Literacy Intervention in Kindergarten

If you are in the field of education, then you are most likely very familiar with the terms progress-monitoring and data-based decisions. These terms are “hot” and at the center of many school meetings. Progress-monitoring and data-based decisions are important but I wonder what would happen if effectiveness of an intervention and teacher expertise became more central to our discussions.

Ineffective intervention practices 

In some schools, kindergarten interventions consist of extra time practicing letters and words on flashcards, lessons with a paraprofessional or time spent with a computer program. Richard Allington (2013) speaks to the effectiveness of these intervention approaches in his article, What Really Matters When Working With Struggling Readers (2013).

In regards to the use of paraprofessionals as service providers Allington states that, “over a decade ago, the federal Title 1 program evaluation noted: Progress in using Title 1 support improved instructional practices at the school-level remains limited by the continued use of paraprofessionals who provide instruction-particularly in the highest-poverty Title 1 schools…Phasing out their use in instruction and promoting their use as parent liaisons or in administrative functions should be a priority.” The article continues on with sharing that schools employ a higher number of paraprofessionals than reading specialists and that the teachers hired often know little about reading development or how to go about teaching students how to read.

Allington also warns us about putting funds toward commercial intervention programs (p. 522). Instead he recommends that schools invest in their teachers making them more and more knowledgeable about literacy acquisition. Allington cited two studies in which, “emergent readers at risk for becoming older struggling readers were largely eliminated after their teachers had participated in 30 or more hours of targeted professional development, in addition to having classroom coaching available to support their efforts to become truly effective reading teachers” (p. 524).

Lastly, it is not necessary to waste precious funding on computer-based reading programs. Unfortunately, despite the lack of independent research that supports their effectiveness a plethora of literacy-based computer programs have invaded schools across America.

Effective intervention practices

Assessment

A quick and easy way to determine which children in our kindergarten classrooms need extra literacy support is to administer a letter identification assessment to each child. Scanlon & Sweeney (2010), in their chapter entitled Kindergarten Intervention: Teaching to Prevent Reading Difficulties, summarize Scanlon & Vellutino’s findings regarding the letter id assessment. The letter id assessment was used “rather than a more elaborate assessment of early literacy skills, because we had found in earlier research that a measure of letter-name knowledge administered at kindergarten entry was as effective in identifying which students might ultimately demonstrate reading difficulties as was a more elaborate and time-consuming battery of assessments” (p. 179). When a letter id assessment is used, each school can decide on their own cut-off and discontinuing criteria for who would benefit from intervention services. Services can work fluidly and in waves so that as students exit others can enter. 

Collaboration with classroom teacher

Meet with the classroom teacher regularly and use that time to:

  • Plan meaningful and authentic reading and writing opportunities
  • Use the same terminology (ex. uppercase vs. capital)
  • Echo learning topics and themes
  • Echo high-frequency words and letters being taught
  • Plan to provide intervention support in the child’s classroom

Strengthen phonemic awareness

All educators agree that children need systematic phonics instruction. Since there is currently no research to support that there is a “best way” to teach phonics, teachers need to be educated in the different types of phonics instruction and not mandated to teach in one specific way.

Students need to have the understanding that the letters they see represent the sounds that we hear in spoken language. Students should also be taught how to do a letter-sound analysis and how to blend sounds together to make words.

Knowledgeable teachers can make informed decisions about:

  • what to teach students
  • how to adjust the level of challenge based on:
    • their knowledge
    • the skills of the students
    • the expectations of the classroom program
    • the provided professional development.  (Scanlon and Sweeny, 2010, p. 184).

Scanlon & Sweeny identify three activities that can be used to develop phonemic awareness (p. 184).

Picture Sorting

Provide reading & writing tasks

Allington writes that “effective decoding proficiency is a hallmark of good beginning readers, but it is hardly the only hallmark” (p. 522). We need find a healthy balance between phonics instruction and authentic reading and writing experiences. Students learn to read and write by partaking in actual reading and writing. Therefore, students should spend the majority of their lesson engaged in the act of reading and writing. Students can be taught foundational skills through the context of authentic reading and writing tasks.

We should choose motivating and engaging texts and provide students with some choice about the books they read. We can support students to develop word-solving strategies as they read the text. Students need plenty of opportunities to discuss the meaning of the texts that they are reading. Even students in very early reading levels benefit from comprehension discussions.  One benefit of comprehension discussions when students are reading early patterned books is exposure to higher level vocabulary. For example, when discussing a character’s feelings, we can broaden their vocabulary by introducing words such as “worried,” “frustrated” or “excited.”

Early lessons can look like shared reading where the teacher will model various concepts about print. Shared reading is a great mode for explicit teaching about letter-sound correspondence, rhymes, and letter names.

When teaching high-frequency words, include some review time for previously learned words as their high- frequency word vocabulary grows. Connect these new words to the books they are reading by having students find them within the text, frame them with their fingers and then read the complete sentence.

Students can write responses to the books that they have read. Sometimes we might want our students to write a sentence that is dictated to them. Dictated sentences allow us to target different sounds and high-frequency words that we have been working on. We should model for students how to say a word slowly so that they can hear sounds throughout the word. Students should be encouraged to take on the task of saying words slowly as early as possible. We can also model for students how to listen for parts of words by having them clap words from time to time. Writing meaningful sentences related to the books they are reading is an authentic way for students to develop their letter sound knowledge, gain a better understanding of concepts about print, and to increase the number of words they can write on their own.

In Summary

Imagine what our students would look like in second grade, fourth grade, and even sixth grade if from their earliest years in school they were provided the instruction they needed to become readers and writers from the start. In order to do this, we first have to avoid the practices that are not beneficial but find their way into our schools:

  • Letter/word flashcards
  • Paraprofessionals providing intervention
  • Scripted intervention programs
  • Literacy based computer programs
  • Reading lessons over-focused on item knowledge/less time spent reading and writing

And let’s adopt those practices with proven success:

  • Reading specialists that are knowledgeable and trained
  • Primary teachers that are knowledgeable due to on-going training in literacy acquisition
  • Continued quality professional development for reading specialists and primary teachers
  • Collaboration between reading specialists and the classroom teacher
  • Strengthen phonemic awareness skills
  • Authentic reading and writing experiences.

 If you enjoyed this post, you might also be interested in:

Kindergarten Letter Knowledge” Predictor of Future At-Risk Readers

Clay’s Observation Survey: A Tool to Guide Early Literacy Teaching

Resources:

Allington, R. (2013). What Really Matters When Working with Struggling Readers. Reading Teacher, v66, n7, April, 520-530.

Johnston, P. (2010).  RTI in Literacy – Responsive and Comprehensive.  Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

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