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Back to School: Getting to Know Your Kindergarten Readers

Desktop with a back to school sign and school supplies

Essential Assessments for Kindergarten Readers

“Back-to-School” is the best time of year.  The kindergartners arrive at the classroom door, shining and smiling in their new school clothes, eager to learn.

There is a LOT to learn.  First, they have to learn how to ‘do’ school.  They have to learn where the bathroom is, how to share school supplies, and how to navigate the playground.  Kindergartners have to learn the rules of school including taking turns speaking, following directions, and taking care of supplies.  It can take several weeks until the classroom hits its groove.

While helping kindergartners adjust to the school setting and getting to know the students as individuals, you must also get to know them as learners.  That can appear to be a daunting task.

Where does the classroom teacher begin?

In order to get to know your kindergarten readers, it is important to start with assessing foundational skills.   Phonological awareness is an essential foundational skill and research findings show that one of the two best predictors of reading success is phonological awareness. (The National Reading Panel p 48)

Phonological awareness, an oral skill, is the ability to manipulate the sounds in language.  A child’s success with phonological skills is the strongest predictor of reading success.

How can I determine my students’ understanding of PA skills?

Phonological Awareness Assessment

We have developed a comprehensive phonological awareness screen that assesses 15 key phonological skills in order of complexity. The more complex skills are the more discrete skills and are referred to as phonemic awareness skills.

Which skills are the most essential to assess?

You don’t have to administer this assessment all in one sitting.  This assessment tool begins with the most basic skills and moves incrementally to the more difficult (discrete) skills.

To help determine whether students are responding to instruction and identify individual strengths and weaknesses, administer this Phonological Skills Assessment (PSA)  at various times throughout the year. Included in this resource is the ‘Guidelines for Analysis’.  This document highlights common areas of confusion for students and helps teachers determine next instructional steps.

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What do I do after I give the assessment to my students?

After reviewing the results of the PSA, look for common areas of confusion and group your kindergarten readers according to their needs.  Teachers can differentiate instruction and address common areas of need through small group intervention.

Additionally, phonemic awareness skills can be addressed through whole class instruction.  Heggerty has a teacher-friendly program that students enjoy and respond well to.  This program includes a multi-sensory component that helps students gain skills quickly.

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How much time should I devote to PA instruction?

Phonological skill practice can be brief (5-10 minutes) and should be engaging. We all know play is essential for learning to occur.  Luckily, laying the foundation for phonological awareness can be addressed in a playful manner.

Rhyming: Nursery Rhymes are an old favorite for developing a sense of rhyme.  As you read, and as students become more familiar with a rhyme, you can leave out the rhyming word and ask your students to call out the appropriate word.  “Jack and Jill went up the _____”.

Cover of the Children's book 'The Spaghetti Slurping Sewer Serpent by Laura Ripes
Cover of the children's book 'Walter Was Worried' by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Isolating the beginning sounds in words: These two delightful books target beginning sounds: The Spaghetti-Slurping Sewer Serpent by Laura Ripes and Walter was Worried by Laura Vaccaro Seeger.  

Singing silly songs such as “Willaby Wallaby Woo” by Raffi also goes a long way in helping to develop your students’ phonological awareness.

Another great resource for developing phonemic awareness is Phonemic Awareness in Children: A Classroom Curriculum by Barbara Foorman “Ph.D. M.A.T” and Marilyn Adams Ph.D. 

Book Cover - Phonemic Awareness in Young Children by Adams and Foorman.

What other foundational skills should I assess?

Another essential kindergarten skill is the ability to identify the letter names and sounds.  This is the first step in acquiring the alphabetic principle.  The National Reading Panel states, “PA training is more effective when children are taught to use letters to manipulate phonemes.  This is because knowledge of letters is essential for transfer to reading and spelling.” p. 59.

Undoubtably, the beginning of school is hectic, so here is a teacher-friendly, FREE, Letter Name and Letter Sound Assessment (LNLS).  Like the Phonological Skills Assessment, the LNLS Assessment tool can be used as a universal screen. We’ve also included guidelines to help you make informed instructional decisions for your kindergarten friends.

the letter name and sound assessment on a clipboard wth a pencil

Where can I find out more about assessing kindergarten readers?

The philosophy of Informed Literacy is to use assessments as a means to inform and enhance literacy instruction.  The cycle of assess, analyze, instruct should continue throughout the school year.  We have filled our blog post “What is the Best Way to Begin Teaching Reading in Kindergarten” with helpful information and links to beneficial resources.

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