Archive for General

Need Help With Your Memory? Two Tips:

1—A MEMORY BOX

This never-fail game has helped many students improve their memory. Kids love putting it together and playing it, and it helps with sequential memory.

Get a smallish box with a lid as I describe in “Getting Started” in the beginning of Phonics Pathways. A cigar box is perfect. Fill it with a variety of household items such as a paper clip, a pencil, an eraser, a hair curler, or just about anything that will fit in the box. It’s fun to help gather all the items together!

Put all items in a pile next to the open box, and have your student pick one up, feel it, put it in the box, and close the lid. He/she must accurately name the item.

Now repeat this process with another item, and just keep going until you cannot name them all anymore. (Be sure to carefully “feel” each item — this tactile kinesthetic activity will help them remember what the items are.)

This game helps develop their memory for sequential information, and also is a great aid when writing from dictation or just recalling information in general. Items must be named in the same sequence they were put in the box originally.

It’s like the “Memory” game in stores but more complete because it is multidimensional. It is deceptively simple but incredibly powerful. if it is played regularly you will be amazed by their progress in recalling information!

2—SPACE STUDY SESSIONS

Researchers find that pacing study sessions promotes better retention. Proper timing between presenting class material and scheduling study sessions can dramatically affect learning, according to a study of over 1,000 people.

The longer the gap between when material was first covered and when it was revisited in study sessions, the more likely students were to remember it a year later. “Instruction that packs a lot of learning into a short period is likely to be extremely inefficient.” Hal Pashler, Science Daily.

It’s also true that shorter, briefer, but frequent study sessions result in better retention than longer study periods.

I remember studying for hours without end in school, and when we lived in Paris and I took a French class I again tried studying for an hour or two every night.

Then I put the theory to the test: I studied for shorter periods but more frequently. The shorter but more frequent study periods indeed resulted in better retention. Will wonders never cease?

 

A True Fairy Tale

This is true story of how one person’s vision of literacy for everyone began in the back room of the old “Friendly Place” restaurant in East Palo Alto, and what happened as a result of her passionate and tireless dedication.

On a fateful day in 1999 Mary Wright Shaw attended the same publishers’ meeting that I did, where we all held up our books and briefly described them. She introduced herself to me afterwords, and said Phonics Pathways was just what she was looking for to begin a tutoring program for the many Pacific Islanders who were moving into East Palo Alto, and experiencing difficulty learning how to read in school.

Shortly afterward, with the help of Jean Bacigalupi, YES Reading was launched at the low-scoring Belle Haven School , consisting of 150 children tutored by Mary and her golfing buddies from the Stanford Gold Club.

I made frequent and continuous trips to Belle Haven to train the tutors, which grew to include Palo Alto community leaders as well. Soon Molly McCrory hopped on board, an extremely talented and energetic lady who arranged for a portable building to be housed on the Belle Haven campus, and single-handedly furnished it with desks and chairs donated by the Stanford Athletic Club.

At first kids had to be dragged in for tutoring, kicking and were terrified, but they soon grew to love the program and it was actually hard to get some of them to leave when the session was over with. One young boy remarked “I learned a lot, and it felt good. The tutors helped me learn to read. Now, after I sound out a big word, I know what it means. I am so proud and happy!”

Using Phonics Pathways, students in YES Reading improved one grade level in reading after only 1.5 months. (In comparison, Sylvan Learning took 3 months.) Improvement from illiteracy to 3rd grade literacy level took 5 months. (Sylvan Learning took 9 months.)

Mary Shaw stated, “The YES Reading Board envisions our tutoring center as a model that could be replicated in other communities, working in partnership with teachers and schools to help solve the problem of illiteracy in today’s complex and multinational society.”

And that is indeed what happened as a result of Mary’s and her team’s tireless and dedicated efforts! YES Reading became a highly successful state-of-the-art reading center, and soon expanded to San Mateo, Santa Clara, and the East Bay.

In 2008 YES Reading Center changed its name to Reading Partners, a non-profit organization funded through grants and donations from foundations, corporations, and individuals. At the present time it serves almost 2,000 students in 25 new school sites nationwide. It has evolved into a wildly successful program that has changed the lives of hundreds of disadvantaged students all across the country.

I call this a “True Fairy Tale” because while most fairy tales end with “..and they lived happily ever after” real life doesn’t usually end that way. But this time it did. Thanks to Mary Wright Shaw’s vision, energy, and dedicated passion just a few years ago, it truly is a dream come true!

Thanks Mary, with much love and admiration always!
                                                                                         ~Dolores

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

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!