Q: Do you phase in OWL at the start of the year or begin the curriculum as written?
Usually, teachers will not start the first unit the very first week of school. They will use the schedule and the program components in OWL, but will fill in their own content, books, and so on. Many teachers start the first unit by the second week of school, but they might not do all of the unit activities. There may be other things they wish to deal with in the first weeks. The unit can be stretched to 5 or 6 weeks.
Q: Can you continue to use a calendar as part of morning meeting?
Teachers should certainly have a calendar posted prominently in the Meeting area. The chart kind, with the current month displayed, is the appropriate one to have. Numbers and the name of the month are attached with Velcro so the calendar can be changed monthly. Use the calendar as a reference, rather than “teaching calendar” by asking, “What day is today?” “What day was yesterday?” and “What day is tomorrow?” or, by asking children for today’s day and date.
Post little pictures on days that are significant for some reason to the children when a new month is first displayed. You can call children’s attention to the calendar on the first school day of a new month and point out birthdays, holidays, field trips, visitors, and other important events. You might say, “In this first week on Tuesday” and point to the day at the top of the column, or “Not this week, but next week,” or “Not for 3 weeks.”
As significant events posted on the calendar approach, you can point to them. You might say, “Now tomorrow, is a very special day, because it’s ___. We’ve waited a very long time for this day to come--three whole weeks into the month of February, and finally the important day is here.” This is done naturally and genuinely, using “calendar time” talk (next week, the day after tomorrow, after the weekend, and so on).
Q: Why is there not more of a focus on letters of the week?
We know from research that letters are learned best when one letter is compared to many others, which is what children do when working an alphabet puzzle. Features that determine one letter are important, in part, because any variation gets into the “territory” of another letter. For example, if we had only A and not H in our alphabet, we could be pretty sloppy about closing the top of an A. It wouldn’t matter for identifying it, and it would be allowed to vary. Children need to compare and contrast letters naturally as they do when they work puzzles and see all of the letters on a big chart, if they are to learn letters easily and quickly. Letter of the week drags out the process and makes letter learning harder.
Children are also most interested in learning the letters of their name and of their classmates. Letter of the week imposes an arbitrary sequence, which does not take interest into account.
Finally, many “Letter of the Week” approaches include stress on “the sound that the letter makes” or finding words that start with the letter. This does not communicate accurately to children that letters represent sounds; they do not make sounds. Phonological awareness work is left out of many “Letter of the Week” programs, given the stress on learning both the letter name and the letter’s sound (inaccurate description of what letters do) at the same time. OWL’s approach is on learning letter names, on developing phonological awareness in activities other than the old “letter-sound association route” and then brings the two together in scaffolded writing activities that model how letter name knowledge can be used to select a letter to represent a sound that has been segmented in a spoken word.
Q: Where are the Big Books?
Big Books were used when the assumption was that by seeing print underlined and by pointing to text word for word (finger-point reading by the teacher and practiced by the children), children learned to read. This idea was debunked by a study conducted by Erhri and Sweet in 1991. They found that children’s ability to finger-point read memorized text had nothing to do with the teacher modeling of it, but instead depended on children’s knowledge of letter names, and their ability to segment phonemes at the beginning of words. Thus, literacy skills and not seeing words pointed to are the critical skills.
Children can be taught print skills such as left to right tracking, by underlining the title of storybooks read (this print tends to be large).
Big Books also were popular when it was thought that children relied almost totally on illustrations to comprehend a book. Teachers even did “picture walks” before reading a book the first time. Although children DO rely fairly heavily on pictures to understand what the text “says,” it is a mistake to encourage them to over rely on it and to pay little attention to the words—the text itself. Big Books encourage looking rather than listening, and OWL tries to limit that by using regular-size books.
Finally, when the book is so large, teachers tend to use their own expressions and bodies less to convey meaning. No matter how good the illustrations, they cannot take the place of the face and voice of a live reader who skillfully uses expression and voice to convey meaning. Regular-size books tend to elicit better reading from the adult.
Q: What about picture walks?
Picture walks focus children's attention on illustrations and not the text. Pointing to illustrations and use of illustrations are important, but should be coordinated with the reading of the text. Otherwise, we teach children to look at pictures, but not listen to language—to the words in the text. Not a good idea for language development or the development of comprehension of book language.
Q: Where are the prediction questions?
We do use such questions, occasionally, but only when enough information is given that children have something to base a prediction on. Teachers comment, ‘I wonder what will happen next’ to prompt children’s thinking, but do not stop the story to discuss what children’s predictions are. Without discussion and getting a lot of ideas from children, each child can have his/her own idea of what will happen, and then the text confirms/disconfirms; it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the story.