Beautiful Approximations

This year, as we piloted the new TCRWP Phonics Units of Study in kindergarten, there were many moments of approximation. Not knowing what to expect, kept us on our toes and just trying to keep up at times.

At one point, as we reviewed assessments and benchmarks, I remember someone saying, “but really… expecting them to spell 35 snap words by the end of the year seems kind of crazy. I’m not sure that will happen.”

I remember shrugging slightly and saying, “let’s see what happens.” Inside I thought, “Lets see what happens when we believe they can. I believe.”

Last week, I was in a kindergarten classroom where the teacher and para were working to finish up end of the year assessments during independent reading time. As I glanced around at the beautiful and quiet hum of kindergarten readers, I offered to help.

I pulled Lionel over to write a few snap words on a white board. About halfway through, I said “How about friend,” I said. “Can you spell that one?”

Lionel immediately went to work. I watched his mouth stretch out the word, over and over, trying to catch all of the sounds. I watched him write FRIND, across the board, careful to start each letter at the top of the board. “Is there an e?” he asked looking up from his board.

“Hmmm,” I said. “What do you think?”

Lionel then stood up and turned towards the word wall. He quickly scanned and found what he was looking for. Dropping back to the rug, he squeezed an e into the word.

This brief moment told me all that I needed to know. In the process of watching, I learned so much about what these students have learned this year… and it is glorious.

This tiny interaction represented so much of the work I have witness this year- how our Phonics work has strengthened our reading and writing work. Our students have tools that they can utilize independently to check their own work- and they are checking! They’re not scared to write or make mistakes. They believe they can. These are all things they have learned in the short time they have been elementary school students.

In looking over our kindergarten data, nearly every student in the grade has met the sight word spelling benchmark- most have exceeded, spelling between 50 and 65 words correctly. This isn’t because they were drilled or had weekly spelling assessments. It’s because they are readers and writers. It’s because their teachers believed in them and so they too believe.

These beautiful approximations of the work are worth celebrating, maybe even more than the correct answers. Within these approximations, we see a glimpse of the process and these amazing minds at work.

8 thoughts on “Beautiful Approximations

  1. Yes and yes and more yes! I am so glad that you all are using a research-based phonics program & that you are celebrating the approximations. Oh, that all children could leave their school year with a toolbox as full as this one!


  2. Well isn’t this another celebratory slice! It has the same tone and feel as the the one about Leigh-ann’s room with student led read aloud! You really are modeling how to take on work and see what happens! You work closely and honestly alongside all teachers to discover what kids can do! Yay Yay Yay!


  3. This has been such an exciting journey! Your belief in students and teachers is palpable. You believe in them, so they believe in themselves. I love your response to the student who asks if there is an “e” in friend…”Hmm. What do you think?” Such a nudge toward independence and a message that he can (and will) figure it out. Here’s to believing!


  4. “This isn’t because they were drilled or had weekly spelling assessments. It’s because they are readers and writers. It’s because their teachers believed in them and so they too believe.” Such wise words! Drill and skill never work. I look forward to getting to know the phonics curriculum with clients. Thanks for sharing your experience!


  5. “Lets see what happens when we believe they can. I believe.” This is such an important attitude and mindset. What a great post. Hoping someday we can use the PUofS!
    Thank you


  6. Your post leaves me thinking about time and patience. We set goals, we have visions of what we hope students can or may accomplish in a given time frame but we never know in advance how all of that may turn out, also as parents. There’s still so much mystery in the learning process. What I see here is that you leave a bit of space for the mystery in students’ learning. The word wall is there, but will it be used and how? How much persistence will each child require? By asking the child what he thinks, you offer him space to dig into his own process rather than handing him the desired template. To put all these pieces in place, took time and plenty of patience, no doubt.


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