Literacies Circle: Vexing Vowels

Teachers often point out that a student or two, particularly those considered as “struggling,” “dyslexic,” or “learning disabled,” need to learn about vowels in order to read proficiently and write effectively.

Indeed, vowels are an integral—and delightful—part of our languages. Young babies babble. Silly toddlers begin to rhyme potty words. Speakers who learn new languages become acutely aware of accents. And of course, we hear the range of English from the Southern drawl and da Yooper, eh?

However, lessons on vowels, say in the form of worksheets and drills, may not be entirely necessary. Acknowledging the vexing nature of vowels is. And a perfect topic for an inclusive restorative literacies circle.

How is it that we can hear a range of timbre, pitch, intensity, and loudness in a single vowel sound and still know what word is being said?  

How do we make sense of and categorize the collection of vowel pairs in print? How do we know which vowel or vowel pairs to use? Shall we get out the Scrabble or Banangram tiles or magnetic letters?

Why is there a “magic –e” in the first place? Who came up with that idea?!

And once, I wondered out loud if there were any English words that did not have a vowel in it. Two fifth grade boys, both diagnosed with learning disabilities, went on a fervent mission to find a word without a vowel to prove me wrong. Almost two weeks later, one boy found one in a graphic novel and scrambled to the other side of the classroom to show the other boy. They checked and double checked the reality of the word, like rereading the numbers on a winning lottery ticket. The boys flew out the classroom door to the school office. They wanted to confer with the principal. The secretary mentioned that it was a valid word in her online Scrabble game. The principal said that since the word has a meaning, it really must be a word. Finally, they proudly strutted into my office to show me.

The word? SH. 

SH. Don’t tell them. But these boys were…reading. A lot.

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