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Addressing the CCSS for Kindergarten in Developmentally Appropriate Ways, Part I

by Nell K. Duke
 | May 28, 2015

In a recent report, three scholars critique the Common Core State Standards for kindergarten. In a two-part blog post, I will focus on one particularly problematic claim in the report. In a box called “Kindergarten has become the New First Grade: Examples from Common Core,” the authors write, “To achieve them [the CCSS for kindergarten] usually calls for long hours of drill and worksheets—and reduces other vital areas of learning such as math, science, social studies, art, music and creative play” (p. 6). The authors go on to list six example standards in the CCSS literacy standards for kindergarten. I believe each standard can be addressed through instruction that involves neither long hours of drill nor worksheets and incorporates other vital areas of learning as well.

The first example standard the authors list is

Fluency CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.K.4: Read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.

Many people have interpreted this standard to mean that children are expected to read by the end of kindergarten. What it actually says is that children are expected to read emergent-reader texts, which is rather different from “reading” as many people understand it. Appendix A of the CCSS defines in its glossary emergent-reader texts as “Texts consisting of short sentences comprised of learned sight words[1 ] and CVC[2] words; may also include rebuses to represent words that cannot yet be decoded or recognized; see also rebus” (p. 42). An example of an emergent-reader text from TextProject is Buns and Jam. The cover has a photograph of two buns and a bowl of jam along with the title. (Note that in emergent book-reading assessments, teachers are typically expected to read the title to children.) Page one has a photo of buns and the word buns. Page two has a photo of jam and the word jam. The third and final page has a photo of buns with jam on them and reads, “Jam on buns. Yum!”

A more challenging emergent-reader text is Sit by Tom Beedy. Along with the title, the cover has a photo of a hen sitting on eggs. The first page shows a photo of an owl in a tree and reads, “It can sit in a tree.” The word tree has a drawing of a tree above it (a rebus; some books have so much support in the main picture or photo that it might be seen as acting as a rebus, leading more texts to be counted as emergent-reader texts by the CCSS definition). The next page shows a photo of a joey in his or her mother kangaroo’s pouch and reads, “It can sit in Mom.” Notably, this and the other emergent-reader text I described are much less challenging than what we have historically expected children to read by the end of first grade—books such as Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik, for example—contradicting the report’s claim that “Kindergarten has become the New First Grade.”

Not surprisingly, the most straightforward way to help children learn to read emergent-reader texts is to read such books with children. The teacher points to words as he or she reads them to show children that we read from left to right and word by word (Zucker, Ward, & Justice, 2009). Children and teachers discuss the photographs or illustrations in the book, which are often of high interest, building observation skills (Roberts et al., 2013). The teacher demonstrates how to look at each letter, consider the sound associated with that letter, and blend those sounds together to make words; she or he prompts children to use the letters to identify words (Scanlon, Anderson, & Sweeney, 2010). For example, a child who reads “It is a mouse” for “It is a rat” might be coached to look at the first letter and then subsequent letters in the word and try again. The teacher may read the book several times and then provide opportunities for children to do the same, to increase familiarity with the words within.

Neither long hours of drill nor worksheets are needed—or even are effective—at addressing this standard. And emergent-reader texts can be selected that coordinate with the science or social studies curriculum (e.g., using Sit, described above, in a study of animal habitats or a book about jobs for a community helpers unit).

In the second installment of my post, I will discuss ways to address the other five example standards in this section of the report, again demonstrating that neither long hours of drill nor worksheets are needed.

Nell K. Duke is a professor of Literacy, Language, and Culture at the University of Michigan, a member of the ILA Literacy Research Panel, and author of Inside information: Developing powerful readers and writers of informational text through project-based instruction.

The ILA Literacy Research Panel uses this blog to connect educators around the world with research relevant to policy and practice. Reader response is welcomed via e-mail.


1 “Learned sight words” is redundant. A sight word is any word a reader can read at first sight. So, by definition, all sight words are learned. I believe the CCSS meant high-frequency words, which are words that occur very commonly, such as the, look, and in. Some high-frequency words are easy to decode by common sound-letter relationships, such as can, whereas others are quite irregular, such as was.

2 CVC stands for consonant-vowel-consonant, which are words such as hat, dog, cup, and so on.


Roberts, K.L., Norman, R.R., Duke, N.K., Morsink, P., Martin, N.M., & Knight, J.A. (2013). Diagrams, timelines, and tables—oh, my! Fostering graphical literacy. The Reading Teacher, 67(1), 12–24.

Scanlon, D.M., Anderson, K.L., & Sweeney, J.M. (2010). Early intervention for reading difficulties: The interactive strategies approach. New York, NY: Guildford.

Zucker, T.A., Ward, A.E., & Justice, L.M. (2009). Print referencing during read-alouds: A technique for increasing emergent readers’ print knowledge. The Reading Teacher, 63(1), 62–72.



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