(Or the latest way educators have managed to screw-up teaching kids how to read.)
Kid Writing is the latest reading fad to come down the pike. Have you seen it?
I have. And, it's not a pretty sight. So, gather round kiddies while I tell you a tale so horrifying that balanced literacy appears almost sane by comparison.
Kid Writing is a "system" for teaching kids how to read by allowing them to write without first teaching them how to read or write. This is the educational equivalent of teaching kids how to swim by throwing them into the deep end of the pool with a sack of lead strapped to their backs. Guess which kids don't float to the top.
With little formal instruction, kindergarteners are asked to write a story. In the beginning of the school year, this is usually what the teacher gets back:
Helpfully, the teacher translated the kid writing for us. (The ghost is scaring people.) I'm not sure whether this falls into the "emerging," "pictorial," or "pre-communicative" portion of the Kid Writing Assessment Scale. It strikes me as a bit cruel to have six year olds try to write without any instruction.
During the course of the year, the students are haphazardly presented various sounds they can use in their writing. Supposedly, this is phonics instruction (all reading programs say they have phonics nowadays). In any event, by the end of the year, it is hoped that the student will be writing like this:
Translated into English: I wish my mom would have a baby boy because there are already three girls in my house. This is poetically referred to as the "semi-phonetic" stage, or, more accurately, the "guessing stage."
Before I forget, none of the misspellings and ungrammatical phrasing is supposed to be corrected by the teacher. The kids are supposed to develop naturally. It's all so sweet and innocent. Until somebody gets hurt. Like poor little Andrew who is going to have to unlearn the misspellings "wold," "becaus," and "allredy" after repeatedly misspelling them all year long. (First law of teaching: never teach something that has to be untaught.)
Bear in mind, these kids are purportedly being taught to read; the writing skills are merely a bonus.
In case you haven't figured it out yet, this is an incredibly dopey way to teach children how to read. Putting it more technically, Kid Writing teaches kids how to decode, i.e., read, by teaching them how to encode, i.e., write or spell. As I stated a mere two sentences a go, but it bears repeating, this is a dopey way to teach writing.
Phonics for reading is a very different system of phonics than phonics for writing/spelling. Reading/decoding goes from letters to sounds; writing/spelling goes from sounds to letters. Ideally, beginning reading passages should be pretty regular in terms of sound/symbol correspondences (with the notable exception of irregular sight words), making it easier for the kids to learn how to read. But, spelling/writing, on the other hand, is quite a bit less regular. This is especially so when the kids get to pick what they want to write about, as in Kid Writing. This is why reading/decoding has traditionally been taught first (it's easier) and the less regular writing/encoding taught afterwards.
Maybe an example is in order. Let's use the long "e" sound. In reading, the following letter, letters, or pattern would cause you to say the long-e sound when you see them:
ee as in seed
ea as in speak
ie as in brief
ei as in receive
y as in study
e-consonant-e as in Pete
And so forth. When a student sees these letters, he knows he has to say the long "e" sound. However, for writing/spelling the student is presented with the long "e" sounds and then has to figure out which of the above letter, letters, or patterns to use when writing. The question is: how do I spell the long-e sound? The answer is: lots of ways. And therein lies the problem. With the long-e sound, phonics for spelling and phonics for reading are worlds apart.*
Anyone hawking a beginning reading program should know the difference. The authors of Kid Writing apparently do not.
Reading is difficult enough as it is. Why make it more difficult by teaching kids how to read by teaching them via the wrong, and unnecessarily complicated, rules? When things go awry for some kids, how do you diagnose the problem? Furthermore, with all this writing "instruction" going on, there is precious little time being spent actually reading, which is to say practicing to read.
Which brings me to my reason for writing this post in the first place. Kids Writing claims to be "research based." I told you this story was going to be terrifying. I'll explain this little nifty bit of tom-foolery in Part II after you've had time to regain your senses.
* Borrowed heavily from A View From Askance: Sometimes, Phonics Sucks.
Our saga continues in Part II: Kid Writing Reseacrh or lack Thereof .