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The Alphabet Crisis

The Alphabet Knowledge Crisis
Many kindergarten students seem to be doing well in school, but in reality, are struggling with their early literacy development. Kindergarten data suggests that many kindergarteners do not know essential alphabet principles like letter naming or identifying the difference between lower and uppercase letters. Some children also have difficulty writing letters or spelling three to four-letter words when guided.

Understanding alphabet principles is critical to future academic success - not only in kindergarten - but for years to come. However, the current alphabet knowledge crisis shows that many young children will continue to struggle in school if they do not learn fundamental alphabet principles.

Here are some of the most critical alphabet principles children should know as they enter kindergarten and ways that educators and parents can help students learn these crucial skills:
Essential alphabet principles
Within the first few days or weeks of school, teachers begin to informally assess student’s abilities to recognize and say letters of the alphabet while also forming letters on paper. Beginner reading books also include three-to four-letter words, some blends and sight words that are often unknown to young learners. Teachers can then gauge student performance within several early literacy measures to help them track how well students will progress and can indicate future literacy achievement.  

These measures include examing essential skills like:
Letter recognition
Letter recognition is a crucial skill for kindergartens to have.  By the fall of their kindergarten year, children should be able to recognize and name a variety of lowercase letters when presented to them in random order (Invernizzi & Huang, 2011).
Forming letters
Children should be able to write down letters that they hear and copy letters that they see. They need to be able to distinguish between uppercase and lowercase letters when writing. A child’s ability to form letters plays a significant role in their academic development even before they head to kindergarten (Puranik & Al Otaiba, 2012).
Kindergarteners should be starting to learn the structure of words, including how letters and sounds work together in specific patterns. A child’s ability to spell certain age-appropriate words can indicate the process they use to write and identify words and their understanding of word structure (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, & Johnston, 2016).
How you can help
Whether you are a parent or an educator, you can help your child develop the alphabet principles they need to do well on early literacy assessments, become strong readers, and in turn, experience future academic success.

Here are a few steps you can take to help children enter kindergarten at the top of their class:
Practice identifying the entire alphabet
It is more valuable for students to participate in alphabet recognition assessments that cover the entire alphabet to know that they truly have a solid grasp on letter recognition(Johnston, F., Invernizzi, M., Bear, D. R., & Templeton, S., 2015). Try using flashcards to help children learn how to identify letters quickly and accurately.

Alphabet knowledge is one of the best indicators of reading skills (Lonigan, Schatschneider, & Westberg, 2008). As such, children should be able to both identify every letter in the alphabet and understand how the sound of each letter makes up words.
Practice writing out letters
Children should practice their fine motor skills and alphabet principles by writing out different upper and lowercase letters.  Further, children must practice writing out letters regularly for this practice to be effective (Hoy, 2011).

Daily practice writing on lined paper or age-appropriate worksheets will help kindergarteners learn not only to recognize different letters but also to form these letters when asked.  These activities will prepare them to accurately produce any letter on kindergarten readiness tests and other assessments.
Practice spelling words 
When children determine the letter sound as well as spell words, they hear verbally during assessments; thus, it is vital to practice their spelling. Research shows that grammar, reading, and alphabet knowledge go hand in hand. When children can spell different words, they will gain a more robust understanding of critical alphabet principles. The letter-name and letter-sound knowledge gained through spelling practice are essential for developing reading skills (Apel, 2009).

As your child learns to recognize different letters, letter sounds, and words, help support their academic development through spelling practice.


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