Cheating? (Part 1)

Cindy has a post over on Life Without School called To Copy is to Cheat; Or is It?. In it she explores the concept of "cheating" with respect to kids' learning.

She gives examples of times when her children used techniques to improve their skills that could on first glance be dismissed as "cheating" but in reality were very effective methods of improving specific skills. Whether it is tracing a picture, copying a storyline, reading a book that is "too easy" or using the answers to figure out how a problem works, it can be easy to write off these activities as "not real learning."

She closes with saying:

Plagiarism is for profiteering; cheating is for institutions.  Using someone else's expertise in order to gain better techniques through modeling, copying, or tracing as a form of learning can be just plain smart.

Her post got me thinking about some other areas that our kids might use so-called "cheating" techniques.

The first one that comes to mind is using the pictures or the context of the story to help with reading. For most schools and even for some homeschool families, it seems as if reading is only considered "real" if it consists of sounding the word out using phonics. If a child figures out a word in any other way, it is dismissed.

Yet using the context and pictures can be a very effective way of figuring out words (especially right-brained learners who are more visually oriented). One of the things that I realized as I watched Jason move towards reading was that phonics was just one method of getting unknown words into our sight word memory. No one uses phonics to actually read (try sounding out every single word you read and you will realize this). Since the goal was for him to increase his fluency by increasing the number of words he knew, it seemed to me that it should not matter how the word was learned, as long as it was learned.

I found that while Jason could sound out a word, phonics was not his method of choice. His method of choice (as near as I could figure) was to identify the beginning sound and then use his large vocabulary and the context/pictures to identify the word. I remember one time soon after he started reading, we were reading a book together and came across the word "jackknife". He surprised me and got it with only a second's hesitation. When I asked him how he figured it out, he said that he knew that it started with the "j" sound and he saw a picture of the rabbit holding a knife so he figured that it had to be jackknife. Sounded great to me!

I will admit, that as very much a phonics reader, it sometimes seems to me incredible that he can pick up words in this way. But he does. Since reading "clicked" right before he turned 8, I have never had to give him "lessons" or "work" on reading with him. His reading ability has just steadily gotten better. And no, his method is not completely fool proof and there are times when I correct him in his pronunciation. But phonics is not fool proof either (just ask me how I spent the first three Harry Potter books pronouncing Hermione). 

I am glad that I was able to see past my school conditioning to give value to Jason's natural way of learning words. To see it not as "cheating" but to see it for what it is. A very effective use of his strengths in learning a very important skill.

This post has gotten long, so I will stop here for now. Tomorrow I hope (time permitting!) to discuss another area of reading that is often dismissed as "cheating" or not "really reading"...the use audio books.