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.
We've all read books whose plot or main character stay with us for a long time. With kids, books can be a great and subtle way to illustrate personality traits we may want to engender. Collections of books with similar themes (sometimes called "text sets") give teachers and parents a way to focus on a theme but do so in such a way that you're not beating your kid over the head with the same message over and over again. Years ago I wrote about a text set on persistence whose message of perseverance and persistence we still refer to around our house. ("Sometimes you gotta Tillie it ") using Tillie and the Wall as our reference.
A really great resource called the Mind in the Making Book Collection recently became available. Mind in the Making partnered with First Book to create a book collection that combines children's books with tips for building Mind in the Making's Seven Essential Life Skills, including Focus and Self Control, Making Connections, Critical Thinking and Taking on Challenges. For each book, users will find an age group recommendation and a tip sheet for using the book with your child.
The book suggestions make great additions to any home or classroom library!
Screen time for young kids has been in the news a lot lately. The last few days of October gave us two new resources on the topic of children's media use.
First, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued new guidance on managing children's and adolescents' media use. Access to the new policy requires a subscription to the American Academy of Pediatrics, but the press release provides a glimpse into the thinking:
Here at Reading Rockets, we offer up Children and Digital Media: Rethinking Parent Roles in which we provide guidance in two areas in which technology can provide a good literacy boost. This includes exposure to new words and learning more about interesting topics. We encourage parents to think about themselves as "media mentors" and to be an active participant in your child's media use.
As LD Awareness month winds down, I want to share a few words (literally!) with you. They come from the 6 Word Parent Story contest that the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) ran earlier this month.
NCLD received over 1,400 entries from parents of kids with learning differences. The parent entries range from hopeful, "No longer three grade levels behind," and "Sarah is smart, and is trying," to those that made me nod with understanding, "Silent e's. She hates them passionately," to those that made me sad, "Why can't we find help??" and "Son out of district. Parents broke," and finally, those that made me chuckle, "We three have ADHD! Go squirrels!" Each one holds important meaning for its author. I encourage you to read them for yourself!
In response to the contest, NCLD's Learning Advisory Board wrote 6 word encouraging phrases back to parents. Those phrases included great reminders: "Your child succeeds with your support," and "Never stop being passionate about yours," to things to consider, "Collaboration is a road to success," and "Good intervention can dramatically improve outcomes," to my favorite: "Of course we can do it!"
Six words can say so much! What's your six-word phrase?
There's real value in spending instructional time helping kids decipher the information found in graphic form. Textbooks, nonfiction books, and magazines are chock full of diagrams, tables, charts, and graphs. Visual information used to be limited to bold words and captioned pictures, but nowadays infographics, maps, and interactive tools carry a lot of the content weight within a piece of text. Successfully navigating these graphics, especially in STEM and content-area subjects, will lead to greater comprehension.
The September 2013 issue of the Reading Teacher has a helpful article on this topic. Diagrams, Timelines, and Tables — Oh My! Fostering Graphical Literacy (Roberts et al). Within the article, authors describe and provide examples of several common graphical devices, including different types of diagrams, maps, tables, and timelines. There are also suggested children's texts to use when introducing each type of graphic.
The authors provide guidance for teachers that can help students navigate graphics more successfully. One suggestion includes talking about graphics during read-alouds. It appears especially important to help students understand that good readers use graphics to deepen their understanding of the text. A second suggestion is to fill the classroom environment with graphics and use these as a part of daily classroom routine. For example, "preparing for recess by consulting a table that indicates ranges of outside temperatures, whether recess will be inside or outside, and appropriate clothing."
I think students would have a lot of fun with that! What other ways have you engaged your students with visual information?
Related topic: Infographics for young kids
Parents of kids who struggle in school want to help their child in any way they can. This is especially true for parents of kids with learning disabilities. I've sat through many conferences with parents of a child with LD who are eager to find "the thing" — the type of instruction, the experience, or the treatment that will help their child struggle less and succeed in school.
Unfortunately, there's a lot of junk out there claiming to be that "thing" that will "treat" a child's learning disability. Fortunately, there's a new resource to help parents navigate their way through claims that are too good to be true.
The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) website has a section dedicated to Treatments and Therapies. Within the pages, you'll read about some warning signs of bogus treatments (Does it sound too good to be true? Is the treatment based on a secret formula?) and some things to look for (Are there well-designed studies? Have those findings been replicated?)
Browsing through the articles, you'll find information about Convergence Insufficiency, an eye coordination disorder, auditory training therapy, and some thoughts to consider if you're thinking about complementary and alternative therapies. The NCLD pages are helpful, though no specific products or therapies are mentioned by name.
There are other reliable, no-nonsense sources of information that I use fairly regularly. These include John Lloyd's LD Blog where you can read about many topics that surround the topic of LD, including advocacy, interventions, instructions, and research (and be sure to read the "bologna" articles!), and Daniel Willingham's Science and Education blog, where Dr. Willingham writes on a wide variety of topics (most recently tracking and math self-concept and the vocabulary development of toddlers).
October is LD Awareness Month, so I hope you'll use these resources — and others — to become a good consumer of information about LD!
That's essentially what I write in every card as I hand over a stack of board books to expectant mom friends: "Three a day keeps the reading specialist away." After a chuckle and a roll of the eyes, my Mom-to-be friends add our tried and true board book titles to the pile of baby gifts and toys. But I'm happy, knowing that those board books will be loved and chewed on for years to come.
My standard stack includes Jamberry, which taught us all a rhyme we can STILL recite, "One berry, two berry, pick me a blueberry," Mrs. Wishy Washy, whose wishy-washy rhythm had my very young daughter waving her chubby little hand to help "wash" the animals, and Good Night Gorilla, a book my husband loved to read to the girls the most. (His use of different voices made it so fun for all who listened.)
As you can see, my stack doesn't include usual suspects such as Goodnight Moon, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? or The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Those wonderful titles are also must-haves, but I like to share our own family favorites for something different.
Most people have their favorite board books (and memories that go along with them!) Here are a few ideas in case you too are looking to share the love of reading with friends and babies:
A list from Parents Magazine
A fun list with an eye towards design
Must-haves from the School Library Journal
I read an article in Slate last week called Parents Left Behind that resonated with me. The author writes of her back-to-school night experience: "The evening passed in a blur of acronyms, test names, and emendations to last year's system." Then I experienced my own first middle-school back to school night, and left feeling a little "behind" myself. New initiatives, "project-based" learning assignments, and the use of new technology in schools means parents have to work harder than ever to support their kids at the homework table.
- Send home a textbook or examples you've done together in class that are like the problems students are being asked to do for homework. Students (and parents) need a model to turn to; without one we're floundering.
- Double-check your expectations for home-based projects. Are you assigning outings or experiences that will be difficult for your families? Many families have busy work schedules and weekends are precious hours for catching up on family time and housework. When possible, build in alternatives to assignments and give families lots of time before the due date.
- Assess the ease of Internet access for your families. Many teachers are posting videos and putting assignments on class blogs. That's no problem for families with constant and fast Internet access. But for other families, those requirements mean finding a way to access the Internet, and on busy weeknights, it just might not happen.
- Keep in touch with us. Find some method of communication that isn't too burdensome for you and use it, frequently. Close communication will help us understand what's going on, and help us be proactive participants in our child's schooling.
This September marks the first-ever Attendance Awareness Month in schools and communities. Attendance Works, one sponsor of the month, is a national and state initiative that promotes awareness of the important role that school attendance plays in achieving academic success starting with school entry. According to their site, absences of as little as 10% can have a real impact on a child's achievement in elementary school. As kids get older, missing that much school (about 18 days a year, or 2-3 days per month) is strongly linked to course failure and even eventually dropping out of high school.
The attendance issue is particularly important for kids at risk. Students and families with health issues, transportation issues and unstable housing are particularly vulnerable to missing school. And, as teachers, we know how hard it is to help kids catch up once they've missed. Sustained, repeated absences make it even more difficult. Homework packets can help, but they cannot replace the real-time instruction teachers provide.
Attendance Works offers a helpful resource that includes some key attendance concepts and messages, as well as tips for talking to parents and what to say to students.
They also offers a Parent Engagement toolkit designed to support parent engagement at the school and community level. Within the toolkit you'll find materials to share with parents about attendance, and an interesting set of interactive exercises designed for working with groups of parents.
This first month of school is a great time to establish good attendance habits and to communicate the importance of making school a priority for families.
Parents of kids with special needs, whether a child has learning or physical differences, often have additional considerations and worries to contend with during back to school time. I've gathered a few resources that may smooth over a bump or two and get you started on your advocacy efforts for the year.
NCLD's IEP Headquarters is a great place to start for all things related to your child's IEP. There are several very handy resources, including information about the Fundamentals of IEPs, a video for understanding how involved a parent should be in the IEP process (answer: very!), and understanding how a 504 is different from an IEP.
12 Ways to Help Children Say Goodbye has helpful advice that can apply to many ages and settings. Whether it's heading off to the school bus or preschool, these tips can make for a smoother transition.
Parents often find it helpful to write a letter to their child's new teacher. A letter is something that can be read over and over again, rather than a hallway conversation that may be rushed. A letter gives a parent a chance to write down important information about their child, as well as any signs, symptoms, or things to look out for. Obviously much of this will be covered during a parent-teacher conference, but doing something for the first few days of school can be helpful. Here are some tips for writing this type of letter and two sample letters: this one from a Mom with a child with Asperger's and dyslexia and this example about a child with ADHD. I don't think of these as templates, but ideas for thought.
And, because everyone needs some outside time, NPR's Playgrounds for Everyone, a community-edited guide to accessible playgrounds. Hopefully there's at least one in your community. And if not, hopefully the new federal requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act will be supporting one soon.
It's the time of year where parents buy lunchbox snacks, kids stuff blank composition books into stiff backpacks, and teachers stand at their classroom door waiting to greet their new class. Happy back to school!
Regardless of the grade or school, the transition back to school is one filled with emotions: excitement, fear, nerves, laughter, tears and a lot of trusting that it will all turn out okay. During this emotional time, small gestures can mean so much. Here are a few ideas for simple gestures that will go a long way to developing the happy vibe about school that we all hope for. Please chime in with your own ideas!
- Write a short lunch-box or backpack note with words of encouragement and comfort.
- Share some books about first days of school.
- Make their favorite meal for dinner. Around my house that means chicken pot pie!
- Help them start their school day with a healthy breakfast.
- Share your own stories of back-to-school nerves. It may comfort your child to know that you have felt the same way!
- Send a Happy Gram home with each child sometime during the first 10 days of school.
- Laugh with your class about something silly.
- Share some books about first days of school.
- Rejoice! If you're like most primary-grade teachers I know and love, you've secretly been dying to meet your new class for weeks. Enjoy your new year!
In the spirit of keeping it simple, what small gestures have you made?