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Should Children Be Reading Fluently By the End of Foundations B?

One day last fall, a customer wrote us with a great question about her son's progress in reading fluency:

I have a question concerning Foundations. I started Foundations A with my son last fall when he was 5 1/2. He enjoyed Foundations A and did fine with the work. We started Foundations B in January or February and did well at first but about halfway through he stopped enjoying it — I suspect because he was overwhelmed with the reading portion.

He knows the phonogram sounds and can break apart and sound out words, but he has not reached the point of fluency with the high-frequency words. He gets overwhelmed by even short sentences — I am not sure if it is the fact that he sees all the words and is worried, or if he has problems with tracking and maintaining an eye on the word he is reading. I always covered up the page so he would read one line at a time. In the end, we didn't finish Foundations B — we had about 8 lessons to go. I intended to work on fluency over the summer but he was resistant to working with the high-frequency words and since we had a lot of travel over the summer I didn't push him on it. When I recently asked him how he felt about starting Foundations again, he said that he likes learning the phonograms, but not the sounding out of words.

My question to you then is, what degree of fluency with the high-frequency words do you expect at the end of Foundations B before moving on to Foundations C? Should I devote our time to improving fluency (and confidence which I think is part of the problem) before finishing the rest of the Foundations B lessons and moving into C?

Secondly, do you have any suggestions for working with a child who has low confidence and who is not excited to work on reading?

For my part, I really like Foundations and believe in the power of phonics. I just don't know how to proceed with my son right now.

I would appreciate any insights you can give me.

Thank you,

Meghan


Hi Meghan,

Thanks for all the good questions here.

First off — let me mention that it might be a good idea to have his vision checked to make sure that is not a factor. Developing the muscle memory for tracking takes time for all kids, so that isn't necessarily a concern, but you do want to rule out the possibility of other vision issues interfering with his comfort in reading.

But now for your questions:

1) It is not at all mandatory that students be able to read the B high-frequency words fluently, or read sentences fluently, before going on to C. If he has the tools to sound them out, and is applying them successfully (even if slowly), this is fine.

Fluency develops through sounding out words many times, until the brain begins to process the sounds so quickly and automatically that it seems instantaneous. This takes a long time! The goal of the high-frequency word games in Foundations is to help build fluency, not that children will master it immediately. He can sound out words as long as he needs to, and for many kids that is well into level C, or longer. For other children, it will be sooner. And either way is fine.

That's not to say you shouldn't hold back if he is feeling overwhelmed. If he would be happier spending some time reviewing the phonograms he has learned, and playing the high-frequency games in B for awhile in a very laid back, low-pressure way, and having opportunities to slowly reread the readers he has read (to you, to another family member, to a younger child, to a stuffed animal or pet) to gain confidence, then do this. Move forward when he feels ready to do so. He does not need to be reading the words fluently yet, but he also should not feel overwhelmed by them, so if you need to take a few steps back and then move forward more slowly to build his confidence, definitely do so.

However, if part of why he is feeling overwhelmed is that he has gotten the impression that he should be sounding out the words or reading the sentences faster by now, then I would do everything you can to reassure him (and yourself) that this is not the case. Sounding out the words, sound by sound, word by word, line by line, is exactly what he should be doing. So if he's actually doing this just fine and just anxious because he's not reading faster, you may be able to simply decrease the pressure and reassure him and then keep moving forward.

(By the way, if you stopped school for the summer you should expect to spend about a month reviewing all the concepts taught in A and the lessons you taught in B at the beginning of the school year before moving forward, no matter what you do after you begin moving forward. This is important for all kids, but even more so if the child was feeling at all overwhelmed with the material before the summer. You can read more about this on our blog: How Much Should We Review After a Break?)

2) I think I've mostly given you my suggestions for your second question mixed in with my answer to the first. Keep the pressure low, focus on whether he is learning and applying the skills and not how fast he is reading, and make sure you are providing short, fun, frequent practice. It might also be helpful to brush up on how you are teaching the spelling words. That process, called spelling analysis, is really powerful when done correctly — it is perhaps the most helpful portion of the lesson for building reading fluency. So you might find it helpful to watch some of our tips and videos on this and see if there are any changes you want to make in how you are doing this part of the lesson.

Videos: Finger Spelling (a key step in spelling analysis), and Spelling Analysis with One-Syllable Words
On the blog: The Purpose of Foundations Spelling Lists
Free resource: Downloadable Spelling Analysis Tutorial

I hope this helps! Please let me know how it goes and if you have any other questions.

Sincerely,

Liz
Logic of English

Meghan later wrote back with a follow-up question:

Thank you! This is just what I needed.

I do have a follow up question - how much time would you suggest working with a 6 1/2 year old at a time? I realize now, and after reading some of the blog entries, that I need to break things up more instead of trying to do an entire lesson at once.

Thanks,
Meghan

In terms of time: the right fit is going to vary by child, so I'd encourage you to base it on his attention and interest level (as well as how quickly he is taking in the material — for example, if the concepts seem to be coming on too quickly, you might spread the lesson over a couple days but then increase the time you spend on the games each day). If you feel like he can do more in a day but divided into two different chunks of time, that will work as well.

You don't need to be bound by completing lessons in a day or sitting; if you want, you can just set a timer (whether that's for 20 or 35 minutes or whatever works) and stop when it's done. Work on Foundations every day, but adjust the amount to fit your schedule or your student's attention span. There's a bit more on this on the blog: Adjusting the Pace of Foundations Lessons.

I would say on average people complete 2-4 lessons per week. The B lessons are longer than those in A, though, and the C lessons will be longer still, so be prepared to break the lessons up more if it starts feeling like too much at some point.

More information

To learn more about the phonograms and spelling rules taught in Logic of English, visit www.LogicOfEnglish.com. You can also read more about high-frequency words and what the reading research says about high-frequency words and fluency development.