Why can’t you help your emerging first grade readers and writers?

Because you don’t know a thing about teaching reading or writing to emerging first graders.

I’m going to share with you a starting point for understanding what your students do know about reading and writing; books, letters, words, sentences, text features, sounds, and more.

After completing graduate school with a specialized program of Reading Specialist under my belt, I did not feel prepared to take on the practice of teaching children to read or write.  I had plenty of knowledge about phonology, phonics, spelling, writing, grammar, and some strategies for helping students who needed some focused attention, but I had nothing of the sort that was systematic and produced true results.

Reading Recovery along with other systems such as Orton GillinghamLinda-Mood Bell, or Wilson Language Training, are a necessity for teacher’s tool kits.  I find few who have any of these in their repertoires, and fewer who know how to teach reading and writing well, especially if a student is in need of methodical progression of learning.

Big publishing companies aim to create for the masses and gain mass dollars.  I recently heard a teacher say, “I don’t know how to teach you that because it’s not in my book!”

As a first grade teacher, you will want to begin with an assessment called the Observation Survey (OS).  I’ve worked in schools where this is a well-used tool for garnering information.  Administering this assessment requires skill, practice, training, and collaboration with partner teachers to discuss findings.  It is not an assessment to be given lightly; meaning there needs to be a commitment to the information garnered, with lesson implementation focused on known information to build success over time.

The OS is broken into six parts:

Letter Identification (LID): 26 upper case and 28 lower case (two variations of a and g) students can identify the letters by naming them, offering the sound, or saying a word that begins with that letter.

Observed information: a student’s knowledge of letters, whether it be naming, knowing the sound, or an associated word, approach and ease of task, and more.

Concepts About Print (CAP): is composed of 24 questions about book handling (cover, title…), directionality (where to start, which way to go…), identification of comma, capital, one letter or one word.  The assessment it more in-depth than my description, but suffice those are the general elements.

Observed information: book handling, book knowledge, recognition of letters, words, and punctuation in text, and more.

Word Reading (WR):  child sees 20 words and reads any that s/he knows.

Observed information: how many words is the child able to read, is s/he able to start reading an unknown word using some information and more.

Writing Vocabulary (WV): child is prompted to write as many words as s/he knows with a time limit of 10 minutes.

Observed information: how many words does the child know how to write, phonology, letter formation, comfort in writing, and more.

Hearing and Recording Sounds in Words (HRSW): child is read a sentence, then writes as much of the sentence as possible.

Observed information: how many sounds is child able to record (write) from an oral dictation, knowledge of sounds in words, ease of writing, letter formation, pencil grip, and more.

Reading: a series of leveled books, specifically for the OS, are used, that have been standardized, a book at a time is introduced, while the teacher takes a Running Record.

Observed information: student’s ability to read while using visual information, meaning, and structural information.

What I love dearly about the OS is, the observing is purposeful, as an educator you are watching for the student’s strategic approach, what useful information do they have to read and write.  Information observed during the assessment affords the development of lessons that are powerful and planned for meeting that child where they are and providing just enough in lessons to grow their knowledge to blossom.

The OS is not to be taken lightly, you will need practice over time, you will want collegial participation.  You will want to seek out a Reading Recovery Teacher, or a Reading Recovery Trainer to support you along the journey.  This is an assessment that is best carried out and utilized in a group of dedicated professionals interested in a holistic look at what a student can do


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