If you teach in Australia or New Zealand, Term 4 is either upon you or just around the corner and many foundation teachers feel a sense of urgency to get as many children as possible ‘over the line’ before the end of the year. The weeks are counting down and there isn’t long to go before Christmas concert preparations kick in, so how do you ‘crush it’ when it comes to a Term 4 focus?
Before we look at how you make that last push let’s reflect on where we would ideally like foundation children to be by week 10 of term 4. The Australian Curriculum has a VERY long achievement standard for foundation so I won’t go into all of it, but we can have a little look at some of the key parts.
They recognise the letters of the English alphabet, in upper and lower case and know and use the most common sounds represented by most letters.
The standard here is too low. By the end of foundation students need to know the most common sound represented by ALL letters as well as how to read with the most common digraphs (sh, th, ng, ch). Only knowing the sounds for most letters means that children cannot confidently read even the most basic decodable text without guessing words from the pictures.
They read high-frequency words
This does not mean that students know 100 ‘sight words’ (you can read more about that here), but rather that they can read a bank of irregular, high frequency words that appear in their decodable texts. These words should be words such as
We do not include words such as it, that, him, at & and because all of these words can be sounded out and the focus needs to be on supporting children to blend and read these words quickly.
Blend sounds orally to read consonant-vowel-consonant words
This is the skill of sounding out a CVC word such as ‘r-e-d’ and being able to say the word. Again, I think that this skill would be a goal for the middle of the year rather than the end. In order to be able to read fluently, foundation children need to be developing quick and smooth blending skills so that they can find the meaning of the text they are reading.
They read short, decodable and predictable texts with familiar vocabulary and supportive images, drawing on their developing knowledge of concepts of print, sounds and letters and decoding and self-monitoring strategies.
At no point in the achievement standard does it talk about guessing the words from pictures, skipping words or thinking about what makes sense. If a child cannot use their phonics knowledge to decode words and monitor to make sure that what they are saying makes sense, they are not able to achieve the foundation level for reading. You will notice in the video above that the student tries to use picture cues, but Alison (the Spelfabet lady) redirects him to the word and to sound out. If a student only knows the sounds of most of the letters of the alphabet and is sounding every word in a text out loud before saying the word, they are not going to be able to read at sentence level and have any hope of understanding what they are reading.
Students use predicting and questioning strategies to make meaning from texts
While the curriculum does mention predicting and questioning in this achievement standard, this is relation to making meaning, not lifting the words from the page in the first place.
They listen for rhyme, letter patterns and sounds in words.
This is where your phonological and phonemic awareness program comes in. Daily work in recognising and produce rhyme, identifying the first, medial and last phoneme in a word and blending and segmenting orally are all important skills for students to possess.
Their writing shows evidence of letter and sound knowledge, beginning writing behaviours and experimentation with capital letters and full stops.
From the description it would be understandable to underestimate exactly what is required of children in writing by the end of foundation. It is clear from the Australian Curriculum Portfolio and the NESA work samples that children really do need to be able to write a simple sentence.
‘Beginning writing behaviours’ may be misinterpreted as the same kind of mark making that we see in preschool. The example below shows that the context of the writing is as important as the sample itself. In the sample above, the writing was independent. In the following sample copying was used as a strategy.
“Reese has demonstrated a basic awareness of the features of a recount but the concluding statement is not appropriate. Past tense has been used and conjunctions link the ideas. There is good directionality, and most upper-case and lower-case letters have been correctly produced. Simple punctuation has been accurately used, and a variety of strategies including phonemic awareness and copying, have been used to spell words. To develop further, Reese needs to build simple sentences and use a full stop at the end of each idea. This work sample demonstrates characteristics of work typically produced by a student performing below the expected standard at the end of Kindergarten.” (Commentary from the ‘old’ NESA site)
They identify and use rhyme, and orally blend and segment sounds in words.
They correctly form known upper- and lower-case letters.
I get stuck on the word ‘known’ here. Does this mean that if the student knows 7 letters and can write them correctly that they have achieved the standard? I think not. Aim for all 26 letters to be correctly formed.
Now that we are clear about the expectations, where do we go to from here? Well that depends on your students. The number one thing to know is where each of your students is up to in these skills. The approaching end of the year is not an invitation to suddenly ‘smash’ them with texts and demand that they write full sentences if they are not yet up to that. It is tempting to ‘cheat’ by intensively quizzing them on sight words and giving spelling tests but this will (at best) create the false appearance of skills that will not last and will not enable the students to tackle a broader range of learning experiences.
What if my students are ‘behind’?
As I have said, it is important to keep working from your students’ current point and focus on building the next steps. This means that if your students know 10 sounds, teach them 5 more. If they ‘sort of, kind of’ know the basic code then firm up and consolidate the sounds and get them reading words. If they are sounding words out sound by sound, emphasise ‘reading in your head’ before saying the word out loud. You only have 10 weeks until the last day of school. Build strong learning experiences for your students that will get them a step closer to being ready for year 1. Cut out the frippery and tom-foolery and just get on with the things that are going to make the biggest difference. Teach explicitly, intentionally and from the front.
What if my students are just about ‘at level’?
Consolidate, consolidate, consolidate! This is your term to make sure that the skills and knowledge you have taught are iron clad and as strong as they can be. It is tempting to move students on to the next step, but remember that if you are in the southern hemisphere a 6 week break is coming up. Make sure that students are building skills and knowledge to automaticity.
What if my students are already at level or beyond?
Remember that having achieved a skill is about performing that skill in isolation AND applying it in context. So students might be able to read and write all sounds, but can they write words quickly and confidently using their existing knowledge? Can they write sentences with those words with ease? Can they pick up an unknown text and read it as easily as they can a familiar text? Before you move students on to next year’s skills be sure that they can use their existing knowledge and skills in multiple contexts, independently and with ease. Of course, if your students are doing all of this then take advantage of the next weeks and keep their knowledge and skills growing. You know your students the best!
The end of the year can be anxiety inducing or a cause for celebration (or maybe both!). Don’t take your foot of the pedal now, but do be mindful that if you have been through a big year, so have your students. There are still 10 weeks in which to make a difference to your students’ learning and help them get a step closer to the goal of strong reading and writing.
End of Foundation Expectations
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