Sight Word Drilling--yay or nay

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nschaben
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Sight Word Drilling--yay or nay

Post by nschaben »

Hi! My name is Nicole and I just joined the forum last week. I work as a Title 1 Reading teacher in central Missouri. A have a question regarding the practice of drilling struggling readers with sight word flashcards (Fry and Dolch). Although I've been teaching struggling readers for nine years, I've never drilled sight words. It was always my notion that they received enough exposure to them during lessons and while reading decodable books. The beginning readers that participate in Reading Mastery lessons don't have a problem with sight words because of the way the lessons are set up and delivered.

The only reason I'm questioning the drilling of sight words is because of the last two seminars that I attended with some other reading specialist. The first one was about fluency strategies and presented by Timothy Rasinski. The second was about strategies to use with dyslexic readers and presented by Carol Lloyd. Both presentations emphasized the necessity of drilling sight words and sight word phrases. They both laid out a procedure of doing it (coding the cards, separating the cards by ability into different piles,etc.), but it was really just drill and kill. Then, last month, my school emplyed a new reading teacher that strongly advocated for all teachers to drill sight word cards using her known method. She now has all of her groups doing sight word drills throughout the day. You can hear the robot-like chanting from down the hall. Her room is filled with packs of index cards with sight words written on them and all she talks about is such and such student passing certain sight word sets.

Of course, she asked me why I wasn't teaching all those sight words. I did explain how the students learned sight words in my class, which brought about a smirk on her face. She disagreed that the method was sufficient enough because it wasn't a large amount of sight words. My response was that I wasn't changing my methods because they were working.

Can someone else inform me of why sight word drilling isn't the most effective way for students to learn? Or maybe someone can actually convince me that I'm wrong (even though I really don't think so).

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Debbie Hepplewhite
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Post by Debbie Hepplewhite »

Welcome, Nicole! It's always great to have a new contributor to the forum.

We are not in favour of drilling sight word cards and we don't teach an 'initial sight vocabulary'.

You will get a good response from people when they read your message.

It's late now so I shall reserve further comments until tomorrow.
;-)

JAC
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Post by JAC »

Hi Nicole
If learning the so-called 'sight words' were successful for all then I guess we would have no problems! As a newly-qualified teacher many years ago one of the jobs I was given was to teach 20 or so words from the first reading book in the Janet and John reading scheme. to the beginners. The children came for 30 minutes every day and took a varying amount of time to memorise those words. Some children learnt them in record time and some children never learnt them at all. It did not do too much harm as the next reading class was learning how to blend cvc words which they all learned to do, again taking a varying amount of time. Those who never memorised the’sight words’ were moved on any way once it became clear they could not memorise whole words.

It did teach me the futility of drilling sight words. Why would you when it has far less utility than teaching children how to blend.
I often get asked to 'drill' sight words to some children and usually say I don't know a good way to do it, so am quite interested to hear about the workshop you attended.
I think you will find some further reading about about 'sight word" approaches on the Don Potter website.

http://donpotter.net/education_pages/

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Post by Katrina »

Hi Nicole, I'm not a reading teacher but the simple answer I've learnt from teaching my daughter is this: It is easier and faster to teach a child the sounds of the English language and how to blend them, than it is to memorise all the words of the English language one at a time. My child can't remember sight words but she can read new words she's never seen before if she knows the sounds.

I've found that as a result of teaching synthetic phonics at home, my daughter is now able to decode most words on the lists of sight words she brings home, without any memorisation of whole words.

Also if you're looking for some research to back up what you have to say, try googling VAS Research Pty Ltd for some really interesting findings on the long term harm that whole word memorisation can have on young readers. As a secondary teacher I can say with confidence that far too many children never learn to read properly in their early years and they don't catch up at High School, their problems just get worse.

mtyler
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Post by mtyler »

Sounds like you need some educationalese to keep the hounds at bay! I won't be able to help much there as I am not in the system, but I'll share some thoughts and perhaps your own research can take you the rest of the way.

There are some real problems with sight word memorization. First, because the student has not been taught to pay attention to the details of the words, that is, their sound-spelling correspondences, it is common for kids to make errors among similar looking or similar meaning words: what/want, a/the, that/what, etc. Errors decrease comprehension and fluency.

Second, if the student has no mechanism to figure out the word other than rote memory (say for flashcard review), if they don't know the word, they guess. This guessing habit can often bleed into all reading. This greatly affects comprehension, speed, and enjoyment of reading.

Third, (this is my own interpolation) if the child has been taught multiple options for getting at words (some part word guessing, some memorization, some picture clues, some context, and some all-through-the-word decoding) the kids have to make decisions before they actually get to the word. Is this a word I've memorized? I'll read a couple letters and guess. Does the picture help me? The time it takes to decide which method to use, or to try a few methods, can increase frustration and decrease comprehension.

Fourth, and somewhat peevishly, so many of the sight words are perfectly decodable!! It doesn't make any sense to train them as sight words when kids can easily access them with the most efficient and effective skill: all-through-the-word-decoding.

Also, fMRI studies suggest that children who learn to read by focusing on whole-word memorization activate a different, and less efficient, part of their brain. Steady work on all-through-the-word decoding will change this (see Sally Shaywitz's book "Overcoming Dyslexia" to start looking at this fascinating area of research) You might also find good information in Diane McGuinness' books, "Why Our Children Can't Read and What We Can Do About It" and "Early Reading Instruction" for a clear presentation of the effects of different kinds of instruction.

There are some easy ways to address words commonly taught as sight words which have unique or rare sound-spelling correspondences such as people, could, would, should, yacht, are, were, etc.

I usually say, "In this (these) word(s) the letters ______ spell the sound /____/. Then I have them sound through the word a number of times.

For those with more common correspondences, group them by correspondences with similar words. So, for the word 'they' teach 'ey' for the sound /ae/ along with the words convey, grey, hey, obey, prey, purvey, survey, and whey. For the word 'what' group with words in which 'wh' spells the sound /w/: whack, wharf, wheat, wheel, when, whey, which, whiff, whim, whip, whirl, whisk, whiz, why, awhile, whale, wheeze, whence, where, whether, while, whimsy, whine, whisker, whisper, whistle, white, whopper.

Good luck!

Melissa
Minnesota, USA

yvonne meyer
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Post by yvonne meyer »

Hi Nicole,

When my son was 17 months, he pointed to the word 'Streets' - black print on a white background with no logo or descriptive picture - and said "Ice cream".

He could read 'Kellogs' and 'Kit Kat' but didn't know which was which unless he smelled chocolate. On one occasion, driving past a new car dealership, he pointed to the big red sign 'Kia' and said, "Kit Kat".

I never described this as 'reading' but just felt guilty for letting him watch too much television. I assumed he was learning these words from all the ads on TV.

He went to a Whole Language/constructivists school where he mooched along not doing much but not causing any problems either and so the teachers thought he was progressing well.

When I said I thought he had a problem, the teachers agreed. They thought I was the problem!

My son's sight word vocabulary was always ahead of the low requirement for schoolwork. I could never convince his teachers that there was a problem because he always delivered the minimum that they expected and he was always smiling and never caused any problems at school.

He saved all his anger and frustration for me at home.

At one point (in desperation) I told him I would give him $50 if he acted up enough in class to get a detention.

The brickwall that I hit with the teachers is that they only saw what they wanted to see. They did not use objective tests of specific skills mapped to a common core to assess progress but used their subjective judgement (miscue analyse) to determine that what they were doing was working.

And based on their subjective opinion, they were always doing a terrific job.

The only way you are going to get through to the 'whole wordist' teachers at your school is to give their students an objective test.

The students might have a large enough sight word vocabulary to fudge their way through schoolwork but ask them to write words that are dictated and you will see them all crash and burn.

If the teacher won't let you test the students, a subtle way to make your point is to hand a student a dictionary and ask them to find a particlar word. If the student can't sound-out, they can't use a dictionary and you will see them flip through the dictionary in a panic and then give up.

I don't know if you are already using DIBELS in your classroom. If not, check it out as I'm pretty sure you can download it for free.

Also, if you haven't found it already, the following Reading First publication from Florida has a reading test which has been discussed on another thread. I've forgotten which thread but someone else will remember and let you know.

The Source: A Curriculum Guide for Reading Mentors.

http://www.justreadflorida.com/docs/manual.pdf

There is an Australian research paper called "In Teacher's Hands" which is a complete waste of time and money in that it is non-evidence based but has one important piece of information which the the authors did not publish.

Of the 10 teachers that were videotaped and interviewed for this research project, the 'least effective' teacher was spending an hour every day teaching 'phonics' but went around in circles because she didn't know which sounds corresponded to which letters and kept getting them mixed up and confused the children.

She thought she was doing a terrific job.

She had absolutely no insight and was totally oblivious to the fact that her students were not learning. When she was interviewed and the researchers showed her that her students were not making any progress, she had a long list of complaints about the children that she blamed for their lack of progress.

You see the same reaction from a teacher on the documentary about Eaglemont Primary School. See the (UK) Channel 4, Lost for Words website, scroll down and watch the clips from the doco.

The most resistant teacher only accepted synthetic phonics when she saw a student who she had given up on as unteachable making progress in reading thanks to synthetic phonics.

Whole word is less effective in teaching children to read but it is not equally ineffective. It causes the most harm to those kids at either end of the Bell Curve. While it stops disadvantaged kids from getting a good start, it also puts up a brickwall that stops advantaged/able kids from achieving according to their potential.

Also, the message about decoding and phonics has gotten through to many parents who are teaching their kids at home. Few parents will risk offending the teacher by telling them so the teacher assumes their whole word practice is successful.

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Post by Tricia »

Hi Nicole,

When I started reading Yvonne's post, I thought she'd beat me to this comment until I realised that she said 17 months - not 17 years.

My favourite example of this is a Year 11 at an EBD school who was coming along quite well with his reading but still had a hard time shaking off the whole word habit. We were preparing to read about weather by looking at words out of context. We gott to a very long on and he proudly announced, "I know that one, it's watersports."

It was waterspouts. I dragged his eyes right through the word and paused at the <ou>. I reminded him to say all the sounds. He just wouldn't believe that it wasn't watersports so I had to tell him the answer, pointing at the defining sound. He dragged in another teacher to support his case. Thankfully, the teacher told him that it's important to read right through the word looking at all the sounds.

This is a five minute episode in my life which has been repeated with struggling older readers time and again. If they had been equipped from the age of four or five to know that the squiggles on the page represent the sounds that they say, many of them simply wouldn't need me.

Nicole, most children will figure out decoding on their own if taught completely my sight. However, (and this is HUGE), for those who do not accidentally learn to read in a whole language classroom, the following years in education will be everything from unpleasant to absolute hell. Throw in a behaviour issue or poverty or both and they will likely not finish high school.

Even if they learn through later remedial phonics, the early guessing habit will be hard to break and will hold them back.

I hope you'll continue to come and ask loads of questions and benefit from the wisdom and experience on this board.

Tricia
Tricia Millar
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http://trt-for-teachers.com/
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maizie
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Post by maizie »

It may be worth reading Jim's last post in this thread:

viewtopic.php?t=3963

Particularly:
Billy had been at adult literacy classes twice before in an attempt to learn to read and well meaning tutors who didn’t know any different kept giving him flash cards with hundreds of high frequency words on them and sending him away to learn them.

Susan Godsland

Post by Susan Godsland »

There's still a great deal of mis-information about:

See slide 20 of this ppt for parents -

http://www.slideshare.net/stmarys_albri ... or-parents

yvonne meyer
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Post by yvonne meyer »

My point about '17 months' which I did not explain properly is that all children come to school with some sight words - Macdonalds, Coca Cola etc.

Some children may have a very large bank of sight memorised words which gives them enough 'reading' for primary school but no child can memorise enough sight words to be able to read well enough for high school and life beyond school.

As I understand the original post, the problem is convincing the other teacher that what she is doing is ineffective even though the children appear to be learning.

I've found that the only way to convince a teacher that their preferred way is less effective to to show them the results of good standarised testing but most 'Progressive' educators are anti-test so they continue doing the same thing, blithely unaware of how much damage they are causing.

Katrina
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Post by Katrina »

Nicole, I'd be really interested to hear what you decide to do and how it goes. Winning the hearts and minds of other teachers is a difficult and sensitive issue.

In most cases, I've found that if I approach the staff at my children's school as a 'parent' wanting to know what is taught and how it is done, I'm treated with condescension; and if I let on that I'm a teacher then I'm bombarded with eduspeak and referred to complicated inaccessible documents. Either way, it is made very clear that my polite and genuine questions are unwelcome and that I should go away and mind my own business, so to speak.

After hearing my questions and the responses I've received at various school forums, other parents will quietly approach me afterwards to say they've come across the same barriers and and share my concerns. But others will look at me as though I'm rude and pushy and don't know my place. How do you bring about change or even open a dialogue without putting your audience off side before you even start?

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Re: Sight Word Drilling--yay or nay

Post by MDavis »

I am certainly opposed to teaching sight words at the outset, before letter-sound correspondences. And I am also opposed to teaching as sight words words which are perfectly decodable and can be read via blending -- as when people teach perfectly regular words like it, in, his, & if as "sight words" to be memorized as wholes.

However, once the basics of word attack via letter-sound correspondences are in place, I don't see that there is any harm in using flash cards to practice words that are genuinely tricky and are high frequency like the, of, one, was, to, who, etc. This is a small subset of the words that are usually taught as sight words. These words come up frequently, and I believe one could argue that a reader who can process them rapidly will have an advantage in that more bandwidth will be left for processing the remaining words.

I recently read an article by phonics-oriented researchers that seemed to suggest (along with some other things) flash cards are a good way to learn this sort of words.

Stuart, M., Masterson, J., & Dixon, M. (2000). Sponge-like acquisition of sight vocabulary in beginning readers? Journal of Research in Reading, 23(1), 12-27.

The gyst of the article was that, contrary to assumptions, lots of kids don't soak these words up like sponges and that repeated exposures are required, and that flash cards can be a good way of achieving these exposures -- though I imagine reading would also tend to expose kids to these high-frequency words quite often.

There may be some here who see cards with words on them as inherently inconsistent with SP teaching because they suggest that the unit of reading is the word. I understand that. But I incline towards thinking that, while there are some uses of flash cards that really undermine the teaching of letter-sound correspondences -- as when the cards are the first thing taught, or when they are used to encourage whole-word memorization as a substitute for use of letter-sound correspondences -- there are others that are less problematic.

It seems to me in your situation you could (if you wish) use flash cards for high-frequency words that can't be blended with available code knowledge and get "compliance points" without abandoning your SP outlook or "selling out." I am not sure if this will be seen as heretical here on the RRF boards.

M. Davis

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Debbie Hepplewhite
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Post by Debbie Hepplewhite »

Not heretical for me Matthew.

I think there is a case for the type of words you mention to be available in poster form to display on walls. This is what I provide through my Mini Posters strand.

I have also been considering being even more proactive regarding these tricky words in order to raise familiarity.

I agree that a rigorous synthetic phonics approach where such words are not taught as an initial sight vocabulary can include 'exposure' to such words as you have suggested.

The trouble is that this can be misunderstood by so many teachers who are truly ingrained with the imperative to teach words as whole words through the flash card route - letting go of old practices for them can often prove extremely difficult.

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Peter Warner
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Re: Sight Word Drilling--yay or nay

Post by Peter Warner »

MDavis wrote:I am certainly opposed to teaching sight words at the outset, before letter-sound correspondences. And I am also opposed to teaching as sight words words which are perfectly decodable and can be read via blending -- as when people teach perfectly regular words like it, in, his, & if as "sight words" to be memorized as wholes.

However, once the basics of word attack via letter-sound correspondences are in place, I don't see that there is any harm in using flash cards to practice words that are genuinely tricky and are high frequency like the, of, one, was, to, who, etc. This is a small subset of the words that are usually taught as sight words. These words come up frequently, and I believe one could argue that a reader who can process them rapidly will have an advantage in that more bandwidth will be left for processing the remaining words.
With that essential qualification
once the basics of word attack via letter-sound correspondences are in place
I would totally agree.

The key point is that the student's initial perception of print is phonic, and the student's trained/developed reflex/response to viewing print is phonic. On that foundation, being introduced to those few legitimate 'sight' words as whole units is simply a practical approach to dealing with them.

After my students have mastered a solid foundation of Primary Code (one to one mapping), student A can decode a 'sound' card, and their partner student B (working in pairs) can then select a corresponding 'sight word' card. The sound card can be either a Primary code (like /u/, which would match to 'a'), or an image (number 1, which would match to 'one'). As a pair activity with the sight word cards spread out face up on the table, and the sound cards in a stack face down, it makes for a lively time.

When they have advanced to a Basic Code level (one to one mapping plus consonant digraphs) they can decode patterns like '/th/u/' to match to 'the'. Likewise, after getting to Simple Level (previous plus vowel digraphs) they can decode items like '/t/ue/' to match to 'to'.

Of course, this kind of thing should only be done after their phonic perception and response to print is fairly secure. Otherwise, encouraging a holistic perception to text would undermine a systematic code instruction.

One thing that I've noticed is that with students who have had teaching by sight memory teachers previously, they might repeat a word perfectly by sound, without realizing its counterpart: '/w/u/t/', wut, ...wut... ?...Oh, what !!'. I suspect that indicates that they have acquired a visual memory of the printed word, without an aural impression. It's similar to a child seeing the text 'red' and saying 'aka' (Japanese for red): they have acquired a visual impression of the meaning, without a vocal impression of the spoken word. Many of my colleagues will insist that the child has 'read' the word, however I would insist they have memorized an image, just like a Chinese character, and in Japanese. By definition (Simple View of Reading, The Reading Triangle) reading requires vocalizing or sub-vocalizing the spoken word that is encoded in the print.

If I could, I would avoid these troublesome 'sight' words until they fell within the margins of the students' code instruction and could then be decoded by code knowledge. Unfortunately, there are enough of them that are frequent enough at even low levels of text that they cannot be ignored, as we've all seen. Regardless, they should be included in instruction only AFTER a Primary Level of code has been mastered.

Best regards, Peter Warner.
Peter Warner
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English in Japan
[url]http://www.english-in-japan.com[/url]

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Proverbs 9:10

MDavis
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Re: Sight Word Drilling--yay or nay

Post by MDavis »

Peter Warner wrote:
MDavis wrote:I would insist they have memorized an image, just like a Chinese character
This gives me a chance to recommend what I think is really a very remarkable and worthwhile book, Visible Speech, by John DeFrancis. DeFrancis, who is an expert on Chinese, argues that Chinese does not work the way many of us have been led to think it does. He argues that there is a strong phonological component to Chinese characters and that they are not as iconic as is usually thought. They do not -- or many of them do not -- convey meaning independently of sound. He says that the phonological information that Chinese characters encode is highly imperfect -- even more so than the phonological information carried by letters in the writing of English -- but he argues that there is a significant phonological element to Chinese writing, so that it is not what Whole Language people like to imagine it is -- a system of direct access to meaning, without phonological mediation. And he goes further to argue that there has never been a "full" writing system that does not code for sound. A writing system may code for sound at the syllable level or at the level of the phoneme; it may code accurately or ambiguously. But DeFrancis says all full writing systems have a substantial phonological element. What he says seems to me very consistent with what we have learned from Diane McGuinness's books. The gyst of it is that all writing involves making pictures of sounds.

Highly recommended.

M.D.

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