another scientist colleague, they spent a lot of effort analyzing and deconstructing the crazy program that had to be written — realizing along the way that they were handicapped by their intimate knowledge of the problem domain for so many years. With the help of many field trials and data mining, they experimented with a series of successive "programing languages" on a number or "real machines", each language bootstraps the next language, but eventually implements the program quite thoroughly in record time.

Selected features of the Engelmann/Becker DI reading/writing method...
  • Limit "I/O" to/from the child. Always use the same simple "prompts" when asking questions and do it consistently. When getting answers, encourage steady paced answers (to a metronome beat!) at a rate which initially seems too slow, but steadily increases over time.
  • English spelling is even less consistent than you realize. Not only should you bootstrap from a consistent subset, but try to engineer consistency even in non-obvious things such as the relationship between a letter's name and the possible sounds it makes. For example, with the vowels, "a", "e", "i", and "o", one can make use of the fact that their names say one of the sounds they represent (the "long" sounds, although they never confuse kids with that "label")...
  • A child has to encounter a rule N times before it gets internalized. If they get it at N-5, and get bored at the seemingly extra encounters, there's no harm done in acquiring a "that's to easy" mentality. Conversely, you can take advantage of the fact that a temporarily remembered interim rule will be forgotten if not re-encountered
  • To keep a child brain engaged, ask questions at a high, several-times-per-minute, pace, 80-90% of whose answers they automatically know. Sometimes this means you immediately tell them the answer before you ask the question. "This word is 'go'. What word? [go] Right! 'go'. There are 2 sounds in 'go'. The 1st sound is 'guh'. What is the 2nd sound? [oh] Right! 'oh'"
  • One approach to bootstrapping English spelling in a consistent way would be to introduce a symbol for every phoeneme. So "go", "pot", and "do" use 3 different symbols for "o". But it would be better to avoid such a symbol explosion. One of Engelmann's symbol compression techniques is the "blue" letter. It is a letter that itself is silent, but causes another letter to "say it's name" (e.g. determine that a vowel uses the "long" pronunciation). So he starts off making what we remember as "silent-e", blue. Yet there are other blue letters. In the "combination" oa, the "a" is blue. That means "a" is silent, but "oa" "says the name of the not blue letter". There are many others "ai" where "i" is blue, etc."
  • Englemann also uses a limited set of other compressed symbol phoenemic helpers e.g. squiggled underlining means that the sound for this letter or combination doesn't do what you'd expect from the rules you've learned up until now. These symbolic helpers last only a few lessons to help bootstrap recognition of a pattern until it gets pushed down to automaic memory, then the helping notation is dropped. When that happens, the child is told that "from now on, this will appear in 'adult' type 'without the squiggled line'".
  • Kids don't mind inconsistency if it is constrained. The phoenemes only have to be close enough that when you are sounding out a word, you can get it. For example, the sound for the "qu" combination is taught as "kuh". So when you "say it, sound at a time" (e.g. sing the word in slow motion but not pitch shifted), then the word 'queen' is "kuh ee n" which would seem to be one syllable (and vowel) too many. But kids are never tripped up on that.
  • The lessons were extensively field tested on kids. Data from these tests let them know when they were trying to go too fast or be too inconsistent.

Some of you may have experienced this kind of instruction before — leading foreign language programs, such as the Pimsleur method, use similar instruction techniques. But if you've never witnessed or otherwise experienced this kind of instruction, it is tricky to get the pacing, prompts, and encouragements/corrections right (even though everything is written for you as a script) while simultaneously monitoring and adjusting to your child's responses.

Because of this, I can highly recommend the (seemingly, costly) software-based tutoring implementation of a slightly-updated version of the book method, Funnix. Its level of interactivity resembles a DVD, but this allows you to be a facilitator instead of both tutor/facilitator. Therefore you can focus on your child's responses — and better know when to pause, repeat, take a break, etc. Additionally, you don't have to read ahead and/or prepare in advance for the slight changes in approach that come every 2nd or 3rd lesson.

When you experience the impressive results of seeing your child more logically (than you) apply rules s/he is learning about decoding English, your first question will be why these techniques are not standard practice. Especially, if you, like me, have tried other methods, including more popular best-selling children's reading software.

But as a slashdotter, you might realize most people are not open to weird, compulsively deconstructed, rule-based, fully-scripted (e.g. robotic) "instruction". Where slashdotters see the potential to scale up such a consistent, teacher-independent, assembly-line approach to instruction, there are just as many non-slashdotters who would fight the "McDonalds-ization" of the education system.

Until that changes, we at least have the method available, as either "Teach your Child to Read" in book form, or "Funnix" in software tutor form, to use at home.

Comment Don't forget also culturally different concerns (Score 2, Insightful) 257

My [swiss] co-workers were caught eating lunch at a restaurant that is derided as being for the uncouth masses (no, not McDonalds). [Sorry guys, if I just outed you on slashdot :-)],8.505821&spn=0.002477,0.009645&z=17&layer=c&cbll=47.383047,8.505825&panoid=6fhJi7LDrhilQAciWe5PZA&cbp=11,155.84,,2,8.53

During the summer, every restaurant that can, puts tables/chairs outside because the swiss strongly favor it.

Comment Re:I don't understand.. (Score 1) 6

except the one that links directly to your article about the best method for teaching kids to read. (Which apparently doesn't seem to exist.)

BTW, The article about the best method for teaching kids to read is Chapter 7 of "Super Crunchers" and its footnotes which link several academic data-driven field studies over the course of 40 years that back this up. e.g. 70'000(?) kids over the 10 year(?) "Project Follow Through" project. This book chapter is not online - I unfortunately can't link to it. I'm also surprised nobody has done a slashdot book review on "Super Crunchers" in general. It is basically practical case studies in data mining.

Comment Re:I don't understand.. (Score 1) 6

I am willing to admit I may not have communicated the point in the most succinct way, which is why I'm open to improvement. The main point is not the wikipedia page. It is that you, as an individual (e.g. parent), can buy software that implements the Direct Instruction method for teaching kids to read (the only other software that implements direct instruction methods that I know of is "enterprise software" targeting school systems and not parents). This software doesn't come up in typical google searches and it should be the 1st by far. The book I link to "Teach your kids..." is the equivalent of the software, but since the teaching technique is non-obvious, it is better to have the software do it so you spend more effort noticing how well you're kid is getting it (able to repeat the last N seconds, the last lesson, or to skip same, etc.). Because it is non-obvious and can't be explained in a few words (nor can the motivation why this is the best) I added the other links. Writing this paragraph here would have doubled the size of the submission which I thought would increase the chances a reader would get bored and skip it. Even more background is that there are also SRA product lines that implement direct instruction, and some people may have heard of SRA. There is yet even more information, about behavioral psychology, and the theory of instruction. I was trying to be concise and intriguing, yet providing links to depth for those who want it.

Submission + - Geeky method best for teaching kids to read 6

jbrazile writes: Maybe just in time for the new school year... after struggling for a year trying to get my now 7-year-old's (English) reading skills up-to-speed — including several of the most popular educational software titles, I'm surprised that the geeky, underdog method that worked so well in the end has never been mentioned on Slashdot and seems so unknown. Chapter 7 of Super Crunchers devotes itself to the behavioral pyschology and data-mining based method developed in the 60s by its now 70-something inventor. What is not well-known is that much better than a book, which doesn't help you much in learning the teaching techniques, software that directs the method is also available. By software standards, it is ancient, but the almost obsessive-compulsive attention to deconstruction of material to be taught and adherence to consistency rules in execution (answering with a metronome!) which leads to such amazing results can only be truly appreciated by a slashdotter. Not to mention that it covers writing/spelling as well as reading. A recent interview with the creator is available, as well as a short film on the method's recent implementation in an entire (elementary to high-school) system in the American mid-west.

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