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Literacy Beginnings – Chapter 22: Observing reading behaviors in preschool

Literacy BeginningsWe are nearing the end of our book study of “Literacy Beginnings” (Fountas & Pinnell). I have enjoyed all the ideas that I’ve gathered from the book and other bloggers in the Blog Party. We are now at the part of the book that talks about how to assess literacy learning in preschoolers. Now maybe that doesn’t sound as exciting as some of the other chapters … but it was interesting to me, in that this section gives some clear, concrete ways to observe and document reading and writing behaviors. In the words of the authors, this chapter discusses ways to “guide your observations”. And anything that can help teachers best utilize their time and talents when assessing children is worthwhile, and yes .. a little exciting!

“Teachers can become astute observers of reading and writing behaviors and skilled at producing responses which advance the child’s learning.” — Marie Clay

The best way to assess a child’s understanding of basically, anything, is to simply watch them play or work. Take time to interact with them as they play – talk and listen to what they tell you. Teachers do this on a daily basis all year long. So, how do we best document their understanding of literacy? What should we be looking for? And how long will all this assessing take?

I’ll answer the last question first … it doesn’t have to take long at all. The authors suggest observing 2-3 children a day and taking notes (using notecards or a clipboard) – with each observation only taking a few minutes. Doing this periodically 3-4 times a year will give you a great deal of information to aid in your planning and to share with parents.

The authors then discuss three types of reading experiences that can be observed –interactive read-aloud, shared reading and independent book experiences. The behaviors mentioned in the sections below are what you can expect to see from children AFTER they have had many experiences with the types of reading activities listed.

Interactive Read-Aloud

In an interactive read-aloud you read a story to the children and then discuss it. You can point out new vocabulary, talk about the sequence of events in the story, talk about how the story makes them feel, etc.

What should you look for while observing?

When observing a child participating in an interactive read-aloud, the authors give some clear things to look for on page 209 – such as, does the child…
• look at the book while it’s being read
• join in on repetitive parts of the book
• make comments that are appropriate while the story is being read
• make comments after reading that show an understanding of the story

These are specific behaviors that are observable and that teachers can take notes on.

Shared Reading

Shared reading is when teachers and the children read the text together (using big books, flip chart poems or songs or writing a rhyme on the chalkboard).

What should you look for while observing?

The authors give some more specific questions to keep in mind while observing a child during a shared reading activity on page 209 – does the child …
• participate during rereading with some accuracy
• look at the print while reading
• locate a few words in the text
• match spoken with written words (point under each word while reading)

Independent Book Experiences

Ideally, there should be times throughout the prekindergarten day for children to look at books independently or with a friend. Classrooms may have a specific “library time” or it could be a choice for children at specific times of the day. Observing children as they handle books can give teachers some insight into their understanding of literacy. Watching how a child holds the book (right side up), turns the pages (right to left) and talks about the pictures are important behaviors to note.

When observing a child during a reading experience, asking some of the questions below will help you gather specific evidence of that child’s understanding of literacy. The authors list some questions to ask on page 210, such as:
• Point to the title of the book
• Show me your favorite part of the book (and ask why)
• Show me the beginning/ending of the story (and ask what happens at the end)
• Can you find a word that starts with the same letter as your name?

Keeping track of your observations

The authors talk about using simple methods to keep track of your observations, such as on index cards or with a sheet on a clipboard. I came up with a simple “Literacy Assessment Sheet” that can printed and be used on a clipboard and stored in a 3-ring binder. It lists up to 3 children on a sheet (so you can quickly assess up to 3 children at a time). I also setup a fillable form version (opens up in MS Word), if you are transferring notes onto a computer and storing them there.

What methods to YOU use to keep track of your observations of children’s reading behaviors?

To get more indepth descriptions of reading experiences, such as interactive read-alouds and shared reading, refer to the following chapter reviews:
Pre-K Pages – Chapter 5 and Chapter 13
The SEEDS Network (Chapter 5)
Look at my Happy Rainbow (Chapter 11)
Growing in PreK (Chapter 12)

Next up – is Chapter 23: Observing writing behaviors in preschool!

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