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.
We're back from our big family trip to Germany, and it was everything we hoped it would be. One of my favorite aspects of the trip was how carefully Anna kept up with her travel journal. She's a writer at heart, so it feels very natural to her to capture her experiences on paper. She's been using the same travel journal for years, and it's really fun to look back at her first entries and appreciate how her writing has changed over the years (see below for entries from 2009, 2011 and 2013).
Travel journals are also great for capturing a child's experience in their own words. "More dead guys in boxes,"" was part of Anna's entry about the crypts in the 3rd or 4th cathedral we toured. (I think she may have been getting a bit bored by then.) And sadly, her story about my needing a cup of coffee from 2009 is true. We were late, the lady did yell at us.
Amazon has lots of travel journals for kids, and people make their own (some good suggestions here). The ones my girls use are little more than bound books of lined paper. We often tape in bits of maps, subway tokens, favorite pictures and other small artifacts that remind us of the trip.
How do you document your family times? With summer coming up, now's a great time to think about how you'll record your summer fun. Please share your ideas in the comments below!
We're heading off to Germany for some apple strudel, German soccer, apple strudel, and tours of castles and salt mines (and apple strudel). This is a big adventure for our family, and we've been prepping for weeks! It's been so fun for the girls to be involved in the planning and the excitement. I thought I'd share a few of the things we've done to get ready — most of these ideas could be adapted for a trip anywhere.
- We posted a big map on the kitchen wall. We've got push pins for our destinations, and the girls have measured the distance in kilometers and then converted that to miles.
- We've developed Questions & Answers. As questions have come up, we write them down on strips of paper. When someone has time, they research the answer and "present" their findings. The girls have compiled some of their answers into a very flashy PowerPoint presentation.
- We've tracked reservations and events on a handmade calendar we keep in the kitchen. It's fun to look at the days ahead with such anticipation.
- We've learned a bit of German! Besides taking a language and culture class here in our community, we watched some Girls4Teaching German lessons. My girls liked that the "instructor" was a young girl. The overall session length was just about right for them.
- We've tried every German restaurant in our area. This wasn't hard — there's just three. But we learned that the girls love pumpernickel bread and hate boiled cabbage.
- We checked out a lot of books on Germany from the library. This has helped build a lot of background knowledge about the castles we'll be touring and the history of the salt mines in Salzburg.
- We've added some apps and podcasts to our i-products. Earworms helped us learned numbers, days and time using music-based training. Currency+ helps us track the Euro-to-dollar conversion. Free podcasts from Rick Steves will help us with a walking tour.
There's still packing and to-do lists a mile long, but hopefully at least one of the ideas I shared sounds like something you'd like to try with your family. Auf Wiedersehen! (goodbye for now!)
Parents know the value of a good bedtime routine. Dinner, bath, books and bed was the routine around here for years and years, and for the most part, our girls went to bed and fell right to sleep. But as kids get older, electronics and television seem to find their way into kids' hands closer and closer to bedtime. These habits, unfortunately, can make it harder for kids to fall asleep, resulting in less sleep overall. Inadequate sleep is associated with several school issues, including poor concentration, hyperactivity and obesity.
An interesting study in the journal Pediatrics examined the relationship between pre-sleep activities and the length of time it takes to fall asleep. More than 2,000 individuals in New Zealand, ages 5-18, reported their pre-sleep activities for the 90 minutes prior to going to bed. Television watching was the most commonly reported activity, followed by usual bedtime activities including changing clothes, brushing teeth and washing hands. Reading lying down was 9th, reading sitting up was 15th. Researchers compared pre-sleep activities to the time of sleep onset. Not surprisingly, those with fewer screen-based activities fell asleep more quickly. It took more time for those with screen-based activities to fall asleep.
For me, this study falls into the realm of "common sense that I sometimes ignore." But no more! I'll be monitoring our before-bed activities a little more closely, including my own!
Read the full study here.
- Brain & learning
Primary sources are finding their way into elementary classrooms. This is so exciting — students usually love to work with primary sources because they provide such an inside view into a time period or event. "Mom! It was a REAL picture of a REAL bank robber!" Primary sources, or original materials, are often artifacts such as pottery and clothing, or documents such as diaries, speeches, letters and photographs.
The Library of Congress has an enormous digital collection that provides access to print, pictorial and audio-visual collections. Besides housing a huge collection of primary sources, the LOC also provides helpful advice for teachers looking to use primary sources with students through their Teaching With the Library of Congress blog.
It was within that section of the LOC website that I recently came across Teacher's Guides and Analysis Tools for working with primary sources. The Primary Source Analysis tool provides an online place (or print it as a PDF) where students can record observations, reflections and questions about primary sources. If a student isn't sure what to do within an area, sample questions provide some help. For example, within the Observe section, students benefit from online prompts which include Describe what you see, What do you notice first?, What people and objects are shown? and others.
There are several other helpful Teacher's Guides that provide frameworks for analyzing other types of primary sources, including photographs and prints, oral histories, maps and more. Hopefully something within these guides and documents will be helpful to you!
Wordless picture books are books are told entirely through their illustrations — they are books without words, or sometimes just a few words. Sharing wordless books at home or at school gives us a chance to develop so many important literacy skills: listening, speaking, storytelling, vocabulary, comprehension, story structure, inference, cause and effect … the list goes on and on!
When my girls were young, we shared many happy bedtimes with Peggy Rathmann's Goodnight Gorilla and 10 Minutes to Bedtime. My girls just could not get enough of those pictures and that silliness! They loved using different voices for the characters, and each one told the stories with their own special plot twists.
That's really the beauty of wordless books, I think. No story is right or wrong, and stories can be as simple or as complex as the situation dictates. I know wordless books are often used in ELL classrooms, with adult learners, and with learners with hearing impairments.
Not surprisingly, several wordless books have won the Caldecott Award or been Honor books over the years, including A Ball for Daisy (2012 Winner), The Lion and the Mouse (2010 Winner), Flotsam (2007 Winner) and Tuesday (1992 Winner). I apologize to the children's literature experts reading this! I am sure I've missed some from my list but these are among our favorites.
These and several other favorite wordless books are on our Pinterest page. Enjoy! And if you've got a wordless book recommendation for me, please leave the title below!
Words are so cool! I was reminded of that last night as I helped my daughter study for her word study test. Her word study for the week involved three Latin roots (pater, mater, dicta) and, for each one, related words used in our everyday lives (for example: patriarch, matrimony, contradiction). Anna doesn't really appreciate how much she's learning about words through this study, but I sure do!
I recently came across another fun way to expand what students know about words. Over on the Teaching Channel, I watched a high school teacher talk about a strategy she uses called Vocabulary Paint Chips. The strategy involves using large paint strips or chips from the hardware store. Teachers write a vocabulary word on one color of the strip, then write different "versions" of the word on the other colors, and finally, put synonyms on one of the colors. For example, one paint chip may include illuminate, illumination, illuminating, and the synonyms enlighten and brighten. In this teacher's class, every time a student uses one of the paint chip words in their writing, they can add a sticker to a chart. (Who knew high schoolers were still motivated by stickers?!)
A related vocabulary strategy I had the joy to watch in action is called Semantic Gradients. Semantic gradients are a way to broaden and deepen students' understanding of related words. When engaged with the strategy, students consider a continuum of words by order of degree or by shades of meaning. Semantic gradients often begin with antonyms (or opposites) at each end of the continuum, and students work to fit a group of related words into their place on the continuum. During the lesson I observed, Cathy Doyle had students work with a list of words all related to the word "large." The students worked in pairs to arrange their words, ranging from microscopic to average to gigantic, into a meaningful continuum. If you'd like to try the Semantic Gradient strategy, we've got a helpful handout on the site to get you started with lists of related words.
Have fun with words!
Sometimes a new twist on an old assignment can change everything! Take a look at a birthday card for Copernicus, the mathematician and astronomer, written by a 10 year old.
The assignment: Research three facts about a historical figure. Incorporate those facts into a birthday card written by someone they knew.
The result: Searching for sources of information. Reading and discerning good facts to use. Choosing the "voice" for the speaker. Integrating facts in a meaningful way into a birthday card message.
Verdict? Tons of fun! Kids asking if they could do more! More reading and writing, you say? Of course!
We recently wrapped up our 5-webinar series on Parent Engagement. We developed the series to support charter members of the Grade-Level Reading Communities Network, a key community-based effort of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. We've archived the entire Parent Engagement Webinar Series so now it's a free, permanent resource for all.
The final webinar focused on using technology to support parents. We had three terrific presenters: Lisa Guernsey from the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation, Richard Byrne from Free Technology for Teachers, and Ana Blagojevic, Migrant Education Coordinator and Advocate at at Mano en Mano | Hand in Hand and director of the Comienza en Casa Program. Each presenter shared their thoughts and experiences with using technology to support parents.
The webinar was full of good information, and I want to highlight two of the tech resources that Lisa Guernsey shared. Hopefully at least one will be new to you!
Ele, from the Fred Rogers Center Early Learning Environment. Ele is a site full of activities designed to build skills in several important areas: listening and talking, reading, writing, arts, and more. Activities can be sorted by media type (books, videos, games, interactive tools, songs, and mobile) and age (from birth to 5 years), making it easy to find just what you're looking for.
Wonderopolis is created by the National Center for Family Literacy. Every day brings a new "wonder" on the site. Today's was all about puzzles, yesterday's sought to answer the question, "Why are brick houses so strong?" For each wonder, more information is provided through Did you know? Try it out! Wonder Words, Still Wondering? Wonder What's Next? And Photos/Videos. I've seen it used in classrooms where kids come in to see the day's wonder on the Smart Board. What a great way to stimulate morning conversation!
There are lots of questions out there about implementing the Common Core State Standards. Over at Shanahan on Literacy, Professor Tim Shanahan has posted the questions and answers from a recent webinar he did on the Common Core. I recommend hopping over there to scroll through the whole post — I suspect many of you are asking the same questions as these webinar participants!
Among the topics covered:
- How can teachers scaffold difficult text for second language learners? (More vocab and grammar support, with a recommendation to visit Understanding Language from Stanford)
- Does reading harder text mean reading less text? (Maybe. But still read hard and easy texts.)
- Is there a set accuracy level for frustration level reading with more difficult text? (No set level, but maybe mid-80's).
- Should all kids — even K-1 kids receiving intervention services — be reading more difficult text? No! Thankfully Shanahan and colleagues recognize that young readers, especially those who struggle, have a lot to work on, so the recommendation here is to give those kids the time they need to develop the skills they'll need in later grades.
Professor Shanahan provides more thorough information within his answers, and there are other topics discussed as well, so I encourage you to take a look!
Flipped classrooms are a hot topic right now. In case it's a new term for you, here's a brief description. A flipped classroom flips, or reverses, traditional teaching methods. Traditionally, the teacher talks about a topic at school and assigns homework that reinforces that day's material. In a flipped classroom, the instruction is delivered online, outside of class. Video lectures may be online or may be provided on a DVD or a thumb drive. Some flipped models include communicating with classmates and the teacher via online discussions. The recorded lecture can be paused, rewound, re-watched and forwarded through as needed. Then, class time is spent doing what ordinarily may have been assigned as homework. Class time may also be spent doing exercises, projects, discussions, or other interactive activities that illustrate the concept.
At the heart of the flipped classroom model is the desire to have classrooms be more active and engaging, and to give teachers more time to interact directly with students in small group or individual settings.
At this point, most flipped classrooms are in high schools and colleges. This makes sense when you consider the amount of lecture that takes place in upper-level classrooms. However, the concept is finding its way into elementary classrooms too. In my opinion, at the elementary level, the "flip" has less to do with replacing lecture material and more to do with providing background knowledge on a topic before it's taught.
For example, when I taught second grade, we always did a big unit on Explorers. If I were using a flipped classroom model, I could have assigned homework that included watching one or more of the explorers videos from National Geographic Kids or some of the famous explorers videos from Biography.com. The kids could come in that first day with some understanding of their explorer and we could start our classwork from there — jumping right in with our information-gathering matrix or more reading about an individual.
If you'd like to know more about this topic, here are some resources to get you started:
Flipping the Elementary Classroom A good blog post on the topic by Jon Bergmann, one of the pioneers in the Flipped Classroom Movement
Pros and Cons of the Flipped Classroom from Edutopia
A popular infographic on the topic