Early Literacy Problems for Kindergartners from Spanish-Speaking Homes

We were overjoyed to read the article The Problem with Literacy Programs by Mike Schmoker, published in the recent EdWeek magazine. It outlined most literacy programs’ inadequate approach to literacy by focusing on busywork rather than emphasizing core reading and writing skills. We are on the same literacy page.

But this time, it is about Hispanic kindergartners from Spanish speaking homes, learning shared Spanish/English ABCs: D, T, M, etc.  A five year old in my ESL class in Venice, CA, gently clued me into what we teachers were doing wrong.

During my thirty years with the Los Angeles Unified School District, I always followed the usual instructional patterns and materials.  Yet one day, a student from my class told me in Spanish, “my teacher says ‘manzana (apple) starts with an A”.

My very own five-year-old student identified the literacy problem. But I knew the solution: COGNATES. A short time later, PHONICS FOR LATINOS – ABCs in Common arrived based on his observations.

The problem, as he implied, is that current ABC examples – ‘hand-me-downs’ from times gone by: A is for APPLE/manzana, B is for BEAR/oso, no longer fit today’s kindergartners.  However, what he didn’t know was that other examples were possible.  Spanish/English images such as A is for AIRPLANE/avion, B is for BICYCLE/bicicleta, etc. are the key to literacy. These cognates are effective immediately without any confusion or loss of time for students.

Yet to become a part of classrooms today, research approval must validate the change from English-only ABC images to Spanish/English ones. We welcome assistance in this direction.


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