This book is about teaching beginning reading and writing. It is based on the belief that we can teach children to be more observant and conscious of the patterns at work as people communicate—particularly through reading and writing—and that as teachers we can use what they are able to do and what they are able to see to bring them rapidly and naturally into greater literacy.
As author, I have three primary objectives: (1) to share the picture word inductive model (PWIM) for teaching beginning reading and writing; (2) to encourage the writing and reading of informative prose with beginning readers; and (3) to promote continuous focused inquiry into the development of literacy and into the results of teacher-and-student interactions.
Objective one is specific and limited to introducing and explaining the picture word inductive model. The PWIM is a strategy that uses an integrated language arts approach to teaching beginning reading and writing, and it includes the component skills of phonetic analysis, structural analysis, spelling, and mechanics.
Objective two is simple but potentially far-reaching: Increased attention to writing and reading informative prose could improve the quality of students' writing and their comprehension of informative and expository prose. In most classrooms and schools, we do much more with fiction and narrative writing and reading in our primary curriculum than we do with nonfiction and the development of informative, high-quality prose. The PWIM can help us to provide a better curricular and instructional balance by focusing lessons on composing and comprehending nonfiction prose.
Objective three is general and complex and includes illustrating a teaching stance that analyzes how language works, teaches students to engage in a parallel analysis, analyzes students' responses to instructional moves, and takes action based on these responses. This teaching stance has allowed me to continue learning about reading, writing, and teaching for more than a quarter century, and I'm not finished yet!
I am passionate about the PWIM, but I feel the same way about other teaching strategies that are flexible, comprehensive, fun, and productive for students. I've used the PWIM since 1976—longer than most other strategies—as a 1st grade teacher and later with students ranging from kindergarten, to middle school, to adult nonreaders. During the last 20 years, I have taught many kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, upper-elementary and special-needs teachers to use the model as a vehicle for integrating language arts. I've watched their success and delight with students' growth in reading and writing. Working with others has given me many opportunities to learn from them and from their applications of the model, and has pushed me toward greater clarity in articulating the sequence and rationale for the model.
What would you see if you visited some of these teachers? If you visited one classroom over several days and watched the teacher use the picture word inductive model, you would see students generating words and sentences about a large picture and studying those words and sentences. Some days a lesson would last 15 minutes, other days 35 minutes. The students would be working in various ways depending on the task: individual students classifying the words; pairs of students reading sentences to each other; all the students working with the teacher on one useful phonics generalization; or individuals or large groups writing a paragraph about the picture and thinking about a title that accurately describes the picture. For the casual observer, the lessons might seem simplistic; the knowledgeable observer might become excited about the number, range, and complexity of language concepts being taught.
If you visited several classrooms, you would see some teachers using picture word lessons for a small portion of their daily language arts instruction. You would see other teachers using the lessons of the picture word inductive model as a framework for language arts units, thus their lessons consume a larger portion of the instructional day. You would notice that some teachers limit the use of the model to building sight vocabulary and the recognition and use of phonics and spelling patterns, while other teachers extend its use as far into the communications process as the students are able to participate—for example, into modeling and providing students practice with sentence and paragraph construction.
If you observed a few teachers for several weeks, you would discover that the lesson structure of the picture word inductive model keeps students engaged in continuous inquiry into how language works and keeps teachers engaged in continuous inquiry into how students are progressing as readers and writers. Thus, along with promoting student growth in reading and writing, long-term use of the model teaches students how to learn about language and helps teachers learn how to study student progress in reading and writing.
Using the printed page, I'll take you into a few classrooms to see what inquiring minds can find. As you read the scenarios of teachers and students using the model, I hope you will feel its potential uses. As you read the sections on rationale and theoretical underpinnings, I hope you will form hypotheses about the different moves or sequences that compose the model and test them in your own classroom. And, of course, my personal teacher's dream is that something here will support student growth in reading and writing and your continued inquiry into language literacy.