Thursday, April 25, 2013

Decoding Practice Using Rules

Decoding Practice Using Rules

When students who find reading a challenge come across a word they don’t know, there is a tendency to freeze. They often tell themselves, “I don’t know this word” and give up. Memorization of rules provides the tools they need to overcome past habits of failure. It is important to teach a thinking process for attacking unknown words. The process for teaching rule application is as follows:

  • Write the rule on the board or chart in an area of the room  that can be seen by all students.
  • Read the rule to students pointing to each word as you read.
  • Show examples of the rule and tell how the rule fits the examples.
  • Have students choral read the rule as you point to each word. Repeat this process until the entire class is reading the rule in unison.
  • When reading with the teacher  is well established, ask students, “What is the rule?” Students repeat the rule without the teacher pointing to the words.
  • Repeat the rule rehearsal process every day until the rule and the decoding process are mastered. It is important to do this even if you are moving on to a new lesson.
  • Move the written rule to a place in the room where it can remain over a period of time. Students should be able to reference the rule at a glance. The ceiling or any “high spot” in the room is very effective.
  •  If remembering the rules is difficult, students can make their own rule notebook to use as a source for study and reference when reading in other classes or for leisure. A loose-leaf binder works well because students can organize and re-organize as they add new rules. One rule with examples should be placed on each page.
A few sample of rules found in Jacquie’s Reading Lessons and other reading programs are:

  1. In a three letter word the vowel is short.
  2. When an e is added to the end of a three letter word, the vowel says the alphabet name.
  3. When one vowel is followed by one consonant, the consonant is doubled before adding -ing, --ed, or -er.

Please note: There are exceptions to all rules. If a student cannot decode the word using the rule, the word is considered a sight word and must be memorized.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

What Are Your Child's Grades Measuring?

What are your child’s grades Measuring?

Is your child:
  • Spending hours completing homework each night?
  • Receiving low grades?

If the answer is YES to either question, complete the following activities to discover if his or her reading ability is part, or all, of the problem. The reading level of most classroom textbooks is at the grade level in which your child is enrolled. If your child is below grade level in reading, he or she may be unable to complete the assignments with ease.

Ö        Review state tests, and school records, to determine your child’s reading level.
Ö        If appropriate, schedule a conference with the teacher or school counselor to obtain current information.
Ö        Sample the readability of each text book by using the following process:

1.      Using your computer and Microsoft Word, type several paragraphs from the text book.
2.      Set Microsoft Word to measure the readability (grade level) of the paragraph(s) and run a readability check.
  • under tools select spelling and grammar
  • under the grammar choices select “show readability statistics” and check “OK”
·         Complete the spelling and grammar check. A box will appear at the completion of the check that describes the paragraph, including the readability level

If the readability of the text book(s) is at one, two or more grade levels higher than your child’s reading level, schoolwork will no doubt be difficult to complete. Following are a few ideas to consider for obtaining reading support.
·         request a conference with your child’s teacher(s) and/or counselor
·         enroll your child in any before or after school reading programs that are available at your school
·         explore reading support available in your local community and libraries

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Preparing for Private or Independent School Admission

In order to obtain a more rigorous education, many of our parents are considering enrolling their children in either a private or independent school. In the article below Alexandra Berube discusses the importance of preparing for the admission process.

The Importance of Test Preparation for the ISEE and SSAT Exams for Private and Independent School Admission

When preparing students for the ISEE or SSAT exams, there is more pressure than ever. Most private and independent schools require that students take one of these exams, which are similar to college entrance exams in that they play a key role in admission and are highly challenging.

Admissions officers say that they prefer students not to prepare for these tests, because they want students to accurately portray their skill set when they apply to schools. But since the schools are getting more and more competitive, in order to gain admission, parents feel like they have no other choice. Moreover, the same admissions officers who say that they do not want students to prep admit that there is a test score cut-off required for admission. As such, preparing students for these private school admission tests is incredibly important and should not be put off.

I recommend starting test prep as early as possible, because there is so much material to cover and so many test-taking strategies to acquire. For one, there are thousands of vocabulary words that the student ought to learn, because the verbal section of the tests is incredibly demanding. Without advanced vocabulary, students typically receive scores only within the 10th to 25th percentile. There are prefixes and roots to learn as well, and this takes time. When students cram last-minute, they are not able to acquire very much new vocabulary at all, and it's hard to see much score improvement.

Besides vocabulary, the math is incredibly challenging. When I work with young students in fifth and sixth grade, this is the place where they struggle the most, because they are being asked to learn completely new content in order to perform well on this test. I've had to introduce, from scratch, the concepts of algebra, statistics, probability, and high-level problems on percentages, ratios, and geometry. The content on this test is not the content that students are used to learning in school. It is often many grades above their current level, and it takes time to acquire so much new material.

Fortunately, my students learn so many new skills that they often end up far ahead of their math class in school, and a lot of students have ended up being moved into advanced levels because they are so far ahead now. I always tell them that they don't have to worry about learning algebra again many years later, because they are already experts.

Most importantly, it takes time to learn the test-taking strategies. The ISEE does not take off points for wrong answers, so you never want to leave a problem blank. However, you don't want to actually spend time focusing your energy on every single problem, because unlike tests at school, this test is not designed so that you can actually finish it in time. You are expected to perform the best you can, knowing that you have less than one minute to answer each question. 

Test preparation allows students to learn which problems they should focus the most energy on and which ones to just glance at, because it's not possible to actually attempt to solve every problem on the test.

The SSAT does take a quarter of a point off for every wrong answer, so the strategy in this case is to know which problems to leave blank, so that you don't lose many points by attempting problems you shouldn't. This also gives you more time to focus on the problems that you should be solving. I always say that is much better to answer less problems, and get all those problems correct, than rushing through and trying to answer every single problem, making careless mistakes along the way and inevitably getting a much lower score as a result.

In my experience, students are able to perform very well on this test once they have enough preparation. They can learn vocabulary, prefixes and roots, reading comprehension skills, essay writing skills, and a massive amount of new mathematical knowledge. They can acquire test-taking strategies that will give them the confidence to plow through the test with focus. It all takes time, and work, but in the end, not only does it gain you entrance to the top private and independent schools, but it teaches you skills and knowledge that you will be able to use for the rest of your education.

Alexandra Berube, Managing Director
Boston Tutoring Services, LLC
(781) 248-4558