This week our kindergartens begin a district directed 9 week “crash course” on the alphabet. In 2010, Pearson and Hiebert unleashed their research that two-thirds of incoming kindergarteners already knew the names of the letters of the alphabet and over one-third of them knew the corresponding sounds for the majority of the consonants. The children who didn’t know the letter names and sounds at this early stage were also the children destined for reading struggles. In many of the schools in our district, the children are coming from strong pre-school programs and even more children already know letters and sounds. But, there are some who don’t. And most often, it is because no one has taught them the letters and sounds, not because they have difficulty learning them. So, our kindergartens start off with a crash course on letters and sounds. For the huge percentage of children incoming with this information securely under their belts, this is a review and familiar ground on which to start kindergarten. For those who are shaky with letter names and sounds, it is an opportunity to level the playing field. And at the end of the crash course, the few children who truly have difficulty learning letter names and sounds are clearly evident to the teachers and to the support staff. It is a beautiful way to start off the RTI process in many ways.
But what about those children who DO know the letters and the sounds? How can we make this a “plus-1″ for them? And how can we connect this to the workshop and the powerful reading lives that we want our students to be building?
As my kindergarten colleagues and I have been talking and thinking about this, we’ve been making lists of the other core skills that we have on our radar screens: left to right, return sweep, one-to-one match, beginning sight words, early cross-checking and the ever-popular — looking at print not just pictures. Then we began creating books to go with the letters from our crash course in the alphabet. Books that could support us in the workshop as our students practiced those important letter sounds along with those other core skills. We chose the simple sight word “a” to begin. We’ll move to “the” shortly. And we made books using clip-art to support the letters. A quick trip to the photocopier, some snazzy stapling and we had books.
I’ve attached our first three (all using just the sight word “a”) here for you. If you go back to this post, you’ll find some earlier iterations of this this idea that you can print as well.