By Sage Isenmann
My educator mind was blown last summer. I’m in my fourteenth year of teaching (and my eighth at Horizon), so this doesn’t happen often. We were assigned to read David Kilpatrick’s book, “Equipped for Reading Success.” As it often goes with summer reading, I begrudgingly, yet faithfully, approached the task. It didn’t take long, however, for me to get sucked into the material.
In the book, Kilpatrick explores the latest research into how children learn to read and how to prevent/correct most reading difficulties in a straightforward manner, along with many exercises to use with kids and a program to follow. Here are some of my top takeaways from the book:
This is the term for the process we use to add words to our sight word lexicon (i.e. words we can read instantly). This process requires somebody to have good letter-sound skills and phoneme proficiency. I often saw students make the same reading mistakes. Why couldn’t they remember how to read the word I had just told them five minutes earlier? They were still missing a foundational piece, developing phonological awareness. This book, and its exercises, helps build that piece.
The other pillar of orthographic mapping is a word study. Prior to this book, whenever students made a reading error, I would often just correctly say the word--maybe have them repeat it--and move on. That’s it. In order to create new sight words, Kilpatrick says we need to study difficult words in more detail.
Here’s an example of word study in action: I was working one-on-one with a student who came across the word “exact.” Without hesitation, she said, “extra.” She was compensating for her lack of phonological awareness skills by guessing, which makes perfect sense. Exact and extra are the same length and have most of the same letters. Her brain saw the “ex” at the beginning, along with the length, and instantaneously jumped to extra. I had her put the book aside and tell me what individual sounds she heard when I said “exact.” After telling me, we both wrote the word down on whiteboards. I then asked her questions like, “Which part of the word says /act/?” She’d then underline the corresponding letters. This deep focus on the individual sounds of the word helps to orthographically map the word into the sight word lexicon. Heads up: kids with good phonological awareness typically require 1-4 exposures to a new word to permanently map it, so kids with learning disabilities will most likely need multiple exposures to words.
When a student is reading aloud, don’t let ANYTHING slip:
In the previous paragraph, I mentioned how my student was a compensator. Students with poor phonological awareness skills learn to compensate by becoming expert guessers. You may have noticed this in your own students when they frequently inject random words or ignore others when reading aloud. When confronted with difficult words, they often look at the first few letters and guess what the word is based on length and context. Kilpatrick gives several strategies to incorporate to help students break this habit, but the best tip (in my mind) is to make the students correct ANY mistake--even if it doesn’t affect the meaning. It’ll be tedious at first, but Kilpatrick says the students will eventually learn to start paying more attention to the individual words and letters as they read, resulting in fewer mistakes. Anecdotally, I’ve worked with two different students this year. They were both compensators who would frequently forget or inject a random “the.” They now often catch their mistakes and will automatically go back a few words to reread the misread text.
If I haven’t made this abundantly clear, I think David Kilpatrick’s “Equipped for Reading Success” is awesome. Whether you’re a parent wanting to give your child some extra reading help at home, or a teacher looking for some new tips to help your struggling readers, this book is for you. I can’t guarantee your mind will be blown like mine was, but I can guarantee you’ll find something useful.