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.
Our daughter Anna is one of those kids that gets an idea stuck in her head, and she won't let it drop. This summer, she's had one thing on her mind: getting bunk beds for her room.
So, we weren't that surprised when she announced that she had prepared a presentation for us on the topic, complete with a bar graph based on Amazon reviews.
As a reading specialist, it warmed my heart to see her putting her reading and writing skills to work in an effort to persuade us. As a Mom, I realized it's probably time to give the topic some more thought.
Anna's project left me wondering what other causes are out there that could be brought to light with some sort of presentation: an increase in allowance? A new book from the bookstore? Having two friends sleepover? It might be fun to throw the idea out there to your kids and see what they come up with!
One of my very favorite kindergarten teachers emailed me last week with the following question:
I have a Big Question for you. How would you assess fluency in kindergarten? Where would you begin? With letter names or beginning sounds or word lists? Or would you wait until a student is reading passages? If you would recommend assessing fluency in kindergarten, what tool(s) would you use?
I am struggling with what is appropriate for kindergartners … and what will result in meaningful information that will help me plan instruction. I'm sure you know that we are in the midst of assessing/documenting student progress using rubrics that reflect growth from fall to spring.
If you have time, I would love to talk with you. If not, would you recommend some sources I can research? Many thanks!
And my response:
To assess fluency in kindergarten, I'd be most concerned with letter naming and letter sounds — whether a child's answers come easily and without confusion or do they come after much thinking and reflection. That's a pretty qualitative way to think about it, but I think that sort of information, in conjunction with an overall PALS score [NOTE: PALS is the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening tool used in Virginia], yields the best information. If a student is reading, I like Tim Rasinski's fluency rubric. The descriptors are written in plain language, and it breaks fluency into meaningful pieces. It considers fluency for the youngest kids, but moves into fluent, instructional level readers. Word lists can be helpful too, for those who come into kindergarten reading. The ones that come with the PALS assessment are trustworthy and well-researched.
Some teachers use letter and sound charts to provide speed practice with their kindergarten kids (see this page as an example). Frankly I'm not sure how I feel about this practice, as I think it sends a message that "all speed is good speed" when it comes to letters. But, if you wanted to use them occasionally, that link gives you some good resources.
So, to sum it up, I don't think you need to wait until they're reading to assess a K child's fluency. I think fluency on some of the precursor measures (letters, sounds, word lists) is a strong proxy for how they'll be as readers. Does that help? I hope so!
Let me know if there we can explore. For example, it may be helpful to think about where first graders should be by the winter in terms of words correct per minute (WCPM). The standard most educators use is Hasbrouck & Tindal's norms, which suggest that first graders at the 50th percentile will be reading 23 WCPM and kids in the 90th percentile will be reading at 81 WCPM. That's quite a span!
Hope you're having a great summer!
My friend Karen has a 4-year old daughter with a September birthday. Karen is still trying to decide whether to send Sophie to kindergarten this fall, so she decided to enroll Sophie in our school's summer kindergarten camp. K camp is a 5-day morning experience designed to acclimate the kids to school and give the kindergarten teachers a chance to meet the kids, do some very preliminary assessments, and start thinking that class placements for the fall. Karen asked if someone could call her during the week to give her their honest assessment of Sophie's preparedness for kindergarten.
Karen got the call, and the news (that she expected): Sophie is a great kid but, in their opinion, she's not ready for kindergarten. The school's advice is to wait a year before enrolling Sophie. There were multiple reasons, but chiefly among them was the teachers' perception that Sophie's social skills would benefit from another year of preschool. "Her social skills?! I thought we had that one covered!" Karen told me. (I should say that Karen and her family are very outgoing and friendly)
Karen and I ended up having a great talk about the difference between social skills at the pool and social skills at school. At school, some of the most important social skills include being able to:
Talking this through gave Karen a better sense of social skills as they relate to school. Her intuition was right, and now she has specific thing she'll be asking her preschool to help with.
For those parents of kids with summer birthdays and the teachers who teach them, how's my list of social skills for school? What would you add to the list?
For those familiar with the Common Core Standards, you know they're chock full of learning outcomes for students in grades K-12. There are reading standards for literature and informational text and standards for writing, college and career readiness, language, speaking and listening. Many states are working to align their standards with Common Core. California recently released draft standards that align English-language development standards with Common Core. Teachers in 45 states and three territories are also learning how to teach alongside the Common Core Standards.
In his blog, Shanahan reminds us that "strategies were not included in the standards because the standards are learning goals. That is, they are the learning outcomes that we are striving to for students to accomplish. Strategies are not an outcome." I think this is an important point. Students aren't tested on strategies, but rather their ability to read and interpret text. It's important for teachers to remember that strategies can be the tools used to reach our goals, but they're not the goal themselves.
That said, comprehension strategies are an important part of K-3 classroom reading instruction. Wondering which ones to teach? And how to teach in ways that create independent learners who use strategies on their own? One good resource to start with is the IES Practice Guide Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten Through Third Grade.
One way to help a child do well in school (and life!) is to help them build their vocabulary. Beginning readers use knowledge about words to help them make sense of what they're reading. The more words a reader knows, the more they are able to comprehend what they're reading or listening to. There's an important link between vocabulary and comprehension.
Educational Leadership's June volume includes a solid article called Vocabulary: Five Common Misconceptions, written by scholars in the field, including Nancy Padak, Karen Bromley, Tim Rasinski and Evangeline Newton. The article is available online for free. I encourage you to read the full article!
If you can't stand the anticipation of wondering what the misconceptions are, I'll just say that the top two make a lot of sense — thinking that definitions do the trick, and thinking that weekly vocabulary lists are effective. But I encourage you to read the article for all five and for more context about each one. You'll also find suggested online resources for vocabulary learning.
Sometimes it takes more than a new book to keep a child reading. If you're finding that your reader needs a nudge, here are some summer incentive programs that may spark some page turning. It truly seems as though everyone is offering an incentive program this year. Just about every program includes tips, booklists, and some sort of tracking mechanism.
Pizza Hut's Book It program has a summer component called Summer Break with Book It! It's for kids grades K-6, and features a minute tracker app, book recommendations, recipes for readers, printables, games, and activity calendars.
Barnes & Noble's summer reading program is called Imagination's Destination. The free booklet is available in English and Spanish, and includes activities related to books. Readers who read and record 8 books can choose one from a list to receive for free.
Scholastic's Summer Challenge asks kids to log their reading minutes to earn rewards. The challenge is to beat last year's 64,213,141 reading minutes and set a new world record! The 20 schools with the most minutes will be featured in Scholastic's Book of World Records.
Book Adventure from Sylvan helps kids find books, offers quizzes on what they've read (yippee) and enables kids to earn prizes for their reading success. The online site is graphically pleasing, and includes sections for kids, teachers, and parents.
Feed Your Brain is Half Price Books' summer program. Kids ages 14 and under can earn Back-to-School Bucks by completing 300 minutes.
H.E. Buddy's Summer Reading Club asks kids to write down 10 books they've read. It's unclear what kids get for reading, but I think it's a t-shirt.
Chances are your local library system is offering a summer reading program as well. I encourage you to see what your local branch is up to. Ours typically includes a summer reading log, but also visits from local authors and entertainers.
Not everyone loves an incentive program (kids AND adults). For example, read Alfie Kohn's A Closer Look at Reading Incentive Programs. Kohn, an outspoken critic of grades, test scores, and reward systems, believes that incentive programs "smother people's enthusiasm for activities they might otherwise enjoy." Kohn directly addresses BookIt (as well as Accelerated Reader) in his article.
Will you be using an incentive program with your reader? If so, what seems to work and why?
Today is the last day of school! It's a welcome relief from all the test stress we've been experiencing. But staring in the face of long days and weeks of a hot summer have me thinking about ways to keep my two daughters engaged with books this summer. One way I hope to keep them reading is by finding lots of new titles for them to read. Here are four resources for kids' books that I'm looking at. Please add yours too. Together, we can keep our kids reading all summer long!
Parents' Choice 2012 Book Awards. I consider this a trustworthy site, although at first glance some of the books recommended for my older daughter take on some pretty serious topics (suicide, depression, drownings), so I'll need to look at those more closely before recommending them.
The schools library network from the Houston Area Independent Schools offers extensive lists by grade level. What I like about many of their recommendations is that they are a part of a series. There's nothing better than stumbling onto a new author or series — one book can lead to many more!
Librarians Recommend Books for Boys includes links to many lists and recommendations. I'll be looking at these lists even though I have girls; there are some great titles and adventure stories here! Not just for boys.
Great Early Elementary Reads book list from the Association for Library Service to children. This list includes several titles readers just learning to read and those beginning to read on their own.
And, for teachers, here's a list from Edutopia that includes good education-related titles and other good old-fashioned page turners!
Here's a great idea: Work on your writing craft over the summer for free, and online, with a group of other teachers and librarians. Then, apply what you learn with your students next year! That's the idea behind Teachers Write, an online virtual summer writing camp for teachers and librarians. Camp runs from June 4th to August 10th.
Visit Kate Messner's blog to learn more about her, and the Teachers Write page to view the schedule (don't worry, even Kate recognizes that schedule is an ugly summer word — think of it as schedule-ish) and to get a sense of what she's hoping to have happen this summer. The "camp" looks both laid back and welcoming, and like the sort of thing you can squeeze in between day outings and trips to the pool. Judging from the number of folks who have already signed up, this should be a great collaborative and free way to sharpen your writing skills this summer!
If there's someone who knows about teaching writing, it's Steve Graham. He's a nationally recognized professor, teacher, and researcher in the field of writing. The bulk of his work is with students with learning disabilities. His writing is always clear, informative, and helpful.
Graham and his colleagues at Vanderbilt launched Project Write, a website "designed to improve the writing and self-regulation behaviors of students in early elementary grades (1-3)." The site includes an overview of the stages of instruction from Develop Background Knowledge through Independent Performance. There are lesson plans that use two strategies to teach persuasive writing: POW and TREE. Last, there is a resource page which offers online and print resources.
If you teach writing, I think you'll find Project Write a helpful tool!
Our younger daughter has always been super easygoing. She makes friends easily and is quick to laugh. Lately though, we've seen her positive attitude slip away. She's become one of those kids who literally counts the days until the last day of school. She's complaining about headaches and classmates, and she'd really rather stay home. The stress of end-of-the year projects and looming state tests is really getting to her.
Here are some ways we're trying to help her manage her stress and keep it together for these last few weeks of school. Maybe an idea in here can help your family too!
1. We're doing everything the school recommends: making sure she goes to bed on time and that she eats a good breakfast. That's the easy part! It's helping her clear and calm her head that is more difficult.
2. We're talking about time management. My daughter has many, many mastery sheets she has to finish before June 1. We're helping her figure out how many sheets a day she needs to get done. This is helping her plan out her work and subsequently realize she has more time than she thinks she does. PBS Kids has a good resource about time management called You Vs. The Clock. As part of it, kids think through Have-To's, Want-To's, and Goals.
3. We're trying to help her keep it all in perspective. We've been reminding her that she's a good student and that this test is only one measure of her progress. We're downplaying the whole "it's on everything you've learned so far in elementary school" sentiment that can be heard. Helping Kids Manage Worry has several good recommendations for helping kids conquer some of their concerns.
4. We're going outside. An hour or so of outside time after dinner does wonders to clear her head and help her relax.
This will all be over soon (17 more days, as E told me this morning) but some of these lessons we'll take with us into next year. Here are a few other resources on this topic that may be helpful: