Sunday, April 6, 2014

Loving Words

I was going to say one of the reasons I got involved in understanding reading and how to teach it was because I wanted to be able to influence children's relationship to the written word and the joy that can come from it.  Actually that wasn't the one big reason - THAT was watching my daughter struggle with no observable support from her classroom teacher at that time.  Back THEN I thought that getting children to read was simply about finding the right program to teach them.  What I FINALLY realised was that yes, there is overwhelming evidence that a great phonics program really does make a huge difference, but what I saw at the level of one on one tutoring was that how I was in my being and how much enthusiasm I brought to the learning experience was of equal if perhaps not more, importance.

I love books, I love to read ... and at my age I should probably be sitting around, enjoying the simple pleasure of reading, a lot.  I am happy when I am reading and playing with words.  So how do I bring this to my tutoring of young charges, who, more often than not, have been totally put off reading because they were either not taught correctly and/or just had too much difficulty with the task.  I go back to being able to influence children's relationship to words on a page, the fabulous stories they convey, the pleasure of turning a page, the texture of paper, and the feelings of pride when we construct our own stories.

I am a trained bookbinder.  I have conducted many workshops with adults and children on making their own books.  I have not yet progressed on to writing my own book, but who knows, maybe one day.  

The book, 'Homemade Books to Help Kids Cope' by Robert G. Ziegler, M.D. is a book I hold as one of my most treasured.  I love the idea of writing stories for children who need help with understanding.  I love the idea of parents writing stories for their children and I love the idea of translating these stories into little homemade books if people want to take it one step further.  If children have a negative relationship with words then my aim is to engage them through sensate rich creativity.  Using the process outlined in this book, simple bookbinding skills and kids' interest in writing stories and adding their artwork, I aim to increase the power of the learning and change their experience to one of awesome enjoyment.

I start with a Sounds Write lesson in which children sort words of the same sound into different spellings.  We know from our research that solid spelling skills required repeated exposure (and for many children, lots of repeated exposure!).  We also know that the more senses we engage the more meaning is made of what is being learned and the more rich and solid the neural pathways that are constructed.  In Sounds Write the sorting process is taught and can be followed up with worksheets.  I have taken it one step further.

Here I have taken the story writing template outlined in the book mentioned above and invite children to write a 'decodable' story using as many words with the target sound as possible.  All other words may only be constructed from sounds they have covered.  Any frequent words with irregular spellings will also need to have been covered in the Sounds Write Sequence and Scope.  Its a challenge but not as difficult as it may seem.  And if children are really motivated I invite them to add their own artwork or for those especially keen I am happy to bind up a simple book which they take away.  As these stories and books are constructed I will post them on my blog.

Here is one I constructed with daughter last year - only we haven't got around to adding the artwork!
Published decodable books can be expensive to buy and come along with professional artwork.  We all need resources to support our work using good phonics' programs.  Older children can be put off with some of the 'younger looking' resources available to them.  In addition to being more multisensory and then more potentially powerful, perhaps writing one's own story and illustrations is also more grown up.

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