Early Reading Concepts
What Reading and Writing Are For
Imagine you are visiting in a kindergarten classroom. You have a chance to talk with several children and ask them, "Why are you learning to read and write?" Some children answer, "You have to learn to read and write." When pushed, they can name all kinds of "real-world" things as reasons for reading and writing—books, newspapers, magazines, recipes, and maps. Other children respond to the why-learn-to-read-and-write question with answers such as "to do your workbook," "to read in reading group," and "to go to second grade." Children who give "school-world" answers to this critical question demonstrate that they don't see reading and writing as part of their real world. Children who don't know what reading is for in the real world do not have the same drive and motivation as children for whom reading and writing, like eating and sleeping, are things everyone does. In addition, children who pretend-read a memorized book and "write" a letter to Grandma are confident they can read and write!
Print is what you read and write. Print includes all the funny little marks—letters, punctuation, space between words and paragraphs—that translate into familiar spoken language. In English, we read across the page in a left-to-right fashion. Because our eyes can see only a few words during each stop (called a fixation), we must actually move our eyes several times to read one line of print. When we finish that line, we make a return sweep and start all over again, left to right. If there are sentences at the top of a page and a picture in the middle and more sentences at the bottom, we read the top first and then the bottom. We start at the front of a book and go toward the back. These arbitrary rules about how we proceed through print are called conventions.
Jargon refers to all the words we use to talk about reading and writing. Jargon includes such terms as word, letter, sentence, and sound. We use this jargon constantly as we try to teach beginners to read:
"Look at the first word in the second sentence. How does that word begin? What letter has that sound?"
Using some jargon is essential to talking with children about reading and writing, but children who don't come from rich literacy backgrounds are often very confused by this jargon. Although all children speak in words, they don't know words exist as separate entities until they are put in the presence of reading and writing. To many children, letters are what you get in the mailbox, sounds are horns and bells and doors slamming, and sentences are what you have to serve if you get caught committing a crime! These children are unable to follow our "simple" instructions because we are using words for which they have no meaning or an entirely different meaning.
Many children come to school knowing these print concepts. From being read to in the lap position, they have noticed how the eyes "jump" across the lines of print as someone is reading. They have watched people write grocery lists and thank-you notes to Grandma and have observed the top–bottom, left–right movement. Often, they have typed on the computer and observed these print conventions. Because they have had someone to talk with them about reading and writing, they have learned much of the jargon.
While writing down a dictated thank-you note to Grandma, Dad may say, "Say your sentence one word at a time if you want me to write it. I can't write as fast as you can talk." When the child asks how to spell birthday, he may be told, "It starts with the letter b, just like your dog Buddy's name. Birthday and Buddy start with the same sound and the same letter."
Children with reading and writing experiences know how to look at print and what teachers are talking about as they give them information about print. All children need to develop these critical understandings in order to learn to read and write.
© ______ 2009, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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