Writing to Read – a trageton lesson

Hello y’all! The semester has begun and my first graders have truly kept me busy. Busier than I thought. Another thing that has kept me busy is my “other project”, the OmaOppi – application and blog. It’s a cool project that visions the future school as a place for individuals to grow and learn at their own pace, focusing on their strenghts and interests. The blog is in Finnish unfortunately 😛

I’ve written about the writing to read-method before and this is an update on how it’s going. This is my first time implementing this method and I was and still am quite nervous about it. Although I’ve read quite a lot about the method, followed classrooms that use it and I am really, truly convinced that it is a method that will work, it has been really hard of just letting go of the control and trusting that the children will figure out a lot of things themselves.

My classroom (of 27 students) is split into two groups on every writing lesson (4 writing lessons / week). The national curriculum states 7 lessons, and those three lessons that are left are focused on i.e. reading, drama etc. In one group there are the non-readers, in which most of the kids already know most of the alphabets, but some don’t – the other groups consist of beginner readers and a few fluent readers. Basically I’ve got half that can read something, and the other half who can’t.

With my reader group we start each of the four writing lessons with an activity that is supposed to enhance their language skills. We have a topic for each week that we start by a group discussion, writing down some words together and then after that the children are paired and start working on the computer. They write for about 15 minutes at a time. Once the work is done, the words / texts are printed and illustrated. We work on the same text for the whole week and our goal is to get it done in the set time. However, if someone is not ready, he will finish the work from the previous topic before he can move onto the next topic. I try to put an emphasis on how important it is to do a good work and one cannot do a poor job just because he would like to get more computer time.

With my non-readers we look at one or two letters each week. Instead of topics, they’re putting together their own ABC-book, with for instance words that start with A on one page (with pictures), words that start with I on the next page.. We follow the quite common order of letters as the commercial ABC-books do, because I want them to be able to write easy words quite fast.

I’m still contemplating on how to assign reading homework. I’m not in favour of reading logs, because they can take out the fun out of reading. And the whole idea of this method is finding the joy in written text. But I fear that some of the kids just don’t and won’t read at home on their own. Any ideas?

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Classroom Library

I’m dogsitting my parents’ two dogs this weekend and I found a stack of old children’s books from their attic from when we were kids. Most of them were in a good condition albeit some 20 years old. Because it’s sad that books are stored away and not read like they should be, I decided to adopt them to my classroom library. Since next semester will be my first full teaching  year, I’ve had no classroom library before and I’m considering these books to be the foundation of what will someday be an impressive collection of children’s literature.

Now, we have a school library too, but with budget cuts, it’s hardly been a priority for a while and it’s always nice to have a classroom library so the students have always books around them. I’ve purchased some cheap books too, from recycling centers and thrift stores because I feel the class library is something that travels with me to whatever school I end up after this year. Although seriously, I feel like some teachers (me included) sometimes spend too much of their own money, but maybe that’s a different post/rant altogether!

I thought about a lot how the kids could borrow the books (even take them home) without losing/forgetting them without me or them having to write down the name of the book in a notebook somewhere. I know 1st graders can’t write yet and I simply don’t think I have the time to check out books for the kids.

So the system is very simple. On the back of each book is a pocket (made from an envelope) and a card that has the title and author of the book. Once the student wants to borrow the book, he simply takes the card from the pocket and puts in into a filing system, where he has a unique pocket with his name on it. Then when he’s done with the book, he takes the card and puts it back in the book’s pocket and puts the book back into the shelf. That’s it. Done.

If a book is missing, I can simply go over the student pockets to see who is responsible for it. It really doesn’t take too much time to tape on the pocket and a card to each of the book, at least if you only have a few books like I do right now. When I introduce new books, I’ll just add the back pocket and make a card for it.


**The students’ filing system is an old cd storage box I found the other day when cleaning my closets. It’s just a box with 30 colored hanging sleeves that fit a cd or a dvd (similar one here). As it happens the colors matched the color groups I’m going to have in my classroom and it had 30 sleeves and I have 30 students, so coincidence? I think not.

Life after your Master’s degree?


“You can never be overeducated.” This quote has been on my mind lately a lot. I had my official graduation ceremony last week (although I’ve had my papers for a good few months now) and it was awesome and sad at the same time. Awesome because yay! Finally did it! And sad because that’s one chapter that is now closed.

One of the alumnis was talking about moving on from being a student. I could totally relate to her when she spoke about ‘a void’-  when you finally find yourself with a lot of time in your hands after you’ve done your work. She talked about the dangers of filling that void with work and how important it is to find a balance between life and work.

Now, I must admit, I’ve been crazy busy this spring. Finishing my thesis, my conference presentation, new job etc. I’ve been definitely filling a void with more work. In addition I’ve hardly have any time to see my friends as often as I would have liked to. But on the other hand, I’ve really enjoyed the work I’ve done. I feel like it has been worthwhile for my future career too.

The main reason for having my doubts about the phd program is probably the feedback I’m getting. I’ve no doubt that it wouldn’t be hard, but I’m absolutely sure I could make it. I realize that getting a phd will probably hurt my chances of getting a regular teaching job (“what would a phd be doing in a regular school, that would be an obvious concern”), it will prevent me from making money for 4-5 years (“with your student loans, do you think it’s wise?”), it won’t get me more money later (“Will you be paid better?” Um… No… Then why do it?”) and apparently “the actual start of my life” will be even further away (“isn’t it time to just settle down already, find a husband and have kids?”…You got me there: I’m just single and bored and when the right man walks into my life I will gladly stop this nonsense. Oh, and I should probably get a hobby.). But I do think there’s a bit of truth there too: am I going to find myself at 34 alone with a fancy degree?

So I’ve come to a conclusion that a phd is not wise decision if you consider money, free time, sanity and finding a husband. It is a wise decision if you’re interested in education beyond your own classroom. I know some people will be disappointed if I choose to continue to study instead of just being grateful of what I’ve achieved already, but how disappointed will I be with myself if I choose to listen to other people instead of at least trying how far I can go.

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Ready, set, teach!

You thought you’d be teaching right? Think again… Some of these moments are my tall tales and others are true stories I’ve heard from other substitute teachers…

Just an ordinary morning in the life of a substitute teacher.

You get the call and a job and instantly check google maps… It only takes a train, 3 buses and 5 km hike over a mountain to get to the school. And you have 30 minutes to get there.
All prepared for a days work with kids.

After riding the bus for two hours you start to question yourself and your choices.
Your first time here, huh? Just take the third corridor left, elevator up, stairs down and after the dining hall head towards the library, turn 360 degrees and walk to Mordor.


Try to get organized in 30 seconds before the bell rings
Usually it’s just like…

Some classrooms and teachers are more organized than others…
Reading the teacher’s notes, you’re like… French?! No one talked anything about french??

So you do the best you can…

A lot of bullying going on in the classroom so the teacher thought it would be best if instead of moving on with the curriculum we just do some “teambuilding exercises in the gym”. With a strange sub teacher?!?! For the whole day??? Um…

The teachers instructions are on the computer. Don’t have the guest login information.
Can’t figure out the Smartboard system in this school.

Substitute teachers have all kinds of skills they can utilize.

“My class is a very lively class”.

Trying to be tough at first and implement your rule system
Sure your names are Spiderman, Zorro and Batman.

None of the students came back to class after recess.

found the whole class playing from the school yard after frantically running around the strange school looking for them and wondering if I was the one in a wrong place. I must admit I was a little impressed that the entire group of 4th graders made that decision together and no one chickened out..

Sometimes you try very hard but it’s just not your day.

For some reason I always thought I’d be the teacher who was more in tune with the youth culture.

Fieldtrips in strange neighborhood with strange 1st graders.
Fieldtrips in strange neighborhood with strange 6th graders.

I’m all like:
Supervising every single recess.
In Finland every 60 minute lesson has 45 minutes teaching and then 15 minute recess. Finnish winter -10 F…
“This lesson was supposed to be X, but instead you can just do ‘something’”.

Went on a date after work. Had Play-Doh stuck in my hair.
1st-grade-chic not a thing?

“A very ordinary temp job for a few days”. Found out when walking into the classroom that the class had only four students. Realized immediately why that was.

Me after two days:

High jumping. 6th grade. Learned everything I know from youtube the night before.
Modern Physics. High schoolers.
“Can you explain the relativity theory once more in a way that everyone can understand?”

At the end of the day…

Your friends are all like, you teach for 5 hours a day, how can you even be this exhausted??

And no matter what crazy things happen sometimes…


From subbing to teaching

Substituting is surviving. Sometimes it can be teaching too, but too often it’s just keeping the kids safe, especially when it’s just one or two days with a room full of strange kids whose name you hardly remember. But for a young teacher still in training, it’s also valuable contacts and work experience.

I spent a lot of years working at a grocery store check-out after my lessons and on weekends. Once you attend teacher education from Monday to Friday, you can’t really start substituting and getting relevant work experience you need. So my advice, as soon as you can, get into schools. I think I stayed at my grocery store job a bit too long, mostly because of steady money and it was “comfortable”. Substituting is waiting for the call, going to a new school, learning the basics, reading the teacher’s notes etc.. in the five minutes you have before the kids enter the room.

But when you’ve made the transition from teacher education to substituting (whether you’re still in school or already graduated) get connected. My school (teacher ed) had an e-mail list where a lot of schools searched for substitute teachers. I also approached schools in my city and also the neighboring cities by email. I wrote to the principle stating who I was, what I’d studied and that I would like to be on their substitute list. Some of the schools never contacted me back, but some did.

Once I got the job, I was early, polite, well prepared and never turned down a task the principle or other teachers asked me to do. I once read an online article about substituting tips and one of them stuck on me: always have sneakers and proper clothes for P.E (+ a whistle!) in your backpack even though you’re not supposed to be teaching P.E. Once when I was packing my things and I was ready to leave after I’d taught all of my classes, the principle of a school asked me to sub a couple of extra hours of 4th grade P.E. So be flexible and be ready to be flexible.

A few of my tips:

  1. Be fast. The best sub-jobs go fast, reply to text messages immediately, if you want the job.
  2. Be early and be prepared. Have a few tricks/games in mind. Some teachers are not able to leave you any notes or teacher manuals etc. Be prepared for that too.
  3. Keep the kids safe. Introduce your set of rules early on. Don’t be unreasonable, but don’t let the kids roam the hallways either. The faculty will quickly see which substitute teachers can’t handle the classroom.
  4. Don’t expect too much from yourself. But try to follow up the teacher’s notes and requests.
  5. Leave a (positive) note for the teachers. Every teacher wants to hear positive things about their students. If you have something negative to address (something that happened and needs to be reported) add that too, but take the time to write some good things too. I’ve often heard the faculty talk about a specific substitute teacher and remembering her for taking the time to write a note to the teacher describing the day (and never complaining!).
  6. Leave the classroom in a better condition you got it in. Even if you’re in a hurry, clean up etc. It’s nice for the teachers to return to a clean classroom.
  7. Never say “no” when someone from the faculty asks for something. “Can you sub for two extra hours?” “Can you oversee the lunch?” “Can you come in tomorrow too?” Even though you’re not supposed to be on lunch duty and you’re hungry too and don’t feel like it, say yes anyway.
  8. Don’t be too limited in what you can or cannot teach. I’m not a musical prodigy, I can’t sing to safe my life but I am flexible and I can teach music.
  9. Stand out. Make connections. Introduce yourself. Principles know each other. They talk and ask around. Be always polite, never bad mouth a school/teacher/classroom. What goes around, comes around. Be the person no one has any bad things to say about. When your future employer calls another principle from the school you’ve subbed in, be sure he has only positive things to say.
  10. Don’t settle on what you know now. Keep on pushing yourself. The school of tomorrow isn’t a school where teachers shut the classroom door and never collaborate. Be interested in education. Attend conferences and mention them in your CV. You’re subbing now but teaching tomorrow.


So how I got my job? I was substituting a wood craft teacher for two days. That’s it. It paid off although I had never ever taught wood crafts. I got a text message a few months later to apply for a job opening and I did and that was that. Out of almost 40 applicants, I got the job. And that 6-month sub-job got me a job next year with my future 1st graders.

Finally, not all schools are great. Not all teachers’ lounges are nice and respectful places. Not all principles are respectful of students and employees. Remember this when you gather work experience. Sometimes it’s nice to know that you’re there for a day, maybe two, and you can leave and choose to work somewhere else. Eventually you’ll find a school that fits you best.

Last tip, but maybe the most important: always respect the student. There’s a quote in Finnish that says that no child is bad or evil, it’s just that some are weaker than others. There’s a lot of things we don’t know and will never know. Be mindful of that everyone is fighting a hard battle.

At the end of my CV are the most important recommendations of me as a teacher, at least to me personally. They are the notes and drawings the students have given to me.


“You help me understand things”

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Watercolor Alphabets Poster


My summer holiday has started with a lot of rainy days…

My sister asked me for a Alphabets poster for her son’s nursery and although I found some stunning prints online, I decided to try and make it myself.

First I thought I’d just design a print and print it, but then I wanted to give it sort of a handmade feel, so it wouldn’t be just something you could print off from google search or something.

I started by choosing the font and writing the letters from a-z to a Word document, which I printed. I then painted a random colorful watercolor painting on a sturdy paper and let it dry. I cut out each of the letters and with a soft pencil smudged the letters, put them on the backside of the painting and pressed (or colored) over the letter, so the penciled letters would stick to the backside as mirrored letters. I cut out each letter carefully and glued it into a white cardboard.

And that was it basically.

Since this was a rather easy and cheap technique, I plan to do another with numbers too.


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To Phd, or not to Phd?

I survived my conference presentation and I was absolutely thrilled that I did it, although I was sure I was gonna lose all my hair due to stress. The people from my field of study were incredibly nice and warm and it felt great getting recognition for my work from people that are in a completely other level when it comes to research. They’re like on the other side of the mountain already whilst I’m just peeking out of the door.

Now, the question remains, should I teach or continue my research? How can you even choose? Although I love teaching, I’m sometimes worried that I’ll get a permanent position someday, and just close the classroom door behind me and teach for 30 years without actually noticing how the time passes and the world changes. On the other hand, how are you supposed to research teaching/education without actually knowing what it is like in the classrooms…

Well, I promised to think about it during the summer holidays. I’ll blog if I have something to blog about but right now, I’m closing my books for now, cleaning my classroom and heading out for a break I truly feel I deserve.

Candy Geometry

Math is always fun but sometimes it can be extra fun! My math group and I built – well, imaginative shapes with toothpics and marshmellows. Then we ate the candy.


I searched high and low and I’m pretty much convinced there’s no such thing as vegan marshmellows! Also vegan candy – somewhat expensive and tastes nothing like the real deal and doesn’t quite work on structural designs, but I really wanted everyone to have an opportunity to participate without having to touch gelatin candy if they didn’t want to.. (I’ve done these with dried peas too (soaked in water overnight) but peas aren’t candy).


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Conference jitters


One week left before my first ever summer holiday. Which is exciting.. at 28yrs my first summer not working in a grocery store or what have you.

My school work however ended last friday and next week I’m attending my very first conference and giving my very first presentation. I’m pretty sure I’ll have a nervous breakdown before the week is over but I’m trying to think positively that if that happens, I can bury all my dreams of being a part of scientific community and focus on my work in the classroom instead.

Powerpoints are still relevant, right????

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Trageton – writing to read

Arne Trageton is a Norwegian pedagog who has done research on the writing to read (ICT)- method and also written about it. This blog post roughly summarizes his book “Lukemaan oppiminen kirjoittamalla” which is a book in Finnish, however he has written also in English in addition to Norwegian. As in my other blog posts, I make sense in things by writing and making notes, so if you’re interested in the writing to read –method, I can warmly recommend reading Trageton’s books as they are very interesting reads.

The “writing to read”-method didn’t get much attention during my teacher education, so I wasn’t completely sold when I found out that my school was using the method. In fact it took me quite a bit of reading, studying and thinking to really appreciate what it had to offer. In Finnish education system the “ABC books” are kept in a very high standard and they have such a big role in education, that I felt uncomfortable abandoning the books altogether. The traditional learning to read- method consists of recognizing first the letter (“A”), then learning to pronounce it, moving on to syllables and finally to words. At the same time the child learns how to write the letter and practices his fine motor skills by writing letters and syllables in his book.

Example of a Finnish ABC-book: http://www.digipaper.fi/otava/106074/

Trageton has very compelling arguments as to why to ditch the ABC-books. In a traditional classroom all the students “learn” the alphabets in the specific order that is determined by the book. If the child already knows the particular letter already is of no importance. In many schools the teacher teaches the “daily letter” or weekly letter and all students practice it until it’s time to move to the next letter. Trageton claims that children will learn the letters in their own pace without strict control from the teacher.

The method

All writing is done on computers where two children work together in collaboration. That way the children can share their ideas and narratives without actually writing by hand which is very laborious for young children. The computers don’t need Internet connection and only need to have some sort of writing program – nothing else. Everything the children produce is printed and worked on later.

Basically the children use ICT to first play with writing (“ghost writing”). The children play with the keyboard, pressing random letters and numbers and forming “play text”. It is vital that the children work in pairs in order to have social contact, learn collaborative work and help each other with words, language and technique. They use letters in their own pace.

After printing their “play texts” the children continue working on them. This part is very important for the learning. You can work on the text for hours finding new things to discover. The child can be asked to circle all the letters “U” from the text and also count them for instance.

Ghost text:


These “letter texts” or ghost texts are combined to form a book. The children learn that everything they produce is important, is worked on after and is presented in one form or another.

Lines of letters and my own name

The next phase in writing with computers is the child wanting to write his own name. He finds the letters from the keyboard one by one and tries till he gets it right. This is the first step in process writing. It is easier to try again on computers because you can add letters and remove letters fast.

The text might be something like this:


The beginning of the story

In this phase the lines of letters (that might not make sense) are the story. The children might call it cryptic writing only they can read. In stories like these it is very important that they children draw a picture to accompany the text. Pictures and drawing is a very important part of the method as children must practice their fine motor skills without actually writing by hand.

Words and letters in a story

At some point the children start to write the words they know. They can write sight words they’ve seen outside school (“police”) or they might want to write a vital word for the story to be understood that they don’t already know. The teacher can carefully help the child figure out the letters in the words he wants to write. Because writing is still hard for the child, he might just add random letters to make up the rest of the story.

Police car asdfkjalsdkfjaoiwejoaiwjgaorgagrjaoje Joaijweofijalskdjflakjfdlsakjflksjd alskjdflkjoiwejfeioiMARTIN

Books of words

The children produced their own letter books in the earlier stage and in this phase they start to write individual words they know or want to know. These words will be combined into a word book that the child illustrates.

These stages are meant to happen in the 1st grade in Norwegian schools, when the students are around 6 years. In addition to writing on the computer the children write informally by hand. The formal handwriting starts later.

From words the children begin writing sentences and stories and continue illustrating them.  I’ve read quite extraordinary stories the 1st and 2nd graders (7-8 year olds) write on the computer in my school. The 2nd graders handwriting is also quite good considering that they don’t practice formal writing in the 1st grade. It seems that also the boys are very eager story tellers.

I met with my future 1st graders today briefly and I’m pretty excited! I’ve already acquired some old  computers from a neighbor school that was throwing them out – they will work perfect in our classroom. I’m planning on documenting my Trageton-journey next fall so I can really reflect later on if this method works for me.

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