There is a difference between studying language and using the results of these studies to teach reading and writing. For example, it is one thing to study grammar and another to use grammar as a means of teaching writing. The obsession with grammar (diagramming sentences, breaking down sentences into parts which can be named) gets in the way of learning to write. It interferes with the development of a natural voice in writing and ease in reading. The study of language is fascinating and people should be aware, as much as possible, of the nature and development of the language they use the most. However, it is probably easiest to pursue the serious study of language after one has already learned to read and write with confidence and ease. The natural acquisition of skills of reading and writing (which should develop hand in hand) does not require the formal use of grammar and structural linguistics. For those students who the teacher feels are ready to engage in the serious study of the structure of language, specific lessons will be developed to meet those needs.
Student-Centered Writing Approach
The teacher’s attitude should be informal, relaxed, unhurried, and supportive. In this program writing is rooted in speaking. The teacher encourages the student to be free and spontaneous about his/her conversation, and to be involved, literally, in talks and discussions. Students must have constant opportunities to talk in order to build a variety of experiences about which they can write. Just as talking and writing are related, reading and writing are also related, and in this approach they develop and grow together. Motivation to write is as important as having something to say. Students must write because they want to—either for the joy of it or because it is necessary to their lives. They will not truly write unless there is something for them to say. Student-centered writing uses the student’s own personality, thoughts, and feelings in fostering the teaching of writing skills. This does not mean that a student should be stopped in the middle of a sentence to insert punctuation or to determine whether or not his/her statement is a “run-on sentence.” It does mean that by encouraging him/her to proofread, and by helping him/her change the order of words in a sentence, a teacher can functionally teach writing skills and still refrain from suppressing spontaneity and originality of expression.
There are many ways to care for the individual writing and language needs of a class. Here are examples of specific techniques and methods to be used in this approach:.
a. Tabulate errors which occur frequently in students’ writing and then give instructional attention only to these errors. At one time you may tabulate one sort of error—punctuation, for example—and at another time, poor paragraphing.
b. Keep a folder of samples of a student’s writing; appraise these periodically for instructional needs.
c. Group students for instruction, relying upon the students in a small group to help one another with language needs. Grouping will be done on the basis of needs, interests, ability to help one another, and so forth, rather than simply on “ability.”
d. Have individual students practice proofreading and self-editing, and follow this up with work on practice exercises which will help them eliminate errors.
e. Reconsider the grouping from time to time. Remain flexible enough to shift students in and out of groups as each situation requires.
Individual student-teacher conference:
At least once a week a student will attend a writing conference with the teacher. This conference follows the same format as the reading conference mentioned earlier. The student will read aloud writing projects that he/she has done during the week. This writing will be placed in the student’s individual folder.
Every day during the school year each student will be required to complete a daily writing project. This project may consist of a short story, essay, poem, etc. During the writing conference this material will be shared with the teacher and the evaluation will be conducted by both. At least once every two weeks the student will share a writing project with a small group of students. Proofreading and editing will be stressed in the group sharing experience (see Appendix III).
The workshop will be a whole class experience. The workshop will be conducted twice a week. It is during this time that the teacher will provide the class with writing ideas that students can try on their own during the week and throughout the year. The workshop will provide the students with varied experiences in different forms of writing and an introduction to the different tools that are used by writers. During the workshop period the students will be engaged in the same activity. Toward the end of the workshop the students will be asked to read to the whole class what they have written (see Appendix III).
Each student will have a spiral notebook that will be called a writing journal. The student will have to write in this journal daily. This may be done in school or at home. This journal, the student is told has only one reason for its existence: to provide him/her with a field upon which he/she can practice writing. The student will be required to write a minimum number of pages each week and he/she will be asked each Wednesday to turn in the journal to the teacher. The teacher will return the journal on Friday. Under no circumstances will the journal be corrected. It will be assessed for quantity, nothing else.
Language Games to be Used in This Program:
When students are not reading, writing or working with the teacher, they will be provided with a number of games of language and logic. Most of the students may choose the activities they wish to do. Others may be required to complete the games as an assignment. The following is a list of games to be used:
Scrabble board games:
This game affords practice in using the dictionary, since the players must frequently consult an authority to find out if they are spelling a familiar word correctly or if a certain combination of letters creates some actual word or merely a phonetically possible word. The game is, of course, one way of learning spelling and vocabulary. A less obvious feature is that trying out various letter combinations can reinforce phonic understanding and flexibility in assigning possible sound values to letters.
Trying to make up words that can become other words merely by transposing letters.
Starting with a whole paragraph and unscrambling a mixed set of sentences leads to logical issues concerning which sequences of sentences can “make sense” and which cannot. The original sequence might sometimes be a story, sometimes a set of directions, thus creating different logical problems. Although the point is to reconstruct the original sequence, learning occurs in trying out different sequences and deciding which ones make sense.
This game, which was developed by Caleb Gattegno, will be required for all students who are considered minimal readers. Of course, all students are welcomed to play the game. The transformation game—creating a new word from a given word—is one which the students will enjoy very much after they have become familiar with the rules. The object of the game is to go from one word to another through a succession of changes, using only four operations, and making only one change at a time. The four rules are: (s) substitution, (a) addition, (i) insertion and (r) reversal. Each step must produce a legitimate English word. For a more detailed description of this game see Gattegno’s book
Teaching Reading with Words in Color