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February 3, 2015

Guest Post: It’s January and Half of My Kindergartners are Still on Level A!

Guest Post from Jen JonesGuest Post from Jen Jones


Today we have a wonderful guest post from Jen Jones of Hello Literacy!  As soon as I saw this post, I knew that my readers would really benefit from this information.  So I asked her if I could cross post it here, and Jen said YES!  Make sure that you check out Jen’s blog and TPT stores!

Jen actually has TWO TPT stores!  The first is called “Hello Literacy,” and the second is called “Hello Two Peas in a Pod,” where you will find her collection of Phonemic Awareness activities that she created with her buddy Kathi Zotovich, author of the blog “My Life as a Literacy Coach.”  Jen’s collection of resources in the area of literacy, phonemic awareness, and critical thinking are top sellers because they are incredibly well written, valuable resources!  I know you will enjoy this post from her.  


I received the following email the other day from a Kindergarten teacher:

Hi there, I feel from reading all your blog posts…that you are well versed and a brilliant teacher in K.  With that being said, I’m emailing for a bit of advice… So, we had a meeting with administration who was not happy with the kindergarten team’s benchmark levels for their students reading in December.  We use Fountas and Pinnell and we had 33 out of 65 student below an A.  Yikes I know…but we hadn’t taught small group reading yet.  I want to come back to administration with a action plan of what I can do to make sure my students are reading on grade level….this is where you come in…any words of advice/guidance for me about reading levels and getting all students to grade level, I’d appreciate it.  Is there a way you progress monitor? Thanks so much, Teacher Laura

After reading this email, I realized that my email reply would make a great blog post because if Laura, from Somewhere, USA, was emailing me for advice and an action plan, there could be others of you out there in the same boat.

The predicament that Laura and her team are in is not unique around this time of year because as we all know, all students begin school with such a wide, varied level of experiences. Some have been to preschool, some have not, some speak English, some do not…and the list goes on. As we say, these variables are out of our control.  And while there is a fair amount of individualized testing in Kindergarten, we must, as I like to say, teach with urgency. There are, however, critical, urgent and deliberate variables we can control, so let’s put our time and energy into doing that.

Let’s begin with a goal and then make a plan to meet that goal. An attainable goal (if the following action steps below are carried out with fidelity and our instructional moves are monitored frequently)  is to get at least 80% of Kindergarten students reading at a Fountas & Pinnell Level D, or 5/6, by the end of the year (EOY). And, I didn’t just arbitrarily pick Level D, it’s a district goal in Wake County, and, Fountas & Pinnell think all Kindergarteners can reach that, too. (Their White Paper (Fountas & Pinnell, 2014) outlines theoretical reasons why Level D is the recommended instructional goal for the end of Kindergarten.)  Now for some of you, the end of the year is sooner than for others, because some of us end in the middle of May and others finish the school year at the end of June.  Closely monitor the number of weeks you have left until *your* end of the year.  Now, for my suggested action steps to reach this EOY Kindergarten goal.

1. Begin Guided Reading With All Students

If you have not started guided reading, start now.  By this time of year, your students should know how to work at a center for 15-20 minutes without you needing to monitor them. Also, by this time of year, students should know at least the first 10 Concepts of Print, so they know how books work, which way the words and lines go and where to turn the page.  For a list of concepts of print that students need to know in Kindergarten, see action step #4 below.  In addition, Jan Richardson says that as soon as students know at least 40 letter names, they are ready to begin guided reading.  For many students, this will occur before, during or after the first 9 weeks of school.  In the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model, Guided Reading falls in the “we do” range…where the minilesson is the “I do” and the independent center practicing the skill or strategy taught in the minilesson is the “you do.”  Guided reading is that special time of day where you can really get in there and give students immediate feedback in a small group instructional setting on the reading behaviors and habits they are not doing on their own or not doing at all, and should be.  Guided reading should be done everyday in Kindergarten with 4 – 15 minutes groups or 3 – 20 minute groups.  Every guided reading lesson should include one teaching focus, the rereading of 3-4 familiar books (from previous guided reading lessons), and this rereading of 3-4 familiar books can easily be done without you…tell them to go get started doing this while you put out the small fires right after you dismiss the rest to centers…just have the 3-4 books sitting in 3-4 piles at the guided reading table. A GR session should also include some fluency work, which for a Level A lesson a few high frequency words or some alphabet letter names or alphabet letter sounds fluency practice. Include a mini-introduction to the new book, a picture walk/talk of the new book by each students individually but at the same time (speed walk/talks are not ok) and at least one read-through of the new book, where students read individually, at the same time (no more round robin reading!) and you lean in to listen, teach, coach and take notes. A comprehension element should be included as well as vocabulary, phonics or phonemic awareness.  See my guided reading lesson for the Level A Reading A-Z book, What I Like.*Note: although this post is geared for Kindergarten, many of the steps can be applied to 1st grade as well.  Guided reading sessions at Level F and above should also include some writing or written form of comprehension.*


For the record, and I apologize if what I’m about to say offends anyone, but too often the following things are being done in the name of Guided Reading. Guided Reading is not coming to the guided reading table and completing worksheets with or without the teacher, it is not doing projects, it is not discussing and talking about Picture of the Day, it is not assessing one student while the rest read silently, it is not having students read and retell to each other while you write a parent email or shop online, it is not book clubs or literature circles without the teacher, it is not reading to them, for them or with them, it is not writing Guided Reading in your lesson plan book and not actually teaching guided reading, and it is not playing games and coloring sheets with or without the the teacher.  Guided reading is not guided reading if only 1 or 2 students are sitting at the table and guided reading is done best at a horseshoe shaped table with the teacher on one side and six students pulled up to the other side of the table. Guided reading is also done best when the guided reading table is clean and clear of clutter. This paragraph probably doesn’t apply to you, but I just had to put it out there.

2. Conduct Anecdotal Running Records Weekly with All Level A Students

For Kindergarten students still reading on a level A, and you just realized this because you did your middle of the year (MOY) running records, you will not want to wait until the end of the year (EOY)running record window to know if they made it or not. You will want to “monitor” these students more frequently to see if they are making reading level growth, like for every 10 days of instruction, do an informal or anecdotal running record every 2 weeks.  Informal running records can be done with any book, and recorded on anything…even a napkin works if you have nothing else (don’t laugh, I’ve done this before). If you don’t know how to take a running record, this explanation from AlphaKids is a pretty good one. If you’re interested in teaching yourself more about what guided reading looks like at each level, check out the Introduction to Guided Reading modules by the Reading Recovery Training Center at Clemson University.

3. Teachers Will Analyze Their Running Records

Once you conduct these informal running records, which is data you can collect during guided reading (don’t do all students on the same day), take time to analyze each student’s reading behaviors. Fill in the MSV for each error, calculate the ratio of self-corrections, make a list of the sight words they continue to miss, make a list of the story vocabulary they don’t have a handle on and drill down the V errors for patterns.  Do they consistently jumble up words like stop for spot or park for pack, etc.?  Or, do they consistently leave off word endings, like -s, -es, -ing, and -ed? ELD students typically leave off word endings as these suffixes are not in their native language. These errors must be pointed out to them, and all learners, as this is the immediate feedback emerging readers need to becoming independent, proficient, self-monitoring readers.  Use the results of the running record analysis to move forward with next steps in your guided reading instruction. Note: if you are taking running records and then doing nothing with them, then why are you taking them? Analyzing student miscues is the key to moving kids forward because that’s  how you know what to teach, and it’s the feedback students need, on the spot.

4. All Students Will Know All 20 Print Concepts

Print Concepts are foundational to emergent reading.  Before you can read page after page, you must be familiar and know how books work.  When students come to school with no knowledge of how books work, they are at a disadvantage to the students that have been read to at home prior to beginning Kindergarten and/or students that attended preschool.  So, when this is the case, they will need a crash course in book-handling skills and how to navigate through the pages of the book.  Typically, once students know at least the first 10 print concepts they are ready to begin learning to read in a guided reading format.  The Concepts of Print we teach are below. And here is a Print Concepts Slideshow I made to show Kindergarten parents, feel free to use it too.

Click on the image for a free download

5. Students Will Read Books Morning, Noon & Night

Instead of doing worksheets in the morning, set out baskets of books called Browsing Boxes, one basket per table, so they don’t have to move or travel to get more. Picture books are perfect. They don’t have to be all Level A books and shouldn’t be because most Level A books are not what I would consider “print-rich”…remember this time is about developing reading habits. Students that are still reading at Level A this time of year have lots of book catch-up to do, and need to have books in their hands as much as possible.  Once the book is in their hand…and getting them in their hand is totally on you during the day, you are the gatekeeper of how much or little kids have books in their hands, which is a very powerful position to be in, so be a relentless book/reading opportunity provider.  So once the book is in their hand, they will be reading the pictures, out loud, reading to themselves, out loud, telling the pictures, out loud, retelling the story, out loud.


6. Send Books Home Each Night

You will not only send home a new level A book each night, that they will to at least 5 people/pets/dolls/whoever, you will also send home a picture book for parents to read to their child, call it a Parent Read-Aloud.  Let students self-select the book they would like their parent to read to them from the book baskets they are reading from in the morning.  It is important that the Level A or whatever level they are on, book, is a book they have read and reread several times in class before it goes home.  You don’t want students reading text “cold” at home…this breeds frustration among students and parents.  This action step could without a doubt be the most powerful action step in Level A students reaching Level D by the end of the year.  The bottom line is, children who log more hours reading, are more proficient, higher achieving readers…and inversely, children who are more proficient, higher achieving readers, read more.  It’s a positive, perpetual cycle. If you’re thinking, how am I going to make this happen, or how is my team going to make this happen…it takes WILL on your part and determination to make it work. I always enlisted parent volunteers to help with the management of Home Reading, and parents are eager to help in the classroom (or in the hallway) in this way. So use them. Read my blog post about how to Start a Home Reading Program.  Here are some Parent Read-Aloud labels that you can adhere to the pictures you add to your Parent Read-Aloud bucket.

Print these on label size Avery 5260 (standard return address)

7. Teach Students How to Read & Write Sight Words

No doubt, knowing sight words goes a long way in learning how to read, but the reality is that teaching sight words are a sticky subject. Teachers (and admin) always get hung up on *which* sight words, Fry or Dolch, Rainbow or Popcorn, or whatever. But, the bottom line is,  it doesn’t matter, the variability in all these lists aren’t that different.  There’s debate about whether to call it a sight word or a high frequency word…as some are decodable (can, am, like) and some are not (what, the, from). But again, don’t get hung up here either, just teach them!  But don’t hold students back from reading real books because they don’t know this amount or that amount or sight words.  Teaching sight words is not a means to its own end, so teaching them in isolation is especially hard for students who need “a sense of story” to read sight words correctly.  No one ever, in real life, reads these words in isolation, because they *only* make sense in between other words, usually found in books.  In addition, when teaching students to read sight words, we should also be teaching them how to write the same sight words. Don’t expect that they will learn to read and write sight words at the same rate, but learning to read them and write them is a reciprocal process (decoding and encoding).  Heidi Butkus of Heidi Songs, sells great Sight Words Songs that really help kids learn to read and spell sight words, in a fun, engaging and whole body way.

8. Students Will Maintain a Poetry Folder

This one really goes with action step #5, but poetry is one of the best forms of repeated reading due to the rhythmic and sing-songy nature of poems.  There are a ton of free poems out there.  Students will maintain a three prong folder. Each week you will pass out one new poem for the week.  Students will add it to the back of their pages, so the first page is the beginning of the year and last page is from the end of the year.  Once you pass it out, it will your shared reading for the day. You will read it several times together, chorally, and students will continue to read and practice that same poem and older poems in the folder throughout the week in any spare minutes of the day.  Here are free poetry folder covers.


9. Teachers Will Analyze/Teach Characteristics of B Books, Etc.

It is going to be essential for you to analyze the text characteristics of level B, C and D books, so you can anticipate the rough spots that will be coming ahead for these emerging readers.

Level B Books Have:
– familiar content (family, play, pets, school, dress-up, shopping, cooking)
– short predicable sentences with heavy picture support on every page
– mostly one syllable words
– some simple plural words
– a few high frequency words used repeatedly
– some words with -s and -ing
– many decodable words like dog, run, sit
– two or more lines of print on each page
– print is large and plain
– period is the only punctuation in most B books

Level B Readers Are:
– learning how print works
– developing left to right directionality across several lines of text
– firming up voice-print match
– recognize repeating language patterns
– learning more about distintive features of letters
– making stronger connections between sounds and letters
– beginning to self-monitor their reading
– attempting to self-correct as they notice the mismatches
– beginning to check one source of information against another (MSV)
– beginning to notice and use visual clues
– expanding their core base of high frequency words
– pointing and reading at a steady pace

Level B Readers Can:
– recognize a few easy high frequency words like the, and, my, like, see, is, can, in, it
– recognize and make a few CVC words like hit, cut, man, dog, pet
– write a few CVC words like run, can, pet
– write a few easy high frequency words like can, like, the, me, we, is
– match and sort pictures by initial sounds like ball, baby, bird
– match and sort pictures by ending sounds like phone, man, spin
– match and sort pictures with rhyming sounds
– match and sort upper and lower case letters quickly
– clap the syllables in words with one, two and three parts
– recognize letters by name and locate them quickly
– make predictions based on pictures
– make connections between the character and their own lives
– understand character feelings
– interpret problems in the story
– notice and appreciate humor
– realize stories have a beginning and an end
– share opinions about books and illustrations

The above Level B information is condensed for download HERE:


Level B Resource: The Continuum of Literacy Learning, Grades K-2:
A Guide To Teacher by Fountas & Pinnell) Information for other levels can be found in this book.I only made the above Level B form for this post, I plucked the information, and rewordified some, from the book listed above. I don’t have them for all the levels, but you can either get the book OR the Clemson Reading Recovery Training website lists something very similar HERE.  For each level range given, you will click on the Book & Reader Characteristics tab.


10. Teachers Will Support Students in a Gradual Release of Responsibility Model 

If independence at each of these levels is the goal (which it should be) then it will be essential for you to implement this model of ownership over the strategy use.  Another way of saying the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model is “I do, we do, you do.” At first, as students initially move up to Level B, they will need direct, explicit instruction and modeling from you about what and how, Level B readers read. You will do this through whole group mini-lessons (10 minutes) every day.  You will also do this through small group guided reading sessions (3 or 4, 15 or 20 minutes sessions) every day.  In the small group guided reading session, students will “give the strategy or skill a go” on their own but with your support and verbal scaffolding if they need support.  After 2-3 weeks of this level of high and medium instructional support, students should be able to do what Level B readers do (as readers) without much support from you or peers, they should be independent (95% of the time) with Level B text, and you will begin instructing these students at Level C.This is by no means a comprehensive list of EVERYTHING you should be doing for the emerging readers and writers in your class, but without overwhelming everyone reading this post, these are the most essential to get your little ones on the road to reading. You will most definitely also wanting to be providing daily explicit writing instruction, like Writer’s Workshop is perfect for this. You will also most definitely want to be providing daily phonemic awareness instruction.  For many of these Level A readers, they lack phonemic awareness or the ability to manipulate auditory sounds and this is a skill that must be developed and practices, every day. They are weak at it, and like a muscle, they must work it.  However, with all there is to do in literacy for Kindergartners, all too often, we let phonemic awareness instruction slip because finding nursery rhymes or thinking up and finding segmenting and blending activities just takes more time.  I know how it goes and that why I wrote a year’s worth of phonemic awareness curriculum, that is literally no prep and even no print (if you have an iPad).  Teach your whole class for 10 minutes a day, straight from your lap.


I have done all the work for you, what you say is scripted, what the students should echo back to you is provided. And there is an assessment you can administer at the BOY, MOY & EOY so you can see if your students are making phonemic awareness gains.  The lesson format for each week is the same from week to week. Monday is the day you read the designated read-aloud book to your students, most books are available in your school’s library or can be found on YouTube. Then Tuesday – Friday, for about 10 minutes a day, you engage your students in phonemic awareness activities, which we call “listening games” with the students. The format is easy and simple to follow.


The 16 phonemic awareness skills covered in the lessons are listed in the Reading Foundational Skills strand of the Common Core for ELA.  It can be purchased by the month or as a yearly bundle at Hello Two Peas in a Pod.

I hope you found this post helpful. Thank you for reading through it all the way to the bottom…I hope you aren’t asleep by now. :-)For daily doses of literacy, research and general literacy tidbits, follow my Hello Literacy Facebook Page, or my Pinterest Boards. To follow me personally, follow me over on Instagram.  Find my presentations on Slideshare and email me if your school has professional development needs in literacy.



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