- Bringing Project Based Learning to our Classroom - August 12, 2018
- Keep the Engagement Alive: Start the Year with Purpose - August 5, 2018
- It's Our Fault: A Teacher's Confession - March 18, 2018
- Keeping Your Teaching Real: A Teacher's Role - March 11, 2018
- Sketch Notes in the Elementary Classroom - February 15, 2017
- Teach From the Heart - February 9, 2017
- Who is the Teacher: School or Family? - January 11, 2017
- Dear President Elect Trump, From Your Teachers - November 17, 2016
- Let them Be Children - October 21, 2016
- Print Resources: Great Tools for Kids - October 17, 2016
From the day children are born, the race is on here in America. Boy or girl? Weight? Length? And so it begins; how does your child measure up with “average” child their age? We watch for those important milestones. Rolls over, check! Sits up, check! Babbles, check! Crawls, check! Walks, check! The list goes on and on. When we are comparing our babies, though, we are using a scale developed to measure them against like age peers. We create a checklist of accomplishments within an age range. But then they enter kindergarten and the rules of the game change.
Monkey, my three-year-old, is not potty trained. He has no interest. He has the superhero underwear and the Lightning McQueen potty. We read books and talk about being a big boy. He will not even try to use the potty though. Being my third child, however, I know he will not go to college in diapers. I know he will use the potty when he is ready. I don’t check the charts or worry about his development because I know he is doing fine. I know within the next six months to a year Monkey will decide he is ready and toilet training will finally get checked off the list.
In America, kids start kindergarten after they turn five. This means your child can have turned five in August and be attending school in the same class with children who will turn six the next month in September. The first five (or six) years of their life they have been measured against a checklist that was developed for age appropriate accomplishments. But in kindergarten, the rules change.
Students work towards goals and objectives and complete state standards as they progress from kindergarten through lower elementary school. We have checklists that are used, but the age of the child is often not considered. Princess, my six-year-old, will not turn seven until she is done with first grade. She has a summer birthday so we had the decision to start her a year later (making her the oldest) or send her (making her the youngest). We felt she was ready for school so we sent her. She is now being compared to children who are 12 months older than her developmentally. She does great, don’t get me wrong, but as parents, educators, and a society we often forget the rules changed.
When I taught kindergarten and first grade we learned phonics. Students learned sounds and letters and blends. They worked on writing and spelling and reading skills to strengthen their sounds. Now, as a fourth-grade teacher, I expect my students to come to me with a mastery of phonics and letter skills. We spend a very brief period reviewing the blends, digraphs, consent and vowel sounds, and then we quickly move into higher language skills. Reading and language milestones are important but keep in mind some children are actually a year younger than their peers and this should be considered in the classroom.
When students come into my classroom as an upper elementary child, I try to remember there may be a one year age gap in their development. During whole class reading instruction, we spend a short time reviewing vowels and blends so we can move into parts of speech and prefixes/suffixes. Most students have mastered these skills and we are able to move past phonemic awareness (understanding and manipulating small chunks of speech) into phonics (letter-sound correspondence and the role these play in reading/spelling) into vocabulary fluency and comprehension where the majority of our time is spent. Thinking outside of the box allows me to find ways to continue to meet the needs of my students who need more time with phonics.
A few years ago our school rearranged the schedule to create a common time for grade levels to teach reading and math. This allows for some grouping and small group meeting. During center time, students who need re-teaching in phonics skills, fluency, or comprehension can meet and practice. We use spelling patterns and practice letter sounds. It is important to make the work meaningful so the students don't feel they are being taught down to, but they need extra practice. Engage kids in word and letter play. Use crossword puzzles or word find puzzles to help students attend to the patterns of words. This can also be incorporated into spelling and vocabulary word practice. Use board games such as Scrabble, Words with Friends and Boggle. Sometimes we pull up Boggle online and play together. How many words can we find with a short vowel, long vowel, etc.? Just as we want students to practice reading to become better readers we need students to practice the language.
Classrooms today are faced with many challenges and teaching a wide variety of students is one of them. During your reading time, remember to take time to provide students with the building blocks they need. Play with words, explore the sounds and practice phonetic skills with students who have not mastered them yet will help build their reading and writing skills through the year. Remember the rules changed when they entered kindergarten. Help those students who need to slow down, slow down. Working through the checklist with them, at their pace, is really why we started this journey.