The Dictionary: An Endangered Species

In my work, I often rely upon the ways I was taught, the elements of my basic education that have never left me, nor failed me. Examples of fundamentals I count on are the short and long symbols for vowel sounds. The graphic symbols for pronunciation that we find in the dictionary have helped me for approximately 50 years of reading and encountering the unknown in language.
But different school districts each have their own way or method for instruction, even reading. Each textbook publisher develops its own method, which, in turn, is marketed to schools as the newest and best. Each generation learns how to read differently, which makes for some confusion for me once in awhile.
So what about when I am in front of a group of students and I rely upon what is natural to me and it is not natural to them? That was my dilemma a few weeks ago…the short and long. I assumed that when I stated those two terms that I was understood; however, in that particular school, the long line over the vowel and the little smile indicating short sound were not taught in the reading program that the district had purchased. None of those graphics for pronunciation were being taught, to the chagrin of some of the teachers. 
I was confused. I found a way to explain what I wanted them to know for my lesson at the time. Yet, I had a larger question from the moment. How are students going to be able to relate to proper usage of a dictionary? This is not an uncommon occurrence, a student unable to find a word in the dictionary, not knowing how to use the key words at the top of the page and why they are there, etc. But wait, to not know the symbology of sound that helps a reader become more literate? How can that be rationalized? It is as absurd to me as the decision to not teach basic handwriting.
I will admit that I rely on www.dictionary.com and www.thesaurus.com with daily regularity. But I have an unabridged dictionary on an antique lectern in my dining room that I refer to frequently. I have four or five other dictionaries and an equal number of thesauri, my favorite was a gift from my Uncle Leon and it is well worn. Thankfully, it is also hardback.
My question is, how do we offer the skills that lead to independence in reading as lifelong learners? It seems that the newest trend or program with the best marketing will win. Is there parity in this for young learners throughout the nation? Does this continue to perpetuate the literacy divide? Will the dictionary become obsolete? The Oxford English Dictionary is no longer going to be published in hardback form. It will only be available on line. There are little speakers to click on in order to listen to the word on many online dictionaries. This is helpful but does not preclude the possibility of a power outage or any other limitation to computer access. What if I were to have a dictionary crisis?! What if I need to know that word NOW! I know I am ok…but what about when the 3rd graders who are not learning this skill when they are older? What will they do?

I will always be a fan of basic phonics. Phonics have never left me wanting. Neither has my dictionary.

Thanks again for following my blog. I appreciate your consideration of my words and thoughts.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.