Wednesday, 29 March 2023 18:16

Kindergarten reading--getting ready to be code breakers

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     Recently we teachers have been taking a close look at reading instruction and what brain research suggests.  For me this is bringing new clarity into the hows and whys of reading instruction here at Antioch School.  How does that look in Kindergarten?

     Almost every year there are children who enter Kindergarten already reading.  They have picked up the needed skills mainly through observation.  About 40% of children will learn to read this way, though most of them will do so during their Younger Group years.  For most children, though, the transition to reading occurs with formal instruction.

     In Kindergarten this includes letter names and sounds (phonemes), along with exploration of rhymes and syllables.  We have a job chart that includes each Kindergartner's name.  Most children enter the group able to recognize their own name and over time learn to recognize the names of their classmates.  "Who are snack helpers today?" is a question Kindergartners generally answer with ease by spring.  This is the first stage of reading--pictorial.  Children are using their visual system to identify words in the same way they identify faces.  It's not real reading yet, but difficulty at this point indicates a need for a thorough evaluation of a child's visual system.

     After winter break, Kindergarten starts letter days.  This is a review in identification for most children, though many are still solidifying their familiarity of lower case letters.  Knowledge of letter names forms the categories, or hooks, if you will, in the brain where children will store all the forms and fonts of the letters as well as their sounds and combinations.  Along with letter name identification, letter day instruction in Kindergarten focuses on beginning phonemic awareness--what sounds the letters stand for--starting with the simplest, most common phonemes and progressing from there.  As a group we generate a list of words that start with the letter sound of the day.  Some children readily think of words.  Others need a clue or two--an opposite, a rhyme, a context, or definition clue.  Some children begin to generate clues for additional words they've thought of for other children to guess.  Some children go from weeks of needing clues to thinking of their own words. 

     For one Kindergartner this year, that break through came during Pp days on a walk to swimming.  After needing clues and often not using the phoneme to narrow guesses during word list time, her face lit up as she announced out of the blue, "Pizza is a /p/ word!"  As we continued walking, she periodically named more /p/ words--play, path, pond--a light bulb had gone off!

     We also play with phoneme substitution.  What would your name be if it started with /t/? for example.  This is a favorite activity of the current group.  Some of the children ask me to review all the Kindergarten names with them individually, if they miss the group activity for any reason.  I overheard one child sharing with a friend recently, "I can't wait until /k/ days. . . "  He then shared he was looking forward to one of the names that substitution would generate.

     Every once in awhile I get to witness a child breaking the code in real time.  A few weeks ago two Kindergartners were looking at a book together.  The dog in the story was howling.  "Aaaawooooo" was written across the page.  One of the children pointed to and named each letter, "ay-ay-ay-ay-double u-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh".  The second child said, "No, it's easier if you go ahhh-wuh-oh.  Oh!  Aaaawooooo!" she howled with recognition!

     Reading is a recent cultural invention.  English is the most difficult of all the alphabetic writing systems to learn to read and spell.  At this early stage in Kindergarten, repetition, stretching out and stressing the sounds, and proceeding slowly are helpful, and even key for some children.  It takes most children several years of instruction and practice to master the phonemic reading stage and to move on to expertise in reading English.  Some will do this faster and some slower.  A small subset will need much more time, repetition, and expert support.  The good news is that with instruction and support almost all children can break the code and become readers.  I feel privileged to help Kindergartners begin the journey. 

Read 155 times Last modified on Thursday, 30 March 2023 00:33

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