I wrote a letter yesterday to inform my parents of their student’s progress in language skills. There are only five that really matter right now:
1. Recognize all letters of the alphabet.
2. Know all letter sounds, including long/short (a,e,I,o,u). We are beginning to work on soft/hard (g,c) sounds.
3. Blend sounds to read and write words.
4. Listen to and interpret combinations of sounds in order to spell. r-a-t = rat
5. Write words in a logical order to form sentences.
Of course my students must also know about fifty common words “by sight” without going through the procedure of sounding them out. But that is an ongoing process and most will know over 100 before the end of the year. We work on at least ten per day, and some stay on our chart for weeks at a time if necessary. The “w” words- who, what, when, where, why- are often the most difficult to differentiate, followed by “to, too, two, there, they, the, that, this”.
Most of my students are quite proficient in skills 1-3. The sounds of w, y, u, and g are the last ones to be learned with confidence. The sounds of i and e are the most difficult ones for my “Okie” kids to hear correctly because of regional language idiosyncrasies. If they grow up hearing “I’m fixin’ to git me a pin to write with”, that’s what they will most likely also read and write. And as someone who grew up in another state I have also learned to be a bit tolerant of “he done it”, “me and him” and other phrases commonly used by children and adults in our area. You fight the battles you can win.
Spelling is still giving some of my students a great deal of difficulty. I should mention for those unfamiliar with kindergarten spelling that we do not memorize word lists. Instead, I sound out consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words such as hog, cat, pop, man, ten, etc. and my students write down the sounds they hear. Most of my students can now spell almost anything I sound out and are merely expanding their skills to include such things as k vs. c, and s vs. soft c. Such details will drive some of them crazy for the rest of their lives and others will have a great memory for the peculiarities of our language. I used to have a high school classmate who routinely turned around to ask me to spell words like whether, separate, desperate, and specific, because she simply could not remember them and I could. Spelling is a memory function based on our understanding of a few basic rules and a whole LOT of exceptions to those rules.
That brings us to number 5- writing a sentence- the nemesis of kindergarten students everywhere. We begin this lesson in August when I ask students to answer questions in complete sentences. The automatic answer to anything is one or two words at most, so we spend weeks practicing the following procedure:
“What is your favorite food?”
“My favorite food is pizza.”
Then we advance to talking about a photo. I give each child a photo of a familiar object or animal and they tell me something about it. During this process my goal is to change their speech from “It’s yellow.” to “The bird is yellow.”
We read and copy sentences written on the board. We talk about different ways to say things. We read and copy sentences from our story books. Then I start reading and writing sentences with key words left out that they must supply. I have a whole series of readers that tell a story emphasizing four specific words. At the end of each book there are ten sentences with blanks and students must supply the words to finish the sentences. We read one of these each day during our reading hour and the children love to respond to them.
At this time in the year we are writing sentences using a word bank, sight word chart, and basic phonics skills. Here is yesterday’s assignment:
My pet is a ______.
_____ can _______.
____ is __________. (color or size)
I like my _______.
Word bank: run, jump, play, eat, he, she
My students can all spell dog, cat, or fish. I wrote horse and hamster on post-it notes for two children. They can write big. Little is one of our sight words. Color words are on their desk tags. I explained that the first blank in sentences #2 and #3 was for he or she since I did not know what their pet was. Some filled in the last blank with the animal type, others wrote pet. One child asked me how to spell bark for sentence two. All in all it was a successful assignment and only three children were unable to complete it.
The next four weeks will be more of the same. We will continue to learn something new, review what we know, learn something new, review what we know. Everything in kindergarten is woven tightly together. That’s why it has been so stressful for me to have four to six children absent each day since we returned from holiday break. Yesterday was our first day to have perfect attendance again. Now we can resume our regular pacing and hopefully stay on task.