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 4!! (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
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 4:
Strategy Name: Slow Down Snail: Slow down if it doesn’t seem right
Pros: Alerts student to a reading error or skipped word; encourages looking more closely at words when reading; cues against impulsivity and rushing (accuracy over speed)
Cons: Not an instructional strategy; metacognitively above Gr. 1 developmental level for poor/struggling readers; could be used to cue in this way: “guess again”.
I do not think this strategy is developmentally appropriate for grade one students who are poor readers. I also don’t see how it will help a student to read. It basically just points out that they have (likely) made an error.
When I’m reading with my students who have dyslexia, I find that many of them can’t self-monitor, self-correct, or independently repair reading errors until grade three, grade four, even beyond grade 5.
My experience from working with “guessers” – students who tend to try to guess the word rather than reading it with linguistic skills and strategies is that they just plow forward and don’t stop guessing or reading until an adult TELLS THEM it doesn’t make sense.
They are GUESSING something they THINK makes sense, so how would they ever know that it DOESN’T make sense!?!?!? If it didn’t make sense to them on some level, they probably wouldn’t have guessed it.
These students do not have the advanced meta-linguistic, meta-cognitive, and meta-orthographic skills to be able to monitor their own reading. They literally just took a GUESS while reading; they have little idea if their guess is correct or not. They are GUESSING and HOPING, not READING.
Students like this develop cue dependence quickly – they plow forward and wait for the adult to be the “traffic light” – if the adult doesn’t stop them, they keep reading (green light). If they get a “red light” and are told to stop, they go back and guess again. If they get a cue like “slow down”, this is like a yellow light: they keep reading more slowly, or they pause and wait for someone to tell them which word they need to guess at again.
Don’t be a traffic cop when you are reading with your students! When children are cue dependent, they lose independence, apply less critical thinking, are slow to develop “meta” skills, and demonstrate less implicit learning (figuring things out for themselves).
My experience doing coached reading aloud with poor readers is that they have a STRONG DESIRE to be fast, smooth readers. They are DESPARATE for this, and there is an emotional experience wrapped up in the act of reading.
I have students that make up their own stories that are not remotely connected to the words on the page, JUST so they can sound like they are reading while holding a book. This is validated by “guessing” which allows them to be FAST.
When students omit grammar words, change the sentence structure, and read what isn’t there, this is often reinforced detrimentally. Proponents of Whole Language believe that as long as a child extracts the MEANING, they are developing their skills as a reader. Not true.
E.g., Target sentence: The bee’s sting can hurt a lot.
Child Reads: A bee sting hurts lots.
Adult: Great reading!
In this example, the student retained meaning, did NOT read accurately, and was reinforced for guessing or “filling in the blanks” to have it make sense. This child likely has a deficit in grammar awareness and would benefit from specific lessons on reading and spelling grammar units of words.
Lastly, a point I have made in previous blog posts, is that there is nothing inherently instructional in this strategy. How helpful is it to say “slow down?” Do you honestly think that will improve reading?
As an analogy, I learned how to type in high school during Information Processing class, which provided a rudimentary introduction to computers. If ONLY my teacher would have walked behind me at some point and said “slow down”. I probably would have learned to type, and this blog post would take me 1 hour instead of 3!! <sarcasm>.
This strategy is not instructional. You are cueing or prompting the student that they have made an error; that’s it. You have not pointed out where the error is, the source of the error, or how they can begin to repair the error. For many students, this is akin to saying “uh-oh! Guess again!” which does NOT teach reading and actually reinforces maladaptive reading behaviours.
The strategy “Slow down if it doesn’t seem right”, if used frequently, can encourage self-monitoring. Once this strategy becomes familiar to a student, it may be valuable as a prompt for them to STOP, THINK, and reflect on what they have just read, and perhaps try another strategy.
So, this IS valuable, although again, I wouldn’t expect young readers or poor readers to be able to use this strategy independently.
Additionally, strategies like this can be valuable in student populations that demonstrate ADHD or Executive Functioning deficits.
While most people associate ADHD with difficulties paying attention, that is not really the core deficit in ADHD. The problem more so lies in impulsivity and the inability to inhibit.
When a typical student is focused on a task, and there is a noise in the hallway, they may ignore the noise and continue to focus on their task.
When a student with ADHD hears a noise in the hallway outside of the classroom, they can’t inhibit the impulse to look up and identify the source of the noise. Then, they have difficulty reorganizing to their task and starting again. The result here is a loss of attention to the task, but paying attention isn’t really the issue. If you have ever watched a student with ADHD attending to a video game, you will know this to be true.
When students with ADHD are reading, they may have difficulty inhibiting the impulse to look ahead at what’s coming, and then have difficulty bringing their eyes back to where they were. They may miss words or skip lines.
Similarly, when they see a word, they may have difficulty inhibiting the impulse to say the first word that pops into their brain, before they can use any of their strategies, or reflect on if that first impression is correct. They end up “blurting out” incorrect words when reading aloud, even though they seem to “know” the word in other contexts.
They also have difficulty self-monitoring, so prompts that guide them to reflect are often not that helpful, unless used consistently and the student is taught to reflect. A student may have difficulty responding to these prompts, and experience something like, “what DID I just say? Is the word I just said made up of sounds that match the letters? I don’t know!” This “reflection on the immediate past” is difficult in ADHD.
As such, strategies that encourage inhibition, slowing impulsive behaviour, using strategies, and encouraging reflection are valuable – but they take a LOT of repetition before they start to impact performance, and require adult support – BEYOND saying “slow down”.
This strategy HINTS at that process, STARTS that process, but is inadequate in isolation: this strategy would need to be used in conjunction with other strategies.
What can you do instead?
For the bulk of my students, if they were reading and made an error, and I responded with “slow down”, they would just stop reading and look at me with a blank stare.
This cue doesn’t provide any direction for a student, other than to note that they made an error.
We do want to have a way to “interrupt” a student’s reading and bring their attention to an error. Usually, I want them to STOP, not slow down. I want to REPAIR the error in the moment, and THEN continue.
Often when I read with my students I use a penlight, and “flash” it on the word when there is a reading error that I choose to correct.
** NOTE – sometimes I let students read to the end of the sentence, and then we go back to re-read the sentence and repair reading errors. This can promote fluency and word identification with the benefit of context; and many students do not like being interrupted when reading
** NOTE – sometimes I record errors on a sticky note pad, and we practise reading and spelling those words in isolation after we finish reading the text. This works well with “guessers” – often these students read the words in isolation ACCURATELY, because they are actually looking at and reading the word, NOT just guessing something that makes sense within the sentence (which is more like guessing to finish a fill-in-the-blank question).
**NOTE – sometimes I photocopy the reading passage, and I highlight and make notes on my copy as the student reads, and then we can go back and review. I also audio record and video record students reading and play it back for them – this is a great way to help students recognize their OWN errors – Now THAT is a strategy that promotes self-monitoring!!
When I interrupt a student following a reading error, what works better is to put my finger on the word where the error occurred. Then I may use Socratic questioning, prompting with something like “what do you see for the first letter” or “what do you see at the beginning of the word” or “what do you notice at the end of the word” or “what are you thinking about as you look at the end of this word?” or “does what you just read make sense when you look at this word ending?”.
Cues like this are going to direct a student’s attention toward the source of the error. Students can then start to self-repair when they first have a little bit of direction.
This type of cueing is called full-word cueing, which encourages a student to make sense of how the word looks, how the word sounds, and what the word means. It draws attention and focus to internal word structure. This contrasts with partial-word cueing such as the M-S-V cueing system, which often directs a student’s attention to the appropriateness of the word choice within the sentence and encourages “getting the gist” of meaning rather than accurately reading words. The MSV cueing system was critiqued in Part 3 of this blog series.
Take-Away: My concern is that this strategy is not developmentally-appropriate for most poor reader prior to Gr. 3. I worry that it promotes word guessing. It does NOT provide any kind of explicit teaching or instruction. While it DOES point toward meta-cognitive and meta-linguistic skills like self-monitoring reading accuracy and comprehension, it does NOT teach or develop these skills and can lead to cue dependence.
Watch for part 5 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.