Saturday, January 15, 2011

I want to do the spot

I have been experimenting with reflective blogging in my teacher education classes.  I ask my students to post thoughts about their teaching experiences and to consider their practice in relation to, or in contrast to, theory and research that they read for class.  Reflection is an important part of learning to be an effective teacher, and I hope to practice what I preach by reflecting on my experiences teaching preschool in the next few months. 

This week, I observed the concept of "the period" being born.  Until I saw it happen, I had never thought about how children come to understand "the spot."  For me, periods just exist.  I know that children need to learn about sentence boundaries.  In fact, I explain this idea in my "emergent and early literacy" lessons in my teacher education classes.  But until Thursday, I never thought about how, or when, this conceptual awareness of language becomes something tangible to children.  When do they notice "the spot," and when do they begin to use it in their own writing?

As my mentor teacher modeled the writing activity for the day, she explained to the children that they were to draw a picture of something they liked to do in winter.  After they had finished their picture, one of the teachers would help them write a story on the lines at the bottom of the paper.  Again, she modeled the process and wrote her own one-sentence story.  At the end of the sentence, of course, she put a period. 

Before she could move on, one child asked, "Why did you put the dot?"  The question surprised me for its simplicity and for its import.  By noticing the period, this young girl was moving forward in her understanding of print literacy.  I was excited to see how the lesson unfolded.

The teacher explained to the children that a period ends a sentence, and she offered to show them later in a book that they were reading.  It was a beautifully organic moment of mechanics instruction, and I was even more amazed to see its impact as the children wrote their own stories.  One little girl emphasized to the teacher writing her story to "put the dot" at the end of her sentence.  Another child said emphatically, "I want to do the spot!"  He happily took the marker and made his own period after the teacher wrote his sentence.

Perhaps the key for the success with this concept is that it was, seemingly, an unplanned lesson.  It grew out of one child's astute question, and other children were eager to learn and apply the knowledge.  I continue to wonder how we can inspire these types of questions in children - and in adolescents.  How do we encourage them to want to make the spot?

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