Who’s Missing? A Closer Look At Reading.

Yesterday, I dropped my car off at the mechanic in the morning to get the car ready for winter (and hopefully not too much winter parking 🙂 ), so my wonderful teaching partner, Paula, drove me back at the end of the day to pick it up. Our drive to the shop provided plenty of opportunities to chat and reflect. It was during this time, that we got on the topic of reading and writing. This year, our Board has a goal of having “all children reading by Grade 1.” As part of this goal, the Board has hired numerous reading specialists that work with the Kindergarten and Grade 1 educators at all of the schools. Reading has definitely become a huge topic of discussion at school, especially in the primary division.

As we were driving, and later as we were parked, Paula and I spoke about this focus. She mentioned something that I hadn’t thought of before: the addition of these reading specialists have all of us far more aware of — and vocal about — the reading and writing that we’re doing in the classroom. Does this mean that we were not focusing on these areas before? Not necessarily … but now they’re definitely at the forefront of our learning. 

This can be a great thing! I think of our students this year, and their huge interest in letters, sounds, and words. This interest actually began in the forest, with finding some letter sticks. Now every day, children are searching for these letters. They’re stopping in the middle of play — and sometimes even in the middle of tag games — to comment on letters that they find. They’re thinking critically about these letters, and how making changes to part of one — or even seeing the letter from a different perspective — can lead to the creation or identification of new letters. This week, one student noticed that she can use her body, in addition to sticks, to make letters. Then another child moved from focusing on individual letters to combining letters and writing (and reading) words. This is absolutely amazing to see … and I love that these investigations are child-led. Paula and I support the learning through the questions we ask and the opportunities we provide to extend this interest, but the kids are the ones that are truly excited about this kind of reading!

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I think that our Board focus on reading makes this outside interest even more wonderful! Maybe it even helped us extend it more than we would have without this focus. We may have heard the initial comment about “finding a letter,” but we wouldn’t have gotten so excited about it, and helped our students become equally excited. Now they’re the ones driving this investigation, and we all benefit from this interest that links with the Board goal. This I love!

But then the other day, I had a conversation that reminded me that we cannot lose sight of children and their developmental levels. We have a student teacher that comes into our class a couple of days a week. When she was in the other morning, she spoke to me about one of the children, and mentioned how she tried to extend some of his learning. When she pushed for some writing that included the use of letter-sounds, he struggled. He was very reluctant to engage, and ultimately, wandered off. She asked me what she should do, and I mentioned that maybe this push was beyond his “teachable level.” He’s still really young. He’s just starting to hold a pen, pencil, and marker. He identifies many letters of the alphabet, but is still developing his fine motor skills, which will ultimately help him with writing. He may not be ready for the pencil/paper work that she was trying to do with him, and is actually still developing his phonological awareness skills and hearing sounds in words. So play word games with him orally. Create letters out of different items that matter to him — from Lego to sticks to blocks — and even investigate letters in books while reading together. Use beads, playdough, plasticine, and paint to develop fine motor skills, but be responsive to him and insert this learning when he’s receptive to it. Maybe now isn’t the time. 

And this was the reminder for me that while we focus on letters, sounds, reading, and writing, that we do so with children at the forefront of our decisions: matching the task to the child. Paula and I speak a lot about “taking the child’s lead,” and does this also hold true for reading? This is what we’re doing when we extend the letter learning that’s happening outside in the forest, and this is also what we’re doing, when we extend the writing interest that’s happening in the classroom.

Oral language is a key component of reading and writing, and it’s an important part of the literacy expectations in the Kindergarten Program Document. Our conversation in the car yesterday reminded me that I also want to focus more on the oral language opportunities that are happening in the classroom. I love documenting the authentic reading and writing that’s happening through play, but who’s missing in this documentation? Would a look at oral language help capture the learning of these other students, and what we can do to extend their learning. I’m becoming even more aware of what I see, hear, and document in the classroom, and what I don’t. I’m wondering if I need to make some changes. What do you think, and what do you do? Reading definitely matters, but when we watch those children that aren’t quite there yet, do we become even more aware of what we need to do to get them there? I think this car conversation helped me become attuned to some missing pieces.


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