Sunday, November 7, 2010

Teaching for Literate People

What am I reading now? Torment (Lauren Kate)
Annnd. . . What I do I think so far? I'm a succor for a fallen angel book + I loved the first one in this series (Fallen)

My granddaughters were tended by my husband last night. At bedtime, of course, they wanted books read to them--lots of books. :) This morning they sat at the dining table and wrote their own books. We stapled together pages of paper and they chatted and drew and shared the pages of their current Works In Progress. (They may not make the NaNo 50,000 but they started and finished something!)

The five-year-old wanted an animal book, so she said words slowly and wrote letters she knew beside the pictures. The three-year-old made a book about her family. She drew pictures of people and pets then asked me to write the names in by each one.

I wasn't a teacher when my own daughters were at these ages so I didn't notice their developing expertise with literacy. Here's a big idea, if we could help all children understand that there is a point to what they read, we would solve a few reading difficulties. Both of my granddaughters were driven by meaning when they organized their books with a main idea. (Okay, the three-year-old digressed a bit when she added the page of the dragon to the family book. She read that page, "Dragons are dangerous." And again when she threw in a wild pink and blue roller coaster--but seriously every book can be improved with a little action sprinkled throughout.)

For the last couple of months, I have been teaching inservice sessions on how people develop literacy over a school career, and how our classroom instruction can better support students' developing literacies. There's a transition in the development flow from hearing and seeing then speaking to the point when the child begins to read and write.

One piece that makes the transition difficult for some children is that the language of books (either read by or written by students) is decontextualized. Instead of a child reporting, "I am eating," a book might say "I ate." Instead of a child saying, "I am at my grandma's house," a child would write, "I went to my grandma's house for Thanksgiving," when they tell about the event later. Reading and writing require a past-tense vocabulary and grammar structures that children may not have practiced, if they haven't had experiences with being read to a lot or writing their own little books.

When children without lots of these experiences have to read, they also have to learn new words and language structures at the same time. Wow--that's a lot of work! So the moral of this story is: Developing Oral Language isn't optional for children in school (and hopefully before). It is essential, if we want to help children become literate.

Teaching Tip: Here's the latest version of a chart I've used for thinking about what to teach and when to teach it to beginning readers. It is a great resource for lessons and mini-lessons.

Click here to download the page.


brisco said...

I love dangerous dragons!

The Hurst Family said...

A couple of weeks ago, Ashley came running excitedly across the hall to have me come see the books her kindergarteners were creating. I grabbed my camera and filmed the first books her class created. We were both astonished by the engagement and creativity of their first books. I wish I was in the classroom this year to introduce this to my own students. I'm sold on "writing books" during writer's workshop.