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Tuesday, September 23, 2008


All About Alphabets



   Reading and writing form the very basis of school learning, yet several students struggle when it comes to decoding alphabets. They might be bright —intellectually, academically and socially, and yet struggle with words, sentences and paragraphs. Some students are able to read fluently, yet falter when it comes to spellings. So where does the problem lie? 


"We seldom teach students 'how' to read or write and instead, just expect them to do so. It is a science that needs to be explicitly taught through artful means," states Sonya Philip, a trained reading expert and founder president, Learning Matters Foundation. 

   Sonia Chib, co-ordinator (elementary), Shri Ram School, adds: "Children want instant gratification, which they receive from watching television. Books are increasingly being made into movies so students, as such, prefer to spend two hours in front of a screen than two weeks in front of a book." 

   Besides, "the current education system is 'textbook-oriented' and 'marks-oriented' and doesn't really encourage a child to read," feels Asha Singh, a reader with the Department of Human Development and Childhood Studies, Lady Irwin College. 


Schools are, now, using innovative techniques to make reading and writing an enjoyable experience for students so that they do so of their own accord. For instance, most schools use flash cards to teach alphabets. Elaborates Chib: "Flashcards are used to build words. Small cards with alphabets are given to the children, who are encouraged then to make words. We also devote 15 minutes everyday to DEAR or Drop Everything And Read." 

   Similarly to inculcate writing habits, says Chib, in Upvan (kindergarten) 'a-page-a-day' is sent home with simple sentences scripted. "The children read it at home and at the end of the week, these set of pages complete a short story. Children are also encouraged to continue the story or write one of their own. Worksheets are also extensively used." Similarly, Philip uses various multi sensory materials like board games, finger painting and even shaving foam, along with visual cards, and other kinesthetic strategies to engage students in internalising letter sounds and shapes. The learning is successful through a fun and enjoyable process. 

   Further, if students don't enjoy reading textbooks, why not expose them to comics? Explains Veena Dhyani, counsellor, Cambridge School, Noida: "If a student is hesitant to read in class, then we start with comic books and gradually move to textbooks." She adds: "We also use behaviour modification for children which includes cognitive behaviour therapy wherein we encourage a child to read and write through positive reinforcement. If a child fails to complete a given task, we appreciate his efforts and encourage him to do better next time." 


Most educators feel that students should be exposed to a print rich environment — be it at school or at home. Students should be exposed to a lot of writing material — be it pens, pencils, colours, charts, magnets, pictures or books. "A lot of visual displays of alphabets with illustrations are put up in our classes. We also have a lot of art activities in elementary classes related to books, like creating book marks," says Chib. Adds Singh: "We give a lot of thought to the ambience — be it doors, walls or even windows — as students learn a lot from their surroundings. Even at home, parents should read regularly to encourage the child. Even newspapers and magazines would do." 


According to Philip, improved teacher training is the need of the hour. She elaborates: "In India, a major problem lies in the fact that there are no effective teacher training programmes that prepare teachers on 'how to teach' reading and writing. Hence, we rarely teach children how to read or write effectively. We expect all children to learn from exposure to the material. This may work for several children but not for all." 

   According to Singh, the approach towards teaching should be 'structured' and based on individual needs of a child. She adds: "Parents have an equally important role to play and shouldn't leave everything to school."



Sunil Sharma


Dil Se Desi Group


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