Texthelper, Joni Degner, shares her Read&Write story from April 2021

In this blog we hear from Texthelper Joni Degner. During a recent team meeting Joni shared her son’s experience of using Read&Write. We thought it would make an interesting reading for all the parents and teachers out there and so we asked Joni and Thomas if we could share the story with you. 

My son, Thomas, is in the 2nd grade. Most of his reading assessments come back as being "on grade level." However, some of his writing assessments fall just below the line of what is deemed "on grade level." 

Image of Thomas Degner who shares his Read&Write experience

To my surprise, Thomas brought home a paper from school a couple of weeks ago advertising a writing club at school, and he wanted to join. As part of that writing club, the kids are given a writing challenge each week to be turned in on Friday. 

Last week, students were asked to write a story and Thomas didn't want to do it. He put it off all week until Thursday night, when he told me, "I just know it's going to take me forever to write a whole story." 

The following image shows the writing work that Thomas produced in school. You can see that he is working hard to get his spacing correct, and his letters of an even size, rather than thinking about the content. Automaticity is something we take for granted as adults, it means the ability to do something without conscious thought - much like how you are reading this blog without thinking about the mechanics of reading - so you can focus on the content. It takes time and practice to develop this skill, but there are tools and techniques that can help-- more on that later. 

This is Thomas’ response to an in-class writing assignment the same week he wrote Pepper the Easter Dalmatian. Joni notes that Thomas does not yet have automaticity in handwriting, which impacts his ability to fully focus on content. He concentrates more on the mechanics of his writing (printing legibly, letter size & placement).

Enter Read&Write! Thomas created his short story for the writing club using Talk&Type, Prediction, and the Check It proofreading tool.  The goal of the assignment did not include a hand- writing component, which gave Thomas freedom to craft his story using these tools.  This assignment also allowed his teachers to see what Thomas is truly capable of writing! The writing assignment instructions asked Thomas to make sure his story had a beginning, middle and end.   

Thomas wrote the short story below using Read&Write’s Talk&Type, Word Prediction and Check It (a proofreading tool). He also used the Read Aloud tools (Play-Pause-Stop) to listen to his story a few times to make sure it made sense and had those three key pieces. 

I was thrilled.  This is a TON of output for a 2nd grader! The best part...he did it all in under an hour and was SO proud of himself. Thomas said, "I bet NO ONE wrote as much as I did! Bam!”

This assignment allowed Thomas and me to talk more about “composing” and how experienced writers work, especially when they have so much in their head that a pencil or keyboard just can’t keep up.  

Here’s the key takeaway for me.  I realized Thomas had this story inside and how, without the right tools…

  • “We might never have seen what he is really capable of writing.”  
  • This assignment helped Thomas realize he has the tools, confidence and enthusiasm needed to fully engage when asked to write independently! 

So if you are interested in helping your students, or perhaps your own child, develop automaticity, what can you do?

  1. Manage expectations
    As adults we have to understand that what is easy for us can be challenging for a child. The steps to complete a task might seem obvious to you, but simply ensuring your child understands each element of a task or project can really help. 
  2. Understand that this will take time
    Don’t expect perfection, as mistakes are inevitable. However, you can begin to teach children to recognize and correct their own mistakes. During spelling tasks or reading exercises you could say, “You made one mistake. Can you find it?” Children can often find their mistakes upon re-reading a phrase or sentence. 
  3. Practice makes perfect
    Understand that these skills will take regular practice, and using a tool like Read&Write can help children build confidence. It will also point out any errors in grammar and spelling to help produce a high standard of work - and give teachers/ parents less checking to do! You can see from the examples that allowing Thomas to produce the work in a typed format gave him space to focus on the content, producing a well thought out story.
  4. Too much, too soon
    If you notice children struggling with reading, then you could hold off on spellings for a time. When learning to read and write children need a lot of practice, patience and encouragement - both at home and at school. With time and patience your child will develop automaticity in reading and writing too. 

Now, let’s hand over to Thomas and Pepper, the Easter Dalmatian. 


Pepper the Easter Dalmatian

By Thomas Degner

Pepper is a Dalmatian who is very clumsy. Pepper has a boy named Thomas who loves him very much. Thomas named him Pepper because he has black spots. Pepper has an unusually long tongue that hangs out of his mouth everywhere he goes. Pepper also has very long legs. Everywhere he goes he trips over his long legs and falls.

After a long winter, it was Pepper’s favorite season--Spring! Pepper loved to lay in the sun and feel the warmth on his speckled belly. Pepper's boy Thomas sometimes called him Bunny because when Pepper slept in the sun, his silky soft ears would lay back, and he looked like a sleeping bunny. Pepper’s whole family started to call him Bunny. It was his new nickname.

Lately there was a lot of talk about bunnies at Pepper’s house. Easter was coming, and Thomas was excited. Pepper overheard Thomas talking to his mom about the Easter Bunny. Pepper had never heard of the Easter Bunny, But Thomas called him Bunny, so he must have been talking about him. Pepper was the Easter Bunny!

Thomas said to his mom, “I am very excited to come downstairs and see all those treats! I have to make sure I leave my Easter basket out for the Easter Bunny!”.“ I’m sure the Easter Bunny will leave you lots of surprises!” said his mom.

Pepper slowly began to understand that he was the Easter Bunny, and that Thomas was expecting him to leave him a basket of surprises in the morning. Pepper loved Thomas, and he would never let him down. After everybody got to sleep on that Saturday night, Pepper got straight to work. He found Thomas's Easter basket on the table. He started looking around for stuff that he could put in his basket. Thomas was his best friend, and he deserved the best surprises. Pepper thought hard about what would be the best surprises for Thomas. He thought long and hard about his favorite surprises, and he decided to share those with Thomas. 

He tripped over his own feet looking for his favorite smelly old sock. He made sure the sock was extra smelly, and put it in Thomas's Easter basket. Pepper had brought in his favorite rock from outside and put it in Thomas's basket next to the smelly old sock. He also wanted to give Thomas something soft. Nothing is softer than mom’s slippers. He tripped up the steps and fell through Mom's bedroom door, but luckily mom stayed asleep. Pepper quickly grabbed the pink fuzzy slipper and headed back to the Easter basket. He tumbled down the stairs and made a crash landing right next to the table with the Easter basket. He quickly placed the slipper into the Easter basket next to the smelly old sock and his favorite rock.

 Lastly, Pepper heard Thomas talking about Easter eggs. Pepper knew the eggs were kept in the big silver box in the kitchen. He used his nose and his paws to pry open the door. He found the eggs in a brown paper carton. He dragged the carton onto the floor, and suddenly something began to ooze out of the brown paper carton. Yellow oozy stuff started coming out of the eggs. Pepper did his best to pick up some of the broken pieces. He carried some of the goo and pieces of broken shell back to Thomas's Easter basket. He couldn't understand why Thomas would want a treat like this. It did not seem like a treat to him as it oozed down his face. 

The night was almost over, and it was almost time for the family to wake up. Pepper knew that Thomas was always the first one up. He was ready for Thomas to come and see all of his work. He knew that Thomas would love his surprises. Pepper was proud of himself even though it was his first Easter, he knew that he had given his best friend Thomas the very best treats.