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.
Those of us familiar with the 2000 National Reading Panel report remember that the report did not support teachers' use of silent reading in the classroom. The research evidence that it had any effect on reading achievement just wasn't there. Some school districts and teachers greatly reduced or stopped providing time during the instructional day for silent reading. Other teachers continued to provide daily DEAR or SSR time, citing the benefits of such a practice.
A new book from the International Reading Association, edited by Elfrieda Hiebert and Ray Reutzel, Revisiting Silent Reading, encourages us to rethink silent reading, to consider some advice about it, and to think about how to make it work in your classroom. Chapter 8 provides teachers with good information about four factors related to silent reading. A summary of the information is here:
Student self-selection of reading materials: Teachers should guide students to choose good texts to read during silent reading time. The books should be of interest, should draw from a variety of genre and topics, and should be at an appropriate level — not too easy, not too hard.
Student engagement and time on task during silent reading time: Teachers should keep a pulse on students during DEAR time. Emphasize that DEAR time is reading practice time. It's not indoor recess, but rather it has an important purpose: to provide time to practice reading skills. Read the full chapter for a good description of gossips, wanderers, and squirrels. See if you have any of those in your classroom!
Accountability: Related to the above, accountability is an important piece to silent reading. Several methods of accountability have been suggested, including logs, reader response, and anecdotal records. This seems like a highly personal decision, and it would have to be something easy and quick.
Interactions among teachers and students: It's important to foster teacher-student and student-student conversations about books. Rather than using your DEAR time to read yourself, engage your students in conversations about what they're reading.
There's much more in Chapter 8, and the entire book Revisiting Silent Reading. I encourage you to take a look!
Many teachers and parents ask children to retell a story as a quick, informal way to assess a child's comprehension. Retelling can work well, but it's not without its pitfalls. For starters, it can be difficult to keep a group's attention while one student is doing a retelling. For another, a student may leave out an entire part of the story (that he understood) merely because he accidentally left it out. If the adult is familiar with the story, it's easy to step in and ask a question about the missing part. If you're not familiar with the book, it's tough to know whether something important was left out.
Over on All About Comprehension, Sharon Taberski provides two alternatives to a traditional oral retelling that could be used with all students, but would be particularly useful for young or ELL students. The strategies include Somebody-Wanted-But-So, and the Five-Finger Retelling. Briefly, from Sharon's post, the ideas:
Somebody: Who is the story about?
Wanted: What did this character want?
But: But what happened?
So: How did it end? What happened next?
And the Five-Finger Retell, where each finger represents one aspect of story grammar.
Thumb: The characters are...
1st finger: The setting is...
Tall finger: The problem is...
Ring finger: The events are... (What happened first? Next? Then?)
Little finger: At the end...
Sharon suggests these could be done as written responses, but I think they would work well as oral responses too.
This might be the most gorgeous description of a reader, just on the cusp of reading on her own:
At her age, "reading to yourself" means "reading out loud." Silent reading is perhaps a year away. I get caught up in listening. Can't help it! Such a delight, those confident trotting sentences and then the stumble, the try and re-try and a tap on my arm, "Mommy, what's this word?"
So writes Melissa Wiley on her blog Here in the Bonny Glen. Lissa describes being distracted from her writing by this joyful noise. "My book will get written. This story unfolds only once. I'm on the edge of my seat."
Ahhhh … beginning to read. What a special time that is. Excited parents and teachers doing what they can (but not too much) to grow a reader. So many things happen behind the scenes that nurture a reader — good conversations, reading together, sharing an excitement over books, a child watching, listening and participating in the literacy culture within the home and the classroom. And then it all comes together.
The right books for beginning readers are important. Some titles that worked well for us are here, and titles awarded the Geisel Award, an award given annually for beginning reader titles, can be found here (2011 winners) and here (past winners).
If you've got a beginning reader at your house, stop and savor the moment! Before you know it, they'll be taking off like a rocket. A Reading Rocket, that is!
I recently came across a very long (600+!) list of free children's books online, compiled by Gizmo's Freeware. I'm frequently asked about resources like this, so I decided to take a closer look at a few of the offerings.
Aaron Shephard's World of Stories caught my attention first; I've used his Reader's Theater (RT) resources for years, and recommend the site frequently to teachers or parents looking for scripts. In the World of Stories, Shephard provides the theme, age level, and length for books across 11 genre. Stories are text only, no illustrations. Some stories have extras like posters and audio files. These resources are great for RT, as well as for when you need text to use for running records or other assessment. No readability information provided.
Children's Books Forever is a quirky collection of free picture books written (mostly) by Hans Wilhelm that you can use on a Smartboard, PPT, or a computer monitor. The illustrations are charming and seem just right for beginning readers. If you decide to browse the collection, I particularly liked the Waldo book and the Ten Little Bunnies story. There's a series about Tyrone the bully that I didn't like much at all — the solution to a bully was a hot pepper sandwich! However, the Waldo humor books is a series of illustrations-only books. These illustrations could be used as story starters for children's own writing.
Kindersite has a collection of stories of various sites — the BBC, Starfall, Sesame Workshop, and others. The book experience depends on which title you choose. Mox's Shop from Starfall provides a very explicit reading (phoneme by phoneme) of the words in a very simple story. Julia and the Big Wave from RIF is a longer story accompanied by Flash illustrations. All books are for the younger set (age 2-8).
Story Time For Me includes three series of original, interactive stories. Users can choose to have a story read with individual words or phrases highlighted, or no highlighting at all. Animation can be turned on and off, which is a handy option. Designed for young kids (the site says ages 1-5), with running times under 3 minutes per book.
As with all material to be used with young readers, I recommend previewing a site and the stories carefully before using it with kids.
We're experiencing a strange phenomenon in our house this summer. Molly, who turns 11 in August, has two books she's required to read before she starts 5th grade this fall. The two books are Little Women and The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book 1: The Mysterious Howling.
This required reading list marks the first time Molly has ever been told what to read outside of school. The result? No interest. Absolutely none! In fact, she's completely ignoring both books. They've been on the kitchen ledge for two weeks.
I think Molly's reticence to read Little Women stems from its being a "classic," which in her mind translates to boring! I know her opinion will change once we crack the book — IF I can get her to crack the book. All of this from the girl who will willingly read for hours on her own when she's allowed to choose what she's reading! I find the situation very interesting.
Borrowing some tips from the research on motivation, here's our plan for enticing our nonreader (and former reader) to read her required books. Wish us luck!
- We're going to read Little Women as a family read aloud. This will give us a chance to talk about the story, and promote deeper understanding of the book. Our discussions will hopefully enhance Molly's interest in the story.
- I've promised that we'll watch the movie adaptation when we're done reading. I think Molly will prefer the Winona Ryder version to the original June Allyson one, but we'll see. It will be fun to compare the two, and will hopefully keep us talking about the book!
- I'll continue to provide lots of opportunities for Molly to choose her own books to read in addition to her required ones. Guthrie's research on motivation (also a classic!) reminds us just how important choice is in engaging and motivating a reader.
Recently my daughter came home really worried about an upcoming math test. They were studying the U.S. and metric systems of measurement, and Molly was really confused! She just couldn't seem to grasp the relationship between meters and yards, or liters and cups. She had a stack of flash cards to study by, but they really didn't make any sense to her.
Thankfully, Scholastic's site Study Jams had a few videos on Units of Measurement. The site was new to me, but I know I'll turn to it in the future for short, kid safe, and ad-free videos on math and science topics. There are over 200 videos on the site.
Other math and science related videos you may like:
This little ditty on the Water Cycle. Anna has played that song a hundred times. Warning: the tune is quite catchy — you will be singing it too! "Ain't it great?"
We find NASA's Brain Bites to be fun, short videos all about space travel and exploration. We watched a funny video about going to the bathroom in space (hey, I have a third grader!) and one about why space shuttles leave from Florida. I never knew the reason, but I do now.
Many thanks to Free Technology for Teachers for alerting me to Study Jams.
Teachers spend lots of time teaching strategies to students to aid with their reading comprehension. Our classroom strategy section is chock full of ideas for integrating strategies into content area lessons, and many of our strategies include video showing a real teacher using the strategy in a real setting.
One blog I read, Catching Readers Before They Fall, recently had a good post that contains six questions teachers should ask themselves if they notice that students are not using the strategies we've taught them to use.
Among the questions:
Are students in appropriate texts? My own recommendation is that material used when teaching strategies should be at the child's independent level (98% accuracy) or at the instructional level (90-98% accuracy). Teachers should avoid frustration level material (less than 90% accuracy) altogether, but especially when working on comprehension.
Other questions are designed to encourage teacher reflection on teaching behavior and student needs. Was my modeling explicit enough? Who needed this particular strategy? Who didn't? Did I provide enough guided practice?
The post elaborates on these questions, and provides a good framework for reflection.
As an aside, if you're not familiar with the article Catch Them Before They Fall, by Joe Torgesen, add it to your summer reading stack! It's an oldie but a goodie about the value of assessing and identifying kids at risk for reading failure. I've always assumed the blog name stemmed from that article.
Far too many children within the U.S. and abroad live in homes with little or no access to books. Among other things, no access means no reading materials for the summer months. Grass roots efforts like summer reading bags and neighborhood book swaps, public libraries, and organizations such as First Book and Book Ends in Southern California all operate with a goal to increase access to reading material for kids in need. David Bornstein quoted Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus at the University of Southern California, as writing "simply providing access is the first and most important step in encouraging literacy development."
If access to books is the first step, parent education and a child's motivation must be steps two and three (and I'm not sure of the order!). Once we're able to get books into the hands of young readers, we need to:
- Make sure parents understand some basics about reading with kids. For example, parents should feel comfortable letting a child to reread a book several times. I've had parents tell me they think it's "cheating" for their child to reread a book they already know how to read. There are lots of tips for parents out there.
- Encourage parents to talk about the book before, during and after they're reading and how to make the most out of the interesting words within books
- Make reading a priority every day. It's not a choice between TV and a book. It's a book, and then see what happens!
- Mix it up! Let's encourage kids to read widely this summer.
Share lots of different kinds, or genre, of books with our readers to expose them to different words, different pictures, and whole new worlds. Mixing it up is sure to spark new motivation in your reader.
Summer officially started at our house today — here's to lazy, hot days with a good book for all kids!
As we head into summer, we're all being reminded about the importance of summer reading. Children who don't read during the summer can lose up to three months of reading progress and that loss has a cumulative, long-term effect.
Not all kids have access to books. Many, many kids (WAY too many) live in in homes without books. First Book founder Kyle Zimmer suggests that 42% of American children — 31 million — grow up in families where spending money on books is not an option. A new report from London suggests that one in three children in London doesn't own a single book.
The answer to access isn't as easy as "use the library!" While our library system in the U.S. is an incredible resource, libraries face their own budget cuts. In some neighborhoods, this translates into branches with shorter hours or closed altogether, and fewer (and older) books on the shelves of those that are open.
Last summer's meta-analysis report Children's Access to Print Materials and Education-Related Outcomes, commissioned by Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), found that access to print materials improves reading performance, helps kids learn the basics, causes children to read more and for longer periods, produces improved attitudes.
There are huge national efforts to provide access to new books for children in need. First Book is a shining example of that, but more can be done, within your neighborhood, and at your school. At our school we've put together summer reading bags for the past two years. You can read how we set it up at no cost. They've been very successful. Our neighborhood book swap was another great way to get books into the hands of kids; even the kids who didn't bring a book browsed and brought books home. Even our local drycleaner has gotten into the act. When you walk in the door, there's a cardboard box of books free for the taking. Leave one, take one, or just take one, it's a very casual system but it works!
We can increase access to books, and make a difference, just by thinking about creative ways to get books into every child's hands this summer. Do you have any ideas to share?
Many teachers find creative ways to keep kids learning over the summer. These efforts are fueled by summer learning loss research whose finding is clear: Children who don't read during the summer can lose up to three months of reading progress and that loss has a cumulative, long-term effect. Summer learning is loss is bad for kids, and it's especially bad news for kids who struggle during the school year.
The good news is that there are TONS of resources out there for teachers to share with families. Our Summer Reading Page page is a great place to start looking for resources. Featured resources include ideas for teachers to share with families, the 2011 Big Summer Read book lists, and a link to Adventures in Summer Reading, one episode in our series Launching Young Readers.
We've got directions for setting up a book swap for kids, specific Strategies for Summer Reading for Children with Dyslexia and a whole list of summer book lists!
As with any set of resources, review them carefully to determine what will work in your community, and with your readers. Balance recommendations for field trips with ideas for low cost outdoor explorations and activities that promote math and science at home. Consider including audio book suggestions as you're creating suggestions for summer reading. And don't forget writing! A pen pal can be a great way to motivate a bored child.
I'd love to hear what you have planned as a parent or a teacher to keep learning alive this summer.