I believe that the key to all learning is being able to read and write well and confidently. When I was a child I could read and write, but not really well or very confidently, perhaps just average. Poetry was too cryptic, literature too highbrow, song lyrics too obscure and many stories too descriptive. As an older gentleman, with a lifetime of experience and study, I feel much more confident about my capacity to read and write, but I often wonder how much better I would be now if I was much better then.
I remember one of my friends in high school who wrote a story about a day in the life of a door knob. At the time, I thought my friend was just being smart and a bit silly, but as I reflect on the story now it was an awesome example of creative writing; imaginative concepts, descriptive narratives, thought provoking viewpoints, clever plot design, great use of vocabulary and engaging characters. The story began with a description of the knob, made of brass, somewhat tarnished, slightly dented and out of shape, in need of oiling to stop the squeak when it was turned, and slow to wind back to its original position. The knob was fixed to an old oak door covered in a thin coat of limewash paint with black foot marks on the lower frame, which tended to drag on the well-worn Axminister carpet of deep red and blue floral designs. The door divided a grand entry hall that was dimly lit from a reception room which was bathed in light that streamed in through thin floriated curtain sheers. The door knob faced the reception room and could see to every corner of the room. The walls were adorned with decades old paintings depicting historical buildings and cars and were covered in a light film of dust. The reception room was used as a waiting room for sick and injured people desperate to see the doctor.
The story goes on to describe the nature of the people entering and leaving the room, the texture of their hands, some hands soft and manicured while others were rough and crusty, children’s hands covered in snot, sweat and dirt, spreading germs and disease, possibly the coronavirus! Conversations of love, crime and intrigue are overheard and retold by the door knob with precision and in vivid detail. The story was quite captivating. Sadly, I can’t remember any more or how it all ended, but the story shows the power of words to paint a picture and connect with an audience. Who would have thought a day in the life of a door knob could be so fascinating. I hope this little introduction to a day in the life of a door knob has roused your interest to find out how the story unfolds.
This story makes me think about how parents and teachers can help our students to build their capacity to read and write.
Building your child’s vocabulary is the first step.
Early vocabulary knowledge consistently predicts children’s later reading achievement. So how do children build their vocabulary? Mostly, young children learn words from talking with parents, brothers and sisters and friends. You can also help children learn more words by using a variety of methods to develop their awareness of words. Always keep the learning of new words fun. Here are some ideas to use at home:
- Act out and illustrate words when you are reading aloud. Children who know very few words enjoy sounds and actions as well as direct explanations of what a word means. Children with larger vocabularies often prefer to discuss the new word and its meaning.
- Read poetry and rhymes. Look for collections of poems that appeal to children. Repeat them often so children learn them by heart. Make up nonsense verses when out in the car. Make it a game to find as many words as possible to rhyme with their names or other words they already know well.
- Use new words in new contexts. Try to use a new word again in your conversations and discussions. Make using it as natural as possible. Say to your child, “This is the word we read last night. Remember?”
- Explain what a new word means. Link it to other words they already know.
- Look at the letters and sounds in new words. Make it a regular game when reading together to say new words, sound them out and look at the letters and letter combinations.
- Choose a letter and everyone thinks of as many words as they can beginning with that letter.
- Use family outings to point out words on signs and in shops. Even young child can identify initial letters and guess what the word means. Ask them the names for things.
- Play word games but keep them short and move on when children lose interest.
- Play with word associations. You say a simple word like ‘dog’ and they have to reply with the first word that comes to mind. Then they say a word and you say the first word you think of. You can also play this game with rhymes.
- Look out for board games you can play that use words.
The next step is to put the words together in stories.
Ideas for improving your child’s writing.
Children become better readers by writing, and better writers by reading! Writing, like reading, is best learned when you have something interesting to write or for a real purpose. You can find plenty of opportunities at home for your children to write. Some ideas for family writing activities include:
- Lists: Families make these all the time: shopping lists, to-do lists, invitation lists, holiday packing lists. Encourage your children to make lists of their own. Some ideas include birthdays of family and friends, chores, school assignments, top-ten lists.
- Notes: Encourage your children to jot notes to family members and capture special moments in writing. Ideas for making notes include saying goodbye to grandparents after a summer holiday, the taste of a chocolate chip ice-cream, a message of encouragement for a sibling facing a challenge, a love note to a parent, a thank you note.
- Journals, diaries and blogs: In the process of writing, journal writers and bloggers often come to a deeper understanding of their lives. The journal or blog becomes a precious keepsake as the writer continues through life.
- Text exchange: There are many children friendly social media apps that children can use to have written conversations with parents. This is a way for a parent to develop a deeper relationship with a child – questions, answers, encouragements, apologies, and words of affection can be written that might never be spoken.
- Letters and e-mails: Letters can help children stay in touch with distant family members. All children love getting a letter or e-mail back. Getting into the habit of letter-writing can become a lifetime pleasure.
- Birthday and special-event books: Provide blank books for family members and guests at birthday parties and special events so they can write personal notes and wishes. These become treasured archives of people and occasions.
- Parodies: Make it a family thing to write spoofs of songs, poems and advertisements to mark special occasions or achievements. Perhaps a day in the life of a door knob.
Student Voice and Student Agency
Talking with children about a range of topics is essential in building their vocabulary and social confidence. Letting children have a voice in what they do, how they do it and when they do it is a significant way of getting them engaged in their learning. One of the strategic goals of the College for 2020 is Student Voice: To foster student agency to encourage students to act with vitality and purpose in shaping their own learning.
The recent staff professional learning day on Tuesday 3 March was dedicated to building teachers’ capacity to incorporate opportunities for student voice and student agency in their teaching and learning programs. At one time during the day around 30 students from Years 4 to 12 came along so that teachers could chat to them about what student voice and agency may look like, sound like and feel like. Students confidently gave teachers feedback on what they believe makes a good lesson. A very authentic professional learning opportunity for our staff and I am grateful to our students for coming along on their ‘day off’ and sharing their wisdom. I encourage parents to consider how they might foster voice and agency with their children at home, perhaps by using some of the ideas above for developing children’s’ vocabulary, reading and writing skills.
Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)
After reading this blog I am sure you will never walk past a door knob again without thinking how was his or her day! One thing we can do for our door knobs, especially in this time of concern about the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), is to wash our hands.
Everyone picks up – and spreads- germs at school. Teachers and students fall sick and pass on their infections to their own families. We dread the onset of winter colds and flu when valuable learning time is lost through absences.
The good news is that many illnesses can be prevented by the simple act of washing our hands. That may sound obvious but a study found that a third of adults fail to wash their hands after using the toilet! Some public toilets lack soap and drying facilities, yet we know that many infections are passed on by hand contact and that thorough drying is an essential part of hygiene.
Handwashing is the single most important action people can take to prevent the spread of germs.
In one school, an experiment found that when students were required to wash their hands four times a day – on arrival at school, before lunch, after using the toilets and before leaving for home at the end of the day absenteeism due to illness dropped sharply among students and teachers.
When should hands be washed?
- Before preparing or eating food.
- Before cleaning a cut or wound.
- After handling uncooked food like raw meat, poultry or fish.
- After changing a baby’s nappy.
- After blowing your nose and after a cough or sneeze.
- After playing with animals.
- After handling rubbish.
- After using the toilet.
How should hands be washed?
- Use soap and warm running water.
- Wash all parts of your hands thoroughly, including wrists, palms, backs of hands, fingers and under the fingernails and rings.
- Rub soapy hands together for at least 15 seconds.
- Dry thoroughly.
By not washing our hands regularly, we may be causing our own ill health as well as spreading germs to others. The spread of many germs that cause infections ranging from the common cold to diarrhoea can be greatly reduced by washing hands with soap and water.
The College is monitoring the evolving situation with the COVID-19 virus and is following the advice from Catholic Education Western Australia (CEWA) who is working with government agencies and other education sectors to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students, staff and the school community. In the meantime, parents may wish to view updates using the link below: