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.
Oh, the wondrous things a postcard with a quick note from a teacher can do! Molly received this post card in the mail from her third-grade teacher. I wish Mrs. M could have seen Molly's face when she realized what the mailman had brought. She rushed in to show me, grinning from ear to ear. This small gesture from Molly's teacher did so much to further Molly's perception of herself in her new classroom.
Cognitive theorists consider learning to be a social event. Recent research suggests that both teachers and students pay the price if they fail to form warm, supportive relationships within the classroom. All kinds of behaviors can be associated with positive "attachments" in the classroom, among them: greater emotional regulation, social competence, and willingness to take on challenges, and with lower levels of ADHD and delinquency, each of which is associated with higher achievement.
Besides postcards, what can teachers do to enhance their relationships with students? According to research from the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning, teachers can organize nonacademic extracurricular activities for students and teachers to participate together, have students and teacher eat lunch together in small groups a few times a week, have homeroom teachers act as advisers for students, and create an atmosphere of open communication.
What has worked in your classroom? How do you foster positive relationships with your students?
A runaway train. A ticking clock. Two young kids on an adventure they don't even know about. Sound exciting? That's the premise of the first episode of the Exquisite Corpse, a new project sponsored by The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.
From the Exquisite Corpse site:
Ever heard of an Exquisite Corpse? It's not what you might think. An Exquisite Corpse is an old game in which people write a phrase on a sheet of paper, fold it over to conceal part of it and pass it on to the next player to do the same. The game ends when someone finishes the story, which is then read aloud.
Teachers have used a similar strategy in the classroom for years, but I've usually seen it done orally. Kids sit in a circle, begin a tale, and move around the circle adding and shifting the storyline with each student. One lucky student gets to wrap it up with an ending that pulls it all together.
From a reading teacher's perspective, this is great practice. To build a successful story, students have to pay attention, formulate their own storyline, and further the plot by providing information that builds on what they've learned so far. Sounds like great comprehension work to me!
Jon Scieszka, the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, has written the first episode of this Exquisite Corpse, which is "pieced together out of so many parts that it is not possible to describe them all here, so go ahead and just start reading!" And that's no joke. Scieszka drops hints about several interesting things that may unfold with the story, including an elephant clown party, real ninjas, fake vampires, a roller-skating baby and more.
There will be a new episode and illustration every two weeks, for a year. The readability seems to be around second or third grade, but the comprehension work can span into many other grade levels.
For teachers, The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance and the Butler Center for Children's Literature at Dominican University have developed a companion educational resource center to support the project. For this episode, the resources include a list of other cliffhanger books kids might like, activities for the classroom that focus on synonyms and antonyms, figurative language, a guide to the characters, and some information about the artwork that accompanies episode one.
Here at Reading Rockets, we have our own "Exquisite Prompt," and you can learn more about the prompts, author/illustrator resources, and rules here.
I think we'll be giving the Exquisite Corpse a try around our house. Care to join me?
My friend's third grader came home with her word study list this week. On the list were the contractions could've, should've, would've and might've. My friend brought the list over to talk about it, and had real concerns about those contractions being taught. "I challenged [her daughter] to find any of those words in print. I know we use them when we talk, but I don't think of them as being real words that should be used in writing."
Grammar Central lists those contractions among its basics for communicating clearly, and those contractions are real words. But Grammar Girl agrees with my friend. Calling them "hazardous contractions," words on Grammar Girl's list include "could've," "should've," "would've," "might've," and "must've." What makes them hazardous is that they encourage people to believe the proper pronunciations are "could of" and "must of," rather than "could have," "should have," "would have," and "might have." According to Grammar Girl, it's better to spell these out when you are writing them, though she acknowledges that you'll probably find yourself using these contractions in regular speech.
Maybe those should be the two word study lessons for the week: (1) The "hazardous contractions" are formed with the word "have" rather than "of," and (2) Recognize that for clarity's sake, some words used in oral language are better left out of our written language.
What does your contraction curriculum include? Are these "hazardous contractions" included? And, if they are in there, how have you taught them?
Question: My son's teacher doesn't allow parent volunteers in the classroom. She says she has her schedule worked out and another adult in the room would make things too disruptive for the kids. I want to help in the room and like working with the kids, so now what do I do?
Answer: Thanks for the question! Volunteering is a great way to get involved at your child's school. If you read Freakonomics, you'll remember the part about "a child whose parents are involved in the PTA tend to do well in school." There's nothing magical about the PTA per say, it's the involvement and strong relationship to education that makes the difference.
Because you can't volunteer directly in your child's classroom, here are some other ways to get involved that can really help the school and the kids too.
- If you like working directly with students, ask if there is another teacher in the building who would like a parent volunteer. While your teacher might not want parents in the room, others might, particularly in the lower grades, like K and 1. Some schools actually have policies that parents can't volunteer in their child's classroom, but are assigned to other teachers.
- If you like working with groups of students, ask the music, art or PE teacher if they would like some help. This provides a great opportunity to see kids in a different setting. Specialists don't get offers to help nearly as often as classroom teachers do.
- Check out the library! The librarian, sometimes called the media specialist, is likely looking for help shelving books and assisting with check out. This is a great way to familiarize yourself with new books you can share with your own children.
- Ask if your school has a volunteer tutoring program like Book Buddies or the Howard Street Tutoring program. Research confirms that volunteer tutoring has a positive effect on student achievement. If your school doesn't have a program in place, the Washington Reading Corps Toolkit offers some terrific resources to get a program started.
I hope one of these sounds interesting to you, and I'm sure there are other opportunities at your school, perhaps through the PTO? I applaud your desire to volunteer at your child's school. I've always loved this quote from Elizabeth Andrew: Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.
"You can't let your failures define you — you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time." What an important and powerful message for students from President Obama.
Persistence and perseverance are particularly important traits for students who struggle in school. The willingness to try, try, try and try again is so important. It's the motivation to do the repeated, guided, well crafted practice that can help students make the progress they need to make to learn to read. When I taught second grade, one of my favorite text sets was one I built around the theme of persistence.
What was in my text set on persistence? Here are five of the titles. What titles can you add?
Obviously, the Little Engine That Could. There wasn't anything fancy about my version, either. Just a familiar tale that started the theme off well.
Amazing Grace is the story of a beautifully imaginative black girl who desperately wants to play the role of Peter Pan in the school play. Undeterred by classmates' remarks, "Peter is a boy. You are a girl," and others, Grace perseveres and inspires others.
Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes. Cute, cute pictures and an adventure tale about a kitten who mistakes the moon for a bowl of milk. With a happy ending and classic Henkes appeal, a fun addition to the set.
The Carrot Seed. Classic tale of a little boy who plants a carrot seed and waits patiently for it to grow. This book was a great addition to the text set for years when the kids read the books (in contrast to using them as read alouds) because of its lower readability.
Tillie and the Wall. The story of the youngest mouse who is determined to see whats on the other side of a long, high wall. Through her determination and smarts, Tillie makes it to the other side. Beautiful pictures, well told. A wonderful read aloud.
Do you have any titles to add to the text set?
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?
- Reading aloud
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?