Blogs about Reading
Sound It Out
Dr. Joanne Meier
Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.
How many of you are in your very last days of preschool dropoff? It's hard to believe that those years are behind you and that your little one will be heading off to kindergarten in the fall!
This is an exciting time for all, but it can also be a scary one, too.
NAEYC for families has some good advice for helping with end-of-the-year feelings. This includes ways to ease the transition to kindergarten, including writing special notes to friends or teachers and revisiting special events through pictures.
Here on Reading Rockets we have a wealth of other resources that can help ease the preschool-to-kindergarten transition. For example, if you're still trying to figure out whether to stay at preschool another year or head to kindergarten, you might want to read the comments and weigh in on past blog posts such as Kindergarten "red-shirting:" What about summer birthdays?, Should she stay or should she go? (to kindergarten) and The wheels on the bus went round and round.
Starting Kindergarten? Help Make It a Good Experience! (available in English and Spanish) offers tips to help you start your child off right, and Kindergarten Accomplishments will help you understand what's ahead in terms of your child's literacy development.
For parents of children with special learning needs, the PreK to K transition can be especially worrisome. Make sure to explore Successful Transition to Kindergarten for Learners Who May Be at Risk for Learning Disabilities and Paving the Way to Kindergarten for Young Children with Disabilities for some guidance about best practices for transitioning children with special needs.
Regardless of your situation, savor these last few days of preschool. It's a special time in your child's life!
Happy National Teacher Appreciation Week! I hope every teacher out there feels the love they deserve during this week of national celebration. Big or small, I know each gesture is appreciated.
Rita Pierson, a 40-year teaching veteran, shares her teaching philosophy in a very touching TED talk, Every kid needs a champion. Watching her talk is a great way to spend 8 minutes this week. You'll laugh along with her as she astutely observes "You know your toughest kids are never absent. Never." And, if you're like me, you'll hope you touched the life of at least one student the way Ms. Pierson must reach hers.
"We can do this. We're educators. We're born to make a difference."
Thank you, Ms. Pierson. And thank you to every teacher reading this post.
You're probably familiar with TED talks, the 6-18 minute talks gathered under the tagline of "Ideas worth spreading." All TED talks are free to view, and are searchable by topic. There are many thought-provoking talks on a wide variety of topics.
TED playlists were a new concept to me. As the name suggests, talks on similar topics are gathered together to form a playlist. One playlist is called Words, Words, Words, and it contains talks on several topics related to words. Perfect for Sound It Out readers!
For me, one highlight on Words, Words, Words is a talk given by linguist John McWhorter called "Txting is killing language. JK." In his talk, McWhorter encourages us to think about email and text messaging not as the "scourge" of the English language, but rather a new form of language between writing and talking. In describing speech in relation to writing, he says this: If humanity existed for 24 hours, then writing only came along at about 11:09 PM. Interesting way to think about our writing development!
Want to learn about dictionaries while laughing and learning a few new words (like erinaceous)? Check out another highlight, lexicographer Erin McKean. Ms. McKean encourages us to use words we love, and to remember that words are tools to build something bigger and more beautiful.
And, if you need just a little more about words, did you read the excitement about 'slash' last week? It's big news! Slash is a new-ish slang word that is different from many other types of slang words. "The emergence of a new conjunction/conjunctive adverb (let alone one stemming from a punctuation mark) is like a rare-bird sighting in the world of linguistics: an innovation in the slang of young people embedding itself as a function word in the language." Slash is clearly a word to watch.
There are just 40 days until the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee. Our elementary school holds a local event, and classroom-winning third through fifth graders wring their hands on stage working to spell some tough words! This year, a middle schooler from our school district won our regional competition by correctly spelling "Bolshevik." He will be among the competitors at the national level in Oxon Hill, MD.
The big news this year is that Scripps has added a vocabulary component to the Bee. According to Paige Kimble, the director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the vocabulary addition reflects a commitment to helping develop not only spelling skills, but also "increase vocabularies, learn concepts, and develop correct English usage. Spelling and vocabulary are, in essence, two sides of the same coin," said Kimble. "As a child studies the spelling of a word and its etymology, he will discover its meaning. As a child learns the meaning of a word, it becomes easier to spell. And all of this enhances the child's knowledge of the English language."
Scores from a computer-based vocabulary test will count toward a speller's overall score and will help determine which spellers advance to the semifinals. Sample vocabulary questions are available.
Personally, I like the vocabulary addition, and applaud any effort to develop vocabulary growth in children. My guess is that the kids who qualify for the national Bee already have fairly developed vocabularies, so I wonder how much unique information the Bee officials will gather from the new vocabulary test. I'm sure we'll find out soon!
We're back from our big family trip to Germany, and it was everything we hoped it would be. One of my favorite aspects of the trip was how carefully Anna kept up with her travel journal. She's a writer at heart, so it feels very natural to her to capture her experiences on paper. She's been using the same travel journal for years, and it's really fun to look back at her first entries and appreciate how her writing has changed over the years (see below for entries from 2009, 2011 and 2013).
Travel journals are also great for capturing a child's experience in their own words. "More dead guys in boxes,"" was part of Anna's entry about the crypts in the 3rd or 4th cathedral we toured. (I think she may have been getting a bit bored by then.) And sadly, her story about my needing a cup of coffee from 2009 is true. We were late, the lady did yell at us.
Amazon has lots of travel journals for kids, and people make their own (some good suggestions here). The ones my girls use are little more than bound books of lined paper. We often tape in bits of maps, subway tokens, favorite pictures and other small artifacts that remind us of the trip.
How do you document your family times? With summer coming up, now's a great time to think about how you'll record your summer fun. Please share your ideas in the comments below!
We're heading off to Germany for some apple strudel, German soccer, apple strudel, and tours of castles and salt mines (and apple strudel). This is a big adventure for our family, and we've been prepping for weeks! It's been so fun for the girls to be involved in the planning and the excitement. I thought I'd share a few of the things we've done to get ready — most of these ideas could be adapted for a trip anywhere.
- We posted a big map on the kitchen wall. We've got push pins for our destinations, and the girls have measured the distance in kilometers and then converted that to miles.
- We've developed Questions & Answers. As questions have come up, we write them down on strips of paper. When someone has time, they research the answer and "present" their findings. The girls have compiled some of their answers into a very flashy PowerPoint presentation.
- We've tracked reservations and events on a handmade calendar we keep in the kitchen. It's fun to look at the days ahead with such anticipation.
- We've learned a bit of German! Besides taking a language and culture class here in our community, we watched some Girls4Teaching German lessons. My girls liked that the "instructor" was a young girl. The overall session length was just about right for them.
- We've tried every German restaurant in our area. This wasn't hard — there's just three. But we learned that the girls love pumpernickel bread and hate boiled cabbage.
- We checked out a lot of books on Germany from the library. This has helped build a lot of background knowledge about the castles we'll be touring and the history of the salt mines in Salzburg.
- We've added some apps and podcasts to our i-products. Earworms helped us learned numbers, days and time using music-based training. Currency+ helps us track the Euro-to-dollar conversion. Free podcasts from Rick Steves will help us with a walking tour.
There's still packing and to-do lists a mile long, but hopefully at least one of the ideas I shared sounds like something you'd like to try with your family. Auf Wiedersehen! (goodbye for now!)
Parents know the value of a good bedtime routine. Dinner, bath, books and bed was the routine around here for years and years, and for the most part, our girls went to bed and fell right to sleep. But as kids get older, electronics and television seem to find their way into kids' hands closer and closer to bedtime. These habits, unfortunately, can make it harder for kids to fall asleep, resulting in less sleep overall. Inadequate sleep is associated with several school issues, including poor concentration, hyperactivity and obesity.
An interesting study in the journal Pediatrics examined the relationship between pre-sleep activities and the length of time it takes to fall asleep. More than 2,000 individuals in New Zealand, ages 5-18, reported their pre-sleep activities for the 90 minutes prior to going to bed. Television watching was the most commonly reported activity, followed by usual bedtime activities including changing clothes, brushing teeth and washing hands. Reading lying down was 9th, reading sitting up was 15th. Researchers compared pre-sleep activities to the time of sleep onset. Not surprisingly, those with fewer screen-based activities fell asleep more quickly. It took more time for those with screen-based activities to fall asleep.
For me, this study falls into the realm of "common sense that I sometimes ignore." But no more! I'll be monitoring our before-bed activities a little more closely, including my own!
Read the full study here.
Primary sources are finding their way into elementary classrooms. This is so exciting — students usually love to work with primary sources because they provide such an inside view into a time period or event. "Mom! It was a REAL picture of a REAL bank robber!" Primary sources, or original materials, are often artifacts such as pottery and clothing, or documents such as diaries, speeches, letters and photographs.
The Library of Congress has an enormous digital collection that provides access to print, pictorial and audio-visual collections. Besides housing a huge collection of primary sources, the LOC also provides helpful advice for teachers looking to use primary sources with students through their Teaching With the Library of Congress blog.
It was within that section of the LOC website that I recently came across Teacher's Guides and Analysis Tools for working with primary sources. The Primary Source Analysis tool provides an online place (or print it as a PDF) where students can record observations, reflections and questions about primary sources. If a student isn't sure what to do within an area, sample questions provide some help. For example, within the Observe section, students benefit from online prompts which include Describe what you see, What do you notice first?, What people and objects are shown? and others.
There are several other helpful Teacher's Guides that provide frameworks for analyzing other types of primary sources, including photographs and prints, oral histories, maps and more. Hopefully something within these guides and documents will be helpful to you!
Wordless picture books are books are told entirely through their illustrations — they are books without words, or sometimes just a few words. Sharing wordless books at home or at school gives us a chance to develop so many important literacy skills: listening, speaking, storytelling, vocabulary, comprehension, story structure, inference, cause and effect … the list goes on and on!
When my girls were young, we shared many happy bedtimes with Peggy Rathmann's Goodnight Gorilla and 10 Minutes to Bedtime. My girls just could not get enough of those pictures and that silliness! They loved using different voices for the characters, and each one told the stories with their own special plot twists.
That's really the beauty of wordless books, I think. No story is right or wrong, and stories can be as simple or as complex as the situation dictates. I know wordless books are often used in ELL classrooms, with adult learners, and with learners with hearing impairments.
Not surprisingly, several wordless books have won the Caldecott Award or been Honor books over the years, including A Ball for Daisy (2012 Winner), The Lion and the Mouse (2010 Winner), Flotsam (2007 Winner) and Tuesday (1992 Winner). I apologize to the children's literature experts reading this! I am sure I've missed some from my list but these are among our favorites.
These and several other favorite wordless books are on our Pinterest page. Enjoy! And if you've got a wordless book recommendation for me, please leave the title below!
Words are so cool! I was reminded of that last night as I helped my daughter study for her word study test. Her word study for the week involved three Latin roots (pater, mater, dicta) and, for each one, related words used in our everyday lives (for example: patriarch, matrimony, contradiction). Anna doesn't really appreciate how much she's learning about words through this study, but I sure do!
I recently came across another fun way to expand what students know about words. Over on the Teaching Channel, I watched a high school teacher talk about a strategy she uses called Vocabulary Paint Chips. The strategy involves using large paint strips or chips from the hardware store. Teachers write a vocabulary word on one color of the strip, then write different "versions" of the word on the other colors, and finally, put synonyms on one of the colors. For example, one paint chip may include illuminate, illumination, illuminating, and the synonyms enlighten and brighten. In this teacher's class, every time a student uses one of the paint chip words in their writing, they can add a sticker to a chart. (Who knew high schoolers were still motivated by stickers?!)
A related vocabulary strategy I had the joy to watch in action is called Semantic Gradients. Semantic gradients are a way to broaden and deepen students' understanding of related words. When engaged with the strategy, students consider a continuum of words by order of degree or by shades of meaning. Semantic gradients often begin with antonyms (or opposites) at each end of the continuum, and students work to fit a group of related words into their place on the continuum. During the lesson I observed, Cathy Doyle had students work with a list of words all related to the word "large." The students worked in pairs to arrange their words, ranging from microscopic to average to gigantic, into a meaningful continuum. If you'd like to try the Semantic Gradient strategy, we've got a helpful handout on the site to get you started with lists of related words.
Have fun with words!