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Posts Tagged ‘reading in kindergarten’

literacy in action

There are proposed new standards for public education in Alaska, and the state board of education is asking for comments. The standards for kindergarten (this is what every child leaving kindergarten should be able to do) include:

Read emergentreader texts with purpose and understanding.

Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

a. Capitalize the first word in a sentence and the pronoun.

b. Recognize and name end punctuation.

c. Write a letter or letters for most consonant and shortvowel sounds (phonemes).

d. Spell simple words phonetically, drawing on knowledge of soundletter relationships.

(There’s a typo in 2a, they left off the word “I”)

Why not. The only problem is that, no matter how much you practice and drill in kindergarten, or before, kids learn to read around age 6, with some learning younger, and some later. The current standards don’t explicitly say that children should read and write, but requires they have all the tools for reading – being able to sound out words, and knowing common words by sight. They also require fluency by the end of first grade.

Literacy rates in the United States are not as high as in many other countries, and many school children can’t read well or at all. It’s accepted that kids should be able to read by third grade or it’s unlikely to happen.

Somehow, the need to have kids reading by third grade has led in recent years to the push to have children reading in kindergarten (or before). In fact, countries with high literacy rates begin later than we do.

Most children are ready to read in kindergarten, but many children are not. The answer? Spend more time trying to teach them to read in kindergarten. The result in kindergarten and first grade is that a lot of the time in class is spent practicing reading and writing. For many kids this is torture – or worse: when you expect a child to do something they can’t – again and again and again – what does it do to their motivation?

Able, normal children are labeled “behind” when they can’t read in kindergarten.

They now have “intervention” for children who are not reading in kindergarten, pulling them out of class for even MORE practice reading and writing.

Not surprisingly, this hasn’t improved literacy. My daughter’s second grade teacher found that many of her students did not know what sounds different letters stood for, and this year they have implemented a whole-school reading remediation program (for grades 2-5).

Since listening and speaking are the foundation of reading (even if you know what sounds letters stand for, you can’t read a word you don’t know) I think the emphasis in kindergarten should be on listening and speaking, and on learning and exploring all that good stuff about our world that gives us vocabulary, concepts, curiosity, and the satisfaction of learning, step by step. Too much emphasis on the mechanics of reading at this age is simply counterproductive.

Not that they shouldn’t teach reading and writing – just that it should be balanced with listening, creative activities, and learning in other areas, and each child should move along at his or her own pace.

We want kids to learn to read and to enjoy reading. We know a lot about how to do that – teach them the mechanics step by step, and surround them with interesting books.

Learning builds confidence. There is pleasure in mastering any skill, even when it’s hard, maybe especially when it’s hard, since it’s even more satisfying. But, it has to be possible. Each task must build on the foundation the child already has. Learning to read is an especially magical thing, if you’ve ever had that experience of being with a child when it suddenly clicks. Our goal should be to make learning to read a positive experience.

Grade level standards is a blunt tool, which has had an enormous effect on what goes on in the kindergarten classroom. By insisting that children be reading by the end of kindergarten, the standards make it harder to teach some children to read and to enjoy reading. Children who are not ready to read spend their day practicing the skills, which without understanding (being able to make sense of written words), is tedious and dispiriting.

Rather than attempting to improve literacy through kindergarten grade level standards, perhaps the state board of education could compile and make available best practices and tips from effective teachers, and encourage school visits by authors and artists-in-residence who can motivate children to read and write.

Adding “rigor” to reading and writing standards in kindergarten is not the way to go.

To comment on the Alaska draft standards, go to http://www.eed.state.ak.us/standfaqs.html

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