Guess what….some of your students will succeed! That’s the good news but before you get carried away, understand that some children will succeed no matter how they are taught. Our job as teachers is to understand how children learn to read, why some of them fail and what we can do about it…let me rewrite that last part…’what we teachers can do about it; teachers are the only people in the whole wide world who can fix many of these problems… doing nothing is not an option for us!
But just for the hell of it, let’s consider what might happen if you insisted on doing nothing…
Your normal practice may be to teach everything with an emphasis on sight words.
You may encourage children to read to the end of the sentence in order to deduce any unknown words from sentence meaning and you may spend some time examining the phonetic structures of selected words in the text but you don’t know the child’s VAS level and that is a pity because that knowledge would have forewarned you about potential problems.
Let me explain.
Remember that a VAS level reflects the child’s capacity to recognize whole words. If your preferred emphasis is on developing sight words then, if the VAS is very low, you are likely to fail because the child simply hasn’t enough memory storage capacity for accurate whole word processing and will quickly establish inaccurate guessing habits. Low VAS infants often learn to base their word-guesses on end letters and this can result in inattention to mid-word letters and their sequence. That therefore undermines proof reading as well as creating inaccurate readers. Almost all low VAS infants therefore need a synthetic phonic emphasis.
Strangely there are still potentially serious consequences if the child has a high VAS level. The high VAS child often enjoys some initial success in sight word development and may therefore neglect the development of the full range of phonic skills.
However their problems may not become apparent until the age of 10 when, as a result of three years of fairly successful whole word processing, he has become habituated to word-guessing. But by the age of 10 it is increasingly failing him.
- It fails him when he is proof reading because whole word processing means that he pays scant attention to mid-word letters and their sequence.
- It fails him for long words because word guessing dependence creates a ceiling of about 7 letter words, beyond which inaccuracy appears.
- It fails him for the increasing number of unfamiliar words because whole word guessing requires the reader to match the word being read with a word already stored in memory and he hasn’t established any such memory of unfamiliar words.
- It fails him if he has been taught to read to the end of the sentence and then deduce any unreadable words from the sentence meaning, for this strategy only works in one sentence in eight.
But it gets worse… his addiction to fast (but inaccurate) word guessing now makes him resistant to learning the phonic skills that he needs. Remediation therefore has become very difficult as a direct consequence of the child’s dependence on sight words.
So you need to establish phonics-first to both low and high VAS infants; the low VAS child may simply fail whilst the high VAS child may develop bad habits that become very difficult to remediate later.
Sure you can do nothing and take comfort from the fact that some of your students are succeeding…but don’t just don’t congratulate yourself; have a look at the rest of the class.