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.
Teachers, parents, and researchers often wonder similar things about the alphabet. Specifically, what's the right order to teach letters? How can I best assess what a very young child knows about the alphabet? Should I start by teaching my preschool-aged child the first letter of her name, and then go from there?
A recent study in the August 2012 Journal of School Psychology, IRTs of the ABCs: Children's letter name acquisition, both reinforces what we already know about letter name learning and sheds new light too. I encourage you to read the full study if you can, although for the uninitiated, item response theory (IRT) can be a bit daunting!
In everyday language, here's what the authors learned:
Of particular interest to researchers and those who assess letter naming knowledge:
So, in what order should letters be taught? Sadly, there's still no definitive sequence. It may be reasonable to being with a "personally relevant" letter (first letter of the name). Maybe it's reasonable to skip the easy to learn letters and sprinkle them in among the harder to learn letters. Maybe it's reasonable to teach them in order of prominence within written language, a common technique used by teachers. This one study wasn't able to take on all those research questions, but they're good ones!
As teachers, we know that a disruptive child can change a classroom environment. When a child is acting out, the teacher has to spend time redirecting that child, and then refocus the lesson for all students. Over the course of a day, interruptions from a disruptive child (i.e., a child with low self-regulation skills) really wear on a teacher and students. But does it have lasting effects on that child's learning? How about the learning of other students in the class?
New research on children's literacy growth in relation to classmates' self-regulation published in the Journal of Educational Psychology suggests that a child's self-regulation skill is related to his growth in literacy. While important, that's probably not surprising: A child who is able to use cues to regulate his emotions and behaviors is likely to be able to focus on reading and writing. One who isn't good at regulating his behavior may have trouble settling in to learning.
However, what's more interesting from this research is that the class average self-regulation score predicts how much an individual child will learn. So, the greater the number of kids with low self-regulation skills, the lower the class average, the less literacy learning for all kids in that class. Again, not super surprising results, but it is striking to see the results quantified in terms of Woodcock-Johnson subtests of comprehension and vocabulary.
I learned about the study through Daniel Willingham's Science and Education blog, a blog I highly recommend reading. Dr. Willingham states that this may be less of an issue in the younger grades, because younger grade teachers have "ready tools to deal with disruptive behavior," more so than middle or high school teachers. Ready tools? That wasn't the case for me!
In my teacher preparation program, I had one 3-hour course in behavior management sometime during my junior year. We covered everything from bulletin boards to assertive discipline to writing notes home to parents. The bulk of my behavior management "training" came from those early (painful) years of teaching as I struggled with boisterous kids and a sometimes too-loud classroom.
What's your experience? Do you feel disruptive kids disrupt everyone's learning?
I'm very excited about a new project I've been working on. It's a series of webinars focused on Parent Engagement, produced by Reading Rockets in partnership with the Campaign for Grade Level Reading. You can read more about the series here. You can also see the PPT slides our presenters used for the first webinar, and links to many related resources. We'll update that page each time we have a new webinar.
Our first webinar featured three speakers. One was Sandra Gutierrez from Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors. Ms. Gutierrez, the National Program Director, oversees this parenting, leadership and advocacy training program for low-income, primarily Spanish-speaking parents of children from birth to age 5.
Ms. Gutierrez shared a Literacy Pledge Card that is part of their parent engagement program. Parents sign the card, and pledge to do simple things that can make a big difference: read, talk, and sing with their child, encourage their child to ask questions, take their child to the library, and more. The Literacy Pledge Card is available in English and in Spanish.
As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression! I thought it might be fun to show some pictures of back-to-school classroom doors. Please check out our Pinterest board to see some great ones. If you have a picture of your own door to share, please let us know by commenting below. Enjoy!
Happy back to school time for all you teachers, Moms and Dads! If you're reading my blog for the first time, welcome! I blog weekly-ish about all sorts of things related to reading, writing, parenting, teaching, volunteering, and more. This is a "no teacher bashing, no parent bashing" zone created with the recognition that we all find our own path in a way that works for us. Along the way I'll share with you information from current and classic research on teaching, parenting, schools, and more.
Today I'll share a question from a friend as she prepares to send her third grader off to school.
Should I tell Mrs. G that we are having our daughter tested for ADHD — or just hold off on that until after she comments on things? I want to give her a heads up, but I don't want her to automatically peg L. as being "bad"….
I always prefer to be proactive rather than reactive, so my advice is to set up a time for a brief conference. You don't need to get into the specifics about suspecting ADHD, but rather use the time to talk about classroom settings that seem to work well, what work habits other teachers have noticed, etc. That way you're setting the stage for good communication. Chances are her 2nd grade teacher passed on some information too, or if she didn't, maybe you could suggest that the two teachers talk. Specific information about instructional strategies and classwork/homework structures that worked would save the 3rd grade teacher lots of time.
For more information about ADHD and starting the year off right with your learner, see:
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.