“FLASH CARDS DON’T WORK FOR MY CHILD!” Let’s fix that…
Why aren’t flash cards working for my child?
Flash cards as they are traditionally used are the slow boat to China. Boring. It can take forever to get that information into the child’s long term memory, and many times those efforts fail.
The standard use of flash cards was put in place long before most educators knew anything about the neurology of learning, about the speed with which information travels the neural highway, about how a child’s brain prefers to learn. We’re now gathering information that will grow exponentially because of information and research being done through the marvels of medical technology. There is in fact a way to make flash cards work amazingly for our children with Down syndrome, DS/Autism, etc.
I’ve written about Fast Flash before, because it works with the brain instead of against it. (To see articles I’ve previously written on the topic, type “fast flash” in the search box on this page.) But what if you’ve read all those articles and it’s still not working for your child? What then? Let’s go over a Fast Flash checklist together:
Common mistakes I see:
- Is your type too small? That’s the most common mistake I see: when we’re developing the immature visual pathway, SIZE MATTERS. It matters big-time, pun intended. If a child/teen/adult is just beginning to learn to read, the type on the flash card needs to be a minimum of 1 inch high. Minimum. As the learner advances, you can use smaller and smaller type, but not in the beginning of this learning journey!
- Are you flashing too slowly? Aim for 2 cards per second, if you can. The slowest you want to go is 1 card per second.
- Is the child repeating the words as you flash the cards? Not. We don’t want the child to put effort into language or articulation; we want eyes on the cards.
That’s it. One brain task at a time, please. If the child is even trying to repeat the words aloud, it’s a major tip-off that you’re flashing too slowly. The correct flashing speed will make verbalizing the word impossible for the student. Only you say the word as you flash it. That’s it.
- Is your naming of the word synchronized with the showing of the word card? What do I mean? I’ve seen parents calling out the word that they they can see on the back of a new card while the previous card (a different word) is still showing to the child! I encourage you to “name-as-you-land” the new card in your receiving hand. See what Fast Flash looks like for a video of this (click the “Fast Flash Demo” option in that article).
- Did you handwrite the words on the cards? Oops. Unless you’re a professional calligrapher, just don’t. Print the cards on a computer if at all possible. Why? Because if you use type, you’ve just made the brain’s job easier. Handwriting throws challenges in the visual pathway: letters are different heights, slightly different shapes each time they’re written, etc. Just don’t. You’ll make the task easier for your learner.
- Did you write everything in uppercase because the classroom is doing it? Everything we do in teaching reading is done with an eye for the future; regardless of what a particular teacher may be using in the classroom, you use lowercase for all words except proper nouns. That’s what the child will see in print all life-long. We establish appropriate patterns from the get-go.
Does it really work?
When I give workshops to educators and parents, I say, “Don’t believe me. Just do it.”
The response I get back is along these lines, this from a special educator: “I went back to work and told my colleagues that I was going to use large flash cards with no pictures, and use the Fast Flash method. They said, ‘Sure, like that’s going to work!’ Well, here it is 6 weeks later, and my entire special ed class has learned 15 new words solidly. I had been trying to teach them a short list of words for a year with no success. Now my colleagues are saying, ‘Wow! That really works!'”
Though Fast Flash has been around and working beautifully for nearly 50 years, it’s only now going mainstream with parents, and slowly finding its way into special ed protocol. Let’s work together to make it mainstream in the classroom, too–success works!