April 29, 2006

Amusing Memorization Sidebar

This is Part III of VI. Part I and Part II are here.

In Part II we finished off with the memorization meme:
Unlike traditional so-called phonics-based programs, in which kids repeat and memorize basic spelling and pronunciation rules before tackling an actual book...
See, phonics requires lots of memorization. Presumably, this memorization is boring drudgery. To adults perhaps. But, anyone who knows little kids, knows that they don't have the same disdain for memorization that adults have.

And guess what, if you don't memorize the sounds that make up words before "tackling an actual book" you won't be able to decode the words and you'll have to resort to guessing what the words are, which isn't reading.

And, are we supposed to believe that there's no memorization involved in "balanced literacy"? Of course there is. Kids are either memorizing letter sounds, just like in phonics, or they're memorizing whole words, as in whole language. Either way there's lots of memorization going on. It's a necessary evil, but an evil that kids don't seem to mind and might actually enjoy.

Let's set the record straight right now. Reading is a skill, an overlearned skill. Good readers can automatically decode words on the page. This automatic recall means that the good reader has memorized many many words and sounds.

Let's prove the theory by taking a little test. Below are a bunch of words printed in colored text. Your job is to look at each word and say the color of the text aloud. Don't read the word aloud, just say the color of the text. So for the word yellow you say red not yellow.

Got it?


Ready .... Go:

Gee that was difficult wasn't it? It's almost like you couldn't stop your brain from reading the words. That's because you are an expert reader and reading is automatic for you. Congratulations, you're a memorizing machine. All good readers have the ability to read connected text rapidly, smoothly, effortlessly, and automatically with little conscious attention to the mechanics of reading, such as decoding. In short, you are a fluent reader. You have over-learned word reading skills to the point where decoding requires little or no mental effort. As a result, you are able to put all your mental energies into reading for meaning. Reading has become so automatic that you struggle not to do it!

Give the same test to a child who hasn't learned to read and she will not get the same brain interference you just experienced.

Let's get back to analyzing the article in Part IV.

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