Supporting language and literacy development is my passion and every year, I’m amazed at how exciting it is to watch children develop their reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing and representing skills. Our students enter kindergarten with rich experiences in language and literacy. They ask questions, share how they are feeling, ask to hear stories and proudly print their first initial (or more) on their artwork.
We know that effective educators recognize and appreciate what children learn at home with their families. They also value the partnership between home and school and find ways of communicating with, and involving families in their child’s literacy development.
In the article, Supporting Families as Collaborators in Children’s Literacy Development, the author suggests several ways that teachers can ensure open communication and collaboration between families and school.
Some of her suggestions include:
- touching base (regular communication through notes, emails, texts and face to face chats)
- plan for involvement (orientation meetings, meet the teacher, open houses, Family Fridays)
- encourage literacy development at home (use of shared reading, home reading, conversation prompts)
When reading through the articles, Paying Attention to Literacy, and Supporting Student’s Vocabulary Development Through Play, a few key ideas stood out to me. These are elements our team recognizes as important in supporting literacy and and language learning.
Inquiry Based Environment
When we create an environment that promotes wondering, listening to others, clarifying ideas and sharing what we know, we create purposeful speaking and listening opportunities. Through the use of knowledge building circles, or KWL charts, children learn how to effectively speak and listen to one another in order to communicate. In addition to speaking and listening, an inquiry based environment provides real reasons for children to read and write. They are excited about what they are learning and are eager to share with one another. Through the use of non-fiction texts, or websites like Pebble Go, students broaden their understanding of a topic and then find unique ways to share that information with others.
In the picture below, a group of students had listened to a podcast on worms. They used one piece of chart paper to record what they learned in a shared writing approach. Using skills that were taught in a small group, students had an authentic reason to practice writing because they were so excited to share what they had learned together.
“The more words that children know and can use at a young age, the more words they are able to learn and the more readily they will be able to read those words.” (Stagg Peterson, 2016)
The largest component of our language and literacy program is ensuring that children are exposed to rich, oral language opportunities on a daily basis. We consider and plan for:
- read alouds (sometimes, repeated read alouds if the concepts require a second or third look)
- songs, poems and finger plays
- modelling and using an inquiry stance during interactions with children
- using a wide range of vocabulary during instructional times and during play.
The best way for children to become familiar and understand new vocabulary is through repeated, authentic experiences. When a teacher sits down and plays with a group of children, they can introduce new words but also make connections to past learning experiences. (Stagg Peterson, 2016).
Just like our math program involves a balanced approach to teaching children, our language program also considers a continuum of support. Students need a wide range of instruction that includes modelled, shared, guided and independent opportunities to practice their developing skills. The level of support offered varies based on the needs of the students.
The Ontario Kindergarten program document reminds us that this range of support doesn’t always happen in a linear way. Knowing which level to offer is a complex, intentional decision that considers the skills the student already has, their zone of proximal development, their attention span, and even their mood in that particular moment.
During a small group writing time, we may ask one student to write about their weekend completely independently. We know that they are ready for this challenge and have the tools they need to be successful. With another student, we might use a shared approach to writing. The student prints familiar words and beginning sounds of unknown words while the teacher models how to print the rest of the words. Finally, another student may draw a picture to share their thinking and have the teacher describe the message below. They may work together to identify the beginning sound of the words house, flowers and mom and use that as a chance to practice printing the letters, h, f and m as labels on their picture.
All children have been successful, each required a different level of support but most importantly, all children feel proud that they are writers!
Parr, M. (2013) Supporting Families as Collaborators in Children’s Literacy Development
Retrieved from: http://thelearningexchange.ca/wpcontent/uploads/2014/11/WW_Familes_Literacy_AODA.pdf
Paying Attention to Literacy (2013)
Retrieved from: http://www.edugains.ca/resourcesLIT/PayingAttentiontoLiteracy.pdf
Stagg Peterson (2016) Supporting Students’ Vocabulary Development Through Play
Retrieved from: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/ww_vocabulary.pdf
The Ontario Kindergarten Program (2016)
Retrieved from: https://files.ontario.ca/books/kindergarten-program-en.pdf