Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Why sight words are BAD

If you know me, you've heard this all before, but I will rant on my blog anyway.

Why sight words are BAD
1.     They teach kids to pause, guess, and skip.
2.     Writing skills are delayed.
3.     They are so heavily relied on that as many as 20% of students do not learn all of the phonic sounds and how to decode left to right.
4.     They must be taught with rote memorization which leads many children to believe that reading will always be boring.
5.     They do not prepare children to read words they have never heard before and thus limit vocabulary building.  (In phonics students can subvocalize new words and will be able to use them and recognize them in conversation.)
6.     They limit increase in reading level ability to how fast the child can memorize new words.  (Whereas phonic reading has no word limit at all once the basic sounds are learned)

Illustration of the limitation of sight words
I’m writing this today because during my kindergarten son’s reading time his first grade friend was observing.  My son was reading this story:

…some girls went to the moon in a moon ship.  A girl said,  “I will find some fun.  She walked and walked.  Soon she came to a cow.  The moon cow said, we can have lots of fun.  Come with me.  The girl went with the moon cow to a pool.  The moon cow said, “this is how we have fun on the moon.”  She jumped into the pool and the girl jumped into the pool…

His friend who is a year ahead in school wanted to show off that he was the better reader.  We came to the word “me” which my son proceeded to sound out.  His friend scoffed and said “you should KNOW that word” I reminded him that he was a year ahead in school and that my son was doing great.  The friend, protested, “no, even kindergarteners should know that word!”  He is probably right.  “Me” must be a sight word.  My son is struggling with those at school.  I noticed that whenever we came to the following words (the, will, to) the first grade friend would blurt them out in advance of my son.  However he was clearly unable to decipher most of the other words in my son’s story and waited with interest for my son to read so he could find out what would happen next.  Yes my kindergartner reads interesting stories!  My son has been placed in Level A in the school level library.  Kindergartners are supposed to be at level C by Christmas and level D by the end of the year.  It is almost the end of the year…

Here are the level A words that he was sent to read today “read, ghosts, spaceships, giants, frogs, witches, airplanes, book, about.”  The same sentence was repeated seven times in his book.  Boring!  It introduces ea, gh, sh, ce, gi, ch, ai, oo, ou, silent e and compound words all in one book!  He has to memorize, look at pictures, guess, and skip.  I have used these books to teach responsibility.  He brings one home each day and I read it to him.  Then we work on phonics.  

The text my son read for me today instead introduced “oo” reviews “ow”, “alk”, “said”,  “ome”,  “sh”, and silent e along with every other letter on the page which were all introduced one at a time in a previous lesson.  He is almost done with all of the phonics.  The content of what he read was silly in order to teach him to rely on phonics.  It was good reading for a kindergartner who hasn’t passed off his first 10 sight words yet and is months below grade level in reading!  No he hasn’t memorize “me” or “will”, but it’s okay because he can decode them and he gets faster everyday. 

The whole word method taught in schools:
With each child I have taught to read and this is my fourth, their preschool, kindergarten or first grade teacher or all of the above have complained that they are not doing well on sight words (translate to hasn’t memorized a single one).  My oldest was in tears over them and my son didn’t fare any better.  On the other hand, each of my four children has had their kindergarten teacher express amazement at their advanced writing skills.  Comments are usually “it’s amazing, they aren’t afraid to write any word, they write quickly, and they aren’t even “reading” yet!  It usually goes the other way around!”  With my three children who have summer birthdays and are a bit behind in kindergarten, I was told all through kindergarten and first grade that they were below grade level readers and that we could fix it by memorizing the sight words and using the following method which I have summarized from the kindergarten handbook. 

1.     Memorize.  First read the book to your child, have the child point at the words as you read, have child read the book back several times.
2.     Pause To Consider Content.  If the child struggles ask what would make sense?
3.     Consider Pictures.  Encourage the child to look at the word, not just the picture.
4.     Guess.  To get to an unknown word the child may need to sound out the word (aka a ‘slow-check’).  Often as they begin to read the word will pop into their mind and they won’t need to continue sounding out the word.
5.     Skip.  It may help to hop over the word, the content in the rest of the sentence may bring the word to mind.

This method relies on memorization of entire books and words (parent reads first and child reads multiple times).  Step six does encourage sounding out, but encourages the child to guess the word before completely sounding out the word based on context and pictures and to save time.  It is the last resort and shows how our education considers this the slow method of reading by the note that students are taught to think of this as the “slow-check”. 

I have volunteered in schools up to the fourth grade level and this is indeed how most of the children read.  Each class seems to have one or two students who read fluently.  Many others are playing a guessing game where they squint at difficult words, guess what they are based on context, often wrong, and frequently skip unfamiliar words.  The words guessed wrong change the meaning of the text!  I notice adults reading aloud this way in college and at church too.  It is a lifetime disability.  

I always suggest sounding out the words when I’m helping a student read and the students who are the farthest behind grade level do not know all the basic phonic combinations required to decode words.  They know some, but not all.  Occasionally they aren’t even sure which end of the word I want them to start decoding!  There are only about 50 phonic sounds and in fourth grade they don’t know them yet!  I wish we could teach these first, before the students have to guess their way through chapter books.  I notice phonetic instruction coming home as part of spelling words starting in second grade although it seems indirect because they don’t teach decoding, it is in the context of writing and comparing words for the purpose of MEMORIZING them.

The Tragedy
My children are handed 100 sight words on the first day of kindergarten.  Why oh why not hand them the 50 phonic sounds?????  They are shorter and easier and they are the key to almost every word in our language (names and foreign words excluded). 

Okay, teaching the phonic sounds isn’t really easier.  It takes time to teach them.  My oldest child sat in a room for three weeks during the summer about a month before she turned six and learned them.  It was intense, for about two hours a day.  She begged to do it because she was in competition with her cousin who had already learned to read.  My next two children spent about 20 minutes a day three or four days a week for kindergarten and most of first grade to learn the same material.  My fourth child has learned in about 20 minutes a day five days a week during kindergarten. 

So why spend 20 minutes every night for a year or so teaching phonics when you can just memorize 100 sight words and be “reading” ahead of the kids learning phonics in a few months?  The reason is that once a student finishes phonics they can read 100,000+ words not just 100.  I’ve combed reviews of phonics teaching methods and I think most kids learn much faster than my second and third child.  It won't take a prohibitively long time to teach.

Pay-offs for phonic reading method
I always love the third parent teacher conference in first grade when the teacher says, “something just clicked and now your child is above grade level in their reading” or, “your child is probably the best reader I’ve ever seen as a first grade teacher.”  It starts slow, but pays off.

Another reason to take the time to teach phonics is that when my kids read aloud, they never guess at words.  They never skip or look to the pictures for help.  They read every word.  Sometimes they will read the word wrong because it doesn’t follow phonetic rules very well, but they often self correct if they know the word.  If they don’t know the word at all it doesn’t slow them down.  It primes them to learn the word in the future.  When phonics is finally solid they decode words with no conscious effort.  They read aloud very fluently because they don’t even have to know the word to read it.  They are confident to just whip out those phonic sounds.  They have never been taught to pause and consider content, picture, or word beginnings in order to read words.  They don’t guess and skip.  Sounding out words is not a “slow-check” after all other strategies fail, it is the first and most important reading skill.

A third reason to learn phonics is because of the way that phonics allows vocabulary building.  Students can sound out those words they don’t already know.  My daughter’s fifth grade teacher said she scored higher on the standardized vocabulary test than any student he had taught in 20 years.  Her vocabulary is large because she reads 500 pages a day.  She reads 500 pages a day because it is easy and she reads quickly (800wpm).  She was able to read quickly in the beginning because of phonics, then because she was going so quickly she stopped subvocalizing in her head and started reading lightening speed.  Teachers of sight words and whole words want this skill to happen first (that is why they teach students to start sounding out the word and “let the end of the word pop into your mind” or “skip the word and the context might cause it to pop into your mind”).  Meaning popping into your mind without vocalizing the entire word in your head is the natural progression of solid phonic teaching, it seems to come around second grade, but the foundation must be in place first.  If you skip a word without sounding it out, you are not primed to learn it later or from context!!!  Sight words and whole word memorization becomes very tedious as you progress through reading levels and have to memorize increasingly difficult words.  My kids don’t progress that way.  They can read whatever is on the page.  They are limited in reading level by attention span and age appropriate materials, not length of words.

Why sight words seem to be working for most kids
Finally, research shows that luckily most children learn to read phonetically despite the fact that they were taught to memorize, look at content & pictures, guess, and skip.  Usually they learn from being read to aloud with a finger tracing under the words.  A few may see a word sounded out once and realize that is how it’s done, most require more repetition.  Some very bright kids can pick it up from PBS television shows or phonics computer games!  On the other hand, it’s unfortunate that as many as 20% of kids don’t figure this out at all.  They follow instructions.  They memorize A LOT, pause, guess, and skip and never truly learn to read easily or learn to read at all.  They memorize and work so hard with so little success.  We can help them.  We just need to teach phonics.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Ideas for LDS Cub Scouts to earn Webelos and Arrow of Light in one Year.

Earning the Arrow of Light has four core adventures.  They repeat the core requirements of the Webelos badge, so doing ALL the Webelos and ALL the AOL core each year wouldn’t give a well rounded program for your boys, however, I wouldn’t want to discourage boys from still earning the Arrow of Light because many boys are motivated to do so.

So, during a one year cycle, a Webelos den leader could teach
5 Webelos core adventures
5 electives,
1 AOL core and perhaps a geocaching activity. (Building a Better World, partial Camper). 

This is enough to support and encourage boys to do the rest, but it leaves time open for the other boys to get a good variety of belt loops rather than repeating the core topics twice in one year. 

This would leave the aspiring Arrow of Light scouter to do Duty to God in Action 2 and Scouting adventure during personal time.  The den leaders might work with ward leaders to help the boys plan when to visit a scout troop and to finish camper on a ward or family campout or outdoor activity.  (This is in addition to the walkabout used for the Webelos core requirements)

How to help it happen:

Scout will have to attend all den meetings!

Work with 11-year old scout leader to plan in advance when the boys can go to a scout meeting.  Have a special day (like a Saturday) to do the entire scouting adventure core for any boys who have completed the rest of the Arrow of Light requirements.

Work with ward to earn camper at June Priesthood campout, ward campout, or if the ward doesn’t have a family type camp, do partial camper including geocaching and planning a program and send the rest home as homework including the campout.

During the six months where Faith in God 1 is NOT taught send home Faith in God 2 as homework.  Send home one elective as homework if needed.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Fun Ways To Learn/Memorize the Scout Law

Below are labels to fold in half and staple on a snack bag full of either trail mix or M&M's.  These can be given as treats to new cub scouts at their orientation, it can be given at a den meeting, on a hike, or at a pack night.  If it is on a hike, the entire law can be memorized during the hike.  Just pick a treat and keep reciting that line until you get to say... the tall tree leaning sideways, or the mossy rock, or the bridge, etc.  Then choose another one.  If they like singing, the points fit to the tunes of Macarena or three blind mice.

Learning and memorizing aren't the same.  I really like the Trustworthy Tommy song which is on the back of these labels because it uses each point of the law in a simple sentence that can be discussed with even the very youngest scouter.  It can explain the meaning of the Scout Law in a basic way that won't be overwhelming to young new boys.  I would go over it once before starting to memorize the law.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Monday, February 2, 2015

Cub Scout Adventure Requirements and Faith in God

Faith in God Tracking Sheet for Cub scouts
Scout's name:                                                         
See booklet for details on each activity
Earns Religious knot as a Bear
Learning and Living the Gospel                                          Age:
FHE sacrament renewing baptismal covenants

Wolf Duty to God 2.1
Joseph Smith FHE, answers to our prayers

Bear Adventure 1a
Learn to mark scriptures, Holy Ghost

A pack night on reverence
Read Prophets talk, decide how to follow

Webelos Duty to God and You 2.d
Give an opening and closing prayer

Wolf Duty to God 2.4
Tell about faith (Nephi building boat, Jaredites)

Wolf Duty to God 2.2
Read and Discuss the Word of Wisdom

Webelos Cast Iron Chef 2
Prepare a Pedigree chart, tell family history story

Bear Duty to God 1.1
Learn to sing "Choose the Right"

Wolf Duty to God 2.3
Create own learning and living the gospel activity

Visit a temple Wolf Duty to God 1.a
Serving Others
Good Samaritan, plan & complete service proj.

Wolf Council Fire 2.2
Write letter of appreciation to parent or teacher

Bear Grin and Bear it 5
List qualities you like in a person

A pack night on kindness
Plan, prepare, and serve a nutritious meal

Bear Picnic Basket
Entertain young children

Bear Grin and Bear it 3, Webelos Str, F, H 5
Learn/practice manners and courtesy

Pack night on courtesy
Plan and hold a parent child activity

Bear Necessities 6
12th article of faith- good citizen

Bear Paws 2a, more with AOL Building Better World 2
Help with a quarterly primary activity (pack night)

Bear Grin and Bear it 2 and AOL 9
Create your own service activity

Bear Paws for Action 3.2
Developing Talents
Learn to budget and save money

(Tithing) Wolf Coins (budget) AOL Bldng Btr Wrld 5
Sing, play, or lead a song from the Children's Songbook

Bear Necessities 2
Write a poem or short story about gospel creation

Wolf Howling at the moon 2
Bear Nec. 2
Create a piece of art (draw, sculpt, paint, etc.)

Wolf Duty to God 1.b
Bear Claws 3
Visit an art museum or a concert or play

Wolf Collections and hobbies 3
Read about improving study habits

Helping around home/obeying parents

A pack night on obedience
Plan and participate in a month long fitness program

Webelos Stronger, Faster, Higher
Learn/Practice good nutrition, health, grooming

Wolf running with the pack, 6 especially
or a pack night on a scout is clean.
Create your own activity to develop talents

Wolf Paws on the Path 1-6, Wolf Grow
Something, Bear Baloo the Builder
Preparing for the Priesthood
Do as a Webelos/AOL as part of Duty to God and You
Learn about the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood

Learn the purposes of the Aaronic priesthood

Talk with the Deacons quorum presidency

Learn about good education

Read the Family Proclamation to the world

Record your testimony

Memorize and recite the Articles of Faith

12 13

Primary Program for Webelos Duty to God 2 a,b,c?
Memorize Article of faith for Webelos Duty to God and you 2.d?
Record Testimony, read scriptures, pray daily, live My Gospel Standards AOL Duty to God in Action