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Wet vs. Went: Louisa Moats Describes Her Early Teaching Mistake

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Produced by Reading Universe, a partnership of WETA, Barksdale Reading Institute, and First Book
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Louisa Moats: This is a lousy teaching thing that I did when I was a teacher. I had a fourth grader who was a lousy speller and was also low in reading — those things go hand in hand. And he was writing one day and he wrote 'w', 'e', 't' for went. The word went. It's very common ... you see kids mix up wet and went, and then when they write "went," they'll put a 'w, 'h' because they have not figured out which word is when and which word is went and what's the difference and so on. So he was writing 'w', 'e', 't' and I, in my naiveté, my ignorance, I said something like wet, went ... are those the same or different in an irritated tone of voice. And he said they're different.

And then I didn't know what to do. I had no understanding. So what I should have done — I now understand — what I should have done is say ... they all called the students sweetheart, honey, that kind of thing. Honey, hold your nose. Say the word went. Do you feel a buzz there? Now say wet. Do you feel any buzz there? No buzz. Okay. When you feel the buzz in your nose, it means there has to be one of our nosy sounds in that word. And I would have a consonant chart on the wall that has three nasal consonants in English, three nosy sounds in English, /m/, /n/, and /ŋ/ (/ng/ sound) ... the mystery sound nobody knows. And so if you say went and there's a nosy sound, which one do you think it is? That's what I should have said. But I hadn't done my doctorate yet to figure that out. This is not hard if you know what you're doing. I shouldn't have had to have Carol Chomsky teach me a language course to learn that. I should have learned that before they let me out the door to teach.

Reading Universe is made possible by generous support from Jim & Donna Barksdale, the AFT, the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, and three anonymous donors.

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