I’ve been on the sidelines of chats lately, but still checking in on what’s being questioned, wondered and said. So many supportive educators sharing their thoughts and ideas to advocate what’s best for their students. I have spent time with my three grandchildren, laughed with them and watched them as they each tackled homework in their own way. I listened to them practice piano, played board games with them and have gone for walks with them. I have enjoyed spending time with them as they shared with me their reading and writings. Each of them came to this place in different ways and times. The reader and writer in me smiles and rejoices in private. This is their journey and I’m there when they need me or when they want to share. And now I once again reflect and think about the different ways children get to the reading and writing.
Then I wonder. Am I being a rebel without a cause or am I rebelling from hindsight and a longing for what was and could be?
I think of a picture book written in a foreign language and wonder if I could read it. I ask myself if that’s what our kinders might be thinking when we put a book in their hands and tell them it’s reading time. Could I read the pictures? Could I figure out any familiar (foreign) words? Could I retell the story if I’d heard (foreign langauge) it before? We look at this with The Daily5 . I know this has been used (and probably successfully, for the most part) with ELL (English Language Learners), but I wonder about it for the young kindergarten child. The three ways certainly empowers the beginning reader to recognize they can “read”!
Then the process becomes a little muddled, for me, as we group students in leveled readers; following programs that may not be what’s best for our particular students at this time. Have we ever asked an ELL kinder student what books with English text (or in truth any language) looks like to them? Do we wonder where their struggles hinder or what competencies help in their reading journey? Do we ask the same question of our English speaking students or do we just assume this it the right way and the best way? Is early reading an imperative above all? I question the impact on social-emotional fortitude if success does not come as easily for some, as it does for others. How quickly do they identify each other as readers and writers?
Then the writing program takes shape and we follow a program before some kinders can hold a pencil, write their letters or have many phonetic skills. Their writing is guided based on a formula of units to follow. Do kinders need to know how to write How To books? What happened to the excitement of labeling their pictures? What happened to the squiggles that the kinders wrote and then read to tell us their story? Did that have to be left behind when they entered kindergarten? Were they ready to let go of their perceived success to discover the adult expectations so differed from their reality? Where are the writings based on topics of their interest or as a way to share a unit of study or a wonder they may have? These that I call “authentic” reasons to write; to write from the heart. Do we give them time? Time to feel okay about labeling their picture and extending their writings independently, when they’re ready and claim ownership of their ideas and work!
When it doesn’t feel right to you as their teacher then it probably isn’t right for them. I have seen the reading and writing programs at work. I have taught them, and they are successful for many children, but at what price? What’s left behind and what is lost? My hope is not our young students’ enthusiasm for learning, their compassion and empathy. Can we bend the rules? I think the structure and order is so enticing for teachers. Knowing what comes next, what language to use makes teaching content easier and smoother. But we need to see the impact on the children we teach. Sometimes sitting with the kindergartener as they draw or read a book saying, “Tell me your story we’ll write it together. Tell me your story we’ll read it together. There’s no rush, we’ll get there together.
I took this block building picture while subbing in a kindergarten class. New buildings are going up and the kinders have seen the process throughout the year. It was a special day with the “final beam,” going up. The kinders have been observing their environment, to making sense of the process and then they built and drew what they saw. This natural process, as I see it, would be the authentic writing and reading that could follow so smoothly. For those kinders who were excited about this process they could make signs, discuss what was happening as they build and then in what ever way they were ready, to write a “How To” book about the “final beam!”
Where are you in the reading and writing process with your young students? Do you follow a program? If yes, do you need to modify it? What support systems do you have in place to implement changes?