Teachers Should Stop Doing This One Thing

Posted by Brainspring on 15th Oct 2015

be-quiet-1436980-639x927Hi everyone,

I’ve been having a fantastic week coaching teachers I trained in Phonics First over the summer. I love getting to see teachers who were sitting in my class in their own classrooms teaching reading to their students. I happen to be working with interventionists and Special Education teachers in this district, so together the teachers and I have been focused on how to individualize instruction for their small groups.

Even though each group has different needs, there is one bit of coaching advice I give to every teacher: “Don’t do it with them!” I often see teachers going through and participating in the Three-Part Drill with their students. I hear teachers saying each sound during the visual drill, writing the letters in the air during the auditory drill, and pointing, saying and blending the sounds during the blending drill.

The students, not the teacher, should be doing those things during the Three-Part Drill. The students aren’t learning as well if they are focusing on the teacher instead of sounds, letters and strategies. You’ll still be busy as the teacher, facilitating the review, monitoring how well students are mastering skills and planning subsequent instruction accordingly.

If you have been doing the Three-Part Drill along with your students, stop and assess what happens during the next drill. You may not realize how much your students have been relying on cues from you, such as the sounds or even the shape of your mouth. By taking a step back, you may find that your students haven’t mastered some skills as well as you thought. This may help explain why some students don’t seem to be able to read and spell as well on their own as they do during the drill; it may appear they have mastered skills, when they have really been relying on the teacher.


What TO Do When Reviewing

Instead of participating in the drill the same way the students are, you should be facilitating and assessing during the drill.

Visual Drill

During the visual drill, flip through the cards quickly as you hear the students say the sounds. This is only a review, not a time for teaching or unnecessary interruptions. Pay attention to which sounds students give quickly and correctly, and which sounds they are slower with or miscue on. You’ll want to be sure to include these sounds in the auditory and blending drills. You may even find some skills need extra review or reteaching.

Auditory Drill

During the auditory drill, give clear sounds for the students to write in the sand. Again, move as quickly as the students allow: the more down time and interruptions, the more opportunities for students to lose focus and start talking or drawing in the same. Pay attention to which sounds come automatically for the students and which are more difficult. I like to make notes of what sounds were miscued or seemed tricky and I focus on these in other areas of the lesson and during the next drill.

Blending Drill

During the blending drill, set a pace and procedure that is appropriate for the students. Beginning readers will point and say each sound before blending the syllable. More advanced readers should move toward reading the whole word, without saying each individual sound first. This is a great place for you to assess how well students are applying the review skills used in the Three-Part Drill. The visual and auditory parts of the Drill only use the letters and sounds in isolation; the blending drill requires students to bring skills together to read the whole syllable. Pay special attention to the vowel sounds during the blending drill; using the proper sound in the middle of the word is more difficult than giving the sound in isolation. You may discover your students would benefit from more time spent on Vowel Intensives and other vowel reviews.


There is a lot you can be doing as the teacher during the Three-Part Drill without participating as a student. The students need to learn how to read and spell, so they should be using the multisensory techniques and verbalizing. You already know how to read and spell; your goal is to support your students reading development. You should focus on assessing how well your students are mastering what you have taught and then planning to adjust your teaching accordingly.


Comment below with what you observed when you stopped participating with your students.


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