Teaching Techniques That Work
When first meeting parents and other educational professionals at conventions across the country, one of the first questions people ask is, "What makes Sylladot different from other programs on the market?" My response is simple: "It simultaneously incorporates 3 senses every day, every lesson. It works for all students."
A multisensory program means that it incorporates more than one sensory input as an integral component of the learning process. For example, it is possible to purchase multisensory reading and mathematics computer programs for homeschool instruction. However, this type of instruction is limited because it only involves 2 sensory inputs: visual and auditory. In addition, the auditory portion comes from the teacher presenting the lesson via the computer screen. With this format, students can decide whether to mentally opt in or out, depending upon their present mood and level of prior knowledge. Unfortunately, this type of delivery system can reduce a student's ability to retain information, resulting in less learning. Students learn best when they see it, hear themselves say it, and write it.
It took many years of teaching experience to realize the potential of the multisensory approach and its phenomenal impact on learning. Basically, the more senses that a person employs to remember information or to even learn a new skill, the better. I have discovered the magic of simultaneously combining a variety of senses to promote long-term retention. Just imagine how much information could be learned if you were able to simultaneously utilize all 5 senses!
Mastering the Alphabet
Letters should always be taught in the same sequence as the alphabet itself. The ABC song is a perfect example. Children usually learn to sing this song at a very young age; it is part of growing up. As the are introduced to the actual letters, they begin to form connections between the song and the letters themselves. Preschoolers and kindergartners alike spend considerable time working on letter concepts.
It is vital that students correctly identify all 52 letters (Aa-Zz) without hesitation. The most common mistakes usually occur between the following groups of letters: b/d, p/q, m/w, and s/z. When practicing or reviewing these letters, it is important NOT to compare the 2 letters within each group. Each letter should be reviewed separately - either on different days or even different weeks. For example, when working on the letter b, you should never compare it with the letter d.
Consistent letter formation adds to the total letter mastery process. There are 2 simple rules:
- Printed letters should never begin at the base line.
- Never start b's and d's at the same place.
Reading is based on a student's ability to learn how to recognize and write all 52 letters of the alphabet. Without true mastery of these basic skills, students resort to strategies such as memorizing and guessing. If your student is beyond kindergarten and experiencing reading difficulties, there is a good chance that they never mastered letter recognition and/or letter formation skills.
To get a true picture of their present situation, simply have them sit down and write out all 52 letters of the alphabet (Aa-Zz) in sequence, without any assistance. Be sure to remove any printed materials that might artificially inflate their performance. This assessment should only take about 6 minutes. The use of a timer is suggested. If you have any questions about this process or how to proceed, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Identifying Your Child's Dominant Hand
Determining whether your child is right or left-handed is a vital precursor to the successful acquisition of reading skills. Once your child is comfortable with their left or right-hand decision, it is important to acknowledge, respect, and support your child's chosen preference. In some situations, however, your child may not demonstrate a preferred dominance. Their inability to make a definite choice displays a sense of confusion. Which of the following categories would you say best describes your child's present situation?
Preferred Dominance: Does your child consistently choose to write with the same hand? This is called preferred dominance. A child that consistently picks up a pencil with the same hand tends to be more organized; natural readers tend to possess this trait.
Mixed Dominance: Those having mixed dominance have preferences involving both left and right hands. For example, a person might prefer to write with their left hand but eat with their right. Students that are ambidextrous alfo fall into this category; they are able to perform the same activity using either hand. People with mixed dominance include both natural readers and those that can easily learn to become successful readers. I personally fall under this category.
Confused Dominance: This condition occurs when your child is inconsistent and unable to decide which hand is best for writing. Sometimes the child will even alternate their pencil hand in the middle of a writing activity. Even though this indecision may seem frustrating to the parent, the child may not even be aware that they possess confused dominance. This type of confusion adversely affects the overall reading process.
Every time your child grasps a pencil or crayon, they are building muscle memory. If they learn to grasp it correctly, the muscle memory will continue to build in the right direction. However, if you feel that the confused dominance category accurately describes your child's inconsistencies when attempting to write, please don't worry. By utilizing a basic pencil grip technique, the confusion can easily be elminated.
Holding Your Pencil Correctly
Does your child have difficulty in deciding which hand to use when writing with a pencil? Here is an easy technique to help determine their dominant hand:
- Place a sheet of paper and a pencil on your child's desk/writing area; then ask them to draw a picture of something . Record on a calendar or separate sheet which hand they selected to compete this activity.
- Repeat this process for the next 2 weeks.
- Whichever hand was chosen most frequently over the next 2 weeks is considered their dominant hand.
- From now on, when your child sits down to perform a pencil-paper task, simply place a colorful dot somewhere on the thumb of their dominant hand. I found that erasable markers work quite well for this task. Eventually, your child will automatically select the correct hand without any marks.
- Whether your child is left or right-handed, it is also important that your child grips the pencil correctly.
- Ask them to create a sort of triangle using only their thumb, pointer finger, and middle finger.
- Next, have them hold the pencil between the thumb and pointer finger.
- Finally, your child should add their middle finger directly underneath the pencil for support. The middle finger should not touch either thumb or pointer finger.
- The smaller 2 remaining fingers should be folded inward toward the hand and stay out of the way. They are not part of the gripping process.
Using Your Gliding Thumb
Using your gliding thumb is a valuable reading technique for all ages. Not only does it promote left to right progression when decoding words, but it also helps to improve fluency. For students with eye tracking issues, it will actually improve their ability to track straight across a line of print because it eliminates up and down movements.
Students having problems with letter transpositions (i.e. moving letters around within a word), will also benefit from using their gliding thumb. There are 6 important rules to follow when using this method:
- Students should use the thumb from their writing hand.
- Their thumb should be used to glide above the line of print, in a straight line.
- As students begin to read a word, their thumb must be positioned directly above the 1st letter; then the thumb is used to glid across the remaining letters as the student completes reading the word.
- Whenever students mispronounce a word, they should go back with their thumb to the beginning of that same word and try it again.
- Students must always strive to read with expression and follow normal punctuation pauses and stops.
- Reading together, with the teacher, is highly recommended. This allows students the opportunity to emulate what a good reader should sound like. In this situation, the teacher would use their own gliding thumb and move along at a speed that is comfortable for both readers.
Timings Can Improve Fluency
One of the major contributing skills in achieving reading proficiency is fluency. If a student is unable to read in a fluent manner, they will not be able to concentrate on comprehension. Therefore, teaching reading fluency sills is vital.
Beginning with Level K, students learn to identify letters and sounds, blending sounds using their gliding thumb, and recognizing common sight words. They also learn the difference between short and long vowels. As they progress to Level 1, students are introduced to a limited number of 2-syllable words, which are formed using common endings such as er, es, ing, and est. In Level 2, they become more familiar with patterns and learn how to decode both 2 and 3-syllable words. Using their gliding thumb while reading, students begin to understand how a fluent reader sounds as the track across a line of print.
Once students master the basic reading skill introduced in Levels K-2, they are ready to progress to timings. Timings are designed to specifically improve their fluency skills and can be quite effective after early literacy concepts have been attained.
- The teacher reads a short passage to their student.
- Both teacher and student then read the same passage together using a comfortable speed.
- Next, the student reads the same passage independently for exactly 1 minute. The student should be encouraged to read for accuracy, not speed. The exact number of words read should be recorded for the first timing. Any decoding issues and appropriate corrections should be discussed.
- The student should try to improve their score by reading the passage independently again. The exact number of words read should be recorded for the second timing. Compare your student's progress between the 2 timings and discuss corrections.
Short Interactive Lessons
Students that are easily distracted or frustrated tend to do better with short interactive lessons. Brief lessons that are designed to involve interactive dialog between the teacher and student represent the perfect teaching situation for multisensory learning to take place.
What is the preferred length of time for an educational lesson? This decision should be based on the student's ability to attend. The following list shows the average attention span, without a break, that can be expected at various ages.
4 years old: 8-12 minutes
5 years old: 10-15 minutes
6 years old: 12-18 minutes
7 years old: 14-21 minutes
8 years old: 16-24 minutes
The amount of time shown above is only an approximation. Since each student is an individual, their attention span can be affected by a variety of factors including the time of the day the lesson is presented, as well as the difficulty of the task itself. If a task requires additional time, you should allow the student to take an activity break or continue the lesson after eating lunch (or snack). Allowing for an activity break between subjects is also recommended.
Time of the Day: As the teacher, it is important to minimize distractions. The optimum times to introduce an important subject or concept is usually first thing after breakfast, lunch, snack, or dinner.
Nature of the Task: Initially, a task might seem insurmountable, but if presented using a step-by-step approach, it seems so much easier. Using multisensory teaching techniques makes the task seem even less daunting, with the student experiencing little or no stress. Later recall now becomes an option and confidence begins to build.
By establishing a positive educational environment, students can become successful learners. Providing short interactive lessons (immediately following breakfast, lunch, snack, or dinner), allowing for activity breaks between or during subjects, eliminating/minimizing distractions, and following a multisensory approach to teaching can change a student's learning experience from negative to positive. All students deserve a chance.
Teaching Techniques That Don't Work
Teaching Words Without Letter Mastery
Sounds like a crazy notion, but the practice of teaching words to students that have not achieved total letter mastery is a common occurrence in most early literacy classrooms. When students are introduced to letters of the alphabet via commercial early learning materials, words with pictures are also included. Although natural readers may learn using this approach, approximately 75% of our student population do not benefit from this type of instruction. Instead of learning how to read and decode new words, they rely on memorization, picture clues, and good old-fashioned guessing. As a result, our nations' standardized reading scores remain consistently low.
Let's examine what happens during a typical reading readiness lesson. When introducing a letter, the teacher will write it on the board for all to see. Students then practice forming this letter on their own board or paper. Next, the teacher introduces the letter's sound by showing a flashcard with a picture representing the letter's sound. If the letter is Cc, the flashcard may feature a picture of a cat, with the letters Cc shown below, as well as the word "cat". Students try to associate the letter and sound of the letter Cc with the help of the picture and the word "cat". Initially, this process appears to be successful, at least for that session, but most students are not able to retain and reproduce this information for later recall. In fact, struggling readers of any age are generally not able to recognize and write out both upper and lowercase letters (Aa-Zz) of the alphabet with 100% accuracy, without guidance. To ensure reading success, it is vital for beginning readers to recognize letters and then be able to fluently write out the complete alphabet (Aa-Zz), before ever attempting to read words.
Reliance on Flashcards, Picture Clues, and Repetition
Early literacy programs include students in grades Pre-K through 2nd. These programs focus primarily on flash cards, picture clues, and the child's ability to memorize words. Students are taught new words via flashcards, picture clues, and constant repetition, both at home and at school. In fact, more oral reading practice occurs at home, with their parents. At school, teachers utilize whole group instruction to introduce new words using flashcards with picture clues and drill work presented on the board. Unfortunately, periods of daily silent sustained reading (SSR) sessions have taken the place of reading groups, so teachers may only hear students read during periodic or quarterly assessments. Let's review a typical reading scenario:
- Each student is assigned to take home an early reader booklet.
- They are supposed to practice reading the booklet with their parents.
- Picture clues are featured within the booklet are designed to help students "read" new words.
- Common sight words are constantly repeated, page after page.
- After 3 or 4 days, the teacher assess each child's ability to read their booklet out loud.
- If a child is successful, they are given a different booklet to take home; if not, they continue practicing the same booklet for another 3 or 4 days.
- The entire process is repeated until all the early reader booklets are successfully completed and/or the school year ends.
The major problem associated with this process is that it promotes unnecessary memorization. A student may pass a booklet but may not recognize the same sight words when presented in other reading materials. Since most programs promote this type of teaching, most students are left to struggle as they try to progress.
Using Word Walls for Sight Word Acquisition
Many reading programs promote word walls to teach and reinforce sight word acquisition skills for their younger readers. First, teachers present various sight words on small cards. These cards are then mounted on the word wall for students to view and recite together during whole group instruction. Although there are different types of word walls, the ones that are specifically dedicated to sight words are used to provide students daily review practice.
Disadvantages of Word Walls:
- Promotes memorization
- Requires a large amount of wall space
- Focuses on daily practice and ongoing review
- Increases lesson preparation time
- Ineffective in teaching sight words
Like flashcards, word walls are just another strategy that promotes memorization. Only students having good visual memory skills will benefit from these types of activities, which is approximately 25% of the population. The remaining 75% continue to experience visual memory difficulties. This is the reason why students struggle with reading-related tasks.
Based on my experience, students can become successful readers without flashcards or word walls. Instead of memorizing words, they need to experience a multisensory approach to reading which will improve their visual, auditory, and kinesthetic skills.