Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Everyone Is Entitled to My Opinion

The Larry Sanger essay "How I Taught My Toddler to Read and Why" was interesting food for the thought. Some initial impressions:

1. Generally speaking, this guy is a Glenn Doman/Your Baby Can Read acolyte, and I think the Doman method is largely a creepy and fraudulent literacy cult, but this guy amended the methods sufficiently that I think his ideas deserve be considered separately.

2. As a rule, I doubt I'll be preparing flashcardy PowerPoint presentations on subjects of interest to my kid, but his child's enthusiasm for "naming the world" and delving into details about particular areas (and just accumulating vocabulary!) made me change my current "acquistion policy" on DK Eyewitness books. Heretofore I've been passing them up at used bookstores just because I didn't think I wanted to start stockpiling material on every nonfiction subject under the sun. I figured we could cruise the library as the interests surface, and we will, but this guy's experience also made me think sometimes children just like to graze information, and I think having a few (supercheaply acquired) "visual encyclopedias" on hand couldn't hurt.

3. The part of his system that I thought was fairly smart and that I'd potentially apply (years down the road, mind you) is the phonics-rule example-set flashcards. Here's how he outlined the method:

I figured that if we were going to do flash cards, I might as well arrange them phonetically, as this would be most likely to teach him the rules of phonics. I found some suitable-looking word lists in the back of Rudolf Flesch's Why Johnny Can't Read. (I had no better reason for choosing this volume than it was what I had on hand; I couldn‘t find any comparable lists online.) It was fairly easy to make the cards. On one side of the cards, which are about 2" by 4", I put the word in large print, and on the other side, a picture representing the word. I printed four cards per 8.5 x 11 page.

After about six months, we had gone through hundreds of words and over half of Flesch‘s phonetic rules. My boy gradually learned to read (sound out) many hundreds of words. I was careful to pick words, from Flesch‘s word lists, that I knew he understood when spoken, or that I could explain. I did explain quite a few, so it became a great vocabulary lesson too—his vocabulary increased by leaps and bounds, as he used words that were on cards. I ended up making over 1,000 cards, and in the end he was reading thousands than that, even before we finished using cards, about a year later or so.

Sanger explains his method in much further depth in the subsection "1.3. Phonics flashcard method." and it's an interesting read if you're into that kind of thing.

4. Last but not least, I skimmed Sanger's 65-page rebuttal of anti-early reading arguments, and gleaned that he didn't find much merit to any of the arguments. I'm going to bite my tongue on the topic, generally, but I will say that I have read countless Amazon reviews lately that say something to the effect of: "I am a reading specialist/speech therapist/kindergarten teacher/school principal/special ed coordinator, and I am using this product to teach my baby/toddler/three-year-old the alphabet/phonics/reading/mind control." I think perhaps I'll do as they do and not as they say...

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