Neither of us has ever met a young child that does not love to listen to stories, invent stories of their own, or pretend to read and write. Yet statistics show that the percentage of elementary students in Ontario who say they enjoy reading has fallen significantly over the last few years. We believe that play-based and inquiry-based learning will turn this trend around and create a foundation for a life-long passion for reading and writing in our children. We believe that providing literature-rich experiences that support and extend the play interests of the children as well as inquiry questions that heighten their attention and creativity will fuel an excitement for books – for both reading and writing.
Reading Through Play
It is important to us that we use the environment as the third educator in the classroom. We try to have lots of opportunities to read all around the classroom. Starting with having a name wall with photos that the students can access easily is a good way to interest the children in reading in an authentic way. They want to be able to read and write their own names as well as those of their friends and teachers. Reading and writing are closely entwined, if there is a reason to write then there is a reason to read. The students label the room and read the signs. We encourage the children to write notes and signs during play that other children will want or need to read. We put interest related books at all the centres as well as other reading materials, paper and writing tools.
When children read or write during play, we celebrate their learning at Sharing Time.
Having resources such as magnetic letters, lettered bean bags, stones, fish and other play things help the students learn their letters and sounds during play.
We find the students love to participate in Reader’s Theatre as they begin to read.
Being present in the centres helps us draw out authentic reasons to read.
Finding the Balance
The main intention of our reading instruction is to show a purpose for reading, and to ignite a passion for reading that will last a lifetime. In FDK, the students have very diverse needs, some come to school having very little exposure to books, some have little or no alphabetic knowledge and still others come to school already knowing some sight words or reading simple sentences. It is impossible to address the diverse needs of the children solely through whole group instruction and although play is the best vehicle for learning, it would be difficult to meet and track everyone’s needs through play alone. We need to be able to deliver reading instruction through play and through planned instruction in groups of various sizes. As we said in the Writing Section, this becomes the tricky part, finding the balance between planned group instruction and play-based instruction. We don’t want to take one educator out of the play for too long and we don’t want the children to feel that reading is separate from their play.
In Our Room
We are often asked what Reading looks like in our room. Reading and writing is everywhere and is weaved into everything we do all day everyday. When the children first come in in the morning they read what is on the sign-in sheet. Both educators and the other children will support the reading. Once they know what the question says, even the non-readers will run their fingers under it from left to right “reading” the question or statement to their friends as they enter. They may be asked to sign their name next to the book that they want to have read to them this morning, or they might be asked to sign the sheet that reflects their favourite of two choices such as – I like blue best/ I like red best- or they may be asked a question related to an inquiry or something that is happening in our room. If we are doing measurement they might be asked – How many cubes long is your thumb?
After signing in, the children make their way to the carpet and surrounding area at their own pace. There are many baskets of books here and almost all of the children choose to explore books of their own choice. Some are reading on their own or to others, some are looking at the pictures in books or magazines, some are listening to an educator, co-op student, or parent reading aloud to them, and others are looking at alphabet books. It’s not a quiet time, bodies and books are everywhere,on the carpet, on chairs, or at tables. There is lots of talking and sharing. There are books at all levels, and those that are beginning to read or who can read are encouraged to read at least one book at their “just right” level. It is a great time to observe what the students can do on their own.
Reading is a learned skill and we want to make sure that we use a gradual release of responsibility model to address all aspects of reading instruction.
Immediately after announcements is Community Time. This is where we take attendance and come together as a school family to begin our day. During Community Time, we do a Shared Reading and usually a read aloud provided it’s not the first day that we are introducing a Shared Reading. We choose our Shared Reading text based on the play interest or inquiry. It is usually a chart story since we don’t have many Big Books – a rhyme or song that we can have fun with or if a book is available, something simple, colourful, and engaging. This Shared Reading is a whole group experience, it is fun and light but explicit. It is short and we make sure that there are several entry points so that everyone can participate. We will use the same text in small groups later as needed to address different needs. For example, some students might be using the Shared Reading piece to learn about Concepts about Print, they may be tracking the print as the teacher reads or catching letters or words. Other students might use the same text later to find and discuss labels in the book, discuss characters or settings, or build word families.
The modelled part of the gradual release of responsibility is the Read Aloud/Think Aloud. We try to begin the day with a Read Aloud/Think Aloud that targets what we are learning about but if we have been sitting too long, we will defer this reading until after sharing time. During Read Aloud/Think Alouds we make the lesson very explicit, short, and fast-paced. For instance if we are learning about the setting of a story, we will quickly show the children the first few pages of the book, telling them what we see there – hmmm I see a barn and some chickens, and a farmer, and some corn – this book must take place on a farm. So the setting is a farm. We keep up this modelled practice until the children start shouting back to us on their own – the setting is a —-. Once they start to take over, we know we can move that learning into a shared piece. Those that will still need more support will get it in smaller groups.
We try to read aloud to the students at least 2 other times during the day. Reading is always foremost about enjoyment but we do try to “sneak” some current or previous learning in there. We try to make the process of reading visible to the children. We might say – I’m so glad that there are labels on this diagram. The labels help me see where the worm’s 5 hearts are. Or I am a good reader, did you hear what I did? I noticed that what I read didn’t make sense so I went back and read it again and fixed it up. That’s what good readers do. When things don’t make sense they go back, read the part again and fix it up.
We do Read Alouds in whole group as well as small group settings as needed. We also read out loud to various groups during play when they bring us books to read or when we are finding answers to our questions.
We say guided practice instead of guided reading because not everyone in our classroom is ready for guided reading – sometimes even the child that knows all her letters and sounds.
Guided groups are done in small numbers and target the particular learning needs of specific children. Sometimes our guided groups are very flexible for example we may have quite a large number of students at the beginning of the year that need to work on alphabet/sound knowledge. Just as with Math and Writing, we can invite a few students at a time to join us as they are available or they may see us working with other students and ask to join us. As long as we can track who we have seen and what we have worked on we can keep some groupings open and work with the students on their schedules. We also try to bring as many of our guided group lessons to the play as we can.
Other times our guided groups are more fixed such as when we are doing guided reading and targeting the strategies needed at a specific reading level. During a guided reading group, we sometimes get other students who will come over and listen in. They know that they cannot interfere with the lesson but enjoy listening and will come and go as they please. Although they are not part of the lesson, they will absorb what they need from it – maybe just a quiet moment with friends, or maybe learning the sound of a certain letter. The students who are reading enjoy it when the “guests” gush about what good readers they are. We keep our guided reading groups small, usually 4 or less, especially for the very early reading levels where we try to keep it to 2 or 3 children. The lessons are relaxed, are usually on the floor, are fun, and are short and explicit. The students know that if they are called to a guided reading lesson, they can go right back to where they were playing as soon as we are done. If someone is highly engaged in an activity, we won’t call them for a lesson but will keep note. We might see them later on on their own when it’s a better time or will just catch them up next time.
Although our Guided lessons are shorter than 30 minutes and include more than one child, we borrow from Reading Recovery lessons. We start with a familiar text (this is where we can do a quick reading record), we do some quick alphabet or word work and we read a new text. Sometimes, we so some writing.
There are opportunities throughout the day for the children to explore books on their own or with a friend or two, including first thing in the morning and during a quiet time over the lunch hour, if they are not napping. However, those children that are participating in Guided Reading groups also have a small bag of “just right” books all their own. These students are encouraged to read from their book bags when they come in in the morning. They can read on their own, with a partner, in a group, or to an adult in the room. We monitor who is reading at this time and invite those that don’t want to start their day with reading, to read later on during the day – to us,to a friend or two, or another teacher in the school. We try to take advantage of those times when someone might be between play experiences and not sure what to do next. It’s very rare for a child to choose not to read. They may not want to read by themselves some days, but they love to read to us, another teacher, or the principal.
At Home Reading
We do have an at-home reading program for those children who are participating in Guided Reading groups. They will take home a book or two a night at their independent reading level. If they are taking home two books, we give them a familiar text and a new one. We always talk to the families first so that they know how to support their developing readers. It’s important to have good quality texts to support these early readers so we like to send home PM books. We like that the text is strongly supported by the pictures and the new words introduced are continued in the texts as the children advance.
Having family support of the reading program is so important. We find that when the families are excited about reading with their child, and are valuing their reading experiences, the children really flourish.