Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Importance of Those "Little Words"

How can you help your young learners get ready for school? One of the key oral language skills children need is the ability to understand and use words that we often assume children know. These include words like on, that, above, can, where, why, etc. The list goes on. Often termed high-frequency words, these are included on sight word lists for kindergarten and first grade. But, research tells us that children have a difficult time reading these words automatically if they do not understand their meaning or how to use them. In other words, children must be given plenty of opportunities to use these words in context if they are to eventually read them.

This means we need to emphasize questions words like what, who, how, etc. We need to ask children to repeat the questions we ask, and we should encourage them to ask their own questions using these words.

"Little words" like on, over, above, etc. can be said while pointing to objects. You can make a game of lining up by putting hands on heads or arms above heads. This helps children act out the meaning of these words.

Words such as can and was are often the first sight words an emerging reader learns to read and write. Sentences are given like:

________(name of child) can run. 
________(name of child) was happy. 

You can make this process more efficient by making a game of this by saying, "____ (name of child) can go to the line." Later, have children act as the leader to call children to the line. This helps them hear and use these words in context.

For more sight words that your preschoolers will learn when they enter school, see any listing of the Dolch Words on the Internet. This list is a good resource for those "little words" that you should emphasize.

Understanding and using these sight words is especially important for our English Language Learners. Research (Helman & Burns, 2008) tells us that our speakers of other languages have difficulty learning these sight words. Our schools are set up with the assumption that all children know the meaning of these words. But ELLs do not have a working knowledge of the syntax of English. Often we ask young readers if something makes sense. But children who have not heard these words used in context all of their lives cannot answer the question, "Does that sound right?" We need to give them background knowledge to help with this. Rather than always emphasizing nouns or even verbs, we need to remember to highlight words from the Dolch list, too.

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.D.01 & 2.D.03
Head Start - VIII. A. & B.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Teaching Skills to Children: Use Modeling

We can help our young children learn when we show them what we are thinking. Modeling is an important teacher skill and even one you can help families learn. When we model we talk about all that is going on in our heads. Essentially, we invite children into our brains! We find they like this concept!

A few tips about modeling:
  • Be sure you do not talk longer than the age of your children. So, for 4 year olds, only model for four minutes.
  • Be sure you use hand signals to show children when you are thinking. Point to your head.
  • Change your voice tone when you are thinking and when you are reading.  This is a signal to children.
  • We like to change our body position to show when we go back into our brains. You can see this on the video below.
These tips will help you to model more effectively for young children.

Watch the video below. It shows these tips in action! 

For ELLs:
The comprehensible input of hand signals, body movement, and voice tone helps our English Language Learners to better follow your modeling. 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.B.01 & 2.D.04
Head Start - VI.A. & IX.A.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Apple Opinions: Teaching Children to Support Their Choices

It’s fall – that time of year when treats abound. Our classrooms and homes are awash in pumpkins, scarecrows, and all kinds of yummy apple products. Apples are perfect for many learning objectives.

One important goal for children is to give an opinion and be able to support this opinion with reasons. Using apples to accomplish this objective is an age-appropriate way to engage children in this type of discourse.

Bring apples as a healthy treat for children. Be sure to share different varieties and cut them into slices. Let children sample the apples. 
Then give children a paper that looks like this:
The boxes allow children to draw pictures or make attempts at writing words.
After sampling the apples, children can complete the paper by drawing pictures or writing a few words. Remember, inventive spelling can be a window into a child’s emerging literacy abilities. Click here for more information on the Continuum of Writing.

You may want to engage in a conversation emphasizing that children need to think for themselves. A reason such as “my friend says she likes this apple best” is not a good reason.

Have children share their finished work. Praise children who supported their reason for preferring a certain apple. These might include:
  • I like the taste best.
  • It is crunchy.
  • It is easy to chew.
  • It tastes sweet and I like sweet.
  • It tastes sour. I like that. 
As you can see, the support for an opinion will vary. The important component is that children are learning to support their opinions with connected details. 

By providing a hands-on activity such as sampling different apples along with a choice of drawing or writing, speakers of other languages can easily participate.  

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC – 2.B.03 & 2.D.06.
Head Start – II.A. & IV.A.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Using Your Students’ Backgrounds: Funds of Knowledge

Have you ever heard the term, funds of knowledge?  When we learn about the funds of knowledge that children have, we are learning about the background knowledge and the culture of our students. This allows them to function in their homes and neighborhoods. The idea behind this key phrase is that our students bring a rich background of knowledge and cultural awareness to our classrooms. When we understand this, we can make connections and learning will be more efficient and richer.

Head Start personnel conduct home visits, as do many other teachers. As these home visits are held, we can and should let go of the deficit lens that we often use. Teachers naturally want to “fix” things so we look at what is missing rather than what is there. We have to shed this tendency to determine the funds of knowledge our students bring us. Is the home bilingual or multilingual? This is helpful for brain development. If the family speaks one language, how can the vocabulary be used to enrich lessons? How does the food of the family contribute to your curriculum? What folktales and other stories does the child know? How can these be used in the classroom? Once we look at what a child brings to us, we can build on these positives.    

We want to encourage the home language of the child. In order to do that, we can provide literacy materials for the family. This link will take you to two books, one in English and the other in Spanish. They are complete with suggestions for the family. We hope you will share these as you gather more information about each child’s funds of knowledge.

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC – 2.D.01
Head Start – II.