Clouds on a Sunny Day

cloudy sky

It is a beautiful day today, but there were clouds in our house as the issue of balanced reading and practice became a problem.

The morning practice, for my daughter and I, is now a part of our daily routine. After getting changed and brushing teeth, we sit down together for 10 minutes and she will choose from a variety of activities; books, writing practice, word cards and story writing make up the bulk of these activities.

If you have been reading recent posts, you will know that I am now trying to move us away from a (mostly) phonics based practice schedule to a blend of whole word and phonic reading. We have started to read books together. The most recent success was ‘The Gruffalo’, which my daughter completed over two days practice with help from me. It is a familiar story with beautiful pictures. Both of these elements and phonic decoding skills help children to intuit the possible meanings (guess) of unfamiliar words.

There is, however, competition in the form of graded picture books which my daughter receives each month from her nursery school. It is worth repeating here that she has all but taught herself to read in Japanese with minimal help from either parent, and that the books from the nursery are written in the most accessible Japanese alphabet, Hiragana, which she reads fluently now. It was in response to this development that I created ‘The Equalizer’ chart (see earlier post). More on that later.

Back to this morning. Even before getting changed, the sprog was reading her nursery school book. It seems that the easy access and colourful presentation has hooked her. To her credit, however, when it came time to do our practice she was the one who brought it up. “Practice”, she said. And that is where the clouds began to gather.

The Equalizer chart was an attempt to instill the notion of balanced reading, both Japanese & English. It worked very well, and she is now aware at some level of the need for balance. As she is quite capable of getting through the nursery books by herself, it took very little time for her to progress in the Japanese side of the chart. Our move into English books has presented a problem however, because for the level we have been reading she still requires my help. The progress was slower and a little more labour intensive. Still, there was progress.

This morning I asked her if she would finish the second half of The Gruffallo, which I thought was worth reading for a second time. No interest. When she did agree, it was like drawing blood from a stone. It annoyed me. I called the practice off. There were tears. I said that I knew it was difficult but that’s why we needed to practice. The mood was despondent. We went to school. When I dropped her off she gave me a kiss goodbye but I could see that she still felt bad.

Writing this I can see quite clearly my mistakes. I have to learn from this to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Here are a few points I think are important when trying to develop a bilingual child’s literacy in the weaker language (in no particular order):

  • Trying to push your child to read at a higher level is important.
  • Expecting them to be happy about that all the time is unrealistic.
  • Trying to find a balance is useful for motivation to read in the weaker language.
  • Expecting the balance to be achieved without providing suitable materials is ridiculous.
  • Practice time together can be well spent reading higher level texts.
  • Graded readers that they can read by themselves are important to promote reading alone.
  • Parental ambition is natural.
  • Ambition that expects too much of the child is potentially destructive.

Well, there are a few points. I’m sure I will think of more as I mull through this mix of feelings I have today. I have to say that the implementation of the balance project so far has been partially successful, but with the ultimate goal of my daughter willingly reading books by herself in mind, any success should be viewed as purely cosmetic.

From now on Shizu, I will make sure that you have access to the materials you need to progress by yourself. I still want you to concentrate when you are practicing with me and I expect there will be disagreements, but I take my hat off to you for the progress you have made so far and the willingness with which you do it. I’m sorry I made you feel bad this morning. Let’s try to make progress together.


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3 responses to “Clouds on a Sunny Day”

  1. Chris Drew says :

    Keep smiling Nick – it happens, whether or not there is a question of bilingualism. Don’t beat yourself up about it – or at least try not to do it too much. I wasn’t sure about “The Equalizer” – hence no comment. I’ve had something of the same issue with sprog #2 here, and I’ve tried to make it so that she has books she wants to read, which has meant buying more as she doesn’t have the same interests as sprog #1…But all kids are different. She’ll still love you tomorrow, and if she’s read “The Gruffalo” once nicely, she’s not doing too badly :-). And we’ve all heard her read the Peter and Jane stuff, and that was impressive! Think about getting her stuff that is now going to attract her attention – maybe “The Gruffalo’s Child” or some other Julia Donaldson book (“The Smartest Giant” is a really good one) and start leaving them in strategic spots for Shizu to pick up when she’s in the mood – you have to work with the child, not against them, but that is much harder! But most of all, give her a big hug and have some “Daddy, daughter quality time”

  2. wendy benwell says :

    Nick, I love your last paragraph! You are doing a great job at teaching Shizu and she is a great little girl, doing very well – BUT teachers enjoy teaching and we (!) have to know when to back off so that we don’t spoil the love of reading – you and I know what a joy it is. Enjoy that little girl, good self esteem for her is all!

  3. teachthesprog says :

    Thanks Mum and Chris. The whole thing is a learning experience and we are both learning as much about eachother as about learning to read. Of course I realise that there are those days when it doesn’t work quite the way you want, but it never makes them easier just knowing that. In Japanese we would say 頑張ろう (ganbaro), which roughly translates as ‘let’s give it our best’. It’s a widely used phrase. Too widely so as to be spread too thin. The important thing to know is the direction in which we wish to try hard.

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