Don’t Marry Your Method!

happy school girl on math classes

As I was preparing to embark on my homeschooling journey, I read books, consulted veteran homeschooling moms, and gathered materials.  One of those items was a set of vintage readers that was recommended for practicing oral reading.

I purchased another book to teach phonics, so we focused on that first.  My son hated it, though!  For a while, we tried practicing small passages in the reading primer instead, which he preferred.  Eventually, I resorted to splitting our time equally between the two books.  After all, the phonics curriculum had come highly recommended and I’d spent money on it.  I should use it; right?

This school year, we finally abandoned that phonics book in favor of the preferred vintage readers, and he is making significant progress.  I toyed with the idea of ditching his spelling curriculum, too, and just focusing on the new words introduced at the beginning of each lesson in his reader.  Again, though, I thought, “But I spent money on that spelling book,” and he didn’t dislike it.  As our year wore on, though, I didn’t think that he was making connections between the words in the spelling lessons when he would encounter them in other reading material, so I decided to revisit the idea of using the readers for that purpose.

As I searched for direction on how to do that, I discovered the original teacher’s manual online.  I discovered that the series was designed not only for teaching reading, but also spelling, grammar, vocabulary and composition and it seemed to me that the publisher’s intent in how they were to be utilized made perfect sense.  I believed it would be more helpful to him than what we’ve been doing so far, so I began the new year with this method.

I have asked myself why I fought these changes.  I know that I was afraid of steering away from curriculum with the teaching steps explicitly provided for me as well as overlooking the recommendations of other moms that I respect.  While reading the manual, this comment leapt out at me, “…we wish to warn the young teacher especially of the danger that the method will become a hobby unless he is careful, and that thus the end will be lost sight of in attention to the means.” 1  Consistency is important, but if what you are doing isn’t working, maybe you are putting too much faith in your curriculum, your teaching philosophy, someone’s advice, or valuing the money that you spent on that book a bit too much.   Depending on where your heart is, any of those excuses could actually be idolatry in disguise.  In the end, as I prayed for direction, God just steered me back to where I needed to be.

Maybe you have less of a tendency to get stuck in one way of thinking than I do.  If you’re like me, though, beware of marrying your method (or curriculum)!  In the end, consider what works for your individual child, pray on it and trust the leading that you receive.  Don’t be afraid to make changes.  It may be exactly what you and your child need.


1 The Eclectic Manual of Methods for the Assistance of Teachers.  Van Antwerp, Bragg & Co., 1885.

Using Guided Repeated Reading to Improve Fluency

Smart girl

I am in my fourth year of homeschooling my son and learning to read has been a slow process for him.  He’s made a lot of progress recently, but the one remaining obstacle that I see is for him to achieve enough fluency to feel confident reading in public.  In co-op, Sunday school or other activities, he avoids reading.  He confided in me recently that he doesn’t want to read in front of his peers because he still needs to sound some of the words out.  Most of the children that he encounters around his age don’t have to do that.

As a result, I decided that helping him to be a fluent reader needs to be our top priority right now.  I don’t want him to miss out on participating in activities that he enjoys.

We’ve often used the McGuffey’s Readers for oral reading practice, and years ago, I read on another mom’s blog that she had her children read the same lesson from a McGuffey’s Reader for five days in a row.  At the time, I was confused as to why she did that, as the lessons in the early readers are short and sweet.  As I searched for information on improving fluency, though, I discovered why – Guided Repeated Reading.  While our phonics curriculum had new passages to be read by my son each day, Guided Repeated Reading has the child read the same passage over and over until they can read it without hesitation, even if it does take five days.  The steps that we have been following are:

  • Practice reading for 30 minutes per day
  • Have the child read the same passage at least 4 times in a row
    • Supervise and make gentle corrections when needed
  • Read the passage aloud for the child at least twice to model fluent reading for them

pinkk flowers

One piece of advice that I’ve read is to model the passage at the outset of the lesson rather than having them sound it out first.  The idea is that having familiarity with it removes any anxiety that your child may have about approaching new text.  I see value in that idea, but my child is used to doing memory work (such as poems and Bible verses) and I notice that if I read through the passage for him first, he appears to be reciting portions back to me from memory, which isn’t reading.  For that reason, I have been having him sound everything out initially and then modeling it for him after he has gotten through the whole thing once on his own.

Within 3 to 6 months of following this protocol, your child’s reading is supposed to greatly improve.  We’ve been using this method for about six weeks and I can see evidence that it is working.  I’ve noticed a few improvements in particular:

  1. When he encounters a word that he has mastered in a passage that we’ve previously worked on, he often remembers the word on sight now, rather than having to sound it out as though he is seeing it for the first time.
  2. If we return to a passage that we’ve already done and moved on from, he can still read it easily.
  3. He’s becoming braver about attempting to read unfamiliar words in other situations.

Over the course of time that we’ve been doing this, he has gone from needing about three days on a new passage to being able to master it almost completely in one sitting.

If reading fluently is a struggle for your child, you may want to consider using Guided Repeated Reading as a tool to help them.