No Phonics a Problem for 5 th Grader

Question: My daughter was never taught to read phonetically. Now when she meets a new word, she can't sound it out. She's in fifth grade, and this is becoming quite a problem in her social studies and science classes. Where do we get help for her?

Answer: When children reach your daughter's age, they really aren't using much phonics beyond the sound of the first syllable. After this, they are decoding words by dividing them into syllables and identifying familiar prefixes and suffixes as well as using the context.

Admittedly, new words in social studies and science can be difficult to decode. You can help your child by working with her on each chapter's new vocabulary. In most social studies and science books, these words are usually displayed prominently at the beginning or end of a chapter. If you can't work with your child, consider a tutor.

Don't expect her to learn all the new vocabulary in one session. Start with the ones in the current reading assignment. Introduce these words over several days, and review them frequently. Work on only a few words at a time. First, spend time on the definitions of each word until your daughter can easily define them. Then take a word and show her how to divide the word into syllables. If she is having trouble with initial consonants, find simple words that she knows using that consonant. For example, if the word is "society," relate it to the word "so." Be sure to identify and teach the common prefixes and suffixes used in the social studies and science words

It could also be helpful if you and your daughter were to read aloud together sections of the textbook using the new words. If your (or a tutor's) work with the child is not enough, ask the school to investigate your daughter's reading difficulties and to provide the help that she needs.

Can Classroom Walls Be too Busy for Students?

Question: Our daughter's fourth grade teacher scarcely has a free space on her walls. She has hung up all kinds of charts, pictures and examples of the children's work. The doors and even the blinds have stuff on them. Is so much on the walls visual overload? Does it affect students' ability to concentrate?

Answer: Teachers are usually encouraged to have bright colorful displays on their classroom walls. When a classroom takes on the appearance of a supermarket, some educators believe it makes it difficult for children to concentrate. They believe that when teachers are presenting a lesson, students need to pay close attention to the teacher rather than looking at all the things on the walls.

However, even more educators think this is a foolish view and that students need to be stimulated.

There is no solid research on this subject. Why don't you ask your daughter if she finds all the objects on the wall bother her concentration? If so, you might ask the teacher to evaluate how other students regard the classroom walls.

One area in which some research has been done is on papers (worksheets, handouts, and tests) that are crowded. Students will look at a math test with 10 problems and think that they can handle it. Seeing 50 problems on a page can completely overwhelm and discourage them, making them believe the task is impossible to accomplish. This is a situation of visual overload. Teachers should be aware also that too small print size and little spacing between letters do slow down the students' reading rate. This is especially true for those with dyslexia.

Ways to Improve a 4 th Grader's Spelling

Question: My fourth grader will ace the weekly spelling test; however, he misspells a lot of words when doing other work. How can he improve his spelling?

Answer: Part of the answer lies in how he learns the spelling test words. He may not be working with them enough to really learn them. He needs to write the words on a home spelling pre-test as soon as he gets them, self-correct the misspelled words and write them correctly and then be tested on the missed words following the same steps until he can write them correctly. If he misses too many words, limit the number of words (five to seven) that he works with in one evening. The night before the test, re-test him on all the words and follow the same correction steps for any missed words.

There is a good possibility that the spelling test words are not the ones that he is misspelling in his everyday work. A good way to deal with this is to look over his work and make a list of the words that he frequently misspells. Then you can follow the steps above and teach him five of these words along with the weekly spelling list. Review these words frequently in separate spelling tests until you see that he really can spell them. It could take a month for him to learn as many as 10 words.

To reinforce the learning of the misspelled words, play Hangman with your son using the words that he frequently misspells. If he can word process, he could type some of his homework. By using spell check, he'll immediately see spelling errors and be able to correct them.

Is Text Messaging Considered Reading?

Question: I am really puzzled about what counts as reading nowadays. My children feel that they are reading when they read text messages or comments on social-networking sites. Are they correct? And how can we get children to read more?

Answer: Reading on electronic devices is reading. Your children are right about this. However, a survey by Scholastic and the Harrison Group points out one big downside to this view. They found that from ages 6 to 17, the time children spend reading books for fun declines, while the time they spend going online for fun and using a cell phone to text or talk increases. Incidentally, most parents do not consider reading on social-networking sites reading.

The good news about technology is that the survey found it could be a positive motivator to get kids reading. Fifty-seven percent of the children in the survey said they were interested in reading an e-book, and a third of the children said they would read more books for fun if they had access to e-books on an electronic device.

This year the sale of e-books has dramatically increased, especially in the children/young adult categories. So more and more younger readers are likely to be reading e-books.

While parents understandably have concerns about the amount of time their kids are spending on electronic or digital devices, e-books do offer a way to get more kids to read more. The survey also found that the more time struggling readers spend reading e-books for fun, the more proficient readers they become.