When children enter Kindergarten, there is such a wide range of literacy knowledge crossing the threshold into the classroom. There are those children who cannot identify a letter from a number (yet) to those who know how to read and spell. The thing is, reading and writing are developmental and it is our responsibility as educators, both as teachers at school and as parents at home, to reach the child where he or she is at. Literacy skills are built like stepping stones, each depending on the foundation of the one before. You cannot reach the top unless the stepping stones below are solid. There is a developmental sequence of learning how to read and write. Follow along below in a journey of pictures to see how literacy blooms in a Reggio inspired classroom through play.
Here we have Corey and Amir taking my food order for their restaurant at the start of the school year. Corey has an understanding that writing carries meaning and represents that with scribble marks on his clipboard. When recording my order, each scribble mark was a different syllable of the food I was requesting. Learning alongside him, I then understood that he was able to break words down into syllables; that he knew marks from a pen can carry meaning on paper; and writing carries meaning that he can go back to in order to retrieve his ideas at a later time.
"I made a fox with an eye patch and a hook and pants."
Children have ideas greater than their written and oral language can express and articulate. In order to make their thoughts known to others, they need "languages" or other ways to represent these big ideas. Here we have Joel who used the art easel the first week of school to represent characters from a show he enjoys. At first, many children tend to share their representations on a surface level such as Joel did. As the children grow through their representations, so will their stories and thoughts!
"There was a girl who lived by herself. And she didn't have no one to play. And she did a pile of leaves, so she can get up high to her lost ball up there because she throw it so hard."
One morning recently, Amy sat down next to me with her drawing journal. At first, she had only drawn the girl in the middle of the page when she had told me her story (see above). I then questioned where the other elements were in her physical representation... Where was the tree in her drawing? The pile of leaves? The ball? When I brought these questions to her attention, she quickly realized they were missing in her drawing. She then went back to revise her drawing by adding these pieces to it to complete her representation of her idea.
What is beginning to happen here with Amy is the start of the growing relationship between words (both oral and eventually written) and pictures--both supporting the ideas of the children. Children are storytellers through their oral language and it is our task to use this avenue to support their written language through their illustrations, which will eventually lead to the written word in time.
"We went to Chuck E. Cheese. The pizza fell and the fox sneak inside. We try to catch it. And the pizza fell. We catch it with a lasso."
Maria shared her story during Writer's Workshop. It was clear to me that she has an understanding that stories have problems and solutions. She has strong attention to detail in her drawing from the toppings on her pizza to the Chuck E. Cheese symbol on the building. We call this degree of effort "putting love" into our plans.
I wanted to challenge Maria by offering her a bridge from her graphic representation to the written. I asked her what she deemed the most important aspect of her story. She informed me it was the fox. So I drew a line on her paper for her to begin writing the word as she stretched it out. With the help of a friend and the Word Wall, she was able to record the sounds she heard. I gained the understanding from this experience with her that we will continue to work on letters and sounds to help support her written language.
"Apples Sprinkles (this word wraps around right below)
During Playful Exploration, Amy declared that she would like to make an apple cake using the material in the sensory bin. I asked her what ingredients were needed to make her recipe. She informed me of the necessities and I then invited her to write them down.
She eagerly went to the drawing table and reached for a piece of paper and a thinking pen (this is what we call the black felt tip pens that we write with in class). She stretched out each of the words. It is evident that she had prior knowledge that "apples" contained two ps since only one can be heard within the word. When she wrote the word "sprinkles," she ran out of room after spr and wrote the remainder of the word right below it. Then sugar was recorded on the second line.
When Amy was satisfied that all the ingredients were recorded, she brought her recipe over to the sensory bin. As she was adding the ingredients into her mixing bowl for her apple cake, she would cross each item off. By having her ideas represented in the written form, this allowed her to go back and retrieve her ideas to execute her intention....to make an apple cake.
By learning alongside Amy, I now know she has a strong sense of sounds and a visual memory for remembering the spelling of words (like knowing that apple has two ps). In my opinion, the next step for Amy would be to work on return sweep of writing (knowing when there is no more room on a line, to begin the remainder of the word on the left-hand side of the page) and to start encouraging sentence writing in her stories for Writer's Workshop.
Joel was at ramps and informed me that he wanted to draw a plan for his idea. So, I invited him to go to the Drawing Table to work on representing it. In my mind, I thought he was going to draw a plan for where he wanted to play and prop up the ramps. Instead, he wrote the word "ramps" to declare a space for it. He sat there, all on his own, and stretched out the word and recorded the sounds that he heard.
This incident was a reminder for me to never to assume what a child's intent is and place my views upon him or her, but instead, allow the child to carry out his or her intentions.
Following the completion of the sign, he decided he wanted to hang it up in the designated area for ramps. He searched for the tape and explored how it worked (as the stickiness can be tricky!). He experienced some frustration on how to get two sides sticky....one for the paper and one to adhere to the desired surface. As a teacher, it is sometimes challenging to find that balance for how much time to allow children to experience new materials in order to figure it out on their own and when to intervene before frustration takes over. Joel welcomed my assistance and he then learned how to roll tape. He now has this skill for future endeavors and can now help others when the need arises.
I learned that Joel is eager for more literacy opportunities to develop his writing. On the way back to the ramp area with his sign, he pointed out another sign that a different child made for Magic Play (dramatic play area) with "Eating Place" written on it. He explained to me that sign was what inspired him to write his own for ramps. I am looking forward to the weeks to come to find times outside of Writer's Workshop and Drawing Journals to see how I can support Joel's quest for literacy development during Playful Exploration.
"I want you to come back Mrs. Roberts."
Dylan, along with a small group of children, worked with a student teacher for a few hours one week on literacy. When I broke the news to Dylan one morning that the student teacher had completed her time with us, she asked to write a note to her.
Dylan has a strong foundation of phonemic awareness and concept of word. In order for me to meet her where she was at on the literacy spectrum, I knew sentences were the next stepping stone. She shared with me what she wanted to write, and together we counted the number of words in her sentence on our fingers. We recited this sentence a few times until it became memorized. This kinesthetic strategy supports children by helping them remember their sentence. Many times, children may forget what they are writing mid way through a sentence because they are diligently focusing on numerous new literacy concepts at once-- such as new sounds, spaces, ideas, letter formation....and that can be overwhelming! Counting the words on their fingers allows them to carry on with their ideas while tackling these literacy stepping stones.
When writing becomes purposeful and meaningful, such as these incidences through play, children carry these literacy lessons easily to other writing moments and can therefore build upon them. Why you may ask.... because their minds are awake. This idea of "Awake Minds" comes from Pam Oken-Wright. Children who are allowed to create and execute their ideas learn how to problem solve, collaborate, negotiate, learn from failure...and therefore are more open to new ideas, such as literacy stepping stones. These new ideas of literacy resonate with them because in turn, they will help them make their ideas known for all to see. And this is powerful because in life, isn't that our goal, for those around us to understand our thoughts and visions?
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