When we were looking at extending the levels of fluency practice that we offer, we played around with a few things and finally realized that to make this meaningful we needed to start at the beginning. So, here is a look at the very beginning.
(The framework of our fluency was designed to correlate with DIBELS fluency assessments, but these pages are absolutely useful for students regardless of whether your school uses DIBELS or not.)
I started this project by writing some early reader stories and then I kept asking, "But what about the kids that aren't ready for this yet?" So I went backward to letters. "But what about the kids that show up knowing barely any letters, if any at all?" So I tried to create something that actually teaches letters as well as giving targeted practice for specific letters that students need. I ended up with 48 pages of Letter Name Fluency practice.
The first step is to give an assessment. You can use your DIBELS data or any other letter identification test you have. Or you can use the assessment in the fluency pack. You start by giving the students the capital letter page. This is a one-on-one assessment. You only need to print one of the student pages because you'll use it over again. (I'd copy it on cardstock so it'll hold up to several assessments). Its clean design is purposeful. You want kids focused on the letters, not distracted by the cute clip art.
Have the student sit across from you and direct him or her to point to each letter and say the letter NAME. You track the student's progress on the record sheet. The directions are close to the DIBELS' assessment because if your kids have to go through that it's helpful that they're familiar with the procedure. There's one key difference, however.
In the DIBELS Letter Naming Fluency assessment, if the student says the letter sound instead of the letter name, you're allowed to remind them to say the letter name one time and it's counted as an error. For the DIBELS test where a uniformity of procedures is crucial to maintaining the validity of the assessment, this strictness makes sense (kind of). But for my purposes as a classroom teacher, I need to know, "Does this child actually know that letter?" It's a waste of time and energy if a student was confused by the test and accidentally said "buh" instead of "B" and I then require him to spend time practicing a letter that he really knew, but confused in the moment. So if the student says the letter sound, remind him/her to tell you the sound, point to the confusing letter and ask, "What letter?" If the child still says the sound, mark it as an error.
To track growth over time, the record sheet is meant to be used for multiple uses. The sheet has space to record at least 4 assessment sessions. Mark each correct letter named in the box below it with a \. Here's an example from a student named Trina. (The student assessment outcomes mentioned in this blog post are made-up, but based on real students' data.)
As you can see, Trina knows 8 capital letters: A, R, T, N, I, O, B, X. I've marked a / under each of the letters she identified correctly. (I'm a lefty so I probably make slash marks opposite from all you righties!) I marked only in the first box since this is our first assessment.
Because she only knows 8 capitals, Trina is on Letter Recognition Level A. This means she knows 15 or fewer capital letters. We start with capitals because they're more visually recognizable than many lower case letters. They're also easier to write. But we want to get to lowercase letters quickly because they're much more common in reading and writing, so once she knows 16 capitals she will have a good foundation to progress to Level B where she can practice lower case letters.
These LNF practice pages were designed to be homework, but they would also be effective for intervention support for struggling kinders, first graders, or even 2nd graders.
The letters are organized in groups, called clusters. The cluster grouping allows you to target specific letters rather than trying to focus on the whole alphabet at once. The clusters are organized to introduce high-utility, easy to pronounce, and visually distinct letters first. For example, the letters in the first cluster are S,M,A,P. These all look very different and have sounds and names that are easy to say. These letters are also rather common; you can find examples of them in lots of places. Letter X is a letter that most kids know, for some reason, but it's rarely used, easily confused with K, and makes a tricky sound, so it is introduced in the last cluster.
Trina knows all the letters in Cluster 2, but only 1 letter in Cluster 1, so I will assign her the 4 weeks of homework that correlate with Cluster 1 and we will work on those 4 letters in small groups. Each week she'll be introduced to a new letter in the homework, but she will continue practicing 2 familiar letters.
There are 4 activities for the week. She is supposed to do one a day. Each day's assignment has her practicing saying the letter names. Because I wanted something for my students that actually helped to teach them what they didn't know instead of just drilling letter names, there's a brief practice activity each day. There are also parent tips each week, so families can get ideas on how to better support their students at home.
Hopefully Trina will quickly progress to Level B, but if she doesn't I can keep supporting her with the 24 weeks of Level A homework. She can continue to learn one new letter a week and review some already known ones for as long as she needs.
From the assessment, I can determine Trina's level from just giving the Capital Letter portion, so I stopped there. It would have also been appropriate to give the Lowercase Letter Assessment as a benchmark of where she's starting the year. It would be helpful to look back and see how far she's come.
Here's Milo's assessment:
Milo had done this assessment 3 times. I've recorded the data with a different color of my favorite Muji pens each time to make it easy to track his growth.
The first time I assessed him (blue ink) he knew 11 capitals. (I didn't assess his lowercase letters at that time, but I could have.) I started him working on Level A Cluster 2 homework. It's helpful to have some files with the copies already made so I can easily pull whatever the students need for the week and put their names on them.
About a month later he was assessed again. This time it's marked in green pen. Because he knew 15 capitals, I decided to assess lowercase letters, too. He knew 7 lowercase letters, bringing his grand total of letters known to 22. His capital letter knowledge is still in the Level A zone, but he's only one letter away from advancing, so I decided to start him practicing with the next level. I'm the teacher, I can make that call! That puts Milo on Level B and working on Cluster 1.
At Level B, the Clusters are larger (6-7) letters and students see them all over the course of a 4-week period. The first week starts with 4 of that cluster's letters. The second week also has them practicing 4 letters (some new, some review). The third and fourth weeks expand to include all the letters. Practicing letters over time helps students remember them.
Like the Level A homework, there are 4 activities for the week. Milo is supposed to do one a day. Each day's assignment asks him to practice saying the letter names. There are 4 different practice activities and also parent tips each week, so families can get ideas on how to better support their students at home.
Milo's 3rd assessment shows that he can identify 38 letters--woohoo! This puts him at Level C.
The students practice saying a mix of upper and lowercase letters at this level. The week's activities focus on matching upper and lower case letters and understanding the concept of the alphabet as a whole.
On Level D, students are working on naming letters confidently and rapidly.
In the Letter Name Fluency pack there are 4 weeks of Level C pages and 4 weeks of Level D pages. In the Kindergarten Fluency pack there are also 4 weeks of Levels C and 4 weeks of D. The pages in both packs have the same format, but different letters. That means if you need more than 4 pages of Level C, you could use the ones from the other pack or vice versa. In order to keep the pages in the 2 packs identifiable, they are labeled Cluster One (LNF pack) and Cluster Two (Kinder pack). One set isn't more advanced than the other; it's just a way to keep them organized.
Some people argue that students should be practicing letter sounds before letter names. There are a few reasons why sounds first may not be best practice.
First, DIBELS does letter names first and if your students have to take those assessments, it's best to prepare them for that.
More importantly, however, there is no strong evidence to support introducing sounds before letter names. And there are multiple studies that show that children who know the names of letters learn to connect letters and sounds better than students who have just been taught the sounds. Sounds make poor labels for things. Learning letter names may also give students an advantage because the names of letters in many cases give clues about the sounds the letter makes. For example, the letter T has the /t/ sound in its name. Words Their Way For PreK-K clearly explains the debate for letter name vs. letter sound (check out page 35 if you're interested in more information).
So, there's a look at our Letter Name Fluency pack. Also included in the set is a parent note explaining how to do the homework and a blank grid so you can keep track of which homework assignment each student needs.
Hopefully you'll find that this set resources is just what you need to help your young learners master all those letters!
You can pick up the Letter Name Fluency bundle in our Teachers Pay Teachers store.