Sunday, May 25, 2014

Reigniting a Love of Words

How to reengage children with words when their relationship with them has been damaged?  This is a question I ponder often.  Three things seem pertinent:
  1. A consistent, safe, playful, structured, (and probably lots more) relationship with at least one other - around words.
  2. A solid structured, cumulative, explicit phonics program through which to learn.  One that makes sense, and on this last point I put linguistic phonics' programs at the top of the list.
  3. Opportunities to play with words, learn about words, not be afraid to express words, put words into sentences .... immerse in imagination through words.

The second point is evidence based, that is, research over time has demonstrated the high correlation between this type of literacy program and performance on reading, spelling and writing.  I am also aware of research into programs which aim to make a difference at children's understanding of emotions and social interactions and the pivotal influence of the relationship in which this learning is supported.  On the last point, maybe there is a bank of research on this too but at this point in time I haven't started to explore it - at this point in time it just remains an important part of my passion.

Pie Corbett on the talk4writing website talks about activities in which "... a strong link is made with home playing an invaluable role in developing a love of words and gradually building the bank of language."  As a parent (who loves books) of a child who has developed reading difficulties, watching the  impact of their contaminated relationship with the written word play out at home (no reading) and at school (difficulty reading and reluctance to write) is soul saddening - particularly when she has the most wonderful gifted imagination.  Success with a solid phonics program really helps to boost a child's motivation to reengage with words.  But before success comes effort.  In that phase I try to ignite hope - hope that a child can understand words before them and hope that they can one day express all the wonderful ideas, stories and expressions that sit with latent potency inside them.  From my days in managing community markets, I have learned the value of images to hope and creativity.  In my remediation tuition this is where IT comes in.

In the 'igniting hope' phase I am experimenting.  With one boy I have gone to the library to find larger print, diary/comic type books on this favourite sport - I thank all those wonderful authors who write for a very varied audience!  With another I use post it notes to demonstrate how she has to hold information in her head whilst she reads and what needs to be done (lots of practice) to move the post it notes from working memory to long term memory.  She gets it.  And with parents I alert them to the voice to text and text to voice features on their iphones and ipads.  Eyes light up ... hope.

In the sounds write lessons we have the opportunity for children to generate silly sentences. Those who have been particularly damaged by their school experience with words clam up.  I look for ways to ease their reentry.  In the free resources section of the talk4writing website, Maria Richards, the talk4writing primary expert, gives a wonderful overview of apps that can be used to ignite creativity in children.  Somewhere on the site Pie Corbett makes the statement "Fear is the enemy of creativity."  I absolutely agree, and there is no bigger impediment to writing creativity than fear of words and the written word. 

I experimented with a few of the Apps over the weekend.  In particular I zoomed in on those that would support a selection of the learning objectives I have for the children:
  • Improve their feelings towards words.
  • Reinforce their understanding that letters are simply a code for sounds of speech in words, so play with the letters, move them around, see what new words emerge.
  • Increase their vocabulary by learning new words.
  • Give expression to their imagination.
  • Practice spelling, learning more about how different combinations of letters represent different sounds and how the same combinations can represent different sounds depending on the words.

I am not an English teacher and nor do I want to be teaching about formal elements of writing.  I leave that to the experts. But I can help kids reconnect with words, have fun and learn.  I can build a bridge which children can later develop through formal classroom instruction from the experts.  In SW units we have children build silly sentences and they can also build silly stories.  I thought that if I explored poetry it might be less threatening.

Here are some of the incidental learning fun things my 10 year old daughter and I did over the weekend.  The first is a poem we put to writing using the pages app.  Together we made up the sentences and one by one my daughter dictated them into her ipad mini using the voice to text button.  I mailed it through to my word processor (and the app converted to Word format) then I tizzied it up on publisher.  Later I will print it up and paste it into a small book she has made over the years.  The poem was inspired by her meanderings whilst delivering our local paper.  She notices every little interesting thing along the way and they all end up in her pockets waiting to be carefully extracted to show and tell of her 'treasures'.  Earlier in the week I had found some of Pie Corbett's books for kids in the Kwinana library.  I am not a poet so these children's books on writing poetry served me well.  "Use powerful verbs, precise nouns and expressive adjectives."  (Poem-Maker, Word-Shaker, by Pie Corbett, 2005.)  As an added bonus, this little exercise made me look at my own language and how what I say sets the scene for my daughter's use of language and vocabulary development.  I am determined to at least become a better word shaker.

Next, we played with one  of the apps - Visual Poetry.  For $2.99 children can create their own poems, draw their own picture and the poem transitions into the picture.  Many of the girls I work with like to draw, so the combination of drawing and writing is a good one.  The poem began with an imaginative comment my daughter made about the night time antics of her teddy bears.  We quickly penned a poem into the ipad, she drew a picture of a bear and this is the end result. The next morning I realised I could take a photo, so I took one of one of the bears and the picture below is the end result of that one.  
I'm not sure it adds anything to the poem but again for a child wishing to put on paper what they see and feel, the photograph gives another avenue for expression.

There are other apps on the previously mentioned article on the talk4writing website.  I will blog them another time.  One creates stories using nouns, adjectives and verbs the child inputs.  I am going to use these with SW Extended Code Word lists.  Another creates silly sentences with an option to learn the meaning of words used.  I could use this in story creation, add the words to our sound dictionary, use Lesson 15 to explore the tricky bits in words and just show kids that people have fun with words - it doesn't always have to be serious.  

Another app allows the teacher to create their own spelling list for kids to play with and use in a version of hangman.  If I can only find the time to insert the spelling list this app will be invaluable for reinforcement of speech sounds and spelling patterns during wrap around at home sessions.

So now I am happy, a brilliant phonics program and an emerging comfort in using technology to playfully reengage children with words.  May their imaginations flourish like a village square fountain (I finally used a simile!).

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