This week I had an experience that confirms to me how variable growth rates are in young children. The dilemma is how do we take account of this in environments where prescribed curriculum is used.
I sat at a table where two kindergarten children were doing Lucy Calkin’ Writing Workshop, which is the first time that I have seen this curriculum used with kindergarteners. They had been learning about how to create “how to” books in sequential steps over several days. This topic had been going on for several days and the students had completed several nicely designed worksheets that reflected the minilessons that had taken place. Each student worked at their own pace but the worksheets were the same across the class.
The two students were at widely different levels in being able to accomplish the task at hand.
Although the teacher was extremely accepting of the varying output of the two students, one of them was working very slowly as he tried to think about how to write out the items he needed for his how to book. He had been absent from school and was a little behind in the process of completing the task as a whole. His first attempt at writing out the words for his list dissatisfied him so he crumpled up the sheet and threw it in the garbage. He was definitely struggling with trying to figure out the sounds for the words that he wanted to write. He apparently had the option to draw pictures of the items but seemed to choose instead to write out the words. The issue was that his level of phonetic awareness was not quite up to the task. As the teacher said, he will know what he wrote if you ask him, he will be able to “read” his list, which is a plus. Unfortunately, if you did not ask him, you would not remotely be able to decipher his list. So, my question is what was this child learning? He was picking up the idea of a “how to” book that explains how to do a particular task but his development at this point seemed to indicate that he was not ready to complete the tasks as they were designed for the class. The entire class had reviewed several tasks such as how to make an apple pie.
The other child was so far advanced in her phonetic awareness and understanding of how words are put together that she even questioned how she had written the word light, which she had written as “lit”. She realized that this did not say “light” so I pointed out to her that there is a “gh” in the middle of the word but it is not heard when you say the word. She was able to incorporate this information and continue with the task.
As the lesson drew to a close, I wondered about how kindergartens are structured and taught today. As the lesson drew to a close, I also wondered about the writing workshop task and how this learning could be differentiated to reflect the developmental differences in language development of the two children and provide a more profitable experience for the little boy who was struggling fiercely to figure out how to write out the words he needed. To do this, does one need to go back to basics about how kindergarten should be structured and review the development of kindergarteners?
Is using Writers Workshop in kindergarten this way appropriate for all? Is there a way to structure the learning in the kindergarten in a way that more closely meets the needs of these two children and all the children? Is this activity an appropriate language activity for the little boy? It did appear to be developmentally appropriate for the little girl.