Understanding Phonological Awareness as Part of a Balanced Approach to Reading Instruction

IMG_5068This school year our West Vancouver School District’s Student Support Services held a Professional Learning Series on “Reading Between, Above and Beyond the Lines.”  In November, we were delighted to attend a session on “Accurate & Automatic Decoding and the Development of Phonological Awareness,” led by our Early Learning Principal, Sandralynn Shortall (@slshortall).  It was a great opportunity to gather together teachers of the early years to hear the same key messages and district philosophy, and for consistency amongst common beliefs throughout our Primary teaching staff.

There’s been so much talk and work done currently on inquiry based learning, coding, BC’s new education curriculum and our new report card format, that for Christy and I, it was almost a relief to return to one of the most essential aspects of schooling, particularly for parents and students:  building on the Kindergarten child’s oral language skills before learning to work with print as a reader and a writer (McCracken and McCracken, 1996).  As long-time Kindergarten and Grade One teachers, we know that the work we do now in literacy, during the early years, is paramount for our students over the long-term.

We consider the term literacy to be inclusive of reading and writing so that whenever we refer to literacy, for the purposes of this and future posts, we mean both processes.  Reading and writing influence each other: children need to know their letters when reading words, but they also need to know them when they’re writing and trying to spell. If we’re talking about just reading or just writing, we will refer to each process by its specific name.

In our school district we conduct an early literacy skills assessment screener for our Kindergarten children at the end of January for our baseline information and then reassess in late May.  We assess the children’s knowledge of alphabet names (upper and lowercase) and sounds, initial and final sounds of words, blending and segmenting skills, phonetic word reading, sight words and literacy awareness.  In the time between the two assessments, based on the children’s initial scores, we know what areas we need to pinpoint for targeted instruction, and if additional supports beyond regular classroom instruction need to be brought in for our students.

In 1997, the United States Congress asked the Child Development and Behaviour Branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to work with the U.S. Department of Education to establish a National Reading Panel to review the current research on the best ways to teach children how to read.  In 2000, after examining over 100,00 reading studies, the National Reading Panel concluded that “the best approach to reading instruction is one that incorporates:

  • Explicit instruction in phonemic awareness
  • Systematic phonics instruction
  • Methods to improve fluency
  • Ways to enhance comprehension;”

however, we also know from our own teaching and experience this is only one component of a balanced approach to reading instruction (which is one of our by-words), which also includes a rich oral language base such as read-aloud books and storytelling by the teacher; shared reading experiences of big books, rhymes, poems and songs with active participation by the children and independent reading of books by the children themselves.  To take it one step further, a balanced approach to reading instruction is going to be part of the broader balanced approach to literacy, but that’s going to have to be a whole other topic for another day.

So for now, before we think about planning for reading instruction, we need to understand the differences between these three terms:

Phonological awareness means the child is attending to the phonological or sound structure of language, distinct from the meaning of the words.  Children with well-developed phonological awareness have the understanding that language is made up of sounds (phonemic awareness), syllables, rhymes and words (Trehearne, 2000).

Phonemic awareness is the awareness that speech is the sequence of sounds, specifically phonemes, the smallest unit of sound.  Yopp and Yopp (2000) describe phonemes as “the smallest unit of sound that makes a difference in communication” (p. 130).  Think of the differences in using the word “cat,” or “bat” or “sat.”  Phonemic awareness is the ability to think about and manipulate speech sound units such as segmenting, blending, deleting, and substituting (changing the order of speech sound sequences), and being able to hear and identify sounds in spoken words

Phonics is the instructional approach for helping children learn the relationship between letters and sounds.  Phonics is the relationship between the letters of written and spoken language.  We often refer to it as the “sound-symbol” relationship.

In Kindergarten, when we’re teaching the alphabet letters, and their sounds, how to blend sounds into words, how to segment words into their individual sounds and playing rhyming games, as teachers we don’t want to “squeeze” these activities into a few spares minute at the end of the day; rather, phonics instruction and other phonological awareness skills must be made a priority, and at a good time of the day when the children are attentive and ready to learn.

It can be hard for excellent readers, which can include teachers, to understand what our students are feeling and going through when they struggle with reading.  The children cannot hear the sounds as we do, and our brains are making the differences in meaning.  Even in the simple rhyming activity we played today where some children had difficulty generating rhyming words for “lane,” offering words such as “land” and “lame,” we could tell that they had not discovered yet what is meaningful for them in terms of the sounds.

A lot of children do not learn to read easily, or at least it does not come easily at first.  And we need to think about how we are going to plan for those children in our teaching so that they can all become successful readers and learners.  We’ve noticed not just amongst our students, but in our own families as well, that a rich language environment does not mean that being able to read is going to come naturally.  There are specific skills needed to read, and the skills needed to link the sounds the language to the letters of the alphabet must be learned through cohesive, systematic and direct instruction.

“Direct instruction” is often given a bad rap these days.  For many, what comes to mind is children all sitting in rows, with the teacher at the chalkboard.  Others see it where children are not allowed to talk, it’s just “teacher talk.”  Some envision children working tirelessly, slate and chalk in hand, printing copious lines of letters, like we’re still in the Victorian age.  There’s no play, no laughter, no inquiry, no curiosity.

Well, direct instruction can and does involve a lot of play, and laughter and inquiry and curiosity…the difference is that we, the teachers, are directly teaching the concepts in a systematic way to the children, checking their learning to ensure they understand and made connections to that which they already know.  We want to build on their prior experience; that’s why the shared learning experiences we have in class are so important so that we have a common base from which to build.  Then, we try to build on their newly acquired knowledge, scaffolding their learning along the way, mastering concepts and moving on.

Yes, sometimes the children have to sit at their tables or desk to complete their alphabet or literacy tasks.  We’re not sure when that became a bad thing, because ultimately, it’s all about creating balance whether we’re talking about teaching or learning.

In a balanced approach to literacy, we will have a greater opportunity of meeting the various learning styles and needs of all learners.

Thank you so very much to our Principal, Valerie Brady, and our WV Early Learning Principal, Sandralynn Shortall, for their feedback in the preparation of today’s post.

Think Pink!

IMG_2576We were “in the pink” on Wednesday as we came to school dressed in our pink (and white) shirts in support of “Day of Pink: Celebrate Diversity.”

We spent some time talking about ways we can show Kindness and Caring to others.  Here’s what we’re thinking:




  • Clean up our own messes after we’ve eaten our lunch
  • Listen to the lunch monitors
  • Play with someone who’s all by themselves
  • Be nice to others
  • Be cooperative with my big buddy
  • Use “please” and “thank you”
  • If my friend gets hurt, I’ll help
  • Make good choices
  • Share with the other kids
  • Use words, not actions
  • Be helpful to our teachers
  • Give compliments to others
  • Listen to our teacher

We’re noticing how Ridgeview kids show caring and kindness and adding them to our special tree!


This Week in Our Room:  February 22-26, 2016

IMG_5067We’re really flying through the alphabet now as we finished working on letter S this week. Our children are beginning to develop fine motor strength and this is evident in their increased stamina for printing letters and words.



We also met with our Grade 7 Big Buddies to work on the next page of our Penguin Inquiry project, Penguin Features, on the app “Book Creator.”



Upcoming Events and Reminders

Wednesday, March 2 will be a busy day in the Kindergarten.  We will be having “Stories from the Firehall,” a visit from the West Vancouver Firefighters.

It’s also our school lockdown practice.  We will be speaking to the Kindergarten ahead of time about our expectations for the day.


Rock ‘n Roll: Kindergarten Edition

IMG_2557It’s been a rock ‘n roll week in the Kindergarten.

By 9:15 am, Monday morning found us in fits of laughter as we watched a wonderful presentation of “Snow White,” performed by the talented drama troupe, Duffle Bag Theatre.  The actors involved some of our older students; they dressed the kids up in costume and with great presence and state of mind, our Ridgeview students did a great job picking up on the cues and telling this familiar fairy tale with the professional ensemble.







IMG_0717Tuesday was a special day as we celebrated Chinese New Year.  We have a large multicultural population at our school and we’re working hard to recognize and celebrate the cultural holidays with classroom parent support and involvement.  We had a fun morning at Centres playing with wooden tangrams; we made lucky money envelopes and scrolls and coloured a sweet Year of the Monkey colouring page.  Many thanks to our mom helpers who not only came in
to assist the children at their activities, but also provided a banquet of food such as delicious homemade egg rolls, dumplings, sticky rice and mandarins.  Our children took home beautiful lucky money envelopes with a chocolate coin and a tiny lantern apiece.


Wednesday gave us an opportunity to catch our breath and have a self-regulating moment.  We returned to our roots and took some time to reinforce our classroom structure, rules and routines at every opportunity and transition.  For us, that meant:

  • Review “listening with our bodies” (eyes on the teacher, ears are listening, mouths are closed, hands and feet are still, bottom down on the carpet)
  • Review Centres playtime rules:  four to a group, quiet voices, walking feet, share and take turns
  • Transitions:  dismissing by table groups/Centre activities to line up with strategic positioning of students (walking feet, go to the back of the line) or move to the meeting area (more strategic seating arrangements); we never let the whole class move at once
  • Review eating expectations:  quiet conversation with friends, take small bites, chew with your mouth closed, don’t talk with your mouth full, eat over the table, clean your table space and pick up food from the floor when you’re finished eating
  • Self-regulation: no matter what is going on in our day, we meditate to quiet music, practise deep breathing, listen to a read aloud story, and eat snack and lunch on time each and everyday. These scheduled times to practise the strategies help us with our self-regulation, are familiar and provide structure to our day, so that when it’s time for instruction, we are in the green (learning) zone and our learning time is optimal.  

There’s no doubt our classes are amazing; their ability to focus on their teachers and follow directions is remarkable, and they have very good attention for stories and lessons.  But when we have, what Christy and I refer to as “crazy busy days” with multiple changes to our class schedule…well, it’s hard for us, and by “us” we mostly mean the teachers.  We’re not all hard-wired to be naturally flexible; being able to deal with changes of all kinds, reading social situations and responding appropriately are important skills that we must teach and practise, at home and school, grown-ups and children alike.

Thursday saw us back at the arena for our last skating session.  Thank you again so very much to our parent helpers because we could not do this field trip without you: your calm, speed and dexterity in lacing up skates and sizing helmets for a group our size was nothing less than admirable.

IMG_0638In our two 40 minute sessions we could see the increase in confidence and skill by our young skaters.  The children were sorted by skating experience so there were challenges for all.  What amazed us the most, however, is how our children, in the 15 minute transition when 36 of our students are changing out of their skates and helmets and the two Grade 1 classes came in to change into their equipment, seemed indifferent to the noise and activity.  Instead, they cooperatively removed their gear, remained extremely calm and enjoyed a “pocket snack” they carried in their coat pockets and chatted with those around them.  The children were very well-regulated and they made us and our school very proud.

Well, it’s Friday evening and it’s been such a busy week.  But we had a lovely day today, finishing up our Valentine’s, Chinese New Year and letter R activities so we can start fresh (mostly) next week.  Today was Popcorn Day and as always, our classes wait patiently for the time when we say it’s time to eat and they don’t seem to mind.

We’ve really noticed many big changes in maturity over the past two months, how they respond more calmly to situations and self-regulation of emotions.  They’re showing excitement and interest in everything new and beginning to take a few more risks in their learning even if they’re not 100% confident.  The children have always been helpful, but lately they’ve taken on more responsibilities in looking after the classroom and their belongings.  We’re building a strong foundation for learning and looking forward to what the rest of this term brings!


Happy Valentine’s Day!

FullSizeRender-5It’s Valentine’s Day and we know you’re enjoying the love of being surrounded by your wonderful children, family and friends.

For Valentine’s Day at school we decided to teach an integrated Social Studies lesson on “Family” with one of the themes of today’s celebration, love, and talk about family love.  We read The I Love You FullSizeRender-6Book by Todd Parr.  The children loved how the book tells of the many reasons why and when they are loved, from feeling shy to when they can’t sleep.  We reminded them of the unconditional love they have from their families (and teachers!) no matter what the situation.

The children shared some of the ways in which their families care for them, and on this day of love and friendship, we share a few of their ideas with you.





Happy Valentine’s Day from The Self-Regulated Teacher!

Sweet February

IMG_2503It’s been a pretty fabulous week in the Kindergarten as far as celebrations go.  We just celebrated our fifth birthday in Division 16 this month, complete with delicious, sugary treats, and both classes are in the midst of distributing sweet Valentines to our classmates.  At the same time we’re getting ready to celebrate Chinese New Year next week with some special centres and a small banquet luncheon.  We’re decorating our classroom to reflect our festive mood and there’s lots of bright colour and streamers everywhere.

IMG_5008You’d think with everything going on that we’d be feeling the energy that goes along with the excitement of Special Days and rich eating.  But we were noticing that despite all the interruptions (wait till you hear about next week) and changes in schedule, our children return to their self-regulation foundations, the strategies they know will help them to stay calm despite what’s happening around them.

FullSizeRenderChristy and I realize that we see the benefits of teaching self-regulation strategies regularly during times of great excitement and change in the classroom routines.  The Hallowe’en Parade and Assembly and Christmas Concert were two major fall school events where we see how well we’ve taught the lessons.  Can our children manage their energy effectively and efficiently?  Are they able to recognize when they have up-regulated to the yellow zone from the green zone, and can they down-regulate as quickly as their emotions have risen?  Yes, we know that they can.  We know that our structured approach to teaching calming strategies and scheduling time for meditation since the the early days of Kindergarten pays off as the school year progresses.

IMG_4989So here we are, another six weeks later, and today, as the children were settling down after recess, the calm and contentment in the classroom as we listened to quiet music (George Winston’s “Reflection” from the Winter into Spring album) was like a lightweight, but cosy blanket you just want to wrap yourself in.  What a delightful time to be a Kindergarten teacher, to watch and enjoy the growth and maturity in each child, all of them blessed with so much wonderful promise and potential.  We are privileged to be in the best profession, and certainly fortunate to be teaching such a glorious age group.  A very jolly time we are having, indeed.

This Week in Our Room:  February 9-12, 2016

IMG_5011Valentine excitement was everywhere, from dressing up in pink, white, red and purple, to tucking in the final Valentine cards to our special card holders to eating some festive goodies. Thank you to all the parents for sending in such wonderful February treats!

We met with our Grade 7 Buddies again this week to work on the next page of “what penguins eat” for our penguin inquiry and digital literacy projects.

We finished working on the letter Q in the alphabet.

Upcoming Events and Reminders

On Monday, we’ll be watching a special Duffle Bag Theatre production of “Snow White” during a school assembly.  Monday is Library Book Exchange for Division 15.

On Tuesday, both classes will be having Chinese New Year celebrations in their classrooms.  We’ll be playing special centres and sampling some special Chinese delicacies.  Please remember to wear red, a special good luck colour in Chinese culture.  Tuesday is Library Book Exchange for Division 16.

Thursday is our second and final skate day.  Please remember to send skating pants, gloves and bring your helmets and skates if you have them.  Your classroom teacher and parent helpers will assist with the skate and helmet rentals.

Friday is the popcorn sale and the Kindergarten will participate.  $1 per bag.  The Kindergarten children will only purchase one bag each so please send in only $1.


Celebrating the Family:  Kindergarten Social Studies

Bookmarks English.inddIt’s Family Day today and we’re enjoying some time with our families here at home.  Although it’s been mostly centred around homework, we’ve also been in Victoria with my extended family because it’s Chinese New Year’s weekend as well and we usually gather together for at least one big dinner.

Although our kids aren’t little anymore, we’ve remained diligent over the years in planning and organizing time to be with them which can be challenging because of our busy after school and weekend schedules.  We eat dinner together late most week nights, one of our few constants where all of us are sitting down and talking (and reviewing who will be driving which car with whom on the way to school and home again).  Our kids are both musicians and love to sing and play their instruments with their Dad.  And we really enjoy travelling just as family of four to experience new places and foods and activities to create those common bonds and memories.

FullSizeRender-4During this term, our focus in Social Studies has been on the Family.  As always, we try to integrate as many parts of our day into a theme to deepen the learning and view it from as many perspectives as possible.  We started off with a Sharing Special Helper theme of “Our Family’s Favourite Activities.”  This is certainly one of the most fun Sharing activities we do because the children are able to talk about the most important relationships they have–that of the family unit.

FullSizeRender-12We posted the information outside our classrooms, created the Sharing and Special Helper calendar, and continued to use the Remind texts to follow-up with our expectations for Sharing.  It’s been so wonderful to see the love as the Special Helper names the people and pets in his or her family photo.  Then, our parents have assisted with some writing for their child to read, or with prompts from us, about the things their family enjoys doing together.  


Everybody illustrated one of their favourite family activities, then we sorted and classified those activities into broader groupings.


In class, we’ve been reading aloud from our collection of books on Family.  We’ve brainstormed the various roles of the family, trying to work through the connections of grandparents, aunts and uncles (Mom’s sister?  Dad’s sister?  Mom’s brother?  Dad’s brother?) and who are the nieces and nephews.  We were really surprised at how well the children could explain which aunts and uncles were their parents’ siblings, and those who were related through marriage. The children drew and labelled these beautiful portraits of their immediate families:



We’ve collected quite a few books which talk about different aspects of the family, and grouped them below here for you in case you’re looking for more titles to read.



  • The Great Big Book of Families (Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith)
  • The Family Book (Todd Parr)


  • Alison’s House (Maxine Trottier and Michael Martchenko)

Working Parents:

  • Mommy Works, Daddy Works (Marika Pedersen and Mikele Hall; Deirdre Betteridge)

Needs and Wants:

  • A Chair for My Mother (Vera B. Williams)

Brothers and Sisters:

  • Julius, the Baby of the World (Kevin Henkes)
  • Peter’s Chair (Ezra Jack Keats)
  • Revenge of the Small SMALL (Jean Little and Janet Wilson)
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz)`
  • Big Sister and Little Sister (Charlotte Zolotow and Martha Alexander)


  • Oma’s Quilt (Paulette Bourgeois and Stephane Jorisch)

Happy Family Day, from our families to yours!

Book Update: Celebrating the Family: Kindergarten Social Studies

We’re so enjoying the beautiful photos and mini write-ups of your family and family activities the children are bringing in for their Sharing and Special Helper Day. We love to see you at the beach, on holiday and celebrating birthdays, often with extended family members and family friends. When the children have an opportunity to see your photos, they quickly realise that although each of them are unique in their own way there are so many similarities between them: the family they love to spend time with, and in what they enjoying doing with their loved ones.

Our families love to read together, listen and play music together, go for walks as a family, travel and celebrate the love of family whether it be for birthdays or holidays. These are some of the delightful activities our children have been telling us about you. We have the opportunity to get to know your child better in their family context and deepen our understanding of your child.

This year we added two more Scholastic books to our Family booklist, The Things I Love About Family by Trace Moroney and Families by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly. We used them as a provocation over two lessons to discuss the ways in which families look after each other, the things they enjoy doing together.

We drew these fun pictures when we were finished, and the teachers helped to scribe the writing.

Global School Play Day:  Thoughts from the Kindergarten

FullSizeRenderLike many others have already done, we were going to write about Global School Play Day  earlier this week ourselves. As you’ve probably read, or heard from your children, Global School Play Day took place on Wednesday, February 3 this year and schools in our district, and all over the world, celebrated in their own way what it means to play.  But we got really busy around the day we usually post (Sunday), and then all these other posts and tweets started appearing, so we decided that we would just follow-up with some observations from our own classrooms, which is always the most fun to write about, because they’re about our own students.

Global School Play Day originated with two California teachers, Tim and Scott Bedley (@BedleyBros, #GSPD2016) last year.  The brothers have taken play, in the purest sense of the word, and given it back to the children, a day where they can play freely, in an unstructured, creative way, without boundaries and pre-determined rules.  Part of Global School Play Day is a “call for toys,” for blocks, Lego, dolls, puzzles, board games and craft supplies.  It’s a focus on student-directed play, as opposed to teacher-led activities and lessons.  It’s also a day away from screen time.

So when we decided at Ridgeview that our school was going to participate in Global School Play Day, Christy and I wondered, how will this day be different from any other day we have in the Kindergarten? We already play quite a bit throughout the day, mixed in with other teacher-directed activities such as Alphabet work, Social Studies and Art lessons.  We have Free Play (Centre Time) in the mornings, when the children are free to choose their activities and move from centre to centre.  We have a specific focus for our afternoon play, such as Constructions (different kinds of building materials) and Literacy Centres (all things alphabet:  we’re playing with language and letters). We intentionally have a limited use of technology for our age group and when we do so, we try to use it creatively.  Would we shape the day to make it seem even more play oriented than we already are?  That would be a lot of playing.

FullSizeRender-2In Kindergarten, we are all about play. Play, like self-regulation, is one of the cornerstones of our Kindergarten Program.  But while play may be a very natural inclination, what children are built to do, it’s important to remember that play is also very hard work.
When our children are playing, they are learning and practising a multitude of skills:

  • Exploring, inquiring, problem solving, investigating
  • Cooperating, collaborating, planning
  • Creating, imagining, designing
  • Sharing, discussing, turn-taking, listening, negotiating
  • Measuring, estimating, building, experimenting
  • Patience, perseverance, resilience, grit

We’re positive this is not even half of what the children are doing.  We just gave ourselves a moment to brainstorm some of the skills the children were learning.  We’re exhausted just thinking about it.

And so were the children.  After playing most of the day on Wednesday, more than a few children asked if they “could take break” or “have a rest.”  From playing?  Yes, they were tired from playing, because play is the work of a child.  All that energy that is needed for sharing and negotiating for toys with your friends, coming up with new ideas for building elaborate structures in a collaborative model, the patience required to draw and colour a multitude of tiny hearts for pretty Valentine cards, the stamina needed for swinging on swings and sliding down the slide…well, after all that energy got used up, some of the children wanted to lie down in the meeting area.  Some wanted to look at a book, or listen to a story at the listening centre.  It actually ended up being a pretty quiet afternoon.

We certainly had fun on Global School Play Day, and the children enjoyed themselves.  But when your little people come home tired, because they’ve been busy playing at school, let’s not forget…they have just worked a full day.

This Week in Our Room:  February 1-4, 2016

On Thursday we had our first skating field trip and did we ever have FUN!  First of all, we have to say thank you so very much to all the parents who came out to help with the skate lacing and helmet fitting.  As you could see, we have a very short turnaround time from arriving at the arena, to getting on our equipment and then heading out to our lesson.

We were so delighted with our children and their positive attitude on and off the ice.  They were so excited, yet as good as gold on the bus ride over.  They stayed super calm and followed their teacher’s instructions very well, remembering to sit down in their seats and speak quietly to their neighbours so as not to distract our driver.

FullSizeRender-1We worked on our February self-portraits this week.  The children continue to improve in their directed drawing, use of details and colour.  We always use our criteria of “Big, Bright and Beautiful” when working on drawings.


Big…means fill your space

Bright…means five colours of more

Beautiful…means to do your personal best

Upcoming Events and Reminders

We made our Valentine Card Holders with our Big Buddies and they are currently on display in our classroom.  We sent home a pink notice this week with information about the giving of Valentine cards in our class.  We also included a list of the class names for your division.  If you are giving out cards, please bring them in next week.  We will help your child put them in the correct bags.  We will be having a quiet Valentine’s celebration in our classrooms on Friday.

If you’re in Mrs. Daudlin’s class, you know that February is birthday month in our class.  Next week we are celebrating birthdays EVERY day with sweet treats…something to consider that as you packing snacks and lunches for the coming days.

Monday, February 8 is Family Day.  Enjoy a wonderful long weekend spending time with your precious family.  Every moment spent with our children is to be treasured, so take the opportunity to create lots special memories.  It doesn’t really matter what we do; it’s about being together.