We cannot write or read without knowing what a letter is and it’s corresponding sound. Knowing letters, the sounds AND that they hold meaning to form a word are critical skills to learn during the early childhood years. The National Early Literacy Panel 2008 informs us that students who demonstrate phonemic awareness and alphabet recognition are more likely to become successful readers. Teaching alphabet knowledge concurrent with phonological awareness has a significant impact on the early development of the concept of language (National Reading Panel 2000; National Early Literacy Panel 2008).
Although there are many different ways to teach the letters of the alphabet that are successful, letter of the week is NOT one of them. Children need repeated, varied and meaningful exposure to the letters. Research by Jones and Reutzel also shows us that the teacher should only provide experiences and practices with no more instruction than needed.
When using the letter of the week approach, we are expending our valuable learning time on only a handful of children. Some of the children already know the letter and others will not learn it that week since it does not yet hold meaning for them. Exposure to all of the letters in fun, hands-on, meaningful activities allows for a natural differentiation of learning and as well as builds the concept of language and meaning of written print.
Some suggestions for teaching the letters of the alphabet include using students names each day in various chants, counting of the letters, comparing them, etc.; pairing letters with phonological awareness instruction in shared reading or writing activities; creating predictable charts with alliterations, reading lots and lots of fun ABC books, including letters in all learning centers such as foam letters in dramatic play to become the pancakes or cookies.
What strategies have you found to be most successful for the teaching of the letters in a fun, holistic, engaging, meaningful way?
Kathy Collins and Matt Glover remind us of a critical component of reading instruction for our young learners: It’s vital that we support young children’s reading in ways that nurture healthy reading identities, that foster an attraction to books and a love of reading, and that teach them how to make meaning in any text they choose, whether or not they can read the words. —Kathy Collins and Matt Glover, I Am Reading, published by Heinemann
This fostering of a love of reading to connect with others, to gather information, to hear a great story, to laugh, cry or rejoice, etc. starts when a child is born and continues throughout life. Allison and Watson (1994) in their article, The significance of adult storybook reading styles on the development of young children’s emergent reading, support the idea of reading to infants as young as 0-3 months. They found that the earlier teachers and parents began reading to children, the higher the child’s emergent reading level is at the end of kindergarten. Bredekamp and Copple in the book, Developmentally Appropriate Practice Third Edition, published by NAEYC, share with us that reading aloud to children is a developmentally appropriate practice starting as young as infants.
I love the following quote to continue thinking about not just reflecting the work of the child- but how are we truly showcasing the thinking process of the child. I believe that if we had this goal in mind as we are hanging items on our walls and deciding how to document children’s learning- not just the end product but the process as well- it would serve as an incredible focal point for student conversations as well as provide an amazing visible display of what children are learning through play and exploration for parents, administrators and other stakeholders- what are your thoughts?
Documentation is not pretty pictures of engaged children. Rather, it captures
the thinking process:
What motivated [students] to begin, continue, change direction?
What were the breakthroughs, the pivotal remarks or actions?
How did they solve the problem?
The goal is to enable whoever reads a panel to understand what the child attempted and how they went about it, to see stimulus, process, and outcome. -A. Lewin-Benham
As we continue the discussion of intentionally designed environments and how we display not just children’s work but also the process of their learning, there are some key ideas I found helpful to provide some insights from Working in the Reggio Way by Julianne Wurm.
Documentation is important for not only the children to see the process of their thinking and their work but also for the teachers to grow in their craft and understanding of children.
Documentation can serve to illuminate the thinking, a change in thinking that occurred, what was learned or not learned, the evolution of the behavior, questioning, maturity, responses, and opinions.
Documentation begins with observation.
A couple of fun, engaging ideas that I have observed in classrooms include…
* Documenting student’s thoughts during different times of the day and placing those by the posted visual schedule.
* Taking lots of pictures and showing them as a slide show – playing the slide show each morning on the Smart Board to remind students of the learning that took place the previous day.
* A web of student’s thoughts and ideas as a project develops is a good way of displaying the process of the children’s thinking. The teacher would always be referring back to it with the children- the documentation was useful and children were able to gain the skill of reflecting on their thinking.
* Students reflection of their own learning posted next to their work.
* I saw a documentation board in one classroom that had pictures and one or two quotes from students for each month- although it wouldn’t capture the thinking through a whole project, it was a good way to demonstrate to students the passage of time. The students chose one to two pictures each week that demonstrated their learning. It was a great time to review the learning and also work on voting skills.
Continuing with our discussion of intentionally designed environments, today we are going to ponder how we honor students and develop a sense of belonging by our thoughtful display of their work.
Look around your environment and ponder how you can give greater importance and honor to children’s work by placing it in a frame or on a shelf- in a place of honor. This communicates to the child that what they have created is important, has meaning and is worthy of being looked at by others.
Frames are expensive but I’ve even seen the lids to shoe boxes covered to “frame” student’s work or poster board cut into shape of frame and they both were beautiful displays of children’s work. I have also found some very inexpensive frames this summer at garage sales, flea markets and Goodwill stores.
Kindergarten teachers in McLean County Unit 5 School District and the Prekindergarten and Kindergarten teachers in Union School District developed “elevator speeches” describing why play is critical during the early years based on snippets of information from the article, Crisis in Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School published by the Alliance for Childhood. These statements can be added to parent newsletters, etc. as a continual reminder of the importance of play.
Assessment in early childhood classrooms should occur through observations in a natural, authentic environment.
As we watch, listen and interact with children with the intention of being in the moment with them, we discover not only their understandings but also their learning process, their uniqueness and interests. We begin to value each child’s contributions to the community of learners.
We gain valuable information on how we can promote their success as a learner.
NAEYC Recommendations for Assessments:
*teachers’ observations of what children say and do
*other documentation (e.g. photographs)
*collected during their play and daily activities
*used to refine how teachers plan and implement activities
Through intentional observation of each individual child, we begin to respect and appreciate each one for his/her uniqueness and for the strengths he/she brings to the community of learners. We value the contributions of each individual child.
Gain understanding of child’s skills in their natural environment, how they apply the knowledge in everyday exploration and use instead of in a contrived testing situation
Ability to reflect on each child’s skills and developmental growth
Increased ability to respond in ways that enable the children to be successful learners; turning the observations into effective instructional invitations
Provides differentiated instruction- clearly knowing the next steps for each child
Allows for strong relationship building- (which leads to more engaged and risk-taking learners)
Beautiful opportunities to wonder and learn about children’s thinking
Provides information on child’s approach to learning and their application of the knowledge instead of just ability to label or perform an isolated skill
Fuels our desire to learn more about the learning process
Since we know that young children learn best through active engagement- we must stand firm in our support and implementation of instructional practices that support constructing of knowledge through active experiences. We also need to develop and refine our own beliefs about young children in order to defend and protect best practices.
National Education Association for Young Children supports (based on multitude of research) a constructivist approach to teaching and learning in which young children construct their knowledge and understanding of the world through their experiences.
So the question to you is… how are you melding together the research based constructivist type approaches with the early learning standards to provide activities, questions/probes and materials that are designed to challenge children’s thinking processes and encourage them to dig deeper into their understandings (based on student interest)?
Kathy Collins and Matt Glover remind us of a critical component of reading instruction for our young learners: It’s vital that we support young children’s reading in ways that nurture healthy reading identities, that foster an attraction to books and a love of reading, and that teach them how make meaning in any text they choose, whether or not they can read the words. —Kathy Collins and Matt Glover, I Am Reading, published by Heinemann
This fostering of a love of reading to connect with others, to gather information, to hear a great story, to laugh, cry or rejoice, etc. starts when a child is born and continues throughout life.
Allison and Watson (1994) in their article, The significance of adult storybook reading styles on the development of young children’s emergent reading, support the idea of reading to infants as young as 0-3 months. They found that the earlier teachers and parents began reading to children, the higher the child’s emergent reading level is at the end of kindergarten. Bredekamp and Copple in the book, Developmentally Appropriate Practice Third Edition, published by NAEYC, share with us that reading aloud to children is a developmentally appropriate practice starting as young as infants . These practices include:
Infants: Caregivers need to remember the importance of language development through talking, singing, finger plays and reading.
Toddlers: Caregivers should read frequently to the children- both one child individually and to groups of two or three, always in close physical contact.
Preschool: Every day, teachers read aloud to children, in both small and large groups. Teachers promote children’s engagement and comprehension through strategies such as questioning and reading with expression.
Kindergarten: Every day, teacher read aloud to children. Books are accessible in a library area and other places for the students enjoyment and use. Books reflect the children in the classroom.
What are some of the ways that we can promote a love of reading in children of all ages? How can classroom libraries and cozy nooks for reading be designed to promote reading as a fun and enjoyable choice during free choice play time?
Another important aspect to consider when thinking about designing your classroom with intention is the walls.
How do you make decisions of what to put on your walls?
How do you decide the image you want to portray through your room environment?
What image of the child are you projecting through your environment?
As discussed in the last blog post regarding intentionally designed environments, it is critical that we examine the environment as a place for students and should be a reflection of them.
Patricia Tarr in the article, Consider the Walls, talks about how commercially made posters, etc. that we hang for educational purposes may actually be limiting children’s sense of who they truly are and true capabilities and stifles their imagination and creativity. She states,
“So too does the mass of commercial stereotyped images silence the actual lived experiences of those individuals learning together. An overload of commercial materials leaves little room for work created by the children—another kind of silencing.” The challenge for early childhood educators is to think beyond decorating to consider how walls can be used effectively as part of an educational environment. In Reggio Emilia the walls display documentation panels of projects that children are engaged in. These become the basis of ongoing research and dialogue between the children, teachers, and families. Panels of photos, artifacts, and text make “learning visible” to participants and to outsiders (Rinaldi 2001).”
Think carefully about what pictures, children’s work, or photos you place on the walls. Students absorb a lot from their environment; so, we want to use the space for demonstrating both the learning and the process toward the learning. When determining what you are going to place on the walls, ponder
is the item is important to your educational goals and objectives
how can it be created by the students instead of commercially or by the teacher
does it demonstrate beauty and is it aesthetically pleasing
how does the item(s) display not just the product of learning but also the process of learning
is it a part of the children’s world, something that is relevant to their life that they can touch and observe
For example: one Pre-K teacher felt it was important to have the colors displayed on her walls- so her students created the color posters which was much more meaningful to them and since it was created by them, they tended to reference and look at the posters more often than they would have if it was limited to a commercially made design. They were beautiful and much more aesthetically appealing.