Well, hi there sweet teacher! I hope if you are listening in real time, you are fully engaged and enjoying your summer break. Girl, you deserve it. Today we are jumping into part two of our Go-Getters Guide to Teaching the Alphabet. And although it seemingly sounds boring, assessment can actually be one of the most rewarding parts of teaching the alphabet. And today I am here joyfully ready to explain to you why that is.
If you finished PART ONE, then you have some new mindsets and thoughts about teaching letters and sounds. So now let’s dig into the practical side of things. The part where you get to track your students’ abilities all the way to the proverbial finish line of being proficient with the alphabet. Today, I share my simple system for assessing and rewarding students for their letter and sound work. I’ll also describe my no fail system for tracking this data and give it to you. Yes, I am going to give you a resource that some teachers have described as life changing when it comes to tracking all of this data.
Sound like a plan, go-getter? Well, let’s go get it then!
Why Assessment Is Important
In today’s post, we’ll chat about assessment, which has a bad rap for the most part, but it can be so so exciting and rewarding when we’re talking about letters and sounds. I want to tell you everything I’ve learned over the years to help it become a simple and enjoyable process for you as well. Don’t believe me? Well hang in there, and I’ll prove it to you.
“Assessment is the engine that drives student learning.” John Cowan said that, and it has so much meaning. In order to serve our students, particularly in learning the alphabet, we must know how much they know so that we can drive them in the right direction. We need to understand if our teaching, strategies, and activities are really helping our students to internalize these concepts. We need to celebrate their victories in learning.
If you listened to part one, then you probably understand when I say that this is foreign language to our students. To many of them, they have no idea what a letter even is. How could they possibly identify them and relate that back to the sounds in their environment they’ve heard their whole life?
Why Assessment is Fun
So assessment of letter and sound knowledge, though it sounds boring, should be fun for us. We teachers really have to investigate when our students are not learning something. We have to ask ourselves: Why is this? Although I may have taught this for every day of the week last week, why are these five students not memorizing this letter when they see it?
When we assess our students in an effective way and track what they know, we can make sure that they’re making the progress they’re capable of by mixing up our instruction. By working more in RTI groups or small groups, whatever we need to do, this assessment gives us the power to make those decisions.
I also like to think of assessment as a surprising little gift. Every time you assess your students and see growth, don’t take that lightly. Remember these foreign symbols and suddenly the students know two, three, four, or five more of them. What an accomplishment!
Assess With Less Stress
Another part of assessment that makes it stressful is organization. The first year I taught kindergarten, I had 27, at one point 28, students packed into my little classroom like a tuna can. You can bet that year, before I had an organized way to track data, it was a confusing mess.
Of course, I find lots of mistakes, looking back to my first year of teaching. But I’ve learned better, and now I have a better way. And I’m so happy to share that with you today. Back in that first year, I had all of these forms and different places I would put this number and that number. Really, I had no idea on a normal day, which students knew what letter and how far they were along in their progress towards knowing the whole alphabet. Maybe you feel that way right now. But isn’t it important for us to know who knows what, that way we can really tailor our instruction to fit those students, especially when it comes to our small group instruction? That is where this is most important.
Letter and Sounds Assessment Binder
After that horrible first year, I realized that I needed to track student data as a whole group, as an individual student’s progressing knowledge, and then of course the individual assessments. It’s really three pronged, and this is all ready prepared and good to go for you in a resource that I created called the Letter and Sounds Assessment Binder. This has been available on my TPT store for years, but I am so excited to say it has been fully updated to include even more resources for you absolutely for free. But the free update is only exclusive to my website right here. So be sure to grab the updated version with a digital component.
What you’ll see is that there are pages to print and put into your binder, and there is a whole group monitoring, an individual assessment, and then a student progress monitoring sheet. You sit down with each student, and you give them this sheet of paper that has the random letters on there. Then you quickly go through and ask them if they know the name and the sounds of the letters.
Just a side note, when we assess words, we expect our students to give that knowledge very quickly and automatically, because we want those things to be internalized. So when you are giving your assessments for letters and sounds, please keep that in mind. If a student has to slow down, think about it, and it takes them a few seconds to retrieve that letter’s name or its sound, then they’re not fluent with it. I’m a big proponent for helping students increase their letter and sound fluency, and it’s something I’ve talked about before HERE.
Tracking the Assessment
After you give them this student assessment, you track it in two ways. First, you track it on the student progress monitoring sheet. This is that student’s sheet that you can quickly look at any time and know exactly how many capital letters, sounds, and lowercase letters and sounds they know. So each time you give students this assessment, you can track this on their individual page.
This is a great tool to take when you’re speaking to parents. It’s something you can share with them throughout the year if you like along with the assessment results themselves.
In addition to that, you’re going to add this to a whole group monitoring sheet. On this sheet, you’ll have all of your students’ names, and there are columns for each assessment date that you are giving. What I like to do is when students have mastered all of the alphabet, I highlight their name. It’s sort of an endorphin rush for me.
From start to finish, this whole process with one kid takes less than 10 minutes.
I do use a system similar to this for sight words called the Rainbow Sight word System. You can check that out HERE if you like.
To Reward, or Not to Reward
Now let’s talk about rewards. Some people believe we are killing students’ intrinsic love of learning when we reward them too much. To an extent, I agree with that. But if you look at society, aren’t we rewarded for doing our jobs? A student’s job is to come to school and learn. My job is to go in and teach the students, and I’m rewarded each day with their little smiles, which definitely drives my joy. But I’m also given a paycheck for that, aren’t you? 😉
I think it’s a good common ground for us to say that students need recognition. When students work hard, we want to recognize that hard work. I do not like prize boxes. I have used them, but that’s not the kind of rewards I’m talking about here. We can reward our students in inventive ways that really hack into their interests and their love as small children.
So I’m going to reference my new letter of the week curriculum that is soon to be released called the Letter Squads. I’m offering a one week trial of that to everyone. It’s a daily digital activity and work mat for your letter of the week teaching. I used it when I taught kindergarten year before last, and your students will love it. I promise.
Recognition and the Badge System
What I have done with letter squads is something you can do with your own curriculum no matter what it is. One of the things that I like to do is to reward students using badges. A badge is just a little sticker that they get when they’ve accomplished a certain goal. In the letter squads curriculum, when students complete five whole lessons around a letter, they get a badge for that letter.
When assessing your students, don’t just think about candy and toys. They just need recognition from you. You could use a badge card kind of system with your students or just something to check off when you finish assessing them. Use those opportunities after assessments to reward your students.
Another, more culminating activity, that my students absolutely adore is something I created called an alphabet parade. I’m constantly talking about our alphabet parade. I tell my students when their badge card is filled, we’ll have this amazing celebration of our letters and sounds called an alphabet parade.
I do have a complete Alphabet Parade Planning Guide HERE, but I also have free resources around it HERE. I really talk this up the whole year through, and I even share pictures from past alphabet parades to show my students how much fun it was.
So you’re probably asking, what is an alphabet parade? Well, it’s actually a parent event. It’s a celebration of students learning the alphabet. My students get to dress up as something that begins with their assigned letter. We have food around the letters. And we have all of these awesome and fun performances that we do around letters.
Another thing you can do, maybe not such a large scale event, but a party at the end of your alphabet study that really just encourages students to stay on track and realize just how important this letter and sound instruction is.
Get Ready to Assess!
My friend, that wraps up part two in our three part series, The Go-Getters Guide to Teaching the Alphabet, and I just have to say that part three coming up next week is the most fun of all. I cannot wait to share some new ideas, tips and strategies with you to really get your go-getter side excited. So I guess this is the part where I say it! Until we meet again, go make a difference, Teacher Friend!