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.
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!
My 7 year old recently announced that she's "pretty much over writing stories," at least at home. Thankfully though, she has a renewed interest in writing when there is a real purpose behind the task.
Her eulogy for Lucky, her sister's gerbil who passed away this week, was touching in that she worked to include some favorite Lucky memories. She's still empowered by a petition she wrote about the potential closing of our local library. And she's happily keeping a journal chronicling her efforts to stop sucking her thumb.
These types of authentic writing activities are a nice contrast to the narrative story writing that frequently happens at school. Researchers who study "real" writing affirm that students given "real" purposes for reading and writing beyond classroom assignments, and for "real" audiences beyond a teacher, made significant progress in both reading and writing.
The possibilities for authentic writing are endless. Some of the ways we've integrated writing into our family include becoming pen pals with my friend's daughter who lives in Oregon and a travel journal that we started a few years ago. With each trip, we add a few pages, staple in some brochures and the girls write away. Those journals have been a great way to remember some of the fun details of trips that would undoubtedly be lost as our memories fade.
Other ideas for authentic writing include:
Having your child write restaurant reviews. These might be handy for those evenings when everyone is asking, "Where should we go for dinner?"
Having your child write the many reminder notes we all need. "Don't forget your library books!" "Do you have your permission slip?"
Having your child create their daily job chart, with explanations for expected daily tasks and things they can do to earn extra money. That's what we'll be working on this week!
The iPad is being released this week. There's little chance I'll be getting one anytime soon, so I thought I'd turn to the blogosphere to find out which apps for kids are popular for my plain 'ol iPhone.
The Joan Ganz Cooney Center completed a content analysis of the iTunes App Store's Education Section. In completing the analysis, apps were coded for intended age group, subject and price. Their conclusions reveal a significant market for children's apps, particularly ones designed for toddlers. Foreign language and literacy-based apps are far and away the most popular subjects. The good news is that children's apps are significantly cheaper than adult-targeted apps.
So, that said, what apps are recommended for kids?
A Whole Lotta Nothing is a blog I read sort of regularly just for fun. Matt Haughey, the author, has a recommended list of kid games and the comments section reveals even more.
The Gadgetwise blog in the New York Times offered a list of the Best iPhone Apps for Kids. The interesting thing about that post was that the comments took on a life of their own! Sample 1: Here is the best iPhone app for kids: kids do not need an iphone. Seriously. Sample 2: Oh great... more ideas for electronic parenting. How about distracting the kids with a few books?
Travel Savvy Mom offers up a top 10 list that includes a Geocaching game and Smacktalk, a game that seems to have made several of the lists.
There's a site dedicated to the topic: Best Kids Apps. This site was easy to use because you can search by age, or type (creative, educational, word games, etc). There's a list of the best educational iphone apps as well as Best Free Apps, Best Fun Apps, etc.
It turns out that almost everyone has their own list of favorites and "must buy" iPhone applications. There's a smaller subset of lists that specifically looks at games designed to develop reading skills. I'll be spending more time with those lists using my critical eye. I'll post those findings soon.
Several articles caught my eye this week and made me think. I thought I'd share a few in case you missed them.
The Boys Have Fallen Behind (Kristof, New York Times): Considering achievement differences between boy and girls and conclusions from Why Boys Fail, Kristof asks, "At a time when men are still hugely overrepresented in Congress, on executive boards, and in the corridors of power, does it matter that boys are struggling in schools? Of course it does: our future depends on making the best use of human capital we can, whether it belongs to girls or boys."
Kristof's article led to a follow up on Motherlode Teaching Boys Where They Learn. A Mom recounts her experience sorting books for a school book swap. She's the Mom of boys and the other Moms…aren't. I'll leave it at that, but it's a good reminder about books and boys.
There's a LONG article in Fast Company, A is for App: How Smartphones, Handheld Computers Sparked an Educational Revolution. In it, Anya Kamenetz explores TeacherMate and Pocket School, two technologies that are used today. The articles poses some ideas about teaching vs. education, and a traditional hub-and-spoke model vs. a many-to-many environment enabled by technology. See what you think about these technologies.
The Washington Post's Marc Fisher recently spent a day listening to and observing candidates contending for an Inspired Teachers program. What makes a teacher great? (School reformers, take note) made me wonder how I might have done in the interview process he describes. See what you think.
What's been food for thought for you this week?
I like the concept of mother–daughter book clubs, and I think my girls would like it, but I'm barely holding on to my own book club right now! The thought of another one scares me off. But as my older daughter inches toward puberty, I'm starting to believe that this might be the perfect time to form one. We've got some things to talk about! Maybe doing it with friends nearby would make it easier.
I have two close friends who are each in a book club with their 4th and 6th grade daughters. I've heard similar things from both Moms. Their book clubs struggle with structure — too much and too little. Too much structure made the club feel like school. One well-intentioned Mom made a board game to foster discussion but the girls found it too stifling. Meetings with too little structure translated to little discussion about the book.
There's also the concept of trust that they both said was an integral element, and trust is not something that just happens. Rather, it evolves over time and through discussions. It's hard enough to talk about tough subjects like cliques and mean girls, but when your Mom is around, is it harder? Or easier?
Activities seem like a good way to spark discussion. One friend's club read Caddie Woodlawn and had their discussion after hiking into the woods for a picnic. Another friend's club read Chasing Vermeer and the book club spent the meeting working with pentominoes. I like both those ideas. The Mother Daughter Book Club site has booklists by age that are helpful, and a Club Connections section where clubs can become pen pals with other clubs reading the same book.
Are you in a book club with your son or daughter?
From hanging around the computer lab at our school I've learned that my third grader is learning to use the home row when typing. No more hunt and peck for her! How times have changed. I learned the home row in high school, in business class, using an IBM Selectric.
Kids need keyboarding skills, and both my girls could use some extra practice. The recommendation for early elementary kids is 5-10 minutes a night of practice. I wanted to see what's out there to help develop skill in a fun way.
Dance Mat Typing, sponsored by the BBC, was the most fun site I found. The goat's accent (he's Scottish!) may be a little distracting, but overall this one is fun, and was presented without ads. This is pretty much what I hoped for out of my search.
Learn 2 Type for kids (requires free registration) starts with touch typing basics. I didn't like the interface of this program at all. Ads run on the right column, and it really isn't designed for kids. There were no step-by-step instructions, and even though I typed my home keys accurately, my only option was to 'Try again.' No thanks.
The Keyboard Playground includes some kids typing games like Alpha Drop and Dino Kids Trash Typer. Typing practice is interspersed with ads. Just okay.
Free Typing Game offers very drill-oriented lessons, nothing fancy about the presentation, and I think most of the lessons teach two keys at a time. Sort of boring.
Learning Games for Kids had some free games that were pretty fun, although not many directions on how to play the games. I'm sure kids would catch on more quickly than I did!
So, overall, a bit disappointing! I guess we'll be Dance Matting for awhile. Please share any sites you know of that I missed.
Don't miss a day of this year's Share a Story — Shape a Future 2010 Blog Tour. This year the theme is "It takes a village to raise a reader." Each day you can start your "tour" from the homepage of the blog tour.
The tour runs from March 8 — 12, 2010.
The homepage of the blog tour outlines the schedule (excerpted below), and includes many links and read aloud resources. Enjoy!
Day 1 — The Many Faces of Reading
Topics of the day will encompass the relationship aspect of helping children learn to read: parent-child and teacher-parent partnerships, literacy outreach; and libraries, to name a few.
Day 2 — Literacy My Way/Literacy Your Way
Creative literacy in all its forms (writing, art, computers) will be the topic of the day.
Day 3 — Just the Facts: The Nonfiction Book Hook
This is the day for exploring the different genres of nonfiction (biography and memoir, science, nature, math, etc), as well as the use (or not) of historical fiction.
Day 4 — Reading Through the Ages: Old Faves & New Classics
Topics include "boy books" and "girl books," as well as newer titles that fit with some classics we loved as kids.
Day 5 — Reading for the Next Generation
Join us as we talk about how to approach reading when your interests and your child's don't match. It may be that you don't like to read but your child does, how to raise the reader you're not, and dealing with the "pressure" of feeling forced to read.
Do your kids ever feel this way? This was written by a 7 year old, a student facing many years of homework.
Homework has been around a long time, and has had its supporters and critics since the very beginning. Critics say homework cuts into quality family time and leaves students with no down time or time to pursue non-school interests. Proponents believe that homework teaches responsibility and provides important time to reinforce what is taught during the day.
The research on homework has produced mixed results, and it's clear that additional, carefully designed research is needed. The little research that has been done suggests this: homework doesn't help students who don't do it, but very likely does help students who actually complete their assignments. Not too surprising.
I think the quality vs. quantity issue is it for me. It's the every day, yearlong slog "read and record the title" type of reading log and the "write 5 sentences a day" writing journal that really get to me. On both, there's little feedback from the teacher and little to no individualization of the assignment. Once assigned in September, the same assignment and expectations exist in May. I think homework like this causes kids to form negative attitudes about reading and writing that don't serve them well as learners.
I don't think homework should be abolished all together (as some do) but I do think it needs to be more carefully considered and planned. What do you think?
Kids really know how to lobby for something they want. Teachers and parents can harness this talent and turn young kids into writers who can write to persuade.
The first step is to find something that is important to a child or a group. Is it recess? A dessert after dinner? A sleep over?
Once the important privilege is chosen, have the child (or class) start to list reasons why they should be allowed this privilege. "Just because," and "because I like it" quickly become hollow reasons. Students can work together to generate at least three good reasons to support an argument.
Then, have students do some research to gather facts or examples that support their reasons.
Finally, students can wrap up their persuasive argument by summarizing their position.
Need additional resources on the topic? Here are some good ones I found:
From Writing Fix, here's a lesson that uses the mentor text Otto Runs for President in conjunction with the RAFT strategy. In this other persuasive writing lesson, students assume to the role of a talking fruit or vegetable. Pretending that there's a "Fruit/Vegetable of the Year" election, the students will create a campaign speech that explains why their fruit/veggie is the best candidate for the job.
Here's a list of persuasive words and phrases to get your students started.
This lesson from ReadWriteThink uses the Beverly Cleary book Emily's Runaway Imagination as the springboard for kids to write letters to a librarian urging the addition of certain titles to the library. A Persuasion Map Planning Sheet guides students through steps similar to what I outlined above.
The vocabulary section of the Reading Rockets site contains lots of great resources and information about vocabulary instruction. Thanks to good research, it's now clear that teachers can grow kids' vocabularies through (1) a careful selection of words to teach, and (2) instructional routines that provide practice with new words in multiple settings.
February 2010's Reading Teacher contains The Vocabulary-Rich Classroom: Modeling Sophisticated Word Use to Promote Word Consciousness and Vocabulary Growth (Lane and Allen). The authors describe elementary classrooms in which the teachers use several techniques to increase students' word knowledge through explicit and implicit strategies.
The authors describe how Ms. Barker (a kindergarten teacher) started with familiar words (e.g., the kids knew happy, so the teacher began using cheerful and delighted) and then moved to more classroom-specific terms (e.g., starting with "passing out the paper" to "distributing the paper"). Tables 1, 2, and 3 list sophisticated words related to specific content areas, and words teachers can use when discussing classroom behavior and during classroom routines. From Table 1, walking in line might provide an opportunity to use words like file, halt, linger, or swiftly. Group time might provide an opportunity to use words such as deliberate, express and verbalize.
Clearly, this type of incidental use of interesting words isn't sufficient for all vocabulary learning. Children also learn words through careful, explicit instruction built over time. And while the sophisticated word lists in the paper worked for that K teacher, other teachers may find that they need to create their own meaningful word lists based on the kids they teach.