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THIS TEACHER GIVES RED PEN A REST

THIS TEACHER GIVES RED PEN A REST

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I see oil. It is sliperre. It smels bad to. Win I stpep in it my feet git derte. And I forgit to wip my feet. My mom gits mad. And it looks groos win she gits mad. And evid it looks like fiers on my moms har. And smok cuns out her ers. And her nec cums off.

It's not perfect, but anyone who reads 6-year-old Ryan McLean's story gets the message about his mom and oily feet.And in LaVonne Brown's kindergarten class at Guilford Primary School, his work is just fine.

Ryan is part of Writing to Read, a program that encourages children to write before it teaches them to read. They learn to read their own words.

The rules are loose. Kids are told to write about anything they know. Spell the words the way they sound. Don't worry about punctuation or spacing. Just write.

The students use workbooks to learn 30 words - from ``cat' to ``uniform' - and the English language's 42 sounds, called phonemes. Using computers and tapes to hear the familiar words and sounds repeatedly, the students write their own stories, forming words as they hear them.

The logic is that while children may be unfamiliar with books, they can read what they've written. Un polished as it is, they know what it says.

``Reading before was more work,' said Brown, who has a master's degree in reading and heads Guilford Primary's Writing to Read program. ``This is just fun. The reason it works is because it comes from inside the child.'

Traditionally, children learn first to read by recognizing letters, then words. They read about life in the single-syllable world of Dick and Jane. And later, they write.

Brown said Writing to Read challenges that method by asking, ``How can you best help children learn how to read in a way that's natural for them, that's fun and not frustrating?'

Developed by retired teacher John Henry Martin of Florida, the program encourages children to write first, using some of the 2,000 to 5,000 words they can speak when they get to school. Then they read their own words. They don't meet Dick and Jane.

``It's based on their own experience, instead of what somebody else has written,' said Doris Henderson, principal at Guilford Primary, where about 800 students have participated in the program in five years.

``It's not so much what we present to the child as how we present it,' Brown said. ``We don't tell them to write and say it the way we hear. They write it the way they hear it.'

Teachers assume the role of coordinators, moving about the reading labs where students practice their new craft at their own pace. Teachers have a kind word for every effort, from coherent stories to a few scrawled words with invented spelling.

Late in the school year, teachers begin steering the young writers toward correct spelling, punctuation and spacing.

IBM piloted the program in Burlington and other schools in the 1982-83 school year. Today, some elementary schools in Guilford County, Greensboro and High Point offer the program.

``I think it's a very strong program,' said John Schroeder, principal of High Point's Fairview Elementary School, where first-graders take Writing to Read.

``It's appealing to all the senses to teach them the letters,' he said. ``If they can write it, they can read it.'

Not all schools offer the program. The computers are expensive, and some teachers and principals prefer the traditional approach to reading and writing.

And educators' disagree on the best time to introduce Writing to Read. In Burlington, teachers start the program in the second semester of kindergarten.

``We feel that they are better prepared after they become accustomed to the school routine,' said Mable Peeler, director of elementary education in the Burlington schools.

In one of two Guilford Primary reading labs last week, students took turns sitting at personal computers, which asked them to type in key words and repeat them. If the response was wrong, the ever-patient computer asked again.

Across the room, students wrote the key words after hearing them on tape. Some read children's books. Others tapped the keys of electric typewriters, and some used fat pencils to write stories about their families, cats, kites and the wind.

Five-year-old Blair DeGraw wrote about her vacation.

``I lik win we ar goin to flrda,' she wrote. ``Tha hv a swinpl. Tha hav a beech.'

Only one topic is forbidden: Ninja Turtles. Without some restriction, Brown said, the boys would write about the cartoon character in every story, every day.

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