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.
Do you ever hear this complaint? Kids know which teacher gives the most homework AND which teacher gives almost no homework at all. I think there are two issues here: how much homework is good? And should teachers at the same grade level give the same amount of homework?
How much homework is good? If you've seen the documentary Race to Nowhere, you may be thinking that no homework is good homework. The research on homework, including a summary from a meta-analysis by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics suggests that recommendations vary by grade and subject matter. For example, homework that involves studying for discrete tests such as those at the end of a unit seems to be beneficial for younger students (although the studies didn't examine long-term retention of that information). Outside of preparing for a specific test, homework appears to be only mildly helpful for younger students. For high-school students, there appears to be a threshold of benefits to homework, suggesting a 90 to 120 minutes maximum.
To the second question, should teachers within a grade level at a school give the same (or similar) amount of homework? I can't find any research that answers that question, but anecdotally I think the answer is a resounding YES. I think it presents a united effort to meet curricular goals. I think it also helps parents feel as though their child is getting the same level of preparation, regardless of teacher.
I'm curious! Do the teachers at your school (within a grade level) collaborate on homework? Or is there disparity among classrooms?
Teacher Appreciation Week is typically the first week of May. But January can be long, cold, and drab with mid-year assessments and paperwork taking up too much time. This seems like a good opportunity to remind all teachers just how important and wonderful you are! Every day you stand before very special people, and every day you have the power to ignite a spark that will last a lifetime.
Need some inspiration to get through January? Read How Mrs. Grady Transformed Olly Neal from last Sunday's New York Times. Olly was a poor, tough kid who gave Mrs. Grady (and other teachers) lots of grief. From the story, as reported by Nicholas Kristof:
One day in 1957, in the fall of his senior year, Neal cut Blakely's class and wandered in the library, set up by Grady, the English teacher whom he had tormented. Neal wasn't a reader, but he spotted a book with a risqué cover of a sexy woman.
Called "The Treasure of Pleasant Valley," it was by Frank Yerby, a black author, and it looked appealing. Neal says he thought of checking it out, but he didn't want word to get out to any of his classmates that he was reading a novel. That would have been humiliating.
"So I stole it."
What happened to Neal? What secret did Mrs. Grady hold for years? You'll have to read the story to find out. Or listen to Neal tell his story on StoryCorps.
Teachers often have a specific theme or content they want to cover, but have a wide range of reading levels in their classroom. One way to handle that situation is to have many books on that one theme, but the books are written at different reading levels. These are often called text sets. I wrote here about a text set on persistence. ReadWriteThink has some good guidelines for creating text sets.
Lit for Kids calls text sets Book Flights, and they've gathered book flights for various topics, including Ancient Egypt, Cinderella, the beach, teachers, and more. Book Flights include read aloud suggestions, and books that range from toddler/early reader levels to tweens to young adult. Lit for Kids has also created also book pairings, where one they recommend one adult book and one kid book about the same topic, or by the same author.
Booklist Online offers something similar, although with less of a range of reading levels. They call them read-alikes, and offer one theme with a range of books on that theme. The Green Thumbs one might be fun for spring, or in this election year maybe your students would enjoy Pint-Size Presidents. (You'll have to search the site to find the actual lists.)
Do you use any other resources for developing your text sets? If so, please let me know!
I feel like I barely go through a week without reading about a school or district adopting e-readers for classrooms. Even at home, e-readers are becoming commonplace. Families are spending more time reading books with e-readers, even with their very young children.
Researchers at the Erickson Institute at Temple University seeking to understand the effect of an e-reader on the amount and types of verbal interaction between child and parent found some startling patterns. From the press release:
"It turned out that reading electronic books became a behaviorally oriented, slightly coercive parent-child interaction as opposed to talking about the story, relating it to the their child's life, or even talking about the book's pictures or text," Parish-Morris said. "Parents were under the impression that when you are sitting down with a book, you are supposed to read it," she added. "But what was happening with the e-books is that reading was not even part of the process, probably because these books literally read the story to the child. So parents are not needed. The book makes commands and tells the child what to do; it encourages them to play games and reads to the child, so parents are essentially replaced by this battery-operated machine."
This is bad news for those of us who know how valuable and irreplaceable parent–child conversations are for young children. As educators, we must recognize the role of e-readers in today's world, but also continue to advocate for traditional book reading experiences filled with language experiences as well.
Some recommendations for those with e-readers:
- Don't let the e-reader drive the whole reading experience. Take the time to stop the reading of the book, to talk about what's happening and to enjoy the pictures.
- Continue traditional book reading, and read together every day! Talk about the content and use interesting words as part of the conversation.
- Regardless of the format, help your child make connections between the book and their own life. Engage in rich conversations and circle back around over and over again to books you both love.
There's a workable balance between traditional and e-books out there. Let's help our families find it!
We started a new tradition in our family last year. We'll do it again this year, and I hope you'll consider adding this tradition to your family holiday too! It's a simple one: put a book on every bed.
Last year, the Family Reading Partnership and Ask Amy from the Chicago Tribune launched a homegrown, grassroots literacy campaign with a goal to raise a generation of readers. The idea was inspired by the author David McCullough, who says he woke to a wrapped book at the foot of his bed every Christmas morning during his childhood.
Here's how it works:
Take a book.
Place it on a child's bed so it's the first thing the child sees on Christmas morning (or the morning of the holiday you celebrate).
"A Book on Every Bed" is an appeal to spread the love of reading from parents to children. It also encourages families to share books by reading aloud.
I particularly like that, within this idea, the books don't have to be new. They can be books parents are handing down to their kids. Last year, I gave our younger daughter my much loved copy of The Giving Tree, and my husband handed down to our older daughter his well-worn copy of Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. Our girls had already read those books, but now they are the proud owners of their own worn and loved copies. I hope one morning they'll be wrapping up those books for their own growing readers.
Last year's choices were highly sentimental for me. This year, not so much. Our choices were based on books they couldn't seem to get enough of at our school book fair. My older daughter will have Are You "Normal"?: More Than 100 Questions That Will Test Your Weirdness (National Geographic Kids) waiting for her, and our younger daughter will waken to The Encyclopedia of Immaturity: Volume 2.
Who knows? Maybe a book on every bed will keep them in bed Christmas morning! (Doubtful). Happy holidays to you and your family. I'll see you again in 2012!
There seems to be an explosion of infographics these days! If you're not familiar with that term, an infographic is a visual representation of information or data. A lot of information can be displayed visually, both quickly and clearly (at least most times). As someone who has always been drawn to the visual display of information, I love a well done infographic. And I think they have potential value for the elementary classroom too, although most are designed for older students.
For an infographic to be fully appreciated, teachers will have to help students "read" the graphic. Just as they do when they read a nonfiction text, students will first need to pull back and determine what information is presented. Then they'll need to figure out how to navigate the graphic. Some use very simple lines to help the reader understand the flow; others use block structures or flow chart designs.
I created a Reading Rockets Pinterest board full of examples for young kids. Take a look! Which one is your favorite?
If you're interested in reading and learning more about teaching with infographics, this article from the NY Times is a great place to start!
The Common Core Standards are national standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics. They've been adopted by over 45 states and six provinces, including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. According to the Common Core website the standards "provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers."
The Common Core Standards place a new emphasis on informational text. There's specific wording about the craft and structure of texts, the integration of knowledge and ideas across multiple texts, and a range of reading and levels of text difficulty. Reading Hall of Famer Tim Shanahan (see Shanahan on Literacy) posted recently about an IRA Webinar in which he outlines what he sees as some of the challenges the CCS present for teachers. Among the challenges (and there are many, but that's too long a post): (1) students will likely be taught from texts that are more challenging than in the past, and (2) the emphasis will be on stretching students to meet the demands of the text rather than matching the text to the reading level of the student.
That's quite a paradigm shift for teachers who work in a district where the edict has been on matching a reader with a specific leveled book. Sure, there are scaffolding strategies teachers can use with students, but if the foundational skills and the "cognitive hooks" needed for understanding aren't there, I worry that a lot of instructional time will be wasted using text that is too challenging. What are your thoughts?
If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that one blog in my RSS feed is written by Lisa Belkin. Belkin's blog, Parentlode, can be found in the Huffington Post. Many of Belkin's posts speak to me on a personal level, and some circle into my professional life as well.
If you have boys, or have boys in your classroom, I recommend reading this post. In it you'll learn about an acronym READ (ritual, environment, access, and dialogue), ways to make reading part of the active lifestyle boys tend to lead, and a slideshow of humorous books boys might like. Enjoy!
We all love picture books, and hopefully a really good one finds its way into your hands at least once a day. What might happen less frequently is that you use a picture book to help you teach science. I've got a great resource (with a free PDF!) that will hopefully encourage you to use more picture books in science.
Picture Perfect Science Lessons describes how a picture book can help guide students through an engaging hands-on inquiry lesson. The lessons are designed for students in grades 3-6, and include reading comprehension strategies. It's a great supplement to your existing science program.
Chapter 1 reminds us why picture books are so great in science class. Reasons include:
- Picture books provide context for the concepts you're exploring. The colorful pictures and graphics help explain abstract ideas.
- A picture book will tend to focus on fewer topics and give more in-depth coverage of a concept.
- Reading a picture book in science gives kids a chance to practice reading a somewhat unfamiliar genre.
- Picture books can help correct science misconceptions.
Chapter 2, on Reading Aloud, provides ten tips for reading aloud, information about reading comprehension strategies, and tools to enhance comprehension.
The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has a free PDF of the first five chapters of the book. To access it, you'll need to establish an account at NSTA and add the PDF to your virtual professional library. It takes an extra few clicks, but I think the free download is worth it.
Looking for ideas for outstanding science trade books for students K-12? Click here to see lists of books by year
Classroom teachers are really busy people. It's often hard enough to keep up with the day to day demands of the classroom, without having to worry about keeping up with the latest research and scientific findings. Any more, it seems as though every product and curriculum out there touts their "research based" foundation. With all the hype about "research based," "scientifically based" and "results driven," is it really worth paying attention to it at all? The answer is yes.
An article from the September 2011 issue of the Reading Teacher, 10 Things Every Literacy Educator Should Know About Research (the full PDF is available for free!) distills what educators, including coaches, principals, and specialists should know about research. The authors, Nell Duke and Nicole Martin, also hope to guard against the misuse of research in the classroom.
The very first point in the paper (What Research Can Do) describes how sometimes our own experiences and commonsense thinking lead us to wrong conclusions in our teaching. Carefully designed research can help us recognize different approaches that may result in greater learning than the ones we comfortably use. Researchers also have benefits and access that teachers typically don't enjoy — for example, researchers can complete extended studies in homes or libraries, and can distill from those experiences information that couldn't otherwise be gained.
10 Things Every Literacy Educator Should Know About Research also contains a handy note-taking sheet to use when reading a piece of research. Using the guide can help one understand what is and isn't research. With so much out there to read, it's good to recognize when something may be more of an opinion piece or a summary of lots of different research. Those types of writing are still valuable; they're just different than research writing.
So, food for thought. Enjoy the free PDF and let me know what you think of the article!