(Photo caption: The 2013 Educational Toy of the Year WordWand can stimulate reading, develop language skills, promote listening skills and encourage observation)

By Jenny Williams

Long before children arrive at school they begin to notice print in the world around them and attempt to copy what they see in ‘writing’. Children learn that symbols, like the big yellow M, have meaning and when they put crayon or pen to the page they explore lines, shapes and then letter-like shapes. Over time when young children are given opportunities to draw and write they experiment with letters, starting with the letters in their own name. This experimental writing then begins to look more like other letters.

Pre-school and school experiences accelerate the process of discovering more about how words work. At school, the role of the teacher is to facilitate the discovery process. Teachers help children explore language, especially written language, as students learn to read and write. The word discovery process gains momentum as students are taught a variety of strategies to help them unlock the mysterious ways in which the spelling of the English language has developed.

Students develop letter and sound knowledge and rapidly build a bank of high frequency words (“sight words”) that they can access in reading and writing. Displaying these words in the classroom on a word wall is like a first dictionary.

It enables developing writers to check on the spelling of the words they need as they write and reinforces automatic recognition of key words.

The Australian Curriculum encourages teachers to support students in discovering how words work through an inquiry approach to spelling. Enjoyment of learning is an underlying thread of the Australian Curriculum. Effective writers have an understanding of the writing process and a bank of strategies to enable them to attempt new words when writing.

Discovering how words work cannot be achieved through spelling lists and weekly dictations. Such an approach only focuses on what to spell. Students in these classrooms may have a bank of known words but effective spellers develop when the teaching focus is on how to spell. The real challenge for teachers is to create a risk taking classroom culture and provide students with a range of strategies they can use to predict how words work. This approach enables students to confidently ‘have a go’ at any word they want to write. Understanding the links between sounds and letters is the first step. Knowing word patterns is also a building block to being a strategic speller. The ability to identify morphemes, root words and the meaning of affixes, and make connections between a new word and known words are further building blocks.

The teacher’s role is to create a classroom where there is excitement about language and children’s enthusiasm for learning is nurtured.

Jenny Williams is an educational consultant who has worked in Western Sydney and New York, supporting teachers to develop their literacy practice and quality teaching pedagogy.

See how the 2013 Educational Toy of the Year WordWand stimulates reading http://bit.ly/wordwand Buy it here http://www.edex.com.au/wordwand-starter-set.html