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.
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?
- Teacher education
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?
I've written before about using a child's writing as a way to understand what she needs from her instruction. This weekend provided me with more insight into Anna's (our 6 year old) development by showing me what she's "using but confusing," a term used by Donald Bear and colleagues in their research in word study.
The girls' Sunday chore was to organize their dresser. Always industrious, Anna took it a step further and labeled each drawer. You can see her work in this photo:
She's trying to figure out this thing called the apostrophe! When to use it, when to leave it out… lots of questions. On her dresser labels, you can see she used the apostrophe twice, but didn't use it to spell the word "pants."
For teachers, this using but confusing (UBC) stage is the zone in which instruction should occur. For Anna, a well planned mini-lesson would help her understand that apostrophes are used to indicate possession and in contractions, but are not used to pluralize (as she did with socks and pajamas). She could use the books she's reading in school to find examples of words with apostrophes and plural words. She could make columns and sort these words into different categories (contraction, possession, plural). And, because she's only six, I'd leave out too much discussion of irregularities and what to do with those pesky words that end with 's' but need a plural.
It's important to recognize what students use but confuse. If something is totally absent from their work (a silent 'e' to mark a long vowel, for example) then it may not be the right time to introduce that spelling feature. If a child consistently uses the silent e marker correctly, you don't need to use your precious instructional moments on that skill. Its when he or she starts marking every word with a silent e (and they will do that, trust me!) that he or she will get the most out of your instruction on that skill.
For now, the labels on Anna's drawer look just fine to me. We'll see what she thinks in a week or two. I'll bet we'll have some new labels up there!
Both girls, Molly (8) and Anna (6), are obsessed with mysteries right now, and they spent most of their spring break tearing through several. It started awhile back when they stumbled into the Boxcar Children series. Since then, their reading habits expanded into the Nancy Drew series, the Capital Mysteries, and their current favorite series, A-Z Mysteries.
Mysteries provide great fodder for comprehension work. One has to read a mystery pretty closely and carefully to pick up on the clues (albeit they're fairly obvious in some of these). We've had more than one conversation that starts with, "I got it! I know who did it!" Then we talk through the clues the author gave us and the motive, which is a new concept for them. I'm not alone in my thinking — a Google search turned up Learning with Mysteries and a lesson plan for incorporating mysteries from Read, Write, Think.
We recently started a new read aloud called Operation Yellow Dragon from the Get A Clue series. It's a different sort of mystery book. It has one page of text on the left and a picture on the right. The text presents a hint for that page's unknown, and the picture gives away a bit more information. The page's title also provides a clue. Operation Yellow Dragon involves three friends who form their own detective agency and (surprise!) their summer beach house has a mystery of its own to solve. I think I like the book, although I find some of the clues a bit obtuse.
I've also got The Mysterious Benedict Society on hold at the library. I have a couple of friends who have read it with their kids and they liked it a lot. I think it's a bit of a time and effort commitment, though.
I'll likely have to use some read aloud strategies to help us through it, like think alouds and a directed-reading thinking activity (DRTA). We'll see if they have the patience and persistence to make it through!
Do your kids like mysteries? Do you have any good ones to recommend?
Susan Hall, co-author of Straight Talk About Reading and more recently the editor for Implementing Response to Intervention: A Principal's Guide gave a workshop at the Center for Development and Learning's conference. The topic was on teaching the tough phonological awareness skills, and in it she referred to an instructional procedure she called "I Do, We Do, You Do."
As teachers, we're all familiar with this notion; we model, we work through it with our kids and then we release the responsibility to the students. As a variation of scaffolding, this model represents what we know about good teaching: teachers explicitly teach a new skill, teacher and students practice the skill together, and then student demonstrates the skill through practice activities. Corrective feedback and pacing vary by group and by student.
I like the language of I Do, We Do, You Do; it's simple, short, and clear. I can see the practicality of using it with young students as a guide for work throughout the week. I am sure someone has turned this into a poster or has created a neat graphic for their classroom. If you have something like that, please share!
If you follow us on Twitter, you know that I was in Chicago at a conference sponsored by the Center for Development and Learning. I've got lots to share from the conference; there were several great speakers and exhibitors. Many attendees came by the Reading Rockets booth to tell me that they use the site all the time, especially our Parent Tips.
One presentation I went to was "Vocabulary Instruction and Language Development for English Language Learners," presented by Maria Elena Arguelles. She's a dynamic speaker whose anecdotes had us laughing all the way through. As she talked about effective instruction for ELLs, I was reminded that what's good for ELLs is really good for all young learners. That's a good thing for teachers! We definitely don't need more work.
One aspect of language development she talked about was reducing the language load when you're introducing a new topic or content to kids (again, she was talking about ELLs, but this is something that I think generalizes to all kids). She recommends that teachers be aware and work to "carry the language load on your shoulders."
To demonstrate, Arguelles used the vocabulary words "typical" and "atypical." Assuming some instruction had already taken place, Arguelles demonstrated a simple method for ascertaining whether we knew the vocabulary. She posed several scenarios ("A cow with two heads, yawning when you're tired"). We gave a thumbs up if it was typical, thumbs down if it was atypical. Simple, right?
In "deconstructing her teaching actions" (conference-speak...) her method (1) required no oral language on our part, but a scan of thumbs helped her know who had it right or wrong, (2) involved all learners, (3) enabled her to provide wait time, (4) incorporated consistent prompts and cues (she used "Show me") and (5) provided immediate feedback. This makes for an opportunity to focus on the vocabulary (typical, atypical) rather than a language load.
Simple, but powerful. Would this work for you? More to come!
Motivation is a huge topic in reading. So many parents and teachers deal with motivation issues every day. I saw this quote recently; I think it applies nicely to reading: Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going. (Jim Ryun, author and runner)
Yesterday's trip to the library was an interesting lesson for me about Anna's motivation to read. After Anna slipped 3 or 4 really thick books into our bag, I had to ask her about it.
Me: You sure are getting some big books this time!
Anna: I know! Look! This one has 261 pages. And 18 chapters!
Me: Really! Wow. What's it about? And what IS THAT on the cover?!
Anna is motivated these days only by books that make her feel older and more like a "real reader." I remember her going through a similar phase when she wanted to make the jump to chapter books a little before her reading skills were ready (thank goodness for Amanda Pig and Henry and Mudge!)
What motivates a reader to read? For parents, it may mean gathering books about a vacation spot or one that matches your child's current hobby, keeping the reading climate at home fun and engaging all the way from A-Z.
For teachers, motivating a reader might mean hooking them in through high interest-low vocabulary books or through some outstanding non-fiction picture books, or by getting the family involved through family literacy bags.
Whether you're a parent or a teacher (or both!), I hope you're able to find an extra minute or two today to figure out what's going to create a habit for a special reader in your life.