Making Connections: Effective Language Arts Practice

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In my coursework this weekend, I have been reading up on Language Arts at the primary grade levels and what constitutes effective practices…

(Read what I’ve been reading HERE!)

One of the most crucial aspects (it has, and always will be) is the ability for students to make connections with what they read, write, hear, and say. These connections create more than just ‘passing a test’ or ‘completing the assignment’ ; they make the learning real and create an investment in learning. So, what better way to describe what stood out to me from these primary level language practices than in the form of text-to-text and text-to-self connections!? Below are the 5 things I found most crucial in creating effective instruction of Language Arts at the primary level.

1. Immersion – Text-to-Text – This is by far the most important point for me. I have blogged quite a bit in the past about this as well, but I never get tired of talking about it. Immersing our students in the learning, regardless of the content, creates a sense of investment and helps students to feel truly a part of the learning experience. When they feel like they are living it they are more likely to enjoy, remember, and retain it. The connection here for me goes back to a book I read last year entitled “Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire.” (by Rafe Esquith) By far one of my favorite books on education, Rafe Esquith proves himself a master at immersive learning. His students are some of the most invested and intrigued learners I’ve experienced and they provide a wonderful example of this important practice for primary Language Arts practice.

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2. Being Read To – Text-to-Self – Another crucial point in teaching language at the primary level is the practice of reading to students. Beyone the benefits of reinforced listening, speaking, spelling, and writing, the bond between teacher and student grows immensely through these experiences as well. When students are read to they have the ability to truly take the time to picture and visualize the story, invest in the characters, and relax and enjoy. Teachers can create an even more enjoyable experience by adding ‘voices’ to characters, reading with different vocal inflections, and making the story come to life. It has been proven that reading to students can truly enhance vocabulary, listening skills, writing, and speaking, among other traits. This point stood out to me as it immediately took me back to my childhood. I can still hear the voices of my mother, my grandmother, and my kindergarten teacher reading books to me, and I wouldn’t trade those memories for the world. Some of my most treasured experiences have been on a loved one’s lap being read to. This has always been considered a practice of good parents, so why not extend it to the classroom as well?

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3. Fiction Juxtaposition – Text-to-Text – One of the best influences reading can have on students is enhancing the ability to connect emotionally with characters and learn life lessons. The next point that stood out to me was the ability, through fiction reading, for students to juxtapose themselves with characters of a novel that don’t exist, feel their successes and failures, experience their emotions, and enhance their moral compass. This is an invaluable resource that isn’t found anywhere else in education. Great parents and educators are ‘on to this’ and do anything they can to create experiences like this for their children. I made an immediate connection here with my all-time favorite novel, The Wind in the Willows. Not only did I connect with these characters and feel a sense of investment in their stories, but the heritage of the book and its author span from this same idea. Kenneth Grahame wrote the novel as a collection of all the bedtime stories and characters he had told his children as they grew up. He was on to the idea of reading these stories to his kids, telling fictional tales, and enhancing their learning through investment in characters. The product was a brilliantly simple, sweet, and wonderful children’s novel.

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4. Stages of Writing – Text-to-Self –  I really enjoyed this point. Embracing and understanding the stages of student writing is so crucial. When we, as educators, understand the levels of writing that our students are capable of, we are more coherently able to assist them, instruct them, develop their skills, and challenge them. Though this may seem rather ‘common sense,’ I really felt like it was one of the more important points to not overlook. I made an immediate connection with this, and was taken back to being 3 years old. Apparently, though my memory is foggy, as a 3 year old I awoke, made my mother and I breakfast, and labeled our chairs with signs to assign our seats. I wrote “Mom’s place to sit,” and “Andrew’s place to sit,” but at the writing stage I was at, the signs said something more like “moms plas to sat,” and “andrews plas to sat.” Adorable? Yes. But to look back at those photos now and juxtapose them with this educational knowledge is fun and provides a great learning experience for me. Ultimately, embrace your students’ writing and help them to develop to that next stage!Image

5. Time to Write – Text-to-Self – Finally, I feel one of the other most important aspects of these primary practices is simply giving students time to explore, write, read, and create. More and more we are strangling students creativity by cramming instruction in to every spare moment of the day. What students really need to thrive in Language Arts is time to create and practice. Not only does this create exceptional assessments for educators to check up on students, but it allows the kids to write, read, draw, and create things that truly interest them and they are invested in. Some of my favorite L.A. memories come form stories I wrote and books that I read. The most vivid comes as I remember writing an entire series of superhero books with my friends in 3rd grade. The three heroes, Captain Fan-fan-fan-fan-tastic, Captain Awe-awe-awe-awe-awesome, and Captain Mag-mag-mag-mag-nificent, had a complete series of books, including illustrations. My buddies and I were invested, learned about correct sentence structure, punctuation, and grammar, learned how to develop a story, learned how to spell many new words, and ultimately, had a blast doing it! Experiences like these, and the successes and failures created by them, teach students much more about language skills than lecture-based instruction ever will. Make time in your day to let your students explore, read, and write, and then share what they’ve been working on with the class!

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