Sharing Early Literacy Learning Journeys

Holidays have a curious habit of flying by. It seems like only yesterday I was writing about loading my bags on the early morning shuttle to the airport.
In the blink of an eye, it’s back to school – October 3rd, the first day of the last term. Reality hits home. There’s an initial reluctance in starting work. I push aside fleeting thoughts of just one more week!  There’s no gradual transition, no time to ease in gently. The first child arrives and I’m into it.

Monday. Professional Development for teachers. We collaborate on aspects of reading, spelling and explicit teaching.

Tuesday. A significant milestone for the children, their parents and me – Year One students return for their last term. In just ten weeks they will finish and head into Christmas holidays, then Year Two in February,  2012.

8:15 AM. The first children trickle in. They come into my room early—it’s an important part of our day when children and parents have opportunities to interact and share informally—I call it a ‘staggered start’.  It’s even more important the first day of term to make sure the children have extra time to talk and share about events and experiences of their past two weeks. The children’s energy and enthusiasm is contagious, it renews me. This is the best way I know to make an effective transition from holiday to work mode. Cobwebs clear, gears click back into motion, the passion returns.

Bounding up the stairs, Terry calls from the doorway, “Good morning Mrs Swan.” He walks over and stops before me… as if to give me a hug. “Good morning Terry.  Hey, you look terrific with that new haircut. How were your holidays?” Words gush out excitedly as he recounts his stay in a nearby resort.

Striding in, Donny greets me with his big, wide grin. I compliment him on his sporty new haircut that suits him so well. He seems taller. Has he grown in the two weeks away?

Quietly entering the room, Zack whispers, “Good morning.” I comment on his new, bright-white and red running shoes – adding that I got new running shoes on the holidays too.

More children and parents come in and mill around, asking about holidays and chatting happily with all and sundry. It’s wonderful to see everyone again.

Several boys come in with new games and proceed to show their friends how to play Chess and Uno.

Rex teaches Clay to play chess

Henry teaches Terry to play Uno

Two crickets arrive. In a plastic container carried by Kerrie.

A shiny, colourful leaf appears. Misty found it on her walk to school. Adults and children admire nature’s contributions.

Misty brings in a shiny, colourful leaf

...and I bring in freshly-washed covers for the reading cushions!

What a thrill – children voluntarily writing out of school…

Annie walks in smiling, hands me two pages of writing on pretty, blue paper and says, “Good morning Mrs Swan. Yesterday at my nana’s, I wrote my journal.”

Esther walks in quietly, smiling and firmly gripping an exercise book in her hands. “This is my journal about my holidays,” she says happily.

Later, Annie and Esther read their journal entries to the class: family trips, outings and holidays. Other children chime in and discuss their holiday activities – camping, fishing, ice-skating, movies, swimming in resort and home pools, riding bikes, building sandcastles and going to Grandma’s.

As Esther reads her journal, Molly says, “It’s like the Diary of a Wombat, with the short sentences.”

Molly thinks Esther's journal sounds like the writing in 'Diary of a Wombat'.

Key words on the board. During our pre-writing talking time of  co-operative show and tell, some children request key words to be written on the board – new words they may need in their writing: camping, movies, water-slide, sandcastle, Granite Gorge, Port Douglas Resort, Kurrimine Beach, Cairns Central Shopping Centre, Cairns Esplanade Lagoon

Visualising. Before moving to their writing I ask the children to visualise what they are going to write about and to put possible sentences in their heads. I remind them to think about adjectives they could use to describe objects, places or events and words to tell how they feel. Finally, I add Natalie Goldberg’s advice: Be specific! Not car, but cadillac. Not tree, but sycamore.   ‘It is much better to say “the geranium in the window” than “the flower in the window.” “Geranium”  – that one word gives us a much more specific picture… It immediately gives us the scene by the window—red petals, green circular leaves, all straining toward sunlight’ (Goldberg, 1986, p 77).

A few weeks later…
It’s great to be back. Children help each other with ideas, words, spelling. There’s quality writing from all. One of the children writes a seven page story in her journal. I realise how far their writing has come since starting the year in February and I can’t wait to see how far they can go by the end of the year.

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