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Encouraging literacy development in kindergarten through learning center experiences

Elizabeth Breathwaite Mini-Grant project winner: Encouraging literacy development in kindergarten through learning center experiences

Baker, Betty Ruth

ELIZABETH BREATHWAITE MINI-GRANT PROJECT

Young children need a variety of experiences in an environment that purposefully encourages their developing literacy skills with the right materials and activities. Learning centers can provide optimum opportunities to facilitate children’s skills in oral language, aural comprehension, reading, and writing. Centers help children discover the joy of reading and writing through exploration, positive reinforcement, and direct instruction.

Learning center experiences also help children develop a sense of responsibility, as well as problem-solving and decision-making skills. The multiple techniques and methods used in centers accommodate different learning styles. At centers, children have a chance to collaborate with others and to work with a variety of materials and activities. Children plan, select, and assess their learning.

When creating a literacy-rich environment, pay attention to the physical environment: floor space, furnishings, room arrangement, and selection of materials. Planning a classroom for optimum literacy development includes not only instructional strategies, but also environmental planning (Texas Education Agency, 1999).

The goals of the project described here, funded by the Elizabeth Breathwaite MiniGrant, are:

* To provide a model of instruction for planning, organizing, and integrating learning centers into the kindergarten classroom as a means to encourage literacy-rich experiences.

* To arrange and use the environment in such a way as to motivate reading and writing in content centers.

* To provide children with opportunities to develop oral language, phonological awareness, alphabetic understanding and word knowledge, book knowledge, and listening comprehension through experiences in a literacy-rich environment.

Model of Instruction The project provides an instructional model for educators seeking to integrate literacy skill learning centers into the classroom. Teacher candidates, directed by university faculty and veteran teachers, guide children in a variety of learning experiences. The classroom is organized in specific areas called learning centers, each of which has a specific purpose and literacy focus. Each day has a unique theme; the half-day session is divided into four time blocks. Block one begins with arrival, greetings, presentation of the theme, and planning the self-selected center period. During this period, the children move freely from center to center after completing the selected task.

A planning board at each center allows children to know which activities are available. It is designed with pictures of materials that describe the center, and also includes the center name and tags that indicate the number of work/study spaces in the center (Baker, 1992).

During the self-selected center period, teacher candidates guide individual children, or small groups of children, in planning and assessing their learning. Teacher candidates move from center to center asking questions, guiding and assessing learning, redirecting activities, and encouraging literacy development.

Block one ends with clean-up, an evaluation with the children, and a review. The children write a story, read or add words to the word wall in each center, or talk in small groups about their activities and learning. Block two includes a shared reading experience, whereby books are selected to enhance the theme.

Block three involves teacherdirected centers, such as the content centers, special project centers, or the literacy center. Development of literacy skills is integrated into the content and project centers. Children work in small groups and rotate within the centers. Block four completes the session. This period begins with a time for self-selected outdoor play centers. Each center in block four also has a literacy focus. At the end of the period, the class participates in follow-up activities and a review.

Learning Centers

The room is divided into specific areas or centers. The literacy center, the largest area of the room, includes a library corner, a writing center, a listening station, and a conversation, or “talk about it,” spot.

Books in the library corner are displayed for easy access. A space is set aside for privacy. The children also can make use of story props that are provided for some of the books, including a feltboard, story characters, stuffed animals, and pictures that relate to the book titles. The writing center includes pencils, a variety of paper, felt markers, and dictionaries, as well as materials for journal writing. Because children need the opportunity to write, read, and display their own books (Morrow, 1997), space is provided for an “author’s spot.”

The listening station has head sets, a tape player, a recorder, and tapes, as well as a few related books and games. The conversation corner includes a privacy area, puppets, a small puppet stage, games, prop boxes, fingerplay illustrations, and telephones. Computers, a VCR, and a camera also are available in the literacy center. The area is visually attractive, with word boards, children’s work, bulletin boards, charts, and pictures on display. Observation suggests that children read and write more in classrooms with such literacy centers (Texas Education Agency, 1999).

Content Centers

Materials and activities based on science, social studies, math, art, and music are integrated into the content centers. Children can choose to play with blocks, do woodworking, work on the computer, or go to the dramatic play centers. Each center is equipped with materials appropriate to the content, such as books and writing materials for creating stories. Each center has a word wall with vocabulary related to the content. Literacy skills are identified for each center. Content themes encourage use of new vocabulary and ideas.

Skill Development

“The more [that] children know about language … the better equipped they are to succeed in reading” (National Research Council, 1999). Center activities and materials should encourage the enjoyment of reading and writing and enhance development of basic literacy skills. Centers give children the chance to recognize the structure and uses of print, to learn the format of books and other printed resources, to familiarize themselves with the concepts of sentences and words, and to analyze language by sound. These experiences also help children achieve basic phonemic awareness, recognize and write the letters of the alphabet, and become comfortable with print.

Attention is given to diverse learning styles. Teacher candidates, teachers, and university faculty have an opportunity to observe learning styles and to collaborate in planning literacy-rich experiences involving learning centers.

Expected outcomes for each session are identified during planning. The kindergarten accomplishments published in Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children (National Academy Press, 1998) assists in identifying progress. Accomplishments and gains are determined by observations, discussions, and individual assessments. Skills lists and reflections written by the teacher candidates help record outcomes.

Summary

Resources funded by the Elizabeth Breathwaite MiniGrant for 2001 provide opportunities to present a model of instruction using learning centers that involve meaningful experiences in developing literacy skills. The intent of the project is to demonstrate the role of learning centers in providing a literacy-rich environment and encouraging literacy development in kindergarten through learning center experiences.

References

Baker, B. R. (1982). The planning board: Ideas for construction and use with young children. ERIC Document (ED 233 801).

Morrow, L. M. (1997). Literacy development in the early years: Helping children read and write Ord ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

National Research Council. (1999). Starting out right: A guide to promoting children’s reading successs. Washington, DC: Author.

Snow, C. E., Burns, S. M., & Griffin, P. (Eds). (1998). Preventing difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Texas Education Agency.

(1997). Texas essential knowledge and skills for kindergarten. Austin, TX: Author.

Texas Education Agency. (1999). Kindergarten reading academies. Austin, TX: Author.

Betty Ruth Baker, a professor at Baylor University, Waco, Texas, was a 2001 recipient of ACEI’s Elizabeth Breathwaite Mini-Grant for the literacy project, “Encouraging Literacy Development in Kindergarten Through Learning Center Experiences.” She describes the project here.

Copyright Association for Childhood Education International Fall 2001

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