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Are Flash Cards Effective?

Updated: 2 days ago






Many affectionately refer to our Learning Cards as 'Flashcards,' and we don't mind at all. If people are talking about our products, it's a good thing! However, it's crucial to clarify that while flashcards are a fantastic tool when used correctly, our Enchanting Learning Cards are a different proposition altogether.


I've hesitated to address this for a while, mainly for two reasons:


  1. I don't want to cast a shadow on flashcards or the wonderful small businesses making them. Flashcards have their place, but it's essential to educate on the difference between learning and testing.

  2. We might create flashcard-style products in the future. It's crucial to emphasise that I'm not discrediting flashcards.

 

Trained professionals will tell you that using flashcards within a classroom setting is not a simple as picking up a deck of cards and flashing them at a group of children all shooting their hands up to answer. There’s a big and important degree of finesse to this and care really does have to be taken as we stand a real chance of knocking confidence, confusing children, or switching them off to learning with this basic and potentially pressured approach. Here are two ways we would use 'flashcards' in the classroom and why:

 

1.     To check the retention of prior learning. Generally this would be done 1:1 or within a group of children who are at a similar point on the same learning pathway. We might use a flashcard to say, ‘can you tell me what this ‘sound’ is/’ or in reverse, “Can you find the card that has the /m/ sound?” Note my mention of ‘prior learning’. This is a key point. Using flashcards to teach letters, words and numbers by rote is only one piece of the learning pie and not suitable for all learners  - learning becomes truly embedded through creating strong and meaningful pathways within the brain through tasks that cater to differing learning styles that are presented in varying ways over the course of a long period of time. There’s no wizardry to this and often those key learning experiences happen at home, we just need to make sure we are creative in our approach, tapping into interests and making experiences varied and enjoyable – AKA play! The main point to make is that we don’t use flashcards in their the traditional sense to teach a whole concept, they are often simply a tool to check children have the name of a number or the sound a letter/group of letters corresponds to.




 2.     As a visual reference for learning numbers/letters. Flashcards are great for showing the shape of a letter or number in isolation. They are simply presented in black often on a white or pale-yellow background for clarity. I used to crack open the flashcards with my Y2 children who often needed reminding about capital letters – they spend time immersed in phonics that sometimes you need to revisit letter names and capital letter shapes! However, it is also powerful to model the shape of a letter in live writing when teaching (at home or in school) so children can also see the journey of the pen to create the shape – children also need to see things in action to give that deeper context needed to make those strong pathways I previously mentioned! So this is not “What is this letter?” This is … “ This is the letter A, it looks like this…kind of like a ladder right?... Let's build one in play dough!” Teaching not testing.


The Power of Concrete Representation:

Flashcards offer abstract representations of concepts; the brain tends to prune abstract experiences lacking concrete elements. Learning to read and write requires tools and methods that represent concepts, building meaningful and lasting links for robust cognitive pathways.


If flashing a series of cards at a child results in a happy and confident recitation of letters, numbers, or sounds, it's undoubtedly helpful. However, this doesn't fully equate to readiness for reading and writing. This reminds me of the times parents proudly presented their child to me when joining nursery/reception, telling me their child is ready to learn to read as they know their alphabet. Hearing this told me the child comes from parents who want to support learning at home, who are keen to encourage reading, who are rightly proud and engaged in their child’s learning. It also told me their child could have a great auditory memory (important skill alert!). However, it told me little about their readiness to read. Had the parent said, “We’ve been working on rhyme and have strived hard to boost vocabulary through storytelling, we listen for sounds in our environment and Jessy is really interested in telling stories using only pictures…” then I’d be thinking, great, Jessy has had a  great foundation for reading!


 Empowering Parents to Teach!

Untrained ( in terms of teaching!) parents and carers are key to the learning process, especially with our brilliant teachers often being so overloaded and I want to make sure that everyone feels empowered to step beyond the role of ‘tester’ and be bold and adventurous in the role of teacher and learner.

 

We didn’t make flashcards to support the reading and writing process as we wanted to encourage adults to support literacy as holistically and creatively as possible which is why we opted for learning cards. We’re in a world where we are going to be desperate for a generation of awesome problem solvers. How do we create problem solvers? Give them decisions to make and problems to solve.





Creative thinkers are our future!

Our learning cards have a storytelling element to provide opportunities to develop creative thinking which in turn improves everyone’s ability to problem solve! When you’re telling a story without a book, there are decisions to be made about characters, their actions the settings in the story and the plot. At the same time as all this problem solving, there’s a lot of language in action and lots of oracy skills being developed such as listening, turn taking, considering the opinions of others, learning new words in context…all of this underpins successful reading and writing journeys.


Tools with multiple uses.

 

We created our learning cards with an aim to provide adults with a tool that they can use in a variety of ways which then grows into a resource that children can use more independently as they get older. We didn’t want a resource that could be ‘completed’ and shoved into a drawer. We wanted to create a tool that could be used to support play, to spark ideas and enthusiasm for homework, to break phonics down into it’s code for all to see, to provide rhyme to support early phonics and reading skills, to provide well researched nonsense words to be used in games, to provide accessible CVC (consonant /vowel/consonant) words to be used in creative activities…all alongside storytelling.

 

A learning card should be striving to support and develop wide ranging literacy processes such as reading and writing in the most rounded way possible where speech and language skills (problem solving, listening, gesture etc) underpin everything. It should also be easy to use, jargon free ( I hate jargon, it can be such a barrier) and inspirational.


Flashcards are not the devils work!

 

In conclusion, I want to reiterate that flashcards are not a bad thing, they are a handy tool that in my opinion are best used with experience and clear intentions, they don't just need to be flashed at children with an expectation of an instant answer – if we ever make any, they will come with a ‘health warning’ and lots of ideas for use!

 

Our Enchanting learning Cards aim to go further to support a more rounded and deeper understanding of the reading and writing process by unlocking imagination and building children’s confidence to explore, experiment and solve problems while they journey towards well rounded literacy skills.

 

Find out more about our Enchanting Learning Cards here.

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