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.
…how to make Anna's favorite lunch, she left me these directions, taped to the oven door handle. I particularly like step number 7: Serve and enjoy.
As a parent, I love finding writing samples around the house. They're everywhere! We've got notes taped to the guest room door, over the hooks for their backpacks, and on one particularly industrious Saturday morning the girls labeled the playroom bins with "Polly Pockets," "train tracks," and "other small stuff."
As a teacher, I can't help but admire the wealth of information that can be gleaned from writing samples. I mean, can we take a moment to notice all the long vowel knowledge Anna's recipe reveals? She's got several long vowel patterns reflected: boil, drain, enjoy, chees (cheese), and her effort with the word "stir" (stear)— I'm not sure what happened there, except that kids, after they learn something new about words apply it to every word they spell, so I suspect Anna is in a place where she figures that lots of words have two vowels standing next to each other. Words Their Way calls this "using but confusing," which sums it up perfectly.
If we had more writing samples, we could determine just what phonics skills Anna is ready to tackle. This one suggests she's somewhere in the "within word" stage of development. Her errors (nootles/noodles, sevin/seven, minites/minutes, chees/cheese) provide guidance about the skills she's working on. A spelling inventory captures similar information by using carefully constructed lists of words that contain specific phonics features.
If you have a minute today, take a look at some kid writing. Admire it! What types of information can you gather from it? I think I could do that all day long.
Around our town, parents of preschoolers are busy observing in classrooms and filling out lengthy application forms for next year's preschool. Most of our preschools have a $25–$40 application fee and waiting lists a mile long, so it's a process that many undertake cautiously and anxiously.
I'm often asked what to look for in a good preschool program. I'll share some resources on the topic (and encourage you to read them) BUT ALSO tell you to trust your instincts as you're visiting different preschools. I'm always struck by the powerful messages (intentional and unintentional) that schools send to parents. I've learned to really trust those impressions and use them as pieces of information during the decision-making process.
Pre-K Now offers a fact sheet about high-quality preschool. They address teacher training and certification, student-teacher ratio, and curriculum. They stress alignment between preschool curriculum and a state's K-12 standards.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has a section called Early Years Are Learning Years that includes information about choosing a preschool. It also addresses the preschool's relationship with the family and the importance of a qualified staff.
Although it's a bit more academic, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has a policy brief that outlines high-quality preschool. The recommendations from this brief focus on child, family, teacher, curriculum, and classroom dimensions.
I hope this is helpful to you!
We're on spring break this week, but I thought I'd share a few of the books we'll be reading together during our road trip. I've blogged before about some of the terrific read alouds we have read, and my criteria for choosing them. The same ones apply for this list too.
Half Magic is the book I'm the most excited about. It sounds like a fun adventure with wonderful characters. I'm hoping the girls love it!
Sophie is Seven will be our first book by Dick King-Smith. And although it's not the first in the Sophie series, I thought Id capture the girls' attention with this one and see about the others later.
And 'll be bringing along two others that I know I want to share with the girls, but this might not be the right time:
Misty of Chincoteague. I think Molly will love this book but I'm not sure Anna is ready for it.
The other one is The BFG. When I taught second grade, The BFG was a class favorite EVERY year. We've got some pretty active imaginations around here, so if I think my girls can get past the idea of a giant walking around the streets at night, we'll read it.
I'll be checking in while we're away, so if you have any recommendations you'd like to share, I'm sure I can find a bookstore. Happy reading!
I blogged about reading logs back in August, when Molly was just getting started with a daily homework assignment to read and respond every day after school. The title of that post, Reading Logs, Reading Blahs pretty much sums up the way I feel about reading logs. Your comments on that post suggest that many of you feel the same way!
And there was this comment from Ask the Expert:
At our school, children in each grade are required to do a minimum daily independent reading time, starting in first grade. Anything a parent reads to his child doesn't count.
The author went on to say that she dislikes that policy. "I believe it is counterproductive, especially for children struggling with reading or who don't like to read."
I couldn't agree more — for a school to make a rule that books read to a child shouldn't "count" towards reading logs is just plain wrong! Am I right?! Regardless of the level of the reader, there is always benefit to a parent read aloud. I think that time should count.
What do you think? What are your recommendations for schools policies on reading as a homework?
Sometimes I wonder whether the expectations at schools are high enough for kids "at or above grade level." Molly's papers come home and I can see where she's scribbled out an answer rather than erase it. She'll write over one letter with another when she's writing. And I see lots of evidence of her taking the easy road when she completes her reading responses. As her parent, I know what she's capable of doing and I'm just not seeing that talent reflected in her school work. But, does it matter?
So far, I'd have to say not really. She's at the top of her class, and her papers come home marked with glowing comments from the teachers. Sometimes I wonder how closely her work is reviewed. We've found more than one math sheet with errors not marked, and there's never a suggestion or comment on her simply worded paragraphs that don't reflect much thought or effort. Just a happy face or a check mark.
It's about expectations. She "meets or exceeds" the expectations for her grade level. Does that mean that's all there is? As parents, we hope not.
What's your experience? Do my expectations sound unreasonable?
We're approaching the fourth grading period at our school, which leads some teachers and parents to think about whether a struggling child should be retained. It's never an easy conversation to have.
Research just doesn't support grade retention, particularly for students in the older grades. I've blogged about this before and included a few good readings for those interested in reading position statements and a meta-analysis on grade retention. The March 2008 issue of Educational Leadership also includes a short summary of the research on the topic.
There is little research on the impact of retention for younger kids, particularly for students retained after their kindergarten year. One thing is clear: if a child is retained, his instruction the second year must be different. Doing the same thing for a second year is not a solution.
In some situations, a carefully planned and executed intensive intervention delivered during the repeated year by a reading specialist or other professional may produce the types of results teachers and parents hope for. There are other options for providing additional instruction besides spending another whole year in school — summer school and extended day programs are two options.
What's your experience with grade retention? Have you seen it help or hurt?
A question came to me via the Ask the Expert service that Reading Rockets provides. With the teacher's permission, I'm including it here to get your opinion.
We were recently told by an administrator that research shows that crossword puzzles and word search puzzles have no educational value. We have been forbidden to use them in our classes. As teacher of English Language Learners, we have found that both of these are valuable tools to use with our kids. Do you know of any research that would support our position?
Your question is an interesting one! I know of no research that supports the use of word searches with students as a means to student achievement. That makes sense to me, though...few skills that translate to reading and writing are developed through their use. I guess one could build an argument that there are some near-point (i.e., copying) skills being used, but the relationship of near-point skills to reading isn't very strong.
Crossword puzzles, however, seem entirely different, especially if students are not provided with a bank of words to use with the puzzle. I think an argument could be made for vocabulary development through their use. You might want to see if your administrator could elaborate on his or her concerns about crossword puzzles.
The teacher's reply:
Here's the thing for us as ESL teachers. We use word searches as a way to reinforce vocabulary students are learning through reading. I work with first graders, so as they search the words, they learn to look for consonant clusters, vowel combinations and the like.
I also feel it does help to develop their visual acuity for recognizing English words. They love the word searches, and even those kids who struggle with language and/or reading love to do them and feel as if they've accomplished something great when they're finished. They like to compete with one another and are excited about working with words. To us, those are pluses.
We, too, think the crossword puzzles are a no-brainer. We also suspect that this was a case of prohibiting everyone from something because a few people are indiscriminately using them as busy work.
My questions to blog readers:
What do you think? Clearly this teacher thinks there are enough benefits to word searches to use them in her classroom. Her reasons are largely motivational, though. Are word searches a good use of educational time?
One of my blog posts that got people talking was the one about our decision to enroll Anna in kindergarten as a 5 year old (rather than waiting until she turned 6). Both our girls have summer birthdays; we waited to send our older daughter, but wrestled with the same decision for our younger daughter.
A related (but different) contentious topic surrounds full- vs. half-day kindergarten, a topic that's always in the news. A new study in Early Childhood Research Quarterly supports the research that says kids who go to kindergarten all day learn more about literacy and math than kids who only go for a half day. It's especially true for kids who are in smaller classes and for kids who are at risk. It's the same finding that is supported by other studies (example here).
What's not clear from the evidence is whether the benefits from the full-day programs last beyond the kindergarten year. Some follow-up studies suggest that the effects of full-day kindergarten deteriorate over time. Personally, I think that probably speaks more to the intensity of instruction in later years than it does about the lack of effect from full day kindergarten.
Our public school only offers full-day kindergarten, but many of our private schools offer both full- and half-day programs. If I had to choose, I'd go with full-day. But others disagree, citing that's just too much school to soon. What's your opinion?
A few weeks ago I blogged about a kindergarten lesson where the students were confused by the word pause, thinking the teacher meant applause or paws. I promised that teacher I'd send her some materials about vocabulary development with second language learners. I thought I'd share some of the resources I like.
Our sister site, Colorin Colorado, has an article with several good recommendations for vocabulary development with second language learners. Recommendations include intentional pre-teaching of vocabulary and focusing on cognates when possible.
This article by Isabel Beck and colleagues is one of my favorites on Reading Rockets. It includes lots of good, solid examples of their methodology for vocabulary instruction.
I also like this longer, but still practical piece titled Integrated Vocabulary Instruction for diverse learners in grades K-5. Many of their recommendations build on experts in the field, including Nagy and August. It includes several good graphic organizers.
Last, the National Literacy Panel's 2006 report "Developing Literacy in Second-Language Learners"executive summary and full report
describe the balance between oral proficiency and literacy in the first language as a facilitator to literacy development in English.
I hope those are helpful resources.
I love the Florida Center for Reading Research. The center is directed by Barbara Foorman and Joe Torgesen. And no one that works there must need sleep! They're always cranking out really good reports and publications. It's one of the first places I go when researching something.
One of FCRR's more recent reports is a must read: Dyslexia: A Brief for Educators, Parents, and Legislators in Florida. Although the title suggests it's for people within Florida, a much larger audience will benefit from the information.
I won't kid you, the report isn't visually appealing, and it's pretty dense, but I can promise you a lot of good information within the 18 pages.
The report covers the definition of dyslexia (in detail), the type of instruction most useful for individuals with dyslexia, and remedial instruction for older students with dyslexia.
PS: Last week I wrote that I'd share resources for introducing vocabulary. I'll do that next week for sure!