Plurp, fronkett, gan, fosh, nubble, staviousness… I’m pushing spell check today. Nonsense words follow conventional sound-letter rules. To start teaching our students we need to know where they are at. Their current reading level can be determined with various tests, but our reading this week discussed nonsense words and we were asked to ponder the idea of why students who cannot manage the nonsense, can make great gains with phonics instruction.
I recall reading “Jabberwocky”, Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem from the novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. I knew it was a sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but I didn't “get it”. I could read it, but my comprehension lagged horribly. I knew something was killed, yet I wasn't sure if it was a good thing or not. I did learn that the term “chortle” came from this poem, and is no longer a nonsense word. However, I digress… my point being that when we understand phonics, we can decode, and later (maybe) we can comprehend. This is what Alamprese discovered from her analysis of results from the WJ-R Word Attack test. I was trained to administer the Woodcock-Johnson as a learning disability teacher, and administering the word attack is probably my least favorite, because it does seem like nonsense – yet important nonsense.
The unevenness of the ABE readers’ profiles is the puzzle the instructor needs to understand and interpret. It must be a huge challenge, given other students, time, and limited resources. I understand why statistics consider comprehension when they measure results, and I recognize this must seem frustrating to teachers who witness so many other gains in decoding. Comprehension is the level that makes a difference in real life. Decoding “plurp” makes no difference if I cannot comprehend its meaning. Still, I empathize for the student who takes pride in reading “plurp” and the instructor that devoted such time to hear them read “plurp”.