If you’ve been teaching in a balanced literacy approach for a while, then the idea of switching to Science of Reading strategies may be overwhelming….enough so to stop you from even trying! Don’t feel like you need to do a complete overhaul of everything you’ve been doing in order to make some change! Yes, it feels overwhelming to think about changing your practices, but taking tiny steps at a time makes it feel attainable and productive.
Be open-minded to the science of reading: This is true for everyone, but especially if you’ve only ever worked in a balanced literacy approach. I get it; it’s hard to hear that the way you’ve been teaching isn’t the “right way” anymore. I’m not suggesting you walk into your classroom in August and throw away everything you ever have used. Just take the time to listen to experts and read some of the articles out there. You can start with my simple “Unpacking the Science of Reading” post. Being open to learning new things helps the overall goal: helping our students succeed.
Replace the 3 cueing system with decoding strategies: I’m sure every teacher in the world has at some point, used one of the three “strategies” from the 3 cueing system. If you’re unfamiliar: 1) meaning drawn from context or pictures, 2) syntax, and 3) visual information, meaning letters or parts of words. When a student comes to an unfamiliar word, the prompting questions typically sound like this: “Look at the first letter. Can you guess which word it is? Look at the pictures if you still don’t know. What word makes sense in the sentence?”
Hearing those questions now, it all sounds so ridiculous. We’re not even giving students a chance to look past the first letter to decode the rest of the word. We immediately let them “give up” and just guess a word by looking at context or pictures.
Rather than engage in the three cueing system, teach them different decoding strategies they can try: break between two consonants in the middle, break off the endings, keep digraphs together, break before consonant -le, working methodically from beginning to end.
Use the “heart method” when teaching irregular words (sight words): Teaching students to memorize the “irregular” part of a sight word will be more impactful rather than trying to memorize the whole word. Take the time to teach which parts make the correct sound, which parts don’t follow the typical rule. Draw a heart above the irregular sound to help identify that they need to memorize that part.
Turn your word wall into a sound wall: I loved my word wall when I was in the classroom; I remember stapling all 26 letters to my board in a beautiful rainbow order and feeling so excited at the idea of having it all filled up by May. I used it practice all the sight words and content words. Did it always work? No. But I still did it. Looking back, I now know we can just expect our youngest learners to memorize over 200 sight words with nothing to anchor the learning. By making the switch to a sound wall, students are now able to hear the different phonemes and graphemes.
So what is a sound wall?? A sound wall is a place to display the different sounds heard in speech. There are two parts of a sound wall that can be displayed: consonant sounds and vowel sounds. In a sound wall, the focus is on the SOUND and not the letters. There are significantly more phonemes (44-ish) than there are graphemes (26), and it is important for students to learn the phonemes first in order to then develop an understanding of phoneme-grapheme correspondence.