Thursday, December 17, 2009

Letter to Santa

Some of my favorite moments with Linus are selfish. They are those moments where I am teaching him. No, not modeling (well, actually kind of), guiding, or parenting but really teaching, like I used to in a classroom. These moments are most often spontaneous (as the best teaching tends to be), but occasionally the planned moments are successful too.

Yesterday's "lesson": A letter to Santa. As a first grade teacher, one of the first ways you work on writing with students is by doing modeled or shared writing. The kids and teacher together come up with the content and the teacher does some or most of the scribing. Depending on the abilities/level, students can help with letters, whole words, punctuation, and even sentences. I decided to try to do some shared writing with Linus. That meant, of course, that I would do all of the scribing but Linus could contribute pictures and be guided as to the content.

Before getting out any paper, Linus and I had another discussion about his Christmas wishes. We remembered books we had read in which children wrote letters to Santa Claus. In technical terms, we were reviewing content and setting up the lesson. I asked him if he wanted to write a letter to Santa, and he got very excited.

"To write a letter to Santa," I prompted, "what do we need to get? What will we write with?"

"Markers," he squealed.

"That's right, Linus. We need markers. What will we use the markers to write on?"

"Paper!" he shouted.

We located our markers and set-up at his easel.

With a blank sheet ready, I asked Linus one toy he wanted Santa to bring him. He blurted out "James" (an engine from the Thomas collection) and I encouraged him to draw a picture of James. When he finished his picture, I asked him if he wanted me to write "James" next to the picture. His "uh-huh" confirmed his approval and I began writing slowly.

"Ja-ja-ja. J for James. Aaaayyyy. What letter do you hear next?"

"A, Mommy."

"That's right, A," and I wrote the letter a.

"Mmmm. I hear M next," and I wrote the letter m.

I added in the e mentioning that it was there too. (No need to go into vowel patterns.) And we added the letter s in much the same way.

Then, with prompting, he added his next wish item and requested Mommy to write it. We did all three items I was aware of him wanting (James, Thomas, and more tracks) when he started drawing at the bottom of the page.

When he told me to "Write it," I had to ask for clarification.

"What do you want me to write there?"

He paused for a bit, thought very hard, and then shouted, "Breakfast at NOSH!"

I guess a restaurant with a ready selection of toys and peanut butter- banana stuffed french toast would be a favorite for a two year old who always has his mind on his next meal.

Once "breakfast at NOSH" was labeled, I quickly added the "Dear Santa" explaining what it said and saying each letter as I wrote. Surprisingly Linus repeated each letter after me.

As I was adding the salutation, I asked him to tell me who the letter was from. He exuberantly screamed "Linus" and watched as I wrote out his name saying each letter. He then picked up his own marker and attempted to write the letter L. It came out as a big line which pleased me.

You see, learning to write (or learning anything especially at a young age) is less about the motor skills (those will come) and more about the process. If a child desires to write and understands that writing is a way to communicate, they will be very motivated to master the motor skills, spelling, and letter recognition without having to do practice sheets, flashcards, or other repetitive activities. (Kind of like how they learn to talk.)

This moment with Linus was really special for me as it allowed me to shine my best light while igniting the glow in him as well.

Here's his masterpiece.

Please remember that all children develop differently. This was the FIRST time Linus has ever shown interest in writing and it hasn't popped up again. The best teaching is not about forcing a new skill but instead about grabbing those teachable moments and using them fully. I am pretty certain that a year from now, when we "write" a letter to Santa again, it will be a nearly identical process. This was just about opening him up to the idea of writing with no expectations.


Chelsea + Jonathan said...

Abby I need you back in the classroom so me and all us future school psychs can come watch amazing teaching in action! Hello, differentiated instruction at its finest. :) Linus is lucky.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Lucky Linus, indeed. That is a masterpiece--and a keepsake!

Amy said...

Wonderful! I love learning about how you teach. Linus is lucky to have such a talented mommy. : )