________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 6. . . .November 7, 2008


Basic Tools for Beginning Writers: How to Teach All the Skills Beginning Writers Need - From Alphabet Recognition and Spelling to Strategies for Self-editing and Building Coherent Text.

Betty Schultze.
Markham, ON: Pembroke, 2008.
136 pp., pbk., $24.95.
ISBN 978-1-55138-221-0.

Subject Headings:
English language-Composition and exercises-Study and teaching (Primary).
English language-Writing-Study and teaching (Primary).


Review by Betty Klassen.

**** /4



Careful observation of what a child can do dictates the next step in the learning process, but each step is carefully taught, using modeling, lots of practice, encouragement, prompting, and praise. This type of teaching is in contrast to a time when teachers believed that children would read when they were ready and then waited for a "readiness" that for some children never appeared! For some children a lack of instruction at the beginning of the learning process can have disastrous results. Every child deserves to be taught carefully and guided with high expectations for eventual success.


Basic Tools for Beginning Writers focuses on ways to teach students writing skills to ensure their success in the basic skills of holding a pencil, printing legibly, spelling, punctuating and creating sentences. As is discussed at various points throughout the book, lesson ideas are teacher and student tested. Examples of student work provide supporting evidence to guide teacher expectations and demonstrate student success.

      Schultze does an admirable job in guiding teachers through the process of teaching these basic writing skills, enabling them then to guide their students. Her experience gained as both a classroom teacher of K -4 students and a Reading Recovery teacher is evident in how she discusses working with children and the ways in which they may respond to various tasks required of them. She has also worked with teachers in training and as an early literacy mentor which is evident in the creation of this teacher-friendly resource.

      Basic Tools is a useful resource for classroom teachers of Kindergarten to grade 2 students, but also for resource teachers, reading assistance teachers, teachers of English Language Learners, and anyone working with small groups of students with special needs. The directions for all lessons and adaptations are clear and easy to follow.

      The book opens with an Overview that provides a contextual framework for the best practices Schultze goes on to describe. She discusses three beliefs that guide her practice and the writing of this book: children learn to write through writing, children learn best when they are experiencing success, and modeling, as part of direct instruction, is an important part of teaching. Each lesson follows four steps of modeling:

      1. I show you; you watch and listen.

      2. I show you; you help me.

      3. You show me; I help you.

      4. You show me; I watch and listen.

     The overview also discusses the importance of recognizing different levels of student readiness, when to teach basic skills, how to set up the classroom, involving all students in learning, setting appropriate expectations, ways to assess basic skills, and keeping in touch with the home.

      The chapter headings for the basic skills include: 1. Putting Pencil to Paper; 2. Identifying and Making Letters of the Alphabet; 3. Incorporating Basic Tools into Routines and Play; 4. Phonemic Awareness and Sound-Symbol Matches; 5. Learning How to Spell; and 6. Creating a Legible, Coherent Text.

      Each of the above chapters includes three or four detailed lessons to enable students to successfully learn each skill. The purpose of each lesson is examined in light of the variety of skills often seen in early years students. This is followed by "Getting Ready" which describes the supplies you would need for the lesson, those you can buy, and, if possible, ones you can make yourself.

      The lesson part, "How to Teach It," provides the detailed steps of modeling the skill, and for some Schultze provides scripted suggestions as to how you could teach it. She includes helpful hints on how to adapt lessons for left-handed students. Important points are often reinforced with anecdotes in the margins at the left of each page. Samples of student work and black line masters help with teacher preparation and understanding.

      "Reflecting on the Learning" provides ideas for reinforcing new skills by involving the students in discussions that lead to self-assessment of their skills in a whole group discussion or as the teacher travels around observing the students' individual work.

      "Notes on Assessment" divides assessment into three parts. Before the Lesson (assessment for learning) provides some information on how to gather information about potential skill levels you may see in your students. During the lesson (assessment as learning) describes learning behaviors to focus your observations and to guide your reflection on when and how to repeat the lesson, and to plan future lessons. Included are suggested questions to involve students in self-assessment of their learning. After the Lesson (assessment of learning) may involve the students in identifying skills, suggestions for dated anecdotal notes the teacher would record, or an assessment checklist to complete.

      Every lesson also includes ideas for Making it Simpler and for Increasing the Challenge. These ideas for differentiation are simple to implement and offer respectful ways to celebrate and reinforce the skills students bring with them. This is a great strength of this resource. The various ideas for using story and play to teach skills are another strength.

      Chapter 3 follows a different format than that described above because its focus is on using the Morning Message to teach writing and on incorporating writing into tradition centres such as blocks, home, easel, and post office; and on creating literacy writing centres.

      Whether you are a new teacher or an experienced one, the teaching practices suggested in Basic Tools for Beginning Writers provide many ideas to help focus teacher attention on student success, to see students take pleasure in learning, and to develop confidence in themselves as learners.

Highly Recommended.

Betty Klassen teaches in the Middle Years Program in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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