As they enter the classroom, wide-eyed, huge smiles the size of watermelon slices, each footstep pulsing enthusiasm, your first day leading the Kindergarten adventure begins. Their appearance, actions, and words seem so similar as they take their places around the room. Not so! Emergent readers, who recognize less than half of the alphabet or in a few cases none of the alphabet letters, are scanning the room. The Beginning Readers are pointing to many of the alphabet letters, saying some of their sounds, and reading a few sight words. A scattering of Fledgling Readers are grabbing a book to demonstrate their quick recognition of numerous sight words and their knowledge of decoding and comprehension strategies. Did I mention a parent just stated that their child is reading chapter books?
At the beginning of this school year, an opportunity to work with an experienced teacher, recently transferred to a Kindergarten position, was given to me. She was eager to implement small group instruction into her daily literacy block, and my job was to create and model lessons including whole group and small group instructional activities over the next four days. So I began by assessing letter recognition, matching upper and lower case letters, and letter sounds to determine student strengths. Once the data was analyzed the students were placed into five flexible groups of 3-5 students. Next, it was time to develop the instructional plans. Some students would learn to track print and the developing concept of word, as well as alphabet recognition and production. Other students would work on phonemic awareness by sorting picture cards by beginning sound and introduced sight words. Another group of students would work on consonant-vowel-consonant patterns in word families. A reading passage that best approximates a student’s reading level and running record would be given to a few students displaying mastery of the tested skills. WAIT, I CAN’T INTRODUCE WORD FAMILIES OR THE SIGHT WORDS, UNLESS THEY ARE INTRODUCED IN THE BASAL READER, UNTIL JANUARY! I CAN ONLY INTRODUCE TWO LETTERS AND THEIR SOUNDS EACH WEEK.
Teachers have a curriculum map or guideline which provides a framework for continuity and meeting grade level expectations. It is important to have a curriculum plan, but we must also realize that it’s difficult to pigeon hole students into a one size fits all instructional plan and meet their needs. How can we hold kids to the same standard when they are not all the same? That’s why it is so important to include ongoing assessments, individual student goals, and differentiated small group instruction based on data. Observe where the child is and adjust the curriculum accordingly. Are there one, two, or more students whom might benefit from a different plan of instruction?
What is the instructional solution for Emergent, Fledgling, and Beginning Readers? Make a sandwich! Instead of preparing your sandwich with a slice of curriculum, the Kindergarten students in the middle, and a slice of “this is the way we always do it”, try bringing something different to your plate. Here’s a thought. If you are required to follow a basal text, be selective and build your lesson focused on the reading strategies your students need… not so centered on a theme. Pick and choose rather than including everything suggested. It is possible that the district has not adopted a new reading series for years due to cost. The series selected by a committee was one company for all grade levels-Kindergarten, primary, and intermediate grades. Kindergarten was not the only priority. Your reading series may not include Common Core Standards. Once you know your focus, seek outside materials to teach the focus lesson. Start building your sandwich using the curriculum guidelines, basal smorgasbord, and additional resources for condiments for your whole group lesson as your bottom slice of bread. Next add the special main ingredient, the diverse group of Emergent, Fledgling, and Beginning Readers in your classroom. Finally, a top slice of small group and individual instructional lessons designed to meet goals determined by observation and collected data.
What about the Kindergarten classroom I visited? We spiced up their sandwiches by following the schedule for the Daily 5 and using the Cafe menu for reading strategies. The children are flourishing as they munch away on their learning sandwiches. So what happens now? Some of the students have mastered all of the listed expectations for Kindergarten. Can you guess the answer?