Long ago our school received training from "From L-to-J" and we began using it with sight words. We weren't totally convinced about the approach. It wasn't until last year when I moved down to first grade from second grade, that I began to explore how I could use what I learned to help get my kids reading and ready for second grade. I knew sight words would be the key.
So I set out my plan. I was going to get my kids to learn how to write the first 100 Fry's words in first grade. I planned on doing this with parent support at home. I sent out a letter and let parents know that we would be focussing on learning how to write our sight words and that would help their child become better readers and writers! Parents were extremely accepting and excited about this idea! Instead of doing traditional spelling tests, I would select 10 words at random from the 100 sight words. The words are written on popsicle sticks and I select the words during the actual test. The kids get really excited when a word they know comes up.
At first it was kind of scary. Almost the entire class failed the tests. We had lots of talks about how this is going to be difficult but that at the end of the year they would learn all their sight words.
I will admit that around November last year, I was really nervous and worried that I had made a mistake. But I decided to stick with it till the December and then re-evaluate. Well, around December most of my class was scoring 60% and above on their tests. This was huge! That meant that on average my class knew how to spell at least 60% of those 100 sight words. My kids were seeing their sight words everywhere! They kept pointing them out in all the books they were reading. Parents noticed a huge difference in their child's reading at home! What I was most thrilled about was the writing aspect. My first graders were happily writing during writers workshop. Their ideas flowed without problems because they weren't stuck on those sight words. By the end of the year most of the class scored 80-100% on these tests. Many scoring 100% repeatedly!
I posted about this on Instagram and got so many questions about these tests. I wanted to share some of them here with you:
1. Does my school support this?
It was an idea pushed by our admin a few years back :-) We have new admin now, and I ran the results of this by my principal and she loved the idea.
2. Do I have to follow a reading program?
Yes, we follow the Journeys program. This sight word spelling doesn't affect our phonics instruction in any way.
3. Do I teach phonetic spelling?
Yes, I do two rounds of phonetic instruction that includes spelling every day. Once during interventions using a program called SIPPS and again during my reading core time. I also like to focus many lessons on invented/phonetic spelling in our writer's workshop time.
4. Did all your students do well with this?
A few children needed modifications. I would test them on the first 25 words for a quarter instead of all 100 words. I then gradually expanded the list so it wasn't so overwhelming. I found a different time to test those children.
5. How do children practice when they don't know which words will be on the test?
This is a huge aspect with the L-to-J theory. The thought behind this is that when children have a list to study (let's say all ea, ee words) they just memorize those words for that week and most of the children forget them the week after when you move onto the next spelling pattern. The trainer referred to this as "Permission to forget" so when the children don't know what words are going to be on the test, they have to practice all the words.
I suggest to parents that their child practice between 5-10 words per day. Practicing all 100 words every day would probably be overwhelming for any child. I suggest different ways to practice that might be more fun than just flashcards. I also correct the words on each test so that the children can use those words to practice. Since they know that those words can be pulled again on any upcoming test, they actually practice them. I send this letter to parents at the beginning of the year, I also mention it during meet the teacher and parent conferences.
6. Where is the list kept?
I put them in a page protector inside every child's homework folder so that they can't be lost. Last year I handed them out and they got lost within the first week. I ended up taping them onto the back of their folders. This year, I made sure to purchase folders with prongs. Much easier! The kids have access to them during writing time and have them at home every day.
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