Monday, October 16, 2017

Writing by Hand

I wrote this draft by hand. Really.

I made myself write by hand, then type up this blog for you. I wanted to remind myself of the process, now that I have the skills to generate original writing through the keyboard.

When I I talk to groups, parents inevitably ask me questions about handwriting. No matter the topic--handwriting is always a question posed by someone (or many) in the group. It just happened last Thursday when I spoke to a homeschool group in Delaware, Ohio. I was soon discussing the hows and whens and whys of teaching print, cursive, and keyboard--and the value of teaching all three through Copywork and Dictation practice.

The main point I emphasize is this: there is value in practicing all three forms of writing, value in progressing through all three handwriting stages, and value in not skipping one mode of writing over the other.

Research is mounting on the positive benefit of teaching reading in conjunction with writing. Watch our free video on called "Welcome to the Forest" to see how we teach new readers to connect their literacy language skills: Say it; Read it; Write it. When it comes to teaching writing--like teaching reading--don't wait for some magic day when your "child is ready." If children are of school age, it is time to teach them to read and write.

Print versus Cursive is the primary debate. Recent research indicates that writing in cursive has a positive impact in the development of writing skills. Read this New York Times article and remember:

  • Cursive teaches kids how to read cursive writing
  • Cursive teaches better control of spacing, anchoring letters to the line, and letter position for struggling writers
  • Cursive usage is correlated with strong writing composition skills
  • Cursive is fast and efficient for note-taking
Bottom line: don't skip cursive. If your child struggles with writing, and it is too stressful or time-consuming to teach all three modes of writing, then skip print. The child with dysgraphia will still learn how to read print (it is everywhere), but will likely fare better with cursive. Convincing a child with dysgraphia to learn cursive is the biggest challenge. If they persevere, my students with dysgraphia all achieve faster, more legible writing with cursive.

Of course, I don't need to convince anyone that kids need to learn keyboard. I do need to convince kids to use proper finger position when typing. Proper finger position is the key to becoming fast and efficient typists who don't need to look at their hands. I discourage the hunt and peck method. After all, the ultimate goal is functional typing for college and career. Colleges give students timed online examinations. Worse, they assume the faster the timing, the less likely kids have opportunity to cheat. So kids have to be fast and efficient to perform their best on these tests. One college student recently told me she took an exam with 10 "short answer" essays--each a half page of typing--and she was given 50 minutes to complete the exam. That is five minutes per half page of text! This is not the first story I have heard! Clearly, in college keyboard speed is essential to survival and success.

Sadly, even intermediate-grade students are now required to take computer-based state tests. Kids are expected to keyboard essays, as well. So we don't want our kids to be searching for keys when they need all their cognitive attention and effort focused on answering questions or generating writing. 

Since original thought should always be the primary cognitive load in generating text, the act of typing--or any form of writing--has to become automatic. All writing paths--print, cursive, keyboard--become automatic through the practice of Copywork and Dictation. Copywork practice does for writing what swimming laps does for endurance and technique--it's training. Copywork and Dictation helps all underlying writing skills become stronger, more efficient, and automatic. 

At Rooted in Language, we have a plan for years of Copywork and Dictation practice as your kids learn print, cursive, and keyboard. Remember, move the hardest mode into Copywork and the easiest mode into Dictation. Here is my recommendation:

Learning Stage
New Writer and Reader
Elementary to Intermediate level
Intermediate to Middle School level
High School level
Both Keyboard and Cursive

Even high school students should continue to practice writing by hand to keep their skills sharp and efficient for taking notes in class. This NPR review of a famous study will help you feel committed to helping your kids become excellent note-takers who write by hand.

When parents ask if kids with dysgraphia can just skip handwriting, or if kids who struggle to read can just use audiobooks, I encourage them to keep pushing through the struggle. Help kids read and write to the highest level they can achieve. 

This is the analogy I share when people say kids will mostly type someday:
We would never tell our kids, "Why walk if you are going to mostly drive as an adult?" We want our kids to become adults who can walk and drive--ready to live healthy and effective lives. We want our kids to be ready for any situation. After all, one can't walk on a highway, and one can't drive on a forest path. Walking plus driving gets our kids almost everywhere they need--or hope--to go in life.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Castles, Kingdoms, and Conquerors!

As a young therapist, I realized a sure way to entice kids to learn was through castles. Maybe it is my own romantic enthusiasm seeping in, but most of my students find the Middle Ages interesting Some aspect of this era can usually engage kids of all ages: weaponry, architecture, clothing, art, social systems, history, fairy tales, literature, dragons, geography, video games, travel, and so on.

A study of castles exposes kids to new vocabulary words, or should I say old vocabulary words, which is a great opportunity for Word Study. I remember once a young student and I studied the word helmet, discovering the word helm, as well as the <-et> diminutive suffix. Castles and kingdoms are great for teaching history, but even better for teaching the history of the English language. Here are a few words that intrigue me for Word Study, all explored through my recent travel adventure.

According to many sources, our language began with a language known as Proto Indo European (PIE). This language souce spread, as people spread, throughout the Mediterranean and Europe, into India, the Baltics and the Middle East. It arrived on an island, now called Great Britain, via a people now called the Celts. These tribes were conquered by the Romans during the Roman Empire. That is where my journey in York begins.

In England last month, we visited the wonderful town of York, which is about a two-hour train ride north of London. Walking the streets of York is like walking through the history of the English language. It is a city built by many, and it still has the city walls and town gates to prove it. At one time, York was the “second city of the realm,” according to one brochure. York began as a fortress, built by the Roman 9th Legion in 71 AD (now referred to as CE). York's earth ramparts were raised by the Romans, and Constantine was pronounced as emperor in York in 306 AD. Constantine spread Christianity through the region.The arrival of Monks brought the Bible, which was written in Latin so those religious words entered our language, as well as other ancient Romans words, such as street, mile, and cheese. York was called Eboracum back then, and ancient Roman foundations are still evident throughout the city.

When the Romans left England--they had to hurry home since their Empire was collapsing--the area was vulnerable to invasion. Three Germanic tribes (carrying Germanic languages) invaded England, known as the Jutes, the Saxons, and the Angles. We tend to refer to these tribes collectively as the Anglo-Saxons. These tribes pushed the native Celts into Wales, Ireland, and Western Scotland, helping to eradicate that language from English, leaving only the Celtic words London, Avon (meaning river), and crag behind. Since the Angles had more land, the country was named Angle-land, and eventually England. Their Germanic language merged into what we now call Old English. Most of our current, everyday, peasant words are Anglo-Saxon, such as work, house, and the.

Soon enough, the Vikings from Norway and Denmark arrived on England's shores, and they renamed this Roman fortress town Jorvik or Yorwik, which we now call York. The Vikings conquered and ruled the northern region for a brief period of time, adding a few Norse words to the English Language, such as get, want, and sky. In York, we walked down a main road called Stonegate, an old street in York that once lead to the gate of the old Roman fortress. Gate is a Viking word for street, so we walked along many gates throughout York, such as Castlegate and Monkgate, to name a few.

York survived and thrived through all of this, even when the Normans (from a northern region of France) arrived in 1066 AD. I tell my students we can blame a man named William the Conqueror for adding French, with its complex spelling patterns, to the English language. The Normans fortified York’s city walls, adding their signature to this historic city. During their half- century rule, the French Normans added many government and military words to English, giving us a confusing spelling for the word we now pronounce colonel!

The city of York flourished during the Medieval period--a time of kings, wars, feudal lords and peasants. During this period, the walls were reinforced so well, that they still encircle York today. By the time the Tutors took control of the throne, York's cathedral was completed. The beautiful York Minster took 250 years to build! Cathedrals were named for the cathedra or throne of the Archbishop. A Minster was a center of learning or ministering, which differentiated it from an Abby. There are remains of an Abby destroyed during the religious wars between the Catholic and Protestant rulers.

The printing press brought a literary age to all of England during the Renaissance period. The press forced printers to settle on spelling conventions. While the printing press solidified spelling, it did not control the ever-morphing pronunciation of words. Thus the once voiced /gh/ in right and /k/ in knight are now only seen, but not heard. Meanwhile, Shakespeare was wooing audiences in London, adding new words to the English language at a remarkable rate. Classical works were available to all, so Latin and Greek had a profound influence on English language growth.

York shared its name during the Colonial period, as a New York was established in America. Meanwhile, Britain's York was turning into a fashionable resort, with Georgian buildings built in the 18th century. (This is a good time to remember “crazy King George” and the American Revolution.) Loan words entered the English language, through the French, Dutch, and Spanish. Food, animal, and plant names were added to the lexicon, growing English into the largest language in the world.! As English spread to many nations, pronunciations and dialects varied across the globe.

York even had a prominent place in the Industrial Revolution, with its historic train station and train museum. Again we see how industry, and now technology, have added even more words to our ever-growing English language!

Today, the lovely town of York is a popular tourist attraction. Tourists, who continue to share and spread words around the globe, can enjoy York's walk through the history of English. We walked along the ancient city walls and climbed up into the Bars. Bars were four city gateways, each containing a portcullis. One of them still has its barbican, or funnel-like approach, which forced attackers to bunch together if they tried to invade the city. Bars welcomed monarchs and displayed the heads of traitors!

The words <bar> and <barbican> are perfect examples of how one cannot let assumptions rule in Word Study. I initially thought these two words might be related, but a brief look at Etymonline shows <barbican> comes from the PIE words <per> “around” and <wer> “to cover.” So the word <barbican> is related to the word <cover>.  The word <bar> has different meanings, such as the fastener on a gate, a whole body of lawyers, and a tavern, as well as the verb meaning of “to obstruct.” The word <bar> gives kids an opportunity to practice their doubling rule as they create derivatives:

The point is, I learned a new word which led me on a Word Study journey . . .

When I educated my children, we didn’t have the money to visit castles and ancient towns, but we visited them in our history, literature, picture books, encyclopedias, myths, and media. I remember we all wondered over the spelling of the word Medieval. Why the <ie> vowel team and the <al> ending? If only we knew then what we know now: investigate words using Structured Word Inquiry!

medi + ev + al → Medieval (I am not sure if the second base word is <ev> or <eve>)

<medi> means “middle” as in <mediate>
<ev> means "age" and is related to the word <eon>
<al> is a suffix

Medieval literally means the Middle Age, and it has nothing to do with being an <evil> time, as I thought as a child!

So you see, castles and Word Study really are good bedfellows!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Meaning Links History to Spelling

When I was young I really disliked history. I found it dull to study wars and dates in traditional 1960’s education: read textbook, answer questions at the end of each chapter, take multiple choice tests (mostly designed to trip up the kids). I was the classic American student who got A’s on history tests, but I couldn’t recall a thing I learned.

My link to history happened when I took an Art History course in college, as one of my required Gen-Eds. The professor was passionate about his topic, and I suddenly began to piece together a timeline through art and architecture. From there, I added information through historical fiction, movies, and my university’s Fashion Museum.

When I homeschooled my children, I taught history the way I liked to learn it: through story, art, architecture, clothing, and movies. I threw in some music for good measure, and a healthy dose of PBS. Years later I read Bill Bryson’s book, Home, and thought: Wouldn’t it be great if kids could learn history through a topic of interest, such as art, science, engineering, weaponry, interior design, or . . . spelling. Spelling?

The history of the English language begins in the Middle East and lands all over the world! Every step reveals how words evolved over time, where they traveled, who influenced them, and why. Investigating spelling is akin to an archeological dig. It is a journey through time and place.

Early this month I traveled to England. Maybe because I am learning about words or maybe because I was in the location where the English language had its formation, but everywhere I traveled, I noticed words as a part of history. I was particularly interested in place names. I had read that in England, old roads called Way or Gate harken back to the Vikings, while old roads titled Street are Roman in origin. Interesting.

When we traveled to the Cotswold area, I pondered that name. I read a bit of Rick Steves, who suggested <wold> referred to the sheep/wool industry, and there were plenty of fluffy white sheep dotting the fields, so I formed this Structured Word Inquiry hypothesis:

cot + s + wald → Cotswald

The base word <cot> made sense, since it fits nicely with the word <cottage>, but I knew from experience I had to consider that the base might include a final-e, as in <cote>. Hmmm. Like a dove cote. New hypothesis:

cot(e) + s + wald → Cotswald

I went to Etymonline and sure enough, <cottage> comes from <cot>. There was an Old French word <cot> from the Old Norse <kot> giving rise to <cottage>, and there was also an Old French word <cote>. Both meant a “hut.” Also, the Old French suffix <-age> suggested the meaning of an “entire property attached to the cote.” The Cotswold region contains many “cottages,” so this made sense.

Next I looked up the word <wold>. From the Old English meaning “woods, forested upland,” the Middle Dutch <wold> back to the PIE (Proto Indo European) <welt> meaning “woods or wild.” Etymonline states that the word <wold> survives in place names. Therefore, the name Cotswolds provides evidence of the deforestation of England.

Did I mention that I hated spelling as much as history when I was young? Who knew I would spend the second half of my life enjoying one subject because of the other!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Let's Meet Online

August is our month for On-line Classes! In 10 days Moira and I have taught four parent-training classes, logging dozens of hours for each one.

We started with Brave Writer Summer Camp on August 1st and 2nd, leading two 75-minute webinars about our teaching approach to learning challenges. We shared our three best philosophies - encouraging parents that no matter which curriculum they choose, they need to remember that how they teach matters the most for a struggling learner. One of the key ideas presented is reflected in all we do: teach the skills, and then the consolidation of those skills. At Rooted in Language, we help parents learn how to strengthen kids' individual Language Arts skills, then we help them understand that every skill needs to be practiced within reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

Which leads us to our other online classes . . .

On August 4th, Moira and I taught our second annual monthly coaching class for the upcoming school year, called Roots Entwined. In this class, we work with parents throughout the school year to help them see how Language Arts can be organized around their children's challenges, and how they can concentrate on skill building throughout the school year. We limited the first August class to 10 people, since we helped people plan their individual schedules during the session. Many of you missed that class, but signed up for the September class...coming up on the 1st! Watch our newsletter, Instagram, and Facebook page to learn more about the September parent coaching class. Roots Entwined is so named because we twine our expertise with your caring teaching, in order to have a positive impact on your child's learning. The name also hales from the course's purpose: to help parents create the best Language Arts program that integrates all the reading and writing skills their kids need for a strong year.

On August 10th we kicked off Part 1 (of 3) of our Laying a Path class. Laying a Path is our way of teaching parents how to lay each stone in the path to learning an important L.A. skill. These classes focus on one area of learning--one skill--showing parents how we teach our students. This month, the class tackles Vocabulary and Word Study--important morphology skills needed for improved spelling, grammar, and comprehension. Parents were excited and engaged, and ready to come back next week.

Moira and I love teaching online classes--helping parents help their kids! We believe that the best learning happens in relationship, so we are here for you. We like to say we are rooting for you and rooting for your kids!

Watch for all our curriculum, online classes, and free ideas! We post everything our @rootedinlanguage Instagram and Facebook pages. We are also in the process of improving our website ( for enhanced navigation and a user-friendly store.

I like to say I have 35 years of experience as a Speech-Language Pathologist, but only 18 months experience bringing my ideas to you in an online platform--wherever you are! Together, we can help your kids become the best readers and writers that they can be!


Friday, July 28, 2017


I love the metaphor "Laying a Path”--so we use it to label both online classes and curriculum. It is a bit long, so we shorten it: LAP. As in, crawl onto my lap and I will help you . . .

When my kids were young, I joined a garden club, read Michael Pollan, and made a friend who loved to create children’s gardens. The theme of PATH kept coming up over and over again. Paths create interest. Paths are inviting. Paths give a sense of movement. Paths are systems of travel. Paths lead.

I don’t have a big yard, but it is an interesting yard. In part because one of the very first things I did for my kids was create a garden path. That simple little path became a great source of play, movement, and imagination. The moment the stones settled, my children began to move upon them. Their ages ranged from about 2-8 years, but each one (and their friends) walked that simple little journey multiple times a day. Each new visitor (even adults!) would see the path and immediately trot forward, even though all it provided was a little loop. There is something about stepping stones that invite and delight.

LEARNING SHOULD BE A PATH. We want it to invite and delight. But for a struggling learner, not all learning is inviting or delightful. So a path provides small steps--Bits and Pieces of success.

A learning path breaks each step into its own accomplishment, so the next step is less daunting. Figuring out the steps is what I have spent a lifetime developing with my students. Amazingly, I now see my path in full bloom. Before, I had my path laid out, surrounded by seedlings. But now, with Rooted in Language, this path is a botanical bounty! Here’s why:

Every idea has been and continues to be kid-tested. Every strategy we share with you has been proven effective. Kids have given us feedback and shown us results. Every strategy I share with my SLPs and tutor begins to morph in amazing ways.

Moira is constantly adding and tweaking my ideas and adding her own, teaching in ways I never imagined! Together our ideas hitch-hike along, resulting in a better journey for our students! Moira brings fresh eyes and further depth. Every time I see one of Moira’s ideas on Instagram, I think, “Wow! This is even better!”

Every strategy and idea is run through other creative minds. Claire sees every piece of language through both her creative writing head and artist’s eye. She turns multisensory learning theory into a multisensory experience! Claire shares her ideas and insights in our Write, Draw, Think curricula.

Every idea and strategy is made visible and enjoyable by Tracy. Tracy is a playful artist who paints crazy flamingos and wild botanicals. She loves color! She combines splashes of fun with refined details. Without Tracy, I am a pile of post-it notes, full of only words and clip art. Tracy creates the product and builds each material, making my path to learning inviting for all of us.

Before any product comes to you, we at Rooted in Language share our improved lessons (in steps that are visible and enjoyable) with our own students. We test out which visual aspects best convey the concepts we hope to teach, and we make continual refinements. Every product represents months in the making, and years in my practice!

Our newest curriculum, LAYING A PATH: ANNOTATING LITERARY ELEMENTS, is meant to be a long slow journey for your school year. It is meant to be inviting and playful.

Don't rush through these rich concepts. Instead, wander with your kids. Take your time.

Enjoy the colorful world of literature--both the texts we provide and the ones sitting on your bookshelves.

Add notes to text (annotate) in Bits and Pieces--all stepping stones to critical thinking and analytical writing.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Look Inside Explore-a-Story

We have received a lot of questions about our Explore-a-Story book.
  • What is it?
  • How is it used?
  • Which is more appropriate for my child--the book or PDF version?

What is Explore-a-Story? Explore-a-Story is an expanded, upgraded, more personal version of our original Cartooning Characters activity. We changed it in many ways:

  • We improved the directions and wrote them directly to your child
  • We included more drawing, thinking, and writing directions
  • We improved the layout so the directions and general “look” of the content is more “graphic” for older kids who may see cartooning as too “young.”
  • We put it all together in a journal so it creates a reading log and keepsake--a place to keep a list of books read within the school year.
  • There are 23 graphic spreads for creating, 26 content pages with directions and tips, with one final spread for kids to write about their favorites based on attributes. 

How is Explore-a-Story used? Well, we have so many ideas about that! 

  1. Use Explore-a-Story as a personal journal where each of your kids can keep track of their favorite stories and characters. These can be characters they love, despise, fear, or celebrate! Kids can choose one character from each book they read, or from each family read aloud, and engage in drawing with Bits and Pieces of writing. In this way, Explore-a-Story encourages a bit more than “this book was about” and helps kids begin to understand how to analyze a story through character, conflict, and theme.

  2. Use Explore-a-Story as a family book. It can be a way to engage everyone in shared writing and drawing about any shared story--books, movies, or plays. Each person in the family can draw and write on a different character, so you can write with your kids! The character pages are divided in five sections, each with 4 spreads. In between these drawing pages are numerous drawing lessons and writing/thinking hints. This would allow a family to create their journal of the best stories of the year!

  3. Use Explore-a-Story as a way to track famous people in history, science, technology, or the arts, to support your curriculum. Every famous person faced their own conflicts and has their own story. Explore-a-Story can help you journal famous non-fictional characters! 

  4. Use Explore-a-Story to create a Shakespeare journal. Each four character section can be used to represent one of the Bard’s famous plays, which are rich in character and have awesome costumes! There are plenty of conflicts to explore, character flaws to analyze, and famous lines to include! In this way, Explore-a-Story might be used across multiple years!

  5. Use Explore-a-Story to inspire your young artist to add writing to enrich their drawing. An avid artist may wish to fill the entire Explore-a-Story journal with characters from a beloved novel. This works well for novels with many characters, such as Thief Lord, The Hobbit, Harry Potter, Redwall, Pride and Prejudice, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc.  Books with many characters really spark the imagination in the visual child, so helping them to create a keepsake of their favorite book would be an awesome write/draw project. This idea would overwhelm some kids, but those who love to fill pages with their art will enjoy turning their favorite books/movies into this form of visual fan fiction.

  6. Use Explore-a-Story PDF version to supplement your language arts notebook this year. It can be a supplement to Brave Writer’s Wand, Arrow and Boomerang curricula.

Should I choose the book or PDF format? This depends on your curriculum plans or on your child.  Explore-a-Story is meant to inspire--not to overwhelm. You know your child best: would they like holding their own journal or prefer to only view a page at a time?

If you have a strong reader, or you engage in one of the curriculum ideas listed above, your child could create one or more graphic characters a month--one for each book read or famous person studied. Kids who love to read, love to keep book logs. If they read a book a week, they may not want to create a graphic for every book they read. You could suggest a schedule that fits your child’s learning style. Some children may read many books, but choose to create only one graphic per month. We want kids to enjoy Bits and Pieces of writing, not to become overloaded by weekly demands.

The struggling or reluctant reader could cartoon on more than one character per book (again only 1-2 times a month) over the course of the entire book. In this way, the struggling reader digs into characters as they read, helping them to track the story's plot, while encouraging writing in Bits and Pieces for deeper comprehension. In the end, struggling readers will have completed Explore-a-Story to celebrate their reading accomplishments--accomplishments measured in quality, rather than quantity.

No matter the reading and writing skill, Explore-a-Story gives kids time to savor stories. It is a journal versatile enough to be used for a single book project, a year’s worth of reading, or a topic/author study for years to come.

~ Rita and Tracy