Writing to Support Reading

It is heartening to hear from parents who are struggling to support their kids' learning--not because your issues are easy to solve--but because this issue is so pervasive and so many parents feel alone as they face such challenges. If you're reading these posts and experiencing your own mismatch between learning and school, please share it!

Leslie has posted a second comment in response to cat6, who suggested Leslie ask "does that make sense?" both at times when Shelby's reading does make sense, and also when it doesn't. This way Leslie is not giving the subtler message that Shelby hasn't read the passage correctly. Rather, she is teaching the direct lesson that readers stop along the way to monitor their comprehension.

Leslie now has new information about Shelby as a reader:

Here is the latest. My sister-in-law is a Reading Recovery trained teacher and reading specialist (unfortunately she lives a couple hours away and we don't see her often). She did a basic reading assessment with Shelby to try to pinpoint what we need to focus on. Her decoding is very weak, which I'd already figured out on my own. My sister in law feels that we need to find someone to work with Shelby using a multi-sensory approach (she mentioned SLANT or Wilson's). She isn't a believe in focusing heavily on phonics instruction but thinks this is the root of Shelby's issue. Of course Shelby's teacher can't provide this type of support and heck if I know how. So I'm on the hunt for someone who can work with her but not having much luck. So the frustration continues!

I have wanted to post on writing so will use this opportunity to make three suggestions for Leslie and Shelby, focused on writing instead of reading. Writing gives us one window into how learners are making sense of the grapho-phoneme system (what most people call phonics), as writers put down on paper what they know. Reading Recovery lessons include sentence writing instruction, and in this post I'll suggest 1) an adaptation of a sentence writing activity, 2) creating a personal spelling sheet, 3) and last, my favorite Donald Graves strategy for writers who lack confidence. These may or may not be appropriate for Shelby at this time, but I'm predicting that they're worth a try.

Sentence Writing
Use a bound journal or composition book for this engagement, dedicating one page to each writing session. Here is one possible sequence:

1) The adult partner writes a sentence about something worth sharing, i.e. "I had a challenging day at work because two projects were due at the same time." Something simple and real. Say the thought out loud, and then "think aloud" to Shelby as you write, telling her the decisions you're making as a writer.

So something like, "I ... had ... a ... challenging, that starts with /ch/, then /al/ and I know there's another /l/, /enj/, interesting, it sounds like a /j/ but it's a /g/, and /ing/ is easy, i-n-g ... day, interesting how /ay/ makes the long a sound ... at ... work. I know it's /or/ in work because I've seen it so many times, but all the vowels can say /er/ when they're next to an /r/ ..." Etc.

That might be too much talking for that one part of the sentence, but you get the picture. You're talking aloud about your writing. Yes, you won't know as much about phonics as some of us reading wonks, but you should do okay with it.

2) Then ask your child to share an idea from her day/write a sentence. Unlike RR (where the teacher talks the spelling of words through with the writer before s/he writes , I would encourage her to do her best as she writes. After she finishes her idea/sentence, ask her how she made her decisions, both for words that are spelled conventionally and those that are not. If she made a reasonable decision on a misspelled word, like using /ow/ where she should have used /ou/, which both make the same sound, tell her her decision was a good one, even if it is not how that word is spelled in print.

If she's unsure about spelling, say if a consonant should be doubled, tell her, sharing the related spelling rule. Few phonics/spelling rules are helpful to kids, since there are so many exceptions to the rules, but Sandra Wilde offers a short list of rules worth learning (
Routman, 2000).

Spelling rules worth learning
• Put i before e (as well as the ei pattern)
• Drop e before adding a suffix
• Change y to i before adding a suffix
• Double final consonants before adding a suffix

So, one sentence a day for each of you. Talk about what and how you write it, 10-20 minutes max. My RR colleagues say that the sentence writing experience really shows up in kids' confidence as writers in as little as 6 weeks. Then again, RR is done with younger kids.

You could do this on the computer, but you'll need to turn off the automatic spelling correction feature. You also lose the original spellings, which are interesting to track, but most kids will write with more enthusiasm on the computer.

Personal Spelling Sheet
Type up a one page (front and back) sheet with 3 or 4 columns, black lines for entering words, and capital letters in the margins. Etc. Obviously include more lines for frequently occurring beginning letters, like T & W. After you work out the spelling of a word from her written idea, ask her if she wants to add it to the spelling sheet. This could take other forms (a small booklet), but the idea is to keep it simple, for her to make the decisions, and for her to use it. Too many words become cumbersome, especially when they look alike, i.e. were, when, where, which. And better for her to enter words she uses, rather than to use a prepared sheet with many words. Tuck it into the notebook.



My favorite Donald Graves strategy
This strategy is a good one for kids who are reluctant or inexperienced older writers. If the writer is "stuck," ask her what she wants to say about the topic. As she talks, write down her ideas in phrases (rather than entire sentences). Spend some time talking about the focus of the writing, and then offer your notes: "If you want to use some of your great ideas, here they are." Keep the focus on the ideas, rather than spelling.

Leslie and I will see each other soon, so I can demonstrate these suggestions face to face. We'll find out, over time, if writing with Shelby will give her insights into Shelby's knowledge of letters and sounds. And in the meantime, I would negotiate that Shelby talk with you or the teacher about the books she reads, rather than take the AR tests. Just a thought!

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