Friday, December 31, 2010

In the Workshop!

I am going to tackle this book in sections, likely two chapters at a time and give a description of what I found most meaningful.
The first chapter is titled Writing Workshop A Happy Place Where We Make Stuff, signifying how simple the task of writing can be for those just beginning the process. The second chapter is titled, Work, Space, and Time Writing Workshop Right from the Start.
This book is already challenging some of the ideas I have been schooled to try in my own teaching. I love it when my beliefs about teaching writing are confronted. This constantly forces me to review the building blocks of my path and helps me create new ones, because there is always more to learn—right?
Katy Wood Ray is a teaching consultant in Lisa B. Cleveland’s classroom of first grade students. In this classroom, writing workshop begins after a couple days of classroom routine activities to get the year started. Workshop begins at 9:00am each day. Once some stamina is in place, students work on writing for close to an hour’s time. Beginning with a mini-lesson, Lisa introduces concepts to the students and asks them to wonder, “Is this something I could try in my writing?” She then releases them to the materials in the room that are easily utilized independently by the students. They begin with stapled booklets of paper. Their first tasks are making little books full of illustrations and writing at their level. By stapling the paper she has immediately made something they understand—books. The idea of something as big as a book is what elicits the big ideas the students eventually become comfortable with and they write more. Katy Wood Ray explains that their philosophy on little writers deviates from the common “journal,” and their feeling is that journaling takes away the reading and writing connection deemed so important. Journals are often used because of the efficiency, in terms of the management of materials. For the littlest of writers, making a book is much more tangible and understood. It becomes reading material for them and something to be shared. She explains further that often journals may include a given topic, making the reins of writing tight. This quote said it all to me:
“If we told students what to do all day long, we’d be teaching them to think of themselves as people who should wait to be told what to do (pg. 19).”
 See you soon in chapters three and four!
Thanks for reading. I'd love to hear about what you are reading too, please feel free to comment below!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New Motivation

Students are always so challenging those few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, then you get back to school after the New Year and everyone is tired, out of practice, and in need of a revival of sorts. I am hoping some of my new reading will be just what I've been waiting for, helping me deliver some of what my students will be needing when we return in January.
For Christmas I got the new book Day by Day by Ruth Ayres and Stacey Shubitz from a dear friend who knows me well. I also got the CAFE book by The Sisters from my husband. This is one I have been waiting to purchase too, waiting because I haven't finished About the Authors by Katie Wood Ray. Looks like I will be busy over the next several weeks.
Let the flow of ideas begin!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Perspectives on Spelling

Wow, it’s definitely that time of year when it feels like there is no time for anything extra. I have been perplexed over spelling this past month.
In Dancing with the Pen, spelling is discussed as a tool not a barrier to student writing. The teaching of spelling has encountered many styles. I personally remember taking spelling tests, having classroom spelling bees and I remember thinking spelling was all about luck. Either you were a good speller or a bad speller. I never felt it was something I was taught; instead I was just one of the lucky ones who could somehow avoid humiliation during a spelling bee because I was never the first one to sit down.  I almost never won either.
The section of Dancing with the Pen that elaborates on spelling is based on Richard Gentry’s paper that analyzes the development of spelling called, GNYS AT WRK. Gentry identifies five stages of spelling that I will briefly describe.
Precommunicateive: I usually call this “stringing letters.”
Semiphonetic: They begin to approximate. They begin to show some connection to letters and their appropriate sounds.
Phonetic: A consonant framework emerges. Some vowels may also be included and possibly high frequency words will be spelled correctly.
Transitional: This stage is where students are completely relying on sound to letter correspondence. They make errors based on what they think are hard and fast rules of language (/sed/ for “said” or /nit/ for “night”). Other examples include: “tipe” (type), or “lasee” (lazy).
Correct: Aside from just having mostly correct spelling, students are also able to identify when there is a misspelled word and the student may have a suggestion as to a correction. Students are able to monitor their own progress more readily due to the number skills that are in place.
So, this leads me to wonder, if these are developmental stages of spelling, and there is a continuum like pace to teaching spelling, why do some still do spelling tests from way back when? I sometimes think it may be due to parents liking the idea of a spelling list. A less overwhelming home activity that is familiar. 
I try to meet students where they are with spelling. I do not do spelling tests, but I do teach in isolation high frequency words, which could be considered a spelling list of sorts. I expect students to spell the words correctly within their writing after they have been taught and try to hold them accountable for their learning and my teaching. However, I am curious and would like to know more about what foundations need to be in place for a child to become a really good speller. Is it obvious; is it as simple as letter and sound knowledge, basic word identification, and some attention to spelling patterns? Or, is it deeper than this? Rebecca Sitton, the author of a spelling program is something my school is looking into as a way to fill what seems to be a gap in our spelling curriculum. I would love feedback on this program if anyone has experience with it, or if they have other ideas. Is there anyone out there attempting to imbed spelling; how successful is this and how is it done?  So, I am still program vs. no-program and not sure what is more appropriate. Suggestions and comments are welcome!