“Let’s make a tool to help you remember your short vowel sounds,” I say to a five-year-old through a computer screen.
“Okay, I know how to make a chart.”
Before I got another word out of my mouth, this kindergartener turned his paper over and constructed this chart.
I’m at that familiar teaching moment when the next move is unclear. The student is down a path. It’s not the path I planned, and I’m not sure if he is going down a dead end.
I need to decide, Do I support this person as he heads down this path or should I redirect? Of course, we make these decisions a million times each day, but my teaching moves feel less sure when I am staring at a child through a screen.
The inner dialogue in my head begins. Okay, agency is most important. The child is making the tool. Even if the tool never works, it is helping practice his short vowel sounds. Keep going.
I proceed and say, “When you make a short vowel tool, it can help to have the letter and an illustration of something that begins with that letter. For example. If I want to remember the sound of short a, I might draw an apple and have the letter a printed right under it.” I hold up an example to the camera on my computer screen.
“Okay! Okay – I get this. For short a, I think I will use…um…um…at. Yes, ‘at’ will help me.”
Yes, every teacher reading this knows that ‘at’ is useless. He cannot represent “at” with a picture, and if he could read ‘at,’ he doesn’t need the short vowel chart.
However, I know he needs this chart, so I let him proceed.
He ends up with
a = at
e = enter
i = igloo
u = underwear (In case you missed the underwear, they are the giant u at the bottom of the page (above).
He tilts the computer, and I see the illustrations and letters jumbled all over the paper. I cringe in my heart, but say, “You want to save this tool because you will need it as you read and write. Please put it in the learning folder mom made for you.” I say this because I know the process is more important than the product. I say this because I want to honor student effort. I say this because this child is psyched with what he made. Yet, my heart thinks, oh, no, I wasted this kid’s time.
So what happens over the next week, don’t you know this child takes the tool out of his folder and uses it to find the vowel sound as he writes. As he reads, he says, “What wait does “u” say again?” “Oh, right, “u – underwear. It’s right here on my chart.”
And again, I learn, we must trust students’ thinking processes, even if it is through a computer screen.
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