Most of what I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Robert Fulghum When Friedrich Frobel created the institution of kindergarten in the early 1800’s, he envisioned a “garden of children” growing like flowers and plants. Frobel encouraged the use of crafts, stories, and dramatic play to teach children. The kindergarten day would begin with songs. The day would continue with children playing with toys, using their own curiosity to acquire cognitive skills.
Today’s kindergarten has replaced playing and the social aspect of kindergarten, with a strong focus on advanced academic skills. With the expectation that kindergarten students will leave kindergarten reading, it is essential to identify the best practice strategies for teaching kindergarten and enhancing early literacy development. A teacher’s role in literacy development is first and foremost, to promote a love of reading. Teachers model their love of reading by surrounding students with books and reading aloud. Students delight as favorite stories are read and reread, enjoying the rhyme, rhythm, and word play within the text. Giving student access to high interest reading materials is key to hooking children into seeing the pleasure of reading. The classroom environment should be “print rich” which is achieved by labeling the classroom, adding student names, posting a daily schedule, and creating a classroom message board. The literacy focused classroom environment encourages constant interactions with books and print.
A key factor in reading success is a student’s ability to recognize and work with the sounds of spoken language or phonological awareness. A child’s level of phonemic awareness is the strongest single determinant of the success he or she will experience in learning to read. (Adams, 1990; Stanovich, 1986). Phonological awareness includes skills such as rhyming, alliteration, blending sounds into words, identifying initial/medial/ending sounds in words, and counting syllables in words. Developmentally appropriate classroom strategies to develop phonological awareness include interactive storybook reading plus interactive experiences with language using poems, nursery rhymes, and songs. Teachers should also include many interactions with rhyming books rhyming games, and opportunities for coming up with silly rhyming words in word play.
Alphabetic knowledge, specifically naming letters, is an important component of early literacy. “The best predicator of student’s year-end reading achievement was the ability to recognize and name upper and lowercase letters.” (Adams, 1990, p.43). Paulson (2017) concurred that alphabet knowledge in preschool and kindergarten is the most powerful predictor of later literacy learning. Letter/ sound knowledge and the ability to make meaningful associations is a key component of alphabetic knowledge. Alphabet knowledge is best taught in a print-rich environment. Students should have multiple opportunities for multi-sensory and manipulative letter interaction, in a variety of play settings. There are six alphabet letter learning orders for teaching letter names and sounds. (Justice, Pence, Bowles, & Wiggins, 2006). The first and a very effective learning order is the own-name effect, which states that students learn the letters in their name more easily and quickly than others. Learning a “letter-a-day” has been proven to be a more effective way to teach letter name mastery as compared to the traditional “letter-of-the-week” pacing. (Jones and Reutzel, 2012).
Systematic phonics instruction had the greatest impact on student reading success. This type of instruction requires the teacher to provide instruction following a clear plan or program, rather than using random or responsive opportunities for phonics instruction. The practice of invented spelling, where student write words based on their sounds, is also viewed as a meaningful task to assist student with phonics knowledge. Most readers only require phonics instruction for a relatively short period of time until they can easily decode words, which for the average learner equates to about three years. (Torgesen et al, 1999). Proficient readers benefit from intermitt phonics review, while struggling readers may require a longer time frame for phonics instruction.
Research indicates that another key indicator for reading success is the development of phonemic awareness, which is the awareness of sounds, not letters. (Torgesen & Mathes, 2000). Phonemic awareness involves the hearing, thinking, and manipulation of sounds within words. Phonemic awareness is best taught in the early grades of elementary school, particularly kindergarten and first grade. The development higher level skills of segmenting and blending provide students with the best advantage for reading success. The use of simple instruction (vs complex instruction) of phonemic awareness in both large and small group settings for fifteen minutes daily provided adequate instruction for reading success. Teaching phonemic awareness instruction through songs and games has been proven to be motivational to young learners. (Adams, Foorman, Lundber, & Beeler, 1997). According to the National Reading Panel, the combination of letter instruction and phonemic awareness instruction resulted in the best learning results.
Vocabulary development, or the teaching of word meanings is essential to reading comprehension. The question has been raised if vocabulary instruction is necessary to support students reading skills. It is widely known that that students from low-income homes hear half as much language as their middle-class peers. (Hart & Risley, 1995). With this knowledge in mind, vocabulary instruction is an absolute necessity, especially in schools with a high incidence of poverty. Teaching vocabulary in isolation with few or limited student connections is not impactful. According to the National Reading Panel, the explicit and implicit teaching of vocabulary has a positive impact on reading skills.
However, not all methods of vocabulary instruction impact student reading levels. Vocabulary instruction is most successful when it involves the use of personal real-life experience connections which enables students to think deeply about the newly introduced words. Translating vocabulary words through movement, actions, and pictures is also helpful with vocabulary retention, especially when implemented in groups of students working together. Connecting vocabulary words in reading, writing, listening, and talking situations allows students to increase their connections to new vocabulary words. Opportunities for ample ongoing review and repetition increases the likelihood that students will remember and use new vocabulary words. Pre-teaching new vocabulary words that are found in cross-curricular texts has been found to increase student understanding of the selection. Read-aloud books with adequate content and meaningful illustrations is another avenue for supporting vocabulary development in early literacy. The use of varied instructional methods when teaching vocabulary is necessary for vocabulary instruction to be successful.
Concept of print refers to one’s understanding of how basic print works. The development of concepts such as book handling(front/back cover/ right side up), directionality (left, right, first, last), and print concepts such as letters, words and sentences have been identified by the National Early Literacy Panel as a variable that predicts later reading proficiency. (Clay, 1972a, 2000). Children acquire concept of print awareness from environmental print and from watching people modeling various uses for print. Immersing children in concept of print structures is an ideal format to use when teaching concepts of print. Within shared reading activities, children will hear the teacher using concept of print terminology as she identifies the parts of a book such as title, covers, and spine. The teacher model’s concept of print structures by pointing to text as reading, noticing spacing and punctuation used within a text. Students develop one-to-one correspondence between spoken and written words as they chorally read shared reading text as the teacher tracks the print by pointing.
Early and emergent literacy development sets the stage for later reading development. The link between foundational skills in the areas of phonemic awareness, alphabetic knowledge, vocabulary development, and print awareness and later reading success is clear. (National Reading Panel, 2000). These foundational skills are a valuable and essential part of a successful kindergarten reading program. Literacy instruction in kindergarten is developmentally appropriate if realistic expectations are set and instruction is provided in fun and engaging manner. It is also necessary to recognize that literacy instruction is not a one-size-fits-all program. In one study it was noted that kindergarten literacy development may differ by as much as one standard deviation. (Reardon, 2013). With the possibility of a wide range of student skills teachers may see in kindergarten, it is imperative that student progress is monitored through the use of formative assessments. Based on this assessment data, teachers need to utilize flexible small instructional groups to best meet every student’s needs. All kindergarteners are ready for literacy learning that is based on an approach that identifies what they know and foster’s development of what they need to learn. Through the use of age-appropriate engaging literacy activities focused on the identified research-based skills readers need, kindergarten can continue to be the “garden of growth” that Friedrich Frobel envisioned.
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