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The Habits You Create – Part II

In my last post I wrote about the importance of creating strong habits in your classroom. I talked about the need for strong routines that provide certainty and consistency of approach for both you and your students.  I have also recently published a post about outdated vs evidence informed practices in the classroom.

In this post I will link these two posts and explore three habits that are essential to support all children to become strong readers and writers.

Habit 1 – Think and Talk About How Words Work

Talk, Chat, Comic, Cartoon, Speech, Bubbles, Shapes

This habit is absolutely necessary for both reading and spelling and begins to develop right from the very start.  Thinking and talking about how words work helps children to develop the meta language needed to have a deep understanding of our language. It enables children to truly understand the alphabetic code, how English has developed and the implications of that development.

Practices that Support this Habit:

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-Teachers can enhance the habit of talking about thinking about how words work by talking and thinking about how words work.  Teachers need to be the most powerful model of learning to think about words that a student has. We also need to move beyond modelling to supporting children to learn the language structures and vocabulary to think and talk about how words work themselves.  Learning about words needs to be taught explicitly in a systematic, cumulative and intentional manner. Lots of practice needs to be provided so that students retain the knowledge in their long term memories.

Practices that Hinder this Habit:

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-Telling children that English is a confusing language that cannot be sounded out
-Focusing on letter names too early (I accept that your view on this may be different)
-Encouraging children to memories lists of words for spelling
-Teaching reading with flashcards to learn words as ‘global shapes’ or ‘sight words’ (this isn’t how our brains work)

Habit 2 – Develop Effective Strategies for Decoding

There is nothing more frustrating for a learner, teacher or parent than having a child guessing wildly at what a word might be.  Guessing is an extremely ineffective practice that teaches children that reading is about making it up and hoping you are right. Another sign that children are using inefficient strategies to read is coming to a word they are not sure of, pausing and looking thoughtfully in the air.  In order to read a word children need to be taught to LOOK at the word.

Practices that Support this Habit:

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-If necessary, stand behind the group of children and present words using a large screen and a PowerPoint presentation. This will prevent the children from looking at you and just ‘talking along’ as their classmates do the heavy lifting.  At the same time, allow the children to sound out the words themselves without your input. The minute you sound out at the same time as the group, student engagement will drop.
-Provide decodable texts until children have learned the full range of graphemes (up to multiple representations of all 44 phonemes).
-When children get ‘stuck’ on a word when reading, encourage them to sound out.
-Model sounding out yourself when reading aloud to students to normalize the practice.
-If children are inclined to look at the pictures to work out what a word says, cover them in order to provide no other option than to sound out using the letters.  Once the passage or page has been read you can uncover the picture to talk about the meaning of the text.

Practices that Hinder this Habit:

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-Giving children predictable texts (they are often levelled texts with a number).  Some schools provide both predictable and decodable texts.  This is fine for some students but the half who require explicit, structured teaching are disadvantaged by this practice.
-Telling children to ‘think about what makes sense’, skip words and come back or think about the first sound and look at the pictures. 
-Actively telling children not to sound out.

Habit 3 – When writing, think about the sounds and write what you hear.

We are addicted to the idea that the only conceivable outcome of children’s writing is for there to be a full sentence on the page.  We are plagued by anxieties and doubts about our own abilities as teachers if anything less that this is produced. This often leads us to ‘scaffold’ writing by providing an example of the desired outcome for children to copy. This practice teaches children that they have to rely on others to write for them.

Practices that Support this Habit:

Tick, Mark, Ok, Perfect, Check, Done, Sign, Good, Green

-If a child’s current level of transcription is to identify the first sound in a word and write it down, that’s what you should expect of them.   If they are able to write single words, expect that. 
-Allow the student to express their ideas in other ways while their transcription skills develop. For younger students this may mean scribing their spoken sentence on the page for recording purposes. For an older student, they might use a voice to text app or voice recording software to fully express their knowledge and ideas. This is not cheating. It is appropriate support.
-Continue to teach transcription skills for as long as needed and until the students develop them to the point where they can write on their own.  You can expect a little more of students in ‘guided writing’ sessions where you can appropriate support them to gradually build their skills.
-Talk with children about their current skills in a positive way. “I really like how you sounded out these words and wrote down the sounds you can hear. I can see that you are thinking really hard.”
-Model writing daily, showing students how you sound out words and engage them in this process while you do the actual writing for the group. 

Practices that Hinder this Habit:

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-Writing sentences down for children to copy into their books.
-Expressing disapproval for the child’s efforts. E.g., “I suppose that will do. You’ll learn to write more one day.”
-Providing ‘word banks’ for students to copy from.

Results are achieved through the habits that we create for students every day. By reflecting on the practices we encourage in our classrooms we can ensure that every child in our class is set up for success.

In my next post I will examine the habits created by many common classroom practices and suggest alternatives that may serve your students better.  To find out when this post is published subscribe to my blog using the link below.

Would you like to know more about how to make sure that your daily routines are based in the science of reading? Check out my next Teach Alongs starting soon!

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