I have always considered it my responsibility to ensure that students finish Kindergarten knowing the alphabet, letter sounds, some sight words as well as a whole slew of literacy keys to unlock reading in grade one. So when I began to re-read Dr. Richard Allington's book What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research-Based Programs using a Kindergarten teacher's lens I was interested in the similarities between what happens in a K literacy program and other primary grades to help children learn to read fluently.
Here is my interpretation as it relates to Kindergarten (in BC, Canada).
Understanding the importance of reading fluently: fluency includes not only speed but spontaneously self-correcting, intonation, phrasing and accuracy. Reading fluency also requires automaticity. Allington defines it as "recognizing an increasing number of words without much if any conscious attention to the word structure"
When we consider the K literacy program, we can apply fluency to letter knowledge including recognition and sounds, as well as some high frequency words. This means that we want all of our students to acquire automaticity with letters, sounds and some sight words. To ensure that my vulnerable readers achieve this standard I was curious to compare research based programs with the Kindergarten program.
Interventions to develop fluency in struggling readers: Dr. Allington reviewed the most successful strategies in three clusters; tutorial approach, small group approach and whole-class instruction.
In the tutorial approach Allington shares four strategies: paired reading, peer tutors, tape check chart; tape time, chart; older kids, baby books. He also suggests that a school wide training program be used to include anyone who might be listening to struggling readers read aloud. The intention would be to focus on a set of procedures for responding to readers ie|: hesitation, mispronunciation of simply stopping. This training would ensure that tutors would be consistent in their student support.
While on first read it is obvious that Dr. Allington is speaking to the needs of grades one and up, I do include the use of paired reading and peer tutors as part of my Kindergarten literacy program. In paired reading, students each choose a book and sit eekk (elbow to elbow, knee to knee) and read together or to each other. At the beginning of the year they read pictures, then later when ready, will read sight word books, poetry cards or self made books. This strategy is common practice in our school district, although maybe not every day in some classrooms. During the spring I use older students as peer tutors. They work with a maximum of two students playing literacy games which are designed to scaffold the learning of those particular students. An example might be fluent reading of a book chosen by the student, an alphabet game which includes some new and some known letters, a sight word game like bingo or ladder which includes a new rhyme, new words, their name, etc.
In tape, check, chart students work independently on their reading fluency by recording their own reading. After the first reading they replay the tape while following along with the text. As they listen they attempt to record the errors then read it again, building fluency with the passage over time. This is powerful because it builds reflection, persistence, is private (remember round robin), no-one is correcting or interrupting their read, gives immediate feedback, and allows children to see their own growth! In Kindergarten, students use the class i-pod to audio record their reading of the alphabet or simple stories if they are ready. While they listen and self-correct they do not create any written record of their progress.
Tape, time, chart is a similar strategy where the student reads a text aloud several times, each time recording how long it takes to complete the passage. The times can be recorded and charted. This requires a stopwatch. The goal is for each rereading to take less time and students can move at their own pace. You might wonder why this strategy is included as it does not include comprehension or correction of errors, however Allington reminds us that sometimes after repeated failures, some students can benefit from simple signs of progress, less emphasis on error and increased speed that comes from this strategy.
With regard to small group approach Allington writes that there are several studies that have looked at the impact of small group intervention with reading fluency and comprehension. In Kindergarten small group is a large part of instruction and powerful learning time. During the long centres I have can do and must do centres. Students know that the teacher centre is a must do and frequently clamour to participate. This is where I introduce new literacy and math work stations as well as do an intervention because I can easily differentiate instruction to meets the needs of my students. An example of an intervention might be a read aloud of a book I am going to use for shared reading. Having noticed that a student's attention span is still too short for whole group, this strategy provides prior knowledge, might engage him during shared reading and enables participation in the structured partner talk that I have planned.
Dr. Allington writes about three strategies; Choral reading, teacher modeling and echo reading. All three of these techniques are commonly used in kindergarten, albeit with a different focus, during whole class instructional time each day and provide a fun, practical approach to teaching word, rhyme, fluency, patterns and much more. We know how popular it is because the children often play the read the room game during centre time during which they choral read, echo read and read aloud to each other.
During modeling, the teacher reads the passage (a poem in my room) to model fluency. I might followup with a discussion on new vocabulary, play some rhyming games or letter hunts. Next we would echo read the passage using my turn your turn. Finally when the class indicates they are ready they choral read aloud the passage as a group without me. Sometimes, only some of the students are ready and so are given an opportunity to shine for their peers. Eventually all of the students can choral read and are ready to perform for a guest(s). Then we move on to a new passage. Last week my student teacher asked how often I change the poem and the short answer was as needed. Sometimes it is weekly but can be longer or shorter depending on student response. If they love it then they are reading it during centres, read around the room and chanting with enthusiasm while we play the mix up game with the now familiar passage.
In older grades (which Allington is writing about), the passage would be from a book, follows the same format -model, my turn your turn, choral read- but would be focusing on plot, dialogue, tone, or another important element of the book.
Whole class instructional redesign Allington reminds us that sometimes what is good for the goose is good for the gander. He reports on research of fluency-oriented reading instruction, read naturally, shared book experiences, re-reading for performance, readers theatre, be the character and being Oprah. Some of these techniques are very familiar to Kindergarten teachers.
Fluency-oriented reading instruction Allington reports on a two year project conducted in a grade two classroom. This three pronged strategy included teacher read aloud followed with a interactively created story map for "echo reading" of segments. Secondly, students had home assignments where students first read the book at school then reread the story to an adult or parent one or two days a week. Finally, students were given time and choice of books to read every day as well as encouraged to read if they finished an assignment early.
In Kindergarten, re-telling is a common strategy using story maps, listening centre, classroom books, drama, puppets and props like felt boards. This strategy enables students to build oral fluency and vocabulary at their own pace.
I love the idea of providing students with simple books and have done that in the past. As this is a new school for me, I am still acquiring resources, so do not have the emergent sight word books for students to read and take home, however I am motivated to find a solution to my lack of resources after reading Dr. Allington's book!! I do have a family home reading program where each family rotates weekly with a bookbag containing five books.
Providing choice for daily reading is the third strategy and probably one of the most important because the students are so motivated when they are give regularly scheduled time and appropriate materials to read. Although I am always struggling to source just right books, they love it!! My students have reading boxes and at this time of year spread out over the room on little bath mats or carpets and read. We have brainstormed some expectations like stay seated, read read read and whisper read. During this time I invite students to come shopping for new books quietly one at a time. These books are not all simple books though and they really are just reading the pictures with most of them. In my last classroom I would have the student read a book to me and then choose a just right book for their tub.
Dr. Allington included Read Naturally is a commercially training package that is an intervention directed at teacher modeling, repeated reading, and monitoring. While there are not independent evaluations or reserach on this program, the three strategies are well documented in other research studies.
In shared book experience Dr. Allington compared two studies with comparable design but different researchers. Both were grade two classrooms, comparing one room with round robin reading with the second with shared book experience. In both studies, shared book experiences produced statistically superior results.
In Kindergarten shared book experience is common practice. The teacher often begins with a big book placed where all children can readily see. The teacher then leads a discussion, invites students to make a prediction. She may read the text aloud dramatically, lead the response with discussion or perhaps have the students collaborate with a retelling. Finally the text is re-read many times over the course of a week. On subsequent readings the teacher decides what features of text to focus on based on the student response. Some examples are onset rhyme, sight words, fluency, comprehension and much more!
Performance has always been a wonderful way to encourage fluency. By preparing for performance students naturally re-read to
prepare. In Kindergarten, the shared book experience or choral reading poems or songs are used for performance. Another fun performance are using puppets to retell stories/songs (my Kinders love to use animals to perform the wheels on the bus with puppets). There are many early primary Reader Theatre scripts which are very short and fun for Kinders to practice with performance as the end goal. But of course the most popular ones are the ones you write yourself.
Being the character and Oprah are wonderful strategies which both encourage students to prepare by re-reading and developing a deeper understanding of the story or passage. Being the character is primarily a solitary student performance where the child assumes the role of a character and prepare a short performance. For example, imagine the wolf telling the story from his perspective of the childhood classic, Little Red Riding Hood. He would practice intonation, stance, add some props and present himself as strongly as possible as the character of Wolf. I have used this in grade one with animal masks which a family had donated. Dr. Allington also describes masks using paper plates and popsicle sticks. He writes that this "seems to alleviate the anxiety that some children had about performing in front of others". I hadn't thought of that but think that now perhaps it would be very helpful in Kindergarten and am looking forward to trying it.
Dr. Allington writes that Being on Oprah basically is the same as Being the character but the teacher takes on the role of the talk show host in announcing the guest and beginning the dialogue.
As you can see Fluency is a big part of play/work in our Kindergarten classrooms.
I teach Kindergarten at Departure Bay Elementary in Nanaimo, British Columbia. I love my job and am passionate about providing a play based program for my kinders. I graduated in 2009 from the University of Victoria with a Masters in Early Childhood.