Sight Word Drilling—yay or nay? PART 2 and other ramblings

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nschaben
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Sight Word Drilling—yay or nay? PART 2 and other ramblings

Post by nschaben »

I greatly appreciate all the responses to my question about sight word drilling. The wisdom that was shared has given me much insight on this topic. Many on this forum display impressive knowledge, experience, and articulation about effective reading instruction. This inspires, challenges, and motivates me to reach higher by learning more and reflecting consistently on my own teaching, so that I can do what it takes to create the most positive outcome for every student. Since I am a new member, I have spent some extra time reading the last 3-4 years of posts on this forum. Instead of glaring at the computer screen, I printed most of it and filled about four binders. It was worth the ink and paper because I know that I will refer to it when need be.

As you might recall from my first post, I was questioning sight word drilling because another newly hired reading teacher in our department did so religiously. She didn’t spend much time on comprehension instruction because (in her opinion) if a student becomes knowledgeable of most of the sight words, then he/she becomes a fluent reader and being fluent meant that comprehension of the text was easy and instantaneous.

My logic was that my students gained proficiency with sight words through continuous exposure in their lessons and corresponding decodable text. Most students also learned them best by sounding them out, which is the suggested approach during their Reading Mastery instruction. I do teach comprehension strategies and techniques because some struggling readers have trouble with memory and concentration. I was hit with much opposition about this in another group forum (they thought I was crazy), but it seems natural that a student needs comprehension instruction (even when reading 100% accurately) if he can’t remember vital story events or continuously displays misinterpretation. It seems that many minds of students drift while reading and the teaching of comprehension/monitoring strategies will be needed.

Nevertheless, this other teacher thought her memorization drilling technique was undoubtedly the best and only way to assure the students master those hundreds of Fry/Dolch words. I was tempted to enlighten this other teacher with the insights gained from responses to my post, but I held back. What I needed was more solid evidence that my students were doing just fine without the flashcard memorization technique. I agree with some of you that mentioned some use of flashcards for sight words that are very hard to decode might prove useful. Like someone else mentioned in a post, I prefer to display many of the visually similar site words in poster formats.

The evidence I was looking for came after all students enrolled in our program finished their end-of-year assessments. Many on the forum mentioned that examining the students comprehensive reading assessment data might prove useful. The assessments completed by the Title 1 students at the end of the year include the DRA (given by the classroom teacher), the DAR (Diagnostic Assessment of Reading, given by Title teacher), and DSTR (takes 5 minutes, only administered if more info. is needed). The assessment results and other observation data were compiled into an overall program report. This report made it quite easy to compare one teacher’s class results against another. All but four of my students advanced anywhere from 1.5-2.5 years and were at or above grade level reading by the end of the year. The four that didn’t gain as much progress had underlying factors like missing too much school or enrolling in the program late in the year.

The teacher that spent a large amount of instruction time sight word flashcard drilling only had four students performing at or above grade level by the end of the year. Through direct examination of the students actual test (I waited until the teacher was gone before rummaging through her completed assessments) I could clearly see a lot of word guessing going on during the oral reading fluency subtest (forest for frost, arch for anchor, starting for staring). Silent reading fluency was predominately low from the class as a whole as well. Many students didn’t make it far on the phonics subtest. Many 4th-5th grade students did fine sounding out most dipthongs, r controlled vowels, and double vowel words. However, most didn’t pass the two syllable word (exist, donate, pretend) or beyond.

Overall, her students did make some progress, but a large number of them were still a year below grade level or more at the end of the year. I thought that the report itself may have lead this other teacher to question her methods. That, and the justification that I didn’t need to use her whole word memory approach to help my students succeed.

Oh, but this story continues…. Summer school started three days after school was out. The two Title Reading teachers for summer school are myself and the other sight word-drilling teacher. Before summer school began, each teacher had to turn in lesson plans for the first week of instruction. As I was turning in mine, I saw Miss sight word drill teacher’s lesson on top of the pile. Her weekly plan was typed in a table format with little squares designating the different lessons throughout the day for students in K-6. About 75% of the squares said something similar to “Dolch/Fry sight word flashcard 1-100” or “timed drill of Dolch 200-300”. I couldn’t believe it.

Just this afternoon, the principal changed the targeted students we had to work with during the course of the summer. Lo and behold, the principal assigned me with most of the students that the other teacher worked with during the school year. Yep, these are the ones who received the continuous flashcard memorization technique, which I AM ONLY ASSUMING resulted in their slow progress throughout the year. We almost always work with the same students in the summer that we have throughout the year and it seemed as though the principal assigned me those other students so I could be Miss fix-it. What’s worse, my remedial students that were at or above grade level or above at the end of the school year are now going to receive the sight word flashcard instruction from the other teacher that continues to stay in her ways.

Maybe I’m just making a big deal over nothing. It’s not really about using flashcards in general; it’s about using a large amount of flashcards to teach whole word instruction and taking up a large amount of class time to do it. Why can’t I just passively slip that into out conversation? Honestly, I believe that underneath I am just scared of this teacher becoming negative if I approach the issue, which will decrease the communication that is so vital when you work with another teacher in the same department. I make sure that I don’t ever display a disposition that I know more than someone else. When teachers don’t get along, you can almost feel it in the air. Other teachers take sides and it leaves the workplace environment somewhat stifling and cold mannered. I’ve worked at two different schools in the past where the Reading Coach was the most hated or negatively talked about person. Some teachers are fully grounded in their ways and suggesting something different means more work (learning, planning, collecting, training, practicing correct implementation), etc.) and RISK.

I’ve always been one to research and observe to gain new knowledge and insight into what will work best. When our school has a day off while another school is in session, I have made trips to observe top-notch teachers or programs in practice. During my last day off, I traveled to a school that had Headsprout Reading up and running smoothly. Headsprout is a beginning reading program that I have been curious about for years. I gained so much information from watching the students complete the lessons and seeing first hand how the program’s routine and organization is laid out. After the observation, I made a call to Headsprout and got SIX FREE ACCOUNTS to try out (that company is definitely generous). I just started six students in the program two days ago and hope to continue them throughout the school year.

My next venture is to investigate the mode of instruction behind learning clinics that make promises or claims that every student will gain 2 or more years of learning in just 30 hours. If that is true, then I need to tap into their secret formula. I could understand how such a gain could be made with a small amount of children (already with a moderate-high IQ) that are behind due to a lack of exposure or prior schooling. Unfortunately, my attempts at observing such clinics have been difficult since the two closest in proximity to my home have closed due to bankruptcy. Hmmmm….that puts a big dent in their credibility.

On a last note, I do want to provide the layout for Sue Lloyd’s flashcard drilling. According to her, it is an effective method used at many top-notch reading clinics throughout the U.S. I would love to hear what other members have to say about it. I’ll try to include the lesson layout in another post later this week.

Nicole

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Debbie Hepplewhite
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Post by Debbie Hepplewhite »

Nicole - your last posting is, to my mind, one worthy of the 'classics' forum!

You may or may not be interested, but because my synthetic phonics programme is online and designed to be used for any age range - and for mainstream or intervention - you would be welcome to have free access to the materials to use them as you see fit.

I have designed it to be used flexibly according to need and context - although quite a few people tell me they need more advice just telling them 'what to do'. It will be interesting to see what you think if you are interested.

The reason I offer is because you strike me as someone who is willing to put the time in to investigate programmes for yourself and to be very honest in your findings. Here at the RRF, we love that transparency and objectivity!

I've been in discussions with a reading instructor from Canada and our own Jennie re adaptations needed to the Alphabetic Code Overview Chart which mainly centres around the /or/ and /aw/ sounds and spellings. I'm making North American/Canadian charts specificly for those countries and can get one to you if you're interested before they are up on the website (I've already prepared one without the pictures but I needed to make some illustration changes).

If you're interested, please contact me at debbie@phonicsinternational.com . Have a look at the website at www.phonicsinternational.com to see what you think.

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nschaben
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You made my day!

Post by nschaben »

Debbie,

I was having somewhat of a crummy day until I read your response to my last post. After reading it, I happily skipped home (hand-in-hand with my 4-year old, of course) with a feeling like it was my birthday again.

Please accept my appreciation for access to your wonderful synthetic phonics material. After I came across your site months ago, I downloaded all possible sample materials. I even tried to poster print some of the phoneme charts that were only available to view as small graphics without a membership (money is tight right now since I've become a single mother after my fiance passed away recently). The poster print didn't turn out very clear. It was sort of blurry from enlarging the that small graphic to 500%. So, you can understand my enthusiasm about your offer to give me an updated chart even before it's available on your site. I look forward to using your materials and know that they will enhance my reading lessons.

I was inquisitive but still honored when I read your comment that my post was worthy of placement on the classics forum. I personally thought my post was just common talk about the trial and tribulations as a reading teacher, not some well written, enlightening reading research summary or article. I thought some members, at best, would skim through my post quickly or skip around to find something relative or of importance.

Thanks for making my day! You are awesome Debbie! Please e-mail me at nschaben@yahoo.com so that I can print out the material and get it ready for the next school year!

Nicole

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nschaben
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Here I am responding to my own post again

Post by nschaben »

During the end of my post, I mentioned that I would provide the procedure for sight word drilling that was displayed during a seminar presented by Sue Lloyd. The seminar was NOT PRESENTED by SUE Lloyd. It was presented by Carol Lloyd, a veteran teacher that helped implement a multisensory reading program at Johns Hopkins Hospital for Dyslexic kids. I know Sue Lloyd is the creator of Jolly Phonics and does not employ any type of word memorization techniques in her synthetic phonics program. I know that she would agree that whole word memorization is harmful. A apologize for this error or any confusion it has caused.

palisadesk
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Post by palisadesk »

I want to second the motion for Nicole's post to be added to "classics" and to recognize the level of knowledge and commitment to students and effective instruction that she exemplifies. On other boards she has shared links to numerous valuable resources and informative sites. I try to keep on top of such things myself but Nicole is way ahead of me in many areas.

Her post is also a classic because it eloquently describes some persistent problems in the way we try to make instruction effective for children in schools. There is a tendency -- never openly acknowledged -- to discourage those who are committed to excellence and want to learn as much as possible and apply it as well as possible. For administrators, such staff are often seen as "problems" -- they make the more average employee "look bad" (or so the administration thinks), and may precipitate situations where parents request Teacher A instead of Teacher B, because the community has observed that kids in Teacher A's class consistently learn more and perform better than kids in Teacher B's class. Administrators dislike dealing with these issues, and are often required to maintain a fiction that "all our teachers are excellent" even when in fact there is a wide range of competence and commitment in the staff, even in a staff where all are conscientious, hard-working and reasonably effective. I've heard this phenomenon called the "tall poppy syndrome" -- if anyone appears to be doing more or better than others, s/he is to be discouraged or obstructed to preserve harmony.

Not all school leaders feel this way -- some are skilled at encouraging individual staff members to develop their strengths and celebrate their successes, and when this is widely done, most don't feel slighted when individual colleagues are recognized and encouraged in specific areas. We had a principal who nurtured those with special talents, publicly acknowledged them in non-embarrassing ways, urged others to share their own special skills with these individuals, and thus created a community of experts in various domains where you knew who to ask for tips on particular things. When many or most were acknowledged to have special areas of expertise, the "tall poppy" problem was not an issue. The teacher who was a superb graphic designer shared how to format teaching plans and units; the one who incorporated music and art into social studies helped others do the same (if they wished), the teacher whose students won public speaking competitions helped organize a speech contest at the school and coach other teachers and students in the skills involved....and so forth. Most people have areas of interest and exceptional skill, but there has to be a climate where it is OK to share and celebrate these things without fearing others will be devalued or "put down." Unfortunately the latter situation is often more common in school cultures.

I remember a personal instance, early on, when I taught a class of reading-delayed students and, using a prototype SP-style program succeeded in raising the reading levels of these 10-12-year-old non-readers from absolute beginners to fourth-eighth grade levels in one school year -- making some of them "advanced" for their age and grade, not just adequate. Most were classic "Never Been Taughts. " Innocently, I expected the senior district administration in charge of the program to be happy with the students' progress, but no -- they were anxious to keep it quiet. The bureaucrat from the district office who came to the school said angrily (pounding fist on table for emphasis), "We can't have students making progress like this. What if everyone started to expect results?" and later, "It makes it look like there was nothing wrong with the kids in the first place. We don't put them in these programs to get ahead."

Oops.

Not many would be quite so forceful and explicit today (at least not publicly), but a similar leveling-down attitude is often present. We want to have kids make progress -- but not too much progress, or it looks like the system isn't working in stellar fashion. Typically, too, as in Nicole's case, the students who fail to learn with those who can't, don't or won't use effective teaching methods and materials will be assigned the next year to teachers who do have a reputation for getting good results. It becomes a kind of negative spiral -- the harder a teacher works to teach the children with challenges -- and succeeds -- the more likely s/he is to get a disproportionate share of the "difficult" children in the school, sometimes to the point that the teacher burns out and gets discouraged because s/he gets all the "tough" kids and the very volume of them makes it impossible to teach the whole class effectively. It's also very discouraging for teachers who have brought their students to a high degree of proficiency to have to pass them on to a teacher in the next year group who will not build on that foundation.

I hope Nicole reports back on what she finds out about clinics which get 2 years' progress with students in 30 hours on a regular basis. I've never heard of any that make that kind of claim (some of the franchised learning centres do make rather exaggerated claims, tending to be vague about how much learning will happen and instead promising better report card grades), but I have visited centres that give individualized learning guarantees based on assessment of each student and typically specify a year's growth in a particular subject in 30-35 hours of instruction. They do have effective teaching procedures, but no "magic" that I could observe. Most of what they do is hardly secret, but the focus, intensity, organization of practice and so on were key elements in maximizing the student's learning rate. I could see that mastering the skills involved in doing this effectively would take time and effort. Some children *can* make 2 years progress in 30 hours (I see this myself every so often), or even more quickly -- the most spectacular being a non-reader at our school who progressed to the average level for a ten-year-old (three years over her actual age) in about 25 hours. These are exceptions of course, but do serve to keep us aware of possibilities and prevent accepting slow progress as inevitable.

When I started teaching in my district, the expectation was for children to make about 2 year's progress in each discrete area in approximately 80 hours of instruction. Now, however, expectations are quite low. I believe this is a reflection of poorer teacher preparation and training over the recent past. Teachers. like Nicole, who take the trouble to learn on their own how to teach effectively, regularly get good results even in large classes with many challenges; I have some amazing colleagues who do exactly this. They are, like Nicole, the quiet heroes of public education.

Susan S.

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Post by JIM CURRAN »

Well done Nicole, knowledge is power and teachers seldom get this knowledge while training. Your dedication, professionalism and expertise will be recognised by others in the teaching community and young teachers will begin to seek out your advice.

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Post by yvonne meyer »

Nicole,

The best school Principal that I know is John Fleming, here in Melbourne, Australia. At his first school Assembly when he started at his current school, he stood up in front of all students, teachers and parents and said that it was the school's job to educate the students and he held his teachers accountable for student progress.

A wave of astonishment went through the school hall. No-one, parents or teachers, had heard anything like this before.

John gives his teachers everything they need to succeed in terms of the best training, proven programs and support. He spends time in every classroom monitoring the teaching and learning that goes on.

Disruptive student behavior is not tolerated. Teachers who do not perform are invited to leave or be fired.

John's students are the highest performing in the State and possibly the entire country. His teachers have the highest moral and job satisfaction of any that I have heard of.

Your problem is not Ms Flashcard Teacher but your Principal who clearly knows what is going on but is not prepared to do anything about it.

I look forward to the day when you tell us that you are now a school Principal.

PS: The most effective way to put pressure on the Principal is to innocently leak information to parents about student performance depending on which teacher the kids get.

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Post by Debbie Hepplewhite »

Nicole - I have tried to email you but with no success - message failed 'no such account'.

Please can you email me debbie@phonicsinternational.com !

Thank you!

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