Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Just say NO to nonsense words!

If you love nonsense words this is NOT the blog post for you, just walk away now and agree to disagree. Feel free to email me you thoughts on their worth, because as far as I am concerned teachers should not bother using nonsense words and if you have to test with them for MClass or whatever your district uses - don't stress! I'm here to give you my thoughts on why you should quit using nonsense words in any classroom!
My last two years in Kindergarten my district started Rti and we had to test our Kindergartners on a variety if different skills including nonsense words.
I quickly came to strongly dislike nonsense words!
My best students scored the lowest on this assessment and by the end of the year most students scores were going down on it! To me this shows that it is a poor indicator of reading ability.
The discussion of nonsense words came up again this summer when a Kindergarten teacher asked me if I had any products with nonsense words. The short answer was NO!
She asked why and I explained my dislike for them. She was totally sold and said I should write an article for a teaching magazine on them! Well now that my graduate paper is figured out I decided I would start with a blog post!
My reason for not using nonsense words is simple - in the grand scheme of reading we want kids to ultimately get MEANING from text! Nonsense words have no meaning!

We teach students yes even as young as Kindergarten that we read books to learn things, to try to learn lessons, or to enjoy stories! Nonsense words lead to none of this!
So I say - use REAL words!!!! Phonetic or not but use real words!
Please understand this is not a post against phonics - I happen to LOVE phonics actually (and I wasn't a phonetic reader!) and think that phonics instruction should extend beyond 2nd grade!!!
I think phonics instruction should be explicit and intentional but it should use REAL words!!!
You can have your students practice segmenting and blending using real words! There are plenty of them out there I promise! AND if it's a real word but not familiar to a child - look it up! Give it meaning! It will make your reading instruction so much more authentic!
I know on that test the are to say each sound for segmenting (which actually helps in writing and spelling ability but that's another blog post entirely), and they can say each sound or the whole word for blending. Some will argue that if you don't use nonsense words you don't know if they are blending it or they know it from memory. I say GOOD that's what we want them to do - remember words! But I address that below if you are really worried about it!
BUT what if I HAVE to teach nonsense words.
If you HAVE to teach them because of a TEST - ask yourself how much do I care what that test says about my student? 
I (hope) you know you student well enough to know whether they are making progress or not! You can assess them on segmenting and blending using REAL words! 
Save a set just for testing if it's an issue of them having "seen" it before.
If you HAVE to use nonsense words because your administrator says so here are some strategies:

1. Give them meaning by allowing them to make up definitions for them! Think dinglehopper ala' Little Mermaid

 
You could have students do this individually or as a group! What a great center activity! What a great way to encourage creativity!!!!!
2. Make a list of rhyming words using them! This is how nonsense words are most often used in literature! Writers get away with it because they GIVE IT MEANING (are you sensing a theme here?).
Think Dr. Suess
In fact when I taught Kindergarten and HAD to use nonsense words I called them Suess words. 
Dr. Seuss and JK Rowling made a living by making up words but giving them meaning and purpose! 
If you are in need of some resources for blending and segmenting words I would love it if you would check out my 
Turtle Talk for blending
and Robot Talk for segmenting

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