I’ve written before about the difficulty of getting 15-25 students to pay attention to and follow instructions about any task, from writing a sentence to putting a puppet together. I can’t stand next to each desk and explain the directions multiple times, so students must learn to focus on my words, process what I’ve asked them to do, ask questions if they don’t understand, and then stay focused until the task is complete. I try to make their instructions simple and obvious. I gather them on the rug for more complicated project instructions so they are away from the temptations of their desks and other papers. I demonstrate. I leave a sample on the board that they are free to look at or even take to their desk for comparison and confirmation if necessary. I try to think of and circumvent any major mistakes they might make, but somehow, someone still manages to surprise me.
I watch students as they complete group work during reading and writing, but I don’t stand around and observe while they are attending to their independent daily work in math, phonics, and projects. During that time I work with individual students at my desk on testing, tutoring, and reading. So I often don’t see mistakes made by students until they turn in their papers for my review and correction.
I should backtrack a bit to state that one of the most obvious problems I’ve observed in my multiple years in kindergarten is that my students are little “busy bodies” always trying to monitor and mind the business of their classmates. You would think that by December they would be accustomed to my daily testing and tutoring, but just yesterday one of them was completely turned around in his seat watching me test his best buddy. This need to know what everyone else is doing totally distracts some students from their own work. They also lack the confidence to do what they think is correct if their neighbor is doing a task differently.
Another problem is that many children are easily distracted by any and all changes in the room. Yesterday I hung up a shiny plastic Christmas tree decoration in my room. It’s hanging on a piece of fishing wire from the ceiling. There are five wires hanging on that side of the room and I change the decorations seasonally, so the kids are pretty used to something being there. However, one of my students spent ten minutes looking at it, talking to it, and definitely NOT working.
Also yesterday, when we started our group writing paper about hibernating bears one of my boys started squealing "Piggy, piggy, piggy" and making strange faces. It was quite obvious that he was not listening to me, did not know we were beginning our writing task, and was not mentally in the classroom with us.
Earlier in the week I asked my students to write ten "R" words on their papers, using any resource in the room (books, charts, desk tags, etc.) This is an assignment we have done before with other letters, we’ve done in group, and they have done as individuals. There are at least twenty words around the room that begin with any particular letter of the week since we always have a letter poem and weekly letter chart available. Yet, one of my girls wrote "name, name, name, name..." twenty times, because that was the first thing she saw on her paper!
We have been learning about “word families” (rhyming words) since the first week of school. We have focused primarily on words with the same endings, although during story time we have also examined some words that end with the same sound, but not the same letters. For testing purposes I ask my students to write six rhyming words. Later I ask them individually to tell me six rhyming words. The writing test is given as a group task. And of course for this age level I say one word, write it on the board, say it again, and ask them to write a word that rhymes with it. During this week’s test, one of my students, who sits on the front row with very little peer distraction, totally ignored me, looked at the chart on the opposite wall, and wrote out all ten of our sight words!
In connection with that same skill, last week I gave my students a "word families" paper last with _an, _an, _an, _op, _op, _op, etc. on it- total of four sets of families that we are very, very familiar with and have written on graphic organizers, spelling tests, and numerous other papers. One of my students filled in the blanks with A, B, C, D, E, F, G.....
I’ve told you before that teaching kindergarten is challenging. I’ve told you that this is the foundation for the rest of a child’s education. This is the year when children become students by learning to really listen, not just with their ears, but with their minds. And by learning to process what they hear and do what they are told. For some it is just a continuation of their experiences at home. For others it is a totally foreign concept.
BTW- Before I get hate mail from teachers who still believe that students can learn all of their CC standards in home center, let me assure you that yes, in addition to paper tasks my students also paint, play with playdough, talk to each other, go to recess, sing, and build with blocks.