Learner-Based Language Arts Part 2: Gaining and Practicing Skills

How to plan for the greatest growth!

This blog accompanies Rooted in Podcast S3E2: Learner-Based Language Arts Part 2: Gaining & Practicing Skills. We recommend referencing the blog while you listen to the podcast on iTunes, Podbean, YouTube, or our website!

For the first part of this 3-part series, please read the blog and access the accompanying podcast episode for Learner-Based Language Arts Part 1: Introducing Skills.

Gaining Skills pie chart

At this stage of learning, students understand the sound-to-symbol connection and how words blend together. They learn new letter combinations, and continue to practice reading phonetically controlled text. Students learn more Caution Words (words that do not follow phonetic expectations), as they continue to learn word history and gain insight into spelling through word study.

Students also practice reading and writing high frequency words that we call Common Words. Common Words occur often, but do follow typical phonetic patterns, such as: and, or, is, etc. Students begin to work on fluency of reading and writing—the ability to make automatic connections that allow an easy flow from print to language comprehension, and thought to writing. By this stage, letter reversals are resolved. Students are gaining control over letter size, word spacing, and paragraph formation.

Writing that develops flow includes: intentional copywork, intentional dictation, and basic editing practice.

Learners who struggle may have difficulty obtaining automaticity between sounds and symbols, either in reading, writing, or in both. Weak automaticity results in weak accuracy. Reading accuracy is compromised by guessing, and writing accuracy is compromised by weak letter formation and spelling.

Likewise, the struggling learner may have difficulty obtaining reading flow, known as fluency. Fluency is usually measured by reading speed, although it should be measured as speed + accuracy. So the reader who struggles may not be able to read quickly, and may also fatigue quickly, with little tolerance for growing amounts of text.

Difficulty in writing flow results in slow, labored letter formations, poor sound-to-symbol matching, weak spelling, an atypical pencil grasp, and complaints of pain or fatigue. The struggling writer is a slow, labored writer who fatigues quickly and complains of discomfort or poor attention.

Using the proportions helps all learners, whether struggling or not, work to a level of success. Controlled text gives extra practice, sound-to-symbol work continues, and copywork is used to help obtain flow. Handwriting is not forgotten as a necessary ingredient in obtaining automatic, accurate, and fluent writing skills.

Practicing Skills pie chart

At this stage of literacy development, the sound-to-letter connections needed for accurate reading and handwriting skills are both automatic and efficient. Students have obtained fluency in reading, and flow in original writing.

Now the teaching priority continues to shift from phonics to word study as students grow to rely on their orthographic skills. Orthographic skills allow for fast "word mapping" or word recognition when reading. Orthographic skills allow for efficient "word form memory" for spelling and writing.

Reading practice now includes uncontrolled text, as students branch out into reading grade-level stories. However, spelling and word study merge and are used together to teach new words and spelling patterns. These skills need to be practiced in Intentional copywork, dictation, and editing. Therefore, controlled text continues to be a useful tool in literacy practice, encouraging stronger "word mapping" and "word form memory" skills. Original writing opportunities increase, and are practiced on a regular basis in language arts. Reading and writing begin to be incorporated into other subject areas, as well.

The struggling learner can spend a long time at this stage, generally requiring ongoing explicit training and practice throughout the school years. Phonics lessons will need to be reviewed and repeated, and need-specific word study lessons will aid in spelling. Intentional Copywork, Dictation, and Editing will be an integral part of the school year, even as original writing is increased.

Requiring the student to read aloud throughout each week ensures reading accuracy and improves reading fluency. Students tackle words of increasing syllable length and complexity, practicing reading across all the curriculum—from history, to science, to math.

For the final installment of this 3-part series, please read the blog and access the accompanying podcast for Learner-Based Language Arts Part 3: Solidifying & Applying Skills.

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