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.
An article in the New York Times, Choosing Summer's Last Big Read, describes how summer, with its illusion of more free time, means reading a certain kind of book. With my personal reading, I can definitely relate to leisurely summer reading. Other books are strictly winter reads, and sit collecting dust until cooler temperatures. I mean, who could read Tenderness of Wolves or Snow Falling on Cedars in the summer?! I can't really describe why certain books map to certain times of the year for me, but it's very real.
All this thinking about summer books made me think about books for fall, specifically that first read aloud you share with your new class of kids. What's the perfect first read aloud? I'm thinking beyond the picture book to a chapter book that the class has to commit to. My last post on read alouds listed some my favorites, and teachers and librarians commented in with their own favorites, creating a good list of its own.
My friends' kids are in classrooms with pretty predictable, solid, can't go wrong choices: The Hundred Dresses, The BFG, and George's Marvelous Medicine. In talking with my friends about these books, I realized no one mentioned any nonfiction — no autobiographies, biographies, or memoirs. I'm not sure what this means, but with wonderful nonfiction award winners like these I'm sure some nonfiction titles will be read soon.
Teachers, what did you pick for your first read aloud, and why that book? Parents, what did your child's teacher pick? How does your child like the book?
This writing sample comes from a 5 year old boy in my neighborhood, who happily wrote a big long message one afternoon. "Wow, Nelson! What did you write?" Mom asked. Nelson looked at it, scrunched his nose, and said, "I dunno. Something about a butterfly, I think."
What this sample tells me:
- This is a child who knows some letters! The sample contains just letters, no symbols or numbers mixed in.
- He's able to print letters, mostly upper-case, with two lower case i's also.
- This is a kid who's willing to write. That's a lot of work for a 5 year old.
- He knows that writing carries a message, and he had something to say.
Where to go from here, instructionally:
The next stages of Nelson's writing can be enhanced by instruction that focuses on two things: more letters being written that match the sounds in the words he wants to write, and the development of a concept of word. These skills can be developed using activities that focus on beginning sounds and tracking the match between speech and print.
Words Their Way is a favorite resource for activities and suggestions for learners in the emergent stage. I've trained lots of preservice and inservice teachers to use word study, and most teachers love it, once they get the management side of it down. The appendix has lots of pictures to use for sorts and games, templates for sorts and games, and other resources. From here you can download Chapter 1 of the emergent reader book, although the focus of that chapter is assessment.
There are lots of ways to develop concept of word that uses common, everyday materials. Simple sentences, cut-up into their individual words "The cat had a toy" provide opportunities for kids to manipulate individual words, putting them together to form sentences. In Buy My Sentence, students use a penny to represent each word in a sentence they say or want to write.
For a student like Nelson, simply writing a line for each word he would like to write will help him focus on each word, and he can begin the work of representing the sounds he hears in each word. Small group and whole class fingerpoint reading of familiar books and rhymes like "Five Little Monkeys" also supports the development of a concept of word.
(Thanks to the Nellie Edge site for the Five Little Monkeys image)
Teaching by Listening, a study from the July 2009 journal Pediatrics, is all about the contribution of adult-child conversations to a child's language development. This piece, along with other research, documents the effect of language in the home on a child's vocabulary. Without question, kids who hear more words spoken at home learn more words and enter school with better vocabularies. This word knowledge advantage pays off exponentially as a child progresses through school. Those who hear fewer words fall victim to "The Early Catastrophe", the 30 million word gap by age 3.
The study from Pediatrics confirms the value of language, but more importantly, it reminds us that parents can get a lot more mileage out of those bedtime books by adding in quality bedtime chats, about the book, or about anything!
Three of the authors' findings seem useful and important enough to share with parents during these first few weeks of school:
- Don't just read a book to your child. Engage them in conversation during and after the reading. Make sure the conversation is two-sided. The more "conversational turns" a child gets, the better.
- When you're talking to your child, adjust what you're saying based on your child's language skill. Your language should be neither too simple so that no new words are learned, nor so difficult that your child doesn't understand what you're saying.
- Get your child talking, a lot. The more talking a child does, the more they are provided with an opportunity to practice and consolidate newly acquired interesting words.
Well, really this advice is for FAMILIES whose first-born child is about to start kindergarten. Two of my close friends fall into this category, and have been talking to me about their transitions. It's a big one! Some of the advice I've shared is below:
Kindergarten, at least at a public school, is not preschool. There will probably be more kids in the room, and at least at the beginning, the teacher will be really busy learning names and getting bus numbers committed to memory. Don't despair if you don't have tons of close contact with the teacher right away. He or she is incredibly busy helping kids get adjusted.
Second, there are LOADS of papers that come home the first day, really the whole first week. As a parent, take the time to sift through it all and return those that require returning. Your teacher will be keeping a checklist of papers returned — make sure all the papers get back! Most schools use a special folder or other system for important papers. Make a backpack check part of every day.
Third, although you're hoping for a full recounting of the first day (or week) of school, don't be surprised if your child doesn't blurt it all out right off the bus. Your child will surely be exhausted and overwhelmed from all the new "stuff." I've found that my girls talk more easily when they're distracted: by helping me prepare dinner, pull weeds, or fold the laundry. Those often become our closest moments of the day. Also, it helps when I remember to frame my questions in ways that can't be answered yes/no!
Fourth, plan to get involved. Your teacher may not want volunteers right away, but when things settle down, try to get in to volunteer. It's a great way to make sense of things you hear at home. "Oh! There's the beehive you told me about!" You can also meet your child's classmates and become a part of the school. If you're busy during the day, see if there are things you can do from home. Cutting out shapes and helping prepare big projects is hugely helpful.
Last, you know your child. If he or she has special learning needs, make sure your teacher knows about them right away. If your child seems really distraught or frightened about school, or comes home telling a story that makes you nervous, call your teacher. I wouldn't let anything linger that I wasn't comfortable with.
Sending your first-born off to kindergarten is an exciting and scary time. I'm sure other parents and teachers have good advice too. Anything you want to add to my list? Comment away!
"What teacher do you want this year?"
That's the question heard over and over again in my neighborhood. Moms asking Moms, Moms asking kids, and even kids asking kids: Who do you hope you get this year?
At the core of parent requests, of course, are parent hopes that their child spends the year with a teacher who helps their child thrive cognitively, emotionally, and socially. Parents whose kids have spent a year in a less than optimal environment can tell you that a school year can be a VERY long time when the teacher-child match was bad.
But do parents always know best when requesting a teacher? Maybe not always.
Personally, our principal is amenable to parent requests, with one caveat: no specific teacher names tied to requests. Parents can write letters that describe what they feel is the right setting for their child a more loosely structured classroom or one that's more tightly run, a teacher with a particular passion (science, math, writing) or one with a higher or lower tolerance for noise, etc. The principal and teachers take these requests into consideration, and then they work out what they believe to be the correct placement for every child. I think a lot of principals use similar logic: seek parental input, and moderate that with input from school teachers and staff and the logistics of the grade level.
There's no question that the way teachers and students interact impacts learning, and that parents need to consider their child's unique educational needs. How do teachers help children feel comfortable in the classroom? How do teachers help children develop skills to get the most out of school each day? How to teachers support students through concept development, feedback and modeling? Recent research on teacher-child interactions suggests that several dimensions of teaching are directly linked to student achievement and social development, and that these interaction effects occur for children as young as preschool.
What do you think? What is the parents' role in teacher assignment?
I'm going to be wearing a new hat at our elementary school: President of the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO). I'm sure it's going to be great, and provide me with experiences I wouldn't otherwise have. I hope to share the highs and lows in some of my future blog posts; please chime in with wisdom and wit! Right now, the work is just a bunch of administrative things to get us ready for the beginning of school.
Some real PTO planning took place last spring as we thought through our fundraisers for this year. My hope is to have a "product-free" year where we're not hawking stuff families don't need, and aren't likely to buy given the economic climate. The only product-oriented fundraiser we're doing is a coupon book that has restaurant "buy one, get one free" coupons, and discount offers from our big box stores and local businesses. We rationalized that fundraiser because it's really easy to recoup the cost ($25) by using just a few coupons and the overall purpose is to help us all save money. Our major fundraisers this year will be a golf tournament, an adult evening event, and our spring fun fair.
A top priority for the PTO this year will be for us to help create a sense of community given our new large size. We're starting the year with a Welcome Back Picnic for the whole school community. There could be 1,000 people there! We're going to have live music, and most of the food is being donated by our local grocery store. We're also about to launch a new PTO website that families can use to access a school directory, sign up to volunteer, and sign up for our afterschool programs and classes.
It's sure to be a busy year with lots to learn: Robert's Rules, budget issues, and a mission statement that we care about. I'll be relying on the national associations (PTO Today, the National PTA) and you for help! What PTO works at your school? What flops?
The elementary school my girls go to recently underwent a huge renovation to accommodate predicted growth in our area. In addition to the growth, about 100 kids are being redistricted to our school because the other local school is overcrowded. Our school will be opening with over 500 kids this fall, a much larger population than we've had in the past.
We'll have four or five classrooms per grade level, around 90 kindergarten students, and a bloated third grade with over 95 third graders. Any way you look at it, that's a big school, especially at the elementary level! On average, research summaries indicate that the most effective size for an elementary school is in the range of 300-400 students.
As an educator, I'm worried about my kids going to such a big school. I'm familiar with the challenges facing large schools, among them lower achievement, increased behavior problems, less opportunities for teachers to collaborate, less interaction between teacher and student. I know those problems are of greater concern for large middle and high schools, but they can be issues within elementary schools, too.
Our principal is great, and she's already thought through natural subdivisions across grades and physical spaces. The school will be divided into different regions, and the kids will interact mostly with kids from one or two other grade levels. Assemblies and performances will be divided into two sessions. Teacher planning time will be coordinated so that grade-level and cross-grade level planning can occur. I know she'll do everything she can to make this a smooth transition and a great learning environment for all kids. There's just so many kids!
Stay tuned this year as we experience this larger school setting! And please share any experience you've teaching or sending your kids to a large (or small) school.
When schools undertake a Response to Intervention model, one important piece involves progress monitoring (PM). Conducted at least monthly, these assessments can inform instruction, estimate rates of improvement, and identify students who are not making adequate progress.
Each of those are important to ensuring that kids are getting what they need out of their reading instruction. There are several excellent resources that provide guidance regarding progress monitoring. I'll highlight two here.
The first is the IES Practice Guide, Assisting Students Struggling with Reading. This guide is structured around five RtI recommendations. Each recommendation is rated, based on the evidence, and for each recommendation roadblocks and suggested approaches are provided. Table 3 provides recommendations (based on research compilations) for target areas for early screening and progress monitoring.
For grades K-1, letter naming fluency and phoneme segmentation are recommended for screening, and for progress monitoring through mid-first grade. For grades 1-2, measures of word identification and oral reading fluency are recommended for progress monitoring.
The second resource comes from the National Center on Response to Intervention. It takes the recommendations in the Practice Guide one step further by reviewing specific PM tools. Using a Consumer Reports type of coding, various tools are rated on "technical adequacy standards." For example, each progress monitoring tool is rated for reliability, validity, whether alternate forms exist, whether end-of-year benchmarks are provided, and whether rates of improvement are specified. My review of the compiled chart suggests there are some tools worth looking at more closely, among them AIMSweb, CBM-R, and MBSP.
If your school division is moving toward an RtI model, or you're spending the summer thinking through your assessment plans, these two resources are worth checking out.
Readers of this blog know that I love writing samples. I've collected them from my kids since they started scribbling, and I often ask friends and neighbors if I can make a copy of their kids notes, assignments, or scribbles.
Children learn about reading and writing from the time they're born. When young kids watch parents and siblings use writing to communicate, they are learning about the purpose and value of writing. Many children become interested in making marks and scribbling on paper beginning around 18 months.
Teachers and parents can learn so much about a child's development by looking closely at a sample. Today's sample (I think I'll run this feature semi-regularly) is the gift card I got on a birthday present last year.
In this sample we can see a healthy use of sight words (dear, mommy, here is, hope, like). There's evidence of a concept of word, although the spacing is tight. The use of the phrase, "It works like a champ," is heartwarming to me, and reinforces the importance of a language-rich environment at home.
Oh, and by the way, that mixer really does "make cookies yummy!"
I read with interest this story from the Washington Post that describes one family's experience with year round school.
As a Mom who juggles work and young kids, the transition to summer for my family is nothing short of absolutely chaotic. My house has become nothing but bags (one for camp, one for swim team, one for bug spray and sunscreen, etc) and wet towels from the pool. We've been out of school since June 5 and we've yet to find our summer groove.
From Schulte's Post article:
Both President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have called the traditional school day and school year outdated and inadequate for the demands of 21st-century life. Students in countries that routinely outscore the United States on international tests go to school for as many as 230 days each year, 50 more than kids typically attend here. "Go ahead and boo me," Duncan said in April to Denver students. "I think schools should be open six, seven days a week, eleven, twelve months a year."
And we know the effect of summer on kids at risk, the "summer slide" that eats away at the progress kids make during the school year. Year-round school doesn't have to mean the same thing every day all year long. As Schulte describes, her school uses intersessions, which are designed to be full of hands-on, big project classes.
Clearly this is a big topic, one I'm touching on too lightly to present all the issues clearly. But for me, this week, year round school doesn't sound half bad.
In case you're interested, Brigid Schulte did an online Question/Answer following the publication of her article.