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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Word Work, the Reading Recovery Way

Since completing training as a Reading Recovery™ teacher in 2000, I have been fascinated watching reluctant readers learn how words work. That is, how they can use known words to learn unknown words. In RR we call it "word work," but it is quite different than the "word work" associated with programs like Words Their Way™.


Over the course of my RR and reading intervention teaching, I have sought to find a sequence of skill lessons that would best assist my students in learning to coordinate 2 items of knowledge:


  1. linking sound sequence with letter sequence 
  2. linking letter sequence with sound sequence

That doesn't sound that hard, does it? But with the lowest 20% of first graders, it can be herculean!


In RR, word work is NOT about learning words. Rather, it is about learning how words work. The idea is much like the parable of the fisherman: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for life. We all need to teach our students to "fish" in order to ensure lifelong success. Which leads me to the next important point: the child must accomplish as much of the word work task independently as he can handle. Before RR training, I admit that I spoon fed my firsties too often. One of the hardest lessons any teacher learns is to wait. for. the. child. to. respond. 



In RR, teachers are constantly evaluating both the student's work and the teacher's work. To that end, I have come to understand that if the word work done early in the lesson did not go well, then it must be repeated in the same lesson. If the task went well, however, you repeat the task with similar words (or letters). 



Key to the child's success is spending enough time on each task to ensure that he has learned the task. We do a great disservice to our students when we push on without giving them the time to truly learn the foundation skills. Similarly, enough time must be spent on the task to assess the learning. There is a difference between learning the task and actually learning. Confused? Let me give an example: 

Let’s say your student knows the upper case letters L and B. Using the vertical plane white board, you place a pool of magnetic upper case Ls and Bs.


Ask your student to find all the Ls, pushing them quickly into a pile. Repeat with the Bs. Demonstrate the speed you desire, if necessary. Because you are working with known letters, this activity constitutes learning the task. You will repeat this activity with known letters until you are convinced the child understands the task.


Now it’s time to introduce an unknown letter, N. On the white board, you place a pool of 12 - 15 letters - - several of each of the known letters and 3-5 of the new letter.




Instruct the child to find all of the Ls, just as he has done in the past. When that is completed, ask him to find all of the Bs, again forming a pile using the procedure already learned. Finally, direct him to find all of the Ns, showing him an N, if necessary. When he can reliably find the Ns without assistance, he has demonstrated learning. 



Push the child to act quickly, but do not proceed to the next activity until you are sure the child understands the task at hand. An activity of this type should take 3 minutes OR LESS! Remember that 6 year olds have very short attention spans that are enhanced by opportunities to move. That is why, if you have ever witnessed a RR lesson, the child gets up and moves to the vertical plane white board to do this portion of the lesson.

Just  a note to all my OCD friends:  Resist having the child line the letters up in neat rows.  You are seeking instant recognition and speed of reaction; NOT neatness and regimentation!

This is the first post in a series about Word Work, the Reading Recovery™ Way.  Come back soon for the next step.


Check out Amber's "I got skills" reading linky party @ http://amber-polk.blogspot.com/2012/09/i-got-skills-reading-linky-party.html


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