Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Speed it Up

            Blaise Pascal once said, “Reason is the slow and torturous method by which those who do not know the truth discover it.  “Slow and torturous” are pretty good descriptions if you have ever sat and listened to an early reader practice reading a book.  You wonder if the torture will EVER end!  So the question is, how can you help a slow reader to speed it up?
            The speed which at which a reader reads is called fluency, and it is measured in words per minute.  Slow reading, however, is worse for the child than it is for the instructor, because this difficult, arduous task ends up as meaningless, which is disheartening.  If it takes ten minutes to read one paragraph, you will also probably not remember what the paragraph is even about.  The slow reader knows how slow he is, but he does not know how to fix the problem.  There are two aspects of reading which need instruction to improve fluency.
            The first step is to improve how quickly a child sees high-frequency words.  There is a list of high-frequency words which is highly used and which has been divided into grade levels.  This list is called “Dolch Words.”  You can easily use any search engine on the internet to find these words.  No matter what grade your child is in, you should begin with the pre-primer words and work your way up the list.  Children should be able to read these words very quickly, yet most slow readers generally sound these words out. 
            To speed up these common words, they need to pick twenty (I go in order, but you do not have to).  In the “old days,” teachers would write the words on flash cards and have the students read the card and flip it quickly.  I like to use PowerPoint.  I type one word per slide (using 106 font).  Duplicate each slide before you put in the individual words so that the words are in the same place on each slide – you are not trying to trick your child, just teach him.  Then set the “slide transition” so that it changes once every second (don’t try to be fancy – that gets confusing.  The focus should be on the words).  I call this “fast.”  Practice this 1 – 3 times per day for about 3 days.  If a child is not able to read a word before it switches, NEVER interrupt the slide.  Just let it go until the end, then go back to that word (or all the words) that he had problems with and read it for him, letting him repeat it.  Then do it again until he is able to get all, or most, of the 20 words correct. 
            After 3 days on “fast,” move it to “super fast.”  This means changing the “slide transition” speed to 00:00.5 seconds.  I do it once on “fast” and twice on “super fast.”  This goes on for another couple of days.  If your child is younger than eight, I would NOT go on to super fast.  He is reading fast enough at the first speed.
            Do not introduce more than 20 words (one slide show) per week, and practice those a few times per day.  If you have more than one child, they should read it together (called “choral reading”).  I used to do it with an entire class of students – they loved it!  And, more importantly, the reading specialist every year told me, “I don’t know what you do with the kids in your class, but they always show so much more improvement than the other classes!”  That let me know that this “Flash Practice” was working.  After you finish all of the Dolch words, go on to spelling words, using the same methods.  I promise you that you will see results in your child’s overall reading very quickly.
            The second aspect of reading which affects fluency is vocabulary.  You should work on no more than ten words per week, but they should be words which your child will come into contact with in that week’s reading.  Some teachers have the child pick the words from a book he is reading.  Some teachers pick the words themselves from a text.  It really doesn’t matter where they come from as long as they are exposed to these words in context that week.  Then, you need to allow the child multiple opportunities to explore the meaning of these ten words.
            In the classroom, I used to make PowerPoint slides with these words.  I would type one word in the title, then put the definition from a children’s dictionary as the “body” of the slide.  I liked to have the words “wipe” on, but they don’t have to.  Be consistent with the method you use – the effects are not the focus, the words are.  I had the children read the words and their definitions aloud, then I clicked the next slide.  If I could find some clip art to help with the meaning, I used it in one corner of the slide – just don’t get too elaborate with this.  We read through these words once every day, then had a test at the end of the week.
            Besides the PowerPoint, I would also have the children make a vocabulary booklet using our words for the week.  I had them fold enough papers together and write one words at the top of each page.  Then over the next two or three days, I would have them fill in the pages with specific pieces of information.  Here is what I asked for with every week’s words:  “(1) write the word, (2) write the definition, (3) write a sentence using the word, (4) draw an illustration showing the meaning of the word, (5) write a caption for your illustration, (6) write a synonym of the word or give an example of the word in action, (7) on a scale from 1 – 4, how well do you understand this word?”  One means that they do not know the word at all, four means they know it really well.  This number should change as the week goes on and the child understands the word better.  The child should find this information – not just be “spoon-fed” by the teacher.
            Fluency of high-frequency words and increased vocabulary are key in improving your child’s reading speed.  If you improve your child’s speed in reading, you will also greatly improve his comprehension.  Most importantly, your child will begin to enjoy reading in a way he has never experienced.

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