Volume 3 #5 March
When you walk down the street, you don’t think of
putting one foot in front of the other, leaning forward slightly,
picking up the other, etc. etc. You don’t have to teach
a baby to walk. It is all automatic, the programming for
it built in with no need for awareness on your part of what
you are doing.
But when you are a ballerina, you know where every joint
is, exactly how far your foot goes up, where your arms belong.
Even after you have memorized your role you are still very
aware of what you are doing. The same can be said of playing
the violin, doing gymnastics or engaging in any other activity
invented by people.
This is quite similar to the difference between talking
and reading. A baby learns to talk because the programming
for him to do it is built in. He is born with the ability
to produce any linguistic sound at all, and as he hears the
ones in his own language, he gradually forgets the others
and copies the ones he hears the most often.
But reading is an activity invented by people. There is
nothing natural about it. First, you have to read somebody
else’s words correctly. Then you have to comprehend
his grammatical framework to understand the meaning of the
sentence. But you are still not out of the woods. When you
talk, you know what you mean. When you read, you must understand
the writer’s grammatical framework to find out what
he means. Awareness of somebody else’s grammatical
framework is not necessarily easy. Try a bit of Shakespeare,
if you don’t believe it.
This is why teaching grammar and syntax to dyslectic pupils
is so important. Both are processed in the left hemisphere,
along with semantics, or word meaning, in two areas called
the Broca area and the Wernicke area. (Our old friend the
angular gyrus is mostly involved in phonics). So stimulating
that left hemisphere does yeoman’s duty, stirring up
not only phonics, but syntax, grammar and therefore comprehension
The key here is conscious awareness. To develop it, we
start in RfS with the -ed rule for past tense spelling, which
requires the student to become aware of the difference between
verbs and nouns. Later come exercises on adjectives, adverbs,
and prepositional phrases. As he understands what kind of
enrichment each part-of-speech contributes to meaning, we
go on to prefixes and suffixes.
Here is what you tell him: prefixes usually change the
meaning (tie, untie) and suffixes change the part of speech
(happy – an adjective, happiness -- a noun). Maybe
for fun, you tell him that the letters, -en- can be either
a prefix or suffix! On words like enlarge, enhance, enliven,
enclose, encourage, the en- means “make more so”.
As a suffix on eaten, gotten, written, given, driven, etc,
the –en often changes a verb from the present tense
to the past tense, just like its cousin, ---ed. Sometimes
the –en will change an adjective into a verb, like
sweeten, darken or lighten. He doesn’t have to memorize
any of this. You just want him to notice.
The more he is consciously aware of the construction of
language, the better his comprehension will be, so don’t
skip the lessons on grammar!