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.
All of us who have worked with young children have worked with kids who struggle. Many of us have worked directly with kids with learning disabilities (LD). PBS NewsHour is putting together a terrific series about kids with LD as part of the American Graduate project. I encourage you to read, watch and share! Among the resources:
Despite a wealth of information about causes, prevalence, and effective interventions for kids with LD, many misconceptions continue to linger. Five misconceptions about learning disabilities addresses issues such as what is LD? What isn't? Whether learning disabilities are easily diagnosed, the relationship between IQ and LD, prevalence numbers, and whether LD lasts a lifetime.
Engaging students with learning issues early on highlights an elementary school with a technology and arts focus to their early intervention. Dr. Tom Hehir from the Harvard Graduate School of Education provides context for the challenges of keeping kids in school and engaged in the educational process.
Read advice for parents of children with learning disabilities from Daniel Paris, a graduate student at Harvard who first dropped out of high school and was later diagnosed with LD and ADHD. His advice (be patient, resilient, understanding, and never lower your expectations for your child) is good for all parents!
Looks like a good series on an important topic.
I recently read a post about providing opportunities to connect families with their child's education that I really liked. Peggy Ashbrook's post Involving families in early childhood science education from the NSTA Blog provides several ideas and resources for getting parents together with a focus on science. I've listed a few of my favorites here, plus a few others.
Family Science offers a few free sample activities that can be done at home, including Wet Surfaces and Charge It, a racing activity that explores the push and pull properties of static electricity.
Peep and the Big Wide World from WGBH is a fun online way to teach science to preschoolers. You can watch a video, play games, and do a related activity all based in age-appropriate science concepts. The videos are narrated by Joan Cusack.
Bring Science Home from Scientific American features a series of science-related activities. These activities, designed for six-to 12-year olds, include instructions, material lists, and necessary background information.
TLC's How Stuff Works offers up a fairly lengthy list of science projects for kids including sugar crystals on a string and soda pop in a balloon. It looks like there are some fun activities here!
A love of science can begin at an early age. Hopefully some of these resources can get you and your child thinking and talking about science!
Magazines are great reading options. There's new content in every one, and if you have a subscription, it's great fun to get the new issue in the mail! Articles are short enough that they can be read in one setting, and there's usually a variety of writing in each one. The best magazines for kids I've seen often include recipes, jokes, craft ideas, and some stories.
I've written about magazines for kids before, but am revisiting the topic now that my older daughter is 11 (gulp!). I want to give her a subscription to something age appropriate yet stay away from topics like dating, kissing, and more!
Thankfully, Parents' Choice just released their review of children's magazines. The Parents' Choice 2012 Magazine Awards is a really helpful guide to magazine options for kids. Magazines receive a rating ranging from Gold to Silver to Recommended to Approved. Each magazine is reviewed with a full description and a link to the publisher for more information.
Based on what I've read, I'm considering ordering Kiki for our 11 year old, and Cricket for our 9 year old. I'd like to see a sample of each one before I place an order for a full subscription, so I'm hoping our public library has back issues of both.
How about you? Do you subscribe to any magazines for your child? If so, which ones?
Pre-reading activities, the things teachers plan and do before reading a text, happen almost every day in elementary school. Pre-reading activities seek to improve a child's comprehension of a text by activating prior knowledge, and by providing time to pre-teach concepts or vocabulary students will encounter in a text. Pre-reading activities can be informal and quick, or they can be more formal, and incorporate strategies such as the Anticipation Guide or First Lines.
According to Shanahan on Literacy, two contributors to the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards "have been telling teachers not to engage in pre-reading activities and as a result some districts and states have already started banning the practice." (Shanahan suggests those authors are now softening that message.)
What's wrong with pre-reading activities? According to Shanahan, problems include:
Hmmmm…there's probably some truth to each of those reasons, in some lessons and in some cases. But in general I share Shanahan's belief that what we need to do is to "sharpen and focus pre-reading to the benefit of students."
So, what does good pre-reading look like?
It's short, and it's focused on the text. It highlights story elements that are important to a reader's understanding (for example, an unusual setting or time period). Attention to Tier 2, or useful words, is reflected. And it sets kids up for the "a-ha" moment — the one where they're reading along and they say, "Hey! We just talked about that!"
I'm sure there will be more to come on this, but I'd love for your to add to my short list. What does good pre-reading look like?
UPDATE 3/26/12: If you're interested in reading Tim Shanahan's guidelines for prereading, here's Part 2 of his posts on prereading.
If you've been following the news, you may have read about proposed state legislation (in Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico and Tennessee) that would make students repeat third grade if they can't pass the state reading exams.
Our Rocket Blast carried the story Bills Prod Schools to Hold Back Third-Graders from the Wall Street Journal. Several reports, including Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, summarize recent research on reading proficiency and subsequent high-school dropout this way:
- One in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.
- The rates are highest for the low, below-basic readers: 23 percent of these children drop out or fail to finish high school on time, compared to 9 percent of children with basic reading skills and 4 percent of proficient readers.
- Overall, 22 percent of children who have lived in poverty do not graduate from high school, compared to 6 percent of those who have never been poor.
- The rate was highest for poor Black and Hispanic students, at 31 and 33 percent respectively — or about eight times the rate for all proficient readers.
Third Grade Again: The Trouble With Holding Students Back from The Atlantic includes this assessment from educational psychologist David Berliner:
"It seems like legislators are absolutely ignorant of the research, and the research is amazingly consistent that holding kids back is detrimental," Berliner said. "Everybody supports the idea that if a student isn't reading well in third grade that it's a signal that the child needs help. If you hold them back, you're going to spend roughly another $10,000 per child for an extra year of schooling. If you spread out that $10,000 over the fourth and fifth grades for extra tutoring, in the long run you're going to get a better outcome."
What's your opinion? Do you think a retention policy based on third-grade reading results is a good idea? Has your child been retained? Have you ever retained a child? I'd love to hear your opinion.
What does your school library look like? For many schools, it looks just like it did when the school was built, maybe 20, 30 or even 40 years ago. Heavy wooden tables and chairs, a "reading rug" for the read aloud portion of library time, and a big circulation desk for check out. Sound familiar?
So that's what the library probably looks like. But is that what it SHOULD look like? Today's learners are far different than they were 20, 30 or 40 years ago. Print encyclopedias? Reference books? They're probably sitting on a dusty shelf somewhere as the kids scramble for the computers for their research work.
I have the opportunity to work with a small group working to redesign a school library built during the 70's. As with many budgets, there isn't enough money to do what we'd really like, but there's enough that we hope to make some changes that will update the library and help make it more of a resource for today's learners.
To get us started, we thought about flexible learning spaces because that seems most in line with what the teachers need from the space. Then we each looked for pictures of libraries we liked. I used Pinterest to gather mine. I found some great examples of color and lighting, wall art, and some furniture that is much different than what we have now!
I'll keep you posted on the project, and try to take some before and after pictures!
UPDATE: To see pictures of some beautiful youth library spaces, take a look at the 2012 Library Design Showcase from American Libraries.
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!