Sunday, October 10, 2010
Writing at KG level: a novel approach
Sometime ago, I watched a televised discussion on the vexed question of whether children should be made to write (in English, of course) at the kindergarten level. It was a dull and lifeless discussion as the participants, who, I presumed, were either senior school teachers or headmistresses, spoke with one voice. The burden of their message was that, at the kindergarten level, writing should not be carried beyond alphabet letters.
It was a facile conclusion – a conclusion arrived at in terms of popular theories rather than in terms of the realities of curriculum requirements and classroom practice. I doubt whether what they advocated was in keeping with their own practice.
I had to contend with this problem myself when I produced a school level programme in English for Zee TV thirteen years ago. I had never taught at the kindergarten level (in fact, I hadn't taught below the college level at all), but my approach was firmly grounded in reality. My project team carried out a survey of the kindergarten teaching situation which revealed that the classroom practice vastly diverged from the theory that writing work should be minimized at this level. In almost all the schools we surveyed, the children were taught to write the letters of the alphabet in LKG itself; and they were expected to write words and phrases in UKG. When we interviewed the teachers of those schools, we found that pragmatism rather than ignorance was the reason for this practice. They said that, in Standard I, the writing tasks children were expected to perform were formidable: they must read the coursebooks for different subjects and write their answers to the questions in sentences. "If not in UKG, when else could the children be trained to meet the entry-level demands of Standard I?" they asked.
My approach was, therefore, a fair compromise. Accordingly, in our programme, the writing of the letters of the alphabet takes place only towards the end of LKG. But, before that, there are pre-writing activities like tracing lines, curves, shapes and patterns for the child to gain oculomotor ("eye-hand") control as well as to get used to the lines and shapes of alphabet letters. This is followed by drawing (not writing) over large, thickly-lined dotted letters of the alphabet. There are arrows to show the direction in which the pencil should be moved, and the child draws each letter following the arrows and connecting the dots. Letters are arranged not according to their sequence in the alphabet but according to their shapes as sticks, rounds, talls, humps, tails and slants. Letters containing the simplest strokes are presented first, and the child is gradually led to the more complicated forms. Considering that small letters are the ones most commonly used, they are introduced first.
At the UKG level (which is called Levels 3 and 4 in our programme), the child traces (not writes) words. He draws over large thickly lined three-letter words in different colours. The two colours are for indicating the sound units (not syllables) in each word: one colour for the initial consonant and the following short vowel, which form one sound unit, and another colour for the final consonant which forms another sound unit. This serves two purposes: one, the child learns to write, and, two, he gains some knowledge of the phoneme-grapheme relationships necessary for blending sounds.
Ostrich-like attitudes won't help. Writing cannot be ignored at the kindergarten level, but there are ways of ensuring that children are not pushed into independent writing at this stage.