Parent Question: I keep going over phonics with my daughter, but nothing sticks. She seems to forget it all so quickly.
There’s a period when forgetting is normal. At first, a student doesn’t know the phonics unit. Then, she occasionally knows it. Then, she knows it most of the time. Finally, she masters the unit, sees it on traffic signs, in read aloud books and on mom’s grocery list. Finally, she knows it.
Forgetting is a normal part of the learning process. If we remembered every detail of the park we visited, the interior design of our friend’s living room, all the artifacts in a boutique shop… we’d be bombarded with information. We’d be walking cases of the World Wide Web… we’d carry an abundance of data, and have little ability to make meaning.
Our brains naturally forget nearly everything. We’re wired to forget things that we’re not consistently forced to remember. Forgetting keeps our brains efficient. We can focus in on information that helps us in our daily lives, like where we keep our plates, and forget information that we rarely use, like where we kept our plates when we were twenty.
So before we get frustrated when students forget, we must first recognize that they are supposed to forget. Forgetting is part of their job.
Even though forgetting is normal, no progress signals that something is wrong with the reading program. A good reading program emphasizes constant review of recent phonics units. If a student is constantly forced to retrieve the sounds, she won’t forget easily. Some reading programs introduce a unit and leave it behind once a child seems to “know it.” This is a mistake.
Oftentimes, when I work with parents, they say things like, “She already knows this sight word. We can stop reviewing it now.” My response is, “She knows it at the moment, but she needs to get it in her long-term memory.” Students need to review across a certain number of sessions. Review over long periods helps the information stick.
Here are some tips on how to get the phonics units to stick:
Space out Instruction
A one-hour session 2x a week is more efficient than a four-hour session 1x week. Keep reading sessions frequent.
Let the Student Forget Just A Little
When it comes to forgetting, you actually want your student to forget a little bit. Wait until her brain is saying,” I’m about to discard this “ai” nonsense, because I haven’t used it in awhile.” Then, before her brain rids of the information, you force her to recall “ai” once again. It’s a balancing act. You don’t want to wait too long, but you don’t want to review too soon either.
Don’t Move on Too Quickly
Once you think your student “knows it,” she doesn’t know it…yet. Keep it in the review pile. Review across a good number of sessions until she can read it quickly and accurately and effortlessly.
Introduce a Single Unit at a Time
If a student is really behind in reading, it can be tempting to overwhelm her with all the information she needs to know. However, this is a total waste of time. If you had to remember every item in a boutique shop, you wouldn’t learn everything at once. You’d have to start with a single item—a candle in the corner—then progress from there. Slowly introduce new phonics units. Give her time to practice each unit extensively.