We are frequently asked why we use nonsense words with students. Parents and teachers worry that nonsense words will confuse their children and will interfere with learning new words. While we wholeheartedly agree that students need to work with real words, we also know that nonsense words play an important role in effectively teaching students how to read and spell.
Many young children have excellent memories and are able to memorize one syllable words without understanding how the words’ sounds connect with their letters. When these students eventually are introduced to multisyllabic words that do not contain memorized words, the child is lost.
If a student has been given a strong foundation in the alphabetic principle (connecting sounds with letters) through real and nonsense words, more advanced words won’t deter them in the future. For example, if we ask a student to sound out the nonsense word “lat,” we are reinforcing the sounds /l/, /a/, and /t/. Students who have learned to decode (read) and encode (spell) using letter sounds will not be deterred if the words they encounter are unfamiliar or as they increase in difficulty. They will not have to resort to memorization of large words because they will possess the tools they need to decode. Later, as the child is exposed to more advanced words, they will see words like “latitude” and “bilateral.” They will learn that roots like “lat” are not necessarily nonsense after all — “lat” is a Latin root that means “side.”
Working with nonsense words will not confuse a child in terms of vocabulary because if a word is not assigned a meaning, the child will not use it. For instance, the student who decoded the word “lat,” in school will not come home and say, “Mom, can we have lat for dinner?” or “I really would like a new pet lat.” Since the word has no meaning, it will not interfere with the child’s growing vocabulary. On the other hand, it will help with their reading and spelling for years to come.
Choosing the right reading material for your child can be tricky. Most experts agree that a child is reading at the appropriate level when they can decode 95% of the words on the page. Any less than that and comprehension, fluency, and confidence suffer. If you find that your child is not able to read accurately and fluently, the book they are reading is probably too difficult.
So what do you do if you are at the library or bookstore and you need to quickly assess whether the book your child picks up is one that they can handle? Have them take the Five Finger Test!
Five Finger Test
Tell your child to open their hand and extend their fingers.
Open the book to a random page and have your child start reading.
Each time they miss a word, have them fold down one finger.
If all five fingers are down by the time they reach the end of the page, the book is too challenging.
In general, the most appropriate books will leave your child with two to three fingers remaining at the end of the page. If they can easily read all of the words on the page, the book may be too easy.
Ask yourself the following additional questions as your child is reading:
Do they understand what they are reading?
When they read aloud, do they read smoothly?
Does the topic interest them? (Remember, the goal is not only to teach your child to read, but to teach them to LOVE to read!).
Support Your Child if They Want to Read a Book That’s Too Difficult
If your child picks up a book that’s too difficult for them, don’t despair. Read the book aloud to them or let them listen to the book in audio format. Contrary to popular belief, having a child listen to a book is not “cheating!”
When a child hears a new word read aloud their vocabulary expands and they are better equipped to decode that word when they eventually encounter it in writing (because it’s a lot easier to decode a word you’ve heard before than one you’ve never encountered). Introducing new words auditorily will significantly improve your child’s reading, and is particularly important in keeping struggling readers from falling further behind their peers. Audio “reading” also enables struggling readers to stay current with the books their peers are reading and discussing.
Don’t stop reading aloud to your child when they are able to begin decoding for themselves. You can read aloud with your child well into their middle school years.
Making the Most of Reading Time
One last tip — if your child is reading material that is challenging for them, rethink the bedtime routine! Many parents save nightly reading time for bedtime, when the child is tired. This is often the worst time to read independently. Encourage your child to read earlier in the day when they are fresh, or reserve nighttime reading to a book you read to them.
Phonics is the pairing of a language sound with a symbol (letter). When teaching phonics (i.e., the letter ‘b’ says /b/) it is very important that students are taught the correct pronunciation of the most frequent sound of that letter. That is why the Kendore/Syllables curriculum emphasizes correct sound pronunciation before moving on to more advanced reading concepts.
We cannot stress this enough: it is crucial that teachers and parents form sounds correctly! However, many of us make the common mistake of saying “muh” for /m/ and “buh” for /b/, etc. This is because of the way many of us were taught years ago — old habits are hard to break!
After viewing the Correct Sound Production video, listen to yourself make the sounds to ensure that you are saying them properly. This will pay off when you start blending sounds to make words.
Oh, the back-to-school craziness! The lazy days of summer have come to an abrupt end and our homes and minds swirl with more logistics than we can possibly manage. The worry we felt in May has faded, so when it comes to jumping into fall tutoring, it’s easy to pause and say, “we’ll just wait and see how things go.”
If you have a child who struggles, it’s important to make choices with a long term perspective. Remediating a learning issue gives children the skills and tools they need for a lifetime. If that voice inside your head is telling you there is a problem, don’t wait…listen!
In this quick video, Jennifer Hasser puts learning struggles in perspective to help you as you make choices for your child.
Summer provides an excellent opportunity to work with your kids to boost their skills and prevent the dreaded (and very real) summer slide. But mention summer learning, and most parents envision grumbling kids and workbooks at the kitchen table — enough to make them call it quits before even beginning.
We know that learning is most effective when it is enjoyable, when it engages the senses (i.e. when it’s multisensory) and when it involves new and unique experiences. So get your kids moving this summer and promote learning while they are having fun outside. They’ll never even realize they are doing their “summer work!”
Four Multisensory Outdoor Activities to Promote Summer Learning
Note: we have geared these activities toward reading/writing and phonemic awareness, but you can easily adapt them to other concepts you are reinforcing.
Heading to the beach or playground? Have your child practice sounds or sight words in sand. Writing in different textures makes writing a multisensory activity and helps kids retain what they learn. Plus, it’s fun!
Beach Ball Toss
With a permanent marker, write sounds, words, or nonsense words on a beach ball. Toss the ball to your child and have them read the words closest to their thumbs. For advanced students, cover the ball with blends, vowel teams, roots, examples of syllable types, etc. For a beach ball that doesn’t become obsolete once your child masters the concepts you are practicing, check out the Toss & Teach Beach Ball, which features reusable pockets ideal for flash cards or cards from our card decks.
Send your kids on a scavenger hunt in search of the sounds they are learning (or for objects that have the sounds in the middle or end of their names). If your kids are old enough to use a camera or phone, have them photograph what they find and review their photos and sounds with you. You can make this more challenging for advanced kids by asking them to find objects with a certain number of syllables or with certain syllable types in their names.
Paint the House (Yikes!)
Give the kids a bucket of water and paint brushes. Have them write sounds, words, or even a whole story on the house, driveway, deck, etc. Watch as the writing evaporates and fades away.
As teachers and parents, we hear “why” all day, every day! It can get frustrating, but it’s crucial that you answer the “why” when you teach reading. Why? Because teaching kids the reason behind the rule helps them to memorize less and internalize more. If you don’t know “why,” explore with your students and figure it out.
Watch this compelling video to hear Jennifer Hasser discuss WHY it’s important to teach kids the WHY!
We have fantastic news! Our training program and curriculum have been officially accredited by the International Multisensory Structured Language Education Council (IMSLEC) and the International Dyslexia Association (IDA). With these important seals of approval, Kendore Learning and Syllables Learning Center join the elite ranks of programs across the country recognized to help students overcome dyslexia and related issues.
The IMSLEC and IDA Accreditation Process
The IMSLEC Accreditation team hard at work on site at Syllables/Kendore.
During the accreditation process, IMSLEC and IDA conducted an in-depth review of Kendore Learning’s Orton-Gillingham based structured language curriculum, which is used one-on-one at Syllables Learning Center and in classrooms across the nation through our Kendore teacher training program. In addition to scrutinizing all curriculum content for completeness and efficacy, the governing bodies examined our staff credentials, facilities, and operational procedures.
The two-year accreditation process was capped off by an onsite visit by members of the IMSLEC team, who spent several days with us to observe how we work with students and train teachers. Since the review team consisted of professionals who work for other IMSLEC/IDA certified programs, it provided us with an excellent opportunity to exchange information, receive validation about the quality of our program, and to form lasting relationships with like-minded colleagues from other well-respected programs.
What IMSLEC and IDA Accreditation Means for our Students and Teachers
We enjoyed working with the IMSLEC team and were so impressed by their knowledge and dedication.
Parents who send their children to Syllables Learning Center can rest assured that their child is receiving the highest level of reading therapy available. Teachers who are training by Kendore Learning know that our training and curriculum meet well-defined educational standards. Our curriculum, staff, and facilities have been rigorously examined throughout the two-year IMSLEC and IDA Accreditation process and we are thrilled that we have passed with flying colors and high accolades!
All too often, we hear people say that the English language doesn’t make sense and that spelling and word meaning “just have to be memorized.” This couldn’t be further from the truth! Our language does make sense…if you know the rules.
Let’s stop telling our students that our language is illogical, and let’s teach them the tools they need to easily break the code to read and spell thousands of words.
If a child has heard a word and understands its meaning, they are more likely to be able to read that word when they encounter it in text. That’s why it’s important to develop oral language by reading and talking to your child. Watch this quick video for more information.
Workshop: Retention Prevention
Thursday, January 25th
7:00 – 8:30 pm
Syllables Learning Center
12755 Century Drive, Suite C
Alpharetta, GA 30009 Register
Standardized testing season is about to begin. With the Georgia Milestones right around the corner, schools are already evaluating student progress and creating a short list of students at risk of being retained. If you are concerned about your child’s progress, now is the time to determine where your child stands and develop a plan. Waiting until standardized test results come in will not give you the time you need to reverse your child’s trajectory.
Communicate with your child’s teachers now about your concerns. Make conversations productive by being as specific as possible. Telling a teacher, “My child can’t seem to answer basic questions about what she’s just read,” or asking “Should it take her 45 minutes to complete her math homework?” will start a more productive dialog than simply asking, “How is my child doing?” Keep a notebook with a running list of questions and concerns that arise when your child is doing their homework or when papers come home from school. A positive, collaborative line of communication between you and your child’s teacher will help prevent any surprises from cropping up at the end of the school year.
If you would like more strategies to help your student, please join Syllables Executive Director Jennifer Hasser on the evening of January 25th for Retention Prevention: What You Need to Know Before Standardized Testing. The workshop is free, but please register.
To learn more about the impacts of retention, watch the short video below: