Sarah Major, M.Ed. is passionate about working in harmony with a child's immaculate design to support their learning strengths. As a Title 1 Program Director and Designer, Sarah earned awards for creating her own multisensory educational resources that have now been sold in all 50 states and over 150 countries. By design, Sarah's materials incorporate stimulating visuals with related body movements, providing a solid foundation for all students, including kinesthetic and tactile learners.
Recently, I became aware of a discussion taking place in an SoR group on social media around whether SnapWords® are a cueing system. This topic is of concern primarily for Science of Reading folks who (rightly) frown on cueing systems such as those found in Units of Study. For context, Science of Reading espouses the explicit teaching of phonological and phonemic awareness, phonics/orthography/ automatic word recognition, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, and writing.
I imagine some folks saw SnapWords®, noticed the images in which the words are embedded, and assumed that, because the image shows what the word means, it constitutes a “cue.” However, there is a vast difference between cueing systems for children who are struggling to read…and SnapWords®.
The implication was that SnapWords® and Science of Reading are incompatible, but nothing is further from the truth! Let’s take a closer look at cueing, SoR, and SnapWords®.
What is a Cueing System in Reading?
When children are learning to read and they come to a word they don’t recognize, if they don’t have tools that will help them sound it out, they can become stuck. Cueing strategies suggest that they use cues, such as the context of the page or illustrations on the page, to help them guess that unknown word. Those are cueing strategies; strategies which are supposed to help a child guess the word.
Is it ever a good idea to give a child some hints and then ask them to guess a word? Having a child resort to guessing is such a bad idea!
- Most often children guess wrong
- Once they guess the wrong word, it is hard to correct the error
- Having to guess undermines a child’s self-confidence
- Guessing at words fails to teach the child about the structure of words
- Guessing will result in the absence of tools to help them decode unknown words
What Should Replace a Cueing System?
We believe in explicitly teaching all children the structure of words and preparing them before they read so they will be successful. This includes teaching them all the ways to spell each sound from within a systematic system of phonics instruction. The goal is for children to hear the sounds (phonemes) in words and to know how to represent those sounds using letters (graphemes). This is the definition of phonics.
Is Teaching Systematic, Explicit Phonics Enough?
I observe that teaching phonics traditionally is not enough. Teaching phonics in traditional ways does not work for a large percentage of children. More on that later. Other methods that have been tried also fall short, which is revealed by the roughly 65% of children who are failing to learn to read. Historically, teaching phonics has fallen in and out of favor, but what remains consistent is the fact that far too many children are not successfully learning to read.
It is super interesting to me that that percentage of children who are failing to read seems to reflect the percentage of children who are right-brained learners. In fact, there is an astonishing overlap between those two groups of children. 65% of Students are Reading Below Grade Level
If processing style impacts reading achievement, we have to confront this issue rather than assuming some children are just going to fail.
Teaching Phonics to Contrasting Processing Styles
Please take a moment and read about The Learning Spectrum, which details the range of processing types from strongly left-brained to strongly right-brained and everything in between. In short, what the Spectrum reveals is that children are neurodiverse in terms of their processing styles, and there is a clear difference between left-brained learners and right-brained learners. In fact, their processing styles are diametrically opposed to each other.
If we don’t take this difference in wiring into account when we teach children to read, we are going to continue to leave a whole group of our children behind. The tragedy in leaving them behind is that when they are identified as disabled, when they are allowed to continue to fail, they will approach life believing they are incapable. A person who feels incapable will lower their ambitions. By not meeting their learning needs, we are complicit in making these very capable children believe they are broken in some way.
Why SnapWords® Work When Phonics Alone Doesn’t
Right-brained learners struggle to learn content that is abstract, such as symbols representing sounds and words. Symbols represent meaning but are void of meaning on their own. Meaningful associations, or links to meaning, are vital for the roughly 65% of children who are failing to thrive.
Right-brained learners’ dominant processing styles are visual and kinesthetic, and if we want them to learn content that is symbol-heavy, we must introduce each concept within a framework that matches their dominant processing style. It is incumbent upon us to speak to them in a language that matches their wiring rather than expecting them to change their wiring or to learn in a way that is exactly opposite the way their brain works.
It is incumbent on us to match their wiring rather than asking them to change their wiring
Right-brained learners are picture-thinkers, they learn most easily from whole to part, and relevance is king. What SnapWords® do is provide these learners with the whole word, embedded in an image, with an accompanying body motion. The image and body motion makes for rapid initial learning. This is no coincidence, as neuroscientists continue to report their findings on the benefits of multisensory learning.
Importantly, this initial step of whole word recognition is just the beginning of The SnapWords® System.
What is The SnapWords® System?
SnapWords® is a research-based, carefully designed system that inextricably marries sight word recognition with explicit phonics instruction. SnapWords® are over 640 high frequency words with lessons for each word that include phonological and phonemic awareness, phonics/orthography/automatic word recognition, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, and writing.
So far, as far as content goes, The SnapWords® System and Science of Reading are identical in every particular… except one.
The Benefit of Using SnapWords®
We agree whole-heartedly with those folks who emphasize the need for systematic and explicit phonics instruction. We must not rely on cueing systems or expect our children to guess at what they have not been taught. The SnapWords® System provides exactly that: explicit phonics instruction.
However, what is unique about SnapWords® is the delivery method, which is designed to give 65% of our children the ability to learn in a format that makes complete sense to their brains. That makes SnapWords® a winner of a strategy! The ultimate result is that these children end up at or exceeding grade level in reading. Please learn more about the SnapWords® System here.
SnapWords® System and Science of Reading: Identical content; different delivery
At a time where our children are experiencing unprecedented learning loss from COVID-19, The SnapWords® System is key to helping children catch up quickly. What goes into visual memory is instant and permanent. Body memory is critical for right-brained and kinesthetic learners.
The Right Way to Teach Reading Will Result in Success for All
Enter Science of Reading. Currently, there is a movement towards mandating Science of Reading in several states.
We are delighted about the return to explicitly teaching children the structure of language, and yet we remain concerned for right-brained children who do not thrive under an auditory, sequential style of instruction.
We would love to see districts who are adopting Science of Reading also make plans for successfully meeting the needs of right-brained learners. We believe that if a system is “the right way to teach children,” then all children will enjoy equity in the education they receive.
Over the years, Child1st has remained consistent in our approach, and the results speak for themselves. We have watched programs come and go and have noticed that what remains consistent is the large numbers of children who are still failing to read. These children are who we are trying to reach, because we know they will learn to read if we teach them in a way that is consistent with their natural wiring.
Partner With Us in Reaching Right-Brained Learners
We are here for you as you devote yourself to teaching all those wonderful, creative, right-brained children under your care. We have also have free resources available for you to teach phonics and reading. We are happy to help! Email us or use the chat box even after hours and one of our team will get back with you in a timely manner!