Focus on Basics Volume 5, Issue A: First-Level Learners

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The teachers writing in this issue of Focus on Basics do know a lot about teaching reading. Ashley Hagar, of Cambridge, Massachusetts; Gladys Geertz, of Anchorage, Alaska; and Anne Murr of Des Moines, Iowa, all bring immense skill to their classrooms and programs. They all have found that very structured classes, with direct instruction in specific subskills such as phonological awareness, word analysis, and sight word recognition, among other skills, provide the best results. Their students don’t chafe under direct instruction, they welcome it: finally, they have the tools they need to join, however belatedly, the reading club.

The beginning learners in MaryAnn Cunningham Florez’s English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) program had valuable feedback to share about the strengths and weaknesses of their instructors. Included in their list was the suggestion to “talk to us about learning and the learning process.” It echoes the metacognitive strategies provided to students by Hagar, Geertz, and Murr. Florez shares her students’ complete list of suggestions, and her techniques for getting such input from students.

Drs. Sally and Bennett Shaywitz, in their overview of the neurobiology of dyslexia, explain that an inability to segment the written word into its underlying phonologic elements results in readers having difficulty in decoding and identifying words. But, they remind us, the phonologic deficit is “domain-specific.” That is, other cognitive skills are intact. This is important information to share with first-level learners. It explains the paradox so often encountered of otherwise intelligent people who experience great difficulty reading.

We hope that the articles in this issue provide first level teachers with an introduction to the techniques useful for teaching first-level learners.

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