Dates: Monday, March 18, Wednesday, March 20, and Friday, March 22, 2013
Site: St. Paul Lutheran School, All day kindergarten
Cooperating Teacher: Mrs. Novak
Total hours together: 3 hours
Total for EDU344: 4 hrs 30 mins out of 20 hours
I began my fieldwork at St Paul’s on a Monday in Mrs. Novak’s all-day kindergarten class. When I was first assigned to this class I was skeptical that I would be able to get any viable information for my Struggling Readers course, since most kindergarteners I know do not even read yet. But because the children are in school all day long, as opposed to the traditional half-day classes, they have more time to develop their reading skills. From my observations and talking to the teacher, it would appear most of the students are already at Pre-primer, if not Primer level. There is one girl in the classroom who is already reading chapter books and taking tests on the Accelerated Reader program that the school uses. In fact, after a periphery glance at the students, I thought there would be no struggling readers in the class not because nobody knew how to read, but because everyone knew how to read so well! Fortunately, after several hours of observation as well as discussion with my cooperating teacher, I have now honed in on several students who are behind the others.
On that first day I merely observed for an hour during their Language Arts period, and I saw some really excellent teaching. Mrs. Novak started the session with spelling. She asked the children to recall what a pattern was, and then asked them what pattern they had found in one-syllable words, which was “CVC” or “consonant, vowel, consonant.” After this review, she started sounding out letters to form a word and would call on one of the students to tell her the word (e.g. H-A-T, R-I-G, or B-A-D). She used both a whiteboard and hand motions as forms of differentiation. Whenever she spelled a word, her right hand would travel down her left arm with each consonant or vowel sound. Some of the children even mimicked her movements.
After this spelling lesson, Mrs. Novak read a Big Book that was part of the textbook series they were using. It was called My Teacher Can Teach Anything, and it was a rhyming book that described how a teacher could teach different subjects from A-Z. She started the shared reading by looking at print concepts with the children. She pointed out the cover, the back cover, the author and illustrator of the book, and the dedication page. She also asked the students to figure out from the cover whether the story was going to be informational or fiction. She reviewed those terms for those who were confused. She then called on different children and had them explain their answers.
I noticed that during her reading several children were not paying attention, particularly one little boy, who I will call Michael, who kept looking at a nearby poster. I would discover on my next visit that he is one of the struggling readers in the class and has several impairments, including a speech impairment.
After the reading, the teacher explained the definitions of some of the difficult vocab words. She also got the children to recognize that the text rhymed and that it was an alphabet book. She also connected the text to the children’s background knowledge by asking them which jobs mentioned in the story were “helping people” jobs. After the group discussion, the children went to their tables to draw a picture of who they wanted to be from the jobs mentioned in the storybook.
I didn’t get to talk to the teacher that first day at all, which was rather frustrating, as I wanted to know which one of the students might become my case study. On my second visit, however, the children were doing independent reading for a good portion of the hour, so Mrs. Novak was able to fill me in on the struggling students and what sort of scaffolding or tutoring was being done for them. Most of the children are already reading at the Pre-primer/primer level. I was very impressed, especially since I had only known how to read my name and several sight words by the end of kindergarten.
The children’s independent reading time is like a mini-reading and writing workshop. They take ten minutes to read (the teacher has been building up the number of minutes slowly throughout the year) and when they are done, they write in their journal for another couple of minutes about what the story was about or who their favorite character is. This is to help them develop their comprehension skills, since many of the students are doing well at decoding but can’t remember a thing about what they just read. As the children read and wrote, I watched to see who was struggling more. Once again, Michael caught my attention. His letters were big and sloppy, showing a lack of motor skills. This was especially interesting to me after the teacher told me he is seven-years-old. I understand younger children tend to lack motor skills, but Michael is a good year older than most of his classmates.
After their independent reading, the children got to play a match game with sight words. There were a lot of sight words in the pile, and the memories of five-year-olds are not very good, so not many students got matches, though everyone did read the words well.
On Friday, the Language Arts portion started with another shared reading. Mrs. Novak started by going over text-to-text connections and text-to-self connections. The book they were going to read was called, When Will it Be Spring? written and illustrated by Catherine Walters. The teacher was pointing out how the miserable, cold weather outside had prompted her to read this book because the protagonist in the story is likewise impatient for spring. After making connections, the teacher asked the children to infer from the illustration on the cover what time of year this book took place, what was the setting, and what was going to happen. When she was done taking answers, she read the book aloud, pausing occasionally to point out context clues in the pictures or to go over difficult words like “bleary.”
After the book, the students went to their tables to read a short, repetitive coloring book aloud together and then to color the pages. The story took place on a farm, and each page featured a different animal or item found on the farm. Each page started with the sentence, “The rain falls on the__,” and then a different animal or object (like the barn) would fill in the blank. While they read, the teacher would ask the students to list the different ways they were decoding the words. Some figured out the word from the context of the picture. Some figured out the word from the beginning and ending letters. They were all using various techniques to decode and the teacher was engaging them in metacognition by showing them how they were learning. While the majority of the class was reading aloud, the special education teacher came into the room to help the struggling readers with their story. She spent time with about three different boys, Michael included. I wasn’t able to hear what she said to them, which was unfortunate. However, I found out that Michael gets pulled every day for extra tutelage, so I’m considering asking them if I may observe a few of those sessions. Of the struggling readers I have seen, Michael presents the biggest challenges. His age and his cognitive impairments lead me to believe he is truly struggling with reading, whereas the other two boys in the class could simply not be ready to learn how to read.