You. are. the. best. teacher. in. the. whole. wide. world.
"I" "love" "you" "Miss McMorrow."
You probably teach early elementary kids if you've ever seen punctuation in student writing similar to this. Approximations make me smile. Most of the time. At least that I'm aware of. The ones that show up in kid writing make the biggest impression on me, like the sentences I shared above. Periods and quotations marks are intriguing tools for emerging writers. You never know where they might end up. Another favorite is the use of a specific spelling pattern like "ee" that finds its way into every word with a long e sound. Whether first grade or twelfth, learners make approximations.
When it comes to approximations, a phrase from forever ago comes to mind, although I can't remember where I nabbed it. Use but confuse. What do students use but confuse? It's tempting to be either completely distracted or frustrated by these things. I was taught to celebrate what students use but use incorrectly. Approximations are proof that someone is listening and interested in what they're hearing. Even better, it means that with the right scaffolding, they're ready to make a shift in their learning of the particular skill they're experimenting with. It's in that moment, when the best learning can take place. They're ready for it. If we respond correctly, like Laminack points out, the things they use but confuse will lead to more learning and continued risk-taking. If we allow them to catch a whiff of any frustration with their approximations, we're likely to see a system shutdown, maybe only in that moment but possibly in the future too. How we respond is surely a powerful thing.