Sight word drilling

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Susan Godsland

Sight word drilling

Post by Susan Godsland »

Nicole's posting: Sight Word Drilling—yay or nay? PART 2 and other ramblings

'I greatly appreciate all the responses to my question about sight word drilling. The wisdom that was shared has given me much insight on this topic. Many on this forum display impressive knowledge, experience, and articulation about effective reading instruction. This inspires, challenges, and motivates me to reach higher by learning more and reflecting consistently on my own teaching, so that I can do what it takes to create the most positive outcome for every student. Since I am a new member, I have spent some extra time reading the last 3-4 years of posts on this forum. Instead of glaring at the computer screen, I printed most of it and filled about four binders. It was worth the ink and paper because I know that I will refer to it when need be.

As you might recall from my first post, I was questioning sight word drilling because another newly hired reading teacher in our department did so religiously. She didn’t spend much time on comprehension instruction because (in her opinion) if a student becomes knowledgeable of most of the sight words, then he/she becomes a fluent reader and being fluent meant that comprehension of the text was easy and instantaneous.

My logic was that my students gained proficiency with sight words through continuous exposure in their lessons and corresponding decodable text. Most students also learned them best by sounding them out, which is the suggested approach during their Reading Mastery instruction. I do teach comprehension strategies and techniques because some struggling readers have trouble with memory and concentration. I was hit with much opposition about this in another group forum (they thought I was crazy), but it seems natural that a student needs comprehension instruction (even when reading 100% accurately) if he can’t remember vital story events or continuously displays misinterpretation. It seems that many minds of students drift while reading and the teaching of comprehension/monitoring strategies will be needed.

Nevertheless, this other teacher thought her memorization drilling technique was undoubtedly the best and only way to assure the students master those hundreds of Fry/Dolch words. I was tempted to enlighten this other teacher with the insights gained from responses to my post, but I held back. What I needed was more solid evidence that my students were doing just fine without the flashcard memorization technique. I agree with some of you that mentioned some use of flashcards for sight words that are very hard to decode might prove useful. Like someone else mentioned in a post, I prefer to display many of the visually similar site words in poster formats.

The evidence I was looking for came after all students enrolled in our program finished their end-of-year assessments. Many on the forum mentioned that examining the students comprehensive reading assessment data might prove useful. The assessments completed by the Title 1 students at the end of the year include the DRA (given by the classroom teacher), the DAR (Diagnostic Assessment of Reading, given by Title teacher), and DSTR (takes 5 minutes, only administered if more info. is needed). The assessment results and other observation data were compiled into an overall program report. This report made it quite easy to compare one teacher’s class results against another. All but four of my students advanced anywhere from 1.5-2.5 years and were at or above grade level reading by the end of the year. The four that didn’t gain as much progress had underlying factors like missing too much school or enrolling in the program late in the year.

The teacher that spent a large amount of instruction time sight word flashcard drilling only had four students performing at or above grade level by the end of the year. Through direct examination of the students actual test (I waited until the teacher was gone before rummaging through her completed assessments) I could clearly see a lot of word guessing going on during the oral reading fluency subtest (forest for frost, arch for anchor, starting for staring). Silent reading fluency was predominately low from the class as a whole as well. Many students didn’t make it far on the phonics subtest. Many 4th-5th grade students did fine sounding out most dipthongs, r controlled vowels, and double vowel words. However, most didn’t pass the two syllable word (exist, donate, pretend) or beyond.

Overall, her students did make some progress, but a large number of them were still a year below grade level or more at the end of the year. I thought that the report itself may have lead this other teacher to question her methods. That, and the justification that I didn’t need to use her whole word memory approach to help my students succeed.

Oh, but this story continues…. Summer school started three days after school was out. The two Title Reading teachers for summer school are myself and the other sight word-drilling teacher. Before summer school began, each teacher had to turn in lesson plans for the first week of instruction. As I was turning in mine, I saw Miss sight word drill teacher’s lesson on top of the pile. Her weekly plan was typed in a table format with little squares designating the different lessons throughout the day for students in K-6. About 75% of the squares said something similar to “Dolch/Fry sight word flashcard 1-100” or “timed drill of Dolch 200-300”. I couldn’t believe it.

Just this afternoon, the principal changed the targeted students we had to work with during the course of the summer. Lo and behold, the principal assigned me with most of the students that the other teacher worked with during the school year. Yep, these are the ones who received the continuous flashcard memorization technique, which I AM ONLY ASSUMING resulted in their slow progress throughout the year. We almost always work with the same students in the summer that we have throughout the year and it seemed as though the principal assigned me those other students so I could be Miss fix-it. What’s worse, my remedial students that were at or above grade level or above at the end of the school year are now going to receive the sight word flashcard instruction from the other teacher that continues to stay in her ways.

Maybe I’m just making a big deal over nothing. It’s not really about using flashcards in general; it’s about using a large amount of flashcards to teach whole word instruction and taking up a large amount of class time to do it. Why can’t I just passively slip that into out conversation? Honestly, I believe that underneath I am just scared of this teacher becoming negative if I approach the issue, which will decrease the communication that is so vital when you work with another teacher in the same department. I make sure that I don’t ever display a disposition that I know more than someone else. When teachers don’t get along, you can almost feel it in the air. Other teachers take sides and it leaves the workplace environment somewhat stifling and cold mannered. I’ve worked at two different schools in the past where the Reading Coach was the most hated or negatively talked about person. Some teachers are fully grounded in their ways and suggesting something different means more work (learning, planning, collecting, training, practicing correct implementation), etc.) and RISK.

I’ve always been one to research and observe to gain new knowledge and insight into what will work best. When our school has a day off while another school is in session, I have made trips to observe top-notch teachers or programs in practice. During my last day off, I traveled to a school that had Headsprout Reading up and running smoothly. Headsprout is a beginning reading program that I have been curious about for years. I gained so much information from watching the students complete the lessons and seeing first hand how the program’s routine and organization is laid out. After the observation, I made a call to Headsprout and got SIX FREE ACCOUNTS to try out (that company is definitely generous). I just started six students in the program two days ago and hope to continue them throughout the school year.

My next venture is to investigate the mode of instruction behind learning clinics that make promises or claims that every student will gain 2 or more years of learning in just 30 hours. If that is true, then I need to tap into their secret formula. I could understand how such a gain could be made with a small amount of children (already with a moderate-high IQ) that are behind due to a lack of exposure or prior schooling. Unfortunately, my attempts at observing such clinics have been difficult since the two closest in proximity to my home have closed due to bankruptcy. Hmmmm….that puts a big dent in their credibility.'

Here's Nicole's first posting:
Sight Word Drilling--yay or nay