Updated: May 2, 2019
My 4-year-old daughter and I have been playing ‘Treasure Hunt’ [https://www.edvanced.co.uk/post/treasure-hunt], I write down 6 sight words from her reading book on post-it notes for her to find and put on a template with the same words. It has high-lighted several things for me:
The importance of context:
My daughter can read the words in a simple story, but when they were written on a post-it note she cannot read them all (yet!), although she shows some good visual matching skills by putting the words in the right place on the template.
This is because, at some level, reading involves reading words in the meaningful context of a story or general information. This means drawing on previous knowledge (e.g. relevant vocabulary and understanding of grammar) and using clues (e.g. from the pictures and the general plot) as well as using phonics knowledge to recognise the words but also to inform sensible guesswork to quickly decide what it most likely says. How amazing it will be when she can recognise these words anywhere and what an impact it will have on the speed and fluency of her reading (allowing her to use her energy to understand and enjoy what she is reading about).
The importance of involving children in their learning and empowering them to feel in control of their lives:
My daughter saw me writing the words on the post-its. “I want to do it”, she yelled as she grabbed the pen. ‘How typical and how obvious- why didn’t I think of that?’, I thought to myself.
She copied the rest of them down and this work helped her to practise in a meaningful way and then to recognise 1 or 2 more of the words on the next hunt. It also draws on motor memory and some general movement, which can improve attention and recall. She also thought of a new game- she wanted to collect the ones that rhymed.
The importance of knowing how they are learning at school:
As emphasised in the parent workshops run by Edvanced, it is important to consolidate the way they are taught at school, if possible. My daughter was writing ‘look’, and she asked me “Is it a curly c, a digraph ck or a kicking k?” A few months ago, I would have had had to confer with Google, and I do wonder what my husband would have said.
The importance of visual skills for reading:
It is easy in the current climate of phonics obsessed policy and marketing to forget that we are trying to teach children to read, not be phonics decoders. The English language is very complex and for every rule there are multiple exceptions. ‘Sight words’ (also known as ‘tricky words’) are words that need to be learnt visually because they cannot be decoded using the phonetic rules. Learning how to look at words like pictures and to be able to store them into your long-term memory is crucial. Most children will learn to use a combination of strategies for reading and spelling, but for some children this will be the main way that they learn. Playing this game invites conversation about what they are looking it and how they decide what it says.
Thank you to Ellie and Nicky at Edvanced for this idea!
Dr Hannah Gorham