My youngest is learning to read. She is in a stage that Montessori teachers call the sensitive period which involves concentration, a need for accomplishment, and tear-filled breakdowns – sometimes by both of us. When my oldest was learning to read, we ran through our nightly sight-word drills exactly as the syllabus outlined. It was the exact same routine every night, and now my oldest is an excellent independent reader at 7 years old. However, I have three more years of instructional design experience since teaching my oldest to read, and I realized there is something missing in the way I ran site word drills the first time.
For those of you unfamiliar, sight-words are a list of age and skill-appropriate words that are listed individually on flashcards. Like any other flashcard, you show them to the learner and they respond with the correct answer, in this case, they read the word. You run through the words each night with your kid and the teacher sends more words home the next week. Those words are then added to the list of flashcards, and by the end of the school year, your child can read hundreds of words. This works great, and because I am who I am, I felt compelled to mess with it.
Flashcard drills are great, and I don’t think they have to look identical every time you do them. I decided to change the way sight-word drills run every night based on the outcomes we are trying to accomplish with these words. I don’t just want my daughter to pass a test at the end of the week; I want her to read words accurately when reading a book, to comprehend what she is reading, to use her sight-words in a sentence, and unlike her mom, it would be great if she could spell words correctly without spell check. Using these outcomes, I restructured the sight-word drills a bit.
Outcome-based flashcard structure
Night one – Repeat After Me. This is her first night with the new words. I read them to her, she repeats them.
Night two –Flashcards. As each word is shown to her, she reads the word. Anything incorrect goes into the repeat pile and we repeat until there are no errors.
Night three – Find the Word. With all of the words spread out on the floor, I say a word and she must find the correct one. Anything incorrect goes back in and we repeat until there are no errors.
Night four – Match game. Every one of the sight-words are written on a sheet of paper and the flashcards are spread out on the floor, face down. As she flips each word over, she must match them to the ones written on the paper.
Night five – Sentences. Similar to night two, each word is shown to her. This time, however, she is expected to use it in a sentence.
With this approach, we are still practicing sight words nightly, but we are using varied ways to interact with the materials and focused on our outcomes. We are still using spaced repetition, but we vary the approach. As you build your training, are you running drills over and over the same way? Think about how you can mix those up similar to what I outlined above. Better yet, let’s talk about it in the comments below!