Young Minds

Thoughts of an early childhood teacher…

Comprehension & Questioning for Kindergarteners

Reading a book to a child is more than just reading the words on the page – unless of course it is ‘quiet time’ and you are using a book as a calming method!

As children develop their literacy, they move from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” and for this reason it is really important to identify what they comprehend from what they have heard or read. It is not only important in terms of literacy, but also important in everyday life, such as listening to and following instructions, exercising their memory and learning the difference between ‘listening’ and merely ‘hearing’.

So how can you recognise what your child comprehends at a young age like three or four? A lot of children will share their immediate thoughts with you whilst others need prompting. The most effective way to work out what a child is getting from a book is quite obviously questioning. There are several different types of questions you can ask when you are reading to your child (or when they are reading to you!):

1.Prediction – ask before you start to read what they think will happen in the story. They should be able to identify the picture on the front and say something reasonable…the rest will be their imagination. If there is a picture of a dog they will likely say that the story will be about a dog but they might elaborate, for example “I think the dog will run away from home and they try to catch it but they don’t.”

2.Knowledge – this is a comprehension question where the answer is right in front of them. For example, if the text plainly says that the dog’s ball is red, you might ask, “What colour is the dog’s ball?”

3.Inference ­– this is a comprehension question where your child will need to read into the text in order to infer the answer. For example, if the text explains that “Sally got her umbrella, went outside and opened it up” you might ask your child, “Do you think it was a rainy day?”

4.Opinion – This is an open-ended type of question and quite often my favourite to ask kindergarteners! You are asking your child their personal thoughts. You might ask them what they would’ve done if they were in the same situation as one of the characters, how they would’ve felt if they were in the same situation, or whether they liked the story and why or why not.

5.Memory – As the name suggests, you are seeing what your child can remember from a book that you have already read. As an example, if you read to your child The Very Hungry Caterpillar, you might ask, “Can you remember all the different food he ate? What happened to the caterpillar after he ate all that food? What happened at the end?” If you are questioning them about a book that you have read yesterday, you might ask them, “What book did we read last night? What happened in the story? Do you remember the name of the boy?” etc.

 

Generally three year olds will be able to predict and answer knowledge questions if the question is asked at the end of a small piece of text (4-5 lines). Some three year olds may be able to at least have a go at answering an inference question. Try asking anyway and then explaining the answer. They will also be able to give you an opinion of the story itself in a ‘liked it’ or ‘didn’t like it’ format.

Four year olds will be able to predict and answer knowledge and inference questions after a small piece of text. They may start to form their opinion of the story beyond ‘liked it’ or ‘didn’t like it’ and they may give you a reason and start to relate to the characters. For example, “I didn’t like Cinderella’s sisters because they were mean to her”.

Five year olds should be able to predict, often in great detail and particularly when you point out various parts of a picture. They should be able to answer knowledge questions, often after an entire page, and answer inference questions. They will begin to apply knowledge, for example if a character goes out in the rain and gets wet they may tell you what they would do if they were the character – “I would take an umbrella!”

 

Please understand that every child is so different; this is only a guide and taken from my own experience in kindergartens. Children develop at different rates! Also, keep in mind that if your child is not particularly verbal, less so around their teacher, they will be harder to ‘assess’. Some like to talk your ear off, others are naturally very quiet!

Please send me an email if you have specific questions! (star.tuition@yahoo.com.au)

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“Reading” for 3-5 year olds

I love books! And I try to instil in the children I teach that same love of literacy. In a world where iPads and Kindles are the new softback novel and most houses have 2-3 televisions, it is important that we introduce to children that feeling of opening up a book, feeling the pages in our fingers and admiring the illustrator’s work.

I believe that children should be experiencing books from very early on in their lives. Before they know how to hold a book they should be having one read to them. My sister has an eleven month old and since six months, possibly earlier, she was incorporating literacy into his bedtime routine, reading to him before bed at night during ‘quiet time’.

I am also a firm believer that children should be taught how to treat books. Unlike a Nintendo DS, it is made of paper, relatively fragile, and many children I have taught recently don’t seem to understand their value. We may know that they tear easily and can be quite pricey but a 4 year old may not.

So what do kindergarten teachers look for in terms of reading-readiness in 3-5 year olds? The number one issue is ‘directional tracking’, that is, opening a book at the front and turning the pages in the correct direction. This concept also incorporates “reading” a book starting with the left hand page and moving on to the right hand page.

Secondly we are not interested in whether or not your child can read a word, although if they can recognise any word then of course they are well on their way. We are more interested in how they use the pictures as cues for the words. Do they see a picture of a cat and know that somewhere in the text something involving a cat is happening?

Another common query is about the most appropriate books for 3-5 year olds. Of course any picture book is ideal, especially when it has underlying themes of values, friendships and individual differences. But from a ‘learning to read’ perspective, the best books will have the two R’s: rhyme and repetition.

Repetition, where text is the same on many, if not all of the pages, allows your child to join in reading with you. For example, “I have a dog. I have a cat. I have a horse.”  They will quickly notice that the first part of the sentence is repeated, so they’ll  know they’ve got that part right, whilst the second part of the sentence is (in a reputable children’s book) given away by the picture. So again if they are using the picture cue strategy I mentioned earlier they will also get that part of the sentence correct. This means that although they are not actually “reading”, they are still able to “read” along with you.

Great children’s books often have rhyme. It doesn’t have to be the whole way through, but if there are parts where you can have your child finish the sentence – the rhyming word – they will feel a great sense of accomplishment. Just please make sure you read the text so as to make the rhyming obvious! I can’t tell you how irritating it is when rhyming text is read but the rhyming words don’t match up! Emphasis should be placed on the rhyming words, as rhyming is a very important pre-cursor to formal reading. I always make sure a child can give me rhyming words, even if they are made up, before they are taught to read.

Lastly, books should have pictures that relate well to the text and make sense.  Try picking up a child’s picture book in a foreign language and have a “read”. They have them at your local library. You will soon see how important the pictures are for beginning readers!

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How much is too much and how much is not enough?

I hear mums all the time ask how much help to give your child. Do you teach them to read as soon as they reach for a book? Or do you let the school take care of that? How much do you need to help them and how much do you let go and let them control the learning?

So many three and four year old kindergartens out there these days have the same philosophy – child-centred, child-led and child-oriented learning. Let the children guide the learning, let the children set the standard, let the children be the controller of their education and you, the parent, or I, the teacher, merely facilitate that learning.

I have to say I disagree with the way education in the state of Victoria is headed…I don’t know if it is taking the same path in other states. I see myself as a teacher and that is what I am there to do. I see you as the parent and the most important influence in your child’s life. Together, without this opinion that we “let the children lead the way”, we could do so much more for them and with them.

I believe that as children grow older, we should facilitate their learning of concepts more and expose them to more. A toddler will not know what a piano is if they are not shown one, shown what it is used for and shown how to use it. A three year old will not know the correct way to hold or treat a book if they have never been shown. A four year old will be completely overwhelmed if the first letter they learn about is in school.  We need to teach children, not just let them show us what they know, which is the most recent early childhood belief gaining increasing popularity.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe in a previous life I was a tough-as-nails headmistress from 1912?

But let’s face it; the most rapid phase of a child’s development occurs in their first five years of life. We have such a short time to expose children to so much of the world. I’m not saying they need to learn everything by the time they are five. I’m saying that if this is when this child is developing the most, why not take advantage of that and show them how a calculator works? If they pick up what you’re “teaching” them, they pick it up. If not, fine! Why can’t I teach my kindergarteners the names of the planets instead of waiting for them to ask me and “lead” the learning? Is that not my job?

All that said, I don’t believe in pushing a child to learn and I don’t believe in forcing them to learn something they have no interest in. You might’ve been netball champion for seven years running but it doesn’t mean your child will be. I certainly don’t think I’m alone in that viewpoint.

So I guess what I’m saying is exposure and facilitation of learning is paramount if you are to teach your little ones and prepare them for life. A lot of this happens incidentally so don’t stress! But there are so many other things you can do along the way. Here are a few ideas:

  1. If you play an instrument, show it to them, sit with them when you play it, show them how to use it and what happens when you push this button or pluck that string or hit that cymbal. Let them try it on their own as they are able.
  2. Have books around the house. In the age of computers, iPads and Kindles we want children to still grow up surrounded by pages. Read to them often and sit with them when they want to ‘read’ to you – even if they get every word wrong or if they’re reading so slowly it gets painful! Encourage trips to the library where they can choose their own books and let them have a little ‘library’ in their own space.
  3. Point out numbers – on the microwave, on the clock, on licence plates, on tv. As they grow older, start to talk about what the numbers mean and begin to ask them questions that involve a bit of problem solving. What number comes next? What number comes before it? Add on two more…etc etc. If they don’t know the answer, that’s fine! Count with them and find out together!
  4. Go on outings with your child – to the zoo, the aquarium, the farm, the city – and point out various things and ask lots of questions. Let your child explore, discover and spend time at the areas they are interested in.

For other ideas, or for suggestions on blog topics, please email me at star.tuition@yahoo.com.au

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