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Question for teachers re. learning to write (long & complex, sorry)

(14 Posts)
ExpectoPatronum Tue 11-Oct-11 00:31:14

Can any teachers give me a view on this?

(It relates to my OU course in Primary learning, in case you're wondering why I'm asking)

Imagine you have a group of reception children, and they are doing some writing. They can write whatever they want, it's in their 'news' book.

I understand that the point is that they are supposed to 'hear' the sounds in the words they want to write, and make a stab at writing them - that it's 'emergent writing' and we don't get too hung up on spelling or having all the letters in there.

So if they write 'dncee' when they mean 'donkey', then at this stage, that's OK.

But how do you play it when they are stuck, and ask you for help? Obviously you'd start off by encouraging them to listen when you say the word aloud, see if they can identify the sounds, encourage them to relate the sound to a letter and so on. But if they still don't know, what then?

For example, I had a little girl this morning who wanted to write 'porridge'. She'd written 'p-o-r-i' and knew it needed a 'j' sound. But she didn't know that the letter 'j' made this sound.

Should I have steered her in the direction of 'j', or told her it was 'd-g-e'?

I went for the latter, which the class teacher said was wrong, and that ideally I should have just left it at the point she had got to.

But the child is bright, she knew that she needed a 'j' sound, just didn't know what it would look like on the page. She knew that if she just left it, she wouldn't have completed her word.

I know I'm probably not explaining this very well, but hopefully someone will know what I'm talking about and have something to say. I will ask the class teacher to clarify, but just didn't get the chance today.

<obsessive perfectionist plagued by horror of getting stuff wrong>

jade80 Tue 11-Oct-11 00:42:53

I don't agree with just leaving it, unless the teacher intended to come back to it later with the girl. Otherwise, what has she learnt from it?! I do suspect that diffferent teachers would have different feelings, so what one would want, another might not- sorry, that doesn't help your perfectionist side! I'm a bit surprised that a bright child doesn't know 'j' by this stage in reception (or hasn't at least come across it). I'm unsure from what you've put- did she say 'j' but just not know how to write it? If so I'd have been tempted to show her how to write the sound she said, maybe, rather than dge.

Kick2down Tue 11-Oct-11 01:01:31

Could you not just explain it to her? You're looking for a 'j' sound, and normally J makes that sound. Porridge is a bit tricky to spell, and the 'j' sound is written 'dge'.

mrz Tue 11-Oct-11 09:17:48

Does the teacher have a phonics display? If she can hear the <j> sound I would use the display to find the grapheme. Assuming she has been taught <j> she should be able to find it herself. I wouldn't do it for her.
I do lots of "incidental" phonics teaching so I would explain that <j> is usual written with a "j" but it can also be written "dge" and then let the child decide which to write at this stage.

DeWe Tue 11-Oct-11 09:52:40

My dd1 was very inhibited in her writing by the theory that you don't tell a child if it's right or wrong. She hated to be wrong, and often could tell a word was wrong, but they wouldn't tell her how to actually spell it. So if she'd been writing porridge and found that you wouldn't help her and she wasn't certain it was right, then she'd have changed it to tea or something she knew she could spell. Really restricted her writing at infant level until she could use a dictionary and get it right.

mrz Tue 11-Oct-11 12:10:57

If a child knows that the word doesn't look right I would support them to work out the correct spelling (as I said I do lots of incidental teaching) but I would not spoon feed them the correct spelling.
Many children produce very stilted language because their spellings have been corrected so they only use words they know they will get right rather than have a go. We wouldn't get much writing done if the teacher had to give 30 children every spelling

ExpectoPatronum Tue 11-Oct-11 12:15:18

Thanks for all these responses.

Kick and mrz, what you're describing is what I did (sorry, probably didn't explain it very well).

They had 'alphabet mats' in front of them but she was a bit lost about finding 'j'. So I said to her 'well, here's 'j' which makes the 'j' sound you need, but 'porridge is a bit of a tricky word, because it's actually 'd-g-e' that makes the 'j' sound this time'. So she wrote down d-g-e

Does that sound OK?

littleducks Tue 11-Oct-11 12:34:40

Can i hijack a bit? What is the teachers current thinking/philosophy about correct pupils (young pupils maybe reception/yr 1?).

I ask because I am training atm to be a SALT and we are taught in lectures that a child will only learn the correct way if you point out what they are doing is wrong. So an example would be a child identifies when asked something red as being blue, we are taught to say "Nearly right" and then try and scaffold them to the right answer (providing initial sound/pointing out other colours etc).

I have a dd at school and all through reception they would not correct her. So she would mirror write (she had done this before and i would correct her and the habit disapeared). It wasn't mentioned as being wrong and became more ingrained to the point that she was writing more backwards than forwards. I mentioned in passing that I thought it should be corrected as I want sure she would pick it up as being wrong, especially since she also reads in arabic so right to left doesnt feel wrong. This seemed to be controversial and the teacher seemed to think i was mad to ever suggest to a child that was keen that they had made a mistake.

Now I am frustrated that she is being allowed to write letters using the wrong formation and again it is starting to be ingrained whereas before she was at school she wrote all her letters using the correct methods (though the looked awful) now they look perfect but are formed wrong (so 'r' is formed with an upstroke first, some are drawn clockwise when it should be anti clockwise etc.)

I dont want her yr 1 teacher to also think I am havent said anything yet but want to know if I should mentio n it at parents evening?

Sorry for the essay btw blush

mrz Tue 11-Oct-11 12:46:38

I always correct letter formation because it is a fundamental skill for spellings I would say "What a good try" if the child has attempted a word they don't yet have the knowledge to spell correctly ... so I would find elefant acceptable from a reception child and make a note to teach "ph"...

Interesting what you say about SaLT as our SaLT has said not to correct.

littleducks Tue 11-Oct-11 12:56:37

Thanks for replying mrz, I am not sure anyone actually sees her writing the letters wrong anymore, I am a bit wound up that they didnt teach the correct formation (she did read write inc. at preschool and learnt it as one unit but school did jolly phonics and just seemed to forget about the writing element). She is expected to write out her spellings 50 times (5 words/ten times minimum) a week and I feel she should be using this time to write the letters correctly as her method takes forever and will be a disaster when she needs to join them.

And don't take me as an authority on speech therapy as I am not qualified yet!

mrz Tue 11-Oct-11 12:59:00

Well I'm not sure how a child will learn the correct way to speak if no one models just as they won't learn how to write letters correctly if not taught.

KTk9 Tue 11-Oct-11 13:41:52

I am with you on the letter formation thing. My dd didn't get much input in letter formation and as such she really learned them as 'shapes' and formed them how was easier for her. I did a lot of work at home back in Reception, but then this wasn't supported in school, so some of the incorrect ones remained right through Year 1 when no work was done on handwriting.

We have since moved her from the school and she is in Year 2 in a new school and 'odd' way she has of forming a few of her letters, is having an impact, because she is trying to write joined up, but of course, her letters they don't flow as they should do and very often she ends up in the wrong place to start the next one!

Sadly, she knows that she is doing isn't quite right. When she really thinks about it and slows down, or does them in isolation, she does form them correctly, but in the flow of writing words/sentances, she reverts to what she has been doing. As such, she gets so frustrated with herself, it is painful to watch.

If she had been helped a little more at the start of her writing, she wouldn't be struggling so much now - so please, from a Mum's perspective help get it right the first time and that would include assisting with the right sounds/spellings.

Oh and not to hijack, but any advice to try and help her would be appreciated!!!


mrz Tue 11-Oct-11 14:36:54

I have a real issue with children copying /tracing/under writing/over writing letters when what they are doing is drawing a shape not forming letters in the way they need to in order to be able to write fluently.

I firmly believe that children shouldn't just be left to their own devises but need support at this early stage.

maizieD Tue 11-Oct-11 16:54:31

There was a Ruling Theory in education for many years that correcting a child's errors would demoralise them and lower their self esteem. It is a theory which some teachers still cling to.

This article, by Professor Susan Greenfield is worth reading: Networking Pays Off

For those who can't find time to follow the link I think these extracts are very pertinent:

As early as 1949, Donald Hebb, the psychologist, proposed a theory that has become a backbone of modern neuroscience and a key mechanism for learning and memory in the brain. He said that if one neuron repeatedly causes the firing of another neuron, the efficiency of the connection between those cells increases. In other words - neurons that fire together, wire together. As we are repeatedly exposed to a new stimulus, the efficiency of the connections between neurons associated with that stimulus increases. The next time you encounter that stimulus, those neurons will have an enhanced response.

Clearly, not every pupil is going to grasp each new concept immediately. However, the mechanism of brain plasticity supports the good practice of showing pupils precisely where and how they have (mis?) understood a particular concept, idea or process. If a pupil is not made aware of their misunderstanding immediately, they will continue to use neural networks associated with that misunderstanding.

The longer they continue to use that network, the stronger and more embedded that network will become.

So, the more often something is practised, whether 'correct' or 'incorrect' the more 'embedded' it becomes; this has obvious implications for education.

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