I am very pleased to have received this message 'out of the blue' and think we shall all benefit from the diary entries. The following entries are not 'my' entries, but I am posting them on behalf of a teacher who has sent them to me via email:
So, this is my next little research project! I am using my time in school usefully to trial some of your ideas. I am currently working with the Reception teacher to develop a weekly 'guided writing' slot - I would really like to see us developing children's ability to write in sentences more quickly - I think often phonics is seen in schools as a 'word' thing.
You have often said this - that the only time they are asked to write in sentences it is about challenging subjects where the code is beyond them, with the result that many children are not secure on sentence structure way up into Key stage 2.
So I am on a mission to use the concepts you designed the 'Simple Sentences' sheets for. I want the children to build stamina from an early stage to write simple, decodable sentences, and have a chance to learn what a sentence is in a task not beyond them.
So far I have done 3 sessions, each about 8 minutes with a group of 4-5 children at a time. They all wrote a sentence and drew a picture, and were very proud of it!
I attach a rough transcript of what I did (I used the Simple Sentences to start me off with ideas, but I used a cat because I had one - I have sent off for some ants!)
I will add more transcripts as I work with slower to learn children, although I am impressed by how many of the class have accomplished this so far...
This is the first diary entry:
Guided writing with Reception – Autumn term, week 6
I am working with children who are secure in their knowledge of letter sound correspondences in unit 1 and have many from unit 2. They can all read simple words through blending and are beginning to segment more confidently. Today I am working on building the concept of a sentence. We will be writing the sentence A cat is on a log.
I am aiming for the session to take no more than about 8 minutes.
I show the children my toy cat. I then put the cat on a wooden log.
We are going to write ‘A cat is on a log’. Can you say that sentence all the way through?
I develop the children’s auditory memory by getting them to practise saying it out loud.
Now, we are going to need to remember the code for the sounds to write it, aren’t we?
I show the children the ‘Say the Sounds’ poster for unit 2 and I ask them to find some of the letter/sound correspondences they will need. (NB: not all. I am going for pace.)
Let’s start. A cat is on a log. What’s the first sound we can hear?
I show the children the alphabet card with Aa on it, pointing to the capital.
When we start our writing off we use a capital letter. So we need this letter.
What’s next? A cat is on a log. A…… I wait for the children to supply the next word.
Let’s try to write cat. We need to leave a space because it’s a new word. What sounds can we hear? That’s right, /k/a/t/. Off we go and write it then.
I move the children’s hands gently if necessary so they know where to begin the new word, with a space. I do not point out letters on the ‘Say the Sounds’ sheet unless they seem to be struggling.
Now the next word. A cat is on a log. A cat….wait for the children to say ‘is’
What sounds can we hear? That’s right, /i/z/. This letter is sometimes code for /z/. Point to s.
Let’s leave another space so we know we are writing a new word. I encourage the children to write is correctly – incidental teaching through tricky words.
Look how many words we have written now! What’s next? A cat is on a log. A cat is….
At this point some of the more able children will have understood the task and will be able to complete it independently. I keep an eye on their spacing but shift attention to the ones who still need guidance.
As each child finishes, I show them how to put a full stop at the end.
Now you have finished your sentence! You can read to me what you have written!
Can you draw a picture of the cat on the log? Won’t mummy and Daddy be pleased when you show them your lovely writing! You can read it to them, and they can read it too!
I give the children a photocopy to take home, as part of the excitement is that they can actually read it back!
Last edited by debbie on Wed Oct 17, 2012 7:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Continuing to work with my idea of encouraging reception children to write sentences using the code they already know, today I worked with the least able group in the class.
I started with the idea that I would work on encouraging them to segment and write words as a starting point. This is usually where I begin when developing writing skills with children in the nursery class.
However, on reflection I decided that if the objective was to encourage the children to think and write in sentences, I needed to stay true to this, and support the children in whatever way was necessary.
Using my cat and log as before, we talked through the sentence. I decided to use the very unfashionable technique of over-writing (I write in a light blue pencil crayon and the children trace over). I justify it thus: the particular group of boys do not have very good fine motor control, and although they have a good pencil grip they would still find it hard to form letters unsupported and orientate them correctly. However, getting them to select grapheme tiles would have been too clumsy to meet my original objective, and I wanted them to have the experience of actually writing a sentence and seeing how that looked, and then very importantly, being able to read it back and see that others could also read it back.
I started them all off with a capital A, which they over-wrote without too much difficulty. I then encouraged them to think about the word ‘cat’, segmenting it into the three sounds. I asked the children to point to the sounds on the ‘say the sounds sheet’, supporting those who could not find them. I then wrote the word for each child, emphasising sounding it out as I did so, and they wrote over. We continued in this way to the end of the sentence.
As with the other groups, I showed the children how to put a full stop at the end. I then insisted that each one of them used their index finger to trace under the words and read back the sentence, establishing the routine that we always read and edit our writing.
Although I used over-writing I believe the level of learning was very high – we developed auditory memory, the concept of a sentence, the skills of segmenting, stamina with pencil grip, blending for reading back, and routines for self-editing – quite a lot in about 8 minutes for a bunch of slower to learn four year old boys!
They were very proud of what they had achieved – they had worked very hard!
If we are to make sure we narrow gaps in attainment, it is really important that we keep the same objectives for all children and support them at their stage of development. If we don’t, we are setting limits as to what they can achieve and there is no route back for them when and if they do have a developmental spurt. These are such young children their capabilities are likely to change literally day by day.
Discussion which raises the question of how often we ask children to do what they actually cannot do! Food for thought:
Guided writing with Reception iii
Had a difficult discussion with the class teacher of this class today. Although she was interested in what I was doing and is mostly very supportive and on board with the synthetic phonics teaching principles, she felt that this was an approach she necessarily wanted to adopt all the time with the class.
In common with many teachers, she felt that the writing she did with the children should be linked to her theme and stimulated by it. So, for example, this week she is getting ready for Halloween by asking the children to have a go at writing spells, linked to a beautiful role play area of a witches den.
My feeling is that although this may be a very valid exercise to develop spoken language if she was acting as scribe, the children will learn very little about writing from it. They know so little code at this stage they cannot possibly segment and select code for the words they wish to express. Many are not yet confident at the segmenting process anyway and need really simple words within the secure code knowledge they have in order to grow in confidence.
The problem is that writing phonically regular simple sentences does not look exciting or attractive. But once again we are up against the conflict between real learning and the appearance of learning. In writing simple, regular sentences, the children are engaged in real learning - and their levels of focus and concentration evidence this.
Later, as they become secure in their skills and code knowledge, they will show these skills in their child-initiated learning and play. In a well resourced, stimulating classroom they will be inspired to write in different contexts. But first they need the skills to be secure – otherwise they cannot progress.
Actually, I have found little children can get very enthusiastic about the most simple and inane content. One of my son's first writing attempts was to write adventures with two characters called 'Fish' and 'Chips'. He used to get into a fit of giggles every time he wrote about Fish and Chips and their silly adventures. A four of five year old's view on life and excitement is simply not the same as our adult view and we have to be mindful of that!
Further, I think it is important to allow and encourage children to draw illustrations for their plain sentences. Literacy, literature, illustrations and graphics go hand and hand do they not!
Last edited by debbie on Sat Nov 17, 2012 9:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.
The Reception teacher has shown me some of her planning and group assessment record sheets. She is now planning ‘skills based writing’, that is the type of writing sentences using the code the children know already, on a fortnightly basis. It isn’t quite yet as I would like it, as she is doing it as strip sentences which the children cut up and then write out. This is missing some of the fundamental learning objectives I would have wanted to achieve.
I would like the children to develop their own concept of a sentence and the inner voice/auditory memory to hold this in their head during the process of segmenting and scribing.
Perhaps the teacher feels this is too big a leap in one go? I don’t think it is (and my sessions earlier would suggest not for most children). What is essential is that if they are trying to do this they must work within code they know well as clearly there is a huge amount going on at this stage for them to achieve it.
The alternate week she is still keen to do ‘topic writing’. Again, this still worries me. Above all at this stage I think the children need little and often (because it is such hard work) and it needs to be very achievable and quite routine.
The excitement comes from getting it right and being able to read back what you have written, not from the content at this stage! Much better to focus exciting content in oral based activities – no one is suggesting a narrow, dull curriculum, just a fit for purpose one.
Children of this age can come out with some amazingly rich spoken language when stimulated.
Still, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and at least this is a useful start. In a few weeks we should see a difference in the children’s child-initiated writing I would hope.
I think there is value in reading a decodable sentence, then cutting it up and reconstructing it, then writing it as copy-writing - but this is certainly different from the process of holding a sentence in one's head and re-writing it without copy-writing.
Probably the most important comment here is the need to do these things routinely. Writing is a sound-to-print process (thus, holding words and ideas in one's head to encode onto the page) and this can be from word level to sentence level of course.
I agree totally that excitement can be generated through oral language - and we know how important developing spoken language is for our littlies!