#SOL17: Approximations

He kicks.

He moves his arms.

He kicks some more.

He sputters as he swallows some water.

Arms are present to lightly hold . . . a scaffold . . . for safety’s purpose!

He laughs.

He plays.

He talks.

He yells.

Not every swimming stroke is perfect.

He is two and a half years old.

Does he need floaties?

Will those make him more dependent or independent?

Screenshot 2017-12-19 at 6.06.36 AM

When it comes to the spoken word

Not every word is perfect.

He is two and a half years old.

I have to listen closely to decipher some words.

And yet other words are crystal clear . . .

“Missippi River” and “quesadilla”!

Five and six sentence words are the average.

He is two and a half years old.

Why do we encourage approximation in


language, and

many physical actions

but reject them in reading and writing?

Let me offer two scenarios:

Scenario 1:

A student is reading and says “kitten” for cat.

The teacher stops the child by tapping on the table, the error cue, and the child is to have another go, correct the error and continue on.  Kitten is more specific than “cat” so the child is positive that the utterance matches the picture of a small cat as a “kitten.” And the child repeats “kitten” and continues on.

If we were to focus on what the child can do, we might celebrate:

“He knows more than one name for cat.”

“He knows that a baby cat is a kitten.”

“He knows that he can check the picture for clues.”

“He has some knowledge of cats.”

“He is not changing his mind easily.”

“He is persistent.”

And most importantly, he REALLY is not saying this as a personal attack against the teacher who has been working on words like cat and dog for awhile.

The opportunity to find out what the child knows and why he is calling it a kitten instead of a cat exists.  The child just told us what he knows.  Now we need to explore his thinking instead of immediately moving to a “correcting” mentality.   Responding with a simple, “How do you know?” puts the student in the driver’s seat to explain their thinking and let the adults in on the big secrets of life. (It’s not really about US!) It’s really about what the child is showing us they are using.  Will someone really stand next to a reader correcting reading errors as they orally read?  What does that teach a child?  What is the role of self-correction?

Celebrate that the child was in the right animal family.  Precision in word use is often celebrated in writing but berated in reading.  Why is that so?  Over correction on the part of the listener, may lead to a student who patiently waits for someone to TELL them that word.  Is that the reader that we want?

Scenario 2:

A student is writing.

The teacher says, “Where are your sentences?  Your capital letters?  Your beginnings?  Your end punctuation?  This is all one sentence.  Please use everything you know about sentences in your writing.”

If we were to focus on what the child can do, we might celebrate:

“The child wrote without prompting.”

“The child had something to say.”

“The child wrote a lot.”

“The child told a story,”

“The child had a great beginning and middle to her story.”

“The child used mostly lower case letters.”

“The child had spaces between all words.”

“The child had a lot of details.”

“The child wrote most of the story that she had orally recounted.”

Instead of a belief that the child is out to torture you by leaving out all punctuation marks, what happens when you ask her to read it to you?  Does the child pause and or stop in the appropriate places?  That is more information for the teacher that doesn’t require a teacher led inquisition in a totally exasperated voice.  Less questioning and more listening seems to be one way for a teacher to “hack into” a child’s thinking.  A lack of punctuation by the child doesn’t mean that she knows absolutely nothing about punctuation.  On this day, it was probably less important to the author than it is to the teacher.  Considering when this child has previously used punctuation and capital letters in writing may lead to some important discoveries.  Is that a teacher process?  A student process?  Or should it be a shared process?  Maybe the expectation of perfect punctuation stops some students from writing.  What a sad unintended consequence that may be for children!

As we consider the quickly advancing winter break, do think about your own learning.  What’s new?  What’s still uncomfortable?  What are all the things you can do?  What are you still working on?  How much practice do you need in order to be confident? What’s one area that you might study about your own learning?  What wonders will you explore?

When do we celebrate the “can do” part of life at school? 

When do we celebrate approximations? 

When do we celebrate the habits of mind that keep a student working through struggles? 

When do we celebrate the MANY, MANY daily successes? 

What happens if the focus is truly on MANY “can do” moments and only one or two goals at a time?  

Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this weekly forum. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.                                                                                                      slice of life 2016

12 responses

  1. I love celebrating approximations. Each small step leads to something bigger if we allow ourselves the joy in seeing the bigger picture.

    1. I know. So important to not get caught up in all the “can’t YET” items and focus on just one step at a time. Yes, there’s urgency . . . but there’s also appreciation for the “can do” attitude! THANKS for stopping by and commenting!

  2. I cringed at your image of the teacher tapping the table as a signal to the student that an error was made- do teachers really do that? Your post was a great reminder to notice and celebrate the approximations as they happen. Sometimes we definitely get too caught up in the not yets and not enough in the ready fors.

    1. Erika,
      So easy when the list of not yets seems a mile long to . . . “Sometimes we definitely get too caught up in the not yets and not enough in the ready fors.” I love the “ready fors” – I will be thinking of those over the break!

  3. This gives me so much insight into an elementary classroom, so I hope many teachers at that level see it. As a high school teacher, I often think about how tentative student writers approach their writing and why.

    Also, we must be in the same wavelength as my post is also about empowering students w/ words in speaking and writing.

    1. Glenda,
      If elementary writers have their “work” written upon and “redinked”, they will definitely be tentative writers! So important to send confident readers and writers off to read and write over the break. Not a ton. Just keep those literacy muscles working! ❤

  4. Such important things to consider. I was excited to be able to teach KidWriting to my pre-service teachers for many of the reasons you write about.

    1. Aileen,
      Writing is where kiddos “show” us what they know about sounds. I just cringe whenever someone says a child cannot write until they know all their letters. (To me it’s like saying they can’t math until they know a bazillion numbers when they really need “number sense”!) So much to absorb and learn. Writing is not a race! ❤

  5. Yesterday at TC, Mary Ehrenworth talked about the concept of slippage, and it’s important to remember how much we are all trying to learn at the same time. Not only are we trying to learn conventions, but we’re also trying to hold onto thoughts, organize writing, spell, and just make the letters (or find them on the keyboard!) It’s a whole lot of new skills to keep practicing and working on!

    1. Melanie,
      I had CBM data (back in the day . . . before Columbus discovered America) that showed the losses for my students over a 10 day winter break. Most didn’t recover until March . . . unless I MADE drastic changes. I was shocked. Yet not really surprised because winter also includes those weird weeks and snow days. Learning is cumulative. And it’s sooooooo complicated! Now I have to look and see what institute you are at!!!! YAY, you for learning!

  6. Such great points you make, Fran. It is too bad that test makers don’t see things this way. I remember giving tests and if “kitten” was said instead of “cat” it was counted as an error. How unfortunate. I definitely agree that accomplishments should be celebrated more than criticisms pointed out. We need to build confidence in our students.

    1. So many, many things that our students must all be orchestrating at the same time . . . I get that it is a memory overload. Expecting everything to be perfect on the first go without any opportunity for revision seems SO bizarre. That’s when I invoke “Is that developmental?” and opportunities for more practice and more data points. No ONE number should ever decide someone’s status!

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