Friday, January 17, 2020

Sight Words – Part Two: The Dolch List and Teaching Brand New Words

Before we get into ideas for teaching sight words, you’ll need lists of words to teach. Luckily, when it comes to sight words the work has been done for you here.

Although the whole-language theory of reading instruction has been debunked in favor of phonics, the Dolch lists, which were compiled by whole-word proponent Edward Dolch, are still an excellent resource for sight words. Dolch combed through children’s books and made a list of the 220 words he saw repeated most often. Some of the words are decodable and others are not; what they have in common is frequency. The list, which was first published in 1936, is obviously not exactly current, but children’s literature hasn’t changed much, so it still serves as a good starting point; in fact, almost all teachers of early elementary grades use it in their classrooms. Since its first publication, the list has been broken into grade-level lists, beginning with Pre-Primer (the beginning of kindergarten) and going through third grade. These 220 words are where I’d start.

Keep in mind that although the words look short and easy, 220 is a lot! Young readers, particularly those in the earliest stages of literacy, will need to be taught just a few at a time. If you’re going to teach words the child has never seen before, stick with just one or two per session, and be sure to pick words that are visually different from each other, like “little” and “you.” Pairing words like “is” and “it” may lead to confusion.

Once you’ve chosen your words, here is a series of steps I like to follow when I’m teaching a child a brand new sight word.

1.      Write the word three times, then pass the paper to the child. The child should trace each word one letter at a time, saying the letters as she traces them. Tell the child that she is “telling her hand what to do.” (What she’s really doing is combining the visual input of the letters she sees, the motor input she gets from tracing the letters and from moving her lips and tongue to form the letter names, and the auditory input she gets from hearing herself say the letters. The more senses that are involved in a learning experience, the more likely a person is to remember what they learn.) When she gets to the end of the word, she should say the whole word (e.g. “y-o-u, you”).

2.      Next to the three words the child has just traced, ask her to write the word three times on her own. Again, she should say each letter as she traces it, then say the whole word when she gets to the end.

3.      This third step is optional but can be very valuable for kids. Ask the child to write the word three times in a way that will engage her gross motor system or feel more tactically engaging. This could be writing the word three times in huge letters on a whiteboard or on a wall with a wet sponge, using a fingertip to “write” the word on the carpet or in a sand tray, etc. Try out a few and let the child do the one she likes best. No matter what she chooses, be sure she goes through the routine of saying each letter, then the whole word.

4.      Now, back to the paper you were using before: turn it over so that she can’t see the spelling and ask the child to write the word three times, saying each letter, from memory. If she has to peek at the spelling on the opposite side, return some of the earlier steps in the process to help her ingrain the sequence more deeply in her memory.

5.      The fifth and last step is the most fun! Ask the child to close her eyes and write the word three times again, saying each letter as she does. Students, even my high school group, love this step; there’s something inherently entertaining about reaching the end and opening one’s eyes to see that the word has appeared, slightly wobbly but almost always surprisingly legible! The value of this part goes farther than just giving kids a giggle, though. When someone doesn’t watch their hands writing, the movements themselves seem to become discreet from the letters, becoming a series of motions instead, so that they get anchored in memory in a different way. You’re teaching the child’s hand to write the word by allowing muscle memory to step in.

This routine seems long, but once you (and your student) get the hang of it, it takes less than five minutes per word. And in my experience, kids really like the process. Focusing on writing the words instead of just recognizing their appearances makes the learning experience more multi-sensory for kids, and it’s also quite useful because sight words can be among the trickiest to spell right. And in the end, if a child can spell a word, recognizing it while reading is a piece of cake.

One exposure to sight words though, even one as thorough as this, isn’t enough. To build automaticity, you’ll need to spend a lot of time practicing the words you’ve taught. Next time, I’ll cover some of my favorite games and activities for helping kids learn to recognize these words instantly. In the meantime, here is a list of Dolch Fluency Phrases, broken down by age from pre-primer through second grade, that expand somewhat on the individual Dolch list words.

Pre-Primer Fluency Phrases
come and help
the little blue dog
up and away
a big jump
we can come
it is down here
find it funny
go for help
here I am
look up and down
in here
one little jump
look and see
make my bed
we can play
you and not me
one, two, and three
red and yellow
run away
said the cat
where to look
jump up
you can go

Primer Fluency Phrases
eat it all
a new ride
ate a cake
who I am
want it to go well
all very good
must be with me
black and brown
came but did not go away
did not do it
eat four buns
get good books
like to play
have to go into class
he and she
pretty please
she said no
go out now
on our mat
saw it and ran
they say so
must go so soon
that little brown hut
here and there
this and that, too
under the yellow sun
want to jump
all was well
went away
what we will do
who she will go with
yes or no

First Grade Phrases
you could go
every last one
after the game
fly from the nest
ask any friend
do it again
an easy test
go by the rule
give me my toy
going to have fun
had to play
her blue book
his little white dog
come find him
see how it is done
have just five more
know when to stop
live and let live
may open the box
three of them
old brown hat
ride once a day
put on a pretty dress
a round, white egg
some new cars
stop and say thank you
take them home
must think hard
walk to the park
three were red
see then do

Second Grade Phrases

always be around
because he said so
been there before
the best wish
would buy both
call us first
found five funny hats
gave many gifts
comes and goes
green and yellow
get its food
write many lists
pull it off
gave just one
made it right
many of these
these or those
sit and read
sing her to sleep
tell their tales
once upon a time
wash very well
use some but not all
the one that will work
why your game is good
would eat four more
which you have now

Monday, January 13, 2020

Sight Words – Part One

We're delighted to welcome back our blogger Beth Guadagni, M.A., who shares her expertise in reading and working with students with dyslexia.

My niece is in first grade. She has always loved to listen to stories, but when we were together to celebrate Christmas at my parents’ house this year, she was reluctant to read books herself. When I finally convinced her to read with me, it was clear why: While she knows her letter sounds cold, nearly every word was a struggle. Sure, she recognized words like “the” and “is” with good automaticity. But she needed to sound out lots and lots of common words (like, well, lots) every time she came across them. A big part of the problem, I saw, was with sight words.

 While there are some differences in opinion about what the term “sight words” really means, nearly all educators agree that recognizing them automatically is critical to fluent reading. Some educators like to explain that sight words are words that don’t “follow the rules” and so just have to be memorized. “Have” is a great example. Kids learn that when there is a vowel-consonant-e pattern at the end of a word, the first vowel is long. But in “have,” the a sounds short, despite the e at the end. English has a lot of words like this, and unfortunately most of them are among our most common words.

Other educators say that sight words are simply common words that kids should recognize immediately because they occur so frequently in texts that sounding them out each time would be laborious (as my niece discovered). Words like “her”, “get”, and “open” are examples of words like this: they “follow the rules” and occur frequently.

Regardless of the definition one uses, sight words are important, and knowing how to read and spell them without much conscious thought or effort is enormously helpful to young students. Luckily, there are lots of ways to make learning sight words fun.

Over the next few posts, I’ll share some ideas that I’ve found to be very useful, even with severely dyslexic students. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 6, 2020

School Lunch in NYC

We've previously celebrated the change in the New York City Public Schools lunch program that made lunch free for all students, removing the "free lunch" stigma from those students whose access to no-cost meals set them apart from their classmates. Breakfast, lunch, and after school meals are all now free for all New York City public school students. But there have been other changes happening in what NYC children are eating in school.

Efforts are underway to have food offerings better reflect the diversity of the City's 1.1 million students, in over 1,700 public schools. NYC Public Schools serves over 940,000 meals each day. The goal is to provide healthier options while offering appetizing choices that children will actually eat. Uneaten food means children are not getting the nutrition they need, which can impact their alertness and energy in class. And food dumped in the trash adds to the problem of waste management, something the NYC Department of Education is working to address by encouraging zero waste and effective recycling.

The first step in creating tasty, healthy meals takes place in the NYC Public Schools test kitchen, located in Long Island City. It is here that a staff of more than 15 chefs creates menu items and, as noted in a piece in the NY Daily News, tests them on groups of 300 students several times each year. The threshold for adding an item to the menu is approval by 80% of the student taste testers. Among menu changes over the past few years is the elimination of deep frying, saturated fat, and high fructose corn syrup and the introduction of Asian and Cajun spices and a number of organic ingredients. Pilot programs introducing halal and kosher foods are also being tried.

In addition to being appealing to their "customers," the student diners, those developing school menus have a number of other considerations, including ease of preparation in individual school kitchens and availability of ingredients in bulk or through federal food supplies. It can take over two years for a new menu item to make it to school cafeterias throughout the city. So, the next time you stare into your refrigerator, freezer, or pantry and try to figure out what to cook for dinner, you might want to consider that it is far more difficult to feed a "family" of close to one million than it is to figure out what to feed your own family tonight.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Happy Holidays to All !

We’ve always done a blog in rhyme as our last post of the year
To thank everyone who's helped us and to wish all much good cheer
This year has been a busy one; we’ve served students of all kinds 
We’ve done trainings, talks, and  webinars to help explain kids’ minds

Dr. Yellin has done traveling to schools both far and near
Where our approach to learning is used throughout the year
Helping students see their strengths to build their self esteem
And offering up strategies to help them reach their dreams

For parents who have questions and are not sure what to do
We've had a free phone hour that might be help to you
Just call our office number, Thursday mornings 8-9
And if Dr. Yellin isn't busy, he'll get right on the line

But more than our activities, we want to share our gratitude
To our amazing Yellin Center staff and their caring attitude
To attorneys, tutors,  therapists who ask us to assist
And the schools who send us scholars when things have gone amiss

But most of all we thank the parents who trust us with their kids
Who've turned to us when children struggle, no matter what they did
You and your dear children are the core of what we do
Why we get up every morning and work the long day through

So as one year is about to end and another set to start
We wish you happy holidays from the bottom of our heart
We wish you health and happiness and that learning is a joy
And that all good things should come to you and to every girl and boy

Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year
                            From The Yellin Center

We will be closed from December 25th, reopening on Thursday, January 2nd

Friday, December 20, 2019

The Challenge of the Blank Page

When professional writers sit in front of their computer or at their desk and are unable to write -- or to write the kind of content that they know they are capable of producing, they often talk about having writer's block. Some authors can go years without producing a new book or a magazine piece, even though they have had years of productivity in the past. 

This kind of difficulty is not just a problem of adult professionals. It can be hard for children to sit in front of a blank page -- on paper or screen -- and come up with a story or report on deadline. Certain kinds of writing may be easier for children. Book reports, for example, have a fairly standard format and the content can refer back to the book and its characters. Similarly, assignments with clear guidelines, such as a research report on an historical figure or event, can be relatively easy for a young writer to begin.

Open ended writing assignments can be more difficult for anyone and children can find it especially hard to get started. There are ways to help, however, and parents and teachers can use some of the following to provide the needed spark:
  • Help them record the story. Many children find it easier to "tell" a story than to write it down. Once they finish, they can play the recording back and serve as their own scribe, or have a parent or teacher help them, writing down what they had said aloud. 
  • Provide word banks. These can be found online or you can create them for a specific purpose. Having words in front of them that relate to the topic they are writing about may be all a child needs to begin to write. They can help create this word list, and then use all of the words in sentences. For example, a paragraph about spiders might include the key words “spider,” “legs,” “eyes,” “poison,” “bite,” “insects,” “web,” etc. 
  • Have the child start with a free-write. This can mean jotting down ideas, making lists, or putting words to paper in any form that feels comfortable. No structure, no grammar issues, and no rules apply. Once this free write is completed, it can help the child to jump start a more organized written product. 
  • Teachers can offer students alternative ways to tell stories. StoryboardThat enables students to create a storyboard, much like a screenwriter will use to create a film plot. Tools like Comic Creator can help children tell their story in a comic book format. Other "out of the box" ways to get children started with writing include having them write a skit or play, and perhaps acting it out, or to have them "report" a fictional event in a newspaper format. Storybird uses over 1,000 professionally created pictures to inspire writers of all ages - and children can read the stories of other children too (all carefully moderated).
Writing leads to more writing, so getting things started should be the goal. While proper spelling, grammar, and other aspects of good writing are important, they can be part of the editing process, once children come up with their ideas and the basic story. 

Monday, December 9, 2019

IEPs and 504 Plans

As we have noted a number of times, questions from families seem to come in groups. Most recently, we have received several inquiries from the families we serve about Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) versus 504 Plans (whose name derives from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of l973). What most often triggers these questions is the misguided approach of some schools that these two kinds of services and supports are interchangeable in all instances and that, in effect, a 504 Plan is an "IEP lite."

Only by understanding the origins and purposes of these two laws will schools and families be able to best apply each of them in the appropriate circumstances. Let's break these differences and similarities down to compare and contrast.

The IDEA is an educational funding law. It requires that each state that receives federal funds (and that is ALL of them)  provide a free, appropriate public education (universally referred to as FAPE) to all K-12 students who meet the definition of disability in one of 13 areas. Among the most common areas  are Specific Learning Disability, Speech and Language Impairment and Other Health Impaired (a bit of a catch-all, which often includes ADHD). The IDEA applies to all students who have been determined to have one of these disabilities, whether they attend a public or private school, although the funds available to students in private schools come from a different funding stream and can sometimes be more limited than those available to public school students.

Section 504 is a civil rights law. It is often described as a law that seeks to "level the playing field" by providing students with disabilities the same access and opportunities as students who do not have disabilities. It only applies to schools and school systems that receive federal funding, so it does not apply to most private schools (unless they have some sort of federal funding, such as for a lunch or enrichment program). Its definition of what constitutes a disability is far broader than the IDEA, and is defined generally as  a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. There is no limiting definition of what kind of impairment "substantially limits a major life activity," but Section 504 notes that this definition includes (but is not limited to): learning, concentrating, thinking, reading, hearing, communicating, seeing, and working. So, students who have a defined disability under the IDEA will also fit the definition of a disability under Section 504.

Why, then, do we say that these are not interchangeable? A good explanation of the differences between these two laws can be found in a document from the U.S. Department of Education:

First of all, the IDEA provides very specific procedures for how it is to be applied. Details of evaluations, meetings to develop the IEP, and remedies if there are problems with any aspect of the IEP procedure are set out in the IDEA and its regulations with great precision. There can be some differences from state to state in how these work in practice, but every state must provide at least what is set forth in the IDEA. One of many aspects of the IDEA is that parents are a required part of the team that creates the IEP.

In addition, the IDEA provides a rich array of services, including special education and related services. Special education is defined under the IDEA as specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability and related services (things like speech, occupational, and physical therapy) are defined as supportive services that are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education.

Under Section 504, school districts are required to develop and implement a system of procedural safeguards to address FAPE concerns specifically, such as the identification, evaluation, and educational placement of students with disabilities. Procedural safeguards include notice; an opportunity for records review by parents or guardians; an impartial due process hearing, with an opportunity for participation by the student’s parents or guardian and representation by counsel; and a review procedure. 

Section 504 does not include parents as part of the team that initially creates the 504 Plan, only after the fact if a hearing is required because of a disagreement. And, while some states follow the procedures in the IDEA and use these as the required system of due process safeguards that Section 504 requires, not all states or districts do this. 

We believe that as implemented by most schools, an IEP affords more support for students and input for parents than a 504 Plan. By setting goals and methods for determining if these educational goals are being met, an IEP focuses not simply on access, but more broadly on educational methodology and improved performance. 

School districts must supply data to their state and states, in turn, must account to the federal government for the number of students who receive IEPs. This is related to the IDEA's status as a funding law and is designed to make sure that districts aren't classifying too many students or too many students of a particular background, as requiring IEPs. There is thus some pressure on some districts to limit the number of students with IEPs. Such data is not required in the same way for 504 Plans, so some districts may be more comfortable offering a 504 Plan in lieu of an IEP. 

When appropriate, such as for a student with a medical condition, or with ADHD and without any concurrent learning difficulties, or for a student who only needs accommodations, such as extended time on exams, Section 504 can be an important and effective law. But for students whose issues are more complex and include substantial learning challenges requiring special educational services and supports, we urge parents to seek an IEP as the best way to obtain what will best serve their child.  

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Thanksgiving Thoughts

In the more than ten years we have been writing this blog, we have written a post before each Thanksgiving, sharing information, expressing gratitude, or both.

Last year we wrote about Thanksgiving books for children, and it's not too late to pop into your local bookstore (if you still have one!) to pick one of these up for the children you will be seeing. An older post, from 2011, also contains book ideas relating to the holiday. We also shared a link to the site from Scholastic that parents can use to help discuss the origins and meaning of the holiday with their school-age children.

Countering all these classic versions of the holiday, is a piece from The New York Times a couple of years ago, "fact checking" many of the aspects of the traditional story of Thanksgiving.

But whether or not your perspective on Thanksgiving is historically accurate, taking a day for gratitude is something we all can do. The things that make each of us grateful may vary, but here are some of the things we are grateful for, especially this year.

First, we're grateful for babies, both in our own family and in our Yellin Center family. Your blogger can attest that while parenthood has its blessings, there is nothing to compare with being a grandparent. And Dr. Yellin would agree.

We are also grateful for our larger family, especially for Aunt Karen, who has hosted our extended clan for an all-day celebration for as long as we can remember, opening her home (and view of the Macy's parade) not just to family and friends, but to friends of friends who come just for the parade. Here's to calm winds and high flying balloons tomorrow!

We're grateful for all our family members who put love over politics, and who manage to stay in the same room with one another even though we do not all share the same viewpoints. And, despite not discussing politics, we never run out of things to talk about. 

We're incredibly grateful for our Yellin Center staff, clinical and administrative. They all make the experience of the families and students who come to The Yellin Center welcoming and professional and our work would not be possible without their skill, dedication, and good nature. Thank you!

We are grateful for the many schools and organizations who seek guidance, training, and information from us and who invite Dr. Yellin to give talks and professional development programs. He always finds these enormously gratifying. 

Finally, we are grateful for the families and students who come to The Yellin Center, who share their struggles and allow us to work with them. We are grateful for your trust and hope that our work has made your lives and the lives of your children better. 

Happy Thanksgiving!