It’s not that “letter of the week” is horrible, it is not always optimal.
Without going into a dissertation, the biggest problem comes down to the overemphasis on letter instruction. There is a huge misconception that learning letters is the core of literacy development when, in fact, although important, it is only a small portion of what is needed for children to learn how to read. (Other important components: receptive and expressive language skills, sound awareness and production, visual and auditory discrimination, phonemic awareness, vocabulary development, memory and sequential skills for comprehension, print awareness, AND motivation – to name a few. Oh – and those all have subcategories too!). The result is programs tend to base their entire curriculum around a “letter of the week” format and sometimes neglect the other aspects of literacy development.
So, specifically for a child to acquire alphabet knowledge (which is recognizing a letter and connecting it with a sound), he/ she must have visual discrimination skills, auditory discrimination skills, AND the interest in learning the letter, with that last part being the key. So, if an entire week is spent on a letter that in no way pertains to a child and he/ she has no interest in that letter, it creates a week of meaningless experiences. The child will probably “memorize” the letter, but won’t acquire the authentic, foundational knowledge needed about the letter to build upon for literacy development when the time comes.
My recommendations? Based on my own experiences as a teacher and what all I have read from other child development and literacy specialists:
- For children under the age of 4: work on the literacy foundational skills listed above. Lots of hands-on experiences for visual and auditory discrimination, singing songs, experiencing different sounds, reading books and discussing the content, lots of conversations, lots of language, lots of play, etc.
- Specifically for letter instruction at the age of 4: instead of letters of the week, pay attention to what letters will be important to the children. Start with those letters and provide instruction continually within context. (Usually the first letters they want to learn are the first letters of their names, their family members’ names, and their friend’s names.) Create daily experiences all throughout the day, both formally and informally as well as planned and spontaneous, with these letters. Repetition and reinforcement is important (but not drill and kill) by always coming back to the letters. So, do the same activities you probably would do for letter of the week – as long as it is DAP – but intermingle them based on the children’s cues and interests. (Essentially, it is a spiral approach.)
- And, like anything else, this does require constant observation and documentation. It is up to the teacher to keep a journal of some sort to ensure throughout the course of the year that all of the letters have been introduced. It also requires some assessment to document the children’s alphabet knowledge which will also help the teacher in lesson planning.
Want some more information? Check out this book. Or better yet, I have a fun training entitled, “Do This, Not That: Alphabet Knowledge” I would love to share with your school or organization!
So, there you have it. Just think of how long this would have been if you asked me about formal writing instruction!
We have heard it time and time again – reading to babies is essential in developing vocabulary and enhancing literacy development. Guess what? It is true!
But what does that experience look like? Here are some suggestions for reading experiences with babies.
First of all, just because a book is published in a board book format does not mean the text is developmentally appropriate. It is fine for the baby holding, mouthing, and experiencing, but if you are going for the reading experience, I suggest a simple picture per page with a plain background and minimal text (one sentence per page at most). Books to consider:
When reading with babies, tap on the page to direct their eyes to the picture before you read the text. You might tap on the page again after reading it.
Always follow baby’s cues. If he/she keep turning to a particular page, keep reading that page then talk about it. “What do you see?” or “Why is the baby happy?”
Really and truly, the best thing you can do to promote literacy development is ensure your baby continually hears language (from an actual person, not an electronic device) and create nurturing, positive experiences with books!
Of the list, my top 5 favorites are, but in no particular order:
- Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault
- If you Give a Moose a Muffin by Laura Numeroff
- Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
- Click, Clack, Moo, Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin
- Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems
What shouldn’t have made the list? Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister Sorry – it is one of my least favorite books! The illustrations are beautiful, and I know the message is meant to be positive, but it bothers me that Rainbow Fish only gave his fins away for, in my opinion, selfish reason.
Now, drum roll please ….. my top 5 picks that should have made the list but didn’t, but in no particular order. (Again, this is for books published in the last 25 years.)
- Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell
- No David by David Shannon
- Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin
- Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt
- Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner
If you haven’t read any of these, you need to check them out!
“Ladies & Gentleman! I see a song. I paint music. I hear color …. Come, listen, and let your imagination see your own song.” says the violinist illustrated in a monochromatic black. But as he begins to play, colors begin to fill the pages. Pictures begin to form and the song begins to tell a colorful story.
When I was teaching, I would read the introduction to my class, then, I would play music – different types of music. Some days it would be light classical while others, it might be slow jazz. I would ask my learners if the illustrations matched the music as I turned the pages. Did they feel the pictures were telling the story of the music they were hearing? Why or why not? I enjoyed hearing their explanations. I loved watching them feel and connect to the music.
Many times, as an extension to the book, I would provide blank paper with crayons or paint, and I would play different types of music; again, it varied day-to-day. I encouraged the children to turn the songs they were hearing, and feeling, into pictures. I wanted them to interpret the songs on to paper and make the music come alive. I loved their descriptions when I asked them to tell me about their drawings. What an amazing experience to watch the children connect to the music and “see a song”.