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Reading Out Loud

Biden Stuttering Challenge“Mr. Buh-Buh-Buh-Biden, what’s that word?” a nun asked Joe Biden in front of his seventh-grade classmates.

It’s a seventh grade in a Catholic school in Delaware. The teacher, a nun, is doing a read-around of a story about Sir Walter Raleigh. Students take their turns reading out loud in front of the class. Some are nervously awaiting their turns; others, like young Joe Biden, are petrified. Why so? Biden is a stutterer. The nun calls upon Biden to read. Biden is not surprised; he knows that he is the fifth student to be called upon, because the nun is choosing students in alphabetic order. Like many students, instead of reading along silently with the other students, Biden has been practicing the paragraph he predicts will be his to read. Biden begins to read out loud and stumbles over the word, gentleman. The nun cruelly mocks him to correct his pronunciation.

“Mr. Buh-Buh-Buh-Biden, what’s that word?” the nun asks.

Biden says he rose from his desk and left the classroom in protest, then walked home. The family story is that his mother, Jean, drove him back to school and confronted the nun with the made-for-TV phrase ‘You do that again, I’ll knock your bonnet off your head!’ I ask Biden what went through his mind as the nun mocked him.

‘Anger, rage, humiliation,’ he says. His speech becomes staccato. ‘A feeling of, uh… it just drops out of your chest, just, like, you feel … a void.’

“What Joe Biden Can’t Bring Himself to Say,” John Hendrickson, The Atlantic

Other sources confirm that bullying was not limited to this one instance with the nun: “As a child, Biden struggled with a stutter, and kids called him ‘Dash’ and ‘Joe Impedimenta’ to mock him. He eventually overcame his speech impediment by memorizing long passages of poetry and reciting them out loud in front of the mirror” (https://www.biography.com/political-figure/joe-biden).

Biden recounts how he coped with reading out loud in front of the class when students would take turns reading a book, one by one, up and down the rows: “I could count down how many paragraphs, and I’d memorize it, because I found it easier to memorize than look at the page and read the word. I’d pretend to be reading,’ Biden says. “You learned early on who the hell the bullies were” (Hendrickson).

Did you know?

“In the most basic sense, a stutter is a repetition, prolongation, or block in producing a sound. It typically presents between the ages of 2 and 4, in up to twice as many boys as girls, who also have a higher recovery rate. During the develop­mental years, some children’s stutter will disappear completely without intervention or with speech therapy. The longer someone stutters, however, the lower the chances of a full recovery—­perhaps due to the decreasing plasticity of the brain. Research suggests that no more than a quarter of people who still stutter at 10 will completely rid themselves of the affliction as adults” (Hendrickson).

Vice-President Biden largely overcame the repetitious stammering that is widely understood as stuttering. With the help of brief speech therapy and practice, Biden’s stuttering is nowhere near as pronounced, nor as problematic, as that of King George VI. You no doubt have seen the Academy Award Winner, The King’s Speech and the king’s struggles with public speaking. However, Biden still blocks on certain sounds. In The Atlantic article quoted above, Biden describes in detail and models how he prepares for speeches and debates. He writes out key phrases and clauses and uses his own coding system of marks and slashes to indicate accents, pauses, and breaths. When speaking extemporaneously, Biden uses circumlocution (word or phrase substitution) as a coping strategy to switch to more easily pronounced sounds. Often, people notice what appear to be unnatural pauses as Biden searches for alternate words. Occasionally, these substitutions produce forced syntax (the order of words in a sentence) or even gaffes. Obviously, Biden’s stuttering doesn’t explain all of his verbal miscues, but perhaps more can be attributed to this challenge than we think.

For our purposes, Joe Biden’s story can be instructive as we teach and practice reading in the classroom. 

A few points from this M.A. Reading Specialist (yours truly), who of course, loved to read out loud in class:

Why Reading Out Loud is Important

Reading out loud helps developing readers practice their reading skills. Only by practicing reading out loud can students hear and adjust to pitch, vocal variation, accents, and attention to punctuation (Shakthawatt). Additionally, reading research confirms that reading out loud improves automaticity in terms of sounding-out phonetically regular words, blending multi-syllabic words, and recalling sight words (non-phonetic memory words). These skills do transfer to silent reading fluency.

Reading out loud is a necessary social skill. Students need to be prepared for public speaking. Adults will be called upon to read in front of audiences in meetings, business, church, etc. Again, allowing student to practice in advance, as Vice-President Biden does, affords optimal performance and less stigma.

When teachers listen to students reading out loud, the teacher can provide helpful feedback and correction. Obviously, teachers can’t correct a student’s silent reading.

What Kind of Reading Out Loud is Effective

Assessment: 

Most teachers use individual fluency assessments (download a free diagnostic at the end of this article) in which students read out loud for a set time. Teachers record the number of words read during the prescribed time, less the miscues, on a progress monitoring matrix. reading assessments to monitor reading fluency progress are we, but the one student-teacher reading is a controlled experience. Ensuring that the assessment is administered privately, away from the class, will reduce student anxiety and produce more accurate results.

Many teachers use running records to analyze and correct student miscues during guided reading. Suggestion: Rather than pulling aside a student to read individually, why not sit behind or next to the focus student and listen in as all students in the group are reading?

Practice:

Use choral reading fluency practice in which students are grouped by fluency levels. The student reads with others, not to others.

Practice reading with a modeled reader. Online readings at the students’ challenge levels is helpful and improves fluency, including accuracy and speed. Check out my reading intervention program below, which includes 43 YouTube expository articles, read at three different speeds for ideal modeled reading practice.

Repeated readings out loud produces transferable gains to cold, unpracticed reading. One effective technique is for a guided reading group to non-chorally read with six-inch quiet voices (not whispering) short texts over and over again. In other words, students read at individual paces, not in unison with others. To facilitate, the teacher can stagger start times. Students get used to the white noise of others quietly reading, and teachers can listen in to individuals and even take running records.

Paired reading out loud can be beneficial if care is provided to match students, in terms of reading fluency levels, and compatibility.

What Kind of Reading Out Loud is Not Effective

Isolated reading out loud in front of peers is counter-productive, not only for stutterers, but also for below grade level readers, ELL, ESL, ESOL students, special education students, shy students, etc. Traditional methods of isolated reading out loud include the following: round-robin (take turns in a certain order to prevent surprise), popcorn (call on students to intentionally surprise and ensure that they are following along), and guided reading, in which students take turns and the teacher completes running record assessments of the individual readers.

Don’t use individual students to read through a story (even if students volunteer to read). First, calling on individuals to read interrupts the flow of the reading and reduces listening comprehension. Second, why select a non-fluent reader, who will make mistakes, or even the best student reader in class and so ensure less than optimal listening comprehension? Instead, to facilitate optimal listening comprehension and the best modeled reading, the teacher or audio book narrator should read the story out loud with occasional pauses to discuss a passage. To build independence, avoid reading every line of text out loud. 

Don’t practice any individual reading out loud that takes away from the entire class reading out loud. Any form of individual reading in which a student only reads out loud for 30 seconds in a 15 minute read-aloud is not adequate practice.

Not all choral reading practice is ideal. When students, led by the teacher, are expected to read chorally, the teacher is forced to read too-slowly for the fluent readers, just right for some readers, and far too quickly for less fluent readers. Teachers can’t put what belongs in a small group or individual box into a whole class box. Only practice choral reading in the context of level reading fluency groups, in which each student is reading at a certain reading fluency.

Get the The Pets Fluency Assessment FREE Resource:

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Reading Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight-adult. Ideal as both Tier II or III pull-out or push-in reading intervention for older struggling readers, special education students with auditory processing disorders, and ESL, ESOL, or ELL students. This full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides explicit and systematic whole-class instruction and assessment-based small group workshops to differentiate instruction. Both new and veteran reading teachers will appreciate the four training videos, minimal prep and correction, and user-friendly resources in this program, written by a teacher for teachers and their students.

The program provides 13 diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files). Teachers use assessment-based instruction to target the discrete concepts and skills each student needs to master according to the assessment data. Whole class and small group instruction includes the following: phonemic awareness activities, synthetic phonics blending and syllabication practice, phonics workshops with formative assessments, expository comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern assessments, reading strategies worksheets, 123 multi-level fluency passage videos recorded at three different reading speeds, writing skills worksheets, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards (includes print-ready and digital display versions) to play entertaining learning games.

In addition to these resources, the program features the popular Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable books (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each 8-page book introduces two sight words and reinforces the sound-spellings practiced in that day’s sound-by-sound spelling blending. Plus, each book has two great guided reading activities: a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns and 5 higher-level comprehension questions. Additionally, each book includes an easy-to-use running record if you choose to assess. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug. These take-home books are great for independent homework practice.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

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