When I model writing I think out loud. My focus is not to show pupils the right way to spell a word, but strategies to write that word in lots of different ways, including pupils of every level of Phonics.
Those of us who have been teaching Reception for a while now, know very well that the aim for our pupils is being able to write by the end of the year. Children in the United Kingdom learn to read and write at the age of 4. In comparison to o other European countries where children are first taught reading and writing at the age of 6-7, this is a very young age. And when it comes to us modelling writing in front of our class, many of us wonder: Do I spell phonetically? Do I spell words correctly? Which way is the right way to go?
What does the English curriculum say about spelling?
The Early Years Foundation Stage, which is the early years curriculum applied for 0-5s in England, does not indicate that spelling words correctly is a requirement for a child before Year 1.
”Children use their phonic knowledge to write words in ways which match their spoken sounds. They also write some irregular common words. They write simple sentences which can be read by themselves and others. Some words are spelt correctly and others are phonetically plausible.”
(EYFS 2010, p.31)
If a child is able to write sentences like the ones bellow, they are considered as achieving Early Learning Goal and being on track for Year 1.
What is the right way to model writing in front of early years children?
There are so many conflicting opinions to this matter, and so little investigation into the topic. Βetween me and my colleagues we always conclude that everyone has their own approach. Some teachers believe that demonstrating the correct spelling of words is key to children’s writing development. Others, like myself, believe there is a time and place for everything.
However, as a person teaching Reception for the last 5 years I have discovered that the writing of my pupils relies on the development of strategies. When I model writing I think out loud. My focus is not to show pupils the right way to spell a word, but strategies to write that word in lots of different ways, including pupils of every level of Phonics. This way I ensure that all my pupils are having a fair chance to write independently and achieve Early Learning Goal for the end of the year.
As a result, at the beginning of the year and until most of my pupils have acquired all their set 1 (or Phase 2 in the Letters and Sounds method) sounds, I tend to spell everything phonetically. This shows the pupils that the sounds they have been taught during their Phonics class have a value and that they can help them communicate a message. And alongside this strategy, an enabling environment full of writing opportunities will soon encourage them to write more and more, until visible sentences start forming.
Remember that when you write in front of the class, your pupils watch. And if what they watch is not comprehensible to them, they may not pay the desired attention!
When is it the right time to spell words correctly?
As previously mentioned, for pupils to be at ”Expected” level by July they should be able to include some simple, correctly spelled irregular words in their writing.
However, if we take a look at the ”Exceeding” descriptors of the EYFS, we notice that for a pupil to be Exceeding they have to be able to spell many irregular high frequency words:
Children can spell phonically regular words of more than one syllable as well as many irregular but high frequency words. They use key features of narrative in their own writing.
Oxfordshire County Council, p.5
When you move towards your Spring term, many pupils have already began writing full, identifiable sentences; and you know that those will most probably be your exceeding pupils. Moreover, as a teacher, I would not like my higher attainers bored! As a result, this is the time of the year I begin spelling more and more words correctly.
Having that said, I try to go by the sounds that the majority of the classroom has been taught. If most of my pupils (or a significant amount) have began learning digraphs such as ay, ee, igh e.t.c. I begin spelling targeted words correctly. This encourages those higher attainers with photographic memory to produce those amazing, Exceeding pieces of writing that I have in my Learning Journals during Moderation.
Taking into consideration all the above…
…every class is different and so are the dynamics between us and our pupils. You are the only person that knows best what your pupils need to work on. Having that said, it is important to take into account that much of our practice is not always our own choice; Practice often stems from above and forms part of a wider policy across a school. With that in mind, we do the best we can with what is available to us!