Today I had the opportunity to observe a colleague in my mentor school teach Reading Workshop to emergent kindergarten readers. She opened the lesson by telling the students, “remember what we did yesterday with sounds? We’re going to play that game again! We’ll say the sounds in a word in a robot voice when we’re breaking the sounds apart, then we’ll say the sounds in a regular voice when we put all the sounds together. Immediately, the teacher had buy in from the students because while sharing the learning target she told them they would practice something that they already know about, and they will play a game where they get to use a robot voice.
She begins by presenting a few simple two phoneme words, “if” and “ad”, prompting the kids, “help me count!” As the students count the sounds with her she writes the two letters that correspond with the two sounds above two yellow frame boxes at the bottom of the white board. Then, she introduces a third phoneme and asks the students to help her find the sounds in the word “gum”. After the students sound out the three phonemes in “gum”, a student raises his hand and says, “hey if you replace the “m” with “h”.” The teacher leaps enthusiastically on the opportunity for a student to exercising a concept they had practiced in the prior day’s lesson. She gets really excited and says, “let’s try it!” They replace the “m” letter with “h”, and when the class sounds out the nonsense word, “guh,” She asks the class if this is a nonsense word, or a real word. Then she says, “but that’s okay, nonsense words help us learn how to read too.” The teacher will initiate some nonsense words herself later in the lesson to model this practice of using nonsense words to learn how to read. I love that she creates a learner-friendly culture by modeling that is okay to just sound out different letters while attempting to build words, and sometimes they will be nonsense, and sometimes real.
The classroom management technique that this teacher uses is a sophisticated collage of positive discipline, knowledge of individual student’s cultures, and facilitating a learning culture that is fun, risk-free and challenging. When she called students to come up front for the lesson she affectionately prompted students who continued to read their books, and not follow instructions by saying, “I love that you all like to read so much that it’s hard to come to the rug.” There was one student who was up on her knees and removed from the rest of the group in the back. This is a student who is easily distracted by other students. The teacher said, “yesterday you had someone in front of you and you couldn’t see. Come up to this front purple square. There, see! Now you won’t have to worry about it!” When students begin to call out, rather than focusing attention on the students who are calling out, she acknowledges the others, “I love how (names of students) are waiting quietly.”
She calls on all the students during the mini-lesson. This means that students who are reluctant to share their thinking are prompted to sound out words. The teacher is supportive and encouraging as less confident students practice new reading skills. When students who share frequently begin to talk over the reluctant student, she says, “I want to hear (name of student). Remember you can whisper it into your hand.” I like that this teacher is a witness to the good and she always assumes good intentions from her students. I have known her for more than three years, and I have seen her be consistently validating of student’s ability and character.
After the mini-lesson she chooses small groups of three or four students to go to workplaces. She has chosen the workplaces to reinforce the learning target of building, segmenting, and sounding out three phoneme words. As the groups move to their groups she reminds the students about steps and procedures for new workplaces. She reminds students “don’t rush friends!” She checks for understanding with each students and scaffolds their access to the workplace activities. When students look to her for answers she challenges them to think deeper by saying, “what do you think?” She always makes sure that students are doing the work of sounding out, even if they need help with reading instructions or process. This teacher has struck a fine balance between supporting students access to the learning, and communicating high expectations for engagement.
As the class ends, she prompts students to clean up. The students are accustomed the closure routine, and for the most part easily motivate to put away their materials and transition to lunch. There are two students who need extra support with today’s practice, and the teacher takes five minutes of her lunch to support them. These two students don’t seem to mind losing a few minutes of their lunch recess because they genuinely love being in this teacher’s class and learning to read.