Here’s a riddle for you! If you only have time to teach it once, how do you teach so that a variety of learners can learn? In a previous blog, we discussed the various gaps in understanding children experience when they are taught to read in the traditional way. It is possible to teach one time but include various strategies that will reach those children who are not traditional learners. I want to clarify that when I say “non-traditional learners,” I am not implying that something is wrong with the kids or with their natural method of learning. I use the word “traditional” only to mean “how we usually teach.”
The Easy-for-Me™ Reading Program has taken many of these strategies and embedded them into a reading sequence that teaches in a multisensory way and includes explicit phonics instruction as well as valuable sight word acquisition. Some of the helps included in this approach to teaching reading are laid out in the next few paragraphs.
Rather than teaching concepts in isolation, snowball them. For instance, teaching a child to recite her ABC’s and learn the sounds is like giving her a box of puzzle pieces to memorize. The facts are just a collection of facts with little to tie them together or give them meaning or relevance. If you snowball teach, you start with one little concept and then tie every new concept directly to the previous one. If you teach a child one little fact – the sound of short A related to the symbol A, you are starting with the first handful of snow packed tightly in your hands. When you teach the sound of T and tie it directly to the A to make AT, you have just added the second handful of snow to the first one. The ball is getting bigger. As you teach the sound of F, you are add it to AT to make FAT. Third handful of snow. It is really hard for a child to lose details when they are stuck together!
We’ve talked extensively about using images for those children who learn best via visuals, who have attention challenges, who are kinesthetic, who cannot memorize, etc. Images not only help with sight word acquisition by snapping pictures which are stored in the brain, but they instantly lend meaning to the word. If you use an image, children are not going to just be mindlessly naming a word without thinking about what it means; instead, they will grasp the meaning of the word because of the visual.
For those children who need to understand why they are learning various concepts, understand how what they are learning will work, and what they are going to do with the concepts, show relevance very early. For instance, if you snowball teach eight sounds like we do in Easy-for-Me™ Reading, let the child move right into reading text that uses those eight sounds only. They will be able to fully understand why they are learning the sounds and relating them to their letter symbols.
There is not much that is more effective in encouraging a child to want to learn than experiencing success in learning. If a child works to learn and blend their first eight sounds and then find that they can successfully read two books with those tools they have gained, they will feel so empowered by the fact that they can read, that all subsequent learning will be eagerly absorbed.
Obviously, no one could memorize all the words in our vocabulary! Kids need to learn phonics or sound spelling patterns in order to decipher new words they encounter while reading. However, it's very important to enable children to quickly gain a solid sight word base while they are learning sound spellings. Having that solid base of words they can quickly recognize makes reading much easier for them and helps keep them from viewing learning to read as a chore. If they come to see it that way, they will certainly not want to study reading and will ultimately avoid it. Using SnapWords® propels children into acquiring over 300 sight words that frequently appear in kids’ text.
Some kids have a difficult time dealing first with all the little bits that go into reading (letters, sounds, etc.). They do much better if they can see and understand whole words first and then learn to pick them apart into their components. Our method of systematic phonics instruction combined with sight word acquisition allows both left and right brain learners to learn in the way that's easiest for them. Left brainers are able to acquire all the little bits and place them into order, while the right brainers are able to see the finished product and then discover all the little bits that go into making up the whole. It really is a beautiful idea!
Learners who need visuals and tactile elements tremendously benefit from fingermapping and the use of whiteboards, as we outline in daily Easy-for-Me™ lessons. Fingermapping provides a tangible, visible map of the words that keep visual and kinesthetic learners from becoming confused about the construction of a word. They use the fingermap very much like we use road maps on a trip to a new place.
We rely heavily on our Easy-for-Me™ Books to teach phonics concepts in real text. Rather than sharing phonics rules for the kids to learn, we embed them in text that is engaging and funny so that the children can see the rules play out in the stories. What is more fun for a kid after all? Memorizing rules and drills or reading a funny book as a means to learning? Um, I think number two!
The Easy-for-Me™ Reading Program leads children into the practice of visualization. This practice is hugely important for all students in learning across the curriculum, but it is vital for visual learners. The program begins day one teaching the child to rely on the pictures he makes in his imagination for learning and for remembering what he has learned. With our society’s emphasis on giving constant images to kids via computer games, TV, movies, etc., many children are out of the habit of visualizing. This is a real detriment to them when they read and are expected to understand and remember. Visualization is critical to solving math problems – visualizing the problem and using that visual to create a solution to the problem. Visualization also helps tremendously with understanding consequences to choices a child makes. Whatever we can do to encourage a child to make mental images is going to enhance his school experience at the very least.
Much of traditional education is designed in a way that allows the teacher to tell the students what he or she wants the students to know. Far too often there is not enough time spent with kids creating and working to discover how things work, too little that is hands-on and learner driven. Children in the teacher driven environment are allowed to remain very passive, letting the teacher’s words wash over them, but not being required to engage their brain in the act of learning. We need our children to be actively involved in working out meaning for the material they are learning. The Easy-for-Me™ Reading Program is full of daily independent activities that engage the child’s brain and provide tactile experiences in learning.