Building Higher Level Literacy Skills in Preschool and Kindergarten

In this new age of digital and multiliteracies, the requirements of a reader are changing. Whereas traditionally the focus of learning was more on remembering information gleaned from multiple books, children today may need to think critically about what they are reading, sort out the misinformation and evaluate sources. How does this impact our literacy teaching practices? As a classroom teacher and student of literacy education, I believe that we can begin to foster higher level literacy skills in early instruction, and one such authentic context can be the classroom read-aloud.

Let’s consider two examples. Recalling names of characters from a story is a low level literacy skill because this information is explicit and does not require any inferencing or thinking. However, recalling character motivations is a higher level literacy skill because the listener or reader has to recall information that supports a premise, and synthesize it with their own prior knowledge to construct meaning that goes beyond the text.

One way to create this culture of higher level reading skills is to go beyond literal questions to interactive discussions which help students create meaning collaboratively. Usually, teachers tend to read to their class and then follow the initiation, response, and evaluation (IRE) method to ask questions or discuss ideas. Here, the teacher is just singling out a student to get their reply and evaluate their understanding. This tends to still the flow of thoughts and responses going through other children’s minds. On the other hand, having noisier reading sessions with responses coming from all corners of the classroom helps them co-construct meaning in a collaborative way.

Another way to build critical reading skills is to move from recalling explicitly stated facts in the text, to creating higher level interpretive meaning. Good readers analyze texts, synthesize information, compare it to what they already know, and then form understandings. How can this translate to preschool and kindergarten classrooms? Teachers can help students reconstruct and co-construct meaning from texts. Let’s say a student misinterprets a character’s motivation. Perhaps they may feel that the Big Bad Wolf just wants to visit the pig’s house to hang out with them. Although there is always room for multiple interpretations, when a student’s response is clearly misinterpreting the text, the teacher can work with the student to clarify their understanding or pursue the discussion till the correct interpretation is achieved. Similarly, if there are multiple interpretations of a text which are taken up by different students (maybe the Big Bad Wolf had a cold, and couldn’t stop sneezing), the teacher can relinquish control of one idea and achieve a truly co-constructed interpretation of the text.

Finally, teachers can move to an interpretive design of reading aloud by prereading, analyzing and planning discussion points in advance, so that children’s attention can be directed to more complex ideas in the text. Issues of equality, gender, and society can be discussed or introduced and students can be taught to think critically about symbolism in pictures or ideas (Why is the boy in a wheelchair not part of the game? How can the other children make changes to their rules to let him participate too?).

Some strategies for teachers during read-alouds:

  1. Have at least three readings of the same book to delve deeper into ideas and follow up on comments and questions.
  2. Pick out discussion points from the text in advance which can spark conversations and prompt students to draw real-life parallels.
  3. Model deep reading strategies such as frequently stopping and monitoring comprehension, marking difficult vocabulary, predicting what might happen next and questioning author intent.
  4. Allow students to participate freely in read-alouds without set routines such as hand-raising or taking turns etc.
  5. Be open to multiple interpretations of the same text and encourage students to look at it from different perspectives.

References:

Hoffman, J. L. (2011). Coconstructing Meaning: Interactive Literary Discussions in Kindergarten Read‐Alouds. The Reading Teacher65(3), 183–194.

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