Thursday, July 13, 2017

Are we UNINTENTIONALLY confusing our learners with the materials we use to teach the alphabet?

This past fall, I decided to go back to the classroom after having been a literacy coach and reading specialist for the past 6 years. I was ready to re-ground myself where it matters the classroom. What I walked into was quite shocking.  When did the overuse of programs become the norm and common sense went out the window?  I know that's a pretty bold statement and I am not blaming anyone.  We are all doing the very best we can. Maybe our administrators and school leaders are so busy with everything else that somehow we got lost along the way? 

In the classroom I was moving into, I found boxes and boxes of different curriculum packages and at least four different alphabet charts! On one of these alphabet charts,  Bb was shown with a picture of balloons, another used a picture of a bat, and another used a picture of a bear. Do you see how this idea can be very confusing for a child taking on letters and sounds! To adults, this would seem attractive, colorful, even helpful. Unfortunately, to a child, it is confusing. We are already expecting children to understand that more than one word or picture can start with Bb. Many may not even realize what a Bb is, yet all of these symbols stand for it. Rather than trying to learn 26 letters and sounds, this creates over 100 different letter/sound relationships!  This just felt crazy to me! 

While cleaning out these piles of charts and resources I began thinking about how often times we complain about the amount of assessment we have to do. I agree. There is a TON, but when we set up our classroom with SEVERAL different ABC charts/wall cards, we are already setting our students up for testing, rather than teaching. I haven't even taught my students for one minute and I was already expecting them to transfer knowledge of letters from one situation to another. This transfer of knowledge can’t be taught first. There’s not enough knowledge to transfer! We must first teach and solidify letter knowledge to build a strong foundation of understanding. Then we can transfer our knowledge to other situations. 

There must be a better way to go about introducing letters and sounds to child, right? Well, I assumed there was so I began looking. And looking. And looking. Guess what?  There's really just a lot of ok stuff out there that is great in isolation, but is overwhelming and confusing when used together. So what is a new kindergarten teacher to do?  She makes her own resource and then shares it with teachers all around the world! :) Together we are going to help our students learn about letters easily. Not in a confusing and overwhelming way. 

With this new way of thinking, we are going to teach our students one picture that stands for each letter of the alphabet. We will start slow to go fast later.  All of the resources will match each other.  The wall cards will match the handwriting book.  The handwriting book will match the practice page.  The practice pages will match the playdough mats.  Everything will work together rather than against each other. I feel like this approach really makes sense? Don't you?  What do you think? 

This past year, I tried this approach with my kindergarten students.  Here's what I learned:  When teaching is clear, explicit, and easy to learn, kids learn. Almost all of my students knew all of their letters, sounds, and corresponding picture by the end of October.  We started school in September. I was shocked at how quickly this learning took place. By December, most of my students were reading at a Fountas and Pinnell Level C. All except for one were at end-of-the-year benchmark by March. I would love to say these successes were all because of me, but that's not true. It was good teaching, but it was also using materials that made sense, were engaging, and helped kids to take on the information easily.  If you're intrigued, please email me or check out the product here:  ABCs as EASY as 123


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