Working with Billy

I have been working with Billy twice a week since the beginning of term. It is great fun and I think he is enjoying it and beginning to make progress.

I began by giving Billy a photograph of himself and asked him to tell me about the picture. I wrote his sentence under the picture and we read it together several times: ‘Billy is leaning on the tree.’ I wrote each word on a ‘Post-It’ and we mixed them up, matched them to the sentence, played pelmanism and lots of other games. The first session ended by us reading Mr Magnolia together. I read the story out loud and Billy read the words he recognised from his own sentence. We re-read the sentence and together identified all the rhyming words.

In the next lesson we began by re-reading Mr Magnolia and then read Oi Fox. Again we identified the rhyming words. We began by looking at cat and made a list of all the words we could think of which rhymed. We discussed the onset and rime without using those terms. We made sentences using these ‘at’ words and the words ‘on’, ‘the’ and ‘is’. Billy enjoyed manipulating the words and creating lots of sentences. We then repeated the process using ‘ox’ words. At the end of the session all the words were stuck into Billy’s book.

Similar activities have happened during each session. What has characterised my approach to helping Billy become a reader? Firstly, and this is very important, books are at the centre of every session. We read them, enjoy the story together and respond to it through talk and other activities. Our talk is about what we enjoyed, what we didn’t like and we share words and phrases we enjoy. After reading Funnybones Billy commented, ‘What a lot of darks there are on this page.’ It is the words in the books that prompt our word recognition games; after the comment on ‘dark’ we listed all the ‘-ark’ words we could think of. So far this term we have looked at just four books and each one has been revisited several times; our word games are based on words to be found in the books.

Secondly, all the word recognition activities are done in the context of a meaningful sentence. Using already known words we create and read different sentences; we play about with the sentences working out how changing or adding just one word can change the meaning completely.  As the sessions have progressed Billy has begun to compose his own sentences and sometimes I have had to write different words on the Post-Its.  I have found it interesting that Billy tends not to sound out words he does not remember; he works out the first sound and then uses the context. Remember that all his previous reading experience has been following a synthetic phonics approach which encourages him to use phonics ‘first and foremost’. This does not appear to be his preferred approach. Billy now has a book almost full of lots of words on Post-It notes; he enjoys reading these and putting them into sentences.

Thirdly, Billy is beginning to transfer what he is learning about words to reading whole books. At the end of today’s session we began to read Funnybones together. I was using what might be described as the ‘apprenticeship’ approach (Waterland 1991) when I read the text and Billy read along with me; when we came to one of the known words I was silent and Billy read it alone. At the end of this reading Billy appeared to believe that he had read the text himself and was very proud. I must say that he was the most focused I had ever seen him when reading and was really concerned to make meaning from the text. For me this raises questions about what we are teaching when we teach children to read words; where does the meaning of a text lie and what are the many different ways in which readers access this meaning? How does this discourse impact on the way in which we teach children to become readers and what are the implications for teachers’ subject knowledge?

This blog has been mainly descriptive; next time I shall try and analyse more deeply what is going on as Billy takes his first steps towards becoming a reader. Please share any thoughts you might have.


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