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Signs for Sounds

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  1. What is the research basis for the strategies used in Signs for Sounds?
  2. I used a program called Signs for Sounds years ago. Is Read Naturally’s Signs for Sounds the same program?
  3. What is the difference between “sound-out words” and “spell-out words?”
  4. It takes a more time to have students “check and correct” their own spelling words. Wouldn’t it be faster to have the teacher correct their work?
  5. Can you suggest some other ideas for learning how to spell (and read) the words that are taught in Signs for Sounds?
  6. If some of my students have difficulty with a phonics element being taught in a lesson, should I spend more time on the lesson or go on to the next lesson? Will the phonics element be taught again later?
  7. I used the assessment to place students in Signs for Sounds 2. Even though the assessment indicated they needed to do most of the lessons, they seem to pick up the new phonics element or syllable pattern very quickly. How can I make sure they master the skills being taught but also keep them challenged and motivated?

1. What is the research basis for the strategies used in Signs for Sounds?

Signs for Sounds applies spelling instruction research in its dual approach to teaching spelling. It also incorporates research-based intervention strategies and instructional components.
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2. I used a program called Signs for Sounds years ago. Is Read Naturally’s Signs for Sounds the same program?

Yes. Read Naturally acquired Signs for Sounds from the original author, Carolyn Bechthold, and we have further expanded this excellent program to make it even more user-friendly and effective for teachers and students. The basic lesson format is the same as it has always been. However, we have expanded the lesson content and added three lessons to Signs for Sounds 2 that were not included in the original program.  

Although the original program suggested having students write some dictation sentences that included high frequency words, we have added a systematic strategy to teach the first 50 high-frequency words in Level 1 and the first 100 in Level 2. We have also developed two sets of dictation sentences for each lesson (an easy version and a more challenging version) that systematically include both regular and irregular high-frequency words.

In addition, we have designed some teacher management sheets for recording pre-post test scores and tracking progress lesson by lesson. We have worked with our printer to design a teacher’s manual that is small and handy like the original, but it has spiral binding and a heavier cover to make it more durable.

3. What is the difference between “sound-out words” and “spell-out words?”

Words with regular spelling patterns are called “sound-out words.” Systematic, explicit phonics instruction is used to teach sound-out words. Students are taught that letters are signs (graphemes) that stand for sounds (phonemes). Students learn to take words apart sound by sound and write the words letter by letter. By mastering the correspondence between sounds and letters, students can successfully apply what they have learned in order to spell unfamiliar words.

High-frequency words with irregular spelling patterns or patterns not taught in the level are called “spell-out words.” Spell-out words are taught with a system that supports word-specific memory—using an “I do it, we do it, you do it” model. The program is designed with a system of judicious review to ensure mastery of these irregular words, which are difficult for many students.

4. It takes a more time to have students “check and correct” their own spelling words. Wouldn’t it be faster to have the teacher correct their work?

Immediate self-correction is the single most effective research-based strategy for improving spelling. The teacher can guide self-correction or students can be taught to refer to a visual aid that displays the correct spelling of each word. A student who immediately self-corrects the words on a pretest (the Teaching Phase in Signs for Sounds) will show more improvement on the final spelling test. (Morton, Heward, & Alber, 1998; Darch, Kim, Johnson, & James, 2000)

5. Can you suggest some other ideas for learning how to spell (and read) the words that are taught in Signs for Sounds?

A classroom teacher from San Juan Capistrano, CA, Kristin McDaniel, created word sorts for each Signs for Sounds lesson.  She kindly offered to share her resource with us, and we have made these available as a free download. 

A student can be assigned the word sort that corresponds with the lesson being taught. The student can cut apart the words and organize them under the correct “line leader pattern.” This reinforces the phonics element or syllable pattern taught in the lesson. When checking the student’s work, the teacher can direct the student to read down the columns of words with the same pattern (easier) or read across the rows of words, switching from one pattern to another (more difficult). 

The RN Bookmark article, "A Great Teacher Shares a Great Resource," provides additional information about how to use the word sorts and a link for downloading the word sorts for Signs for Sounds 1 and 2. 

6. If some of my students have difficulty with a phonics element being taught in a lesson, should I spend more time on the lesson or go on to the next lesson? Will the phonics element be taught again later?

Signs for Sounds is based on mastery learning. When students move from one lesson to the next, it is assumed they have mastered the phonics element or syllable pattern for each completed lesson.

In Signs for Sounds 1, there are three columns of words that work with the corresponding lesson form. So, you can teach the same lesson up to three times—using a different set of words with the featured pattern each time. In Signs for Sounds 2, there are two sets of practice words and two sets of mastery words that work with the corresponding lesson form. So, the lessons can be taught multiple times— using a different set of words with the featured pattern each time. 

7. I used the assessment to place students in Signs for Sounds 2. Even though the assessment indicated they needed to do most of the lessons, they seem to pick up the new phonics element or syllable pattern very quickly. How can I make sure they master the skills being taught but also keep them challenged and motivated?

Typically, the teacher first uses a practice list to present the teaching and testing phases for the lesson. If the student scores 80 percent correct or higher on the sound-out words in the testing phase, the teacher then presents the same lesson again using a new lesson form, with a mastery list. The teacher does not present the dictation phase until students score 80 percent correct or higher on the sound-out words on a mastery list in the testing phase.

However, for students who are learning the phonics elements and syllable patterns easily, you can move through Signs for Sounds 2 more quickly by just presenting the lesson one time—using a practice list for the Teaching Phase and then switching to a mastery list for the Testing Phase. If students can master the phonics elements and syllable patterns using this “fast forward” approach (scoring 80 percent correct or higher on the sound-out words from the mastery list), they are ready for the Dictation Phase. This approach is more challenging, because students must immediately apply what they have just learned in the Teaching Phase to a new set of words in the Testing Phase.

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