Tag Archives: Primary Grades

A Common Core Kindergarten Checklist for Teachers and Parents to Use Today!

Hear from an expert on Common Core kindergarten standards and developmentally appropriate expectations.


by Richard Gentry, PhD

Hey, kindergarten teachers, it’s test time again! Use your own teacher experience and expertise to show parents—or anyone—how a kindergartner’s reading brain is developing by answering one question: what phase on the five-phase pathway to code breaking is this kindergartner in today? Right now kindergarten kids are expected—at a minimum—to be in phase 2. So here’s a time-tested phase 2 checklist—research-based, easy-to-use, and understandable to parents. Complete the checklist in less than three minutes for each child, identify that child’s phase, and show whether he or she is below, on, or beyond the expected phase for this time of year in kindergarten.

This powerful formative assessment based on what you have already observed makes sense to parents and shows them what essential, basic literacy skill (“phase by-products”) their child can or cannot do—right now in kindergarten—plus what’s expected before the end of this year. I’ll also show you how to link the checklist to Common Core or comparable kindergarten state standards in ways that parents understand.

Step 1: Tell parents how the five-phase pathway works and link phases to Common Core kindergarten standards.

Teacher Talk: Common Core State Standards for kindergarten are spiraling, grade-by-grade, build-on-what-students-already-know expectations. The five-phase observation shows what your child already knows about literacy so it’s ideally suited for assessing Common Core expectations: it shows what your child can currently do as a reader, writer, and speller—the known skills we are building on in kindergarten. By building on these known skills we will move your child up to the next phase.

The phase your child is in closely parallels his or her reading brain architecture and development. That is to say, phase observation is a developmental gauge of how a child’s reading brain is developing based on what he or she can or cannot do.

Today we will look at how your child is progressing with phase 2 expectations—the minimal expectations for this time of year in kindergarten. Your child is expected to demonstrate the ten skills below by the end of the school year.

Step 2: Fill out the checklist and show it to parents.

Teacher Talk: Here’s the Phase 2 Expectations Checklist.

Phase 2 Expectations Checklist

As a reader your child can:

  • Read words on sight (examples: word wall words, classmate’s names, family names, labels and signs).
  • Use the beginning letter or other known letters in words to read (cue) some words (partial phonemic awareness).
  • Read level B to C emergent texts with purpose, fluency, and understanding. (Show samples of texts being read independently after practice. Include child-selected samples from the child’s book bag and samples from guided reading.)

As a writer your child can:

  • Write little informational, narrative, and opinion compositions with a mix of invented and a few conventional spellings.
  • Demonstrate some letter-sound correspondences when producing drawings and meaningful texts.
  • Create meaningful independent compositions such as R U DF for Are you deaf?
  • Read back her own writing in Standard English when short pieces are transcribed by the teacher and practiced over and over by the student. (Show examples of stories you have “published” by transcribing the child’s writing and pasting it under the child’s original “kid writing.”)
  • Begin to use a few conventions such as appropriate capitalization, grammatical usage, and punctuation. (Show examples from the writer’s portfolio.)

As a speller your child can:

  • Spell some high-frequency kindergarten-level spelling words correctly. (Show examples of spelling words you have taught.)
  • Invent spellings of many unknown words with close letter-sound matches making them readable. (Show pictures and examples from AEL, pages 24 and 25.)

Many kindergartners have moved beyond these minimal kindergarten expectations. In some schools and districts where standards are established locally, kindergartners are expected to enter first-grade phases.

What about the 5-Phase Pathway to Literacy and Common Core?

In a recent post on the Psychology Today web site, I used phase observation as a lens for interpreting each of the Common Core kindergarten literacy standards. Check it out here.

Let's face it. Teachers love phase observation. Heinemann has had a surge of requests for Assessing Early Literacy with Richard Gentry: 5 Phases, 1 Simple Test (a three-part, DVD-based kit with videos of children that make the phases come alive).

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Richard Gentry, Ph.D., has authored multiple books and a video with Heinemann, including My Kid Can't Spell (1996), Teaching Kids to Spell (1992), The Science of Spelling (2004), and Assessing Early Literacy (2007) as well as numerous articles in academic journals and textbooks for school-age children.

Follow Richard on Twitter @RaiseReaders.

Just Do It! Informational Writing in the Primary Grades

Welcome back to firsthand Fridays. In the first of three blog posts, educator, author, and consultant Linda Hoyt discusses how primary students can research and write nonfiction while still learning literacy.

by Linda Hoyt

I am so excited about how the children are writing, especially in comparison to years past. It is early in the year and my kindergartners are confident with several text types and absolutely love to write. We have lists, notes, and multi-page books that look like they were done by much older students. Thank you for helping me to believe. They are more accomplished writers and I am a more accomplished teacher.
—Sandy Gordon, kindergarten teacher

Young children can research and can learn to craft quality nonfiction writing. They are experts at asking questions. We just need to show them how to direct their questions toward a specific topic and then guide interactions with multiple sources through read-alouds, comparison of leveled selections on the same topic, and careful examination of visuals.

For many years, I have called for a stronger emphasis on informational sources in primary classrooms. Now, it is so exciting to see primary teachers actively guiding children to understand that they can learn about the world while they learn to read and write. Everywhere I go, I see more informational selections on display and in the hands of independent readers. I see ever-increasing proficiency as emergent and developing writers capture facts in pictures, labels, notes, and sentences. These eager researchers read and write in collaboration with partners and take great pride in generating questions that fuel more reading, more research, and more writing! (Can you hear me clapping?)

Most of all, I celebrate the increasing number of teachers who are clear in the belief that they are not there just to teach but to ignite a sense of wonder—to help kids live a curious life. In classrooms driven by curiosity and wonder, learners erupt with literate vigor, and writing becomes a natural extension of the learning.

Forward-thinking educators weave nonfiction reading and nonfiction writing into the fabric of daily literacy instruction.

Nonfiction writing used to be saved for genre studies in which young writers created a set of directions or engaged in crafting a report about animals. But evidence now suggests that this limited view of nonfiction writing is too little—and too late! We now know that forward-thinking educators weave nonfiction reading and nonfiction writing into the fabric of daily literacy instruction, ensuring that children write for a variety of purposes and experience a broad base of nonfiction text types. (Stead and Hoyt, 2010; Saunders-Smith, 2010; Glover, 2009.)

Occasionally teachers express concern that informational writing should wait until foundational skills are in place. But here’s the good news: extensive evidence suggests children do not need to have correct spelling, complete sentence structures, deep content knowledge, or well-developed writing traits in place before they begin to engage as nonfiction writers. They will develop these essential skills as a natural extension of modeled writing, coaching conferences, revising, editing, and presenting their work. They will learn as they go. With successive writing experiences, word-building skills will grow and the writing will gain sophistication.

The key is: Don’t expect perfection—expect growth.

Model and take time to think aloud as you write under the watchful eyes of your students. Let them hear what is in your mind as you capture an interesting fact on paper, insert a label on a diagram, or list the attributes of a tree frog. Celebrate moments of growth, knowing that each time your students pick up a pencil or begin typing on a keyboard, they will do even better. Spelling, sentence structure, and traits will develop—hand in hand—within the context of the instructionally rich writing opportunities you provide. So, “just do it!” Leap in and get started.

When I write, I wonder
When I write, I think
When I write, I learn
When I write…
I wrap myself in the magic of nonfiction

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Linda Hoyt is a nationally recognized consultant who creates environments where engaged children are active participants in their own learning. She is the author, co-author, or editor of Solutions for Reading ComprehensionRevisit, Reflect, Retell, Updated EditionSpotlight on ComprehensionExploring Informational TextsMake It Real, and Snapshots. In addition, she is the author of the Interactive Read-Alouds series and the Explorations in Nonfiction Writing series.