Oakland Tribune

Oakland Tribune Article

By Kari Hulac Tuesday, March 05, 2002 -

When teacher Alexandra (Sacha) Luria-Smith discovered that her Oakland sixth-graders were reading like first-graders, she knew something had to be done. Two of them didn't know the alphabet. A student reading the sentence, ``I sent her a clock last week," didn't recognize the words ``her," ``clock" or ``last."

Luria looked at some research and picked the direct instruction method, which treats all the students as if they need to start from square one. The method doesn't assume kids will naturally pick up any reading skills or even know what sound a letter makes.

By the end of the school year most of her James Madison Middle School students were reading like fifth-graders. They were whizzing through text at 120 words a minute and deciphering terms such as ``exaggerate" and ``bothersome." The students also had some of the highest scores in math in East Oakland on the Oakland Unified tests - probably because they could finally read the word problems.

Luria wants to teach parents how to help their children before they get so far in school with reading problems. This month she's offering workshops for parents using the direct instruction method in the book ``Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons," by Siegfried Engelmann, Phyllis Haddox and Elaine Bruner. The book, available for $20 at most stores, can work for bright kids as young as 3-[1/2] but is probably best for ages 5 and up. The child and parent do one 10-minute lesson a day, starting with letter sounds. By Lesson 13, two weeks later, most kids are able to read and comprehend simple sentences, such as ``See me eat," accompanied, of course, by an illustration of a guy chomping down on a burger. By Lesson 100, the child can read like a second-grader.

Some teachers and parents mistakenly think that a struggling child will catch on later or pick up what they don't understand the next year, Luria said in a recent interview. Doing that for a couple of years only puts the child further and further behind, leading to shame, frustration and low self-esteem.

The book gives the person teaching a word-for-word script of what to say - how to point to a big bold black ``M" on the page and make the sound ``mmmmm," for example. Luria said if you've been reading aloud to your child and the child shows they're ready to try reading - either by pretending to read or by reciting books from memory - it's a good time to pick up Engelmann's book. Or, you might try the book if your child is in kindergarten or in first grade.

All kids learn differently and at different rates, but most kids should be doing some reading by first-grade, she said. Luria said the key elements of reading are: Vocabulary and word recognition, the ability to see how letters make a word and comprehension - actually understanding what they're reading. The Engelmann book is particularly helpful at teaching kids how letters make a word they can read.

Luria's workshop will address that as well as give parents advice on choosing books and making sure kids understand what they're reading. To pick a book, she said, try the five-finger error rule. Take a page from a children's book and ask your child to read it. Five errors - a handful - means the book's too difficult. Kids can use this trick, too, to pick out their own books.

To test comprehension, Luria said, parents should ask their child one question about every 30 seconds. Even better, kids should ask their parents questions about the book. Being able to ask a question about what they're reading shows true understanding.

To avoid reading problems in the first place, parents should read aloud to their children every day at home. The formula is simple, says reading book author Jim Trelease in his ``Read Aloud Handbook." The more you read, the better you get at it. The better you get at it, the more you like it. The more you like it, the more you do it. But many parents just don't do it. A 1996 survey by the private research foundation, The Commonwealth Fund, found that only 39 percent of parents read daily to their infants and toddlers, and 16 percent don't read to their children at all. The results of that are sobering. The Nation's Report Card says that only 20 percent of California fourth-graders read at or above a proficient level. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents read aloud daily to their child starting at 6 months.

But some reading experts say it doesn't hurt to start even sooner. Babies appreciate hearing their parents' voices and cuddling up with a book, even if they just want to chew on the pages rather than turn them. It also doesn't hurt to keep reading to your kids when they're older. The Trelease book says children up to age 13 can comprehend more complicated words and concepts heard out loud. So listening to a book helps older kids add words to their vocabulary. Setting up a reading-friendly home isn't difficult, Trelease says.

Just think the three Bs: Books, of course, baskets for those books in spots kids frequent, such as the bathroom, kitchen or living area, and a bed lamp for reading. When children are read to, he writes, they associate reading with pleasure, they gain knowledge, build vocabulary and see their parents as a reading role model. As Trelease sums it up: ``The more you read, the more you know; and the more you know, the smarter you grow." Luria's March 6 workshop is full, but there are spots available in one scheduled for March 13, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Grand Lake Community Center, 530 Lake Park, near Lake Merritt in Oakland. The cost is $40 plus the book, which can be bought for $20 at the workshop or for $14 at Powell's Books.