Concepts About Print
When teachers face a group of young kindergarten learners in a reading lesson, they make certain assumptions about what the children already know. As the New Zealand researcher Marie Clay demonstrates in the following piece, sometimes those assumptions are wrong:
Suppose the teacher has placed an attractive picture on the wall and has asked her children for a story, which she will record under it. They offer the text, "Mother is cooking," which the teacher alters slightly to introduce some features she wishes to teach. She writes:
Mother said, "I am baking."
If she says, "Now look at our story, 30% of the new entrant group [children who are just beginning reading instruction] will attend to the picture. If she says, "Look at the words and find some that you know," between 50 and 90% will be looking for letters. If she says, "Can you see Mother, most will agree that they can, but some see her in the picture, some can locate M, and others will locate the word Mother.
Perhaps the children read in unison, "Mother is..." and the teacher tries to sort this out. Pointing to said, she asks, "Does this say is?" Half agree that it does because it has s in it. "What letter does it start with?" Now the teacher is really in trouble. She assumes that the children will know that a word is built out of letters, but 50% of the children still confuse the verbal labels word and letter after six months of instruction. She also assumes that the children know that the left- hand letter following a space is the "start" of a word. Often they do not. (Clay, 1975, pp. 3-4)
As Clay's example demonstrates, for a reading lesson to work for a child, there are concepts about print that she must have in place so that she can orient herself properly to a book and direct her attention appropriately to the units of words and letters.
Teachers and tutors often do not teach explicit reading lessons to four-year-olds, but they strive to give children experience with books and an orientation to print. An orientation to print typically builds concepts like the following:
- Knowledge of the layout of books. The child should know that we read the book from front to back. She should know what the cover of the book is. When handed a book to read, she should be able to hold the book right side up and open it from the front.
- Knowledge that print, not pictures, is what we read. If shown a spread with both print and a picture, the child should realize that the print and not the picture is where the words are written, and should be able to "point to the part where we read."
- Directional orientation of print on the page. The child should know that the printed text runs from left to right, returns to the left, and proceeds toward the bottom, and should be able to "Show where we begin reading. Show where we go after that. Show where we go after that."
- Know the terms "top," "bottom," "beginning," "end," "first," and "last" with respect to the text on a page. When the teacher is talking about the top and the bottom of the page, the beginning and end of the sentence, and the first and last page, the child should be able to indicate what parts of the text are referred to by pointing to them.
- Understand the terms "word" and "letter." The child should know what the terms "letter" and "word" refer to by pointing to them.
More advanced children may be able to demonstrate the following:
- Recognize uppercase and lowercase letters. If the teacher points to an uppercase letter A, can the child point to a lowercase letter a on the same pager
- Know punctuation. Some children know that a period means we should stop, a question mark means we are asking a question, and an exclamation point signals something exciting or important. (After Clay, 2000)
© ______ 2005, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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