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.
Summer is a great time for planning big projects for next year's class. In today's climate, a teacher would be hard pressed to plan for a big project without considering having students research a topic online.
The problem is there are too many websites! A quick Google search on just about any topic returns hundreds (if not thousands) of results. Where's a student to begin?
The May 2008 Reading Teacher includes a helpful article
on this very topic. The authors (Baildon & Baildon) offer a Research Resource Guide Sheet that helps students navigate three aspects of resources they might consider using: readability, trustworthiness, and usefulness.
Some school districts are working to develop standards and guidelines for their teachers (see Bellingham School District for an example) and other resources provide an exhaustive list of places to start (see Student Research Resources).
How do you help your students navigate online material? What resources have you found useful? Do share!
Is your son or daughter working with a tutor this summer? Now that July has begun, it's a great time to evaluate your tutoring situation. It's not too late to make a few simple changes that can make a real difference in the remaining tutoring sessions.
First, did your tutor gather baseline assessment information about your child's performance? It may have been a spelling inventory, a running record, a timed reading, or a word list inventory. Hopefully your tutor gathered enough good information to help him or her design each tutoring session to target specific needs. If you haven't seen the assessment information, ask for it!
Second, is there consistency across tutoring sessions? It's often helpful if your tutor uses a lesson plan with the same components each time they come. For example, lots of lesson plans start with a warm up activity (maybe re-reading), some assisted reading and writing, some word study or word-level work, and then end with the introduction of new text or a reinforcing game. Consistency helps your child know what's coming, and can help the tutor develop some long-range plans.
Third, how's it going? Does your tutor continue to gather information about your child's progress? This is often called progress monitoring. You can and should expect to see some changes in performance based on tutoring. A simple timed-repeated reading graph will provide information about words correct per minute. Watching the bars go up each time is reinforcing to your child. If your tutor is not seeing growth or change in your child's performance, she needs to change what she’s doing. This is no time for flat growth curves!
Last, how are you supporting your tutor? Are there books you can read in-between sessions? Maybe there's a word study game you can play together, or a field trip you can go on to support the vocabulary learning.
Working together as a team can really help your child understand how much you value and appreciate the hard work they're doing with the tutor.
Those two posts have sparked lots of comments, all of which carried valid points about the purposes and pitfalls of reading logs.
"Mom in super school district" wrote that her daughter's class reading log turned reading from "reading for pleasure" to "reading-for-words-until-I-read-long-enough" (which is exactly what was happening with Molly).
Jen and A.M., both teachers, feel that reading logs help families recognize the value of reading every day; the log is little more than a reminder to read. And thankfully, many commented that at their school, being read to and reading with a family member "counts" toward their time.
Both Jen P and Mark H took issue with the way I handled our own reading log situation, which was to just stop doing it. They reasoned that by doing so, I am teaching Molly to defy her teacher's expectations, implying that it's okay to "opt out" of assignments you don't want to do.
First, let me say THANK YOU for commenting. I read every comment that comes in, and I love your differing perspectives and opinions. It's one of the things I hope this blog encourages.
Second, it's clear that reading logs are as different as the teachers who assign them (and the kids who have to use them). And maybe that's the way they should be used (when they're used) — individually. It's clear within my own family that kids are individuals. What motivates Molly is clearly NOT what motivates Anna.
Here's an idea: What about differentiated reading logs? Thoughts or comments? What would they look like?
Don't you love when you finally have a moment to read something that's been on your desk for two months? I had that experience today when I finally read The Reading Leader from the Haskins Literacy Initiative.
Haskins does remarkable research. In graduate school, my advisor introduced me to the work of Hollis Scarborough, Donald Shankweiler, Sally Shaywitz and others, and I've been hooked ever since!
The Spring 2008 Reading Leader includes an interview with Ken Pugh, the newly appointed President and Director of Research at Haskins Laboratories. Something he said in the interview was an important reminder.
Pugh describes the advances we've made in our ability to understand what happens in the brain of skilled readers and dyslexic readers. Have you seen the fMRI images? [If you download the Reading Leader's PDF you can see some there.]
New technologies actually show the activation differences in the brain regions between skilled and dyslexic readers. The brains function differently, and now we're able to actually see the differences.
What we're not able to do yet is to use that information to tailor reading interventions based on individual differences in brain response. And here's the important reminder: Pugh cautions that teachers and parents should be reminded of this as they are confronted with all the new 'brain based' curricula out there; much of it hasn't been well-tested and researched.
On the last day of school, Anna came home with a stamped envelope from her kindergarten teacher. Mrs. Z had offered to be pen pals over the summer with kids from her class. By 4:00 that day (the last day of school, after getting home at 3:00), Anna had written her first pen pal letter.
"What are your plans for the summer? I plan to go to the pool. What do you like to do? It will be a fun summer." Off to the mailbox it went. Three days later, she got a letter back! Anna's reply is already off in the mail, and as I type this Anna is waiting by the mailbox in anticipation of a reply.
This whole thing made Molly desperate for her own pen pal! Thankfully we've got good friends in Oregon who have a daughter close to Molly's age. We’re meeting them at the beach in July; becoming pen pals with Ester is giving them a great opportunity to re-connect before we go.
I'm certainly not the first to realize the benefits of pen pals, although it has new meaning for us this summer. A quick Google search turned up many organizations that match kids for pen pals: Student Letter Exchange matches English speaking children ages 9-18, and the Circle of Friends Pen Pal Club enables girls 7-17 to email pen pals without the need to publish your email address.
For us, we'll do the old-fashioned method — "snail mail" to a person we already know. During our trip to the library yesterday I picked up Arthur's Pen Pal to keep the buzz alive…and we got out some of our other books that have letters in them: Dear Tooth Fairy, and Jolly Christmas Postman.
How about you? Are you planning to have a pen pal this summer? Consider this blog one way to do it!
Our current family read aloud is the classic book, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. We've just gotten to the Toy Tinker chapter, so don't tell me what happens! The girls are dying to come home from school today and hear more; my husband pleaded that we wait until he gets home so he can listen too.
If you haven't read the book in 20 or 30 years (like me) you've probably forgotten how detailed it is, particularly in describing the research design of the experiments. There's a whole chapter on Group A, Group B, and the control group. Thankfully, Nicodemus ended up in Group A, which was definitely the group to be in! Among other things, the rats in Group A are taught to read:
"Then, after I had looked at the picture and recognized it, a shape flashed on the screen under it — a sort of half circle and two straight lines, not like anything I had seen before. Then the voice began:
It was Julie's voice, speaking very clearly, but it had a tinny sound — it was a record. After repeating "are" a dozen times or so, that particular shape disappeared and another one came on the screen, still under the picture of the rat. It was a triangle, with legs on it. And Julie's voice began again:
And so it goes. The chapter walks us though the repeated presentation of "are," "aiee," "tea," "R-A-T," and "rat." Then onto "cat" and "rats" until finally the rats are reading the signs all around the laboratory (which bodes well for them in the coming weeks).
Anna was transfixed during this chapter.
"Mama, THAT'S how people learn to read?" she asked.
"Yep, at least that's how some people learn to read," I answered.
"Sheesh! That's hard work." Anna said.
You got that right, girl.
We have a "publishing house" at our elementary school. It's a volunteer-run effort, and every child in the school publishes one special hard back book a year.
Stories are written using the writing process. The older kids (grades 3-5) type their stories in the computer lab; parent volunteers type in the text for the younger ones.
Final typed pages are stitched together along the seam with needle and thread (even our kindergartners do this!) and then glued to a hard-bound cover. Finished products are small works of art!
I know what it has taken for some of the kids to get to their final product. Writing is HARD work for new readers and writers. I remember when Anna found her voice as a writer; it was a long time coming but well worth the wait.
Last week, the kindergarteners at our school shared their books during an Author Share celebration. Complete with programs and refreshments, every student sat up front and read his or her book. We laughed, we cried, we celebrated their HARD WORK.
Running our publishing house is an enormous effort. We've got worn out equipment and outdated software. It's difficult to find parents willing to help out, and teachers are crunched for time.
But judging from the smiles and first books tucked away in special places, it's definitely worth it.
Are you interested in writing? We've got some good writing resources:
Phonics? Not hot.
Family literacy? Not hot.
Motivation? Not hot.
Adolescent Literacy? Hot.
Response to Intervention? Hot.
The International Reading Association (IRA) recently published the results
of its annual survey on the hottest topics in literacy instruction.
Twenty-five literacy leaders reviewed the prior year's survey results and rated each topic as "hot" or "not hot." Then they noted whether each topic "should be hot" or "should not be hot."
Now that we know what those literacy leaders think, I'd like to know what you think! Our readership is mostly teachers and parents. I wonder how the results will compare?
We constructed a Survey Monkey survey that is similar (but different) from the one IRA published. Will you weigh in? It should take just a few minutes. We'll publish the results sometime in June.
With permission, a question that we received through Ask the Expert:
Should I worry about mirror writing in my kindergarten son? From my understanding, dyslexia is an auditory problem rather than a visual one, is that true? Is it just that my son hasn't gotten the directionality of print from left to right at this stage rather than it being a major learning disability?
Mirror writing by itself is not troubling in a kindergarten student. Beginning writers are mastering several skills, including directionality. There are other factors (weak phonological skill, family history of reading difficulty, speech/language delay) that are considered risk factors for reading difficulty.
Dyslexia is a language-based reading difficulty. As such, if your son has persistent difficulty with several of the language-based behaviors I've listed below, you should talk with his teacher and share your concerns.
* Learning letter names and some letter sounds
* Recognizing words that rhyme
* Retelling simple stories
* Recognizing words that share the same beginning sound
* Understanding simple concepts about print
Here are two readings that you may find useful:
Teacher Appreciation week is May 4-10, and parents all over are scrambling to find something that expresses their gratitude.
Below are five quick ways to say thanks to a teacher and help build literacy skills at the same time. Each idea is intentionally fairly easy and inexpensive — just pick your favorite!
1. Donate a copy of your favorite read aloud to the class. Teachers are always looking for tried and true read alouds. If a book worked for you, it might work for the class too!
2. Offer to read aloud to the class. Email or call your teacher and ask when you can come in this week to read to the class. Bring books with you (so she doesn't have to prepare). As your teacher is walking out the door for an unprecedented break in the middle of the day, hand her a mug with a tea bag in it. What a treat!
3. Gather a few kids from the class. Have them look through old magazines and newspapers for words and pictures that remind them of their teacher. Cut and paste to make a gorgeous collage.
4. Have your child write a card. It sounds simple, right? Handmade cards with love notes from little ones are some of the most treasured items teachers receive.
5. Have your child use an online puzzle making tool (Discovery School has several good choices) and make puzzle all about her teacher. Clues could be related to a memorable field trip or class experience they've taken, teacher's favorite food or color, or other fun facts.
And one more great idea (but doesn't necessary build literacy skills) is to write your own card. It's easy to get too busy to remember to thank a teacher for all the things they do, large and small.
In our family, I wanted to thank Anna's teacher for letting the kids go out and catch snowflakes on their tongue when it started to snow in January. I wanted to be sure to let Molly's teacher know how much it meant to us when she wrote a card when Lucky (our adventurous gerbil) got away one morning. Those small acts of kindness on our teachers’ part mean SO much.
Teachers, I really appreciate you!