With teachers feeling the pressure to improve student performance, pushing kindergarteners to read has become standard operating practice in many schools. Many teachers and administrators believe that state standards and common core standards are pushing for early reading. Let's analyze this myth:
Common Core Standards break reading into several areas: Foundational Skills, Reading: Literature, and Reading: Informational Text. In the common core, foundational skills are specific skills that are needed to decode text, while the other two areas relate to comprehension of text. At the Kindergarten Level, the Reading Literature and Reading Information Text skills are based on oral listening comprehension skills. This means, children listen to books, and can discuss them. No child reading involved!
Foundational Skill expectations at the kindergarten level include: print awareness, phonological awareness (awareness of sounds within words), phonics (knowing how letters map onto sounds), and fluency (being able to read with fluency). Specifically:
Print Awareness Skills include being able to hold a book appropriately, know where text starts, and understand that each spoken word maps to one group of letters separated by a space.
Phonological Awareness skills include the ability to recognize that language is composed of sounds. The Common Core requires that children can make rhymes, separate words into syllables/sounds, and manipulate sounds within words.
Phonics skills include attaching letters to sounds. In Kindergarten, the Common Core states that children should know all the consonant letters and the sounds they make, identify the vowels and that they can make a "long" and "short" sound, and recognize some high frequency words by site (e.g. the, of, to, you, she, my, is, are, do, does.) Children should also be able to distinguish between similarly spelled words by identifying the sounds of the letters that differ (e.g. hat, hit, hot.)
Fluency is the ability to read with speed and ease. The Common Core states that children should "Read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding."
It seems that this standard (Fluency) is where the break down in understanding expectations is occurring. What is an emergent reader and what should our kindergarten students be able to "read" by the end of the year?
An emergent reader text has these features:
- words that are no longer that 3-4 letters
- every letter maps onto one specific sound in a phonetically regular fashion
- The only words that do not follow a one-one correspondence of sound to letter are high frequency common words such as "that, the, you, she, my, are."
- Note: Some emergent reader texts have harder words. For example, if the sentence structure remains the same on every page with one word changing, and the picture depicts the change (e.g. The boy is swimming. The boy is climbing. The boy is eating. The boy is sleeping.) For books like this, the child is not really "reading" most of the words. He or she is memorizing the sentence structure, using the picture, and pulling from known vocabulary to figure out the one new word.
Let's look at some different books that are labeled as "emergent" or "pre-reader" to determine which books are appropriate for kindergarteners to read, according to the Common Core Standards:
1. BOB Series 1 Books
The text in the Bob Book Series 1 has each sentence on a separate page with a matching picture: "Mat. Mat Sat. Sam. Sam Sat. Sam sat on Mat"
All the words have 1-1 letter-sound correspondence. The only words that do not are high frequency words. This series is appropriate for kindergarten.
2. Scholastic Book Pre-Level One Book Sample:
On the front cover of this book, it says "Pre-Level One" and it gives a word count on the front page (30-100 words), as though the number of words dictates how hard a book is to read! Level one is suggested for preschool to kindergarten, so presumably this Pre-Level One book is appropriate for children as young as three. These are some lines of text from the book: "Gus goes to school. Bye dad! Gus loves school. It's time for art. What will Gus make? Gus makes a gift. "
At first glance, the book looks easy. The pictures are colorful, and like the BOB series, every sentence is on its own page. However, this book breaks many true emergent reader rules:
1. A majority of the words follow higher level phonics patterns (e.g. r-controlled vowel: art; vowel-consonant-e: make, time; consonant blend: gift)
2. Some of the words are phonetically irregular (e.g. school, bye)
3. Many words require a phonetic understanding of morphological endings (e.g. goes, makes)
This book would meet Common Core Reading Foundation expectations for a first grade student. It is not appropriate for most kindergarten students.
3. Harper Collins (I Can Read Book 1 Level 1)
From the cover this books appears to be an appropriate emergent reader book. The book is labeled as appropriate for preschool through first grade. However, upon opening the cover, the first page reads: "Wilma the witch has a crazy broom. It likes to fly around her room." The second page reads: "She has a fat cat and a pet rat." It continues: "Wilma loves her pet rat. She calls the rat 'my little brat.'" The next page: "The rat hates the cat. The cat doesn't care. The cat who is fat just lies in the vat and stares at the rat. The rat hates that." It continues on.
This book is not emergent for the following reasons (and this is just from the first few pages!):
1. It requires familiarity with first grade phonics rules for two syllable words (e.g. Wilma)
2. It includes phonics rules beyond single consonant-sound or vowel-sound correspondences, appropriate for a first grader, including: dipthongs: room; vowel-consonant-e: care, hate, stare; vowel team: lie.
3. It includes morphological endings that are not expected below first grade (e.g. hate-s, doe-n't, lie-s)
4. My World: Now I'm Reading(Pre-Reader Series)
The small books in this pack are all based on themes. One book, titled "I like to Eat" has the following text: "I like to eat tomatoes. I like to eat cheese. I like to eat pepperoni..." and so on. Each page has a picture of a pig holding one food item.
This is an emergent reader. The goal of this book is to teach the high frequency words "I, like, to." It includes the picture support to figure out the changing food item in each sentence.
Achieving The Common Core Standards: The common theme of true emerging, kindergarten appropriate texts is that they are BORING! The language is either very silly (sam sat on mat?) or the text is highly repetitive (I like to eat.... x y z). Most kindergarteners won't enjoy reading true emergent texts because it's far more interesting to LISTEN to language rich stories and PLAY with letters and sounds. For this reason, fluency has a part in our kindergarten classrooms, but it should be LIMITED and mainly at the end of the year for most students.
And just because a text publisher says a text is beginning, emergent, or pre-reader, do not always believe the packaging!