Sunday, July 01, 2007

Learning to Read

During our final days of first grade we continued our language arts in two ways. The first was a return to the Grimm's Fairy Tales; we read a new tale everyday. The second was to continue our adventures in the Word Family Town.

Nightowl adored the Word-Family Town. She requested it every day during main lesson time. I found this challenging because in my mind we were done with the project and it was time to pack it up neatly in the Grade One portfolio. I'd forgotten many of my original ideas to continue the project. It was time for something new. How wrong I was.

Our revisit to the WFT began with my realization that Nightowl was having difficulty deciphering the consonant blends - th, sh, and ch. As part of our daily reading we had been working our way through McGuffy's Primer. These blends were presented but she just couldn't keep them straight. She needed something else but my very tired brain just couldn't think of something new. So one afternoon I pulled out our town and arranged it on the floor. I told myself that it wouldn't hurt to revisit this project - after all she did keep asking. Maybe Nightowl could find something new. So I stepped aside and let the unschooling take over.

The first thing I noticed is that Nightowl got really into the WFT - literally. She put herself into the town and began playing and interacting with it just like she would her dolls and fairy houses. Only this time her muttered narrative was peppered with spelling out words as the little letter people went through their daily chores of living.

She quietly continued this activity for several days during main lesson time. I held myself back and watched. Then, one evening, we were reading before bed. Nightowl, who likes to watch the pages as I read aloud, said suddenly - ch does not live in the Word Family Town. She seemed a bit sad about this. And then it hit me - really it was so obvious, what had I been thinking?

The next afternoon before getting out the town I sat down with the chalk board and told her the story of how three consonant blends came to the WFT. The story went like this:

One day a hot air balloon appeared above Word Family Town. In the basket were two women one named TH and the other named CH. Their little son SH was with them. All the people of the town came to see as the balloon landed. TH and CH got out and introduced their son. Then they described their sounds to the townspeople.
Short, sweet and it did the trick. Nightowl drew the picture in her book. Then quickly created the stick figures TH, CH and SH. Then the play continued.

The next day I grew curious about how Nightowl was incorporating all these sounds and letters. So I said: "Nightowl did you know that the little son SH could spell every word in the Word Family Town?"

She looked unconvinced.

"Really," I continued, "He had this amazing talent. He told the people that he would demonstrate this talent. He told them that tomorrow morning he would spell all the words from the town. The problem was that he needed someone to write the words as he spelled them." (The letter folk have no arms or hands, you see.) Nightowl considered this new piece of the story and then went off to play in the town.

As luck would have it Nightowl volunteered to be a scribe for SH and the next morning we went through the process of spelling all the words. It was a very test like situation. Me calling out the words.* Nightowl listening to an imaginary SH tell the spellings. Nightowl writing them down. To my delight she spelled all the family words correctly and even figured out a few more difficult words. Success!

Since then her reading has really taken off. She's working her way through all the picture books in the house and reading some simple chapter books. She is even volunteering to read to Bearcub - which is soooo lovely.

So with this I officially ended the final block of our first grade language arts. I put the letter people away and we've taken a break for summer. Of course Nightowl is still reading for pleasure and just a few days ago she looked up from a book and asked, quite hopefully, if the Word Family Town would be in second grade as well. I think the answer to that is quite obvious.

* To facilitate the creation of our town and to come up with our spelling list I used a nifty, and very affordable book/pamphlet from Oak Meadow: The Word Family Reader. This very small book is the only Oak Meadow book that I've used in its entirety and I highly recommend it for this type of activity.


Sara said...

This is fantastic! And she's reading, too! Hooray!

big mama said...

Wow, isn't it lovely when it all comes together like this! Good for you for trusting your instincts and letting her take the lead on this.

I think Word Families can be a huge part of Grade 2, particularly when you have a fan already. Can't wait what happens when a trickster comes to the town and mixes up sounds....