Activities are not just ways to take up class time or keep participants busy. Every activity chosen should relate to a skill the participant needs, build on prior knowledge, and lead to extended learning. All learners needs to experience the five pillars: fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, phonemic awareness, and phonics in diverse ways. When designing activities for any age learner, keep in mind the Multiple Intelligences. Participants need to learn new skills through several different approaches. Be sure all reading and writing instruction is not done while sitting as desks. Allow participants to move, share, research and discover.
Discovery is key in instilling the pillars. The more participants are able to discover for themselves, the better readers and learners they will become. Instead of telling students what the sound of a letter is, see if they can identify the letter after hearing a word multiple times while an instructor drags their hand over the text. Instead of telling a participant the meaning of a word, use the word in several sentences, play pictionary, or ask the other participants to offer ideas on how to define a word. Keep the interest and desires of your learners in mind. If participants are motivated by career training, make the reading process a job readiness program. Help the participants set goals, help them assess themselves, and help them feel good when they reach one of their goals. A study of motivation and completion found students who see learning as Need to Succeed tend to complete literacy programs and stay motivated (Petty, 2014). While this research was applied to adult literacy learners, it is true for young students as well. Kids who find school to be engaging, rewarding and beneficial to their development will be motivated to learn. Those who are not engaged in the classroom will become behavior problems or experience a drop in achievement and abilities.
The five pillars are great for teaching people to read; however, in populations with non-standard English speakers, these pillars are not enough. Before a learner can associate phonemes with objects and words, consideration of accents, dialects, and cultural norms about sound and pronunciation must be considered. Many native English speakers do not speak with a midwestern accent; therefore, they may not pronounce all of the letters in a word that someone with a midwestern accent would. This means this learner will automatically be behind in the reading process. What’s worse, is the student and the teacher may not even know why. Children learn their first words from their parents. Often, the vocabulary learned at home does not line up with letters and sounds taught at school.
Take, for example, the name for the cold electronic box that keeps food from going bad. At home, a learner may hear it called a “fridge” or “refridgirator” with a /d/ sound in the word. When it comes time to say the phonemes in the word “refrigerator,” the learner will be confused. What happened to the /d/ or the second /i/? The first pillar should be pronunciation of common words followed by annunciation. Furthermore, all students could benefit from approaching language as if they are an ESL learner. Educators should not assume those born in America speak standard academic English as their first language. America contains many dialects specific to cultures, geology, ancestry and class. If the pillars ignore this then many students will continue to be left behind.