April 23 was my Wednesday date with 106 this week. “What do you want for your Word today, Russell?” I asked the least academically-inclined child. Building with K’Nex is his life at school. I expected that he would say “Idunno,” his usual.
“Attack of the B Team,” he shot back. “That’s what I want.”
Wow, I thought. He’s hooked.
We had begun in late September, with Movement I. All twenty-six children and their teacher got a Word every time, and they read the Word to two friends before putting it into the basket. At Word Circle they all read, and during the months of September, October, and November, only three children forgot one of their Words.
Every morning before morning meeting the children read all their Words (kept in a Word pocket in the book baskets on their tables) to a friend.
In November a few children began getting sentences, Movement II. These were generally “I likes” or “I cans,” as in “I like soccer” and I can read Harry Potter,” with a few fairly typical “I love Grandma” and a few not-so-typical, such as “My mom is coming home tomorrow.” Even though it was once a week instead of every day, I could see progress and was pleased with the children’s ever-improving letter recognition, letter formation when they traced the Word, and sound-symbol correspondence when I asked what something started with.
In January I began two in Movement III. There are some very able children in this class, and there are also some entitled children, and some children fall into both groups. As more of them took on Movement III, writing down their chosen sentences in a small book, there were some confrontation-like moments: “No, that’s how I make that letter!” and “I just want to write one word, can I just write one word?” I was as patient and firm as I ever was. Mostly.
During January, with its report-card half-days, and February with its ten-day vacation, more children were able to be in Movements II and III, and all but about eight were in Movement III by the time April break came around. We were into “Maria is my best friend,” and “I love soccer,” and “It’s my birthday today!”
All very ordinary. (No child is ordinary, I hasten to add: but many Words, in every Movement, are ideas other children often have had in other groups.) So this morning, the first Wednesday after April break, I did something not ordinary.
As the children came to my table this week– I tried to have three at a time – I asked what they wanted and gave a Movement III book to everyone who didn’t already have one.
Two or three at a time, we worked. I wrote the sentence, whatever it was, on a strip of paper the same length and with the same lines as the paper in their books. “I like running,” wrote Mack. “I love my mom and dad,” wrote Lisa. “Ellie and me lost the same tooth,” wrote Alyna, right after Tress wrote, “I lost my tooth this morning.”
Six children in this class were not, I thought, really ready but I decided to do Movement III with them anyway. Annelise and Calvin and Emma and Nick astonished me as they copied their sentences into brand-new books, using way more controlled fine-motor skills than I expected – a few os made from the bottom, and a few backwards es – but mostly on the lines and mostly completely readable. And were they proud or what?!
I saved David and Russell for last. David, who talks nearly non-stop at the best of times, gave me a story instead of a sentence (because he doesn’t know the difference yet) and we reduced it to “I like Harry Potter.”
And Russell? Well, the Russells of this world are why I can’t stop Doing Words.