Teaching decisions- writing

pencilMiss A is into week 3 of her series of lessons. She is a very quiet English As A Second Language student who is already showing that she is much more capable than her initial testing indicated. (The kind of surprise that I like!)

Miss A has moved from reading Level 6 to Level 9 books. She wrote 16 words independently at the beginning of Reading Recovery, and by the end of last week she was up to 33 words that she can write by herself.


Immediately before the writing section of the lesson on Friday she read Kitty Cat And The Paint. Miss A was invited to show me the part of the book that she liked the most. (She really enjoys the Kitty Cat books. She began tentatively contributing to conversations over a Kitty Cat book. I saw her first smile and heard a giggle.)

In this story curious Kitty Cat would not move away from a can of red paint despite Fat catCat telling her to go away. Angry Fat Cat chased Kitty Cat and in the process knocked over the red paint.

Miss A is not one to freely talk. She quickly told me that she liked the page because Fat Cat ran after Kitty Cat. When I asked why Fat Cat did this she told me it was because she stayed at the paint. I would probably ask other students to tell me more detailed information but I want Miss A to feel comfortable with the process of composing and if I ask too much of her she tends to ‘freeze’.


I said, ‘Let’s write about that. How are you going to start your story? About Kitty Cat or about Fat Cat?’ She said ‘Kitty Cat stayed at the paint’. I had her write that part down before I asked her what happened next. ‘Fat Cat ran after Kitty Cat’. I asked her to read what she had written so far and got her to orally add her ending. I repeated it back to her and offered her an alternative. ‘Do you want Kitty Cat stayed at the paint and Fat Cat ran after Kitty Cat or do you want Kitty Cat stayed at the paint and Fat Cat ran after her? She chose the latter. I would have accepted either response.



Miss A independently wrote Kitty, Cat, at, the, and, Fat, ran (for the 1st time) and her.

I decided that stayed was a good opportunity to show her how a known word could help to write a new word. At the moment she does a lot of solving ‘in her head’. I decided that she could use counters and sound boxes to hear the parts of stayed. She was able to write ‘s’ and ‘t’ in the 1st 2 boxes and wrote ‘a’ in the 3rd box. Then I quickly wrote day on her practice page. (I already knew that she could write this word but to save time I wrote it.) I then asked her to circle the 2 letters that made the ‘A’ sound in day. I then told her that day and stay sound and look the same so she added y to make ay in the 3rd box. I asked her how she was going to finish the word- with d or ed and she correctly wrote ed.

The other 2 words that required assistance were paint and after. She heard pa–t for paint-tin_21083208paint and a-t –for after. I wrote the letters ‘in’ for paint as Miss A could not hear them even when I stretched the word aloud for her. She added the ‘f ‘for after following my slow stretching of the word. I then wrote the familiar word mother and explained how the ‘u’ sound at the end of both mother and after was represented by ‘er’.

The only other teaching decision I made was to have Miss A change her lowercase ‘c’ to ‘C’ for Fat Cat and change ‘P’ to ‘p’ in paint. I could have also asked her to make the ‘s’ smaller for stayed but I let it go. During another lesson I will spend time on the placement of tall and ‘hang-down’ letters.

curious-catThe whole process from the beginning of composing to the finished writing takes 10 minutes of the lesson so the teaching decisions, prompts, and the writing of known words and letters, must be fast. I have to decide what are the best ‘teachable moments’ in the limited time that we have. It is more efficient to show Miss A how to solve words (e.g. analogy- using what is known to get to the unknown) compared to learning to spell specific words. That being said, the more words that Miss A can write on her own, the more time and energy there is to write many varied words. I chose the word after to be a word that would be useful to learn so she wrote it 4 more times on the practice page.

Happy Birthday

birthday-girlSt Albans East Primary School is celebrating it’s 60th birthday this weekend!

Back in the 1950s Melbourne looked like this.

The students did not have the variety of colourful and interesting books to read that we do now. Everyone had the same readers for a whole year, such as John And Betty and Fun With Dick And Jane.

Reading was taught by memorising individual words on cards called flashcards. Before you were given the reader you had to be able to read all the words on the flashcards. If you had a lovely teacher you might play games, like Tic Tac Toe, to help to learn the words. Sometimes you had to stand in line to take turns reading avictoriancollections-large word. If you got it wrong the other students might laugh at you or you might have to sit in the corner. Or if you had a really mean teacher you might get a whack with a ruler.

If you had older brothers and sisters you probably knew most of John And Betty before you started school because you had heard your siblings read it to your mum many times.



If you were a girl you probably carried your reader between home and school in your school case.



You may have sat at a wooden desk with an desksinkwell. The older students used to fill their fountain pens from the inkwells.

All the desks faced the big blackboard at the front of the room. A lot of time was spent copying information from the board. Left handed students were often not allowed to write with their left hands.

There were certainly no computers, air conditioning, or playgrounds like ours.

Changes over time in HRSW

writing1Following on from celebrating the benefits of Reading Recovery (previous post), let’s look at the development 2 students made in Hearing and Recording Sounds in Words from the beginning of Reading Recovery to the end. HRSW is one of the tasks from the Observation Survey.

Hearing and Recording Sounds in Words is a task to assess phonemic awareness by determining how the child represents sounds within words when writing (can the student hear the parts of a word and can he / she choose appropriate letters to represent those sounds, and can the student write the letters?)

English is the second language for both of these students.

I read the sentence to each student slowly so that he / she had time to hear each word, and ponder which sounds could be heard, and choose and write letters to go with the sounds.

Student 1

Beginning of Reading Recovery


The sentence is: I have a big dog at home. Today I am going to take him to school.

End of Reading Recovery


The sentence is: I can see the red boat that we are going to have a ride in.

The score was not perfect but it was a big improvement. It is not a spelling task. The word boat lost no points because the ‘a’ cannot be heard. Extra letters within a word do not lose points, but writing ‘u’ instead of ‘i’ in ride does lose a point.

Also note how much better the writing looks. There are spaces between every word and capital letters are used appropriately.

Student 2

Beginning of Reading Recovery


The sentence is: I have a big dog at home. Today I am going to take him to school.

She could hear some sounds but she did not know how to write the letters. Mostly she kept shaking her head to indicate that she did not know any sounds in the word.

End of Reading Recovery


The sentence is: I can see the red boat that we are going to have a ride in.

Again the score is not perfect but it shows enormous development. Look at how much more she could write compared to her first writing.

She wrote ‘u’ twice for ‘i’ in ride. (The 2 students did the task separately so no copying was involved!) ‘sh’ was written for ‘th’ in that and for some reason an ‘i’ was added to we. (I suspect she wasn’t sure which one it was so she put both- clever!)

These students were random examples. They were not my ‘best’ students. They are a snapshot of the difference that Reading Recovery can make to our students.

Celebrating Reading Recovery

I came across these 2 videos on Youtube. What a lovely way of presenting successful achievements in Reading Recovery, firstly from Jefferson City Public Schools, MO (changing lives).

Here is the second presentation, from Madison County.

How uplifting are those videos!! I wish every decision maker who provides funding for schools would see what a difference Reading Recovery can make to the lives of our children.