Shifting The Balance: Phonics

Ya’ll! I am so excited to join my friend Abby from Kindergarten Chaos for our annual summer book study. This summer we’re reading the book, Shifting The Balance.

We have all been hearing about the “science of reading” or “SOR” lately. We’ve all heard about balanced literacy. And probably, we’ve heard about “the reading wars.” Guess what? I don’t believe any of these are the singular magic bullet for teaching reading. I believe in using the best approaches and combining the tools to make teaching the best it can be. Can I learn from all approaches? Absolutely. And that is the purpose of this summer book study! We’re going to learn and grow and add more tools to our toolbox! Also, what you won’t find is Mr. Greg saying you did it wrong or you should never do this or that. I know we see that on social media but I know we’re all doing what is best and we’re all learning and improving and we’re all on this journey together!

We chose this book because “SOR” is the buzzword in education right now and we wanted to dive in and learn how to improve our reading instruction. As we complete our book study this summer, we will be sharing our takeaways, our questions, and changes we’re making in our own instruction!

Shift 3: Phonics

Overall, for me, this shift is a reassurance of what we’ve been doing in our classroom and reassurance of the validity of our TKS BOOTCAMP! We follow a systematic scope and sequence that builds from simple to complex, we teach to mastery, we have differentiated instruction and assessments to guide our instruction. It’s always reassuring to know that we’re following best practices! But we also know we can continue to grow and improve!

Here are my takeaways from Shift 3!

Use 3D Letters

This idea was something I had never considered or even understood. Learning that the brain is really good at processing 3D shapes and how that impacts learning was pretty powerful. I am a problem solver when it comes to my students and learning. I’m a very concrete idea-type person. I work best with easy-to-do ideas and strategies. We need 3D letters, so let’s get some 3D letters. And guess what? I found some this year that my class loves and Adelynn loves! They’re called AlphaPals! These are giant stuffed letters that are a must-have after reading this section of the book!

My students loved using these during virtual learning! I’m already planning to incorporate them next year: letter hunts during Chicka Chicka Boom Boom week, word building and blending, etc.

Here’s a video of us using the AlphaPals to review sounds and letters:

Another way that we use 3D letters in our classroom is with Letters Alive from Alive Studios. The letters appear as 3D objects on the screen. You can turn the card and the letter will move and rotate so the kids get a real 3D experience with the letter!

Cool Tool | Letters alive Plus by Alive Studios | EdTech Digest

Click here to see me using Letters Alive in my classroom!

Teach To Mastery

This is the approach we’ve taken with our ABC BOOTCAMP and TKS BOOTCAMP for years. It is something that we learned (as was mentioned in the book) from Wiley Blevins in the book A Fresh Look At Phonics (which is a must read and really drives our phonics instruction!) and is also somethng that can often times be at odds with distric requirments. Phonics isn’t a skill a week and then move on. Phonics skills can take 4-6 weeks to master. And that’s what we do with our TKS BOOTCAMP CURRICULUM! We spend 4-6 weeks working to mastery. And for students who don’t get to mastery, they get differentiated, explicit small group time to build to mastery.

Explicit Instruction AND Engagement

Ya’ll. THIS. Can we please scream this for the people in the back? Can we print it on shirts, buttons, banners, and signs??? Explicit instruction doesn’t mean boring. When I created TKS BOOTCAMP I wanted something fun but I also knew it had to be EXPLICIT. The fun of BOOTCAMP is the students coming up with words and then me drawing them with my terrible drawing skills. That’s fun. That excites the brain which means we learn more!

Shift 3 In Our Classroom

TKS BOOTCAMP-with our TKS BOOTCAMP we have explicit, systematic phonics instruction happening. The scope and sequence we follow is not rigid and what I mean by that is there is overlap. This is something we’re going to be changing and modifying after this section of the book. Let me explain: when looking at the systemic phonics progression on pages 68-69, it moves from letters and sounds to CVC words to blends and digraphs to CVC-E words. We’ve always done: letters and sounds (ABC BOOTCAMP), CVC Words (Word Family Bootcamp), then CVC-E (Vowel Bootcamp), and while doing Vowel Bootcamp we pull in digraphs. After studying this progression, we’re going to modify our scope and sequence and do blends and digraphs then Vowel Bootcamp. Honestly, we’ve flip-flopped these over the years according to district pacing and data and teacher and team preference, but we’re going to solidify this change because it’s a best practice.

Letter Sorts-Letter sorts allow students to visually discriminate letters and helps them with learning sounds and letters. One way we have done sorts is with a giant letter sort! I made this with a shower curtain! Truth ya’ll. It’s a shower curtain. I’ve had it for about 10 years! There is a link to the detailed blog post at the end of this post!

Magnetic Letters-we made this sorting game a few years ago and didn’t even know it was a best practice. Magnetic letters give us practice with 3D letters and sorting them into these trays from the Dollar Tree give us that visual discrimination practice!

Blending-we use our blending cards for whole group and small group work. We do a lot of continuous blending but an area we will be adding to our instruction is cumulative blending.

Word Chaining-so this is something the book discusses as being one of the most powerful ways we can help students deepen their phonics and phonemic awareness skills. They call it word chains or making and breaking words. In our research, we found it called word awareness. It gives kids the opportunity to see and think about how words work and gives them flexibility in using sound spellings. So, remember, explicit instruction can also be engaging, so we make this activity fun with cookie sheets and magnetic letters! To make it fun, we spray-painted cookie sheets! You can get cookie sheets for $1 at Dollar Tree!

The way we do this in small groups: I say a word and the students build the word. Then they blend the word. Then I might say change box to fox. Change fox to fog. And we make and break words by moving the magnetic letters so it’s a very kinesthetic lesson with those important 3D letters!

Now I want to hear your thoughts! Leave your thoughts in the comments and make sure to join us on Facebook for our discussions about the book and what we’ve learned!


For more information and ideas, check out these blog posts:

Also, be sure to visit Abby at Kindergarten Chaos for her thoughts on Shift 1!

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