Better Reading Through Writing

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At the end of each month, first-grade students in Laura Hacker's class at Frontier Elementary School bring their journals home to their parents.

Back in September, if they could just write a few letters, copy down a few words from signs in the classroom or write family names down, that was OK.

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Laura Hacker

But after eight months, their journals are full of thoughts and expressed feelings.

"I didn't want them to be afraid of it," Hacker said. "What happens is we are always correcting and it can make them afraid to try.

"Journals are just a way that they can express themselves, be inventive and creative."

Hacker doesn't want her students to be afraid of mistakes in the first grade, so the journals are not down graded for "inventive" spelling. But students naturally want to do it right and they learn quickly.

"It's really fun learning how to spell stuff," Eve Armstrong said. A quick perusal of her journal and she shows a big word "yesterday" spelled correctly.

Sawyer Eschliman was writing about his upcoming camp-out at Roosevelt Dam. He drew a picture of the Dam to illustrate his entry.

"They have to write first, but they can still draw," Hacker said.

Jaycie Shields said her mom and dad like it when she brings her journal home.

According to Hacker, parent feedback has been great. The journals can be an awareness tool for what is going on emotionally as well as a progress report on motor skills and writing ability of the child.

Dalton Perkes said he likes writing in his journal and it is easier than when he first started.

If students wish, they can read their journals to their classmates.

It is another way writing helps build reading confidence.

Students write thank-you letters to people who come to the school and classroom. They were pen pals with another class in Paradise Valley for a while.

"Reading and writing are so intertwined," Hacker said.

Through the use of small groups, Hacker alleviates the fear and she said the children are good about helping each other.

The year begins with Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS). The segmented test Hacker (and the district) uses to tell her at what level students can read.

DIBELS has a benchmark for first graders. Hacker said her class was split fairly evenly between those who needed a little intensive study, those who needed a bit of extra help and those who were at benchmark.

"Everyone is out of ‘intensive' and I am really proud of that," Hacker said. Now her daily aim is to continue to keep her students interested as they progress.

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