Vowel Confusion

What do you do when your students don’t know the sounds vowels make?  What if they don’t know the difference between consonants and vowels?  What if they tell you they did add a vowel to the words – t and c? 

Okay, not a huge deal, right?  What if they are in third grade?  Um yikes!! 

That is what I’m running into with the girl I tutor.  She has always struggled with spelling and phonics.  She is a pretty decent reader but when she gets to an unknown word she often just guesses with no real strategies in place to decode it.  But at the end of last school year, I realized she didn’t know about vowels.  I guess I really didn’t care that she mixed up the terminology ‘vowel’ and ‘consonants.’  My bigger concern was that she couldn’t tell me the sounds each vowel made.  No wonder she couldn’t spell.  If she didn’t have the word memorized, she had no tools to help her stretch out the word and write the sounds she heard.

We spent the summer going vowel by vowel.  Each week, we focused on a different letter.  We would do a long and short letter sort with words I gave her.  I had a hard time finding words that were appropriate for her.  Most vowel activities are designed for younger learners so the words are often three or four letters.  We would sort whatever words were in the activity that I brought that week and then we would grab a magazine or book and go through it searching for words that fit the long and short sound of that week’s letter.  She seemed to be getting it a little more and then school started. ..

She continues to have struggles with spelling and phonics.  I thought there was improvement until last week when she told me t and c were vowels.  AHHHH! 

I used  Making Sense of Phonics by Isabel Beck in my second grade classroom to teach phonics and had really good results.  The students liked that they had letter cards that they could manipulate on their desks.  I would tell them what letters to put out and they would read the word.  Then we would switch the letters and they would read the new word.  This worked wonders with showing the difference between CvC words and CvCe words.  That darn bossy e (aka magic e, silent e.)  I did some of the lessons with her last year but I’m thinking of making it the first thing we do each week during tutoring.  Since school started, we’ve been focusing on getting her homework finished and practicing her spelling words so that she isn’t so overwhelmed when she gets home but I feel like I’m providing a disservice by not working on this problem each week. 

Do you have any advice for me?  What’s worked for your students?  What have you done with students who seem to have missed the whole concept of the sounds letters make when put together in different ways?  Hit me with your best advice and resources because we need help!!!