Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Readings: Johnson and Louis - Learning To Walk

I began reading Literacy Through Literature by Terry D. Johnson and Daphne R. Louis today and was immediately struck by the their gentle but persuasive argument for a whole language approach. I will certainly be sharing what I learn as I get deeper into this book. Here's a particularly lovely paragraph to whet your appetite. Even if you have different views about how literacy should be achieved, this is a great example of argument by analogy.

"Children will not benefit from being told about language. What they do need is help in getting started, gentle feedback on their attempts to do so, and kind tolerance of their errors. Learning to walk offers a useful analogy. Very young children clutch at furniture for support, tire easily and fall down a lot. When all else fails, they regress to crawling. The role of the expert walkers around them is instructive. They act as if there is no doubt the children will eventually learn. Praise is given for effort, and support is rushed forward to eliminate the consequences of error. No one sneers at the first fumbling attempts. Perfection is never expected. No one imagines that explaining to a child how one walks will help her or him do so. Success, given adequate physical equipment, is essentially universal. Few children are sent to remedial walking schools!"

Readings: The Importance of Phonemic Awareness

The concept of phonemic awareness has been discussed a few times on Literacy Log. The U of Oregon's Big Ideas in Beginning Reading page has a great rundown of what phonemic awareness is. Basically, phonemic awareness is the knowledge that words are made up of sounds and the ability to hear and manipulate those sounds.

This may seem pretty basic, but if students get off on the wrong foot with phonemic awareness, it can seriously hinder their journey toward literacy. In Word Matters: Teaching Phonics and Spelling in the Reading/Writing Classroom, Pinnell & Fountas make a great argument for the importance of phonemic awareness:

Why is knowing about the sounds in words so important for literacy learning? In English and in many other languages, there is a close relationship between the sounds we speak and the way in which they are represented in written symbols. The relationship is not a perfect one; but in an alphabetic written system, it is critical for the users of language to recognize this relationship and use it to write and read. Children who realize that words are made up of sequences of sounds, called phonemes by linguists, can more easily relate these sounds to the sequences of letters and to letter groups. As children learn to read and write, understanding the sound-letter relationship is key, and this understanding begins in oral language experiences.

I am in the process of designing an after-school literacy program for young readers, so phonemic awareness is going to come up again and again. Having established its importance, I hope to find a ton of good lessons, activities, and games to bolster phonemic awareness. I'll keep you posted, and I welcome your contributions!

Cross Words: Erose


[i-rohs] adjective 1. uneven, as if gnawed away; 2. botany. having the margin irregularly incised, as if gnawed, as a leaf.

Etymology: L erosus, pp. of erodere. The dictionary tells me to see erode, which also comes from the Latin erodere. The prefix e- means "out" or "off" and rodere means "to gnaw." I'm surprised that the etymology for erode ends with "see RAT," but then I realize that "rodent" must be related as well! Sure enough, "rodent" comes from the Latin rodens, the prp. of rodere.

(Photo "Jagged, Yet Smooth" CC Flickr user Starfires. Thanks!)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Back to School! Who are the storytellers in your classroom?

The Zebra Storyteller
by Spencer Holst

Once upon a time there was a Siamese cat who pretended to be a lion and spoke inappropriate Zebraic.

That language is whinnied by the race of striped horses in Africa.

Here now: An innocent zebra is walking in a jungle and approaching from another direction is the little cat; they meet.

"Hello there!" says the Siamese cat in perfectly pronounced Zebraic. "It certainly is a pleasant day, isn't it? The sun is shining, the birds are singing, isn't the world a lovely place to live today?"

The zebra is so astonished at hearing a Siamese cat speaking like a zebra, why --- he's just fit to be tied.

So the little cat quickly ties him up, kills him, and drags the better parts of the carcass back to his den.

The cat successfully hunted zebras many months in this manner, dining on filet mignon of zebra every night, and from the better hides he made bow neckties and wide belts after the fashion of the decadent princes of the Old Siamese court.

He began boasting to his friends he was a lion, and he gave them as proof the fact that he hunted zebras.

The delicate noses of the zebras told them there was really no lion in the neighborhood. The zebra deaths caused many to avoid the region. Superstitious, they decided the woods were haunted by the ghost of a lion.

One day the storyteller of the zebras was ambling, and though his mind ran plots for stories to amuse the other zebras, when suddenly his eyes brightened, and he said, "That's it! I'll tell a story about a Siamese cat who learns to speak our language! What an idea! That'll make 'em laugh!"

Just then the Siamese cat appeared before him, and said, "Hello there! Pleasant day today, isn't it!"

The zebra storyteller wasn't fit to be tied at hearing a cat speaking his language, because he'd been thinking about that very thing.

He took a good look at the cat, and he didn't know why, but there was something about his looks he didn't like, so he kicked him with a hoof and killed him.

That is the function of the storyteller.