By Aulia Rachmat, published in The Jakarta Post, November 27, 2005.
Many parents think that their children have possessed the adequate reading skills after spending a number of years attending international curriculum schools, particularly those that started in elementary school. How are the reading skills of their children?
Despite the fact that there are international and national plus schools here using English as the language instruction, many students continue to struggle in terms of reading comprehension. Reading is not an automatic skill. It is something that needs to be learned.
Today many teachers actually deter children from reading when they pressure students to study books too closely by making them look up vocabulary words and making them stop after each chapter to determine what the author is trying to say. Good teachers must not focus on the child’s memory during learning process.
Unfortunately, many children find reading difficult because they are trying to memorize so many words. Intelligent children with good memories may fail to learn to read because they are employing their memories as the only access in the reading-learning process.
Memory-based approaches start with the visual representation of the symbols in order to remember letters (a, b, c,.d, f, h, o, z and so on) and words (dog, house, magazine, etc.). so the teachers will show the children the letters of the alphabet and the child will have to remember the names of the letters.
So, when the letter is shown to the child he/she has to recall the name from his/her memory bank. This unfortunate child is taught to look at the letter while the teacher says a word like, “car”, which has, for example a different sound for the “a” than the sound of the “a” in the alphabet. Thus, it creates an ambiguity for the child in terms of sounds (phonemes).
Most native English-language speaking children are expected to start to learn to read an alphabetic text after about three years of oral experience. Such oral experience will enable them to grasp the nature of English words that consist of sequences of sounds (phonemes). Words can be broken down into component sounds like the words “fast” and “phone”, while phonemic awareness develops the awareness that these words start with the same sound. There are only 26 letters in an English alphabet, while the single phonemes, differ from another sound. Hence, the only difference in words “bad” and “bed” is a single sound. Besides, English-as-a-first language children have an innate awareness of the sounds of their mother tongue.
In terms of these children, there are a number of opinions among reading experts that phonics can be an efficient way to teach reading. Tony Earnshaw and Annabel Seargeant, Educational Psychologists from Australia, after 20 years research, have identified phonics to be a key prerequisite before reading skills can develop properly. However, phonics do not teach a child to read. It is a method to teach children to pronounce words by learning the phonetic value of letters, sounds and syllables. Later, after the children become aware of the sounds, they should be able to eliminate the ambiguities and confusion arising from variations of letter combinations, that will lead to the future reading challenges.
Grammar and spelling play a significant role in the language, particularly in reading. However, many teachers impede children’s reading development by placing too much emphasis on spelling and grammatical skills.
During this stage, many primary students fail to comprehend the grammar and spelling parts due to a memory-driven approach. Instead, teachers should start to apply grammar as well as spelling, which can be implemented directly in stories. In other words, comprehension should be emphasized before teaching grammar.
Giving books as presents to your child will encourage him/her to love reading. At first, he/she may not be interested in reading these books. However, it will psychologically motivate your child to love reading as it may gradually get him/her used to being around the books.