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Maddie's Story: Writing lessons

I have been working with Maddie now for about seven weeks. We usually have between two and three lessons a week. Working with Maddie using Skype has not been difficult. Her dad and mom are there to help me and I am very pleased with Maddie’s progress. She has moved from a Reading Recovery level 2/Guided Reading level B, to Level 10/F.

Teaching writing has been more challenging than teaching reading. I think this is because I am used to doing much more non-verbal demonstration in writing.  Still, this is coming along very nicely.

In this post, I will be sharing the work we are doing using sound boxes to hear sounds in words.

Marie Clay says, “Writing requires the child to pay close attention to the words he has chosen to write, hear the sounds in the words and to write down some letters that will represent those sounds. It is an activity well suited to developing phonemic awareness.” (From Literacy Lessons: Designed for Individuals, Part Two, page 70)

elkonin boxWhen I started with Maddie she already showed a lot of strength in hearing sounds in words but it was inconsistent. To help her, I am using Elkonin ‘boxes’ as a supporting framework for hearing sounds. The way the boxes work is you make a box for each phoneme (not for each letter). So the word cat has three phonemes – you would make three boxes. The word make also has only three phonemes, so you make three boxes. The child says the word slowly and pushes counters or her finger into each box as she says the word. It is important that she says the word slowly and smoothly. 

For more information on how to use this procedure, see pages 72-80 of Literacy Lessons Part One.

For Maddie, I try to select 2-3 words from her story in every lesson. She says the word slowly and pushes her finger into the boxes. You can see two video clips here using this procedure.

In this clip taken a few weeks ago, Maddie is struggling to orchestrate hearing and pushing. If I were sitting next to her I would model that task and then perhaps push while she says the word, then have her push while I say the word until she can do both together. Since I am not beside her I ask her dad John to help me.

After a bit of practice over several lessons, this task is now well established and Maddie is hearing many more sounds in words. See what you think as you watch this clip taken a few weeks later. 

I am very pleased with how many sounds she is hearing and how she is hearing the sounds in sequence. We have begun to talk about silent letters and some spelling patterns. Reading and writing skills are a reciprocal process and this skill of hearing sounds in words in sequence will be very helpful to Maddie, as she needs to solve unknown words in text.

Michèle Dufresne is author of many Pioneer Valley Books  early readers (including the Bella and Rosie series), Word Solvers (Heinemann), and an early literacy and literacy intervention consultant.

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