This blog series explores some strategies that a parent of a Grade One student received from their school. I am reviewing these strategies and ranking them from worst to best. Welcome to Part 5!! (You can explore previously reviewed strategies by clicking on the links below).

Strategies that will be reviewed in this blog: 

Here is a list of strategies, in random order. Each of the strategies has a catchy title, a short description, and a picture of an animal to cue/remind the student to use the strategy when reading.  

Skippy Frog:  Skip the word, then go back (reviewed in Part 1 HERE)

Lips the Fish: Say the First sound

Stripes the Zebra: Find the pattern

Stretchy Snake:  Stretch the sounds

Chunky Monkey: Find the chunks or little words you know

Eagle Eye:  Check the Picture (Reviewed in Part 2 HERE)

Flip the Dolphin: flip the vowel sound 

Tryin’ Lion: Try another strategy 

Slow Down Snail: Slow down if it doesn’t seem right (reviewed in Part 4 here)

Check it chicks: Make sure it looks right, sounds right, and makes sense (Reviewed in Part 3 HERE)

Strategy Countdown Worst-to-Best Blog Series post #5:

Strategy #6:  

Strategy Name:  Strategy #6 – Tryin’ Lion: Try another strategy

Pros: Alerts student to a reading error; encourages use of strategies

Cons:  Not an instructional strategy; dependent on having a “bank” of EFFECTIVE strategies; requires pre-teaching or training of students to use strategies

Rating:  5

First Impressions:  

This strategy is pretty “neutral”.  I like encouraging students to use strategies, which is positive. It draws attention to a student’s reading error, which is a positive. It does not provide any instruction or direction about how to identify the source of the error or repair the error. On its own, this strategy will not help reading, but with a “bank” of complementary and effective strategies, this can be helpful. 

Cons: 

This strategy requires students to be able to do some sort of word analysis:  If a teacher prompts with “try another strategy”, the student knows they have made an error. 

Poor readers will often just “guess again”, which is often detrimental, or at the very least not helpful.

Good readers will do some word analysis – they will compare the letters on the page with the sounds those letters represent, retrieve a corresponding word from their vocabulary that matches the sound structure and also makes sense within the context of the sentence. 

So, where does this leave us? This is a helpful strategy for good readers, but this strategy doesn’t help struggling readers much at all. 

We don’t need to throw the baby out with the bath water, but we do need to recognize that good readers are making far fewer errors, have stronger skills to repair reading errors, and also likely understand and can use other strategies.  These things are all VERY challenging for poor readers.  This is a good strategy for good readers making occasional errors. This is not a great strategy for poor readers. 

This strategy is also contingent on having other effective strategies available. As we have seen in the first 4 parts of this blog series, many strategies are not helpful, and even downright detrimental.  So, if a poor reader makes a reading error, and you direct them to try another strategy, they are apt to use strategies that draw from compensatory mechanisms. 

The most common maladaptive reading “strategies” employed by poor readers are:

  1. Using the first letter as a sound cue to guess a word
  2. Using visual memory – the overall “look” of the whole word
  3. Guessing based on meaning or context. 

If you are teaching a struggling reader, you MUST steer your students AWAY from these compensating reading behaviours. You MUST select strategies that direct their attention to the word structure and the relationships between letters and sounds. 

Much of this is not new to you if you have been following along with this blog series. IF you haven’t, I strongly recommend reviewing parts 1-4 (Part 1 is available HERE).

This strategy is not instructional – it does not provide any new information, clarify understanding, or help students find the source of the error. 

As described in part 4 here, struggling readers are DESPERATE to just get through the text, and apt to just keep guessing to move the process along.  We must TEACH reading WHILE students are reading. There has to be an instructional component to help them understand why their first guess was incorrect, and to instead make sense of the word by converting the letters to sounds and recognizing the word. 

In order for students to use strategies, or to switch from one strategy to another, they must understand the strategy and have experienced some success with using that strategy.  Consider this prerequisite – the student must have experience with and knowledge of other available strategies. This is not usually the case for poor readers. If they had success using strategies previously and deeply understood the strategies, they probably wouldn’t be poor readers. 

Successful use of strategies depends on their consistent use and their “availability” to the brain in the moment of reading. Factors that limit how the successful use of strategies include: 

1. Number of strategies: 

In this strategy “package”, there are 10 separate strategies.  I would not have faith that a struggling reader in Gr. 3, never mind Gr. 1, could keep 10 strategies in mind, understand them, and choose the right strategy to repair an error.  This means this reader is going to be hugely dependant on adult cues and prompts to help them identify AND repair their mistakes. 

2. Consistent Use: 

If these strategies are not being used during home reading and used the same way as they were during instruction, the student is unlikely to use them and understand them … rendering them distracting and unhelpful. 

3. Point of Performance:

While looking at a word and trying to identify it and trying to make it fit within the meaning of the sentence, and remember the meaning of the sentence/paragraph, we are hoping the student will ALSO run through a “mental checklist” of available strategies. This is a MASSIVE expectation for working memory. 

Students with Executive Functioning deficits or working memory deficits (such as students with ADHD) often struggle at the point of performance. They can tell you ahead of time what to do, but they don’t do it in the moment.  We often see this with behaviour – they can tell you what the rules are, but in that moment, they don’t recognize the situation and apply the rule, and end up breaking rules.  With executive functioning and working memory deficits, it is really difficult to retrieve and apply your knowledge right in the moment that you need it. 

Students with ADHD need a LOT of practise using a strategy consistently in order to apply the strategy in the right moment, right when they need it.  A strategy such as Try another strategy is apt to overload working memory and be unhelpful.

Pros: 

Similar to the strategy “Slow down if it doesn’t seem right” reviewed in Part 4 here , if “Tryin’ Lion” is used frequently and taught explicitly, it can encourage self-monitoring and may be valuable as a prompt for them to STOP, THINK, and reflect on what they have just read, and try another strategy.  this CAN be valuable in student populations that demonstrate ADHD or Executive Functioning deficits if used carefully and consistently. 

As an aside, I like that many of the strategies in this package rely on important sound processing skills like rhyming and alliteration. These conventions draw attention to the sound structure of words, and help students identify important word structures such as within-syllable units (onsets and rimes). 

If you have a bank of GOOD instructional strategies, this strategy encourages students to continue thinking about the word and look for ways to accurately decipher it. This is much more helpful than just “giving the word” and promotes independence. 

I like that these strategies all have a visual cue – a picture of the animal that is in the title. Visual cueing does not require as much working memory and does not tax the language system, which is already working hard on sounds, words, and comprehension. I too use visual picture cues and strategies in my practise. Often I will set out 3 key strategies, and if a student is struggling, I can just point to the strategy I want them to use. 

Which brings up another “con” – Why would I point to the picture of the Lion to tell them they made an error, THEN point to another picture to direct them to the strategy I want them to try? This is redundant, as simply pointing to the strategy that I want them to use will both alert them to the error AND provide direction about how to repair it. 

What can you do instead?

For struggling readers, who are often diagnosed with Dyslexia or a Specific Learning Impairment, Specific Learning Disorder, or Specific Learning disability, you must do a few things: 

  1. Draw their attention to the error (oops!)
  2. Help them identify the SOURCE of the error (WHY did they “activate” the wrong word?)
  3. Cue them about what to think about instead, to accurately read the word (what information did they miss, or misapply, that will help them accurately identify the word?)
  4. (optional) Provide instruction about the letter, sound, word structure, concept, or alternate strategy so they can read this word next time AND read other words that contain or apply similar structure.

This is also an appropriate sequence for young or developing readers. 

Again, alternate approaches, cues, and strategies have been provided in Parts 1-4 and are worth taking a look at. 

Take-Away:  

This strategy is complicated as it requires integration with OTHER strategies. It can overload working memory. It does NOT steer readers away from maladaptive compensatory attempts such as guessing. It does not help struggling readers – those diagnosed with Dyslexia or a Specific Learning Disorder in reading, spelling, or writing – it is not INSTRUCTIONAL (it doesn’t teach anything!)

It’s not horrible or detrimental all on its own, but it must be integrated with careful and consistent teaching to be effective, and there are much more helpful strategies that we can employ instead. 

Watch for part 6 and beyond of this blog series as we move from the WORST of these strategies to the BEST. 

Got questions, concerns, yeah buts?  Visit www.speak2read.ca to engage in some delightful conversation on how you can improve your reading instruction or your child’s learning.