The helter skelter nature of my classroom and the unpredictability of my weekly schedule at school forced me to be away from our word study program, Words Their Way, for several weeks. This week, I returned to it, and, having done so, may have potentially stumbled, quite accidentally, onto what could be a major breakthrough for Donald (who, by now, you may know fairly well).
Words Their Way is a program that requires students to sort pictures and words according to patterns. Our sort this week was words with the ending patterns -en, -eg, and -et. Having been inspired by a visit to a colleague’s room a few weeks ago, I remembered how she printed the black and white images for the teacher sort (used to model and practice with the kids), and then colored the pictures in lively, engaging colors. Of course, I always use the teacher sort, but this week was the first time I took time out to color them.
As I was doing that, I was struck by my own inspiration. Knowing how much trouble my kids have had deciphering new patterns, and realizing the words are often foreign to English Language Learners (ie. peg, jet, hen), I decided to color code the words. I colored all the -en words yellow, the -et words pink, and the -eg words orange. This made it easier for students to see who was holding a given pattern in their hands, which put everyone further ahead going into the independent work than they have been all year.
During the work session, I watched from across the room as my para walked over to Donald with three distinctly colored markers and colored the headings -et, -eg, and -en. I walked over to observe, and then suggested to Donald that he may want to try to find all the -et words and color them the same color. He did, excitedly. Then, once we established the sound -et makes, he was able to, slowly but accurately, read the words “wet,” “pet,” “net,” and “jet”. I was amazed. This young man has done nothing remotely close to this level of work in Words Their Way all year, but here he was reading words like it was his job.
I helped him color and sort the yellow -eg words, and then left him to do the purple -en words by himself. And boy did he ever. He got them all right, and even took the time to write in the words he lost. My para and I were floating, and Donald was, too.
Later in the day, when I was alone in the room as my para took her lunch, I boldly decided to hold my writers workshop period (knowing that with Friday’s early dismissal, it wouldn’t happen otherwise). I asked Donald if he’d like to try color-coding the pages to help him transfer his one page draft onto five pages of soon-to-be published work. No verbal response was necessary: he ran to get the markers and, together we coded the pages.
For the first time this year, Donald spent the whole workshop doing work, totally unassisted.
Like I said, I kind of bumped into this color-coding business the way you stub your toe in the middle of the night: “Whoa! Didn’t see that coming.” Only thing is, this tickles a whole lot more.