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Guest Blog Post - Deepening Language Skills for Reading

Throughout this school year, we will feature guest bloggers to share different perspectives on or experiences with boys education on our Head of School blog. Our next guest blogger is Francy Mitchell, Regis English Language Arts Educator, 5th and 6th Grade and ELA Department Chair. Ms. Mitchell discusses the impact of language skills on reading.

Mitchell Classroom

My interest in the field of reading grew tremendously when more and more students were showing up to class, not being able to understand the meaning behind a simple sentence. I will never forget crying alongside a room full of teachers after a simulation for struggling readers. To feel the frustration, anxiety and despair of a child who struggles in class was so overwhelming. New teacher training programs do not address or prepare teachers in multi-modal, explicit reading strategies, and just because state standards reference “phonics,” there is much left to interpretation.

Our brains do not have reading centers, and in order to read well, neural pathways must be developed at an early age. Over the years, I found that finding direct solutions to help students was the easy part. What I wasn’t prepared for was the number of myths and misconceptions about reading, especially the one stating that reading is a natural process when decades of reading scientific research says otherwise.

If you are wondering what clues to look for, start with spelling and handwriting, because they are visible records of how a student processes language. They give detailed insight into a student’s knowledge of word structure and speech sounds, indicating how well a student reads.  

A good reader does not think about phonemic awareness because he does it accurately and subconsciously. He can decode without thinking about it, gaining awareness of speech sounds, letters and combinations of letters they represent. Students who read well recognize word patterns and sounds, syllables and word parts accurately and without hesitation. This gives them insight into vocabulary, spelling and writing. The student can then link a sound with a symbol, then to a print pattern, which helps develop analytic processes. If a student knows that the suffix -ed has three pronunciations—helped /t/, played /d/ and panted /ed/, he can advance to more advanced affixes while developing more skills.

There has never been a better time to develop better reading and writing skills for boys. First, review the decoding process by becoming aware of the sounds your mouth makes when pairing vowels and consonants. To learn a word such as deceive, a student needs to identify the prefix de- and the Latin root, -ceive, which furthers connections with other words such as perceive or receive. Because the /ei/ pattern is different in this word, a student will understand that it is an exception and will spell the word accurately. Finally, the part of speech, definition, synonym and antonym can help place the word in context in literature. Practicing grammar in conjunction with learning a new word is critical. Deceive is a verb, and knowing that a verb modifies a noun is an important part of the learning process and the appreciation of stories. As students read varied literature, word recognition becomes more automatic, increasing a student’s ability to absorb the full meaning of the text. Students draw upon the same processes for reading as they do in writing, so handwriting and spelling need to become automatic too.

Francy Mitchell Portrait

Bio: Francy Mitchell serves as the English Language Arts Department Chair in Middle School, as well as teaching both 5th & 6th grade ELA. She is a Neuhaus Reading Specialist, and she has 11+ years experience in educating middle school students in Houston. Ms. Mitchell is graduate of Houston Baptist University, where she earned her Master’s in English Literature, and she is also a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, where she received her Bachelor’s in English Literature. Prior to joining the Regis community, Ms. Mitchell taught at River Oaks Baptist.