A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Monday, January 17, 2011

Word Work, Reading, Writing, and Listening to Reading

Recent Observations: I recently worked with groups of high school ESL (English as a Second Language) and 5th grade special education students who needed extra support with sound / letter correspondence. i.e. phonics.  Both groups were English Language Learners (ELL). In working with these different age groups of ELL, I noticed a pattern of missed visual / auditory cues including word endings and within-word consonants.  Vowel patterns were particularly troublesome for the high school students. Latin cognates were strengths for both groups, as both groups relied heavily on background knowledge.  Miscues in the high school group seemed to occur frequently when students defaulted to Spanish vowel sounds as they sounded out words in their unfamiliarity with visual / auditory English vowel patterns.

In speaking with the chairman of the high school's ESL department, I observed that students would benefit from guided reading groups and independent centers format. When he asked what kind of independent centers, I recommended word study and independent reading.  I should have included writing and listening centers as well.  I also advocated that independent center resources be shared department wide, because I know that developing a "balanced literacy framework" is a monumental undertaking. To what extent does miscue analysis (i.e., DRA2, QRI, etc.) factor into high school literacy assessments and guide instruction?  The chairman agreed that high school ESL students needed extra help with phonemic awareness, but he indicated that his hands were tied because the department first needed to prepare students for a standardized ESL leveling test.

Graphophonic Cueing (decoding / orthography) was a strength for the 5th graders, who used a Fountas and Pinnell based word study format.  Everyone knew the routines as they are done school-wide and across grade levels. The list of words in the 5th grade group included all multisyllabic words; all had highlighted 10 words from a list of about 18 that they wanted to learn.  They copied their 10 words onto home and school student 3x5 cards which I checked for accuracy.  Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check routines supported the self correction of within-word visual miscues (i.e., spelling errors).  A manilla folder cut into three flaps provides a framework for word work.  Working one-on-one during recess, I observed a student use the SAY component to untangle visual miscues independently (I still needed to prompt the student to check his work).

Semantic Cueing (meaning) was a weakness for the 5th graders relative to the high school students; however, 5th grade word study routines included support for "thinking about thinking" (metacognition).  While high school ELL students relied heavily on Latin cognates (semantic cueing), a lack of phonemic awareness visibly frustrated a group of high school students (ESL levels 1 and 2) as we used a shared reading procedure to read a non-fiction selection about Barack Obama.  The 5th grade group used their lists of 10 self-selected words to write sentences.  Homophones tricked all of the 5th graders. Perhaps an over-reliance on auditory cues had led to overconfidence; none of the 5th graders independently consulted the dictionary; none were automatic with guide words; none were quick in appropriately choosing from a selection of multiple meanings.  In word solving, the high school group seemed quicker to consult a bilingual dictionary; they were quicker to share Latin cognate connections among friends; the older students seemed far more reliant on semantic cueing than 5th graders.


Syntactic Cueing (grammatical structure) is a key component of writing and reading sentences, and students who are constantly answering true / false or multiple choice questions cannot possibly be properly developing a sense of what looks and sounds right.  The choices are simply far too limiting.  When I asked 5th graders to read their sentences aloud (privately), in reading aloud they could hear when their sentences did not sound quite right; auditory cueing supported a recognition of proper syntax (proper word order) and self correction in their writing.  In 6-traits writing, often a key component of Writing Workshop, guided and independent practice with the trait of sentence fluency can help students develop an ear for the language; this, in turn, supports self-correction and syntactic cueing.


Writing Workshop was a major omission from my original recommendation to the department chairman.  I showed a movie about Nazi Germany called Swing Kids to a "higher group" (ESL levels 3 and 4) .  I was instructed to tell students to take notes because they would be writing an essay about the movie. From prior experience showing classroom movies, I knew there were two major pitfalls to be avoided in showing a movie:  first, a lack of learner engagement; second, a lack of structure.  I was warned about major potential discipline problems, but I did not experience any discipline problems.  Since I provided a framework for taking notes and prompted reflection in natural intervals (based on the basic literary elements of character, setting, and plot, and beginning, middle, and end), students were prompted to think about characters and their problems, notice details about the setting, make predictions, and find personal connections at regular intervals. In Writing Workshop, students use the writing cycle to plan, draft, revise, edit, and publish; they work both on self-selected topics and teacher-selected topics.  Students could work independently on essays during a Writing Workshop rotation while the teacher addresses individual needs in a small group instructional format. Literacy Center Rotations would involve a change in the way high schools do business.