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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.
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Both President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have called the traditional school day and school year outdated and inadequate for the demands of 21st-century life.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.
Summertime always gives me a chance to reread some of the articles and reports that I can only skim through during busier times. This week, I revisited Teaching All Students to Read: Practices from Reading First Schools with Strong Intervention Outcomes from the Florida Center for Reading Research.
What's it take to get strong outcomes from your work with at risk readers? This report details seven common traits across the schools:
- Strong Leadership
- Positive Belief and Teacher Dedication
- Data Utilization and Analysis
- Effective Scheduling
- Professional Development
- Scientifically Based Intervention Programs
- Parent Involvement
No surprises, but some important reminders. And two findings I'd like to highlight.
First, successful schools offered differentiated professional development. All teachers don't need the same training at the same time. Some veteran teachers need advanced training in some areas, while other teachers need support in developing a skill.
Second, successful schools planned the 30-45 minute intervention time to be in addition to (rather than part of) the 90-minute reading block. A school-wide decision to do that means fewer interruptions and transitions during the reading block. It can also help stagger intervention and specialist times, and pave the way for grade-level planning.
Good information to mull over on these hot summer days.
What's a Mom/reading specialist to do? We're 8 days into summer vacation, and we've already run out of things to do. If you're at my house, the answer is…. Reader's Theater!
My girls have always loved to put on a show. They love dress up, props, and performing for an audience. Molly and Anna had a friend over, so they recruited her to join in too.
A Google search turned up hundreds of Reader's Theater scripts. I wanted one that would work across reading levels, and had multiple parts (it's more fun if each person has a few parts). Voilà! We chose a script and the girls disappeared for hour to practice their parts.
And here they are with our cure for a hot, boring day, performing part of The Wizard, The Fairy, and The Magic Chicken, courtesy of Timeless Teacher Stuff. (p.s., sound effects optional!)
To read more about Reader's Theater, a rereading strategy that can encourage fluency development:
The Summer Reading Bag project wrapped up last week (read more about it here). I was amazed by the quality and quantity of donations we gathered! Thanks to the generosity of teachers and neighbors, the PTO tables were piled high with books, games, flash cards, mini chalkboards, and more.
Once we sorted and leveled the donations into three tables (roughly K/1, 2/3, and 3+). I left the room (for confidentiality purposes) and every one of the 45 children came in to shop and to fill their bag full of things to read and do this summer. The kids came grouped by classroom teacher and left their bags in the room for distribution later in the week. The project was a HUGE success!
Are summer reading bags the panacea to the lack of summer reading and summer loss? No. There's no guarantee that the bags will get opened, that the books will get read, or that the parent letter we sent will get read. But I can guarantee this: the community was proud to contribute to this project, and the kids were really excited about the books and reading.
I'm already planning next year's Summer Reading Bags. I've got lots of ideas about things we could do to encourage the kids to read the books: tape recorders, pen pals, postcards, a summer Family Reading Night, and more. All of those ideas require labor and cash, two things that we'll need to plan ahead for.
In the meantime, I'm grateful to the teachers who shared their students' reactions to the bags. Several stopped me at school to tell me how excited their kids were. The kids just couldn't believe that they got to keep the books! I'm also grateful to the two reading specialists (pictured here) who donated their time to make it happen.
All she wanted to do was clean my teeth and share new pictures of her 6-month-old little girl.
"She's very cute!" I mumbled, with Christina's hands in my mouth. "Do you read to her?" I asked.
"We do! Probably a book almost every day. But it's not like she understands what we say. It's sort of funny to do it."
There's nothing like a comment like that to get this reading specialist to sit up in the chair and start talking. And talk we did!
We talked all about the fact her daughter started learning the moment she was born! And that there are specific ways she can read with her baby. I shared the value of narrating everything she does as a way to get language into the house, and how one of my favorite researchers, Todd Risley, described for Reading Rockets the language differences at school entry when kids came from homes with lots of talk. We (okay, I) talked about proven ideas for parents of babies that prepare them for later success in reading.
I shared some of my favorite books for young listeners and about how our own public library is joining the movement to add more services for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.
I'm sorry, Christina. I couldn't help myself!
I don't know a single teacher who stops thinking and learning over the summer. Whether we're teaching summer school, doing curriculum development, taking summer classes or observing flowers and insects at the pool, there's a small piece of a teacher's brain associated with sharing information with kids that doesn't shut off (OK, there are no fMRI's to support that statement, just a bunch of anecdotal evidence).
Here are a couple of relatively painless ways for teachers to stay in touch with teaching and learning this summer, besides of course browsing Reading Rockets!
IRA's Gateway newsletter: While you might feel e-newslettered to death, this one always has links to free book chapters and downloadable materials. For example, The May Gateway contained free Storytelling Ideas for Developing Comprehension, a free chapter on Supporting Reading Comprehension, and a podcast on comprehension.
The Big Fresh: This newsletter from Choice Literacy is designed with literacy coaches, teachers, and school leaders in mind. There's always something worth reading, and a video worth watching. Many articles are available to the public, others require a subscription.
Jen Robinson's Book Page: I've just started reading this blog and her Growing Bookworms Newsletter pretty regularly. There are many, many, many children's literature blogs, but this one came across my radar several times. I appreciate her friendly tone and the fact that Jen isn't selling or endorsing any particular publisher.
Picture Book of the Day: This is one of several blogs written by Anastasia Suen, and I usually click through her various blogs (listed in the right nav) when I browse. In general, I like her simple presentation of a book paired with a teaching suggestion. This may introduce teachers to a new book or two to consider using next year.
So, there's a random collection of things I routinely read and that I think teachers might enjoy getting to know this summer. If you've got something bookmarked you would like to share, please do!
Next Week: Sorting and sending home summer reading bags
In last week's blog post, I wrote about the research on access to books for kids in poverty. In short: all kids, but especially kids from lower-income households, need access to books over the summer. If there are no books laying around to read, it's unlikely that a child will lay around to read.
At our school, we decided to create Summer Reading Bags for the kids the teachers thought would benefit from a sack of books to read. In collaboration with the literacy specialist, our teachers identified approximately 34-40 kids across grades K-4. Teachers also provided us with each child's approximate reading level, using Rigby, Guided Reading or grade level equivalent.
The initial list we're working from has 34 kids on it: 8 girls, 26 boys. Ten kids need books at Guided Reading Levels A and B (Kindergarten). Five need books in the Level D-H range (First Grade), 13 are in the J-M range (Second Grade) and six are in the N-T range (Third Grade).
Sitting down with the list of needs and looking at the levels quickly led us to a few conclusions:
1. We need books! A paltry few were left over from our spring used book sale. It is time to beat the bushes for books our school's families have outgrown. After an e-blast to teachers and neighbors, books have started to arrive. As teachers pack up for the summer, we hope to get more donations.
2. We need more than books! With 10 kids at Guided Reading Level A, we need other early literacy items: dry erase boards and markers, magnetic letters, alphabet card games, and more.
3. We need what kids want to read! With so many boys on the list, we know we need to collect the types of books boys like to read. We put special calls out for nonfiction books, graphic novels, and books about things like vehicles, jets and trains.
We also realized we'll need to write some kind of letter to parents to let them know the Summer Reading Bag is coming. We'd like to include a few parent-friendly tip sheets with the letter. I think some of our Ed Extras will work well, particularly because we can provide the Spanish version to families who need that.
We're hoping to have the kids pack their Summer Reading Bag during the last week of May. I'll post about it again when that happens so you can see our progress!
Around here at Reading Rockets we're gathering together terrific summer reading and learning resources. One important topic within summer reading is access to books and print for children from lower-income households.
Researchers Neuman and Celano quantified the "differential access to print" across four different communities. The tables in the results section alone are worth looking at; I think you'll be startled to see the differences in the number of reading resources within communities, the number and conditions of signs within neighborhoods, how many books were available within preschool classrooms, and more.
In their book Summer Reading, Shin and Krashen summarize their research on summer access with these points:
So, here's the bottom line: Children of poverty need more access to reading material, especially during the summer.
Next week: What my elementary school is doing to give kids more access to books this summer.
Stories from a time when we had "more enthusiasm than commonsense" enable us to share a laugh. As Brenda Powers, editor at Choice Literacy wrote, the most memorable stories often begin with a failure — the bigger the better.
As school begins to wind down for the summer, I always remember one afternoon in May from my first year of teaching. My "classroom," a single-wide trailer behind an old, single-level red brick school, was tiny, cramped and the center of my universe. Twenty-four second graders and I fumbled our way through the year with too few books and 2 reams of paper for copies. By May, we all longed for more space and some fresh air.
Our principal announced that student desks needed to be cleaned, inside and top, before the kids left for summer. As we chatted in the lunchroom one day, a fellow teacher shared her trick for removing the sticky residue nametags and number lines left on desks: menthol shaving cream. "Just have the kids squirt it on and squish it around on their desks. It works like magic!" she said.
A quick trip to the CVS and I was ready. Twenty four cans of menthol shaving cream, twenty four second graders and a young teacher with good intentions. Clean desks were on the way.
You can imagine what happened next. The shaving cream did START on the desks. My kids squirted it on and squished it around. For about 30 seconds. Then, chaos!
It was everywhere! Arms, clothes, hair, floor, books, walls, white foam everywhere. To make matters worse, it turns out that 24 cans of menthol shaving cream is A LOT of menthol in such an enclosed space. And it gets dry. And sticky. And we had no running water, or even a bucket of water with rags (in retrospect, THAT would have been a good idea).
Very quickly, our plans changed. "Hands up!" I cried, "get into line. We're heading to the bathrooms!" Bless their hearts, my twenty-four second graders quickly marched, hands up surgeon-style, through the hall of the school to the group bathrooms. I'm sure I heard more than one teacher snicker as we passed their door.
Lesson learned, and event cemented in my memory! How about you? Care to share a memorable story from a time when your enthusiasm bubbled over?
The end of the school year usually means one thing for kids: TESTS! In Virginia, our 3rd and 5th graders are gearing up to take the Virginia Standards of Learning tests. Other grade levels are preparing for end of unit tests, spelling tests, math chapter tests, tests to inform placements for next year, and tests just because teachers like to grade (just kidding).
As the Mom of a daughter who frets about tests, we work overtime this time of year helping Molly keep things in perspective. In addition to the usual early bedtimes and healthy breakfast, we do what we can to keep her stress level low. With a little help from the school, parents and schools can work to keep everyone calm and prepared to do their best.
Here are some things that help at our house:
Know what's coming. Thanks to a good school staff, we usually know what's coming. Our weekly school newsletter and homework packets usually alert us to upcoming assessments. This gives us a chance to talk about them at home.
Know the tests. I'm not recommending that parents teach to the test, but I am recommending that parents ask about it. What does it measure? How are scores reported? How are the results used? With standardized tests, teachers cannot deviate from the written instructions, which is so different from everyday interactions! Help your child understand that testing often means that the classroom is usually different for a day or two.
Know that cramming won't help. Most of these end-of-year assessments are designed to test material taught throughout the year. Last minute prepping and quizzing will have little effect on your child's score, but may have a big impact on her stress level.
Know how to help your child relax. For us, that means encouraging her to do her best, and not putting any pressure on the situation. We plan for extra outdoor time on test-day afternoons and, oh yeah, a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice-cream.
That's what works for us, what works for you?