Thursday, July 1, 2010

Meet Ellen Richard - Teacher, Mom and Creative Resource

Meet Ellen Richard and her family!  Via the Internet, I recently met this amazing teacher and innovative entrepreneur and she's doing something incredible to encourage young children in writing and spelling.  I was so impressed that I asked her to post a guest blog for me here so you could gain from some of her ideas.  I'm also posting her ideas and comments on my sister blog for educators. The topic is spelling and handwriting.  Take it away, Ellen!

Spelling is tough.  But,as a teacher from down in the trenches, I can tell parents that demanding kids write the same words over and over again is not the most productive use of your (or your child's) time. Educators, as a whole, have shifted away from rote memorization and endless tracing of inconsequential spelling lists and instead are spending their time figuring out ways to engage kids.  It's my experience that kids who truly are excited about the subject matter learn more and learn it faster.

Kids who have issues memorizing (there are many of them out there, not even counting those with identified learning disorders), are in a real pickle.  There is not context for the words, and there is not connection made.  Now, in all fairness, sometimes the words rhyme but more often than not they are just a group of words that the publishers of the textbook happened to think were appropriate for all the kids in a class.  One size doesn't fit all.  There are so many kids whose brains just work a little differently and, for those kids, spelling can be a huge problem.

I know, I know -- we have computers who do all our thinking, right?  Wrong!   Even in the age of SpellCheck and T-9 Alpha, kids need to know how to spell.  Why?  Because we still need to use a standardized, easily understandable common spelling for ease of communication.  That will never change and it applies whether your child is just learning to spell or whether they are an older student.

So what can you do to make spelling easier?
Three words:  authentic learning experiences.

Kids need to be engaged in what they are doing.  They need to see how and why spelling is so important.  Tracing or copying a list of words does not help the kids make essential connections that they need to learn how to spell words, or retain that information.  Whether you are thinking young children with growing small motor abilities or older students who've had some experiences with spelling, engagement is key.

I believe it is just fine to have young kids trace words to help them learn how to spell and/or print but here's the catch:  the words have to be meaningful to them.  A list of random words is not meaningful.  A letter to a friend is.  A story written by the child himself is also meaningful.  An article about the child's favorite sport or musician is too.  It's our jobs as educators (and yes, parents are the most important educators in a child's life) to find out what interests our kids and connect writing to it.

Ask questions; dig a little.  What is it that makes your child tick?  Use that to help her spell (and read and form letters and practice handwriting).  Here's the greatest part -- you can do all of this easily at home.  With your older students, let them do the writing while you write something together (a story, a book review or editorial, a fan letter, whatever).

If you are working with young children, you don't need fancy fonts on the computer to be able to have kids trace the words and become better spellers.  Simply make the dotted font yourself using good old paper and pencil.  Ask your child to tell you about his favorite character in his favorite book and jot down what he says in that dotted format.  Then, while he's still excited about the story, have him trace over what you just wrote and he just dictated to you.  Let him use blue marker if he wants.  He'll probably want to read it over and over and over again.  Why?  Because that story is the most interesting think in the world to him, at that moment in time.

Why Does This Work?

Just by talking to your child and writing down his story in a handmade dotted form, you are:

1.  bonding with your child and learning more about her likes and preferences

2.  giving her the opportunity to trace over her own story (that you jotted down)

3.  allowing her the chance to see the words that are important to her, her story and her vocabulary in the written form, and

4.  providing new reading material that is exciting, yet familiar, and fun for her to read.

Many of these ideas from Ellen can also be adapted with your older kids and the bonding is certainly as important as they grow older as it was when they were very young.

Thanks, Ellen!  What great ideas she has given you.  You're going to have a lot of fun.  I really like the way she balances a child writing over someone else's words and writing over her own.  Both are important.

Ellen has done more for us and young children.  She has taken these simple ideas and made them into a small business.  She started Letter Learning while on maternity leave from teaching this past January.  She missed teaching students, and had a million thank-you cards to write.  Because both of those things were on her mind, the idea for educational greeting cards was born!

She remembered how her own students sturggled often with spelling and handwriting and knew how much they love their family and friends.  She also knew that young kids love to "be like Mom" and since 80% of greeting cards are sent by women, it seems that greeting cards that help kids learn to write and spell are a long overdue instrument. Check out the birthday card above; it's an example of Ellen's cards.

Now It's Your Turn

Take time to sit down with your child and really talk with him.  Every child has at least one thing that really piques his interest.  It is your job to find out what that is.  Once you do that, the rest is easy!  So, now it's your turn.  Tell us what has helped you work with your child on spelling and writing at home.  Send a link to this blog to another mom or dad you know.  Share the complementary teacher blog with an educator you know who is enjoying a bit of R&R this summer.  It's when we take action from the words we read that we make a difference.

As always, I look forward to your comments.


Anonymous said...

What a great idea! I am always looking for innovative ways to make spelling and writing more fun. This is a great summer activity. Thanks for posting!

kmcdonald1 said...

My niece sent me a thank you card from the Letter Learning series. What a delight it was to receive it! As a 6 year old learning to print and read, the card was the perfect instrument. Thanks!

Janna Dressel said...

Yes Ellen, engaging children in authentic learning experiences is the key! As a former special education teacher myself, I have seen first hand how challenging spelling can be for many students. I have also found that simple memorization activities/quizzing does not work as well. Tapping into children's multiple intelligences has been crucial for me as a teacher. We have spelled words in shaving cream, written spelling raps, and even turned a traditional spelling bee style format into a basketball game that we call "Bounce & Spell." Make it fun and undoubtedly it becomes memorable!

Looking forward to ordering some of your cards! What a terrific idea! :)

Lynn Wieser, Buffalo NY said...

I could not agree with Ellen more. Have you ever seen how excited a child is when s/he receives a piece of mail or even a note passed in class -- and more importantly when s/he can read it and respond to it? Setting aside a half hour a day to devote to reading and writing with your child is not easy, but the creative parent can accomplish this in numerous ways such as having the child make the list for the store, or keep the calendar updated. My older daughter was not reading when she started 1st grade and I started writing notes to her on the napkin in her lunch kit each day. Within weeks, she was sounding out words and soon she was writing simple responses to me. What fun for both of us and what a special memory! It was the perfect opportunity to let her know that I loved her and was thinking of her as she went through the school day. Before long her friends' parents were writing notes to them in their lunch kits as well.

Katie said...

What a fantastic idea! As a life-long writer of thank you notes (thanks Mom), I love that these cards make it easy for kids to learn good manners and good spelling at the same time. I'm going to check out Letter Learning now!

Anonymous said...

I, myself, having taught Kindergarteners, 2nd graders, and Pre-K know how important it is for a child to have interest in what they are reading and writing. I always have my students (4 and 5 yr olds) "draw" a story once a week. It can be about anything they want. They love this! When they are done, they can't wait to get my attention so that I can look at their pictures. Some have arrows pointing to "mom" and "dad" or Ms. B (me, their teacher) and they write those words on their own. But, once I get involved with the children one on one and hear what their story is about,I write it down for them. They get to take these stories home every week and share with their family. Being a parent allows much more one-on-one than I can give to each child when I have 20 children in class, so this is a great way to learn writing, Ellen. I didn't even think about making dots for them to write the words to their story!

Jill said...

The cards are such a creative idea! Can't wait to order some for my family. I look forward to seeing more from this author/entrepeneur.

Cathy Puett Miller said...

So glad many of you appreciated Ellen as I do. Invite your friends to visit this post and others on this blog. There will be more great ideas and information - always!