A year long study of the alphabet

by Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. on June 18, 2012

in Language Arts, Letter of the Week

For as long as I have been teaching, I have routinely included the letters of the alphabet into my planning each week – commonly referred to as “The Letter of the Week.” I took photos of this process all throughout the year and decided to share the photos and our experience with this process with you…

You can find different variations of “The Letter of the Week” process all over the web. The basic idea behind “The Letter of the Week” is to systematically focus on the shape and sound of at least one letter of the alphabet each week all through out the school year…

In our classroom, this process is very routine.  Each week, the children come to school and find a paper cut-out of the letter on the table along with bottles of glue and items that start with the sound of the letter. Then the children glue the materials to their letter as we talk about the sound and the name of the letter…

When choosing which items to glue on the letter, I like to select items that truly start with the letter of the week like beans for the letter “B” or cotton for the letter “C” but there are some letters that I always have trouble with like the letters “E” and “X”…

By the time my class got to about the third letter in our alphabet process, the children were pretty much self-sufficient in the process.  The children would head over to the table and gather up their own materials and get to work…

However, my students would often forget to glue their letters to the construction paper or whenever they did glue the letter to the paper, it was often glued upside down or backwards…

Because this process was very routine, I could easily see progress in the children’s ability to manage the glue bottles and to complete the entire process with little or no instruction from me beforehand…

The children also began to anticipate which letter would be next and if I didn’t set out a letter on any given week as expected, the children would often ask me when we were going to start on our new letter…

Although this process done alone does not help children recognize the shape or sound of a letter, I have always chosen to include this process because I have always believed it helps to facilitate conversations about the letters of the alphabet and that it gives the children opportunities to explore art tools and other materials along the way. In addition, I have always believed that the routine and consistency of this process helps young children to build confidence as long as the process can be open for each child to interpret the process in their own way rather than being told they “have to do it a certain way”…

This process ran smoothly for quite awhile throughout our school year and then about a little over half way through our letters, my younger students started getting bored with this process. I still set it out and made it part of their routine because – well because it is what I have always done….

My oldest students still seemed to enjoy the process and they continued to ask for it but my threes (now turning four) were done with it. By the time we reached the letter “S”, some of my younger students would pretty much refuse to give it a try…

And by the time we got to the letter T, all of my students had pretty much lost interest in this process. So we skipped the letter T…

But still, I really wanted to finish our set of letters so we wrapped up letters U through Z in one big letter project about 6 weeks before the end of our school year….

After we wrapped up our letters we moved on to do all the other things my students had enjoyed throughout the year like making slime, playing in our sand table, exploring nature, cooking up play dough, playing games outside, exploring waterbeads, examining bugs, and all those other wonderful experiences that my students enjoy…

“The Letter of the Week” is a process that looks very “preschool.”  It looks cute in photos, it looks age appropriate, and it looks academic.  In fact, there is nothing wrong with gluing cotton on the letter “C” or beans on the letter “B.”  However, I have discovered that deep and meaningful learning goes beyond just putting into place processes like “The Letter of the Week.”  Instead, meaningful and long lasting learning comes when young children are given creative, interesting and engaging opportunities to explore their environment  through play, discovery, investigation, questions, trial and error.

I share my experience with you today so that you will take the time to consider, reflect, and evaluate the processes you choose to use in your classroom or with your preschooler at home. Consider whether or not it is a process that deserves to be at the very top of your list of priorities. I say, if it is working and the children are finding the process interesting and inviting – then stick with it. If the children are starting to get bored, then change it up. If the children are clearly not enjoying the process anymore, then do something else!

 

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