Breaking the guessing habit

This forum has been created to provide a non-challenging environment for teachers and parents new to using synthetic phonics.

User avatar
maizie
Administrator
Posts: 3121
Joined: Sun Mar 14, 2004 10:38 pm
Location: N.E England

Breaking the guessing habit

Post by maizie » Thu Nov 29, 2007 10:40 pm

Debbie says this on another thread:
Some older pupils who just need some intensive teaching are often able to proceed at a very brisk pace indeed. I would be very disappointed if this type of learner were not able to receive perhaps four basic skills phonics sessions per week with new learning (or revising and organising previous learning). Older pupils have some catching up to do and it is my experience that they can become extremely motivated to understand the code that they learning and where they are heading.
Debbie, are you talking about 'older learners' at Primary, rather than KS3 and beyond? I find that it takes forever to break 'my' children of their guessing habits and this is what seems to hold them back more than anything.

I think I have achieved a breakthrough with the 'say the sounds and you'll say the word' routine; child looks very pleased with itself when it reads the word correctly, then three lines later they're galloping off into 'make it up as we go along' land again!

I do get very worried when people say that older learners catch on quickly. It seems to take me about a year of insistence on accurate sounding out and blending before many of the children really use it as a matter of course, and I cannot be sure that they don't revert to guessing when they are out in the curriculum. Is this very slow progress? Will they ever really lose the habit?

I'd be interested to know what experience of this other people who work with learners at KS3 and beyond have. And what they do to try to break the habit :grin:

Kelly
Posts: 299
Joined: Sat Jul 22, 2006 9:50 pm
Location: New Zealand
Contact:

Re: Breaking the guessing habit

Post by Kelly » Fri Nov 30, 2007 2:34 am

maizie wrote:I find that it takes forever to break 'my' children of their guessing habits and this is what seems to hold them back more than anything.
As someone who has had to re-learn I find it difficult to call my 'automatic prediction' merely a habit. :roll: Sorry. :grin:

I think there is more to it. I think on one side you will have the children/adults that will have a 'stab in the dark'. They will actually stop and dream up the word (maybe look at the picture or consider the story line) before producing a word. I think these children ARE choosing to guess (probably because they didn't know that there was an option :evil: ). I think that these children/adults will be easier to re-train because they are sequentially going through a process to produce a word.

However, I believe there are other children/adults where there is no sequential process (that they are aware of). They don't choose to guess, they just spontaneously produce an incorrect word. I think for these people change will be more difficult.

It may be that the second type is more likely in children that have been using incorrect methods for a longer period of time. Or maybe people can be a mix. I don't know.

Perhaps consider this:

When you come to the word 'the' what happens? Do you go through a process that you are aware of? Or do you just automatically produce the word?

This is what producing an 'incorrect word' feels like to me (whether I voice (or use) the word or not it is produced). So what I am having to re-teach myself is to ignore my mental answer, bypass it and try to sequentially work out what the word is. That is HARD. Imagine trying to stop recognising 'the', or ignore it in your mind and try to read it backwards or something foreign to the way that you recognise it now.

It is more than a guessing habit (in my opinion).

User avatar
Debbie Hepplewhite
Administrator
Posts: 3653
Joined: Mon Aug 29, 2005 4:13 pm
Location: Berkshire
Contact:

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Fri Nov 30, 2007 2:48 am

Maizie - why don't you trial my Sounds Book activity sheets for a while. You can still do Ruth Miskin's programme.

With a list of random words instead of sentences, there is less option or likelihood to guess.

We have to bear in mind that these poor kids have had their brains affected by their previous teaching and learning experiences.

You have to retrain their brains and in order to do this you need the material with which to do it.

If they receive a diet of mainly sensible text, they will continue to apply their 'reading reflex' of old which is to guess, guess and guess.

Goodenough
Posts: 75
Joined: Tue Nov 07, 2006 5:23 pm
Location: Republic of Ireland

Post by Goodenough » Fri Nov 30, 2007 6:20 pm

Maizie, I am relieved to have you say that older learners take a very long time. I am working with an adult at the moment (fiftyish). This is only my second adult student. Both have taken a very long time at every step. I have been intimidated to hear from time to time that one can go much more quickly with adults. My present student has learned about 36 "sounds" so far with alternative spellings for some. I have not started to present him with all the alternative spellings for the sounds yet. We are slowly working on e-controlled vowels at the moment and he finds these difficult. I spent a year working once a week with my previous adult student and I was never fullyconfident that he continued to use sounding out and blending when I was not there to remind him!
I don't think either student experienced the kind of instant automatic production of the incorrect word that you describe Kelly. They both produced words slowly and hesitantly enough except for words that they did actually know. Both had avoided reading of any kind for years until approaching the adult literacy service. I would love more advice on what works with adult students actually. The adult literacy here in Ireland is very much focused on mixed methods, learning styles etc.

Judy
Posts: 1184
Joined: Tue Oct 18, 2005 9:57 pm

Post by Judy » Fri Nov 30, 2007 6:44 pm

Maizie wrote:
Debbie, are you talking about 'older learners' at Primary, rather than KS3 and beyond? I find that it takes forever to break 'my' children of their guessing habits and this is what seems to hold them back more than anything.
I have found that even children who come to me in Y4 are pretty well stuck in the habit of 'guessing' - or whatever it is that Kelly is describing.

I am always pleased when the occasional child begins with me from scratch, except for maybe knowing a few correspondences for the alphabet letters, like one who had been living abroad until recently. But even she was insistent at first that she must work out the word from the pictures, after just a few months in school here.

My most long-standing pupil, now Y7, who has slowly and laboriously worked through a lot of correspondences and, I thought, was decoding nicely, has suddenly started reading 'what' for 'that' and recently read 'the farmer went to get his brazil nuts' instead of 'the farmer went to get his bulldozer'!

I've also had 'the frog sat on a lilypad' for 'the frog sat on the log', 'ice cream' for 'scram' recently and I do spend a lot of time reading individual words rather than text until I can be sure that the pupils' 'default' strategy is decoding rather than saying whatever seems to make some sort of sense. Even then, I can never be sure!

It was SO lovely working with my six year old grandson a few months ago because he was a complete beginner and it never occurred to him to do anything but what I told him to do - sound out all through the word! (Sadly he was only here for the weekend as the family lives in Sweden.)

jenny
Posts: 120
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2006 9:23 pm
Location: Leeds

Post by jenny » Fri Nov 30, 2007 7:00 pm

I know very little about brain development but my experience leads me to believe that this is something stronger than mere 'habit'. I do wonder if some kind of pathways in the brain are laid down which are very difficult to 'over ride' once established.

Judy
Posts: 1184
Joined: Tue Oct 18, 2005 9:57 pm

Post by Judy » Fri Nov 30, 2007 7:10 pm

Maizie - one thing I've found that 'my' children enjoy, even the older ones, and which makes them decode is a sheet with about a dozen pictures in the middle and the words written randomly around the edge. They have to read the word (first!) and then draw a line from it to the correct picture. I try to include a few similar words so that they have to decode all through the word to get the right one.

Without exception, they approach these 'mix'n'match' sheets as a treat but actually it is very useful.

However, as you say, this is still no guarantee that they will not 'guess' when they read the same words in a sentence a few minutes later! :sad:

I always feel that it is very difficult to really break the habit with only a weekly lesson but maybe you find the same with more frequent lessons?

FEtutor
Posts: 348
Joined: Wed Nov 24, 2004 8:24 pm
Location: London

Post by FEtutor » Fri Nov 30, 2007 7:25 pm

[quote="Goodenough"]Maizie, I am relieved to have you say that older learners take a very long time......Both have taken a very long time at every step. I have been intimidated to hear from time to time that one can go much more quickly with adults. ............I spent a year working once a week with my previous adult student and I was never fully confident that he continued to use sounding out and blending when I was not there to remind him!
/quote]

That's been my experience with many students, so I agree completely, as you might guess. That's why I would like to see some research comparing group tuition or once weekly tutoring with how fast adults can learn if they are offered daily tuition (from volunteers/ computers/ tutors- however it's delivered)- as that is what I feel is needed for the required skills to develop, what memory needs for learning the code, and what is needed to bolster students' resolve not to yield to the temptation of lapsing back into the guessing game. (Greg Brooks, please listen). I remember that the Shannon Trust quotes six months of daily 20 minutes one-to-one synthetic phonics sessions have been successful in taking some students in prison from being beginners to independent functioning readers. Surely it should not be necessary to have to go to prison to access daily tuition....

Judy
Posts: 1184
Joined: Tue Oct 18, 2005 9:57 pm

Post by Judy » Sat Dec 01, 2007 12:38 pm

I do sometimes wonder whether it is at all possible to 'break the habit', for want of a better phrase, with weekly lessons, especially when the student is receiving opposing messages in between lessons at school and sometimes at home as well. :sad:

I think Kerry Hempenstall's article is relevant to this -

http://www.theage.com.au/news/education ... tml?page=2

- in which he says that 'about 60 hours of careful daily phonics teaching alters the way the brain responds to print.'

User avatar
maizie
Administrator
Posts: 3121
Joined: Sun Mar 14, 2004 10:38 pm
Location: N.E England

Post by maizie » Sat Dec 01, 2007 2:41 pm

I find that the children who progress fastest, and most securely, in the limited time I have available for them (and it is far more generous than that allowed at many secondary schools) are those who start from the 'lowest' base. Those whose IEPs have 'learn to read & spell the YR/1 HFWs' on them; year after year after year. These children do exactly what they are asked to do! They don't have really entrenched reading 'habits' because they have never been expected to read much at primary...

jenny
Posts: 120
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2006 9:23 pm
Location: Leeds

Post by jenny » Sat Dec 01, 2007 3:54 pm

Judy- I firmly believe that success is only really possible if children have teaching 'little and often'. I insist that the pupils I work with have a daily 15 minutes from a teaching assistant in addition to my weekly, longer session. The most successful ones are nearly always those that also have regular input from parents-even just running through 'sound cards' /word lists each evening. This was always recognised by the DI teachers I know who would tell parents quite bluntly that they were wasting their money if they did not do some follow up every day. I think this daily repetition and reinforcement is more important than the precise methods/resources used.

Kelly
Posts: 299
Joined: Sat Jul 22, 2006 9:50 pm
Location: New Zealand
Contact:

Post by Kelly » Sat Dec 01, 2007 8:15 pm

maizie wrote:I find that the children who progress fastest, and most securely, in the limited time I have available for them (and it is far more generous than that allowed at many secondary schools) are those who start from the 'lowest' base. Those whose IEPs have 'learn to read & spell the YR/1 HFWs' on them; year after year after year. These children do exactly what they are asked to do! They don't have really entrenched reading 'habits' because they have never been expected to read much at primary...
I think that really makes sense Maizie.

The real strugglers probably don't even know where to start. They probably dream up words on the spot and don't have an engrained process that happens automatically (without conscious thought).

However the ones that almost get by probably have processes that their brain currently uses that will need to be undone.

The answer is obviously what is the quickest and easiest way to re-train the brain. :!:

Judy
Posts: 1184
Joined: Tue Oct 18, 2005 9:57 pm

Post by Judy » Fri Dec 07, 2007 7:52 pm

The mother of one of my Y4 pupils told me this week that she is really worried because her daughter is not reading to herself, at bedtime and so on. This, in spite of the fact that in every report I sent to the parents I ask them to try to avoid, as far as possible, allowing their children to read books independently which are beyond their decoding abilty.

Thinking about it afterwards, I realised that this pupil almost never guesses. She is a bit of a tomboy and at the moment she much prefers being outside playing football to reading. My other accurate, non-guessing reader is somewhat similar, never reads unless he has to because he is more interested in playing rugby and going fishing.

Obviously I'm hoping that the time will come when these two have learned enough GPCs to make their reading fluent and enjoyable and if it doesn't we will have to work on that. But I thought it was interesting that the worst guessers are those who have been allowed/encouraged to read anything they like the look of regardless of their Code knowledge. They are also the worst spellers.

User avatar
palisadesk
Posts: 549
Joined: Sun Mar 20, 2005 2:11 pm

Post by palisadesk » Sun Dec 09, 2007 2:10 am


I don't have easy answers to this but I have observed a few things that I can share.

One is that, counterintuitively, it is essential to STOP telling the child not to guess!

I'll bet I have company out there that feel a compulsion to remind the child not to guess, to compliment him or her on correctly decoding a word with a comment like, "See how well you can read when you don't guess?" And so on. I've even made little signs with that red circle logo with the slash through it, and the word GUESSING in the middle. Now with most kids we do see improvement over time, as their decoding improves. The Reading Recovery kids are the hardest to convince.

But last year there was one who was (and remains) temperamentally, and maybe neurologically, an inveterate guesser. He does have some neurologically based issues, impulsivity being one (it affects other areas, not just reading). He learned his decoding skills pretty solidly, with lots of practice. But he was still guessing up a storm. I tried an experiment, the kind of thing you do in graduate school, and I should do more often. While another person was working with him, I counted (for a ten-minute period) the number of times s/he mentioned guessing -- to remind him not to do it, to pump him up -- "See if you can read these without guessing," complimenting him on decoding well "without guessing," and so forth. Then I also counted the number of times the student obviously impulsively read something that wasn't there -- his usual "guessing."

The results were interesting. There was a close relationship to mention of guessing and incidence of the same -- the more he was reminded (all this in a very positive and upbeat way!) not to guess, or praised for not doing it, the more it occurred. The lines on the chart were practically parallel -- the relationship was obvious.

Then we tried, for a couple of days, simply not mentioning guessing at all, either positively or negatively. If the student guessed, he was required to correct the error, but nothing was said. His guessing rate dropped, about 20%. Finally, we developed a menu of things to say that did not refer to guessing, but strengthened the behaviours we wanted to see. We came up with prompts like these:
Remember to say the sounds in the new words.
These words are hard but you can figure them out.
Good thinking!
You figured it out -- good job!
Wow, you remembered that new sound (morpheme/word)!
Excellent problem-solving.
And so on.

Guess what happened?

The "guessing" rate dropped a lot more!

I don't think we will ever overcome this child's impulsivity completely, but he is gradually developing a strong secondary strategy which will -- we hope -- be in use most of the time.

With older students (your KS3 age) I second Debbie's suggestion that the materials are important. So are setting goals that are achievable only by decoding, not guessing -- such as rate and accuracy requirements that can not be met if the student is guessing. I am sure you must have UK equivalents, but I found the Corrective Reading Program materials to fill this bill nicely. They are specially written to trip up the guessers, and the only way the student can meet his required "checkout" every day with 98% accuracy at 90-150+ WCPM (depending on what level he is at) is by decoding accurately and well. He is reinforced for doing it right and gets no feedback (even acknowledgement) for guessing. Every error is corrected with no comment and the student has to re-read the word and then the sentence. Most of my 11-14 year old guessers DO stop this habit within a few months of this routine at most. Many become very good readers, even outstanding ones.

I think we may often reinforce guessing without meaning to, just by paying attention to it. Now I hope no one will take offence, but I learned a valuable teaching principle from dog training (I realize kids are not dogs! But some principles apply across species). The principle is, teach an incompatible behaviour. If you don't want your dog to jump on you when you come in the door, for instance, teach him to sit quickly for a treat or a pat or a toss of his favourite toy. If he's sitting, he's not jumping! Ditto kids and guessing -- teach them to read quickly and accurately -- reward a speed and quality of prosody that precludes guessing -- and the guessing will drop out on its own (or diminish significantly) because it does n't get any attention or reward. Visible tracking is valuable -- charts with points or stickers, for instance, as the student reads better, more and faster.

Very impulsive children may not completely overcome their tendency to guess, but you can make a huge difference in how frequently they use this strategy by changing what you pay attention to and reinforce. If you decide to count behaviours, like I did, you need an accomplice. The person instructing the child can't be the one doing the counting. An old rule of behaviour that we can't be reminded of too often is, you get the behaviour you pay attention to. So we need to set it up so we are constantly praising children for guessing-incompatible behaviour -- real reading!

Susan S.


rborseth
Posts: 178
Joined: Sun Mar 06, 2005 12:44 am
Location: China
Contact:

Post by rborseth » Sun Dec 09, 2007 3:31 am

. I tried an experiment, the kind of thing you do in graduate school, and I should do more often. While another person was working with him, I counted (for a ten-minute period) the number of times s/he mentioned guessing -- to remind him not to do it, to pump him up -- "See if you can read these without guessing," complimenting him on decoding well "without guessing," and so forth. Then I also counted the number of times the student obviously impulsively read something that wasn't there -- his usual "guessing."

The results were interesting. There was a close relationship to mention of guessing and incidence of the same -- the more he was reminded (all this in a very positive and upbeat way!) not to guess, or praised for not doing it, the more it occurred. The lines on the chart were practically parallel -- the relationship was obvious.

Skinner was quite right in that attention is the key. negetive attention or positive attention are both strong reinforcment for behavior. It is important that we pay attention to what it is that we are reinforcing, by always telling a student not to guess we are by our attention reinforcing guessing. By giving attention to correcting the words and making and synthesizing the sounds we are reinforcing the desired behavior by the attention we give it.

Greate post

Peace and Unity

Roger

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest