Monday, June 21, 2010

Write Now Read Later

A paper presented at an IRA seminar April 1977 by Dr Marie Clay the developer of the Reading Recovery Programme.

These days reading, or better still the language arts ( now called by a more technocratic title 'literacy') seems to have been taken over by academics who are pushing a phonemic approach onto schools - 'P' Pushers! This is an approach that distorts the organic relationship between experience, oral language, writing and reading - all premised on a need to make meaning and to communicate. The traditional language arts programme has also been distorted by those who are peddling an meta-cognitive approach that sees acquiring reading skills as an end in themselves.Current approaches do indicate a need for using such skills in content areas but the emphasis is on the reading/literacy block; the cart before the horse! Often comprehension skills taught are not transferred and used in realistic inquiry situations by the students. Read through the 'cut and paste', so called, 'research' on display in rooms you visit for confirmation.

In active learning centred (personalised) classrooms the current inquiry study provided the motivation to acquire necessary reading and other such meaning making skills.
If learning is not transferred it cannot be said it has been 'taught' no matter the results on reading tests.

My recent blogs about the work of Julie Diamond have reminded me of what we have lost.

As well even the esteemed John Hattie has written that New Zealand students have not improved their ratings on international tests since Tomorrows Schools .Before Tomorrows Schools New Zealand teachers made greater use of a language experience integrated style of teaching - one integrated with the current study. Time to go back and pick up what we have lost it seems?

While cleaning out my shed I came across a small paper by Marie Clay 'Write Now Read later'. As well a couple of books by Sylvia Ashton Warner and some publications by Elwyn Richardson on junior writing.

All line up with the approach written about by Julie Diamond - indeed one of her inspirations is Sylvia.

To many junior teachers , maybe all primary teachers, do not appreciate the obvious organic link between experience, early writing and reading - in that order. Once , a long time ago, one of my favourite topics I use to present was, 'Before the Word the Experience'. I also found a copy in my shed.In this paper I pushed the need for lots on sensory environmental and personal experiences as the basis to inspire thoughts for children to write about or have scribed for them as first readers ( an idea from Sylvia and Elwyn).The emphasis was on poetic language not acquiring reading skills.

Marie Clay in Read Now Write Later comments that so little is written about children's writing in comparison to early reading. Ever seen a writing adviser? The focus of her booklet builds on the relationship between children's spontaneous writing by untutored children who learnt to analyse their own speech to discover some way to write it down - a form of invented spelling using basic sound letter relationships. Few teachers, she says, know why and how early writing is related to early reading.

Most junior rooms, she says, do encourage some form of creative writing ( creative it the sense they create it )and provide opportunities to say, scan and copy teacher words and sentences. From the understandings gained children learn to write simple sentences of their own.

All too often, in my observations, such teachers writing programme does not encourage poetic or felt responses - the focus is still on reading.

Marie is surprised about how few word children can write who have not made progress with reading. They can copy words but find it difficult to write word they can say .They have not learnt to say the sounds slowly and sequence the visual and the sounds correctly. Children need to develop a kinaesthetic memory to do so. One method to remedy this is for the children to dictate a story which is written for them then they read this. New new words are written on card and traced with a finger while saying it slowly in parts. This is done until the word can be written without looking. It would be important to keep this as a fun practice activity with the real emphasis on be able to write something worthwhile.

My own emphasis would be for teachers to make use of 'scribed' writing to develop the power of writing something interesting -so children see the point and power of writing. Some words could be selected for memory training and kept in a small individual word container for practice?

Clay quotes Carol Chomsky, ' Children who write in this way in their invented spelling receive valuable practice in translating sound to print.This practice and experience with letters and sounds forms an excellent basis for reading later on.' Chomsky believes that by the age 5 many children's ability will already be developed. They can recognise words that begin with the same sound and words that rhyme. It is the teachers role to 'rouse ( this knowledge) to the level of awareness through word play, questioning and talk about sounds'. But, I would emphasize to ensure the the purpose or need to write remains paramount. The children should have fun figuring out words. Through writing teacher introduces personalized approach to reading skills and the more the child can do for themselves the better off they are. Teacher will be are that children progress through a almost uniform stages of invented spelling.

Nothing new in this for most junior teachers. It is the creative emphasis of Sylvia Ashton Warner and Elwyn Richardson in the valuing of children's poetic voice and identity that is often missing. Children creative thoughts and idea should stand out in any learner centred room.

The important thing is to leave the initiative in the hands of the learners. They must learn to trust their judgement - their ability to figure how the word sounds to them and to write it down. Children need to feel that teachers trust them and believe in their sensible beginnings in writing. Most of all teachers must value the voice and creativity of their students.

Authentic reasons to write are the key interspersed with appropriate conversations about writing conventions and sound letter relationships. It is all about purpose - their purpose not ticking off genres covered because of some teacher plan. Lots of opportunities abound for an alert teacher - environmental studies, sensory awareness activities, personal events in their own lives, science experiments, pets, cooking, maths activities and exciting class studies.

Children in such a 'rich' environment naturally begin to read their own writing. Teachers can put together big books to later read with the class. In a way, Marie writes, 'they are less fearful of reading their own writing. They learn to respect their own stories and their own kind of thinking'. They are writers and readers in their own right. Standard spelling finds its way gradually into children's writing as part of an active process of self discovery far beyond any rules teachers can provide. Children Marie writes 'have a real understanding only of that they invent themselves, and each time we teach them something too quickly we keep them from inventing it themselves'.

Any help provided must not destroy the self confidence of the learner to work things our for themselves and with such confidence reader can go from print to meaning because they have been able to work our sounds previously in their writing.

Failing readers are usually unable to analyse words into sounds and will need special help but not at the expense of their own sense of agency.It is all too easy to turn children off writing unless that 'see the power' involved in writing.

The recommendation is recognising the insight that it is easier if you know sound segments or letter sounds to read if you start with a powerful personalised writing programme. The challenge is to get young children to want to hear sound segments in words and to search for these on their own initiative.

And , remembering Ashton Warner and Elwyn Richardson, to ensure the whole point of writing is to express personal meaning - poetic or scientific.

Reading and writing are both means to an end to express, communicate and to understand -something a number of current 'best practice' literacy advisers would do well to remember.


Jody said...

Welcome to the Aquarium arrived at my house last night ... can't put it down ... LOVE IT!!! Thanks again for pointing me (and others) to it!

Bruce Hammonds said...

I am pleased Jody you are enjoying the book.I am saving the last chapter to comment on at the end of the year when the community a teacher has developed is said goodbye to. Developing a class community of artists, scientists and caring kids is the ultimate creative act of a teacher.

angelamaiers said...


Another brilliant and poignant post. Marie Clay continues to remind us of what matters most.

You said it best in this line: PURPOSE is EVERYTHING a small detail missing from so many classrooms. We are so busy aligning our teaching to the standards that we have forgotten to align our work to what real readers and writers do.

This is what keeps our conversations grounded, authentic, and real. Students grow and development when we immerse them in models of readers and writers engaged in the process not the products of their work.

I have found it helpful to share the following photos of readers and writers in action as a beginning to that conversation. I encourage students (and teachers) to notice, capture, and collect examples and share examples of their own. This not only sets the tone, informs the instruction, and allows us to achieve the standards.


Thanks Bruce - You continue to amaze and inspire!

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thank you Angela

And you are right it is all about purpose and students feelings they are getting better at whatever they are doing. Kids are turned on to learning - we need to figure out what turns them off.

Mostly a lack or purpose for whatever they are doing.

Simple stuff but such a lot of imposed agendas ( other peoples purposes) get in the way these days.

I will look up those web references.

Anonymous said...

That last chapter bought a tear or two my eye when I read it - the most satisfying thing is when past students go out of their way to say hello to me in the street - it always makes my day!
I've been dipping in and out of other past reads to - just inspiring!

Peggy Broadbent said...

Hooray for advocating an organic relationship between experience, oral language, writing and reading.
I,thoroughly enjoyed learning about Sylvia Ashton-Warner’s approach to reading. I’m retired now but taught for many years. My favorite was a combined first and second grade. I used some of her ideas to teach my beginning readers who weren’t ready to read in a book.

See my entry about this approach:

Peggy Broadbent said...

You have so many wonderful ideas and thoughts about early reading and writing.

My earlier comment was one of many entries I have about reading and writing in a combined first and second grade. Here are some: