Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Word Wall Woes

I have been reading and thinking and thinking and reading all summer. Unfortunately, I have not been writing as much as I should. One of the things I have been pondering of late is the Word Wall.

When I started to teach 1st grade I was given a list of word wall words separated by quarters. All of 1st grade uses the same list. The list is good. It has frequently used words. I think there are a total of 60 words on the list.

So, in theory, the word wall should be a helpful useful resource in my room. Over the last three years, I have struggled with our wall. The kids that know all the words quickly, know them because they read well. They would know these words with little or no intervention by me. The kids that need these words are overwhelmed by the amount of words. They do not use the wall as a resource.

I introduce the words by first pointing them out in the poems that the class has already learned. I have used homework practice, given weekly tests, individual lists based on each child's known words, word rings, etc. (I'm sure there are more ideas that didn't work so well and I have blocked out of my memory) These ideas have worked to some extent, but still I am feeling that I'm just not quite getting it right.

First, because it is a predetermined list it doesn't feel authentic. I would rather put words that we are authentically using in the classroom on some type of reference for the child. Patti, our literacy coach, suggested a flip chart with different categories. I also thought of combining some ideas I have been gathering and using word books that the kids have made after categorizing individual cards. So, in other words, at the beginning of the year the kids would spend time sorting cards by category. There might be family, colors, school, etc. Each card would have a picture and then the word written on it. After we are done using these cards to sort, I would bind them together. This could be one resource we use. This doesn't address the issue of authenticity.

I would like to use some type of personal word wall for each student. Words that I feel this child needs and is ready to learn could go on their personal word walls. These could be taken from the child's writing or reading. I have thought about using ABC books. I have also thought of using a file folder. The folder could be propped on their tables during writer's workshop. The book could also be read. I still have some thinking to do...

I think I also may generate lists on chart paper with the children. I have done this on the board in the past, but then they are erased. If I used chart paper they could be kept and would be a permanent resource. So, if we are talking about families, we would generate a list of words that may be useful. (Grandma, Grandpa, aunt, uncle, etc...)

Then the question is: Do I not use the big Word Wall? How do I assess "writes common words" for the report card? Is the problem not with the word wall, but with my teaching? If you have ideas or thinking on this subject, please share them with me. I could really use some other's thoughts and experiences.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Breaking Dawn at Midnight

It was one of those perfect moments you try to imprint in your memory. It was 1:30 am, I was driving on a country road between South Bend and Syracuse. The van was filled by the sound of snoring and a soft glow of light. It was one of those summer nights when you can still feel the heat of the day on your skin, making the cold air rushing in the window feel wonderful.

I felt completely content to be driving this late at night or, more accurately, early in the morning. My two daughters, my husband and I had had a wonderful evening. This night had been planned for months. You see, the new Stephenie Myer book, Breaking Dawn, was released at 12:00 am August 2nd and we had been at Borders to purchase it. Maggie, my 15 year old, is an avid fan of this book series.

My dear sweet husband has been travelling for the past two weeks. He had been running off a few hours of sleep a night. And yet, he agreed to meet us for dinner, shop at the mall, and see a movie; all to pass the time before we could purchase the book at midnight. The plan was to take him to his car (He left it at his job in South Bend) after the big purchase so we could both drive our seperate vehicles home. He was so tired he fell asleep waiting in the van while we were in Borders. I didn't have the heart to wake him and make him drive all the way home (I will drive him to work on Monday).

I know, right now, some of you are thinking how crazy I am to drive an hour and stay out so late for a book that we could have purchased the next morning at Walmart. I know that my parents would have never done such an impractical thing for me when I was young. But, seeing my daughter's excitment as we waited in line (the line wrapped halfway around the store) was worth any inconvenience I may have gone through. It makes me so happy to think that Maggie gets such joy from literature.

So, as I was driving home, she was curled up in the back seat, reading the latest drama between Edward, Bella, and Jacob. She was lost in the world of vampires and werewolves. I was lost in my thought of gratitude for this perfect day and my wonderful family.