In my last post I examined the effectiveness of the website Pinterest as a source of teaching materials for phonics and reading. You can read this post here…
This time around I am casting my eye over Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT). It seems that every teacher and her dog is selling something on TpT. These resources can be free and quite OK (usually to entice you to buy something else the seller has on offer), but the really comprehensive materials require you to purchase them. I have occasionally purchased from TpT if the resource was high quality and was going save me a whole heap of planning and preparation hours.
In reviewing TpT, I used the same search terms as for Pinterest including “Teaching Reading”, “Phonics”, “Reading Instruction” and “Learning to Read”.
When searching for quality, evidence based teaching material for teaching students phonics and decoding I had to work really hard. Teachers pay teachers seems to be filled with so much of the same materials, with each person trying to win a purchaser over with prettier fonts and more adorable graphics.
The first red flag for finding quality teaching material is that there is a whole section devoted ‘Balanced Literacy’. This is really just whole language teaching dressed up with a new name. Dr Pamela Snow has written an excellent blog post about why Balanced Literacy is not a great idea. http://pamelasnow.blogspot.com/2017/05/balanced-literacy-instructional.html
Word Families and Sight Words
As with Pinterst there are the inevitable word family and sight word resources
Rather Odd Resources
This bizarre free resource is called a ‘reading wheel’. I’ve seen them done with actual letters but never like this. Including a picture instead of the word family, presumably to represent ‘at’, makes this more of a phonemic skill activity rather than a reading one.
One of the main differences that I noticed between TpT and Pinterest is that is lots of well-meaning advice about how to teach reading. It would be so lovely if universities taught teachers about evidence based reading instruction so that teachers don’t have a play a guessing game of ‘is this good or not?’
There were a couple of promising resources if you know what you are looking for. This contribution outlines a sequence for teaching children to read at word level. Apart from the blends in the purple line, I was pleased to see that the teacher had thought through how to be systematic in her approach to teaching reading. The contributor included a range of word lists for each of these levels. Of course you would need other teaching materials for each of these, but given the amount of drivel on TpT, this one showed a glimmer of hope.
The sequence of teaching is so, so important. This worksheet does focus on one grapheme ‘er’, however it probably doesn’t take into account that the children likely do not know all of the other sounds in the word. Potentially problematic words on this sheet are water, tiger and spider. Do the children know the phoneme grapheme correspondence for vowels beyond ‘short’? I don’t know, but this kind of mismatch is precisely why I give these sorts of things a wide berth.
Letter of the Week 🙁
Oh, no! Letter of the week! Teaching only one ‘letter’ per week (hopefully it’s one sound and not a letter name) means that it will be a term or two before the students can read many words at all! Much better to consistently add a number of sounds, practice with them and then add a few more. That way, you can get started on learning to blend and segment almost straight away. Just learning s,a, t, p, i, n and how to blend and segment with them means that you can read and write 18 words very quickly. A sound a week means that you have to wait a term or longer to do the same thing. That makes a big difference in the rate of learning.
And then the activities that came with this ‘packet’ were not what I call ‘Bang for your Buck’ tasks. That is, they didn’t yield very much thinking and learning for the effort put into completing them.
The Allure of ‘No Prep’
So many TpT resources have ‘no prep’ in the title. In our very busy teacher lives it is easy to be seduced into jumping on the ‘no prep’ options. Unfortunately, these options usually mean that there will be little connection with other parts of your program. If you are looking for good quality ‘low’ prep, look for an evidence based commercial program. I recently wrote a blog post about the value of a commercial program. (here)
Oh dear, there are so many of these ‘reading strategy’ resources on TpT. Again, we see the fancy graphics and cute fonts and jump to put these posters on our walls. The problem is that these strategies represent simply awful teaching methods that encourage children to guess what words say. Chunky monkey sounds like a barrel of fun, but will only slow down your students’ reading progress. Please give Skippy the Frog the slip! Alternative to these inefficient strategies can be found here.
Alphabet charts can be a great resource for beginners to help jog their memory about phoneme grapheme correspondence of the basic code.
The chart on the left has a picture of a xylophone in the ‘x’ box. Xylophone does start with the letter ‘ex’ but in this word it represents the sound /z/. Children should be taught this after they know the initial code, and including it at this stage will likely just be confusing. The creator of the middle chart has attempted to include long and short vowel sounds. Unless this has been explicitly taught in detail, it would likely be too much information to process all at once. This chart also has pictures that children may be less familiar with such as yarn, quilt, vest and acorn, which places an unnecessary load on the child’s processing. The chart on the right has appropriate pictures for all short vowels and the consonants have obvious connections (apart from the v – it would be better to have the starting sound v). In general, be careful of tree being used for ‘t’. Tree requires the child to segment the consonant cluster ‘tr’ to use the picture effectively. This can be tricky for little ones.
Some OK Resources
After spending quite a bit of time on Teachers Pay Teachers I was able to come up with a small selection of resources that represented decent literacy practice.
This sheet below asks children to add suffixes onto base words. Students who are ready to move beyond the basic code really benefit from explicit instruction in morphology. Remember to teach these concepts explicitly before giving this kind of work to children.
Good Resource, but Limited In Scope
I found some cute and useful activities like the one below. This activity requires the children to look a picture, identify the initial sound and match it to a letter. As discussed in the review of Pinterest, it is really important that teachers ensure that children have the necessary skills to complete any activity put in front of them, particularly if it is intended to be an independent task. The task below is a good one. Just make sure that there is an adult around to correct any areas and provide support when needed.
Many of the resources on TpT were related to the initial code only. Resources that related to the rest of the alphabetic code were very hard to come by.
Resources that are So-So
I found a few resources that had one part supported by evidence and other parts…not so much. This resource had great intentions about providing information to parents about how to support their children learning to read at home.
Things were going well until I found this! Eeek!
I was ready to write it off completely, but then I found this. This is actually pretty reasonable advice.
As is this…
Take Home Message
It is clear that when utilizing resources created by someone else, it is important to critically evaluate them for their ability to be consistent with what the evidence of reading instruction is telling us.
When it comes to initial reading instruction, keep it simple.
- Teach children to connect spoken sounds with letters in a systematic and explicit way.
- Teach children the key skills of blending and segmenting. No ‘blends’, word families or sight words.
- Teach children to understand words through the teaching of morphology and etymology
- Provide children with reading material and ‘activities’ that contain only sounds and high frequency words they know.
- Ensure that sounding out is the only strategy taught to a beginning reader when decoding.
- Teach reading and spelling at the same time.
- Remember to ask ‘what is the student learning from this?’ and give your time and energy (and the children’s) to activities that provide bang for your buck!
Overall, I was pretty underwhelmed with the resources that I found on Teachers Pay Teachers. When you look past the pretty fonts and cute graphics, there isn’t a lot of evidence based practice to be found. In saying that, if you have a great resource to share from TpT, please feel free to provide a link in the comments below!