Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Backwards Mapping Standards for Alphabetic Proficiency

Backwards Mapping Standards

The Standard: "Uses sound-letter knowledge (of the alphabet)"

I am an educator in Japan who has been teaching for only four years. My twelve children are preschool-kindergarten students, aged 3-6 years old. They attend my English school three hours a day, every weekday. My school uses the Creative Curriculum, which is a multilingual curriculum that is curated and set through Teaching Strategies.

Children in my preschool are expected to meet this standard by the time they graduate to first grade. The curriculum works in multiple games and activities around this standard throughout the year, with appropriately adjustable challenges for age levels. Since the school exists first and foremost as an English school, focusing on the four cornerstones of reading, writing, speaking, and listening is essential.

The standard I am using is one of 38 objectives from the Creative Curriculum:

Objective 16: Demonstrates knowledge of the alphabet 
  • a.Identifies and names letters 
  • b.Uses letter-sound knowledge
The children should be proficient in a) the ability to sound out words, b) recognizing the repeating the individual sounds associated with each letter, and c) understanding that a sequence of letters represents a sequence of spoken sounds.

When it comes time to assess the level of their competence, some of the rubrics we use are:
  1. the student can produce the correct sounds for all 26 letters of the alphabet on command
  2. the student can produce the correct sounds for all 
  3. applies letter-sound correspondence when attempting to read 
  4. applies letter-sound correspondence when attempting to write
Some examples of what I look for when assessing children's skills levels are:
  • Sees the word cat; begins to sound out the word:  /k/ /a/ /t/
  • Makes an open sign for the doctor's office by writing "opn"
  • Asks when writing, "How do you spell cough?" 
As their knowledge grows, they cease to make as many mistakes and I am more likely to observe and record successful instances of the standard in practice. A full asseessment might look like:
  •  If the child can listen to and replicate the letters I spell out for them on a number of occassions, that shows they have profieciency in sound-letter recognition as it relates to listening and writing.
  • If the child sees the word dog, and can sound out the word, using each individual sound: /d/ /o/ /g/ on a number of occassions; also if the child can listen to the word sounded out and understand that it is dog; that shows they have profieciency in sound-letter recognition as it relates to listening, reading and speaking.
  •  If the child writes a word by themselves on a number of occassions by sounding out the word and choosing the correct letters to spell the word, such as spelling the word tree on their homework without assistance, that shows they have proficiency in sound-letter recognition as it relates to writing and speaking.
There are many different ways to incorporate this standard into the curriculum without shoehorning it in. The learning experiences and activities I will use to help students meet the standard will be of a variety that incorporates other parts of their days, such as daily vocabulary words, active play, and music class.

Here are some learning experiences and activities that I have either used in the past, have wanted to use, or have recently discovered and found to be conducive to the standard:
  1. Animal Cracker Association: Sometimes during snacktime, I give the children animal crackers to eat. These crackers are made in the shape of easily-recognizable animals, with their names printed in all-uppercase letters. When I sit with the children at snacktime, we talk about what animals they are eating, and how their names are spelled and sounded out. This is a repetitive exercise that can be done during downtime every day to increase proficiency.
  2. Writing a Letter to a Friend: In order to combine writing with sound-letter association, I will encourage the children to write thank you cards to the public speakers who visit our school, using paper and a pencil. While the students write the English words they would like to use, I will talk to them and help them sound out the words so they recognize that what they want to say can be written down as prose on a piece of paper.
  3. Poetry in Motion: This is a game I've played with the children before. I show them a picture and then make up a short poem about that picture using simple English they have heard before. Then we review the poem and the children try to identify the words in the poem, either through careful listening or sounding them out. Then we write the words on the board, and read the poem aloud. When the poems are about things the children find interesting, they are more likely to participate with vigor. Poems about animals and their friends are popular.
  4. Reading Proficiency: Reading a book with a child, I'll point to the featured letter as I speak it. "Here is the letter T. What sound does it make? That's right! It makes a /t/ sound. What do you see on this page that starts with the /t/ sound?" This is also a good activity if the kids are making books or posters, because they can look for words or images that start with each letter of the alphabet and sound them out when they find them. 
For children growing up in countries where English is not the primary spoken language, this can be a long and difficult process. Here in Japan, there is almost no benefit to using English outside of the classroom, so the only exposure the children will get is the three hours they spend here. That is why it is essential that the teacher speak only English, and that the process is a slow and steady one. Once the children become accustomed to speaking and listening to English, the rest should follow.

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