Story time is sacred. When I was a kindergarten teacher, one of my favorite parts of the day was interactive read alouds. I would sing our jingle to signal to my students to gather in close. Then after bodies settled, I would lean down low to tell my eager listeners the secret, juicy clues behind the new story and lesson. Finally, after building their curiosity and engaging them in conversations about what and why we were reading on that day, we would all indulge in the most enchanting aspects of our favorite texts — beautiful images, characters that touched our hearts, and access to new worlds that sparked more questions than answers. What a magical time!
This type of powerful, joy filled learning experience is what we designed WITS Virtual Kindergarten to recreate. Our goal is that our virtual interactive read alouds and activities will promote a love of reading beginning at a very early age. We designed the curriculum and resources to be used in the classroom and at home to offer opportunities for children to be exposed to oral language that promotes growth. Thus, we provide free access to our bilingual read alouds featuring award-winning children’s books, carefully crafted standard-based lessons, and an accompanying activity packet that encourages young minds to explore, practice, and synthesize what they learned in the videos.
WITS Virtual Kindergarten curriculum invites students to be curious researchers, teaches them how to find evidence to take a critical stance, and gives students choice and responsibility in their learning to foster the active use of new knowledge. We want students to be immersed in a variety of well-chosen texts, not only to learn to love stories and reading, but to also learn about written language. The stories we have featured are rich in language opportunities, allowing children viewers to assimilate a sense of the structure of written language. This integration of text features not only teaches reading fluency, but with repeated exposure readers can then reproduce writing in a way that sounds like and approximates their favorite text. Great writers are great readers, after all.
Power of Read Alouds
Reading aloud is the foundation of early literacy development. Most of us have a fond childhood memory of a favorite book, and often this book was read aloud to us. Children’s listening comprehension outpaces their reading comprehension, being read to builds knowledge. Read alouds provide access to rich engaging texts, information, and experiences even when students cannot read all the words. For WITS Kindergarten Online we picked books with intentionality and invited students to take part in discussion from cover to cover to help students become strategic readers, develop a love for reading, and expose students to a large variety of genres.
What makes interactive read alouds truly powerful is the modeling and publicizing of one’s thinking as a reader. Using the texts as an anchor, teachers can model fluency, speaking and listening techniques, as well as key comprehension strategies like making connections and using text evidence to draw conclusions. Modeling reading strategies also conveys expectations for how students should approach their independent reading. When reading aloud I use several strategies, including:
Thinking aloud: Demonstrate how to think critically and often about reading and making connections.
Monitoring understanding: Check for comprehension and reread when needed.
Visualizing text: Encourage students to think about what pictures form in their mind while reading.
Application: Ask students to consider how to connect the book to their own life, other books, current events, or cross-curricular content.
Questioning: Formulate questions about what students can learn from the text to apply to their lives.
In addition, by sharing my own interest and authentic curiosity, I can also model what good readers do when they truly interact with a book. While exploring informational texts, I use inquiry-based teaching approaches to demonstrate how good readers think for themselves, reason, seek to understand deeply, build knowledge, leverage their thinking with others, and put knowledge to work in their own lives. It is our intention to help students build up a repertoire of text structures and language structures that will support them in their independent reading and writing. We want to encourage students to learn and teach about their own interests and ideas, and that they are powerful problem-solvers and their own questions really matter.
Creative Vulnerability and Courage
Often adults say negative things in front of children like, “I can’t draw,” and then don’t understand why children put down their crayons. But if we want children to have the courage to learn, think, create, and try out the unknown we must model creative vulnerability. I tell my students there is no such thing as a “wrong” or “bad” in the creative process. During my read aloud of the Mo Willems’s book, We Are in a Book! I show poorly drawn people, make mistakes with my speech bubbles, and show the sometimes messiness of the writing process. To be brave enough to express oneself creatively or try something new, like when learning to read, one must be vulnerable and have an empathetic community willing and able to support them through their hiccups along the way.
Being silly is a way I try to model courageous vulnerability and creativity for students. Embracing my inner performance artist to bring a story to life feels magical. For example, before introducing the book Dragons Love Tacos, by Adam Rubin. I put on a dragon costume and roared at the camera holding my pet Bearded Dragon, Spike. Children are always initially captivated and entertained by this type of dramatic reenactment, as they don’t often see this type of playful silliness acted out by grown-ups. But it also a powerful tool of engagement for the long-term as it reveals parts of my character as a teacher goofy, fun-loving, and committed – that many of them can connect with.
Connections To Content
Reading aloud allows me to model reading strategies and make connections between the text and other texts, as well as cross-curricular content. The book Alma and How She Got Her Name? by Juana Martinez-Neal, provides an opportunity to connect to both writing and social studies curricula. Throughout the text, Alma, whose full name is Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela, thinks she has too many names and so she asks her dad about them. He explains the various ancestors and their special traits for which she was named after. The simple, yet beautiful story explores deep themes of identity, family, and culture. Ideas which are further explored and reinforced in the lesson and with activities like, The Character Trait Family Tree, that asks students to research and complete a family tree diagram with names, faces, and personal traits of their own family members.
Using examples of the writer’s craft provides mentor texts for students in context. For example, students are asked to craft their own simple picture book memoir, after reading the biography of Jane Goodall, in Me… Jane by Patrick McDonell. Before, during, and after the story I point out the structure of the text and the details the author includes. I then ask the listeners how that approach might be applied in their own writing. Students also have the opportunity to practice mindful listening skills during this time.
Literature is more than just fun. It builds bridges to topics and issues that students aren’t always equipped to explore and understand alone. Books are gateways to big, communal ideas; they remind us that no matter how small we feel, we are a big part of a shared world.
Read aloud texts should be high-interest, age-appropriate, complex, and culturally relevant texts. This allows teachers to make sure that students are exposed to books that have characters that look like them, or it can challenge students to consider the perspectives of others who are different. Reading has the power to open hearts and humanize those who are often dehumanized. Reading the stories of others can help us to better understand and reflect on our own stories.
Recent months have reminded me how central the stories, themes, and lessons in quality literature need to be in our work. Over the past year, the global pandemic has made students and teachers feel more isolated and alone. Taking a few minutes at the beginning of each read aloud video to connect as a community not only will be beneficial for students academically but also allows me to introduce a social emotional skill or idea, like mindful breathing to self-regulate. Tools our students need now more than ever.
Learn more about WITS Kindergartne Online
WITS Kindergarten Online is designed to teach early learners the literacy skills appropriate for their age and give them the tools and time to apply those skills in real-world environments. Students will get the chance to be curious researchers in their community and explore empathy, character, and connections to the world around them. Laurie Brooks, Curriculum Manager at WITS and former Chicago Public School teacher, developed the curriculum for WITS Kindergarten Online. New read alouds and activities will be introduced every Monday, alternating English and Spanish versions, and students and families can participate at any time. For more information and to register, visit https://witschicago.org/witsk-online.