To the Top of the Mountain

To the top of the mountain the brave knight rides.
To the valley below, where the dwarf resides.
To the shadows behind where the dragon hides.
To the waves out at sea, to ride on the tides.

Though it is all too easy to fall into the trap of “sit down and sit still” schooling, one of the things I try and embed in our literacy and mathematics learning is movement.  (For me as a Primary teacher, this falls in the category of Ongoing Learning and Striving).   There are lots of reasons for incorporating movement:

  • It’s fun!
  • Children are going to move anyway, so we might as well try and put this energy to good use.
  • Children at this age already learn verse and song almost effortlessly, and adding movement creates a kind of “body memory” that can be helpful with learning things like skip counting or times tables.
  • Specific kind of physical movement can both mirror and nurture important brain development.

This is hardly revolutionary–every nursery rhyme or skipping chant grows from this notion.  But one of the things that I have taken from Waldorf Education and various articles (just head to Google) is that “crossing the midline” is not something very young children can do at all, and is not easy for some children even by ages six, seven or beyond.   This capacity can support ease of reading and writing, and some children who cannot do so can struggle with these tasks.   Midline-crossing movements include touching elbows to opposite knees, or one’s opposite ear by reaching over top of one’s head.  They can also include drawing exercises such as drawing a lemniscate (a horizontal figure eight).  As I said, I am still learning about this.

The video below is an example of the kind of movement we engage in (with some midline crossing–I wish I’d added a line that took us figure eight under our knees).   As the verse became “embodied” it was then one that I wrote on the board for everyone to explore through reading (as in this post).   I made the video a few weeks ago when we were just learning this set of fairly complex movements.  Last week we presented it beautifully and seamlessly to our Pencil Pals when they visited.  We even started with the added trick of going from sitting to standing with the beanbags on our heads!  (Would have been great to film all that!  But no matter:  the point is the doing, not the performing).  Watch the yellow beanbag!


How to start the day: homophoning

IMG_5415A quick post about how my Monday morning started.  Among the usual cheerful greetings, two students arrived bursting with these similar messages:

  • Ethan:  “Mr. Caldwell!  I found homophones!”
  • Sophie:  “Mr. Caldwell!  I found a new ‘question’ word, and it is a homophone!”

This is how you spent your weekend?  (But who am I kidding?  This is how I spend my weekends too!)  The cool thing is the work that follows these discoveries.  Typically the children have “found” these words in their speech, rather than their reading (though this happens too).  It’s a great test of their grasp of spelling conventions when I challenge them, either individually or as a class to “come up with two reasonable spellings.”

Above, you can see that Ethan did just that (love his little illustrations on this tiny sticky note).  The class was quick to pounce on <ay> in the middle of the word.  Azylynn began to propose a rule about this never happening, but lacking evidence, retracted this and suggested instead that it was unlikely.  (This in turn raised the question, “Are there any English bases that have an <ay> digraph anywhere but at the end?”  Folks at home:  you can play along!  Can you think of any?  Send ’em in!).  I was quick to emphasize that Ethan’s proposed spelling was certainly reasonable, and that it would have been quite readable if it had appeared in his writing somewhere.  I stress this with them, because I do not wish to stunt anyone’s written communication with the sense that accurate spelling is the priority:  the priority is always the idea being communicated.

Sophie brought forth an addition to our collection of <wh> “question” words.  Last week, we had discussed the spelling of the word <who> and how its <wh> is a marker of its meaning connection to the other question words.  (They were quick to suggest that <how> should follow this pattern, but agreed that *<whow> was just too confusing).  And so, we worked through the spellings of <which> and <witch>, introducing the trigraph <tch> to some who had not seen it before.

Nothing earth-shattering, but a good example of how the children drive the learning with their questions and discoveries.  I am reflecting upon what it is about homophones that so catches the children’s interest; curious to know anyone else’s thoughts.

To this I will add, finally (to this less-short post than promised), a link to a project by a Grade One class in California who are attempting to compile “all 441” homophones.  I hope we can be in touch with them, but I have already passed along Deanna’s <world> and <whirled>, as I didn’t see it on their database.  I am not driven to duplicate this endeavour–happier to find these in some context–but it is kind of fun!

Guiding Reading

I wanted to share some bits of video of me reading with Abdul and with Azylynn last week.  Right up front, I’ll say these are the first videos I ever made in this way, holding a borrowed iPad that I was just figuring out, so this certainly affected my focus.   Also, it is not some pinnacle of reading instruction–I am still learning and honing my practice.  (And though I won’t film like this very often, it will certainly help me to think about what I might change or improve).   But hopefully it helps give a sense of the process we’re engaged in and the language we’re using.   Thanks to Abdul and Azylynn!  (There’s no particular reason I filmed these two–just who was on my schedule the day I had the tool).

Abdul works hard on this book, which holds some challenges.  But he applies many very effective strategies for making meaning here.  A few things to note, in terms of skills we’re working on:

  • Notice how I prompt Abdul to “find the base” and how easily he does so by identifying and covering the suffix.  This is so useful to reducing intimidating larger words and finding their central meaning.
  • Yes, looking at the pictures is allowed, and a useful strategy at this stage.
  • Notice how after he struggled through a passage, I had him read it again.   This is to allow for increased fluency and understanding and hopefully confidence.
  • Asking him to “spell” a word is not a pop spelling quiz.  What I am asking is for him to spell the word in a way that reveals its structure.  Listen to how he spells <swinging>. clearly enunciating and separating the base from suffix, or how he clearly says “double e” to show he recognizes that digraph.  But I also find out he is not completely solid with the <kn> digraph (though he’s seen it as you can tell!).
  • Making guesses like <knight> are really natural in early readers, but the question “Does it make sense here?” reminds us that sense is what we’re after.
  • What else am I noting as we go?  There is some work to do with consonant clusters such as <sw>, and some common words like <from> or <her> that he is still working too hard at.  We can address these separately.

Does this seem a bit painful?  I don’t think it actually is.  This is not “independent” reading for this student at this time.  This is “instructional” reading:  at the outside of his comfortable range.  And I’ll be honest, watching this I might have helped him along a bit more–maybe told him the sound represented by <kn> or just said <Daddy> to keep us rolling along.  But by the next page, he was rolling anyway and completed the book very comfortably.

A similar process ensues with Azylynn, who works as hard and as cleverly as her classmate.

Each of my little questions is a quick assessment and an opportunity to reinforce concepts.  As with Abdul, I make choices about what I spend time on and what I ignore.  We had just explored patterns in doubling final consonants, so I spend some time there.

What do I learn from listening here?  She knows her <sc> cluster, which helped her to discern the word <scat>; her high-frequency words have grown more solid; and she is applying a range of solid strategies.  I don’t know why I asked her to spell <weeding>, but she clearly revealed her understanding of the structure of this word, distinguishing digraph <ee> as well as the suffix <ing>.   She got stuck on the word <right>:   I might have prompted her with “What makes sense?” instead of asking her to spell it–either can be effective.  Did you hear how she spelled <right>?  She recognizes the trigraph <igh>, but doesn’t remember the phoneme it is representing.   Finally, this is hardly rich literature, but I am also checking in along the way that she is comprehending the story.  (She is).

Thanks again to these students.  Of course I never share anything for comparative purposes–every student is progressing, and at their own pace.  Hopefully this provides a little insight into one piece of our literacy instruction