Developing Literacy Skills for Preschool, Prekindergarten, and Kindergarten
Research has revealed that the single most important activity in early childhood for building understandings and skills essential for reading success is reading aloud to children (Wells 1985; Bus, Van Ijzendoorn, & Pellegrini 1995). Our Beginnings at MFS teachers read to children daily and actively engage children in each story read by asking predictive and analytic questions to build children’s vocabulary and comprehension of stories. Children talk about the pictures, retell the story, discuss their favorite actions, and request multiple readings. It is the talk that surrounds the reading that gives it power, helping children to bridge what is in the story with their own lives and helping to foster their love of literature.
A central goal in our reading program during these early years is to develop children’s concepts about print. Teachers use a variety of high-quality texts to help children distinguish many print features, including the fact that print (rather than pictures) carries the meaning of the story, that the strings of letters between spaces are words and in print correspond to an oral version, and that reading progresses from left to right and top to bottom.
Mixed Strategies for Reading Instruction and Practice
Through a workshop approach to reading beginning in Kindergarten, our teachers model real reading behaviors and provide instruction on how to read strategically. Children learn through shared reading experiences, teacher directed lessons, small group guided reading experiences, and partner and individual reading. Over time, students feel confident and excited to pick up a book, knowing they have plenty of tools to read and construct meaning from a text.
Books chosen by the teacher and shared with the class expose children to a variety of genre of children’s literature (such as folk tales, historical fiction, poems, plays, biographies). These whole-class experiences offer an opportunity to teach comprehension skills through discussions centering on story elements, vocabulary, making inferences, using prior knowledge, summarizing, and asking questions. In addition to whole-class instruction, small guided reading groups are used by the teacher to focus on specific reading strategies or fluency practice. Each group’s lesson is tailor-fit to meet the needs of those students.
After shared reading experiences and strategy instruction, students practice reading strategies independently with books of their own interest and on their level. For students to truly become proficient, sophisticated readers, they must be given time to read in books that are a perfect fit. This is a time of active reading, when students use the strategies taught during mini-lessons. Each student spends time deeply exploring texts and connecting them to their own lives and the world around them.
During independent reading time the teacher conferences with individuals and may pull small groups to practice a reading strategy and/or to assess student progress. During these conferences the teacher assesses each child. The teacher learns about students’ reading interests, observes strategies used while reading, listens for fluency, and assesses comprehension. Through these conferences the teacher determines teaching points for future mini-lessons.
Conveying Ideas and Knowledge through Writing
The Beginnings at MFS writing curriculum teaches students to be proficient writers for a number of purposes. Whether students want to tell a story about something important that happened to them, write a letter, make a list, record an observation, or report facts learned from research, students learn to become fluent writers that convey meaning through writing.
Our Beginnings teachers help children learn the functions of writing. It is important for children to understand that writing is a way of sharing one’s ideas and knowledge; it is a method of personal communication and conveys a message that can be read at a later time. Each early childhood classroom environment provides meaningful writing opportunities daily. These opportunities may include having children sign in each day, providing an observation journal for each student in the science area, or having writing materials be part of the “props” in the dramatic play area. This can include pads for making shopping lists, index cards for writing recipes, or large paper for making posters advertising a class play. Beginnings teachers ask children to dictate or write stories to go with their artwork. They provide alphabet letters (for example, charts, magnets, books) as reference tools and display them where children can easily see or reach them.
Beginning in Kindergarten, through writing workshops, students spend time daily writing about things that interest them. Students learn about and experiment with a variety of genres including opinion/argument writing, narrative writing, and information writing. Students learn the craft of writing through practice, conferring, and studying the craft of other authors. The ultimate goal of a writing workshop is to empower students with the skills and the understanding of purposes of writing that allows them to develop as life-long writers. The writing workshop includes a lesson, a work time with conferring and a sharing time.
Collaboration with peers and teacher is inherent in this model. Process writing focuses primarily on what children want to communicate. Writing Workshop differs from other forms of writing instruction because students are writing individual stories based on their own experiences. Students are also writing at their own ability level. Students are encouraged to use the strategies that we have learned to write at “their personal best.” That level is different for every student. As students work independently, the teacher is conferring with authors individually or in small groups to address the needs and strengths of the students.
Incorporated within these units of study, we constantly reinforce the Traits of Good Writing: ideas, organization, word choice, sentence fluency, voice, and conventions. Students study the works of published writers as well as examine student writing as they learn about the format of each genre as well as the conventions that make writing strong.
Foundation for 15-year Literacy Program
The literacy curriculum in Beginnings is the foundation on which a 15-year reading and writing curriculum is built at Moorestown Friends School, advancing to AP English courses in the Upper School. Our students’ average Critical Reading SAT score typically ranges between 608-630 and average Writing SAT score typically ranges between 616-628, always the highest in South Jersey by a significant margin.