Developing Writing in a Nursery Class i
The story so far…
I started the year using some of the Teeny Reading Seeds materials as I have done before. Roughly, this meant covering one initial letter sound per week – letting the parents know which one, sending home the Teeny Reading Seeds activity sheet, working in class with the children on air- writing the shape, thinking of words beginning with that sound, and also writing the letter over my blue pencil writing using a normal size pencil and encouraging the correct pencil grip.
This year I decided to take a slightly different approach. In previous years I have linked letters to my topics for example, covering /a/ and /o/ during harvest (linked to apples and oranges), as suggested in TRS. This year, however, I decided that I would cover letter formation more systematically and so I planned to introduce letters in their families, starting with the ‘c’ family (e.g. c, o, a, d, g, s). This worked very well for developing ‘muscle memory’, as the children have caught on much better to the anti-clockwise direction because we had quite a few weeks continuously working on it. I have also emphasised this in my parent newsletters so motivated parents are aware to watch for it when their children do play-writing activities such as bath crayons or chalk boards at home.
By the time we were about a month into the year it was obvious that many of the children were recognising lots of letters – many knew letters which were of special significance to them. I feel that once a child is confidently recognising more than about 6 letters and attaching sound consistently to them, this indicates a certain level of brain development – they understand the concept of lines being able to represent sound – quite an exciting leap. I also believe very strongly that when a teacher recognises this leap, you really want to ‘surf that wave’ – because children often have quite high levels of excitement when they are able to use new skills.
So, for those children who were ready, I sent home the Phonics International Unit 1 grapheme tiles with the following note:
Welcome to your child’s reading folder!
Your child is showing signs of being ready to begin to learn some letter sounds which will be a key element in learning to read later.
What to do:
• First, practise looking at the letters in this folder and saying the sound the letter usually represents, for example, ssssss for s and nnnnnn for n. For the letter group ck we say a single hard /k/ sound, as that is the sound it represents when we read it.
• When your child is confident and can recognise all the letters and say the sounds, start putting three sounds together to make a simple word, eg s-a-t. Encourage your child to say the sounds smoothly together and to hear the word. This skill can often take a long time to come, so don’t worry if your child can’t do it straight away – there is no rush, and your child will develop the skill in time.
• As your child becomes confident blending the sounds in this way, let me know and I will give you something else for your child’s folder.
I had such a lot of positive feedback, and parents reported such high levels of excitement about the folders, that I was obliged to make one for everyone, because I did not want any children to feel ‘left out’. Once something becomes high status within a classroom the children tend to make huge leaps anyway – true ‘child-initiated learning’! I didn’t want to put a ceiling on learning – who knows which day any child will make a breakthrough? I did make extra certain however that I explained to each individual parent that at this age the desire MUST come from the child and not them, and that they risked doing long term damage if they pushed these activities before the child was interested.
At this point it is worth mentioning some research I remember Sue Palmer referred to in her book ‘21st Century Boys’ about the way boys learn. Apparently boys often like to observe learning from a distance and will dip in and out of it at a rather chaotic pace at first, only really engaging their brain when they know they have a good chance of success. Certainly, my boys fit this pattern. They will watch a friend playing with letters with me intently, but not wish to join in when invited. This can happen repeatedly. The girls, however, will nearly always want to come when invited. Then suddenly, after some days or weeks, the boy’s mother will say he has suddenly got a fit of enthusiasm, and huge leaps will be made. I think this has implications for how we teach boys early Literacy – I think they often needs lots and lots of modelling and scaffolding because they will only take the risk of moving forward when they are reasonably sure they can do it.
Meanwhile, in class I was starting to develop the children’s blending skills a lot more. For example, we would collect cvc rhyming words, and I would write them on the board and sound them out for the children to blend. This has stood them in good stead and many are catching on very quickly with putting letter tiles together and blending.
As with all children, their differences in development mean different aspects of Literacy are more appealing to some than to others. My boys tend to be better at blending and enjoy the challenge of 4 and 5 phoneme words. Four of the boys are rattling through the ‘my words’ lists at a pace of three a week now. We are still working within Unit 1, as I want to establish this skill really well before introducing any digraphs. The girls, interestingly, seem slower to get this skill, but love writing, and several have very well developed letter formation already – they almost seem more able to read a cvc word if they have copied it out first! I regularly now put the ‘I can read, write and draw’ sheets out in my mark making area, and these are very popular.
There is a real sense of excitement about this in my classroom. I think partly because this is a nursery class, there is no expectation that the children must do this, so it has the luxury of being good practice in its purest sense – based on the children’s desire to learn. I have all the time in the world! What a lovely way to start the journey of acquiring Literacy!
I would also make it clear that my classroom is not particularly ‘formal’. The vast majority of the time is spent with the children playing freely in a very open-ended way. Areas of continuous provision are independently used and children do not spend very long doing adult focused work each week. Group times are very carefully planned but often quite rapid affairs.
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How lovely to receive this for the Diary Postings!
What a lovely description of 'interaction' whilst children explore materials with drawing and writing activities.Developing Writing in a Nursery Class ii
Interaction at the mark making table
The table has four children around it.
One child is drawing a very intricate narrative picture involving a combine harvester, talking as he does so and explaining. “These are the wheels. This is the cab, and this is my mum driving. Here’s her arms. These are the tractors, far away.” (The tractors are small.)
One child is new to the setting and is investigating various different pens and pencils etc, drawing circular clockwise lines.
One child is using the children’s name cards and painstakingly copying out the names. She tells me that this is ready for her party. She copies out fifteen names, accurately so they can be read.
One child writes some letters and asks me what she has written. I help her sound them out, and we agree that they do not make a word. I ask her if she would like to write a word that she can read? We decide on cat. With minimal help, she is able to segment the sounds in this simple word and she is familiar enough with the letter shapes to write it. She then says she would like to write ‘dinosaur’.
I explain that this is quite a long word but that I will help her. I encourage her to join in as we segment using the ‘left hand, palm facing’ routine. I then write out the word, drawing her attention as I do so to the code that I know she will recognise: the /d/ d, /n/ n and /s/ s. She is clearly pleased with the end result and copies it onto her paper.