One of my clients recently shared some of their school’s reading strategies for Grade One students. I had a meaningful conversation with this parent that I would like to share with you around the value—and dangers—of some of these strategies!
This post will kick off a multi-part blog series where I look at different strategies, discuss their pros and cons, and rate the system from 1–10. I will then rank these strategies from worst to best.
If you have a young reader at home, you will need to tweak their reading habits—to stop detrimental practices and guide them to better ones. By reading through the blog series, you might just be able to integrate strategies that can help.
Let’s break it down!
Each method has a catchy title, a short description, and a picture of an animal. The strategies we will go over are as follows, in no particular order:
- Skippy Frog: Skip the word, then go back
- 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
- 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.
Strategy Countdown: Worst-to-Best, Part 1
#10: The WORST Strategy on This List:
Skippy Frog: Skip the word, then go back
- It may help with the child’s confidence.
- It may promote word identification in independent reading.
- It may promote re-reading.
- Skipping words is not reading.
- It promotes guessing.
- It leads to rushing.
I was tempted to give this strategy a zero, but I’m trying to be open and generous. However, I would never use any system like this.
My immediate thought: if there are words that a student needs to skip in the text, then it is very likely that the chosen text is too complicated and therefore inappropriate.
Schools often use “levelled” books that are not “levelled” in a logical way. We want to control the complexity of words and linguistic structures like word forms and sentences. Yet, schools often use texts that have words that are too long, too hard, and too obscure for students to figure out how the letters and sounds go together naturally.
We want to make reading sensible so kids can quickly see how letters and sounds go together. For this reason, I use words where the letters make their usual sounds, where syllables and sounds go together. For example, a word like “blimp” is a LOT easier to read than a word like “laugh.”
The Flaws in Leveled Systems
The Fountas and Pinnell reading system and the Leveled Literacy Intervention are not levelled in a way that matches language development or hierarchy. They are not levelled in a way that moves from simple words to more complex ones. The levelling system leaves something to be desired, and most of the books are inappropriate for beginning readers.
This leads to frustration, guessing, and skipping. This is extremely detrimental to children’s self-esteem, confidence, and reading development.
Skipping words encourages children to scan ahead and look for words they know. It enables them to try to recognize whole words. These children are more apt to look at the overall length of the word and guess, look at the first letter and guess, or think about what could fit or make sense.
The only thing these systems can teach is guessing, not reading. Reading, in the beginning, is the process of looking at every letter, converting letters to sounds, and sliding sounds together to identify words.
The Problem with Skipping and Guessing
This skipping frog nonsense encourages children to avoid the act of reading and to identify words by guessing. While contextual guessing is a valid strategy, bad readers will compensate and use this strategy more and more as they don’t improve. They might fall further and further behind over time.
The worst part is that this habit is tough to break once developed. I see many students beyond grade 5 that still look at the first letter and guess to sound fast and smooth when reading.
This technique prioritizes sounding good. People practicing it want to sound fast, smooth, and natural. Without self-monitoring and self-repairing, it may severely hamper a reader’s ability to absorb information. Accuracy must be the priority, not speed or sound. When accuracy is prioritized, the rest will follow.
My Experience with Guessers
In my experience, students that have been guessing for years often take months before they can start to apply any other strategies consistently. It is crucial to address this issue before it becomes a bigger and more complicated problem.
For example, a guesser asked to read the phrase, “ snail can pull into its shell,” may read “the snail can pull inside his shell” instead.
There is no effective change in meaning, but this is not reading. This uses predictive language and focuses on the content words to the detriment of grammar and sentence structure. This habit, if not addressed, can make writing difficult for these children in the future.
What You Should Do Instead
If your child encounters a word that you know is too hard, read it with them or for them. My favourite thing is to provide the sounds and let the student practise their sound blending skills.
For example, a sentence may say, “The boy began to laugh.” If my student falters on the word laugh, I reassure them that it is a tricky word. Then I tell them to listen to me make the sounds individually.
“The sounds are L. A, and F. What word do those sounds make?”
Some Pros of this Strategy
You might have sensed that I bear some disdain for this strategy, and you would be right. However, it is not without its merits. It can support confidence in a child. If they can skip a few tricky words and find some words they know, they can get some flow and momentum.
However, god readers figure out new words by thinking about what would make sense, sounding out what they see, and sliding sounds together to tap into their vocabulary. They figure out new or unfamiliar words by figuring out what it says. They do this partially by context—what makes sense in the sentence.
So, a good reader that skips a word to get the “gist” of the sentence can go back and use context to figure out what that word was. While context clues might have some value in independent reading, avoid using them for guided or coached reading.
In some cases, this trick may also support re-reading. Re-reading is important for accuracy, comprehension monitoring, and self-monitoring. Re-reading is one of the few good habits readers can develop by using this technique, so long as they do not skip and guess to compensate for bad habits.
As a good rule of thumb, children should no longer be skipping or guessing by Grade 2. At this point, they should be reading what is actually on the page. The better their reading, the better their comprehension will be in the future.
There you go! The worst strategy of the bunch. Move your student away from guessing and any strategy that supports guessing. Instead, have your child look at every letter and identify the sound that the letters represent. Make them put those sounds together to blend the word. They might end up finding it among vocabulary words that they know. If it is a word that they don’t know, spend some time talking about what it means so it can become a vocabulary word.
Watch out for the rest of this blog series. This article is only the first entry of many that will go over the worst and best techniques.
Got questions, concerns, yeah buts? Visit www.speak2read.ca to engage in some delightful conversation on how you can improve your teaching of reading or your child’s learning.