Archive for Teaching Tips

A Fourteen-Point Checklist for an Outstanding Phonics Reading Program

Are you shopping for a good phonics program? Want to supplement your current reading program? Here is a blueprint and guide to what in my experience are the best features to look for in a good phonics reading program:

1. One Letter at a Time

Short-vowel sounds are the very foundation of our English language. They can be difficult to learn and are best taught first, one at a time, in isolation. Focusing on only one sound at a time develops reading accuracy and prevents guessing.

(Beneficial for everyone—especially ELL, LD, or hearing-challenged students.)

2. Illustrated Letters

Every letter should be illustrated with pictures of objects beginning with the sound. At first many children are unable to hear these sounds within a word. Multiple illustrations add a depth of perspective that is similar in effect to a 3-D hologram, and depict the subtle variations of each sound.

(Multiple pictures beginning with each sound also develop and strengthen phonemic awareness.)

3. Large Letters

Even with proper glasses students often struggle with smaller letters when first learning how to read. It’s easier for everyone to learn from large letters initially. This feature is especially useful to beginners, LD learners, or those with vision challenges.

(Once reading is well-established it is much easier to read finer print!)

4. Phonemic Awarenes

Phonemic awareness is a precursor to phonics but should never be confused with phonics. Teach phonemic awareness with letters at the same time for maximum efficiency. “Phonemic awareness instruction is most effective when it is kept simple and when it includes letters.” ~Timothy Shanahan, Director, University of Illinois Center for Literacy

(Phonemic awareness teaches only sounds. Phonics teaches both letters and sounds.)

5. Multisensory

A multisensory approach ensures success for everyone, regardless of their learning mode. How students learn may be different—but what they learn should be the same. Everyone should be able to decode long words by syllables whatever their learning mode. A multisensory method has the synergistic effect of addressing the strongest mode while reinforcing the weakest.

(After all, visual learners still must hear the word, and auditory learners still must see the word!)

6. Blend Consonants With Vowels

When teaching consonants, blending them with a vowel instead of teaching them in isolations eliminated the extra “uh” sound heard in voiced consonants, such as “d-uh” when trying to say the sound of “d.” This strategy begins to develop smooth eye-tracking skills and prevents choppy reading. Students read “di-g” not “duh-i-g,” or “ca-t” not “cuh-a-t,” etc.

(Reading two-letter syllables before reading whole words will also remediate and prevent reversals.)

7. Build Words ASAP

Building words as letters are learned provides concrete exemplars for what can otherwise be confusing and abstract rules and sounds. It prevents the “reading-without-understanding” syndrome sometimes seen when all phonograms are learned first, prior to reading a whole word.

(Memory experts have long known it is easier to remember something new if you can connect it to something already known!)

8. Build Sentences Gradually

Blend letters into syllables, then gradually build words, two-word phrases, and finally sentences of slowly increasing complexity. It’s too big a leap for many students to move directly from reading words to reading complete sentences. Graduated reading practice jump-starts reading for everyone, especially for dyslexics.

(Just because we’ve learned all the piano notes does not mean we are ready to play a sonata!)

9. Teach Spelling With Reading

Reading and spelling enhance one another and are best taught as an integrated unit. Learning how to read and spell in systematic patterns develops clear, analytical thinking which spills over into other disciplines, such as math. Spelling today is taught randomly—what if we had to learn math randomly, 12 x 7, 6 x 9, 8 x 4, 5 x 11, etc.?

(When we learn how to read and spell by pattern math scores frequently improve without tutoring!)

10. Only One Spelling at a Time

Teach only one spelling of a phoneme at a time, beginning with the simplest spelling. It’s more difficult to teach and learn multiple spellings of a phoneme all at once, such as all seven spellings of /A/.

(Don’t you remember names better when you meet people only one at a time instead of being introduced to a whole roomful of people at once?)

11. 100% Decodable Practice

Early practice readings should only be comprised of sounds and rules already learned. The left brain acquires knowledge in small, sequential parts (letter sounds, math). The right brain acquires knowledge by seeing the whole picture (sight words, illustrations). Activity in one hemisphere actually suppresses activity of the mirror-image area on the other side!

(Once decoding is automatic we are able to see the whole word at once~the gestalt.)

12. Add Sight Words Gradually

After the mechanics of reading are established, sight words can gradually be introduced, a few at a time, such as “I” and “a” Example: “I had a fat cat.” Limited reading skills should be reasonably fluent before sight words are introduced.

(Our attention is limited to being able to focus on only one thing at a time. It cannot be directed to identifying letters at the same time that we are trying to comprehend the meaning of what we are reading!)

13. Teach Sight Words by Pattern

Words learned in patterns are grouped and filed in one “folder” in your brain and quickly retrieved. Words learned randomly are filed in separate “folders,” and take more time to retrieve. Example: sight words “could, would, should” are best taught with other /oo/ words such as “took, book, look,” etc.

(Having to learn words randomly results in slow and laborious reading, and children seldom read for pleasure.)

14. Include ALL Spelling Rules

Linguistic awareness eases learning and develops logical, analytical thinking. Example: “Why are some words spelled -able and others -ible, as in appeasable, horrible, etc.?” It’s so much easier knowing one rule for many words than it is learning each word individually!

(Critical thinking sharpens, and spelling improves dramatically!)

Happy Shopping!

 

 

Multisyllable Word Practice

Question:

“I was wondering what resources I should use now with my 3rd grade reader.  We have finished Phonics Pathways, but I still feel he needs more instruction in decoding, especially big words. Also, he also doesn’t always apply the rules or know when to apply the rules.”

Answer:

Good question! Just because a child may have had phonics and is able to read simple words does not mean he is therefore automatically able to read multisyllable words. It takes practice — graduated, sequential and progressive practice — moving from simple multisyllable words to more difficult combinations.

Consider getting Reading Pathways — it is specifically designed to develop ease, fluency, and accuracy when reading long, multisyllable words. Words are built one syllable at a time, and read first with a phonetic spelling and then with the genuine spelling. You can see sample pages on my website www.dorbooks.com

Reading Pathways begins with simple word pyramids, progressing to multisyllable word mini-pyramids, and finally to complex four-syllable multisyllable word pyramids. Students love the pyramid format and tend to think of it more as a game than a reading lesson!

As far as not applying the rules or knowing when to apply them, it sounds to me as though he may need more review. Phonics Pathways is deceptively simple, and it’s very easy to go through the book too quickly. However, it’s important that every lesson should be automatic in recall before proceeding to the next one.
Whenever you get to a place in his reading that he stumbles on or seems unsure of, review. Review, review, review! It’s so important to read accurately and not guess at multisyllable words!
Recently someone wrote to me saying her son had thrown his food wrappers on the grass as they walked in the park. When she corrected him, he said “It’s okay Mom, the sign says “Dumping Permitted.” But the sign actually said “Dumping Prohibited.” As Mark Twain said:
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug!”

 

Picture This!

Much has been said about pre-reading, and how much or whether it is even helpful when learning how to read. Let’s narrow this discussion to illustrations, and take a closer look at whether or not pictures help or hurt the reading process:

If a story has too many pictures in it that give away the whole plot, it defeats the purpose of decoding because we already know everything about it and there’s no motivation to read any further. If it has just a few illustrations, this can perk up the child and give him a sense of what the story is all about, hook his interest, and motivate him to go ahead and read it. However, some experts such as Robert Calfee say that any pictures at all distract from the decoding mechanism (Robert Calfee, “Memory and Cognitive Skills in Reading Acquisition,” Reading Perception and Language 1975)

We know that the left brain acquires knowledge in small, sequential steps, such as learning math and letter sounds. And the right brain acquires knowledge by seeing the whole picture, as with illustrations and sight words. And amazingly, researchers such as Schwartz and Begley (The Mind and the Brain) have discovered that activity in the right hemisphere of our brain actually suppresses the activity of the mirror-image region in the left hemisphere if introduced at the same time or too soon!

There is a way in which pictures are highly beneficial to the learning process when learning how to read, and that is to illustrate letters with pictures of words beginning with the sound being introduced. (It can be difficult to hear these sounds within a word when first learning, especially for English-language learners and students with learning disabilities.)

It’s especially effective to include multiple examples, as this imparts the subtle range and depth that make up each sound, much like a 3-D hologram. Listening for and identifying these sounds develops phonemic awareness, the important first step in learning how to read. Illustrating letter sounds as they are learned greatly accelerates learning, just as using Cuisinaire rods and other manipulatives accelerate learning mathematics. Here is an example: The Short Sound of E  

The best example I can think of to demonstrate this concept is to try and read a Russian letter — Russian has different symbols for sounds and puts you in the shoes of a child trying to read without knowing letter sounds. Can you name this letter and say its sound? Mystery Russian Letter Hmmm…

Now try reading this letter again, this time with multiple pictures beginning with the sound of the letter. Just say the name of each picture, and note the beginning sound: Mystery Russian Letter. Simple, isn’t it?

Finally, look at it one more time and discover both the name and sound of this Not-So-Mysterious Russian Letter. See? Now you can read Russian!

Ernest Hemingway once said it takes a man half a lifetime to learn the simplest things of all. It took me that long to learn how to simplify and teach the English language.

Teaching reading is really very easy — anyone can teach it, and everyone can learn!

 

Spelling? Hmmm…

Should a reading program include spelling rules? And if so, how many? Should it include all of the spelling rules, even complex rules applying to only a few words? Or should it include just the main rules that apply to most words? Or should spelling even be taught?

Good questions all! It’s enough to make one’s head spin. Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of various approaches used to teach spelling:

Teach Spelling Rules AFTER Reading

Waiting to teach spelling rules until after the student has learned how to read has the advantage of continuous reading instruction uninterrupted by learning how to spell at the same time. Attention is totally focused on learning how to read. Spelling is considered a separate skill, and is taught later.

The disadvantage is that of course students must learn how to spell sooner or later, and this only postpones the whole idea of spelling until a later date.

Teach ALL Spelling Rules WITH Reading  

If all spelling rules are introduced in the beginning, when students are first learning how to read, while it has the obvious advantage of teaching spelling it can slow students down considerably because they are learning two skills at the same time, dividing their attention between learning how to read and learning how to spell.

For example, there are about half a dozen rules for adding E to the end of a word, with up to nine subcategories—not to mention all the exceptions. It might be daunting to try and learn all of this material at the same time one is trying to learn how to read! Focusing on only one task at a time greatly eases learning and prevents getting bogged down in minutia.

Take the plural of octopus, for another example: it is not octopi. A little knowledge of Latin and Greek can be a dangerous thing and sometimes leads people into error. While some Latin plurals are formed by changing the -US ending of a singular noun into -I for the plural, octopus is ultimately borrowed from a Greek word and not a Latin one, so it’s incorrect to form the plural according to the Latin rules. If you wanted to be ultra-correct and conform to ancient Greek you’d talk about “octopodes” but this is rare: the Anglicized plural, “octopuses,” is absolutely fine. (“Tricky Plurals in English,…” Oxford University Press).

Teach MOST Spelling Rules With Reading GRADUALLY

Nevertheless, reading and spelling enhance one another and are best taught as a single unit. Marilyn Adams wrote: “Accurate spelling is critical to the reading process. To the extent that this knowledge is inaccurate or underdeveloped, it is strongly associated with learning disabilities.” (Annals of Dyslexia, Vol.47, 1997)

So how then should spelling be taught? A happy compromise is to teach the major spelling rules that apply to many words one by one, when the sound or spelling occurs. For example, here is how the rules for /K/ are taught in Phonics Pathways: (The first rule is not even taught until students are already reading three-letter words.)

1. /K/ is spelled -C or -K depending on the vowel that follows it:                Page 53  (cat, keg, kid, cop, cup)

2. /K/ is spelled -CK at the end of a single-syllable word:                         Page 55  (back, deck, pick)

3. /K/ is spelled -C at the end of a multi-syllable word:                            Page 118  (picnic, fantastic, frolic)

4. /K/ is spelled -ICK when adding a suffix to a multi-syllable word:            Page 118  (picknicking, frolicking)

There are two more spellings of /K/ which are spelling patterns, not rules:    /K/ = CH (chorus, school) and /K/ = QU (quack, queen)

When we are introduced to a whole roomful of people at once it’s difficult to remember all of their names. But when we meet them one at a time it’s much easier. The same thing is true when teaching spelling rules—just teach one at a time, and the simplest rule first.

I’ll close this post with a teaser: Why are some words spelled -ABLE and others -IBLE, as in “appeasable, horrible, lovable, visible,” etc.? There is one simple rule that is true over 90% of the time.

It’s so much easier knowing one spelling rule for many words than it is having to learn each word individually, one at a time!

After basic decoding skills and basic spelling rules are solidly learned and mastered, those wishing to learn more about our language can pursue great resources such as “Vocabulary Through Morphemes” by Susan Ebbers, and other such publications.

Happy hunting!