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How To Help Children Who Can't Write Yet?


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I feel like I'm always asking questions here, but I really want to get things right for the children in my class and everyone here has such useful advice!

 

I'm sitting here thinking about my literacy planning for next term (I'm in year one). I have about six children who can't write at all and don't really know their letters. (They all came up with nothing higher than a 4 in the literacy strands of the EYEprofile). They attend the phase 2 phonics group during daily phonics sessions but I'm struggling to know what to do with them during literacy lessons.

 

At the moment when asked to 'write' anything they will write a random collection of letters (usually a, r, s and whatever letters are in their names) and marks, although they do at least construct these like a sentence (eg. from left to right and within the lines of the paper). Very occasionally they can tell you what they have written, but more often than not they look at me blankly or look at their paper and realise that they haven't actually written anything readable. I'm not sure how best to move them forwards.

 

My TA is advocating taking them out of the literacy lesson everyday and doing intensive letter formation with them, and whilst I think they do need to learn their letters I'm keen for them not to miss out on other aspects of literacy, such as retelling a story orally etc. Last half term I kept them in the lesson most of the time and did a lot of scribing of ideas that they came up with verbally (this was like pulling teeth since they are all very quiet but do know it just aren't confident to say it). I feel like I'm appraoching it all wrong, but I know that being able to come up with an oral response or description is important.

 

My TA gets very hung up on them actually recording things, whereas I think that sometimes just discussing things and not writing it down is important too. Obviously though at some point recording needs to happen and they do need to learn this skill. Should I be inviting them to attempt to record their sentences however they feel best and then scribing underneath what it says? Or should an adult scribe and get them to copy? (What they copy down will still be barely readable). My TA wants them to trace over a sentence, but personally I'm not sure this has much value. I guess what I'm saying is HELP! What on earth do I do?

 

(The problem is compounded by the fact that the next 8 brightest children will merely write a random collection of 5-10 letters in a row and then tell you it's a sentence, which they can only read back about 50% of the time. I don't know what to do for them really either, I just feel like I'm not doing enough at all!)

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Hi Kariana,

 

I'm not a teacher but my feeling is that you need to take these children back a few steps, start looking for what they are achieving consistently and find a way to build on it. I wouldn't be looking at them writing any sentences at all. Can you find a way in which they can enjoy wrinting single letters and simple words consistently in a context which has meaning to them and is enjoyable?

 

 

Find what interests and excites them. I know it sounds idealistic but activities which feel like pulling teeth to you are probably not helping them much either.

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What are the rest of the class like?

Personally I would forget L&S Phases and teach phonics as a whole class (at least one session per day - more short inputs if you can fit them in) A review of sounds already taught (quick fire) introduce new sound (same for whole class) new tricky word (I use action words) blending and segmenting words then dictation of sounds and cvc words (short sentence if any children can manage) on whiteboards.

Letter formation always use the same words to describe how to form the letters and make sure your TA uses the same words too.

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Personally I would forget L&S Phases and teach phonics as a whole class (at least one session per day - more short inputs if you can fit them in)

 

Unfortunately I can't do this, the whole school is streamed for phonics and it happens across the school at the same time each day, it has been taken completely out of the literacy hour. It could be argued that I could put it back as an additional session, but this would cut into my literacy time and would also cause problems for the short attention span my class have. They can do maybe 10 minutes at a time on the carpet so if I did phonics at the beginning of the literacy session that would use up all the time they are able to concentrate for and I really have no other time to fit it in! Also I have children right from phase 2 to phase 5 so any input I did as a whole class would either go over the heads of most or be almost pointless for many of them.

 

What are the rest of the children like?

 

That's a question and a half! The rest vary widely, but the majority lack three important skills: concentration, self control and working independently. I'm trying to build these up whilst still working within the school's policy of folllowing the literacy and numeracy units (I only work mornings). The top 2 in my class are heading rapidly towards literacy level 1b, I have about 8 who have reached 1c with support and a few (4 or 5) that are about to make the leap to this level, but again need a lot of support. With only myself and my TA to offer this support I'm feeling a little frazzled and under pressure. I know lots of people out there manage it though, so I'm hopeful that things will come together!

 

Can you find a way in which they can enjoy writing single letters and simple words consistently in a context which has meaning to them and is enjoyable?

 

This is where I'm struggling. Most of them are quiet and I get the distinct impression that last year they were subjected to "well they can't do it anyway so why make them try?" Unfortunately this attitude has ingrained itself onto their own attitudes towards work. They won't try without adult support, they won't do anything that is 'work' (ie. an adult has asked them to do it) and they won't think about anything unless they are pretty convinced that I won't give up until they do. This is what I meant by 'pulling teeth', "I don't know" has always been accepted from them before, and yet I know if they think they actually do know! I'm battling against this at the moment and we're making small steps in building confidence. The other day I told them I didn't care what they wrote down as long as it was something to explain what they had done in a problem solving activity. It was more to see if they did write (or draw, I did suggest this!) than anything else. All but one actually produced something! None of them had a clue what they'd written (one boy said "that's some numbers and that's some letters") but I could have cried! Six weeks ago they'd have sat and stared at the paper waiting for someone to tell them what to do or let them off. A small triumph which will hopefully lead onto others.

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What about arranging sentences? Ask the TA to scribe each child's sentence on pieces of paper and help them to put the words in the right order? That way they are recordong, finishing a whole sentence, and feel like they've achieved something. You could always get them to have a go at writing their own version of the sentence, or writing the initial sounds of each word?? Not very original but it's something we do in reception, and i know our Year 1 teacher does it too. Minimal prep - just some strips of paper cut up, the adult can work with one or two children while the others illustrate their work then swap.

 

Alternatively we use alphabet cards from sparklebox, with the alphabet printed alongside a graphic ( a, apple, b, balloon etc)and the children use these to try and find the sound they want to write.

 

Good luck with solving this one :o

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Try getting them to record their ideas as well, tape recorder or one of those MP3 things. That way they can 'write' stories without needing constant adult input.

 

Also, they may find using a computer helpful.

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I see where you are coming from - they're lucky to have you on their side.

 

Have you thought about asking them to plan for themselves? If you tell them that you've got a piece of wall/book/table that you would like to show their writing and drawing on and could they decide what they would like to display. Ask them to set their own target so to speak. Then hopefully they will choose something they consider manageable and which meets their interests. If you only get pictures at first at least you'll have something that they can develop in the future, perhaps asking the to add a label to something so the others know what it is.

 

Is that the kind of thing you mean?

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Unfortunately I can't do this, the whole school is streamed for phonics and it happens across the school at the same time each day, it has been taken completely out of the literacy hour. It could be argued that I could put it back as an additional session, but this would cut into my literacy time and would also cause problems for the short attention span my class have. They can do maybe 10 minutes at a time on the carpet so if I did phonics at the beginning of the literacy session that would use up all the time they are able to concentrate for and I really have no other time to fit it in! Also I have children right from phase 2 to phase 5 so any input I did as a whole class would either go over the heads of most or be almost pointless for many of them.

At the end of reception last year I had children who (using L&S phases )were between phase 3 and had completed phase 6. I taught them all as a class in short 10 min inputs (up to three times a day whenever there was time to spare) and it doesn't go over their heads (honestly) it's a drip, drip, drip process ...

They arrived in reception with between 0-1 for Linking Sounds to Letters so it can be effective.

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Lots of excellent advice here - as usual! Please also help the children develop their fine motor skills by tracing the phonemes in plates of salt or sand, taping large sheets of paper underneath a table so they can lie on their backs and 'write' letters - also do with large paintbrushes and water.

 

Reading comes first so they need to create their own verbal sentences, where each word is then scribed by teacher / TA - she sounds a bit over opinionated, or is that just me???!!! - each word is scribed onto a sticky label then ordered into a sentence - which reinforces direction of text etc. The children can then write or find the initial letter for each or some of the words.i I teach my tricky words in a different order so the children can make sentences to read right from the start - works well with most of Reception. I agree with Marion - it is a 'drip drip' approach of little and often on top of whatever school p;olicy is!

 

Jenni

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Lots of excellent advice here - as usual!

 

I completely agree, thanks everyone for your great advice, I'll definitely be using it in my planning.

 

Please also help the children develop their fine motor skills by tracing the phonemes in plates of salt or sand, taping large sheets of paper underneath a table so they can lie on their backs and 'write' letters - also do with large paintbrushes and water.

 

I have set up a focus group who really need this skill developing (it's more than just those six) and they have a range of activities they do. Taping paper to the underneath of tables is a new one though, definitely going to get that one going, probably as part of my continuous provision as well!

 

TA - she sounds a bit over opinionated, or is that just me???!!!

 

Glad it's not just me who thinks that! She is very opinionated and has been at the school several years so is well settled and sometimes can tend towards thinking she knows best. She's a lovely person though and doesn't mean any harm by it, it's just that her personality is very strong and with her being a lot older than me I think sometimes she wonders what on earth I'm doing since I work differently to the teacher she's worked with previously.

 

Is that the kind of thing you mean?

 

That's a fantastic idea Upsy Daisy, I'll definitely be trying that one!

 

Thanks for all the great ideas everyone, this is what I love about this site. If anyone has anymroe ideas they will be gratefully received. Variety is the spice of life after all, and I'm willing to try anything if it's going to help them progress!

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