Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Time Limiting as a Proficiency Booster

So, I've been tutoring this student from Chabot Elementary. Its been going pretty well. There's one idea that I've found particularly useful. I've been using a phonics wheel. This is how it works. You have two paper plates. Both one paper plate rests on top of the other. The paper plate on top has a two letter ending for a three letter word (e.g. -an, -at) at the very right center of the plate. Also, in the top plate, a rectangular window is cut out just left of the two letter ending. The two paper plates are bound together with a brass fastener thrust through the center of both plates. In the bottom plate, there are letters such that you can turn the bottom plate and whichever letter you turn to will appear in the rectangular window of the top plate.

Now, I could just stop there, but there's one other element that made this phonics tool particularly helpful. I tell my student that the name of this game is called "Me against me." He plays the game once. I will turn the wheel. As I turn the wheel, he will say each word that is formed by the letter that appears in the rectangular window and the two letter ending that is on the top plate. I let him borrow my watch and he times how fast he can say all of the words in the cycle. I showed him how to use the timer on my watch. He gets a kick out of using it. After he plays the game once, he checks his time. Then, we see whether he can beat his own time. He usually beats his own time.

My student wants to get the fastest time possible. What I find interesting is that when I include that time element, he actually performs better than when he has all the time in the world to pronounce a word on a flashcard. Frequently, when I merely give him a flashcard to read, he will guess what the card says based on a previous two letter ending that he had learned (e.g. he will read "fan" as "fat" since he had learned how to pronounce three letter words that have the -at ending just before three letter words with the -an ending). My guess is that he feels that when he's being timed, he can't really spend time thinking about a guess. He just has to say what comes to mind.

Whatever the case may be, its been one of my most effective tools in getting him to learn two letter patterns. Here's a link if you're curious about the phonics wheel.

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