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Developing Reading Skills

No teacher needs to be reminded of the role that sound reading skills play in the child's overall development. Yet, it seems that few teachers know precisely what 'sound reading skills' are and how they can be developed. 'Sound reading skills' would mean skills that enable the child to associate meaning with written or printed language. Unless a child can make sense of what he or she reads, or relate it to something else that he already knows, we cannot call his reading sound. So, we will define reading as a process of finding meaning in written words.

So, the key question we face is: 'How to make the initial teaching of reading meaningful?' It is important to start with books -- rather than with flash cards, charts, or wooden letters --because it is books that we want children to be able to read ultimately. Other materials, such as charts and cards, may be occasionally useful, but they cannot create the strong and sustained motivation for learning to read that books can create. Nor can the child's mastery over such materials give the sense of accomplishment that the ability to read a book can give. But let us first be clear, what kind of books we are talking about, and then, what to do with them. If you can buy twenty such books of children's literature, you are ready to start a new kind of reading instruction for your group of children. Along with these twenty books that you can buy, you can make some books yourself. Any good story written in clear handwriting and illustrated with diagrams or pictures (that children can draw) can become a permanent part of your book collection. Similarly, you can make collections of poems, songs, and the rhymes children sing while playing games.

Always make sure that children are sitting around you and that the group is no bigger than ten. When one group is sitting around you, other children in the class must have something else to do. In the group sitting around you, every child should be able to see the book as you read it and turn its pages. As you read, make sure that you don't just read what is written, but convert it into your own idiom. You may have books which tell a story or talk about something in great detail. Plain reading aloud of a long story will not work. You must know the story so that you can shorten it, using your own words. On the other hand, if the text written on each page is just one or two lines, then you can elaborate it by adding details. It is especially important that you point to the details shown in the illustration and talk about these details in a relaxed manner. Book reading of this kind is not an occasion for asking questions or testing children in any other form. When the story is over, it is over, and it is time to move on to something else unless a child wants to say or ask about something. But as a teacher, you must spare book-reading sessions from your questioning.

By listening to poetry regularly little children get accustomed to the basic patterns of a language. What is especially useful about poetry in this matter is that it is so easy to store it in one's memory. Small children have to put in no special effort 'to memorise poetry; just by enjoying it several times and reciting it they make it a part of their permanent collection. The way to read poetry books is the same as for other books, that is, sitting with a group of children with the book in the middle. After two or three occasions, you can sing the poem aloud without the book and ask children to sing with you. They will be able to sing the poem from memory quite soon if the poem is of good quality. Later, when you read it again from the book, they will anticipate the words given on the pages. Children of six can happily copy out a whole poem on a separate piece of paper or slate, and if they know it by heart by that time, they will have little difficulty recognizing individual words after a few days.

Extracted from "The Child's language and the teacher - A handbook" , Krishna Kumar, UNICEF

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