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.
Richard Gentry and Steve Graham reaffirm the research about the importance of spelling and handwriting instruction in a new white paper. I'll write about the spelling research in a separate post, this one will focus on handwriting.
Teaching kids to write upper and lower-case letters helps them master letters and punctuation marks, the same ones they decode while learning to read. Because most children's books use upper and lowercase letters, Gentry and Graham suggest that effective instruction begins with teaching the manuscript (i.e., print) alphabet. The authors go on to support the teaching of cursive by Grade 3.
It was interesting to read that many teachers did not have formal training to prepare them to teach handwriting. Thankfully the good handwriting programs and curricula that are available teach both the teacher and student about correct letter formation. The good ones present a logical sequence for studying letter formation, use numbered arrows that show the correct order and direction of strokes, incorporate new letters into words using known letters, and provide practice pages that do not require copying from the board.
The authors summarize the research by saying that learning to write letters and spell words reinforces the letter-naming, phonemic, and word-deciphering skills required in developing literacy. This instruction assists children in developing the pre-reading skills associated with proficient reading by the end of the first or second grade: phonological awareness, letter identification, and vocabulary development. Handwriting instruction also increases legibility and letter-writing fluency. This is true for all students: those who struggle, ELLs, and typically achieving students.
It's funny the way things work sometimes. Over the weekend, my husband told me all about the making of an Old Spice commercial. Apparently the commercial was all filmed in one shot, which will surprise you if you watch it! Twenty-four hours later, I'm wandering through the blogosphere on a totally unrelated topic and find a spoof of that same commercial, featuring Grover teaching all about the word "on," maybe again created using one shot? Funny coincidence.
A similar (and much more related-to-reading!) example happened this week. I was watching this video of a teacher working to teach the 'oi' and 'ire' sounds to students. As I watched, I was so happy for her students. From the video, you could tell that the teacher was emotionally and physically engaged. She moved among her students, she encouraged participation. She reinforced students' answers, and she mixed up her method of presentation to keep the kids engaged. If I were teaching that lesson, I may have done a few things differently, but overall it looked like pretty good teaching to me.
Then, again, wandering through the blogosphere on a totally unrelated topic I stumbled upon What is Good Teaching? from Brian Nichols over at Connected Principals. He describes a workshop he attended where everyone watched a videotaped classroom lesson. Participants (administrators, curriculum supervisors) were asked to rate the lesson on a standard A-F scale. Not surprisingly, grades ranged from an A to an F with everything in between. Everyone had a different opinion as to whether the teacher was a "good teacher."
Brian's post made me wonder if others would agree with my assessment of the teacher I watched. It also made me wonder whether it's possible to agree on what "good teaching" looks like. What do you think? What words would you use to describe good teaching?
We can all agree that classrooms are busy places, with little time to spare. As teachers, we have to get the most we can out of every instructional minute. Doing so enables us to structure the day with time for more exploration, discovery, invention, and dare we say play?
There are few things that sap more instructional time than teaching a Letter of the Week (LOTW). I'm sorry to my preschool and kindergarten teacher friends who use these programs, but it's the truth. Teaching a letter of the week is too slow. Too isolated. Too painful to watch.
If you're unfamiliar with Letter of the Week, it typically goes like this or this: One letter is the focus for the week. That letter, and letter sound, are taught all week. Craft activities, songs, books, and snack choices all revolve around the letter. "S" week might involve a spider craft, making salty or sour snacks, using socks as puppets, and singing an S animal song. No doubt there's a lot of fun in there, but a lot more mileage can be gotten out of those instructional minutes.
Pre-K Pages, a blog about "all things preschool" has a good post on the topic that includes arguments for moving away from LOTW, including the fact that focusing on letters and sounds in isolation makes it difficult for students to understand and apply letter-sound knowledge to real reading and writing. Susan Neuman and Kathleen Roskos describe what the difference between isolated practice and meaningful letter games and sound activities look like in classrooms within Whatever happened to developmentally appropriate practices in early literacy?
There are lots and lots of ways teachers can focus on letters and sounds to promote literacy without using LOTW. Classroom instruction that focus on developing phonemic awareness and phonics skill in students, as well as methods like Word Study in which students actively work with (usually) three letters/sounds at a time, categorizing words and pictures to reveal differences and similarities among words. Words Their Way describes in detail the word study approach.
Letter of the Week has had a long history in our Pre-K and K classrooms. It's time to say goodbye.
I got an email from a close friend of mine about a committee meeting. "I am available during the day but I need to get the girls off the bus at 2:40. I am trying NOT to have to pay a sitter or ask neighbors to help out while I am busy volunteering for the school. Ironic that I am volunteering to get involved with my children's education but that seems to take me away from my children."
That same day, the parenting blog Motherlode from The Washington Post ran The Parent Volunteer Vortex. Guest contributor Holly Sklar is already feeling a little put out, and burned out, from the demands at her children's school. She knows that parent volunteers can provide much needed within the school, especially as many services like tutoring and classroom assistants are cut. On the other hand, Motherlode author Lisa Belkin writes, "At what point does this stop being about the children and start being yet another point of competition and guilt for the parents?"
Because of my role within the PTO at our school, I'm sensitive to the issue of using (and over-using) volunteers. We need volunteers to help us run the events and fundraisers we have planned. Some events and committees enjoy a long list of volunteers, others have literally no one signed up.
What's a school (or PTO) to do? How much time do you spend volunteering in your child's school? How do you keep the school's (and your child's) expectations under control?
Hopefully you'll have more constructive advice than one commenter from Motherlode:
Here is the secret to not doing more volunteer work at your kids' school than you want to do:
- Take the piece of paper with the latest volunteer request in your hands.
- Put it in the recycling bin or the trash.
- Repeat as often as necessary.
There's always good stuff going on behind the scenes here at Reading Rockets. For example, right now we're working on a series of new Ed Extras.
Wait! You don't know what an Ed Extras is? Ed Extras are free monthly information sheets written for parents. They can be used in parent newsletters, as handouts or reading materials for parent conferences, or to help you talk with parents about a specific aspect of reading. The one page articles are available as a formatted PDF or Word document, in both English and Spanish. We have over 60 articles ready for use, archived by category.
Our newest series of Ed Extras will have a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). What is STEM? What does it look like at my child's school? How can I foster STEM skills at home? Those questions and many more will be answered through the new series. We'll have one-pagers on fostering observational skills, discussing patterns and categories, solving problems and more. We'll describe the scientific process, fact vs. hypothesis, and how to explore science in your backyard. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
In gathering materials for our new series, I came across Early Years, a great blog that was new to me. It's one of the blogs from the National Science Teachers Association and it's full of tips and classroom resources for early childhood school science educators. Through reading that and browsing the NSTA site, I read this fun article called Dramatic Science about using acting techniques "to develop science process skills and passion for science." The authors describe eight dramatic science strategies (for example, freeze frame, hot seating, and miming movements) and themes to develop process skills like formulating questions, observing and inferring and predicting. I also found this fun science calendar for October that comes from the NSTA publication Science & Children.
Enjoy those resources, and look for many more coming soon!
I read with interest this list of 10 things teachers should unlearn from What Ed Said. The post generated lots of conversation, especially on the "Technology integration is optional" and "Students are obliged to respect teachers" points.
One item that would make my list of 10 things for teachers to unlearn would be the notion that teachers should alter instruction based on learning styles. Learning styles have always provided a tempting and intuitive notion: Determine a student's learning style, and then provide instruction in a format that matches the preference of the student (for example, provide a visual learner with predominantly visual information).
Despite the boxes of books and materials designed to help teachers teach to students' learning styles, there's just isn't any research to justify changing teaching practices to match learning styles. As the Learning Styles Concepts and Evidence review concludes, "limited education resources would better be devoted to adopting other educational practices that have a strong evidence base, of which there are an increasing number."
Want to hear the same information straight up from UVA cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham? This Learning Styles Don't Exist video on YouTube is helpful and informative. Another source of good information on the topic comes from the learning styles search results of Teach Effectively.
It's happened to all of us, right? A friend recommends a book, or you read about one on Amazon, or your librarian thrusts one into your hands, "I can't believe you haven't read this book!"
Such is the case with our current family chapter book read aloud. It was recommended to me by friend who works as an elementary school media specialist. She's usually a reliable source for titles. The reviews on Amazon backed up Maria's recommendation. "It has everything a book needs: excitement, adventure, a touch of romance, and a highly believable main character," wrote one reviewer. "You'll fall in love with this book and the three sequels, I promise!" wrote another.
Well, we're five chapters into the book, and for us, it's a dud. Dud. Dud. Dud. The chapters are LONG, the sentences are even longer, and the humor is so far buried in there that they're too bored to laugh. The other humor is just really not that funny. Humph.
So I've decided that we're going to drop the book. Tonight. I know my girls are bored with it, but probably figure we'll keep plowing right through it. We're going to recognize that it's okay.To.Not.Finish.A.Book. Really! I hope our decision leads to some good conversation about the writing style and our own preferences. Why do we think the book is a dud? What did we like about it? What didn't we like? Did we give it a good try? Where should we go from here?
I've written about ruining books before, and I want to be sure to follow my own advice! (Clearly I'm not following all my own advice; I blew it with the second criteria from this list, I hadn't read the book myself before sharing it with the girls).
Has this situation ever happened to you? Have you ever "dropped a dud?"
- Reading aloud
Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits is a timely reminder about a few techniques that can reliably improve how much a student learns from studying. Techniques include alternating study environments, spacing study sessions, self testing, and mixing content. The research on these techniques suggests that "forcing the brain to make multiple associations with the same material may, in effect, give that information more neural scaffolding." If the context changes, the information is enriched, and forgetting slows down. Sounds like what we know about good vocabulary instruction!
I think the same is true for teaching reading. As teachers, we need to make sure we're providing enough mixed practice for our kids. Practically speaking, it means finding time across the week for different types of reading. This includes:
- Silent and oral reading
- Fiction and nonfiction reading, including poetry
- Reading material for the first time
- Rereading material
- Navigating texts with various structures
- Reading for speed
- Reading for pleasure
- Shared reading and/or choral reading
That's a pretty healthy list of reading practice types! But I believe that the variation of material and format will help develop more flexible, successful readers. What do you think? What's missing from my list?
What 10 picture books could you not live without? That's the question behind the 10 for 10 Must Have's project. It's well worth checking out! Many bloggers posted their lists with short annotations and explanations. I know I added several titles to our library queue, and I'll bet you will too! One picture book I couldn't live without: I Like Me. It's a really simple one, and one that I've read that with so many kids. It never fails to make them laugh, and it also helps them identify at least one thing about themselves that they like. What's not to love about that?
How soon is too soon to assess your new class of kids? That's the question asked in this Reflect and Refine post. As teachers, we recognize there's not a minute to waste, but that there are also lots of ways to learn about kids. This post addresses assessment vs. observation, and what sorts of things teachers can be observing during the first weeks of school.
Photo189 is a neat project in which the blogger will add one new picture a day to represent the school year, students and/or lessons. Won't that be fun to follow! What would your picture from today look like?
I hope you are having a great start to your school year! It's a sentimental time for me; I never miss the classroom more than I do during these first few weeks of school. If you have a minute (ha!) comment in and tell me how it's going.
As teachers, we know the first few days of school are all about getting to know your kids and settling into a routine. It's too early to do any assessments (except informal observation sorts of things), but it's a great time to engage kids in some fun activities that get them talking, reading, and writing. Here are some ideas I've seen recently that caught my attention.
When I was in the classroom, we always did a school tour on the first day. Here are some school tour directions created by a teacher. With my class, each special person or place we visited (the cafeteria, the library, the clinic, the school secretary, the principal) had a small stuffed animal to give to the class (for example we had Sammy the Secretary, Pippy the Principal). These animals became part of our classroom library and served as reading buddies.
Stacey from Two Writing Teachers suggests some small poems in which kids write about something special from their summer. Stacey recommends this activity sheet to help the kids with their observations.
I love the Guess Who cards from I Love That Teaching Idea. I think second or third graders could fill in with simple information about themselves and do a whole class sharing with filled out cards.
Still wondering what books to read? Scholastic offers this list of read alouds for the first day.
Feeling adventurous? This toilet paper game could be lots of fun! If you use that idea, let me know how it goes! (no pun intended)
Whatever you choose, happy back to school!