Smarties, we’re thrilled to add our Smarty friends at Charlotte Latin School to the 2014-15 Smarty Education Corner!
“Frannie the Fan, Frannie the Fan, /f/, /f/, /f/,” recited the fabulous, fantastic, fun first grade class.
The students sat on the colorful carpet, enraptured by their friendly—albeit silly—teacher and were practicing an age old approach to reading. After all, Charlotte Latin has been committed to phonics instruction for all 44 years the doors have been open. I knew the drill, because I knew about the colorful posters in the classrooms called wall cards. My personal favorites included Harry the Hounddog, Norm the Nose, and Henny the Hen. One of my favorite days of the year is wall card day: that hilarious day when the children go all out and dress as their favorite wall card “character”. “Characters” like Superheroes, speak to a five, six or seven year old. So sure, I knew wall cards, and I knew they reinforced that ever present developmental language of beginning students. More importantly, I will never forget the Henny the Hen costume covered in yellow feathers that left a little trail as one first grader paraded proudly.
So, being a linguist, a writer and a once-upon-a-time college composition instructor, I knew about phonics instruction. So when I recently went to observe, this is what I saw.
Frannie the Fan, led to fat, fan, fit and fin. From there, my little friends, moved words like cop, pass, fit, hug, task, lot, cub, nab, wall, tip across the smart board with their knuckle into the right vowel column, each child taking a turn with no mistakes , stress or chaos. It was like sorting their lunch trash: compost, recycle, landfill. No problem.
What did those words have to do with Frannie the Fan? Onto the rug, where silly teacher led them in a game which took me the entire time to figure out but the students mastered immediately: they popped up when they recognized a word with an /f/ sound whether it be fancy or safe, and crouched down when they heard a word missing the /f/. Okay, back to Frannie the Fan. I was catching on, just in time for something new. Onto blending where the children looked at me and said, “Blending is not important, Mrs. Oates.”
“It’s not?” I questioned.
“No,” they said. “It is not important. It is very, very important.” And off they went to blending land.
Before the whole group instruction moved to workshop (now that is another cool beginning school concept for another blog), the students recited words from a running list that had been completed during the morning.
Fast, Cast, Past, Mast. Then silly teacher drew a sailboat with a mast, and then she smiled. She put the chalk down on the board and waited. The students said the words slowly… fast, cast, past, mast. They looked at each other, repeated the words again, and knew silly teacher was looking for something.
With glee, one little girl, then another said, “They rhyme, they rhyme.” In agreement, they all cheered.
“Why is that important to reading?” I asked. The two little girls looked me in the eye (eye hugs is what we call that around here) and spoke confidently and pleasantly. “Mrs. Oates, rhyming helps you read. Look, if you change the first letter and add a new one you have new words,” said the first. Then, the second friend added, “Do you see, if you can spell one word, and you just change that first letter, you can spell many words.”
Another child pointed to the wall cards above the board. “You can look at those if you need help making new words.”
“Thank you, “ I said because Charlotte Latin is place where nice manners matter.
They turned back to silly teacher, who smiled with pride at her helpful students, and the games continued.
So I share with you what I saw. What didn’t make the narrative were the many levels of differentiation silly teacher offered so all students were engaged with Frannie the Fan, be it the various spellings of /f/,”/ph/ or /ff/, or the connections made throughout the lesson. My story did not reveal that some parts of the lesson reinforced skills, some parts introduced skills and some parts explored critical thinking. I also didn’t incorporate the aspects of sight reading or decoding.
I didn’t include those because they are hard to pick up with the untrained eye. It just looked fun to me. But, when I walked away, I was stimulated, engaged and curious about what workshop might bring tomorrow for these bright-eyed students.
I am pretty sure I am not the only one who felt that way.
“Frannie the Fan” is taken from “Storyboard,” a blog written by Mary Yorke Oates, Charlotte Latin School’s Director of Admissions, to share educational insights and advice for the parents of Lower School students. Read Mary Yorke’s blog at: www.charlottelatin.org/storyboard
Charlotte Latin School Admissions Open Houses:
TK and K – October 17, 9:30 a.m.
TK – 12 – November 7, 9:30 a.m.
Please visit www.charlottelatin.org/admissions for the details.