So, I was asked the other day how I could possibly manage reading groups with 4 year olds? Isn't that impossible? So, with all this disbelief I though I would share some thoughts on 4 year olds, what they are capable of and how I manage my reading groups.
I start with my 3 C's:
1. Connect: I make sure in the beginning of the year to get to know the learning style of each of my students and meet them where they are, this is especially important with 4 year olds who may be experiencing school and learning for the first time. This is also imperative because there is so much development going on in this period of a child's life. When I started this year I had 3 students who were still 3, 9 students who were various degrees of 4 and 2 students who were already 5. I know what you are thinking, how can I bridge the gap in development: differentiated instruction is second nature to Pre-K teachers, you never have a whole class that is at the same place in development at the same time. We were doing it before it ever had a name!
2. Clarify: Four year olds are still at a stage in development where they want to please you. Make sure you are setting them up to succeed when you give them directions. Use specific words, only the words you need and don't expect them to follow more than 3 directions at a time.
Do not say: " Hey you go grab that toy and put it where it goes"
Instead: (make eye contact) "Conner please pick up the train and place it in it's basket" give the child a few seconds to respond then address them again, "Conner thank you now please get in line" Notice how I broke up the directions into 2 different statements and allowed the child time to process and complete the first task before giving him the next expectation.
3. Correct: When I see a child begin to display behavior that will eventually interfere with my group instruction I address it immediatly. I do not start reading groups untill January which gives me from September to December to solidify behavior, build working stamina and train students to sit quiety and work when required.
Once I start my reading groups in January I have already leveled my students to work with like learners and somewhat on the same level. I hold reading groups three days a week and use the other 2 days for whole group instruction. We practice the reading group transitions and procedures for several days before holding a true reading group. The children in the reading group area are reading quietly to themselves and others during these practice days.
I have 4 stations with 14 children, each group meets for 15 minutes with a 2 minute transition time between groups. During our practice days the children are also practicing independence in the classroom, they are not allowed to disturb me so they have to know what to do next. Once they have completed their must do work they have several options, they may:
1. Read a book at their seat.
2. Get a quiet center to play at their seat.
3. Draw or write.
Given these options the class is occupied even if they finish what I have assigned early. They know where each option is and can easily access them without help. They also know that they may use the bathroom, get a tissue or address any of their own needs without asking, the only rules are they cannot leave the room and they must go straight back to their seat once finished.
During transitions we stretch, talk, move, sing and get to our next station. Depending on the mood of my students on any given day I may give them up to 5 minutes in order for them to be successful in the next rotation.
1. Reading with teacher on the floor cushions. ( I am postioned where I can see everyone at all times)
2. Table 1: Worksheet trays: Each of my 4 groups has a paper tray with their worksheets stapled for the week, each group has a different set of worksheets to complete. I go over the directions during the transtion time between each group so the details are fresh in their minds. If they do not understand how to do something I tell them to go onto the next sheet and they can ask me during the next transition time. The tray travels with them to each station.
3. Table 2: Math Center: I place a math center with recording sheet for the students to complete, once done they place the recording sheet in their paper tray and choose a done early option.
4. Table 3: Literacy Center: Same as table 2 but with a literacy activity instead.
Now this is not always as perfect as it may sound in this post. There are days when the announcements come blarring over the loudspeaker right in the middle, days when one group needs 20 minutes of instruction and another group only needs 10 and days when the children just need a play break in between groups. It is o.k. to give 4 year olds what they need in the moment, they will learn what you are teaching as long as you are in tune with what they need. I try to just go with the flow and meet my students where they are. It is crucial that Pre-K teachers are flexible and willing to work with their students and not against them.
Hint: I also play classical music in the background and dim the lights over the tables when there is plenty of natural light coming through the windows. This helps with calming and noise interruptions.
I hope you find my procedure for reading groups helpful and this encourages you that reading groups can be done efficiently and effectively even with young children. I would love to hear how you manage your small groups and have a discussion about best practices for small groups in Early Childhood Classrooms.