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Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Beliefs on Teaching Young Children to Read

It took me a long time to develop some sort of personal beliefs on teaching reading (letters and sounds is a big part of it) to young children. I began my first year with letter of the week, but felt stifled by the structure and slow pace.

What if a child really doesn't need to go that slow?

The next year I changed to a flashcard method of drill and kill. Every day we would go through a set of alphabet flashcards and say the name, the sounds and make a motion to help us remember the sound.

This really helped the kiddos learn to read much faster and the kinesthetic (motion) approached helped those that struggled to remember the sounds of the letter. You could simply make the motion and they would recall the sound. I must admit I did this for many years.

A few years down the road, I began to feel like the above approach separated learning letter names and sounds apart from authentic reading and writing. I wanted children to understand that we need to learn the letter names and sounds because we want to be readers and writers. Letters and sounds are what makes up the message written on a page that someone wrote and someone else will read. I struggled with how to incorporate teaching letters and sounds through reading and writing for some time. I still do not have it perfected by any means, but here is a run down of some of the things that I do. I read a book to the children.

The book needs to have...


•large enough print that the children can distinguish each individual letter

•a simple picture representing the words in visual form

•and some sort of lesson that can be taught from the story (example rhyming pairs, a specific sight word to be recognized, etc.).

First, we read the book and discuss what the story is about: who is in the story, where does it take place, what happened, etc. We look at the pictures and make observations. We discuss things we know and things we want to know. What is our favorite part and why.

Then, we reread the story with a focus. In this case, letters and sounds. I always start my letter and sound study with the most important word the child knows... his/her name. I have each child focus only on the letters in their own name.

We hunt for letters that we know and circle them or highlight them. There is some really cool highlighting tape at teacher stores that you place on top of the letter or word and it can be removed a used a couple more times. it does not damage your book. You can also use Wiki sticks. They are stings covered in a wax coating. You can find them at most craft stores. Cut the Wiki stick to the length you want and use it to underline or circle by pressing it gently to the page. Remove when you are done and reuse.

When we find a letter we know or recognize, we name the letter, make the sounds, and make a motion to represent this sound. This motion could be as simple as using American Sign Language for that particular letter. We continue to do this for the entire book. The kiddos get really excited when they realize that the letters in their name can be found in other words.

Finally, we write a sentence or a 3 page book using the letters we found in the book. I try to follow the same pattern as in the story. For example, I can see a bird. The b could be the letter that begins the child's name. We will circle the b or highlight it with a yellow crayon. We say the letter name and sound and make the motion. I have the child write 5 really good Bs on the back of the page as well as illustrate the sentence with a picture that matches the words.  In this case, the child will draw a bird.

I place the book in a book that the child made in a "book box." A book box anything that can store books that your child can read. The easiest examples are laundry boxes covered in contact paper, large gallon sized baggie, or a plastic shoe box. If the child is working on writing just one sentence and illustrating it, I place these in a binder or folder. Sometimes I actually use a composition notebook to create these sentence stories in and when the time is write it becomes a personal writing journal as well.

Anytime you can read or write something authentic with a child he/she will have more buy in. Think about ready and looking at your grocery list together, reading labels in the pantry and hunting for the letters in your child's name and circling them while stating the letter name and sound. When your child draws a picture, label the items with a beginning sound in your child's favorite color. Write the rest of the letters in black. Point out the name and sound of the initial letter as you write it. Before you know it, your child will find letters he/she knows all around them.

I do have to say that I also teach my children to write their names correctly... capital letter and then all lowercase. I focus on lowercase letters because these are the letters that the children will read and write the most often. You would be amazed at how many children come in knowing the uppercase letters but have very little alphabetic knowledge about the lowercase letters. It is so important for the children to pick up the letter names and sounds for both the upper and lowercase letters as quickly as possible.

Here in Texas the children are required to write an entire page by the end of kindergarten. Most can do this by January with little assistance. Of course, words are spelled phonetically, sometimes spacing is off, and punctuation is sporadic. But it is usually readable.

For those that do not come in with the letter and sound knowledge, they can write 3-5 sentence pretty well by the end of their kindergarten year. The parents are always amazed by this huge accomplishment. I am not... Children are sponges that desire to learn as much as possible each and every day. They just need authentic activities that engage them at a high level and most of all they need to have FUN. The more games they can play the better. When reading and writing is an intrical and natural part of the day, children will naturally gravitate towards activities that focus on these activities.

My kindergarten kiddos can sit down and "read" (reading is different for every child... if someone looks at the pictures and tells a story that is beginning reading at its most basis form) for 15 minutes at a time usually after the first month of school. You always have those that can't sit that long yet, but most can if they are engaged and having fun. I guess that's it.

I know I have said alot, but I hope it allowed you to see a glimpse into a kindergarten classroom.

Expectations nowadays are no longer as basic as those in the past. Not that I agree with them all, but I do my best to incorporate my beliefs into what is mandated. It appears that todays children are up for the challenge.

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