Friday, February 1, 2008

Heidi Sings

Heidi and Mr.Gurney at the California Kindergarten Conference

Kindergarten teachers today have been assigned the work of teaching beginning reading to five and six year olds. State-approved reading programs vary, but most demand that public school kindergarten teachers teach at least 20 sight words by the end of kindergarten.

Sight words are the most common words in early reading materials. Some sight words are easy to teach because they’re single letters or because they exemplify the phonics rules we teach for sounding out words. In this category are words such as “I,” “a,” “like,” and, well, “and,” itself.

Other sight are more difficult because they don’t follow phonics rules. Examples are: “the,” “said,” “of,” and “have.” Students must disregard what they may know about phonics and learn these sight words by rote.

Because rote learning requires sustained attention and effort, we once waited until first grade to teach sight words. A first grader's mind is far more mature than a kindergartner's mind. Waiting until the learner is ready makes good old-fashioned common sense. Wise patience is why we don’t try to toilet train toddlers when they first start walking. We wait.

But educational policy makers are bereft of patient wisdom. Today, we're required to teach reading in kindergarten. Problem is, many kindergartners don’t have much interest in or ability to learn 20+ sight words. The majority of five year olds have not developed attention spans long enough for successful rote learning. So, to satisfy the expectations handed down from on high, we either demand children soldier through lessons that don’t come easily or naturally, or way too often, in desperation, to get the job done, we drug them with Ritalin. How sad!

Or some genius comes along and invents a new more child-friendly approach to teaching early reading.

One such genius is Heidi Butkus, a kindergarten teacher in La Verne, California. She has developed one of the best tools I’ve come across.

I met her at the California Kindergarten Conference last month in Santa Clara.

Heidi’s approach is to teach these sight words using music, movement, and sight. The songs provide a melody to keep repetition pleasant. Movement helps anchor the information kinesthetically while enlisting the body to the task of learning the words. The words to the songs include their spellings. This multi-sensory melange works magic. Most students learn.

I bought Heidi’s DVD for my kindergarten and we play songs from it as part of our daily routine. I can see for sure that works.

You can visit Heidi’s website. If you’d like to give your child extra practice in mastering the sight words, you can order her DVD and play it at home. My recommendation is to buy DVD Collection #1.


bingo 2 said...

Very cool stuff. Is this similiar to the Montessouri teaching methods?

Dan Gurney, Mr. Kindergarten said...

Hi, Bingo 2.

I don't know whether Montessori methods were part of Heidi's inspiration. Perhaps Heidi can comment. I think Heidi's songs came out of her admiration for the way Zoophonics uses body movements to help teach sounds.

a1337a said...

I can personally attest to Mrs. Butkus's magic of music; I was a student of hers 15 years ago, adore English and reading, and still remember some of the songs we learned. She's fantastic! :)

Dan Gurney, Mr. Kindergarten said...

Well, thank you for commenting!

I hope you'll tell her, too. I think I can safely say that kindergarten teachers LOVE to hear from their grownup students. (I do, at least.)

And I agree: Mrs. Butkus is a very very special teacher. Her love and positive energy just filled the room as she presented her workshop.