Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Effective Letter ID/Dolch Word Assessment System- Easy to Use and Implement to Raise Reading Scores

Dolch words...we hear them referenced a lot, but do you really know what they are and their importance in conjunction with your classrooms? 
Most of us have a list of words that our students need to "know" by the end of the year, but where did that list get generated from?  A mandated program? A committee of grade level teachers? Maybe just a generic list found on the internet somewhere? I know I have had a list generated from each of these places at some point during my career and obendiently taught whatever list was handed to me. BUT, I knew there were words missing from each given list and I knew that my students would need more to meet the literacy standards society is asking of 5 and 6 year olds now. That is when I started researching what I could do differently and how I could extend beyond "the list" as well as allow for differentiation.

First off, for those unclear, Dolch Words are a list  of 220 "service words" that must be quickly recognized in order to achieve reading fluency.  It has the most frequently used words in our English language and make up as high as 70% of any general text.  This fact alone is why the Dolch Word lists are so important to teach children from kindergarten to third grade. 

So, we now that we know the importance of them, how do we teach 220 words to our students when we already have a list we are responsible for (not to mention the bazillion other learning targets we have to implement)? 

Well, let's start by saying that , no, not every kindergarten student will necessarily learn all 220, but there are many that are able to, so we need to provide the opportunity for them to do so.  My friend Marsha from Differentiated Kindergarten has a masterful framework and organizational techniques that will get you jump started like it did for me and have you wondering why you never did this before.  It's called her Ball Word System....

Marsha says:

 "I originally created ball words because I had a very very boy heavy class that needed something to engage them in learning their sight words. This class ranged from students who knew zero words to students who had mastered 30-40 words or more before they entered my doors. I knew I needed to challenge everyone at their own level of ability or I would have huge behavior issues. I didn't want boredom from the advanced students nor did I want frustration from those that were struggling. So, by placing the different level of sight words (there are 11 Dolch Word lists) on different balls, everyone could be doing the same ac
tivity at their own level of readiness."
-Marsha Moffit Mcguire


 I love the premise behind the Ball Word system and hence I love THE Ball Word System and, as if I have to tell you, so do my students.  They would much rather talk about balls than Dolch ANY day of the week and, quite frankly, so would I.

I am going to share with you an organizational system I have used to check and assess where students are and which "ball drawer" (a.k.a. which Dolch list) they should be working in (as you read Marsha's posts, you'll see that she has a self serving station so to speak where children find activities that correspond with the current list they are working on achieving in separate, ordered drawers, which has inspired me to do the same).

I start out the year assessing my students for the alphabet and then move through the Dolch lists in order for us to know where they are working. I always complete these mini assessments during Read to Self time or Daily 5 time.

I will start assessing the first week of school:
  • Do a letter i.d/Dolch List assessment. Once the student has missed six (letters or words) I stop the assessment recording on the recording sheets that I finally created for myself to be more organized. You can see below that this child has mastered all his letters, therefore I moved onto Dolch Word List 1 (a.k.a. baseball words in Marsha's framework).  I checked off all words he knew and continued onto the soccer ball words until Scotty had missed 6 words altogether and then I stopped the assessment.
  • Now, I create 6 "flashcards" for each of the letters/words that they missed right in front of the student discussing things they notice as I do it.  Example: "What do you notice about the two words he and we?" or "This word is tricky, but it helps to remember that "there is no A in they",
  • Next, I staple the 6 cards together, write their name and the date on the front binding edge. (I use blank white notecards, but you could even precut regular paper or use any type of small paper that you have available...the key would to be to keep it the same all year whatever you may choose).

  • I send home a list of the words each student is working on with a note letting the parents know.  On the back of the list is a place for parents to sign and return when they think their child is ready to be assessed and move on.  This signature serves as a bypass for students to be assessed before they get the 4 hole punches in class because, as we all know, there is never enough time in the day to get to all of our students.

  • The student places his/her stack of cards in his/her book box and knows to practice them whenever they get an opportunity.  They will be working in the drawer that contains activities that go along with the list they are on (see more about this further down this post).  However, if they have the last 6 words on the list, I  tell them to work in the drawer of the next level up.  When they practice with someone (me, another adult in the room, or even a friend who has already achieved the level being worked on) they get a hole punch on a card that they read correctly and quickly.  Note: The KEY to this is that students are reading all of these words "by sight" and quickly, so cards only get punched when they are read on the first try and automatically.
  • Once a student has 4 holes on every card, s/he puts the stapled cards in my "I'm ready to move on to the next level!" basket.  I made a simple sign for you to use in 3 different sizes, depending on the size basket you want to use. 

  • The next opportunity I get, I will assess those words and then continue on through the list(s) until the child misses another 6 and start the process all over again.  Every time a student can fluently read an entire list, they receive a certificate (included in the ball words sets from Marsha). 
  • I added the 95 Dolch Noun lists this year to my assessment kit.  These are the most common nouns that show up in childrens books, so I thought....hmmmm....not a bad idea! I'm actually really excited to add them because, looking at the lists, I can see how knowing these words on top of the 220 Dolch sight words could really push my readers along even more quickly.

This organizational system seems like such a no brainer approach, but it took me a couple of years to perfect it and make it work for both my students and I.  I finally also figured out a much easier way to record their progress and I FINALLY got around to making a neat sheet and other organizing tools that I would like to share with you so you can start your Dolch List assessing right away.

 I copy enough of the ball word assessment recording sheets back to back for each of my students.  I write each of their names on them in alphabetical order, 3 hole punch them, then place them in my assessment binder.  It is SO easy to find the student sheet I need and all the info is RIGHT THERE.  Also, on the back, there is a small area for you to record things you notice for your next word work lesson with this child.  
Of course, students will have a letter sheet (that works the same exact way as this one) to complete before we start on this one. Marsha has a program called Top Banana which focuses on just letters and letter sounds here.

Of course, I have given you plenty of information to implement this system on your own, but, since I have it all created for myself and READY to GO in pure Monkey Business fashion, I decided to house it at TpT in case you want to make your life easier.  Don't forget that my kit aligns perfectly with Marsha's Ball Words program as well!
(there is an editable spreadsheet, so you can use this kit with your own words in whatever order you choose!) 
 Be sure to be following MMMB because I have been collecting hands on activities to put in the leveled, INDEPENDENT drawers that are specifically aligned with the Dolch lists and will be giving you more information about that in a future blog post.

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  1. What do you suggest moving on to after a student knows all the dolch words? I teach kindergarten and I had a couple students that went through all of the lists. I did not have anything else for them to work on. All students read every night too.

    Ms. King's Kinders

  2. Hi, Kayla,
    I saw your comment about students who can read all of the Dolch words; I also had a few students who worked through all of the Dolch words. When they finished with those, I started having them work on fluency passages. We would time them on Monday, then they would practice reading the passage throughout the week, and then we would time them again on Friday. They loved it and it really helped with their fluency and overall reading. Reading A to Z has good fluency passages if you already have a subscription or there are some good fluency passages on TpT.
    Hope this is helpful :)

  3. I am really interested in purchasing this as I use Marcia's Top Banana Unit! However, at our school we have different lists and order of sight words. I understand that the kit is editable meaning I can insert my own words into the pages, right? Just love everything I've purchased from you and this would be such a time saver!

  4. Yes, there is an editable spreadsheet that you can input your own set of words in! Sale starts tomorrow!

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. I thought I had it....but I still can't figure out how to edit. I see that I must use Power Point to edit. The file I downloaded is Adobe....is there another one? Thank you.

  7. Hi, I can't find the document on TpT as you mentioned in the blog.

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