Effective Strategies for Teaching High-Frequency Words

In general, high-frequency words are considered to be the most frequently occurring words in text. Students need to be able to recognize these words instantly in order to read fluently!

High-Frequency Word Facts

  • Only 100 words account for approximately 50% of the words in print. These words include the, of, to, was, for and if.
  • The most frequent 300 words make up 65% of all printed text.
  • Students should know the first 300 words by the 3rd grade.

Phonetic vs. Non-Phonetic “Discovery” Words

Many of the most frequent words are completely phonetic, allowing for students to decode the meaning efficiently and with ease. For example, that, with, and not are all phonetic words and can be decoded.

Other high-frequency words cannot be decoded or sounded-out. For example, of, was, and some are non-phonetic words requiring memorization. We call these words “Discovery Words”  since we must “keep digging” to discover which part of the word is not saying what we expect.

Some words must temporarily be treated as non-phonetic words requiring memorization until classroom instruction covers the rules they follow. For example, the word have follows the rule that English words should not end in ‘v’; therefore an ‘e’ is added. Most students will have to memorize have before that rule is introduced.

Most high-frequency word lists do not distinguish between phonetic and non-phonetic words. Students are required to memorize hundreds of high frequency words — even those that follow standard, decodable patterns. This can be overwhelming for any student, but it can be particularly daunting for a struggling reader or a student with dyslexia.

At Syllables and Kendore, we simplify things by dividing high-frequency words into two categories: phonetic and non-phonetic. This dramatically lessens required memorization because students who have learned phonics rules can decode phonetic words efficiently and with ease.

For non-phonetic “Discovery Words,” the color red is associated with memorization so that words can be easily discernable at the time of instruction. Students will come to know that they must memorize words that are written in red. Commonly confused words like ‘saw’ and ‘was’ are not as confusing when students see the phonetic pattern in ‘saw’ and learn ‘was’ as a “Discovery Word.”

Why We Teach Sounds Before Letters

“Letter of the Week” is NOT Good Practice

It’s very common practice in preschool and kindergarten classrooms to introduce the “letter of the week.” While this method of teaching is based on good intentions, it presents problems when children are learning to sound out words (decode) and write (encode). Learning letters limits children because some important sounds in the English language are not represented by single letters (for example, /ch/, /sh/, /ow/ and /au/).  Also, alternate spellings get confusing when one sound is pegged to one letter.

Why We Teach One Sound at a Time

There are only 44 sounds in our language and the rapid automatic retrieval of those sounds is the foundation of reading. Regardless of age, in order for a student to be a fast and accurate reader, the sounds must be mastered. If a student is not able to retrieve the sounds efficiently, their accuracy and comprehension will suffer. EVERYTHING else in reading is secondary to this crucial first skill.  Once a student shows mastery, he or she will move ahead to increasingly more complex concepts.

Watch Kendore Learning Executive Director Jennifer Hasser explain in greater detail.

Behind the Scenes at Syllables

Jennifer conducts a training class for Syllables Learning Center Therapists.

You probably have a good idea what goes on during your child’s time at Syllables. No doubt you’ve heard about the games we play, our trip through the Vowel Valley, and how cool it is to write in shaving cream. But do you know what goes on when your child is not at Syllables? We are guessing it’s more than you realize! Between your child’s sessions, we think about them, prepare for them, and monitor their progress. Our therapists are also continually deepening their knowledge and skills through collaboration and training.

Ms. Emma and Ms. Kathleen learn new ways to work with students.

By design, most of our students see more than one therapist. This is because experience has shown us that two heads are better than one! Behind the scenes, your child’s therapists compare notes — sharing strategies and brainstorming the best ways to work with your unique child. Our leadership team is involved in this process too. This collaboration leads to insights that result in more efficient and effective tutoring sessions.

Ms. Jennifer and Ms. Eileen review a student’s progress.

Our program is diagnostic in nature. For instance, your child may think that they are simply trying to “beat the clock” with a fluency drill without realizing that we are actually tracking their progress and assessing their mastery of concepts. Though we are not able to formally re-screen students as frequently as parents would like (because too much familiarity with the screening invalidates the results), our ongoing in-session assessments are monitored by our leadership team and form the basis of the progress reports we send home each month. If we see that a child is not making the progress we expect, we put our heads together and pull new strategies from our extensive toolbox.

Ms. Kathleen and Ms. Britanie review student progress and brainstorm the most effective ways to help students succeed.

All Syllables therapists complete rigorous and ongoing training and observations. This professional development is led by our Founder and Executive Director, Jennifer Hasser, an internationally recognized expert in dyslexia who has trained thousands of teachers worldwide and is sought after as a speaker at reading and dyslexia conferences. Jennifer and her team at Syllables keep up with the latest research and teaching methods and pass this information along to our therapists. Our training program is accredited by the International Dyslexia Association and the Multisensory Structured Language Education Counsel, who set a very high standard for our teacher training.

We appreciate your trust in us and we are honored to be on your child’s team. If you have any questions about our program or your child’s progress, please don’t hesitate to give us a call.

Putting Things in Perspective: Timeline for Intervention

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.

Dyslexia Legislation Passes in Georgia

Karen Huppertz serves as the Director of Training for Kendore Learning, the teacher training division of Syllables Learning Center. She is currently the President of the International Dyslexia Association, Georgia Branch, where she helps coordinate IDAGA's advocacy efforts.

Karen Huppertz serves as the Director of Training for Kendore Learning, the teacher training division of Syllables Learning Center. She is currently the President of the International Dyslexia Association, Georgia Branch, where she helps coordinate IDAGA’s advocacy efforts.

By now you may have heard that Senate Bill 48 has passed a final vote in the Georgia legislature. Governor Kemp is expected to sign the bill into law this month. While this is a great step in the right direction, don’t anticipate rapid change. SB48 states that local school systems will not be required to screen all kindergarten students for dyslexia until the beginning of the 2024-2025 school year.

What SB48 Will Do

In a nutshell, the new law will establish a standard definition of dyslexia, set forth a timeline for mandated dyslexia screening, and begin the process of educating teachers about dyslexia. It does not address intervention beyond that currently used in schools, and does not mandate particular reading curricula.

Definitions – SB48 will provide a legal definition of dyslexia based on the International Dyslexia Association’s definition and specifically acknowledges the importance of phonemic awareness (the ability to recognize that words are made up of a sequence of sounds and be able to manipulate them for reading, writing and speaking).

The bill further states that a ‘qualified dyslexia screening tool’ will need to measure phonological awareness skills, phonemic decoding efficiency, sight word reading skills, rapid automatic naming skills, and accuracy of word-reading of grade-level text. These are important steps toward educating teachers in Georgia and are exactly what we do when screening students here at Syllables.

Policies – Based on these steps, the new law will require the State Board of Education to develop policies for referring students in kindergarten through third grade for dyslexia screening “who have been identified through the RTI process” no later than July 1, 2020. These new policies will also include a list of approved dyslexia screening tools for schools, a process for letting parents know the results of the screening and a process for monitoring student progress after screening.

Teacher Training – SB48 also requires the Department of Education to collaborate with the Professional Standards Committee to improve and update professional development opportunities for teachers specifically relating to dyslexia. By Dec. 30, 2019, the Professional Standards Commission will create a ‘Dyslexia Endorsement for Teachers’ trained in dyslexia awareness and how to use a dyslexia screening tool. This is a step in the right direction but does not mean teachers will be trained in remediation for dyslexic students.

Kindergarteners in Georgia will be screened for dyslexia under SB48.Pilot Program – The new law requires the State School Superintendent to establish a 3-year pilot program to “demonstrate and evaluate the effectiveness of early reading assistance programs for students with risks factors for dyslexia” beginning with the 2020-2021 school year.

Dyslexia Screening in all Schools – Beginning with the 2024-2025 school year, local school systems will be required to screen all kindergarten students for dyslexia. At the same time, students in grades one through three will be screened if they have been identified through the RTI process.

At the College Level – Finally, SB48 requires (but without a deadline) the Professional Standards Commission to include dyslexia awareness information in teacher preparation programs for elementary and secondary education instruction. New teachers coming out of colleges and universities will enter the classroom knowing the definition of dyslexia, how to spot the signs and screen students, and what kinds of instruction will help. This does not require teachers be trained in good instruction.

Many parents will say this is not enough, and not soon enough. While we agree, we have watched other states attempt aggressive legislation just to see it fail. Dyslexia advocates like those at the International Dyslexia Association Georgia and Decoding Dyslexia Georgia will continue to work toward strengthening dyslexia legislation in Georgia.

At Syllables Learning Center, our greatest hope is that one day all teachers will be trained to identify students with dyslexia in kindergarten. Our teacher training division,  Kendore Learning, dreams of a day when all teachers are equipped with the training they need to help struggling readers in the classroom. This new law is an exciting step in the right direction. We are carefully following this legislation and will keep you updated.

Read the final draft of SB48 and don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions.

Learn about the signs and symptoms of dyslexia.

Make the Most of Winter Break

Winter Break, when your child is not overwhelmed with school and extra-curricular commitments, is an excellent time to get ahead. Relaxed and rested children are more receptive to learning!

winter break tutoring at SyllablesThough we will suspend our regular schedule from Saturday, December 22nd through Tuesday, January 1st, we will still see students by appointment.

Current Syllables Students

Fit in a few sessions to get ahead and speed up progress. Multiple-hour sessions are available.

Syllables “Alumni”

Brush up on skills by scheduling a few refresher sessions. Don’t forget that we offer free assessments for our former students. Schedule your assessment now so that we can develop a plan for Winter Break.

High School and College Students

We work with older students on study skills and test taking strategies. Winter Break is an excellent time to focus on these critical skills. It’s also an excellent time for high schoolers to tuck in some SAT/ACT test prep.

Call us at 770-752-1724 for more information or to schedule.

The Importance of Nonsense Words

Let’s talk nonsense!

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.

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Choosing the Right Reading Material for Your Child

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!

The Five Finger Test makes Choosing the Right Reading Material a Snap!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

Reading Aloud helps expand vocabularyIf 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.

 

Correct Sound Pronunciation

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.

Teaching Kids the “Why”

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!