Teaching students how to read is what I love most about being a kindergarten teacher. So many people are intimidated by something that has become such a large part of my teaching style. The moment when they read a full sentence and then look up at you like “Did I just READ!?!” is why I do what I do. They are so proud of themselves, and it is so rewarding to get to experience that with them. When I first started teaching, I have to admit that I didn’t really understand balanced literacy, shared reading, “thin” and “thick” questions, and so many other important strategies. That is why having a mentor teacher and being a mentor teacher is vital that first year and even your second year. I had an amazing mentor teacher that gave me brilliant resources.
That first year teaching, I read a book called Growing Readers by Kathy Collins, and it helped me understand how the process of reading really works. It was the perfect mentor text to read before getting started with my twenty-five little kindergarteners. I can’t stress how important it is to send “just right” books home with your students. I’m not talking about those printable paper books either. Yes, the books will get lost and worn down. They might get a juice or coffee knocked over on it, but kids need to feel the book between their little fingers. There is also something to be said about sharing stories they read at school with their families. If you don’t do anything else, send books home with your students!
That first year teaching, my mentor teacher gave me a tool to use with my students called “The Helping Hand for Reading." When I meet with students during guided reading, they pull their helping hand out with their books. I have one enlarged and on my board behind me. I also keep on in their bags they use for Reader’s Workshop. The five parts of the “Helping Hand” are as follows:
1. Say the first sound
2. Check the picture
3. Skip it
5. Does it look right, sound right and make sense?
Students use this hand when they come to a word in a text they don’t know. I teach one strategy a day at the beginning of the year. My students come to my knowing most of their letters and sounds. They are eager to read. You might just be at this point with your students so you can start introducing these strategies to your beginning readers. I model with a book they are familiar with. Then, I model some more. I also teach parents how to use it in a quick e-mail or note home. Each strategy is pretty self-explanatory. The only strategy that my reading specialist and I changed and moved was “skip-it.” Typically, students can figure out a word based on the context of the sentence if the first two strategies don’t work.
The week after I teach each strategy, I let the students practice with each other. They sit on the carpet with their bag of books. While one student reads a book, the other student holds the helping hand. If the reader gets stuck on a word, then the reading partner walks them through the steps on the helping hand. Again, there is a lot of modeling that takes place before I have the kids do it themselves. We are constantly reviewing the strategies and learning how to build our “strategy suitcase” as I like to call it.