Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Why and How I Teach Sight Words

The brain hears by seeing - something I learned this year. An excerpt from the article Brain Hears Just By Seeing, "The brain's auditory cortex reacts to and categorizes stimuli even when you only see the sound being produced and can't hear it." This probably explains how Bill, when he was a child, could watch a TV show on mute and still understand it. He could lip read.

So if the brain hears by seeing, then the brain can hear speech sounds when presented with a written word. Of course, this would probably be more possible after having the appropriate and correct input once or a few times before it is able to "hear" the word correctly. For example, if the only language I knew was English, then I wouldn't know that the "j" in Spanish was pronounced silently, like an "h". But given the input or knowledge of the Spanish alphabet and/ or language, my brain would be able to recognize "Juan" and enable me to pronounce it correctly with an "h" beginning sound instead of a "j" sound like in "jump". My brain wouldn't hear anything either when presented with Chinese characters because I don't know the first thing about them.

The interesting research on how the brain hears what it sees encourages me to continue teaching Matthew sight words. With a second set of ear tubes and regular ear checks with an otoscope, Matthew's ears have been fluid-free and his hearing has been good as far as I can tell. But hearing levels can fluctuate. Background noise can be distracting. Since Matthew can read, his preschool teacher can show him the words "stand up" if he is unresponsive to verbal instruction. As soon as he sees the words "stand up", he stands up.

Signing vs. Speaking
Signing would've worked too to get him to stand up. Matthew and I communicated via signing when he was 15 months to about 2-1/2 years old. It served as a useful and helpful bridge to fill in the communication gap when Matthew wasn't saying as many words yet. In our experience, sign language seemed to help ease communication frustration (most of the time, not all the time) and increase receptive language skills.

He still signs a few words these days like "more" but he always pairs it with a verbal "more". Generally, we've dropped sign language. As soon as he started articulating more sounds and saying a few words, I decided it was time to encourage spoken language more than sign language.

Increase Speech, Articulation, Vocabulary
Aside from the research on the brain hearing what it sees, there are other benefits to teaching reading at an early age. Articles like "Teaching reading skills to children with Down syndrome" talks about teaching reading to help with speech, vocabulary, and working memory.

The book "Teaching Reading to Children with Down Syndrome - A Guide For Parents and Teachers" by Patricia Logan Oelwin catapulted me into introducing a few words of high interest to Matthew like Daddy, milk, cat, apple, Matthew, Mommy, and ball, pairing the words with pictures to provide a visual cue. What worked best for us included using words that were of high interest to Matthew and words he heard often in daily conversation and routines. He was 2-1/2 years old.

As he learned to read more words, his speech (verbalization/vocalization) and vocabulary picked up by leaps and bounds. Our suspicions of verbal apraxia were dispelled.

Speech therapy at school and using the SmallTalk Phonemes app on my iPhone has corrected many speech errors and improved his articulation of individual letters in the alphabet and a few blends. He says "Mommy" very clearly now instead of just "b" or "bahbee". He was substituting the 'm' sound with a 'b'.

Today, he can read over 110 words by sight without any pictures. He can read many of the words on the dolch list.

Our Favorite Tools and Resources
- Mentioned earlier, the book "Teaching Reading to Children with Down Syndrome - A Guide For Parents and Teachers" by Patricia Logan Oelwin was helpful to me.

- For articulation, iPhone app SmallTalk Phonemes.

- Homemade flashcards. I started with laminated cards with the word on one side and the corresponding picture on the other. It was easy to do with nouns. When we started to move into words on the dolch list I just wrote words on plain 3x5 index cards. I flash 5 to 7 new words a week and review several old ones. We keep the flashcard activity fast and brief.

word bank

- Homemade alphabet, number, and word videos, a couple of which I shared on my blog. (Click on "videos-learning". The link is also found in "View Posts by Category" on the sidebar.)

- Preschool Prep Meet the Letters and Meet the Sight Words DVDs, books, and iPhone apps. Matthew loves Preschool Prep.

Factors That Help Sight Reading
We only have one set of eyes and good, clear vision helps tremendously in allowing us to take in information, process it, and learn.

Matthew was around 7 months old when we took him for his first eye exam with a pediatric opthamologist. A little far-sighted than one would expect, the doctor said, but nothing that would require eyeglasses. His clogged tear duct that had been making his one eye gunky and crusty every morning finally cleared up when he was 10 to 11 months old. So surgery was not required to probe the clogged duct. After another eye exam at 16 months and 28 months and no major concerns, the doctor said he didn't require another eye exam until he was 4 years old unless he developed a problem before then.

It is Matthew's good vision that is partially responsible for allowing him to learn sight words. Other factors are his strong visual style of learning, good visual memory, fluid-free ears and good hearing, improving articulation and speech, and of course, high interest in learning to read.

I think comprehension will develop with exposure, practice, and maturity. He understands the meanings of individual words but learning to understand a story or an idea is harder to grasp - for anyone who is trying to learn a language.

Comprehension may also develop by pairing written high interest phrases or sentences with the corresponding situation. Moving forward to 3 or more-word phrases from 2-word phrases, I currently use plain 3x5 index cards to visually prompt him with highly used sentences. "I want more please", "Let's go home", and "Time to eat" are a few examples. Today, he came to me with something on his mind and slowly but clearly said, "I want help please." Unprompted.

In the bathroom, a list is posted as a visual prompt for his toileting routine. He can read it. I use it to prompt his next step in case he gets sidetracked with singing or self-talk.
toileting routine

One of Many Paths to Literacy
Learning sight words is just a beginning step in learning to read. To quote the Preschool Prep DVD:

"Learning to read is a combination of many skills including letter recognition, decoding skills, phonics, phonemic awareness, and memorizing sight words. Knowing sight words alone does not mean that a child can read but it is an important step on the path to literacy."


Leigh said...

I am so proud of Matthew... I want help please. You must have been over the moon.

Rochelle said...

WOWIE, that is awesome! Can I send the girls over to learn too?

Anna said...

Last visit to our pediatrition "who is Graces Speech therapist?" I looked at her blankly.replied" Well I guess I am." Weve just been staying home and playing games. I just got this book and two others, "Early communication skills for children with down syndrome" "Fine motor skills for children with Down Syndrome". All three are from Woodbine House publishers - I purchased from Amazon. I googled the Dolch sight words and found a slide show. That has been helpful since its on the computer, lit up, and the font is big. (has sound options so I can just click through the words with a 3 second pause.) She learned 8 in just a few weeks! Great post!

Rosa said...

Rosa Maria said...
Ria, thanks so much for sharing. I started my journey in teaching Tommy to read a while ago, but working full time made it hard. By accident, I discovered he is able to recognized printed words. I will find out while I am at home for my maternity leave how many printed words he recognizes and I will work in sight reading, by then, I will definitely reread your post from today. Thanks again for sharing.

Laura said...

He is doing great Ria! I love the "brains hears by seeing" idea. That is a neat way to describe it, & a perfect way of describing why early reading works to give our visual learners a visual way to learn to speak.

My dd has nystagmus & is pretty near sighted, so I am always amazed at how well she does with words. I think it helped that when we first started we used very large (actally huge!) letters & used red ink.

We have also found that using common sentances is really helpful. We have a sign on our door that says " May I go outside please?" Not only does she get reading/speaking practice, but she asks first instead of wandering outside alone.

We have also done the dolch words & I found that by the time we were done the grade 2 words my daughter started to be able to pick up simple stories & read them. Dolch words were really the key to put her reading to the next level. Have you done any Dolch phrases yet? I also found those helpful.

My dd just turned 4 a couple of weeks ago & is now reading 1,500 to 2,000 words. She is starting to be able to use phonics & figure out words sometimes too.

I'm sure you'll find, like I did, that the words start coming faster & faster until he can learn new words at a phenomenal rate. I only wish Mathew was older than my daughter, so I could steal your ideas :)

I'd love to put up a link & send a few of my readers to view this post if that is Ok.

Congrats on doing such a wonderful job!


Susanna said...

This is excellent, and I am bookmarking it for the future! Thank you so much for the work you put into it!

Kathy said...

WOW. Amazing. I can only imagine that right now as Evan is not even 2 yet, but what an awesome thing to see. Did Matthew learn the alphabet before sight reading? I remember the post you did on the alphabet....

CPJ said...

Keep up the good work, Matthew!

Monica Crumley said...

Awesome, Matthew! Ria, you are amazing, too :-) I have not done this with JM (nor the time right now), but watching Matthew is making me reconsider! He is doing so great! said...

Just want to say thank you!! You and Mathew are inspiring me! My Jaime was born 11/24/07!!!!

Also and dvds you can supplement!
Thanks liz