The Teaching Alphabet Teachers Need to Learn
Most adults forget what it is like being a Kindergartner. Unless you hang out with them on a regular basis, you really don’t know what it is they can learn and what they can’t. They really want to learn and they are really curious, but there are limits. One thing I never did with my kids was talk down to them or participate with kiddish “baby talk.” I always used my regular adult vocabulary with my students. If they didn’t understand a word they would ask me. I tried not give to them directions that involved more than two or three steps.
Rule #1: Kindergartners are not little adults. The are concrete thinkers, clearly show them they can repeat it. Tell them without good examples or prior experience and even the best students will have trouble.
Rule #2: Skills should build on each other, they should start easy and then become progressively harder.
Rule #3: Lessons should be planned so that kids experience meaningful success and correction.
If you have ever tried to help your kids print better, you know, it’s a struggle. First, they already “know” how to do it. They are not open to you telling them that their printed letters are just okay or could look better. In most classrooms, kids are shown what the letters look like, and they’re left to fend for themselves. They teach themselves the way that makes sense to them and they practice over and over incorrectly to the point where they don’t want to change it. As a result, most kids start their curved letters on a line and their straight line letters from the bottom up; the letters look lopsided and irregular and always will because without proper instruction they will never develop the pencil control or shape recognition skills they need to be good printers.
Teaching children to print well is a time intensive process for their teachers. Each letter has to be demonstrated, understood, and practiced correctly, and the teacher needs to be there at each step in order to help guide what the student is doing at each stage. Most teachers don’t have the time or the curriculum that will let them do this. Even in the best circumstances, each letter will take at least 3 to 4 min. of the teacher’s time. If you multiply that by 20 students that would mean over a hour each day would have to be set aside for each number to be taught well. Of course, all that time is useless if they aren’t teaching the right things. Without the right curriculum, the correct materials, and the right class management policies, most teachers don’t do it. So kids just “fake it” and teach themselves.
When I originally faced 20 4 1/2 year olds, I assumed that an ABC teaching order and three lines would be enough to teach my kids to print well. Concentrating on one capital letter each day (A,B,C)- we quit after three days. It was then that I realized that the upper case C needed a line under the top line for the kids to start on, if they didn’t have it, they would constantly ask me to locate the spot for them again. If they forgot it, some would naturally they start on the top line; making the capital C look terribly lopsided. Unless there was a line for them to practice on, they would not be able to, at this stage of their development [concrete learners], remember where to start their “curved” uppercase letters-O,Q,C,G,S.
We also realized that “A’s” was too complicated of a letter to teach a first-time learner!–The Teacher’s Alphabet teaches the Capital A 10th. A Capital B has an impossible set of curves and straight lines to master if the kids haven’t mastered some of the other curved letters first (like “P”s and “D”s). Capital “C”s start at impossible place for 5 year olds to locate without a “line” (Same with capital O,Q,G,S). Basic skills and pencil control should be taught first. So we started with the easiest stroke to make and control . . . Straight Line Down.
This is how and why The Teachers Alphabet was born in the classroom. With real students, recognizing what they could and couldn’t do. As a result, we changed the usual preschool alphabet-making a new teaching order and adding two new lines [Special Spot Lines].