Sunday, April 20, 2014

Filling In The Gaps

In a recent article Ruth Miskin (Read Write Inc.) makes the statement "Without talk there is little thought." She is commenting on the difference that lots of language early in a child's life makes to their thinking and reading life.  She begins with a description of the early lives of two children, barometric composites of many children in our school systems, and how these play out with reading acquisition.  She then goes on to describe the type of intervention required if the child less exposed to language early on is to gain ground.  Lots of work is required, language rich classrooms, conversations, explicit vocabulary development, reading every day, engagement with stories .....

Early language immersion has huge implications.  In concrete terms it translates in to how many words a child has been exposed to - differences in the millions.  Classroom teachers do not facilitate learning with 30 odd children who have all been exposed to the same number of words.  The difference in exposure to words means children in a single class vary a lot in terms of their familiarity with words that are used in classroom lessons, how easily they 'click in' to the sounds of words and who can access and work with a broad range of words.  And it further plays out in who can develop their recognition of familiar words into more meaningful recall of words from long term memory.   It affects comprehension of what they write, richness of what they write, their ability to use their working memory potential well.

Ruth Miskin goes on to list a number of very good questions for school leaders. Any parent with a child struggling with literacy would be wise to note these questions and ask them of the schools they are considering.  Pulling all of this together is not easy for schools .... or for parents.  Literacy development for many children requires intensive and extended effort.  As a parent I know I fail, often, to maintain the level of home input that is really required to 'quicken' the pace of my daughter's remediation.  I know from experience how an overemphasis on developing literacy can undermine relationships and balance within a family home.  So I do what I can and I look for ways that I can retain and enrich my daughter's relationship with words and reading even though it may not be easy for her.  I support the explicit phonics instruction of her classroom with nightly reading of books (at level - decodable).  I look for ways to extend conversation.  We talk about words.  I look for ways to keep stories alive and interesting.  And I look for ways in which I can keep her engaged with writing (journalling and creative) and the magic that brings.

For many children struggling with literacy their relationship to words is severely contaminated.  I'd like to think we can reengage them.  Success is the biggest motivator which is why I believe wholeheartedly in good solid explicit tutoring.  Children should be able to trust someone to help them learn.  And I want to keep children open to the magic and character strengthening of stories, and books, and writing.

This week I noticed two workshops for children being conducted through the Fremantle Arts Centre Arts Courses.  I've enrolled my daughter in one of them - 'The Laboratory of Hairy Words' for 9 - 12 yr olds.  Its a new course, facilitated by Josephine Wilson.  Children get to play with words in the creation of a small work of fiction.  I am hoping this is fun, great fun, and that my daughter comes home full of enthusiasm for playing more with words.  

She has already mastered the skills of making her own books.  The ones below were made in the days when I operated The Paper Muse.  

We have had many an enjoyable moment using the suggestions from this little book "How to Make a Journal of Your Life" by Dan Price in filling our journals with drawings and photos and things to stick in.  Now I'm hoping her time with Josephine and other children tickles along her confidence and enjoyment in crafting her own stories and putting them to paper. 

The Laboratory of Hairy Words is a new course.  I hope it is a huge success.  If my girl comes home talking enthusiastically about what she has done then we've made inroads on two levels - more talking and conversation, and more writing.  I will keep you posted.

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