At the end of each week, I take time to research and plan for the coming week. I map out possible ideas to bring to body group. I research new approaches for table activities. I try to find something new to capture the minds of the children and to push them in the areas they are so fervently building on. Lately, I continuously stumble upon fun and exciting ideas for writing exercises.
As I came across these new ideas, I would find myself stuck on how exactly to fit it into our class. I wanted to find a balance between our approach to learning at Tumbleweeds and the more traditional nature of so many writing activities. I wanted whatever balance I found to emphasize the importance of reflective learning and scaffolding on children's interests. I asked myself, "How will writing lessons look in our routine?" "How will we move away from teacher led learning to a process where children participate and take ownership in learning and readiness?" "What can I provide to create conditions that support children as drivers in their education?"
These questions and more forced me to look at my teaching philosophy in a new light. Rather than stifling my desire to have writing focused lessons, they planted a seed that challenged me to figure out how it could be done. The next step was just offering it up. One day in our normal midday circle, a student noticed a wood letter from our puzzle shelf. They held it up to share with the group. Melinda continued this inquiry and went on to give the sound of the letter. This soon turned into a "I Spy" game of seeing if the letter in question was in anyone's name. The Tumbleweeders excitedly shouted out the sound and name of the letter then sounded out each of their own names to see if it might be in them.
To build on this, we began offering more concrete table provocations featuring letters. We brought in some new wooden letters that could be used for tracing. Children began to use other provocations to build letters as well- making T's and W's out of stones. It was rare to look around and not find at least one child or two focused in some sort of letter recognition activity. A small group focusing on writing seemed like the next logical step for us. Body group wasn't losing steam, but it made sense to start reducing the days spent in Body group in favor of a new small group forming.
My first goal was to take away the stigma of perfect form and legible letters. I wanted writing group to be something every child could actively participate in regardless of where they were at. To move towards this goal, my very first group focused on the feel of writing rather than the way the letter looks when you are done. To get comfortable within our new group setting, we sang a few songs. I find this helps warm up our bodies and engage our minds. It's kind of like stretching before you exercise. Our "stretch" song is often movement oriented to help get our energy running together as well.
Next, I introduced some letter flash cards. We played a short game of letter recognition that focused on noticing what each letter was and the sound it made. This helps to increase familiarity with letters. After this short game, we moved on to the meat of my small group. Using a deep tray filled with salt, each child practiced writing by making the movements associated with letters. It didn't matter if each movement was perfect since the salt only gave a rough estimate of what the child was doing. It mattered more that the child got the chance to practice the movements without worrying about the end product. We started by practicing the letters in our own names. Each child was able to relate to this and had a sense of ownership as they proudly traced out the letters of their name in salt.
We then ended our group with a "cool down", to continue the exercise analogy. We sang a slowed down finger play song together to calm our bodies and feel connected after our group time together. This helps us to refocus before moving back into our normal routine with the rest of our class. We've continued to build on our small writing group since the first time we met. I mimicked the idea of writing with feel rather than for the end product with a ziplock bag of paint. We then moved on to dry erase boards which give you an end product you can erase and do over and over again. The importance of this process oriented approach to writing has clearly shined through on the determined faces of each member of small group. I look forward to continuing to move forward in this way!