It is impossible to overestimate the value of practice when developing or reinforcing a skill. It is baffling to me how many times we teach a skill and then move right on to teaching another skill before providing that critical, brain-necessary, access to repetition that will create strong neural wiring for the information.
I know that personally, we all recognize the value of practicing a skill we are learning whether it is learning how to ski, create a soufflé, or learning to speak a new language. Then why don’t we provide this practice for our students? We might think we are giving our students time to practice, but I ask you to consider: What is the practice quotient for your instruction?
Different Needs for Different Students
Some of our students are quick to form networks for information and processes we teach them. Others need more practice time. Figures range from 2-4 repetitions to over 100 repetitions to build a strong connection for automatic recall and application. If your students seem to ‘know it’ one day and then the next day they don’t, they might fit into the category of students who need more repetition over time to build mastery of the skill.
Reading Routines that Provide Extra Practice
Below are a few ideas and tips within three reading skill categories that might give you some ideas for planning more practice time for your students who need it!
Decoding and Word Recognition
When teaching a new phonic element, write the words in a column on a board. After you explicitly teach the new grapheme and the phoneme that is represented by the grapheme, guide students through this practice routine. Follow this process for each word.
Cue students for each word:
- Point to the grapheme, “What letter(s)?” then say, “What Sound?”
- Direct students to decode each word grapheme by grapheme then run your fingers under the letters to blend the sounds together to read each word.
- EXTRA PRACTICE: Before moving on to something else, hold your eraser in front of each word. Say, “What word?” When student read the word in unison, erase it. Do this for each word.
- EXTRA PRACTICE: After words are erased, ask student to write from dictation a few of the words they just read. Instruct students to use response boards, and spell (encode) the words they just read as you dictate them.
- I call this reverse process the Yoga Move – One direction: see the words to decode. Opposite direction: hear the words to encode. We know that both decoding and encoding, in the same lesson, provides extra practice that can work to create stronger networks to recall the information later.
There are many ways to increase the practice quotient when teaching vocabulary. When learning words, their meanings, and how and when to use the words it pays to attend to the multiple facets of the word, or the lexical quality of words (Perfetti, 2007).
Extend the vocabulary practice quotient by attending to these word qualities:
- The sound of the word – Students need to hear the target word. Teacher says the word and students then repeat it.
- The spelling of the word – Students need to see, read, and write the word.
- The meaning of the word and examples of how it is used – students need to have a sense of how a word is used to help a definition make more sense.
- The ways a word is used – Provide examples of how words are used. Say sentences to expose students to multiple ways in which words can be used. When you get to the word in the sentence you are modeling, stop and students say the word for you. For example, given the target word unique: The boy’s (students say unique when teacher pauses) haircut applied several colors in a layered look. The (students say unique when teacher pauses) lion behavior was studied by the zoologist who wanted to establish a wildlife preserve.
- Students use the word. Provide multiple opportunities over several days for students to use the words they are learning in speech and in writing.
Daily brief writing about topics students are studying can result in higher levels of learning the material, in fact students learned more from brief writing tasks than from longer ones (Graham, 2013). Writing tasks less than 10 minutes in length were more effective, followed by those 10-15 minutes in length.
Here is some direction for creating prompts for written responses:
- Provide students with writing prompts for organizing ideas, elaborating ideas, monitoring their understanding, and remediating their understanding (metacognitive).
- Organizing ideas – These prompts lead students to consider ideas presented in a topic. “What are the main ideas in this reading?”
- Elaborating ideas – These prompts will lead students to make connections between previous knowledge and new information. “Can you think of examples of the main idea?”
- Metacognitive prompts – These prompts lead students to consider their own learning processes. “What didn’t I understand? What could I do to help me understand this better?”
We often need a reminder, practice makes permanent. What are your practice routines? How do you know if you are providing the necessary practice, and the right kind that will truly support your teaching and build strong networks of learning?
To help you increase the practice quotient in your classrooms, you might be interested in an online reading course, The Reading Teacher’s Top Ten Tools: Instruction that Makes a Difference. When you enroll, you have access for four months – four months of knowledge enrichment for reading teachers, teaching ideas, and practice routines.
Klein, P.D., & Yu, A.M. (2013). Best practices in writing to learn. In Best Practices in Writing Instruction, Graham, S., MacArthur, C.A., & Fitzgerald, J. eds. New York, NY: Guilford.
Perfetti, C. (2007). Reading ability: Lexical quality to comprehension. Scientific Studies of Reading (11), pp 357-383.