Today I was observing and modeling some ways to work with intermediate grade writers at an inner city public school. There I had the pleasure of teaching one child how to edit by ear as her teacher observed. Some years ago I heard my husband define punctuation as musical notation for the breath. That understanding of what punctuation is has remained with me and informs the instructional decisions I make. So today when I conferred with Kiara, a fourth grader who had written a terrific personal narrative, I was thinking about how to help her hear and feel punctuation as her text was largely missing most end punctuation marks.
I asked Kiara to take one hand and to place it close to her mouth so that as she read her text she could actually feel her breath hitting her hand as she said the words. I explained that when her breath stopped hitting her hand that would be an indication that some type of punctuation (comma, period, etc.) was needed. It was tough going at first as Kiara read very quickly. I asked her to slow down the pace of the reading and she began to notice her breath and the absence of breath. We practiced together and she slowly gained the confidence necessary to name those places where end punctuation was needed. She got better at naming the place where a period, question mark, or exclamation point was needed with each passing sentence.
After she completed the first round of editing, I gave her my iPhone and invited her to record (iTalk pro) what she had written and revised so that she could hear her composition. This process yielded another round of editing as Kiara heard more places where she wanted to make both content and editing changes. What was wonderful to see was the decision making that Kiara began to undertake. She stopped checking with me and took control. I was quietly cheering.
By the close of our 15-minute conference, Kiara had fully revised and edited the text resulting in a well told narrative about an afternoon she and her aunt played soccer. I will be sending the audio recording to Kiara tomorrow so that she might share it with her family at home. Involving the senses when writing can be an important method for writers to use. This method often helps writers gain better control of the text so that they can convey their intentions. Using technologies enhance that process.