Monday, January 30, 2012

Dazzled and Delighted

As literacy teachers, we are able to value little victories and see each tiny step towards more conventional writing skills in children as fabulous achievements. However, this may not be the case for how the families and communities of young children experience the writings and stories that these children put their hearts into telling. Educating families and others surrounding these young, progressing minds on what "good" writing is, and the processes that it takes to achieve more advanced writing skills will allow these people to feel enabled to nurture and be dazzled and delighted on what the children can do.

The most important ideas that we can educate the public about are the following;

1. Writing is a system of symbols. If a child can understand this, then they have mastered the first challenge for successful writing. We must look to the meaning of children's writing, not the conventions.

2. Drawing is an effective way of communicating. Parents should look at their children's drawings and see them as plans for writing, much as an outline or venn diagram would be used for an older student. Taking the leap from distinguishing drawing from writing is one that will come in time, but until then, take joy in the pictures and the meanings that they portray.

3. Letters can be written in different ways. Children see letters as flexible tools whose physical appearances can be experimented with. If a child is intending to write a "b" and he writes a "d" this is still a positive step towards imporved writing. We should encourage parents to find the meaning that their child is intending and to not jump to the conclusion that their child is dyslexic or has some other impairment.

4. Words can be spelled in many different ways. If a child spells a word incorrectly, they have still been able to sound it out with their knowledge of phonemic awareness and some memorization, and as long as meaning is being intended, it is okay to have misspellings.

The example below shows a student's story about hermit crabs. Although her some of her words are misspelled, her spacing isn't perfect, and her letters and in the best of form, we can see meaning.

The most important idea to get through to parents and the community is postive encouragement no matter what stage in literacy development a child is in. Happy feedback from parents or others that the students look up to will encourage them to continue to put effort into writing, and this practice will lead our children to making enormous bounds in their abilities.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Digging for Literacy in Our Environment

As parents and teachers, we sometimes fail to realize how packed with opportunities for learning every day trips to seemingly ordinary places can be. One of these trips could be a tour to the local supermarket. Supermarkets are simply throbbing with environmental print and special vocabulary. Some of the words that are supermarket specific that children get to learn while on a visit are the following:




Health and Beauty

Head (of lettuce)








Check out

Customer service





These and other terms can expand a child's creative thinking and allow them opportunity to develop more complex thoughts and participate in more mature conversations. Including our children in talk while we shop at a market will open their minds to vocabulary that may seem simple and obvious to us, but is wonderfully new to them.

Many of the conversations that were happen on visits to supermarkets are filled with questions and answers. Questions about the locations of items, questions about what one or another person wants for dinner, and commonly asked by children, requests for specific items on the shelves.

These requests come from a child's understanding of environmental print. Children have been previously exposed to labels and logos and through commercials and advertisements, they have developed a desire for, but more importantly an understanding of what those labels and logos are symbolizing. In their requests for items that are special to them, they are showing how they have created meaning in their environment, and through more exposure to and discussion of the activities and items surrounding them, they will have the knowledge to create even more meaning.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Make Some Meaning

Imagine entering a world in which everyone around you spoke a different language. You arrive and your only connection to written and spoken language is the letters that are sent between you and your family whom live in your previous world. Does this make you illiterate in your new home? Wordless picture book author, Shaun Tan tells the story of a traveler who was in this exact situation in his book The Arrival.

Is the written and spoken language that Tan's main character is literate of the only literacy that he has though? Could the meaning that he is making of the world around him be a form of literacy?

This is a question that we can use in a classroom to build up our value of the different forms of literacy that children could possess. Different classrooms are likely to have children with a variety of first languages, and the literacies that can be universal through the classroom, like picture understanding, can be utilized to create a connectedness in understanding by every student. Being able to appreciate literacy that focuses on meaning making is a broader way to view what literacy is and what different forms of it have the capacity to do by creating mutual understanding.