As mentioned elsewhere on my blog, my name is Cassandra, and I am a post-BA student at Concordia University, Ann Arbor. This mini-unit is an assignment for the class EDU344: Teaching Struggling Readers and Writers in the Elementary Classroom—a requirement for all teacher-candidates in the elementary program. Each course at Concordia requires hours in an elementary classroom where we can observe and assist our cooperating teachers in any way possible. For my fieldwork for this course, I was assigned to St. Paul Lutheran School, a parochial Preschool-8th grade institution. I was placed in the all-day kindergarten class, which has produced ample information for my case study and mini-unit despite the fact that my students are kindergarteners. In my day and age, we didn’t learn to read until the first-grade, since we didn’t have much time for reading instruction during our half-day kindergarten class. But because the kindergarteners at St. Paul are in school all day long, they have more time to develop their reading skills. From my observations and talking to my cooperating teacher, it would appear most of the students are already at Pre-primer, if not Primer level. After several hours of observation as well as discussion with my cooperating teacher, I honed in on several students who are behind the others.
While I was originally focused on one little boy with cognitive and speech impairments, another boy won my heart when I heard his confession that whenever he reads he gets dizzy and feels like his world is tipping upside down. I was determined to help him overcome his trepidation and get to the bottom of his struggles. While I am not sure whether this boy has any learning disabilities, I do know he is an ELL student. One of his parents is Chinese, while the other is French, and they make the boy read and speak these two languages at home instead of English. While I admire the parents’ tenacity to keep their son well-versed in their native tongues, the boy is now struggling to understand English as a result. I noticed he especially struggles with his vowels. While he can read words with the CVC pattern—that is, consonant, vowel, consonant—he gets confused when we add a finale e marker to a word, when the vowel is preceded or proceeded by an r, or when the word has a vowel diagraph—two letters sitting next to each that create a distinct vowel sound. Because of this boy’s struggles, I decided to focus on vowel sounds for my mini-unit.
With the exception of certain onomatopoeia, all words in the English language have vowels. But unlike some languages that give each vowel or vowel diagraph its own unique pronunciation, the English language is constantly changing the sound of its letters depending on the word. Case in point, the diagraph ea represents at least six different sounds. The irregular rules of English spelling make it difficult for many children, whether English is their primary language or not, to learn how to decode words with multiple vowels. Since vowels are present in every word, it is imperative that all children learn how to properly decode vowel correspondences.
In my mini-unit, I use several exercises to teach my student how to decode different vowel patterns. While my lessons are catered specifically for this one child’s needs, they can be adapted for multiple students in a small group setting. The purpose of both of the lessons is to work on recognizing vowel patterns, including, but not limited to words with a final e, vowels preceded or proceeded by an r, and vowel diagraphs. My goal is to get the student’s comprehension of these words up to an instructional or independent level.
Content Objective: Understanding Vowels
1. Looking at the differences between sounds and spelling
- Say It Move it Part I
- Building Words
- Say it Move it Part II
2. Exploring Vowel Diagraphs
- Reading Flashcards
- Building “Word Trains”
The student will play the Say, Move it game, where he moves tokens below the designated line for every sound in a word. The teacher will start with easy CVC words, such as “cat, dog, hat,” etc. before moving on to more complicated words like “boat, tail, book, rain,” etc. This is to assess whether the student understands phonemes and graphemes or not. If he doesn’t, the teacher needs to address this concept before moving on to these lessons.
- Demonstrate the individual sounds that consonants, vowels, and diagraphs make to form a word by sounding them out using a Say It, Move It graphic organizer.
- Create different words by switching out consonants at the beginning and end of the words.
- Compare and contrast the number of sounds and the number of letters specific words have by sounding and spelling them out.
- Demonstrate understanding of vowels with a final e, vowels preceded or proceeded by an r, and vowel diagraphs by sight reading words off of flashcards.
- Organize words by vowel patterns into “word trains.”
Common Core Standards
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.K.1b Recognize that spoken words are represented in written language by specific sequences of letters.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.K.2 Demonstrate understanding of spoken words, syllables, and sounds (phonemes).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.K.2e Add or substitute individual sounds (phonemes) in simple, one-syllable words to make new words.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.K.3b Associate the long and short sounds with the common spellings (graphemes) for the five major vowels.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.K.3c Read common high-frequency words by sight (e.g., the, of, to, you, she, my, is, are, do, does).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.K.3d Distinguish between similarly spelled words by identifying the sounds of the letters that differ.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.K.5 With guidance and support from adults, explore word relationships and nuances in word meanings.
Lesson Plans and Activities
Evaluation Procedures (culminating authentic activity)
The final assessment will consist of both a reading and a writing exercise to determine whether the student has improved his/her ability to read and understand vowels. First, the student will read The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss. This particular text features quite a few of the vowels correspondences that the student was struggling with, including vowels with a final e, vowels preceded or proceeded by an r, and vowel diagraphs. The hope is that the child will be able to read the book at instructional or independent level, meaning he will have to get 116 or more of the 131 words correct during the IRI. If reads the story successfully, it means that he has either developed understanding of certain vowel rules, or he has successfully memorized these words as part of his list of dolch/sight words.
For the second authentic assessment the child will play two rounds of the word ladder game. The student starts with one word at the top of the “ladder,” and he has to trade one letter in to create a new word on the rung below. For example, the “c” in cat is traded in for a “b” to create bat. The “t” in bat is traded in to make bar, etc. This assessment is used to determine whether the student understands that spellings of vowels and consonants must change in order to create new sounds.