Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Literate Kindergarten

Have you ever read that a new book is coming out and you just can't wait to read it? That's the way I felt when I read the quote below about The Literate Kindergarten by Susan L. Kempton.

"This very important book reaffirms the beauty and uniqueness of children’s developing minds and the power that is unleashed when their imaginations are nurtured. —Susan Zimmermann

If Susan Zimmermann - one of the coauthors of Mosaic of Thought -recommended this book, then it just had to be something special - a way to take the Mosaic comprehension strategies into kindergarten. WOW! I just couldn't wait. I ordered the book even before it was published! When it came in the mail I opened it excitedly and started reading it that very night. I was so-o-o-o disappointed. As she opened talking about the importance of song and language, I saw lots of familiar rituals and routines, but nothing really new or profound. Then as she went into keeping play alive and described ways to put writing into Blocks and turning Housekeeping into a Pizza Restaurant, I was reminded of a book I wrote twelve years ago. Her ideas of centers contained so many of the things that I had put into my Pre-K class years ago. I felt like I had come so far from those days when I was satisfied if a child could write a single phonetic sentence as they left Kindergarten. I was now teaching four genres of writing and teaching children comprehension strategies. Was Susan Kempton really suggesting that I take ten steps backwards? And why was anyone promoting this book? I put the book down...

As I have been reprioritizing the stack of books by my bedside over the holiday, I decided to finish the book. If I were going to say that I didn't like this book, then I needed to at least finish reading it. Beginning with Chapter 6: Write to Read, I began to see the structure of mini-lesson/ work period/ share that is familiar to me now. I saw children's writing that looked like what I am seeing in my own classroom. My engagement with this book began to change. I found ideas that I loved and could use, such as the ones below:
  • Make a word card for each child for the writing folder of sight words from the DRA 2. When the child identifies the word, punch a hole beside the word on the card and hold the child responsible for spelling it correctly. How easy is that!

  • Four strategies from Mosaic of Thought can be taught in kindergarten - activating schema, creating mental images, questioning, and inferring... and why... and how. (Loved this!)

  • Dr. Seuss's ABC book can be sung to the tune of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." The strategy that she explains with this book is one that I will be trying as we return from the Winter holiday with that very small group of my students who still don't have the letters and sounds. 

  • I loved her explanation of the difference between steady beat and rhythm and how they relate to reading. I guess I knew this at some level but her explanation made it so clear.

  • When lining up use snapping and counting backwards as a calming segue. Great technique that actually reinforces a math skill.
So, now that I have finished the book, I guess I can say that it was really worth reading. I think the beginning that was a turn-off for me was really just a reminder that these are 5 year olds. Most of the children that come to me have had good, strong pre-kindergarten experiences. Some even come in knowing their letters and sounds and how to write their names, but for those other students who do not have the opportunity of a rich literacy background, Susan Kempton's words are a warning- do not skimp on the foundation. As I reflect on that, I have been thinking about ways to build working with play dough, cutting with scissors, and building with leggos for those students that do seem to still need more fine motor development or ways to build reading and writing into our afternoon "choice" centers...

The holiday break really gives us time to think about our students and to reflect on our practice. Professional reading stimulates those thoughts. Thank you, Susan Kempton, for helping me think about my teaching...

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