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.
Happy New Year! January is a great time to look ahead, but I also like to revisit the past to remember some highlights. Several blog topics seemed to resonate with readers (using comments as a barometer), and for me that provides guidance about other topics I should write about in the coming year.
The topic of kindergarten readiness produced many comments. Lots of parents struggle with the same decision we faced when it came time to decide whether we should send our summer birthday child to kindergarten. Social/emotional development, literacy skills, and school climate all seem to play a role for parents, and we'll continue to discuss those topics this year.
Word searches, as a waste of instructional time, Accelerated Reader, and my feelings about particular reading logs also sparked many comments. I love that your comments span such diverse opinions, and that several audiences (parents, teachers, professors, even students!) weighed in. I'll continue to blog about specific instructional issues here, and I hope you'll continue to let me know your thoughts.
Last, we love to talk about books to share with kids. My favorite classroom read alouds and my appeal for books to read to my daughter's third-grade class yielded great suggestions. I hope you'll keep on sharing your book finds with us. I promise to do the same!
What do you want to talk about this year? I know several topics I'd like to broach: year-round schooling, ways to practice spelling words during the week, writing and language development, and parenting a struggling reader. Again, happy new year, stay warm, and keep reading and commenting! I love hearing from you.
This December marks the last month of Jon Scieszka's tenure as the first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. For two years, Mr. Scieszka (the author of several children's books and founder of Guys Read) has worked to promote a love of reading and books. He's been particularly focused on helping parents and teachers reach the reluctant reader, one he describes as "that's the kid who might be a reader, who could be one, but just isn't that interested in reading."
Scieszka wrote a quick goodbye this week in the Huffington Post in which Mr. Scieszka recounted some of his favorite moments during his time as The Ambassador. They're sweet and funny, and made me glad that he's been the voice of children's literature.
Scieszka also summarized the advice he's been giving, and it's really good. So good, in fact, that I'll put his bullet points here, but then go back and read the whole post:
- Let each child choose what she or he wants to read. I'll never forget my own son's reaction reading Little House on the Prairie (a favorite of many readers): "Are they really going to spend this whole chapter making a door?"
- Expand the definition of "reading" to include non-fiction, humor, graphic novels, magazines, action adventure, and, yes, even websites. It's the pleasure of reading that counts; the focus will naturally broaden. A boy won't read shark books forever.
- If a kid doesn't like one book, don't worry about finishing it. Start another. The key is helping children find what they like.
- Be a good reading role model. Show kids what you like to read, what you don't like to read, how you choose what you read. Let them see you reading.
- Avoid demonizing television, computer games, and new technologies. Electronic media may compete for kids' attention, but we're not going to get kids reading by badmouthing other entertainment. Admit that TV and games can do things books can't. Talk about how reading can make a world in ways that movies and games can't.
This time of year, there are a zillion lists: to-do, must-do, "can't go to bed until this is done" lists, and then there are those designed to help us wrap up our holiday shopping. Below are some of my favorite lists, maybe there's something here for you too!
Perhaps the most comprehensive collection of book recommendations, our Annual Buying Guide includes books for kids ranging from 0-4 to 8-9 year olds.
From Choice Literacy, the 4th Annual Gifts for Literacy Geeks list. I especially love the Choose Books t-shirt from the Literacy Tees section.
From Imagination Soup, a holiday gift guide (PDF) that includes educational ideas that cover interests in geography and history, science, reading, Spanish, pretend, and more. (Caution: the file is big; allow a minute for it to load).
Common Sense Media helps with all kinds of shopping with their lists. I used the Best DVDs for Kids and Families guide to help me learn what movies we should catch up on over winter break. Most of Common Sense's lists can be viewed by child's age, which is helpful.
The Parents' Choice Gift Guide is arranged by age and by price. Included in their guide are eco-friendly toys and gifts for kids with special needs.
Good luck with those to do lists!
- Authors & illustrators
The latest edition of Literacy Lava, a newsletter for parents and caregivers, is available in PDF form here.
From the editor:
In this third edition of Literacy Lava, you'll find ideas for promoting literacy through inexpensive activities you can do with your kids. Find out what your local library has to offer, read ideas on making books with kids, sneak some learning into shopping, discover games that build literacy skills, develop imagination while playing Grocery Store, make writing part of your family's life, read why picture books are so good for kids, and find out how literacy helped one child fight night terrors. Don't forget to check out the Online Extras page, and the Writing Prompt activity page for kids.
Some highlights for me from this issue include Susan Stephenson's Making Books with Your Kids ideas, the word game suggestions, the grocery list for kids, and the online extras found at the end of the issue.
I hope you enjoy Literacy Lava!
It is the time of year when many children sit down to write an important letter addressed to the North Pole. Other children pen thank you notes and party invitations during this busy time of the year. Some say letter writing is a lost art, but it doesn't have to be!
An Introduction to Letter Writing covers activities for many common types of letter writing, including formal and informal letters, thank you notes, letters of complaint, and more. For kids who prefer to work online, or need a more step-by-step approach, try Read, Write, Think's Letter Generator. It's set up to help kids write either a friendly letter or a business letter.
For character-related fun, the Arthur section on the PBS Kids website has a Letter Writer Helper that shows kids the various parts of a "good old-fashioned" letter, an email, a greeting card, and a postcard. Staying within that site, kids can use Letters To to help them write to Arthur, Francine, Sue Ellen, or The Brain.
If you're wondering whether you have realistic expectations about your child's writing, some of the links within this section on Education.com can help you understand what to expect in writing by age and grade.
Whatever the reason for writing, hopefully these resources will help.
My daughter's third-grade teacher does something called The Mystery Reader, which involves a surprise visit by an adult who comes in to read with the class. I'm the Mystery this Friday (shhhh...don't tell Molly!)
I'm looking for funny and engaging picture book read alouds for third graders. I've asked around my neighborhood and my teacher friends, and combed our own bookcases. I have a few ideas, but would love to hear yours!
Some possible titles are below; please tell me what titles have worked well for you! And, with our teacher's permission, here's more information about her "Mystery Reader" program:
So far, possible titles include:
- Arnie, the Doughnut by Laurie Keller, about a doughnut shocked to discover his fate
- What To Do About Alice? How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy! "Theodore Roosevelt had a small problem. Her name was Alice. Alice Lee Roosevelt was hungry to go places, meet people, do things. Father called it running riot."
- Dolores Meets Her Match
"Until the arrival of Hillary, the new girl in the class, Dolores has been the star of Show-and-Tell and resident cat expert, accustomed to regaling her classmates with tales of her "amazing" cat Duncan. Now she is worried."
My fellow blogger on Page by Page, children's lit expert Maria Salvadore, gave me other suggestions, here are two:
- Ever wonder what writing instruments do when their kid snoozes? Well, Tony finds out in Arthur Yorinks' newish book Homework (published by Walker). Richard Egielski did the boldly outlined and colored illustrations just right for sharing to a group. (This is the author illustrator team that won a Caldecott for Hey, Al, though this is a very different book.)
- A chapter from a Gooney Bird Greene book (any of them) would read aloud well — and 3rd graders might enjoy recalling what life was in 2nd grade. My favorite chapter is in the newest book, Gooney Bird Is So Absurd (Houghton), in which Mrs. Pidgeon introduces the class — including the principal — to the fun of writing limericks.
It was SO fun to be the Mystery Reader! The class caught me in the hallway as I was heading to the classroom, so there wasn't much of a "big reveal," but it was still tons of fun.
I ended up reading two books about writing: We started with Homework that Maria suggested, and then read Chester (that commenter Jaymie recommended - thanks Jaymie!)
The kids LOVED both books, I think Homework appealed more to the boys, and everyone loved Chester.
I almost went with one longer book, and had chosen Henry and the Kite Dragon, which is a book I still want to share with a group of kids.
THANKS for all your suggestions, both here and on Facebook. I really appreciate it!
Our new family read aloud is Kate DiCamillo's The Magician's Elephant. Although we're only three chapters in, we're all hooked. It's a great read aloud for my kids, ages 7 and 9, and I'm sure other ages would love it too.
An excerpt from Kirkus Reviews:
Ten-year-old Peter Augustus Duchene goes to the market for fish and bread but spends it at the fortuneteller's tent instead. Seeking his long-lost sister, Peter is told, "You must follow the elephant. She will lead you there." And that very night at the Bliffenendorf Opera House, a magician's spell goes awry, conjuring an elephant that crashes through the ceiling and lands on Madam Bettine LaVaughn. Reading like a fable told long ago, with rich language that begs to be read aloud, this is a magical story about hope and love, loss and home, and of questioning the world versus accepting it as it is.
The book's website offers Chapter 1 as an excerpt, as well as an activity kit and a reading group discussion guide.
DiCamillo's writing brings you right there: right to the fortuneteller's tent, right to the magician's prison cell. While the book includes a few illustrations, (beautifully done by Yoko Tanaka) the writing provides a perfect opportunity to help kids develop pictures in their mind while reading or listening. The National Reading Panel includes mental imagery as one of their "top 7" comprehension strategies, citing research that suggests imagery can improve memory, comprehension, and an appreciation for text.
I found one booklist with titles to use with young kids that provide mental imagery practice:
- Into The Book's list chosen by the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison .
Let's make our own list of books to use with kids that provide powerful mental images, I'll start! You comment in with titles too!
1. The Magician's Elephant — perfect for grades 2-4, see above
2. The Wingdingdilly (by Bill Peet) — my second graders loved drawing their own creature as I read aloud
Molly went back to school Monday morning after being out sick all last week. She had the double whammy of H1N1 and strep throat. It was a loooong week for her and me! She was miserable, feverish, and missed five days of school.
Flu-related absences present a real instructional challenge for teachers. After all, it's hard to run a reading group with half the group out sick. And what about that new science unit, or the concept in math you planned to teach? Should you hold off new content, or go ahead and teach it and plan to teach it again when the sick kids are back?
The U.S. Department of Education offers some advice in their document Preparing for the Flu: Department of Education Recommendations to Ensure the Continuity of Learning for Schools (K‐12). Included are recommendations that range from sending hard copy packets home to sick kids to recorded class meetings made available online or through podcasts to distance learning courses. Each recommendation seeks to keep the learning going, even when kids are out of school.
Molly's teacher used a simple paper form to communicate missed assignments. Every day she filled out the sections (math, science, social studies), and sent home worksheets and pages to read from the reading group's book. It worked for us, and it's what many teachers do during this time of the year.
For parents, kids under a blanket are a captive audience! Use this opportunity to start a new read aloud at home. Or, check out our booklist called From Book to Film. You can plan a fun day of reading a book and snuggling up for the movie adaptation.
Teachers: What are you doing to keep instruction going in your classroom? Please share your tips and advice!
Parents: What are you doing to occupy your sick child? Got any great tips or advice to share?
Last week's blog post about Accelerated Reader generated some great comments, both here on the blog and also on our Facebook page. I love that the audience for this blog appears to be a combination of parents, teachers, principals, reading specialists, grandparents, special education teachers, graduate students….
A comment from last week's post inspired this week's title. Alex's comment was a dead-on piece of reality:
From a parent's point of view, when you are sitting with your kid and encouraging them to read, meanwhile they are tired and bored and guessing at words and making up games, what can you do? You either get angry and say, "just read this, I know you can and it's getting late and I'm tired!" or you can bribe them...."if you read this, you'll get some sort of special treat." I really haven't seen a deep discussion of how to help during those little times. No practical tips. I hear things like, "pick a regular time each day, continue to read to the kids, make it fun!" but not a lot of practical advice.
Haven't we all been there at some point with a reluctant reader?
Sadly, the "practical advice" needed isn't quick and easy to communicate, and it really is darn hard work. But, if I were to pick one piece of advice to help during those times, it would be this: make sure your child is reading at his or her independent level at home.
A child's independent level is the level at which the material is relatively easy for the student to read, and can be read with at least 95% accuracy. Books at this level aren't hard for the child to read, and dont require the child to sound out lots of words. Most of the words are read quickly and easily.
When a child spends time reading at his independent level, he's getting a chance to practice word recognition and word analysis skills (the ones hopefully being taught at school). Repeated readings of the same book over and over again enable each reading to become smoother. Soon, the reading will begin to "sound like talking." These are all important steps in becoming a fluent reader.
So, get ready to hear those favorite beginning reader books over and over again. Build up a basketful of independent-level books to be read at night, and then read 4 or 6 a night.
A side note: In our house, we "retire" a book when it can be read with eyes closed.
Related: How to Read with a Beginning Reader
My friend B called yesterday to talk about her second grader. A former teacher herself, B was worried because she hasn't seen any language-arts related papers come home. When she asks her daughter about reading groups at school, her daughter simply says, "We don't do reading groups. I take tests on a computer."
Her daughter is right; she is taking tests on the computer. Her school uses Accelerated Reader, which according to the AR site is "the world's most widely used reading software." AR works this way: Student reads a book, student takes a quiz, teacher gets a report that outlines the quiz scores. Students' scores accumulate during the year, and the number of points available differs by book. The easier the book, the fewer the points. For example, in browsing the AR BookFinder site, I learned that Jerry Pinkney's Little Red Riding Hood is worth 0.5 points, Abel's Island (William Steig) is worth 3 points.
The What Works Clearinghouse review of Accelerated Reader found two studies that met the WWC evidence standards. Based on the data from these two studies, WWC concluded:
The WWC considers the extent of evidence for Accelerated Reader to be medium to large for comprehension and small for reading fluency and general reading achievement.
I'm okay with a school having AR in place, and using it for what it may be: a supplemental intervention that may encourage kids to engage in more independent reading. But a word of caution: the National Reading Panel's conclusion of programs that encouraged independent reading was "unable to find a positive relationship between programs and instruction that encourage large amounts of independent reading and improvements in reading achievement, including fluency." p.12), so AR really shouldn't be used as a large part of the LA block.
Accelerated Reader doesn't provide reading instruction. Teachers do. I've encouraged B to call her child's teacher and find out more about the 90 minute block of LA time. Chances are there's a lot more going on than B's daughter recognizes. Stay tuned, I'll let you know what B says when she calls me back!