Friday, September 2, 2016

The Word Board of Awesomeness

I'm almost finished with a phonics book with a very narrow target market.   You'd think that putting a bunch of words on each page that rhyme would go quickly, but this has taken longer than either of the math books.  I had to go through all permutations of 5 letters that can make words.  I'll explain why I did this later. I'm recreating the phonics course that I invented (no asterisks or quotes) and used successfully. Unfortunately, almost any combination of letters is some arcane word used in the game of Scrabble, and I had to weed out all of these, because they hold no intellectual value for a 5 year old.  Curse you Scrabble players!

Part of the introduction of this book is going to include instructions on how to use the Word Board. Looking back over the last few years, I think the Word Board is one of the top 3 things I "invented"**.  The quotes and asterisks represent the fact that I didn't actually invent it, but I "invented"** it.

I put up the Word Board during phonics because after covering the word "the", which is pretty easy, since you just look at it and say "the", my son spent the next 3 months trying to sound it out.  I would say "the", he would repeat it, and then on the next page of whatever book we were reading, up to 3 or 4 times in a row, he would see "the" and get stuck again.

The rule was that once or twice a week or more, I would invite him to stand in front of the
Word Board and read any word that he could read.   If a word became easy, and he was able to read it over consecutive standing sessions, I would remove it.  During phonics or reading, if he was stuck on a word, or we found it to be interesting, the new word would go up on the board.  When we first saw silent E, for example, the Word Board filled with words that have an "e" at the end.

The word "the" stayed on the Word Board for at least 6 months.  At one point, the Word Board ran out of room because it accumulated so many words.  It seems that words would go up and not come down.

The First Asterisk
The first thing that the Word Board did for me - not my son - is take the pressure off of me.  As soon as a word went on the Word Board, I didn't have to be all stressed out and impatient with my son about his inability to learn how to pronounce the word because it was there on the Word Board and wasn't going to move until he got it.  Because of the Word Board, I became less of a mean demanding parent, and more of an academic coach.  From this point on, there were no tears in phonics, and much more laughing.

The Second Asterisk
The second thing that the Word Board did for me - not my son - was show me the most important thing that an Academic Coach needs to experience (note that the capital letters just appeared). Somewhere around the 4th to 6th months, words started coming down, and they came down quickly. In this no pressure environment, he just magically learned how to read, if by magic you mean we did phonics twice a week and read 3 or 4 beginning readers every day.  After about 6 to 8 months, words didn't stay up there very long, and many words never made it because he didn't get stuck on them in the first place during phonics.

After learning this lesson during phonics, I expected the same affect in everything we did academically, and it was exactly what we experienced.  Complete bafflement, 100% wrong, and then for no apparent reason with its own independent timing, he would learn whatever we were doing. Our experience was that with the first page in whatever we were working on, he might take TWO WEEKS to finish the page, and then at some point, a long time later, we were zipping along at 2 or 3 pages a day.  This characterized math and test prep.

In school, he had Wordly Wise and a long list of spelling words followed by a quiz each week.   I think the Wordly Wise words were always spelling words.  My wife was in charge of spelling, and instead of the Word Board, she made both kids write the words every day when she read them.  Any spelling misses had to be written 5 times.  Spelling is so much easier after an investment in phonics, as is early writing.

When phonics became easy, we moved to Vocabulary Workshop, which I also "invented"**, and the Word Board filled with words from these books.  I think the folks at Sadlier publishing might dispute the fact that I invented use of their workbooks.  I'm convinced that they don't realize how much more fun and engaging their books are compared to the competition, especially Wordly Wise drudgery. The Word Board also took on  science words, especially rocks, and briefly held math words.

The Word Board played a vital role with the older child's education, since he skipped phonics.  This oversight was a big mistake on my part, but kids are robust and can catch up and overcome deficiencies or late starts.

The Third Asterisk
Eventually, the Word Board was retired.    A long time ago, I wrote a few articles on The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise.   One thing that impressed me at the time was their description of the classic education stage one - children up to 4th grade - characterized by cramming their brains with lots of facts and having them memorize just about everything.

During this period in a child's life, I think the brain is developing the ability to understand and memorize things.  The Word Board hones this skill.  In our case, it honed the skill so much the kids eventually began to memorize things on sight and the Word Board became empty and remained so until I just removed it from our refrigerator.  The Word Board was a constant for 4 straight years, and I'll miss it.

The Forth Asterisk
Somewhere in the explanation of the second asterisk, there is a powerful and counter cultural approach to education, but it's going to take the next article to explain.

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