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Letter identification and letter-sound knowledge

  • 1.  Letter identification and letter-sound knowledge

    Posted 02-23-2018 11:27 AM
    Hello. I have worked with the 4/5 year old age group the majority of my career.  Kindergarten readiness is a hot topic with this age level.  I want children to enter kindergarten with a set of skills that will benefit them as they start their formal education.  That being said, I struggle with how to best instruct students in pre-k to prepare them for the literacy demands in kindergarten.  When I look at kindergarten standards and hear kindergarten teachers share that students have to be reading by the end of kindergarten, I understand the concern people have for students who enter kindergarten without an ability to identify a majority of letter symbols and letter sounds.  However, as a pre-k person, I also see students who enter pre-k without much of a vocabulary which I know will create challenges in language comprehension and expressive language.

    I'd love to hear from others who understand this struggle.  What do you think about teaching letters and sound knowledge?  Should those areas take priority over building vocabulary, language comprehension and expressive language?

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    Stephanie Nelson
    Preschool Collaborative Teacher
    Mocksville, NC
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  • 2.  RE: Letter identification and letter-sound knowledge

    Posted 02-24-2018 06:32 AM
    Letter and sound knowledge happens organically in the classroom along with langyuag development. Research shows that children learn letters best in context. Do while you're having a group discussion, you write down children's responses, modeling how to sound out a letter and describing it when you write. You can have children make the letter in the air as you write it. "Whale, that's a good one! W...w... Down up down up." You can have sign in sheets where children can trace their names as they come in; this is also a good way to spell their names with them. In Blocks, Art, and Dramatic Play, you can help them notice environmental print and labels. You can encourage them to label their creations and again, sound it out with them. Finally, as you read books, you can talk about letters in the title or beginning sounds of words. You can put alphabet books in literacy center. Throughout all of this, children will learn not only letters, but also that they have meaning.

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    Amy Latta
    Lead NC PreK Teacher
    "All that is gold does not glitter; not all who wander are lost." --J.R.R. Tolkien
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  • 3.  RE: Letter identification and letter-sound knowledge

    Posted 02-25-2018 08:35 AM
    As an early childhood educator for 27 years it is very apparent there is never a one size fits all approach for all children. Therefore, pulling out all the stops is key, we cannot assume all children will innately learn letter sounds, or that direct instruction is the silver bullet either. One thing we must remember is brain research tells us many language skills are foundationally laid in that 0-3 age, as well. Oh , another discussion topic!

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    Pamela Sharrow
    Midland MI
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  • 4.  RE: Letter identification and letter-sound knowledge

    Posted 02-25-2018 11:47 AM
    Embed phonics instruction in everyday activities but remember that some children, especially those who may turn out to be dyslexic, need direct instruction and practice on letter-sound correspondence.

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    Nora Krieger
    Associate Professor Emerita/ Chair NJEEPRE
    Bloomfield College/ New Jersey Educators Exploring the Practices of Reggio Emilia
    Highland Park NJ
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  • 5.  RE: Letter identification and letter-sound knowledge

    Posted 02-24-2018 07:14 AM
    I think this is such an important issue, especially now when expectations for children's literacy growth have been so accelerated in the early years of school. I view this as a question of meeting children's needs versus meeting school expectations. We know that children's early language development, both production and reception, is essential for their literacy development, now and in the future. I think your concern about meeting that need is spot-on. A school expectation that children know letters and sounds should not supersede extensive support for children's language growth.

    Of course, that doesn't mean that we can't provide an environment and activities that surround children with opportunities to encounter the alphabet, in fun and engaging ways. Encountering letters in the context of read-alouds and shared writing allows children to understand their authentic purposes, and word and letter play will allow chances to learn about associated letter sounds. And, of course, all of these experiences can be accompanied by the rich talk that continues to expand their language.

    i think EC educators need to continue to advocate for early classrooms and experiences that meet children's real needs in developmentally appropriate ways, and to push back against arbitrary school expectations that cause us to question that goal.

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    Sherry Sanden
    Illinois State University
    Normal IL
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  • 6.  RE: Letter identification and letter-sound knowledge

    Posted 02-24-2018 07:26 AM
    In my Pre-K and Transitional Kindergarten classes, I came up with a couple systems that became favorites of the children and families, and they are perfect for this discussion. For Literacy, I do a 1.)Take Home Library. This was taught to me by a seasoned, mentor teacher when I was new. I use my own books, labeled with my name & info (but you could use books available to you through program, if offered) and each child is given a canvas tote bag (from The Dollar Tree), and a manila folder with a reading log, that keeps track of the book read, the date, the number of the book in my labeling system, and this is used throughout the entire year to keep track of the books. It is not home work. It is a self-paced program, so each time they bring it back, they get a new book.
    2.) Letter Bags. I have a large basket filled with A-Z letter baggies. Each baggie is labeled with a specific letter and contains examples of that letter, like magnetic A's, foam A's, wooden block a's, (upper & lower case), and small items that begin with that letter/sound; tiny apples, alligators, acorns, etc. Each child is assigned a letter bag to take home with their Library book. (I also keep an inventory sheet of who has which bag and make sure each child gets all letters, at least once). They study the letter bag and their job is to find an object that begins with the letter sound, and bring it back to share with the class during show & share. All of the children share their letter bags and the item from home, and then are assigned a new bag. This is a great program because the children are exposed to the letters & sounds so many times throughout the weeks and months, both individually and as a group. They love it! The last one is 3.) Take Home Journal I buy each child one of those clever .88 cents old school-looking journals with wide print (or you could easily make your own) and I send this journal home once a week in the tote bag (usually Fridays) with a question for the parents to read with the child and one for them. The child has to draw/"write" something, and the parents have to write something. This builds a great partnership with families and offers insights to home environments. I have learned a great deal of interesting things about parents through asking what the child wants to be, then asking what they wanted to be, at that age; "I wanted to be a dancer and his father wanted to be a fireman." The children would make marks and draw interesting pictures, relating to the topics, which involved the family. All of these relate to linking letters, sounds, and literacy. I hope it might be useful.

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    Meg Marchese
    Preschool Teacher
    Belmont NC
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  • 7.  RE: Letter identification and letter-sound knowledge

    Posted 02-24-2018 10:25 AM
    I love these ideas!!!!

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    Joy Foster
    San Jose CA
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  • 8.  RE: Letter identification and letter-sound knowledge

    Posted 02-24-2018 08:24 PM
    I've been in the preschool classroom for 18 years. My goal was always to make learning fun. That goes without saying of course. Here is my shortest answer and I guess I could say one of my biggest tips. When teaching letter recognition and phonics make sure it is progressive. Let's say you begin the school year with the letter A. I generally stayed on letter A for a week. Week two I went to letter B without dropping A. So week two was A and B. Week three A,B,C, etc. I've "invented" many games and songs over the years (as many early chilhood caregivers have!). I still use many of them as they have become popular among the children. I always know the good ones when the kids  shout, "Let's do it again!".
    Something that I also do is that I prepare a giant ziploc of individualized activities for each child. I know it sounds like a lot, but it's worth every minute. For my children who need more fine motor skills I put lace and beads in a smaller baggy for them. All children get a dry erase board with a dry erase marker for "doodling", name practice, etc. I laminate a desk name plate in which I've first written their name on using a highlighter pen so they can also use their dry erase marker on for name practice. Upon parent permission I put a container of playdoh in the pkg. I make a full set of aminated alphabet flash cards for each child. Each week I add the letter to their pack. As the school year progresses so do the activities in the pkgs. Skies the limit. Everything in the pkgs are meant for review and family time at home. I cannot express to you the positive that has come out of these.

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    Patricia Sclafani
    Fresno CA
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  • 9.  RE: Letter identification and letter-sound knowledge

    Posted 02-24-2018 08:31 PM
    I've been in the preschool classroom for 18 years. My goal was always to make learning fun. That goes without saying of course. Here is my shortest answer and I guess I could say one of my biggest tips. When teaching letter recognition and phonics make sure it is progressive. Let's say you begin the school year with the letter A. I generally stayed on letter A for a week. Week two I went to letter B without dropping A. So week two was A and B. Week three A,B,C, etc. I've "invented" many games and songs over the years (as many early chilhood caregivers have!). I still use many of them as they have become popular among the children. I always know the good ones when the kids  shout, "Let's do it again!".
    Something that I also do is that I prepare a giant ziploc of individualized activities for each child. I know it sounds like a lot, but it's worth every minute. For my children who need more fine motor skills I put lace and beads in a smaller baggy for them. All children get a dry erase board with a dry erase marker for "doodling", name practice, etc. I laminate a desk name plate in which I've first written their name on using a highlighter pen so they can also use their dry erase marker on for name practice. Upon parent permission I put a container of playdoh in the pkg. I make a full set of aminated alphabet flash cards for each child. Each week I add the letter to their pack. As the school year progresses so do the activities in the pkgs. Skies the limit. Everything in the pkgs are meant for review and family time at home. I cannot express to you the positive that has come out of these.

    ------------------------------
    Patricia Sclafani
    Fresno CA
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  • 10.  RE: Letter identification and letter-sound knowledge

    Posted 02-25-2018 09:16 AM
    I am a K teacher in an urban area, with the majority of my students being English Language Learners. From experience, I can say that back and forth dialogue with thoughtful questioning, and building vocabulary through hands-on, authentic, contextual experiences are much more powerful that letter instruction. Letter instruction does need to be explicitly and implicitly taught, but should not be a main focus before K. My very few students who attended pre-K are not above the other students when it comes to academics, but they excel when it comes to socialization skills with peers and with general school culture.

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    Angela Walters
    teacher
    Atlantic City Board of Education
    Egg Harbor Cy NJ
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  • 11.  RE: Letter identification and letter-sound knowledge

    Posted 02-25-2018 11:48 AM
    Wonderful ideas!

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    Nora Krieger
    Associate Professor Emerita/ Chair NJEEPRE
    Bloomfield College/ New Jersey Educators Exploring the Practices of Reggio Emilia
    Highland Park NJ
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  • 12.  RE: Letter identification and letter-sound knowledge

    Posted 02-24-2018 09:09 AM
    Thank you for raising this question. This has been a 'debate' my entire 35+ year career - back and forth then forth and back. After about 10 years of teaching as an ECE, I specialized as a speech-language pathologist. I have to say that my thoughts weigh very heavily with the vocabulary end of things.  Having worked in elementary schools (in addition to my preschool and now mostly early intervention work), getting 5th and 6th graders who can read sufficiently, but who cannot understand anything they are reading, mostly due to the low vocabulary knowledge, this concerns me greatly. I advocate and strongly recommend to my higher education students (I also am adjunct professor) that they focus on vocabulary development and strengthening. I have only recently come across an adequate language user (4th grade) who is unable to read - to parse out and manipulate the phonemes in CVC words, etc. I.e., unless diagnosed with ASD or Down syndrome or the like, this is nearly the first time I've had an 'older' student not understanding the phonetic system.  I say, stick with the vocabulary lessons!

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    Kate Ross
    Kate Ross, MS, CCC-SLP, Consulting & Writing, LLC
    Middlesex VT
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  • 13.  RE: Letter identification and letter-sound knowledge

    Posted 02-24-2018 10:22 AM
    Letter identification is a key to reading.  And once children have letter names, they can move onto letter sounds. Although Montessori programs start with letter sounds, so honestly, whichever you start with will benefit the child.  Knowing Kindergarten standards is important, but put into perspective that not all kinder students will be reading when they leave kindergarten.  It is just not DAP to assume this will happen for every 5-6yr old.  For some children it just takes more time.

    Finding meaningful ways through play will be more valuable at this age (4's, pre-k) than explicit instruction.  But I know there are many wonderful tools you can use if you want explicit instruction - just stay away from worksheets!  Kindergarten students will write the letter K 19 times on a worksheet.  And we know better hands-on approaches to learning letters/letter sounds.

    In my program here are some ways we start:
    • We have children start with a sign-in sheet each day.  They write their names, or whatever they can get down on paper - some children like their name in dots to trace.  When I notice they have mastered their name, we add last names, even middle. 
    • And once that is mastered we add writing to wherever they are playing.  If they are building with blocks, I'll have a paper and pencil/markers on hand for drawing or writing about their constructions.  
    • Laminate pages with letters on them, add that to the play dough table.  Children can make the shape of the letters as their peers or the teacher names the letters and talks about that letter.
    • Add 2-3 vocabulary words with pictures to your circle time.  Words that are from the book to provide a print-rich story time.  Name the letters on the vocab cards as a group and talk about that word before you begin reading.  Double win here - you gain letter names and gain vocab growth.

    Good Luck!

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    Joy Foster

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  • 14.  RE: Letter identification and letter-sound knowledge

    Posted 02-25-2018 07:14 AM
    The basic premise that letter identification is the key to reading stems from a bottom-up perspective that places word identification at the top of the hierarchy of abilities needed for reading success. This results in a strong focus on phonics and related skills, at the expense of comprehension. The true key to reading is meaning-making. Word identification, fluency, etc. are sub-skills that support the primary goal of reading: making meaning from the text. This requires an emphasis in the early years on enhancing children's abilities to use background knowledge, vocabulary, and strategies for understanding and talking about what they read. Again, this doesn't mean we ignore letters and words; the suggestions you provide are helpful ways to allow children to learn about letters. But I hope this is embedded in an environment that includes a strong focus on rich vocabulary use, reading and talking about stories, and shared and independent writing.

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    Sherry Sanden
    Illinois State University
    Normal IL
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  • 15.  RE: Letter identification and letter-sound knowledge

    Posted 02-25-2018 11:49 AM
    Great ideas!

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    Nora Krieger
    Associate Professor Emerita/ Chair NJEEPRE
    Bloomfield College/ New Jersey Educators Exploring the Practices of Reggio Emilia
    Highland Park NJ
    ------------------------------



  • 16.  RE: Letter identification and letter-sound knowledge

    Posted 02-24-2018 09:38 PM
    ​This is a hot topic these days as Kinder teachers are pushing the Pre K teachers to teach more academic awareness like letters, numbers, shapes and colors before they enter Kinder. Although children learn organically from their environment I as  a pre school teacher  is struggling with this topic.
    I receive my students as soon as they turn three. I have them for a year and then they move on to the four year old program. It takes and entire semester just to get them to sit and focus for a few minutes. And the social/emotional is an area that takes time.
    So developmentally by the second semester when they are close to three and a half I start singing the ABC's and introduce print awareness in different formats.
    By February I start introducing the actual letters but in play. Thus, the introduction of letters  and playing with them in different ways should really begin in the four year old program, not the three year old program. However, it should not be taught conventionally in terms of drill, repetition and too much writing. It should be exposure, exploration, inquiry and investigations.

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    Sahadri Khalsa
    Los Ninos Kingergarten Ctr
    Santa Cruz NM
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