This is the last week of school here in our district. Time to start the transition to summer. This year I returned to second grade to help a small group of students strengthen their word study and spelling skills. It has been a fabulous experience and I hope to return to Miss M’s class again next year.
Word study in Miss M’s class ended three weeks ago. Once the kids take their standardized test, it’s really just Memorial Day, then wrap-up and clean-up time. For me, it’s also food-for-thought time: What did I learn this year that I can add to my literacy toolbox? Here’s a first cut …
Minimize variety. Early in the year, I tried to mix up my approach to working through the word sorts and spelling. Some worked (concentration), some didn’t (crossword puzzle). By year’s end we were sticking to two games:
- A Password-style where my kids worked in pairs to figure out the word and the rule it followed.
- A Mixed Up Sort where I presorted words and we worked through each one to see if I did it right.
Maximize teamwork. It wasn’t until later in the year – probably March – that we started doing things in teams. The kids saw working together as a way to make it “easy” on them, but then they would get so excited they didn’t want to be left out.
Listen for extra words. When I get to Miss M’s class, she is usually doing a read-aloud while the kids enjoy their snacks. Since I have the sheets ready to go, I know what we’re going to study before we start, so I jot down words I hear that fit our list for the week. Because they just heard the word, it adds context to what we’re doing. A class favorite is Dan Gutman’s My Weird School and My Weird School Daze series. There is nothing like a chorus of 20 kids singing “Andrea and A.J. are in L-uh-V.” [Sidebar: Miss M told me in April that one of my struggling readers was taking one of these books to lunch every day because he just loved reading them.]
Sentences need work. Each week, at the close of our session, the kids have to take the words we’ve been working with and write four sentences. The sentence has to have at least as many words as their age; and that’s fine, but not always effective. I had wanted to get the kids thinking more in “paragraph” style with a theme, but I didn’t get my idea across well. I tried bonus sentences with two words (lukewarm reception); having one student write a question as one of the sentences and then reply to another student as their second (they took the short cut and kept the sentences too short).
A couple of weeks ago, I jotted down the titles of two books Miss M was reading to the class.
Love, Lizzie: Letters to a Military Mom by Lisa Tucker McElroy; ill. Diane Paterson (Albert Whitman & Company, 2005) Lizzie’s mom (a soldier) is deployed and Lizzie misses her. She has questions, lots of feelings, has stories to tell, and even draws a map. I liked the great variety in visual presentation and styles of literacy, not to mention how effectively the author captured a child’s emotions.
First Year Letters by Julie Danneberg; ill. Judith Dufour Love (Charlesbridge, 2003) Mrs. Sarah Jane Hartwell is a new teacher. All year long, her students offer her their observations, reassurance, and support in a series of letters. The illustrations complement the letters well and give kids plenty to explore visually and go beyond the words.
As I looked back on my notes about the books, the more I got to thinking about ways to use them for word study. I want to look at letters as something I can do with the kids.
This year -as all the others – has been a great experience. I love spending time in the classroom … and as my daughter inches ever closer to teendom, it will be nice to have someone in my life who thinks I’m cool (or at least “somebody).
- We have to wear official stickers when we’re in school, and the kids always ask for the sticker so they can change the first name and be a Doherty.
- The other day, as I was leaving the pool, one of “my” students rolled down the window of their mom’s car and yelled across the parking lot “See you on Monday, Mrs. D.”
Yep! It’s been a great year!
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