Four Areas of Language
Research on the reading and writing brain, for both typical and struggling readers and writers is very exciting, and informs much of my teaching. Understanding that the entire language system has regions that are accessed when reading and writing, and that these systems need to further develop, as well as network together in an efficient and effective manner, helps us to understand the complexity of writing across all developmental stages. There is a reason that writing takes time and attention, encouragement and practice.
Virginia Berninger, a researcher at the University of Washington, summarizes recent theories about the reading and writing brain in her book Brain Literacy for Educators and Psychologists. She coined this terminology to reference how the brain processes and utilizes specific language domains for speaking, listening, reading and writing:
Language by mouth = speaking
Language by ear = listening
Language by eye = reading
Language by hand = writing
If you think of your entire language arts program as centered around helping your children to develop these four areas of language—both independently and in tandem—you begin to think differently about language arts, and why it is called an art! How wonderful to find strategies that teach in a top-down manner—from the whole to its parts—as well as from a bottom-up method—from the parts back into the whole. In this way, you can study a tree to learn about the forest, and study a forest to learn about the trees.
Copywork, if taught intentionally, can help children learn trees by studying the forest and learn the forest from studying the trees. Whole to parts and parts to whole!
In looking at my language tree model, you will notice that the roots are the foundations of a typical language arts program that teaches and strengthens reading and writing—phonics, punctuation, grammar, spelling, handwriting (manuscript, cursive, and eventually keyboard) and vocabulary. We need to teach these skills within a forest—practicing them in both reading and writing—in order for the consolidation of these skills to develop in a meaningful way. Remember that reading and writing are not innate abilities, so exposure is not enough. We want to explicitly teach skills and practice their usage. Explicit teaching is what I call “intentional” teaching!