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New Landmark Study Finds the Missing Piece to Successful Beginning Reading Instruction

By Richard Gentry
 | Jul 06, 2017

Invented WritingOver the last two decades, thousands of exemplary kindergarten and first-grade teachers have found a pathway to reading success by encouraging and supporting invented spelling—a child’s self-directed and often spontaneous attempts to represent words in print. Teachers can analyze invented spelling, or “kid writing,” to monitor progress in reading, spelling, phonics, and making meaning. Invented spelling provides a footprint of what’s happening in the child’s brain as he or she moves from lower developmental phases to higher, more sophisticated phases on his or her individual journey to breaking the English code.  

A 2017 research study by two Canadian cognitive psychologists, Gene Ouellette and Monique Sénéchal, demonstrated a causal connection between invented spelling and reading success. The study determined that children who invented spelling from the beginning became better conventional spellers. Ouellette and Sénéchal also found invented spelling to be even more effective than phonemic awareness instruction or alphabet instruction alone. A newly released book entitled Kid Writing in the 21st Century (Feldgus, Cardonick, & Gentry, 2017) shows how this research supports best classroom practice and outlines the five basic steps to kid writing:

  • 1. Drawing: Have kids draw their story or draw their information in a quick sketch.
  • 2. Kid writing: Encourage children to write their story or information however they choose—from scribbling in Phase 0 to spelling sounds in chunks of phonics or syllable patterns. Everyday writing helps beginning writers build an internal dictionary of correct spellings while they joyfully engage in authentic writing for their own purposes. There are no worksheets. Letter of the week is abandoned. Kid writing becomes a powerful vehicle for data collection and monitoring progress.
  • 3. Teacher publishing for reading and rereading: The child reads and rereads his or her story or information from a teacher-published conventional model often attached below the kid writing. Having the child read back his or her own writing in conventional English integrates the child’s invented spelling into a meaningful reading and fluency lesson. This model is a good fit for writing workshop with emphasis on social interaction.
  • 4. Focused mini-lessons: Mini-lessons are used in whole group, small group, and individual conferences based on children’s needs.
  • 5. Sharing: Includes quick shares and publication for motivation and success.

So which came first—the chicken or the egg? Was it research that came first in the researchers’ landmark discovery or was it best practice? In this case, exemplary beginning literacy teachers followed early educational research and through collaboration and sharing discovered best practice two decades before cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists. In Ouellette and Sénéchal’s words, these practices provided “a unique predictor of growth in early reading skills, over and above children’s alphabet knowledge and phonological awareness.”

Richard Gentry

J. Richard Gentry, Ph.D., is an internationally acclaimed author, researcher, and educational consultant known for his groundbreaking work in early literacy, spelling, and dyslexia. He has authored sixteen books, two textbook series, and numerous journal and magazine articles. Gentry currently blogs for Psychology Today. His latest book co-authored with Eileen Feldgus and Isabell Cardonick is Kid Writing in the 21st Century: A Systematic Approach to Phonics, Spelling, and Writing Workshop (Hameray Publishing Group, 2017).

Richard Gentry will present a hands-on workshop entitled “Best 21st Century Practices for Kid Writing in Kindergarten and First Grade" at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits on Sunday, July 16.
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