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.
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!
Chance favors the connected mind. So says Steven Johnson, best-selling author of books on the intersection of science, technology and personal experience. Johnson has spent lots of time answering questions such as: what types of spaces lead to creativity and innovation? He describes how many great ideas don't come from a big eureka! Most come from ideas that have percolated or marinated within for quite some time. Johnson believes that good ideas come from the collision of smaller ideas, and only after those smaller ideas have time to incubate. Embedded within his theory about where good ideas come from is the notion that these smaller ideas may exist within other people, and it's only when the smaller ideas have the chance to come together, can they become something bigger than the sum of their parts. Ideas need a space where ideas can mingle, and swap and create new forms.
What does this mean for the classroom? It's a bit of a tough one because in most schools teachers only get to have our students for one year; this doesn't allow much time for incubation and percolation. But I think there are things teachers can do within one year to foster creativity and innovation, even with our youngest learners.
- Allow time to circle back to projects. Looking at something after a few days off does wonders for one's perspective on it.
- Provide a physical meeting place and the time for kids to sit and talk about ideas. Writer's conferences are the closest thing most classrooms have to this, but I think it's a model for other subjects as well.
- Respect that ideas come in all shapes and sizes. What might seem wrong, or too crazy, or too complicated when first heard (or thought) just may turn out to be a piece of something larger. And better.
If you have four minutes, I encourage you to watch and listen as Steven Johnson talks and draws his way through Where Good Ideas Come From. And if you're so inclined, check out Johnson's book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation.
Many elementary teachers use word walls in the classroom. A word wall is an organized collection of words displayed in a classroom. Word walls provide easy access to words students need. The specific organization of the word wall will match the teacher's purpose: sight words organized by alphabet letter, unit-specific words, new vocabulary words, etc. The most helpful word walls grow and change throughout the year and are used as a learning reference.
We just added word walls to our strategy library, and I wanted to share some ideas for using word walls in math, and also a few suggestions for using children's books to help build word walls (thanks, Maria Salvadore!).
Number sense, concepts, and operations word wall
The purpose of the mathematics word wall is to identify words and phrases that students need to understand and use so as to make good progress in mathematics. Mathematical language is crucial to children's development of thinking. When students have the vocabulary to talk about math concepts and skills, they can make greater progress in their understanding.
This PDF from Broward County Schools shows several visual examples of math words for a word wall. The examples range from even and odd to measurement, algebraic thinking, and data analysis.
More ideas for word walls in math
Many teachers are familiar with basic word wall strategies including the use of a flashlight (to put the light on words) and a fly swatter (to highlight words). Teachers are also familiar with tested favorites like bingo; I Have, Who Has; and Mind Reader, but they really wanted other ideas. This document, by Dr. Deborah Wahlstrom, shares additional ways to use word walls with mathematics content.
Ideas for using children's books to build math word walls from Maria Salvadore
Terms and comparisons to describe numbers are presented in an engaging story from which word wall content could be developed and expanded.
Mummy Math: An Adventure in Geometry by Cindy Neuschwander, illustrated by Bryan Langdo (Ages 6-9)
Basic geometry is introduced in this story about children who accompany their parents on a trip to Egypt. A word wall of geometric shapes and terms would enhance a math study.
One Is a Snail, Ten Is a Crab Big Book: A Counting by Feet Book by April Pulley Sayre & Jeff Sayre, illustrated by Randy Cecil (Ages 3-6, 6-9)
This seeming simple counting book represents a spectrum of math concepts including patterns, addition, computation, and more. Word walls may be made of math functions illuminated or inspired by this book.
I recently stumbled on a site that promises to consume far too much of my time! But I love the possibilities of Pinterest, a virtual pinboard. Pinterest lets you organize and share all the great things you find on the Web in a very visual way. It's free to join, but there's an invitation process you'll see on the site.
People use pinboards to plan their weddings, decorate their homes, share their favorite recipes, and I'm using it this week to share some ideas about reading comprehension. I created this Reading Rockets Pinterest board on comprehension as a way to share some (mostly teacher made) posters for the classroom. The comprehension board also includes a bookmark and a poster that are more of a produced product, but I liked the content.
Good classrooms have good stuff on the walls. When I wrote What does a good classroom look like? back in 2008, I described what I like to see when I go into a classroom. Without question, I like to see student work and posters that reflect the hard work going on in the room. Many of the comprehension pins I've put on our first Reading Rockets Pinterest board reflect my penchant for interactive displays of the work of reading. Most are teacher-made, with students contributing to the content. Hopefully you'll get an idea or two from this board, with more to come! Just click the image to see the full posting that includes the content I like.
I'll be making other Pinterest boards for Reading Rockets in the future. I'll probably organize them by content (front runner topics include fluency, classroom libraries, and management ideas). If you have something you'd like to share with our readers, let me know and I'll figure out how to pin it!
Some weeks the same topics seem to come up over and over again. Recently for me, it's been talk of an article from The New York Times asking whether failure is really the secret to success. In his piece from the Sunday magazine, What if the Secret to Success is Failure, Paul Tough describes the evolving work of two men who, despite working in vastly different settings, both believe that specific character traits can profoundly affect a student's ultimate success or failure in life. Interestingly, the character traits aren't necessarily the ones we find in elementary school "character education" programs, but rather traits such as zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity.
If these traits are the ones that enable students (and adults) to lead happy, meaningful, productive lives, to be the people who are "able to recover from a bad grade and resolve to do better next time; to bounce back from a fight with their parents; to resist the urge to go out to the movies and stay home and study instead; to persuade professors to give them extra help after class," how we can we nurture these traits in our homes and schools? And, are these traits ones that our society values and rewards?
Maybe one simple way to nurture traits like grit, self-control, and curiosity is to use children's literature as a springboard for discussion. When book characters and the subjects of biographies act with grace, use self-control, or are curious, we should highlight that! Talk about it; ask children what they might have done in that same situation. Use carefully chosen books as "mentor texts" for character traits.
Here's a small collection that may get the conversation started:
Making a Difference: Meet Charlotte, Soo, Horton, and the other characters in this booklist recommended for kids ages 0-9. Whether they care about someone, have the courage it takes to act, or stand up for what they believe in, the characters in these books all have something in common — they've made a difference.
Standing Tall: What makes someone stand out? Sometimes it's that they stand up for what's right or what they believe in; other times it's because they stand up to help a friend. In this collection of books recommended for kids ages 0-9 you'll read about people who stand out because they stood strong.
Links to books with character building, positive traits: This helpful collection of links from Library Book Lists provides suggestions for books about honesty, self-discipline, fairness, and other traits.
Congratulations to Patricia Raina, from Suisun Valley K-8 School in Fairfield, California! Ms. Raina was one of three teachers from across the nation selected as winners of an NBC Education Nation essay contest.
Her idea? A new reality show: Kindergarten Teacher. Ms. Raina's essay is cleverly written in the form of "rounds" Contestants try to move from round to round, although certain things disqualify a contestant immediately.
A snippet from Ms. Raina's winning essay is below. Her essay in its entirety, plus the news segment covering the announcement, can be found here from KCRA Sacramento.
All contestants will be required to tie shoes, unfasten pants in a hurry while child is doing the "potty dance," put on Band-Aids, give hugs, notice loose teeth, collect homework, listen to parents explaining who is picking their child up, remind one child not to lick the fish tank while holding another one's hand to lead them to the carpet. All of these things must be done with enthusiasm and patience. Contestants who can make it through these first five minutes will go on to Round 2.
And it continues….
This Round tests how well candidates do under pressure. While teaching a lesson in Writing, a group of people carrying clipboards will enter the classroom and stand in the back and whisper. They are looking for "Good Teaching Strategies." Contestants will: engage all students, focus on academic vocabulary, refer to the standard written in kid friendly language, have the students repeat the standard several times during the lesson. The visitors will choose random students to answer questions. The students must be able to state what they are learning, why they are learning it, and how they will use the information in the future. Contestants should realize that the visitors will choose the child who does not speak English. Contestants of students who cannot answer these questions, or who do not get at least 10 check marks for "Good Teaching Strategies" will be eliminated. Congratulations are in order should any contestant to make it to Round 5.
Again, congratulations to Patricia Raina, for her humorous glimpse into the life of a kindergarten teacher!
Read more here.
As the new school year starts, the reality of the classroom really sets in. The kids and their personalities, the mounds of paperwork and homework, and all the careful watching and listening easily adds up to a 50 hour day! I clearly remember how overwhelmed I felt during my first year of teaching.
If you're feeling this way, know that you're not alone! Over on the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) blog, Mary Bigelow provides advice to a new middle-school teacher who is feeling overwhelmed. Her guidance is solid, and is applicable to all teachers who may be feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
There are reminders for your physical and mental health, as well as advice about prioritizing your planning time with a focus on what enhances instruction. That translates to not worrying too much about your bulletin boards, pacing yourself when it comes to committee work and establishing classroom routines that take some of the burden off the teacher.
Other advice for new teachers:
- Don't reinvent the wheel but try to use the resources that are available to you, at least for right now. When things settle down, you can go back and create your own.
- Stay organized! Use clipboards and checklists to help you keep track of things. Work to plan ahead, even if it's only one day at a time right now.
- Ask for help. Seriously. Don't go it alone! Ask for help.
- Last, remember what's important! Be there for your students. Clear your head and make a connection with a child. Read a book to your class that you love. Make a child laugh and listen to the sound. You've got all year together, and it will be far more enjoyable for everyone if your classroom is a welcoming, safe place to be.
Many, many more First Year Teacher resources available here (they're great for ALL teachers too!).
Teachers give homework just about every night of the week. A good homework assignment can provide students with practice with a skill already taught, can prepare students for an upcoming test, and can extend a project or topic under study. A poorly designed homework assignment can bring tears and frustration and a lost opportunity to build a bridge between what's being taught in school and talked about at home. Homework struggles are particularly real for struggling readers and for students with LD.
Citing findings from research, Kathy Ruhl and Charles Hughes provide great information about homework in Effective Practices for Homework (PDF provided by TeachingLD.org). Written for teachers who have students with LD, the document outlines homework practices that are less effective and those that are more effective.
What can teachers do to make their homework assignments as productive as possible? First, give less more often. Borrowing from learning theory research, practicing a skill a little bit over time (called distributed practice) leads to greater maintenance and retention of information. Second, make sure students understand the assignment. Seems intuitive, but lots of times kids get home and don't understand what they're supposed to do. Third, explain the purpose of the homework. Students who understand why the homework is important may be more motivated to complete it. Fourth, allot enough time to present the homework. Avoid rushing through the directions or assuming students will be able to figure it out.
There's much more information in Effective Practices for Homework. I encourage you to take a look!
The concept of learning styles has been around for a long time. Intuitively, the notion of learning styles makes sense, especially for those who work with struggling readers. Some kids seem to respond better to visual information, others to auditory, and still others to tactile information. Following this train of thought, teachers should present information in a style that is matched to a learner's learning style.
This week, NPR's Morning Edition, ran Think You're An Auditory or Visual Learner? Scientists Say It's Unlikely, in which we are reminded that there really is no scientific evidence that supports the existence of different learning styles, or the hypothesis that people learn better when taught in a way that matches their own unique style. A review of the research, done by researchers who study the psychology of learning, led the authors to conclude "the currently widespread use of learning-style tests and teaching tools is a wasteful use of limited educational resources."
Dan Willingham, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Virginia who has also written about learning styles, suggests in the NPR story that rather than think about differences in how we learn, it may be useful to consider the similarities.
His example is about variety. "Mixing things up is something we know is scientifically supported as something that boosts attention," he says, adding that studies show that when students pay closer attention, they learn better. I think this advice is particularly pertinent for those of us who work directly with struggling readers. What can we do to boost attention? How can we mix up what we do?
I've written about learning styles before in Unlearning Learning Styles, but because we're at the beginning of another school year, it seemed pertinent again.
First day jitters? First week jitters? Assessing kids those first few days and weeks of school probably isn't a great idea. Kids need a chance to settle in to school, to learn the new routine, and generally become more comfortable in the new classroom. Hopefully, by waiting, a child's assessment results more accurately reflect her true skills.
Here in Virginia, kindergarten teachers aren't supposed to use their state-mandated assessment until the kids have been in school for six weeks. Teachers in grades 1-3 begin to assess after two weeks of school. So, what's a teacher to do during those first few days? Some thoughtful planning, watching, and listening can yield some terrific information about student skills.
I love the conversations centered around a child's writing in this clip Spelling as a Diagnostic Tool. It's so important to be able to look at a child's writing and know how to learn from it. Our Looking at Writing module provides just that opportunity using writing samples from kids PreK-3. See if you can gather a writing sample from each student and make some notes on each one regarding strengths and areas of need.
A reading interest inventory is one way to find out how kids feel about reading and books. This Professor Garfield survey (see pages 7-12) is widely used and uses cute pictures to gather the information. There are lots of others out there too, like this one and this one from Scholastic.
Sitting with a child and listening as he reads provides an opportunity to use a fluency rubric to assess reading behaviors such as expression and volume, phrasing, smoothness, and pace. Scores could be given in each of the areas, or the rubric could just be used as a framework for thinking about a child's fluency.
Last, I think it's just useful to sit, watch, and talk to your students, particularly during silent reading time. What sorts of books does a student choose? How much reading stamina does a child have? Are they focused and "getting lost" in books, or distracted and fidgety? Do your students prefer to read in a quiet corner, or together with a friend?
Each little bit of information we can gather can help us provide the best environment and instruction for our students. Happy back to school!