Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Teaching Sight Vocabulary and Improving Reading Fluency

Part of fluency instruction is the ability to automatically identify words. The more words a person can automatically read, the more quickly he will be able to read a passage. Theorists suggest that there exists a limited amount of mental energy available for reading. It can be spent on figuring out words and/or figuring out meaning. Therefore it is important that students increase the number of words they can read effortlessly in order to free up mental energy for comprehension.

The NEPS Good Practice Guide: Teaching Sight Vocabulary and Improving Reading Fluency: A Precision Teaching Approach presents a method for teaching sight words that can be utilized by teachers, paraeducators, volunteers or parents. Key to this and any other precision teaching method is careful record keeping.

The steps of the process are:
  • Identify sight words that the student does not know. Dolch and Fry have created the two most popular lists of sight words. (Alternatively sight phrases could be used which may be found here, here or here.)
  • Select 4-6 words to teach. Write on cards and teach:
    • present a word, have student repeat the word, pointing to the 1st letter, and use the word in a sentence.
    • repeat for each word.
    • Once all words have been presented, lay out cards with words and ask student to point to a particular word. Repeat covering each word at least three times correctly.
    • Shuffle cards and ask student to read each card.
  • Chart progress (John Taylor's Freebies has a variety of resources related to precision teaching, including chart sheet):
    • Randomly collect 50 sight words that the student knows, including the words taught that day. Have student read the words. The goal is 50 words with 2 or fewer errors in one minute.
  • Periodically extend with games.
  • Ensure generalization by presenting a passage with the target words for the student to read.

This packet includes some nice charts and samples for reference. It could be shared with parents or volunteers in order for them to implement the program.

This teaching method is effective for any memorization task. I have used variations for content area vocabulary. One critical piece is sharing with the child the progress chart. Altogether, the process is relatively short. The generalization stage is often skipped. This is a major mistake.  Many students do not generalize well. Finding passages with the target words and recording progress with automatic recognition of those key words, requires extensive planning. The passages are best from content area materials that the student works with in his classes. I believe that prior exposure is not a reason to avoid a passage. If we practice with material the student is currently learning, it will be helpful twofold- one for generalization of sight words and two for reinforcing content area information.

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