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3 Reasons Phonological Awareness is KEY

As a Kindergarten teacher I knew
Phonological Awareness to be the cornerstone to beginning reading skills.  As an interventionist I have learned WHY that is so.

First - What is phonological awareness?
Phonological Awareness is the understanding that words are made up of sounds and that those sounds can be manipulated (separated, changed, isolated, etc.)  Phonological Awareness IS NOT Phonics.  Phonics is the understanding that those sounds can be associated with printed letters.
An easy way to remember the difference is that Phonological Awareness can be taught in the dark.  It only requires listening for and producing words and sounds. Phonics cannot be learned in the dark because it addresses letters. BUT, Phonics cannot be learned without an understanding of Phonological Awareness. (More on Phonics Later!)
A sub-skill of phonological awareness is Phonemic Awareness. This is the understanding that words are made of a group of individual phonemes (or sounds).
Research shows that students can master Phonemic Awareness skills in about 20 hours of instruction and practice.  It is very important to provide opportunities for practice with each level on the phonological awareness continuum during the primary grades.

Second - Why is Phonological Awareness so important?
Phonemic Awareness in particular has implications not only in reading, but also in writing.  Once a child can articulate each sound in a word, he or she is ready to assign a letter (or letters) to those sounds in order to spell and write (that's where Phonics comes into play). Likewise, students who can segment words better understand how to blend sounds when reading.
For some students hearing the separation between phonemes (sounds) is very difficult. Delays in speech or hearing development can significantly complicate the process and they may need extra practice with the skill of articulation. HOWEVER, firming Phonemic Awareness skills is crucial to success in reading and writing.

Third - How can we teach Phonemic Awareness?
There are many different ways to practice phonemic segmentation with students, but one tried and true way is through the use of Elkonin boxes. To use these boxes students segment and push chips into a box as they say each sound.

I created these Elkonin boxes for my struggling Kindergarteners. After drawing the boxes, I added a pipe cleaner before laminating. The action of "pushing sounds" over the little bump was all it took to help them "feel" the breaks.
Watch as my daughter tries it out!

Here's a few other fun ways to practice phonemic segmentation!
Karate Chop Each Sound
Ride a Roller Coaster and go up/downhill on the middle sounds
Count sounds on fingers
Clap or tap sounds on desk/lap
Use exercises like toe touches or jumping jacks to physically move with each sound.

Phonological Awareness is KEY in literacy development because...
1. It provides students with a basic understanding of how words work before they begin to actually read and write.
2. When they understand that words can be manipulated, students begin to realize that words are made up of individual sounds in a specific order.
3. When students understand that words are made up of individual sounds and then "chunks" of sound they are ready to assign letters to those sounds.  This is writing! (And students are ready to learn to write while simultaneously learning to read! More on that later.)

Now watch as Leah segments and then assigns letters to each sound using her boxes.

ALL young students need practice with phonolgical awareness and it's a skill ALL students can and should master by second grade.
If you are looking for a way to add more practice with literacy skills into your school day and you have a Smart Board, then check out my monthly Literacy Practice files over at TpT!
(Files also sold separately here!)


Stop Saying, "Sound it out!"

You heard me correctly!  I said, "STOP telling readers to sound out words!"

When young children are reading aloud to us and come to a word they don't know or are unsure about we (teachers and parents alike) typically have one of two responses. Until my recent training in Reading Recovery (read about that here), I responded in these ways, too. BUT, I never really thought about what I was actually communicating to my students (and my own children) when I reacted in these two ways.

One knee-jerk reaction is to just tell the child the word with which he or she is having trouble. The other response we have is to tell the reader to, "Sound it out," when they come upon a new or difficult word.
Let's think about these responses together...
What are we conveying to students when we simply tell them the word with which they are having trouble?
Imagine if you were working to try a new recipe and Bobby Flay (or worse, Gordon Ramsay!) was over your shoulder watching your every move.  Would you be nervous or self conscious?  I would be! Now imagine that every time you stopped to consult the recipe, double check what you had added last, or went to the spice cabinet, Bobby swiftly stepped in and told you exactly what to do. For awhile this might be nice, but what if the next day you needed to make the same dish and Bobby wasn't there?!?  Would you remember what to do?  Would you have the same questions? More importantly, would you BELIEVE that you could recreate the recipe?  Probably not!  After all, Bobby is an expert chef and you are just a novice.

Think about how this applies to helping a young child read...
When we jump in and give words while children are reading we communicate that we are the "expert over their shoulder," and we don't believe they can figure out the word on their own. We provide a safety net that does NOT help to foster reading growth.  From our action children learn that if they stop or even hesitate THE EXPERT (us - not them) will be there to give them all the answers... if we continue this pattern, how can we expect students to EVER learn new words or know what they should do when that safety net is gone?!?

Instead of telling a reader the troublesome word immediately we should...
Wait (at least 3-5 seconds) AND Watch the child...
notice what he or she is trying alone so that you know how to jump in and help.
If the child is hesitant to try the word alone, prompt him or her to TRY something (really anything) such as look at the picture, read past the difficult word then go back, start the sentence again, etc.

BUT DON'T SAY, "Sound it out!"
When we prompt young readers to "sound out words," what are we really communicating to them?
We are essentially saying, "start at the beginning and say the sound each letter makes in order to solve the word." And when we use this phrase repeatedly we are really saying, "you should do this every time you come to a tough word because it is the only thing that works."
WHOA! Hold the phone!
If what we just said is true, then what about words with more complex letter combinations, silent letters, schwa sounds, affixes, and those dreaded SIGHT WORDS (man I really HATE those)?!?!
Research shows that accomplished 2nd grade readers attack words in over 60 different ways and most of the time they DO NOT start at the beginning and sound out words letter by letter.

Instead of telling students to sound out words we should...
Prompt children to use their eyes to search the difficult word for clues.
If the child is hesitant to try on his or her own or is unsuccessful, give specific clues within the word that may help such as digraphs, affixes, beginning sounds, words-within-words, etc.

NEW! Check out this accompanying YouTube video with teacher/student examples!

As we are helping young readers learn we have to remember our hope is they will gain skills so that the next time they read and we aren't there to help them, they will have the confidence and skills to solve new and difficult words ON THEIR OWN!

NOW, the next time you are listening to a young reader take note of your reaction to their struggles... When you are careful with your response what happens? Comment below and let me know - I can't wait to hear about your experiences!


April Currently

Well, I'm a little late to the April Currently party that Farley of Oh' Boy It's Farley throws every month... But better late, than never, right? 
Oh, whatever!

What I've Learned as a Reading Interventionist: Year 1

This year I have taken a detour in my teaching journey and moved out of the Kindergarten classroom (hence my poor, neglected blog). It has been a bittersweet time for me. I am in a position now that is more focused and doesn't have the same requirements and demands of a self-contained homeroom. As a result, I am able to focus on my own three precious kids (ages 9, 6, &3) more, spend less outside-the-school-day hours working on school, easily attend my girls' school events, and take sick days at a moment's notice when I'm needed at home. Don't get me wrong, these changes FAR out-weighs any downsides to the position, but I miss my kinders all the same. At certain times during the school year I have missed the milestones, the relationships with students and parents, and the honor of working to provide a wonderful first-year-of-school experience. Watching my students from last year as they have grown through first grade has brought me to tears of pride at times and I cherish the tackling hugs I receive as I walk the first grade halls. 
I have learned SOOOOOOOOO much as a reading interventionist (in training)!  Even after 5 years as a first grade teacher, 5 years as a Title I interventionist, and 3 years as a Kindergarten teacher, what I have learned THIS year about reading instruction has shaken my beliefs about reading to the core, and I'm bursting at the seams to share it all with YOU!  I am excited to share some insight on reading instruction based upon what I've learned. I WISH someone would have shared these ideas with ME as a primary teacher. So, this post is meant to kick off a series of posts for parents, homeroom teachers, and interventionists in the primary grades, that focuses on some 
best practices for guiding a child through the wonderful world of learning to read.

Stay tuned for posts on the following topics - 
Do YOU have burning questions about any of these topics?  
Post them in the comments below and I will work to address them!
Be sure to sign up for our newsletter set to launch in April, 2016, so you don't miss a single update AND to gain access to new freebies!  

Now for the fine print...
I'm sure you are wondering where I gained all this amazing insight! Since July, 2016, I have been involved in intensive training in the research-based, Reading Recovery Program that was developed by Marie Clay. According to the RRCNA website, the goal of Reading Recovery is "to dramatically reduce the number of first-grade students who have extreme difficulty learning to read and write." RR teachers work one-on-one with first grade students who are struggling with literacy as identified through assessment data and teacher recommendation. My year-long training has been hands-on in that I have been working with students while learning the program. *Please note that these blog posts are NOT intended to (nor could they) make you a RR teacher, nor should they give you tools that may be mis-used if you are untrained. The RR program is successful because it's processes and procedures are precise and protected. To remain a true RR interventionist, teachers must participate in continuous training and professional development while putting the program into practice. They must be observed and critiqued by their RR teacher peers and their highly-trained teacher leaders.  This thoroughness leads to a program with high fidelity, huge success, and perfected practices. If you are interested in being trained in RR check out the "Training" section of their website or check out how RR can help your school's RTI Program here!

Since I am fresh from a primary classroom and my eyes have been opened to new ways to approach reading this year, I just can't keep quiet about some of the things I have learned because I KNOW they will help YOU with YOUR literacy instruction!

Looking for the perfect printable (and online) leveled Kindergarten books for your guided reading lessons? Then look NO further.

Head over to my TpT store for my growing library of printable leveled books for Kindergarten Guided Reading!