In this article I feel it is important to note that I teach 1st grade half day and Reading Recovery the other half of the day. This article is mainly meant to help lower grade teachers as well as upper grade teachers with struggling writers.
In the world of education and especially in Utah there has been a big push for small group reading instruction. As a Reading Recovery Specialist I have seen and understand the power of it. One of the main goals of a teacher focusing on reading instruction is to help students build a self-sustaining system. We want them to use several strategies while reading. We, as the teacher, need to skillfully model strategies and gradually release the responsibilities to the students. One example would be making sure they are using meaning structure and visual cues simultaneously.
I understand and have seen the benefits of this type of teaching in reading and I had failed to do this in my classroom writing. Writers workshops used to consist of me modeling a type of writing and then asking students to write independently for 30 minutes. This was the most painful 30 minutes of the day. Most kids would be done in less than 1 min and frequently they would have one complete sentence at best. So I decided to try small groups. I mean why not, it works in reading why not in writing. This way I could teach kids writing strategies such as, sound and letterboxes, re-reading, monitoring, punctuation, letter formation, taking words to fluency etc.
First, I divided my students based on their reading levels. Then, I established writing norms, such as the practice page (which is a blank page that sits on top of their actual blank writing page). After a student dictates to me what they are going to write they begin writing with a pen or marker. I have a white tape, which forces kids to reference me when mistakes take place (also you avoid the wasteful time of erasing). If they come across a word they are not sure about they place their thumb up on the table and I proceed to help. This allows for the individualized instruction to take place. One student may have a hard time with the word “run”, I then place sound boxes on their practice page and allow them to push up the sounds. This allows me to monitor other students while they work out the word. I can also model this activity with the entire group if everyone has a hard time with the same word.
When we have written summaries or opinions of stories that they have read in their guided reading groups, they reference the book for tricky words and they look up words for tricky spelling as well as word families. They also have peers as references for punctuation rules, and spelling. In the lessons they are reminded to re-read a story over and over. These writing groups also allows your struggling readers to look at words all the way through, to analyze letter names and sounds through the act of letter formation.
The practice page can also be used to have students work on letter formations if there are any misconceptions. Such as backward letters, the misuse of uppercase and lowercase letters etc. Mary Clay mentions four ways in which students solve words:
- A writing vocabulary
- Hearing the sounds in spoken words
- Using something known to construct new words
- Using the teacher as a resource for particular features of orthography
(LLDI, Part Two pg. 59-60)
Now, all four of these strategies take place daily in my classroom.
This is the best way I have found to meet the writing needs of all my students because those needs can and should change frequently. In one group you might have student #1 working on his s’s, student #2 is pushing up his sounds to make words, student #3 is in letter boxes, while student # 4 has a hard time with spacing so you have to remind him to use two finger spacing. Then if a student finishes early you can create a cut up sentence of their own writing and allow them to work on breaking words into parts, etc. This was never possible when I walked around the room of 30 students trying to get them to write quietly.
My favorite part of the whole writing process is sharing. Every student has read and reread his/her own writing several times, therefore when it comes to buddy up and share their writing everyone is able to read what they wrote. In the past I had my struggling students making up stories pretending to read what they wrote. Now they are reading a completely grammatically correct story that they wrote that others could read if you have a class library. Talk about success, in years past my struggling students hated writing now they tell me everyday that they can’t wait to write because they know they are good writers.
Author: Jack Kingsford, 1st grade/Reading Recovery Teacher, email@example.com