“a, e, i o, u!” “and sometimes y!” they shouted confidently.
“Did you know that the vowels are the heart of any word or word part?” heads nodded and Logan added, “A word part is syllable!”
Logan and Jay had joined me on the rug for a small group on multisyllabic words. A week earlier, Carolyn, their 2nd grade teacher, and I had sat down for a quick planning session. Based on the assessments she had given, these boys needed a little more than the curriculum. They were readers. They had demonstrated command of the phonics elements thus far on Developmental Spelling Assessment. Carolyn knew they needed more. She knew they needed to work on applying that knowledge to longer multi-syllabic words. Together, we decided that this would be one of my groups during push-in the following week.
My opening question about the vowels had them clearly excited and more than willing to share what they already knew about how words work.
“You are right Logan, they are really important to every word part and for you two, you need to not only remember that but use! You are reading longer books and in those longer books can be longer words – especially non-fiction! So, let’s practice reading word parts!” I had purposely chosen two syllable words with open and closed syllables so that they could practice their vowel flexibility independent of any meaning.
I handed each one the first syllable of three words and then the second. I watched as they each manipulated the vowel in each syllable. I watched as they connected a first syllable to a second to discover a real word. Despite their initial confidence, which had me wondering if what I was giving them was “good enough” they were thinking. I watched and listened to Logan -‘”vol”…”ume”‘ He manipulated the sounds and moved the parts together, “volume” he said, pride in his voice. He had finished his words. We both turned our eyes to Jay who was still working.
We watched, neither wanting to interrupt his process as he played with “ton” “ma” “ic” and “jor”. He manipulated the a sound in “ma” from long to short and finally put “ma” with “jor” to read “major” leaving “ton” and “ic. He read “tonic” confident in his word building but curious about the meaning of the word. We discussed what tonic was and then from Jay’s words, tremor. “Isn’t it cool that you two know so much about how words work that you built words that are new to to you. In a book, you’d have the sentence and story to help you think about the meaning.” They both smiled up at me and we high fived. “Can we do this again?” Logan asked. With that, I knew what I had given them was more than good enough. They wanted more.
It’s so easy to let the Jays and Logans of our schools just be. We teach our mini-lessons, they get it, and off they go. But don’t all kids need small group work? It’s in the small group that targeted teaching happens. It’s where we can see up close the process of learning for each learner. Every learner deserves to grow in some way and well planned, purposeful, small groups are an effective structure that can ensure this happens for all kids.
I’m so thankful that our school and our teachers have embraced not only small group work but the assessment, collaboration and planning that is behind them. Watching all that come to life in a classroom is, in a word, inspirational.