Monday, January 23, 2012

Word Work Wonderings

I wonder a lot. Little things can set off a chain reaction in my mind and then I am wondering and wondering about things that I was taking for granted a few days before. This happened recently to me on the topic of phonics/word work/spelling. I had a conversation about these things with my principal and my teammate. The conversation was a good one and we left feeling like we were on the right track but my wondering had been started and I couldn't let it go without more reflection. Here is where my wonderings took me (well, at least so far - I am sure that I still have a long way to go):

Review of Professional Readings on Phonics
My first step was to go back and reread parts of books that I have on these topics. I skimmed and scanned Word Work by Fountas and Pinnell and Phonics They Use, Month by Month Phonics, and Making Words all by Patricia Cunningham. I checked out the Words Their Way series from my public library and skimmed my way through these, too. I browsed the Stenhouse and Heinemann publishing company websites looking for new books or articles on Phonics. This led me to put one more book on hold at my public library - Phonics, Naturally: Reading and Writing for Real Purposes by Robin Campbell. I am still waiting for that book to come in.

Then I did a search of the Internet and learned about a feature that I had not heard of on Google. It gave me a list "personal results." These were links to articles by people I have some connection to in some way on the Internet. Franki Sibberson came up and she had a blog post about this article on books for phonics instruction. I loved this feature and that I got a little bonus learning about how to use Google along the way.

This morning, Choice Literacy's Newsletter came out and the focus this week was on word learning and spelling. I particularly liked the article on Patterns and Punctuation and the link to the Choice Literacy FaceBook page which is featuring a series of posts on Reflections on Spelling Instruction. They have excerpts from various authors on the topic of spelling and visitors can comment and add their ideas.

Reflecting on My Own Beliefs
After doing all of this reading, I began to think about what I believe about Phonics/Word Work instruction.
  • I believe that phonics instruction is most meaningful when embedded in reading and writing instruction.
  • I believe that it can be difficult to only do embedded phonics when class sizes are so large, and therefore a short Word Work time can help.
  • I believe that students should notice words and think about how they work in using an inquiry approach.
  • I believe that I get so caught up in the excitement of reading and writing that I sometimes neglect to catch those teachable moments that are related to phonics.
  • I believe that I have much more to learn about teaching students how words work.
Examining My Practice
My last step has been to examine what I am actually doing with my students to see if it matches my beliefs. My reading workshop includes a daily focus lesson, an independent reading/conferring time, a time for modified Guided Reading groups and literacy centers. After the reading workshop, I have a short word work lesson and then a very short handwriting lesson. My writing workshop includes a focus lesson, an independent writing/conferring time and at times a brief sharing time.

I notice that I almost never embed a phonics topic during either my reading focus lesson or my writing phonics lesson, but that I do embed it in almost all of the other areas.

When I confer with a student during either reading or writing and a word work issue comes up I almost always address it even if it is very brief. This makes the learning very individualized but also very hit and miss. I also embed word work in my reading groups. A recent example is that one group worked on the "tion" word ending because the word "invention" was in their book. That group went on to find more examples of words with the "tion" ending. My literacy centers have several choices that are ways for students to work with words. There is a pocket chart where they work with word families or do word sorts. There are phonics games on the computers and iPads. There are magnetic letters and board games on phonics topics. These are generally connected in some way to the word work we are doing as a whole class. I also have the students use "personal word walls" during independent writing that are placed on each table. They can find many commonly used words on these cards to help them learn to spell them correctly.

The biggest dose of word work comes during our word work lesson. I use the Fountas and Pinnell Phonics series and Month by Month Phonics as the foundation of the lessons that I do during this time. I will add in lessons on topics that come up in our reading or writing as needed. Currently we are working on looking at different ways to spell each long vowel sound.

A new practice that I am trying this year is looking at various sight words during our handwriting time. At the beginning of the year, we focus solely on letter formation during this time but now we are using this time to examine sight words and writing them using our correct letter formation. We begin by doing a "word talk" about each word and noticing what is unusual about it. For example, we recently looked at the word "one". We talked about how we thought it should be spelled "wun" but isn't. We talk about noticing "what looks right" when writing words. I put the words we work on during this handwriting time on a word wall and ask the students to use this to be sure to spell these words correctly from now on.

After writing this (very long) post, I am wondering if maybe we do too much word work in a day. But I know that this is not true. We do lots of word work in very short bursts throughout our day but spend the bulk of our time reading and writing and loving every minute of it.

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