As a literacy consultant, I often hear that the Iowa Core literacy expectations of a kindergartner are not “developmentally appropriate.” Although that doesn’t change the rigor the Core currently demands, times have changed. As educators of early literacy, we have to change too. As I adjusted my own practice, I realized all the things kindergartners can accomplish. I found through research and personal experience that kindergartners can take an active part in large-group, small-group, and independent literacy learning if two conditions are present. First, they need to have skills and processes modeled for them through explicit instruction and, second, they need to practice those skills and processes regularly. I know teachers often wonder, “What does that look like?” “What about my kiddos that come in with very low oral language or limited experiences with books?” “What are the other students doing when I’m working with a small group?” It can be done!
However, before any of this can happen, classroom management has to be the first priority. From the start, daily procedures and expectations need to be modeled, guided, and practiced with the expectation that students will have ownership for their behavior while they are learning. Spending a significant amount of time on this at the beginning of the year will maximize instructional opportunities and learning time later. They give students the ability to manage themselves. The kindergartners realize there is a process for everything: what do when you have a broken pencil, how to line up, how to walk to the meeting center, how to sit on the carpet, etc. All procedures and expectations have to be taught with the goal of building independence through gradually faded scaffolding.
Once the classroom management is established, teachers can focus on helping their kindergartners learn at high levels and master the skills that will support their literacy development. For example, it is important to teach kindergarteners how to manipulate sounds in words, segment and decode words, and read and write sight words. Establishing instructional routines for learning these skills will ensure students know what to expect and experience success. Below is an example of an instruction routine for teaching sight words that I used in my kindergarten classroom. The description includes guidance on how I used this routine in large groups, small groups, and for independent student practice.
Steps of the routine for introducing new sight words (or practicing sight words identified for individual students):
- Look (Look at the new word.)
- Say (Say the new word.
- Cover (Cover the new word.)
- Write (Write the new word.)
- Check (Check to make sure you wrote the new word correctly.)
- Read in a sentence (Read the new word within the sentence given.)
- Write it in a sentence (Write your own sentence using the word.)
- Anchor chart to display routine with visuals (an eye for look, lips for say, etc.)
- Routine with visuals for each student to use when they read/write independently (can be kept in book box)
- Have words and sentence phrases ready prior to teaching a whole group or small group as well as providing students independent-level practice
Things to Consider:
- Have students use the routine at home to practice words with parents.
- Not all students may be able to write their own sentences, so consider having students verbally state their sentence while you write it. Then, the student can copy the sentence.
- Differentiate the difficulty of the words students are learning so they are appropriate for each student’s ability.
Purpose & Goal:
We will be practicing how to identify, write, and read sight words within text so that we can recognize words that sometimes are not able to be decoded. This will help us become automatic and fluent readers.
Review the seven steps of the routine with sight words that students know.
Introduce new sight words
- My turn first: “Was” is one of our new words we will be learning today. Watch how I use our routine to learn and practice our new word.
Model looking at the word, saying it, covering it, writing it, checking it, reading it in a sentence and writing it in your own sentence.
- Let’s do it together: Select another sight word. Work with the students in following the steps of the routine as a large group or in a small group.
- Now it’s you turn: Select another sight word for the group, or have students use a word from their individualized lists.
Now use the word, “_____” and practice it on your own using the routine.
- Provide feedback throughout the routine to ensure they are practicing correctly.
- Provide adequate examples so they have a clear understanding of the routine.
Iowa Core Literacy expectations are high, but kindergartners can meet them. If we take the guesswork out of student learning by using explicit routines, we can allow our students to focus on the content and achieve at high levels! Kindergartners have the power to learn in large groups, small groups, and independently. As teachers, we have the opportunity to provide the structure for them to be successful.