Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why Generated Spelling

In writing workshop I encourage students to generate spellings for words that they do not know how to spell. The beginning goal in writing workshop is for students to get their ideas onto paper, so that they can develop those ideas into cohesive pieces of writing. Young students who are concerned primarily with spelling words conventionally tend to be more conservative writers: “I love my mom. I love my dad. I love my dog.” They like to stick to words they are sure they know how to spell. Or they rely on others to help them spell, which undercuts their developing independence as a writer. Or they take so long to look for the spelling of a word, they forget what they were going to say next.

A willingness to use generated spelling frees the student to focus on getting those ideas into writing. I find once a student makes this step, the writing becomes more varied, and the student works with more confidence. When I ask students to generate spellings, I ask them to stretch the words out and write down the letters that represent the sounds they hear. The goal is for them to represent the words phonetically. As their understandings of words develop, they can draw on what they learn about how words work, for example using two l’s in spelling wall because they have learned to spell “ball.”

An additional value is that the process of generating spelling is a type of encoding. There is research that shows that the process of working to encode words supports a child’s developing reading skills.

In other parts of our language group work, we do word study. In word study we work to add frequently used words to both the students’ reading and spelling vocabularies. Over time we also begin to explore common spelling patterns and word families. So encouraging generated spelling in writing workshop does not mean that spelling is not important. What is important is to explore it in areas that do not undercut the student's developing independence as a writer.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Teach the Writer part 2

I recently posted on my thoughts on the idea of "Teach the writer not the writing." Recently as I was catching up on some of the blogs that I follow, I found a wonderful post at Two Writing Teachers by Ruth Ayers on this very topic. It expresses the idea so well. Here is a link to it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Teach the Writer

"Teach the writer, not the writing." This is a phrase that I have heard from leaders of Writing Workshop, including Lucy Calkins and Katie Wood Ray. It is a point that Katie made in her workshop with us in August. I knew what she was talking about. I could picture myself last year conferencing with one of my six year old students. She had a nearly completed book that I felt had serious problems. Yet she was so proud of it. As I looked at her beaming over her book, I looked at it again. I focused first on what she was doing well. She was telling a story that she was excited about. Her book consistently focused on that story, and she had an interesting structure with a repeated pattern that added to her story. My concern was that she had rushed through her pages and had left out a number of words. She also had not put spaces between her words. Her spelling was semi-phonetic, so the leaving out of words and lack of spacing added to the difficulty of reading her piece, even for her. Yet what a lot of work it would take for her to go back and fix this piece of writing. I needed to focus on what she needed as a writer rather than what this particular piece needed.

I took a breath and considered my next words carefully. Then I pointed out the things she was doing well in her book. As the conference wound up, I told her that I admired her skill as story teller. But I added a request. I said, “I love your stories, and I can tell you’re excited about them. I think because you are excited you rush, and then you leave words out. That makes it harder for me to read your wonderful stories. The next time you start a book, I want you to stop after each page and read it over carefully. Be sure all the words of your story are there.” I made a note in my record book to check in with her early in her next book project to remind her of this. I also made a note to include her in a group with others who would benefit from a mini-lesson on spacing words later. Her development as a writer and her developing confidence as a writer were far more important than how that particular piece turned out.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Beginning Writing Workshop

On the second full day of school we began Writing Workshop. We have not yet assigned students to the language groups in which they will continue their writing work throughout the year. Thus we began as a whole class. For the first day I led a mini-lesson focused on the kinds of books students might want to make. I shared some favorite books from our classroom collection of children’s literature. I also shared some books that students have made in previous years, using them to illustrate a wide range of topics, as well as to help new students see what their books might look like. Then I sent a few at a time to choose a blank booklet (some with lines, some without) with which to begin.

As all three of the Sky teachers were there, we were able to assist students who needed help. New students also learned that their classmates could be good helpers. By the end of this first workshop time everyone had settled on an idea for a book and had at least written a title or begun by making illustrations. A number of students were several pages into writing and illustrating. The first thing we heard from one student as she entered the classroom the next day was, “Can I work on my book today?”