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.
MT: I'm so glad Ian is finally really talking, but gosh; he never takes a breath now. It's exhausting!
AB: Our doctor brought up speech therapy by the end of the summer if MEB doesn't have some more words. She just turned two. How old is Ian?
MT: Ian turned two in April, and I swear, in the last month or so something just clicked. He has become a lot clearer and is talking in full sentences, asking questions, etc. It's really fun to see, but sometimes I just want a few minutes of quiet! There's such a range of speech at this age that I wouldn't worry — I'm sure M will be talking up a storm in no time and then you'll be wishing for some quiet! ; )
Sound familiar? At some point, almost every parent has worried about some aspect of their child's development, whether it's crawling, walking, talking, or reading. Our developmental milestones section has several good resources for parents and teachers, including literacy milestones by age and grade. There's an article that helps parents recognize how long they should wait before seeking help, what to do if you suspect a problem, and clues to dyslexia in early childhood. Our friends at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) also offer information about typical speech and language development.
There's no shortage of information out there. If you're like me, you surf the web late at night looking for answers and hoping to quell your worries. Start (and stay) with trustworthy, authoritative sites, and remember that many developmental milestones happen within a wide range of months. Bulk up with good information, but also trust your instincts. And then go read with and talk to your child! Time flies.
Summer months provide teachers an opportunity to reflect on the successes of the past year and to gather ideas for next year. One site to tuck away and pull out next year is Tagxedo, a word cloud creator. The possibilities for language arts lessons are endless!
Tagxedo creates "tag clouds with styles." As with other tag clouds, a user begins creating a tab cloud by entering text. Text can come from a webpage, a list of words, or pasted in text from a book.
Once the text is in, the fun begins! You can choose from a wide range of color themes, choose your font, word orientation (vertical, horizontal, any), and a shape to build the word cloud around (for me, this is the coolest part). There's a whole gallery of clouds to browse through, on topics as varied as a Emperor penguins to country populations which is such an interesting way to visually display data. Think of the ways content can be introduced or summarized using these!
I created the one below using the first three pages of Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes. With the right group of students, something like this could be used as an anticipation guide to get kids talking about what the story might be about before they read. It could be used after reading by asking kids to generate a list of words that are relevant to the story. Printed word clouds could be hung over the classroom library as a way to advertise books.
Teachers could also use these at the beginning of the year as a way to get to know her new class. Here's one my daughter made about herself. She's included many of her favorite things! How have you used tag clouds in your classroom? What ideas can you add?
Everywhere I look these days, I see another book list of recommended books for summer reading. Some like them, others wish they would go away. Other sites include calendars, craft ideas, and more to keep kids busy this summer. Here's a handful from the blogosphere that stood out for me.
I liked this idea for a homemade summer journal, written by blogger Mary Alice Gruppi.
See if your school has any summer requirements. Here are some for rising fourth grade students that I came across online. I showed my own rising fourth grader, and she crinkled her nose and said, "No thanks!" Maybe yours will be more responsive.
Reading is Fundamental's monthly activity calendars are available in English and Spanish. They include lots of ideas to wile away the long summer days.
A quick, nice way to think about kids' summer reading with T.A.F. (time, access, fun) from Newswise.
A summertime game from one Mom to another, via Penelope [loves lists]. The author uses Tantalizing Tickets and cooking classes in your kitchen to keep summer fun and interesting.
These 7 Ideas for Screen-Free Travel with Kids seem so easy and almost obvious, but in this screen saturated environment, it's good to be reminded of some alternatives.
BKWRM: We drove behind a car with this license plate yesterday, and it took my girls TOO long to figure out what it said! It made me realize that it might be fun to keep a car journal to document the fun license plates we decode. (We live in Virginia so we'll get lots of practice! Check out this site to give yourself some practice.
Of course, here at Reading Rockets we offer our own "virtual beach bag"with lots of good ideas and links to excellent resources.
There are five days left in our school year, how many are left for you? As school winds down, here are two reminders and one idea to help make sure that reading DOESN'T wind down for kids.
According to an article on Salon.com, having books around the house (the more, the better) is correlated with how many years of schooling a child will complete. The findings, reported in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, examined books and schooling in 27 nations. Results suggest that children with as few as 25 books in the family household completed on average two more years of schooling than children raised in homes without any books.
USA Today had a story about research that shows that simply giving children books may be as effective as summer school — and a lot cheaper. The article is about work done by Richard Allington, who has studied the academic summer slide for many years. Many lower-income children have less access to books over the summer, and walking to a public library might not be an option. The researchers gave each child 12 books, from a list the students provided, on the last day of school. Three years later, researchers found that those students who received books had "significantly higher" reading scores, experienced less of a summer slide and read more on their own each summer than the 478 who didn't get books.
As our own low key way to keep kids reading this summer, our school is doing the Summer Reading Bags again. I've found this to be a relatively simple project to pull off, even during the craziness of the last few weeks of school.
For our summer reading bags, we gather and sort used book donations from our community. Our teachers supply the reading specialist with the names of kids who could benefit from a bag of books. About 60 kids will come in this week, choose books they're interested in from the tables, and fill a bag to bring home. I could see summer reading bags as a fun neighborhood project, and it could be slightly modified to turn into a simple book swap among kids.
Need more resources for summer learning? See our newest Web show Adventures in Summer Learning.
Most of us are familiar with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), whose scores form the Nation's Report Card. The most recent Report Card came out in March 2010, and scores suggested students reading performance from 2007 to 2009 remained essentially flat. As before, almost a third of the nation's fourth graders performed Below Basic, and for subgroups, the failure rate is even higher: 52% of black students, 51% of Hispanic students, and 49% of students in poverty all scored Below Basic.
What's Below Basic mean? According to NAEP, fourth-grade Basic students should be able to:
Locate relevant information, make simple inferences, and use their understanding of the text to identify details that support a given interpretation or conclusion. Students should be able to interpret the meaning of a word as it is used in the text.
That means Below Basic students can't do those things.
But it's not all bad news. The nation's worst readers appear to have made significant gains in reading over the last decade. The average scores of fourth graders in the bottom 10 percent for reading increased by 16 points from 2000 to 2009. During that same period, the average scores of the nation's best fourth-grade readers, those in the top 10 percent, rose by only 2 points. Analysts at the Brookings Brown Center attribute the gains for the lowest readers to the accountability systems at the state and federal level that focused attention on the lowest achievers.
Last week the Nation's Report Card folks took a closer look at the results for urban districts. In this new report, authors compare the performance of students in urban districts to public school students in the nation and large cities. The results are a mixed bag. Most of the participating districts performed below the national average, but four urban districts had scores that increased since 2007. That's great news for students in Boston, the District of Columbia, Houston, and New York City.
There are intra-group differences too. For example, the reading average score for lower-income grade 4 students in Boston was higher than the score for lower-income fourth-graders nationally. There are many other analyses in the report, as well as the opportunity to use the Data Explorer to customize the queries you need. There's also a very cool Motion Chart that enables the user to visualize how district performance changes over time.
There are a lot of data. And one thing that's clear, there's also a lot of work to do.
Here are three ways to ruin a good book:
- Require students to answer questions at the end of every chapter. It's been called "basalizing" a novel, and it really detracts from the literature being read. I don't want to answer questions at the end of every chapter I read, do you? There are lots of other ways to gauge comprehension, so it's okay to drop the worksheet style questions for each chapter. We can teach (and assess comprehension) from trade books without ruining the beauty of the writing.
- Give students a book that is too hard or too easy for them to read. Rereading familiar books for fluency is an excellent strategy, but books used for reading instruction must be at a child's instructional level, not their independent or frustration level.
- Plow through a book despite the fact that no one is enjoying it. Whether it's a read aloud or a book for reading group, continually take the group's "temperature" with a book. A book that worked with last year's class just might not work with this year's group. I'm not suggesting that kids be allowed to abandon a book if it gets too hard or is on a topic they don't enjoy. I just think there are enough excellent books out there that if something clearly isn't motivating or capturing a child's attention, steer him in a different direction.
What would you add to this list?
In today's media saturated environment, kids are confronted with ads all day long. From cereal boxes to pop up ads on the Internet to book club flyers, it's constant product marketing. Media literacy is a legitimate skill to develop in kids.
Admongo.gov, sponsored by the Bureau of Consumer Protection of the Federal Trade Commission, is an online game that seeks to teach kids to always ask three questions: "Who is responsible for the ad? What is the ad actually saying? What does the ad want me to do?"
I spent some time playing the game. I could find the ads within the different situations (walking down the street, within the home), but my navigation skills were lousy! The navigation reminds me of Mario Brothers, but with a keyboard. Each time I found an ad (e.g., on the side of a bus, on a billboard), I was prompted to answer a question to earn points, for example "What is this ad trying to get you to do?". The site is designed for kids grades 4-6, and I'm sure they'd be able to find their way much more quickly and easily than I did! The site design was great. I'm sure tweens will love it.
Don't Buy It is a PBS project designed to teach media literacy, designed for grades 3-5. The site includes information for parents and teachers. Kids can work their way through sections called Advertising Tricks, Buying Smart, Your Entertainment, What You Can Do, and Free Stuff where, ironically, you can download color stickers to advertise the site!
PBS Parents also offers Children and Media, a site to help parents navigate by age TV and movies, computers, video games, and advertising. The recommendations start with preschool age kids — the reality is that preschoolers interact with far more media that we think — through teens.
The message across the sites is similar: Parents should have regular, ongoing conversations with their kids about what they're watching, reading and listening to. The conversations can help reveal what messages your child is really getting from the media. With huge amounts of money being spent each year on advertising directed at children, these are important conversations to have.
My Mom was a teacher. That's her standing on the left in the picture. That picture, one of my personal favorites, was taken at St. Mary's School for the Deaf in Buffalo, NY where she started her teaching career.
My Mom spent her life teaching kids with hearing impairments. She started in Buffalo and then moved to an elementary school in Fairfax County. At that time, the school had a very young and (then) progressive aural language program. She believed passionately that deaf ed teachers needed to work very closely with families, that the work needed to begin in infancy, include strong preschool, and continue through the years.
After teaching for many years, my Mom became the principal of that very same school. As principal, she continued the work of educating kids with hearing impairments and their families. She was a strong advocate for special education and would "go to the mat" for any one of her students. She made lifelong friends with teachers, parents, and students who shared her passion.
Some of my Mom's former students still send Christmas cards. A few years ago I reunited with Kelly, a former student of my Mom's that I've known since she was four. Kelly, who has moderate to severe hearing loss, walked into my office at UVA on her first day of graduate school. Kelly was a new student entering the Speech Language Program in Audiology. On her graduation day two years later, she thanked my Mom, acknowledging my Mom's contribution to her own success. It's a thank you card we still have.
This teacher appreciation week, I'm thanking each of you. Thank you for your passion and your tenacity. Thank you for sticking it out through bad budget cycles, tough classes and noisy lines. Thank you for the big and small things you do for the kids in your class. You make a difference every day.
What fun we had with poetry month this year! At home we resurrected our copy of Joyful Noise and had fun sharing poems about insects. Anna loved the Grasshoppers one the best, mostly because we had a long talk about autumn-laid eggs and the interesting words and images within the poem, including grasshoppers 'vaulting from leaf to leaf and stem to stem' and being grass bounders and grass soarers. I doubt she'll ever look at a grasshopper the same way again!
We also had another favorite out this month, You Read To Me, I'll Read To You. The short texts and colorful pages were just right to lure our older daughter into poetry when she was younger. It was a trip down memory lane for us to read. Each. One. Before. Bed.
Our school has an annual Poetry Jam, which gives them a chance to share poems with other kids at their grade level. Parents are invited to attend the event. Most kids participate, although it's not required. Some read alone, others choose pairs or small groups. Molly and her best friend read a poem that wrote called Imaginary Animals. I'll post the poem if I can get a copy. Anna and two of her friends choral read a poem.
After all the second graders finished sharing, they launched into one last choral reading together. Led by our school's former reading specialist, the kids had fun with the Bubblegum poem. Watch video >
Poetry is so great it's worth sharing all year long, but I love the special attention it gets every April. See you next year, poetry month!
A mentor text is a published piece of writing whose idea, whose structure, or whose written craft can be used to inspire a student to write something original. The Writing Fix, sponsored by the Northern Nevada Writing Project, is the definitive source for lesson plans and book suggestions that can help teachers choose a mentor text to support their writing lesson plans. Mentor text recommendations include picture books and chapter books.
Mentor text lesson plans are organized around 6 Writing Traits: Idea development, word choice, organization, sentence fluency, voice, and conventions. So, for example, if you have a writer, or a class of writers, whose writing suggests the need for more interesting words (I still remember the "Said is Dead" poster in my classroom), you can browse through the lessons whose focus trait is Word Choice. From there, you can see all the word choice mentor text suggestions, or choose a subskill (e.g., powerful and memorable verbs). You can view ideas shared by teachers (I like the "No Repeat" challenge example) and other resources.
I'm certainly not the first to visit the Writing Fix site — they had over 4 million hits in 2009 — and I know I won't be the last. Let me know if you find and use something from the site!