Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Skills Block Begins with Star Names

Years ago after spending a week in NYC with Lucy Calkins at Teachers' College, Columbia University we brought back the idea of teaching beginning phonics to Kindergartners using the children's names.  Of course, this was not unique to the NYC schools as the idea has been around for decades.  There is nothing more important to a five year old than his own name and it is often the first letters and sounds that he learns.  As a result, we took what we learned and made it our own "Star Names" program and it begins both our phonics and phonemic awareness instruction in Skills Block and our Writers' Workshop in Kindergarten.

After we have chosen our Star Student of the day, interviewed the child, noticed the letters in the name, sung about the initial sound and listed other words that start with the same sound, we model handwriting by writing the student's name and drawing a picture of the student.  To write the name we fold down about two inches of paper from the top to use as a line and then model each letter (handwriting practice).  Next we model drawing a picture of the child, making sure to model different ways to draw, from stick figures to using shapes to just drawing freehand.  As the week goes on we begin to label the picture, using different labels each day.  In the beginning we might draw arrows and label hands and legs and hair and then we might begin to use words such as friend or princess or baseball player, making sure to sound out each word and write the letters that we hear.  After a few days of labeling, we begin to write sentences, using the same strategy of listening for  the sounds of any words that we don't know how to spell.  By the time we have spent 36 days of giving each child in the class a chance to be the Star Student of the Day, we have modeled writing several sentences, using some of the sight words we are learning, using capitals for student's names and beginning sentences, and using punctuation at the end of sentences.  And... the Writers' Workshop is well on it's way.

One of the things most interesting about kindergartners is that they come on the first day with many different levels and skills.  I thought you might find it interesting to look at a few of their first drawings and writings.
This student, who did not go to preschool, is just beginning to draw a circle for a head on his picture of Robert and is just beginning to make letters, even though the S is not in the Star Student's name. He does not yet write his name.

This student copies the name as seen on the left side of the paper and draws a picture of Robert.  While he doesn't label his picture with words, he draws an elaborate picture with lots of details and can tell an elaborate story about Robert!
This child copies the word "Robert" that is modeled for the class and then with the help of the teacher, writes some letters for his thought, "Robert is my friend."
Still another child writes "Robert."  Then she writes the sounds she hears in "friend" and finally writes a sentence at the bottom of the picture, "Robert is my friend."
And then finally, one student copies the name, "Robert," draws a picture of Robert with two friends and writes, without assistance, her own original sentence with each word spelled correctly!

All of these are appropriate levels for children entering Kindergarten!  And the activities of "Star Names" give students the ability to complete the activity at the level where they are.

1 comment:

Mrs. Lauren Skipper said...

Star names has always been one of my favorite kindergarten things! What a range of work you have! The last two really show how students are coming to kindergarten with so much more literacy experience. I would have been shocked to have that work in the first week of kindergarten 10 years ago. Now my VPK child's work looks like the example with phonetic spelling. This is a great example of how the kindergarten curriculum is multi-level because each of these students came away with something from this lesson.