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.
Ouch! Tough day for Four Block, aka Whole-Language High Jinks
A new report came out today, authored by reading expert Louisa Moats. In it, Moats takes a hard look at reading programs that market themselves as ones based on Scientifically Based Reading Research (SBRR). The report, "Whole Language High-Jinks," examines Reading Recovery , Four Blocks , Guided Reading, and programs that use a generic "balanced literacy" description. It also includes a comparison of two major approaches to reading instruction (SBRR and Whole Language Derivatives).
The report says this: Some reading programs, in an effort to capitalize on Reading First funding, market themselves as programs that reflect SBBR, when in fact, they do not. Moats' report uses strong language, for example: "Four Blocks is the best example of a whole-language program masquerading as an SBRR program..."[emphasis added]. Moats describes how a good SBRR program 'teaches each component thoroughly, explicitly, and with planned connections to the others. Such programs build in validated assessments of progress so that students who are accelerated and those who need small-group intervention and support are identified and taught accordingly.' The "sheep in wolves clothing" programs fail our neediest students by sharing the following commonalities: teacher modeling (not direct instruction), rely on strategies from the three cueing systems theory, reject systematic decoding, spelling, and grammar instruction, confuse phonemic awareness with phonics, make heavy use of writer's workshop and leveled books, and de-emphasize direct instruction in comprehension strategies.
Several of the blogs I read regularly have also blogged about the release: see Teach Effectively , Joanne Jacobs , and I Speak of Dreams , just announcements, no commentary. I'm eager to see the types of comments that come in. I suspect we'll hear from teachers who use the programs Moats slammed and argue for their 'SBRRness.' Teachers who use some of the "reasonably faithful to SBRR" programs, as described by Moats, ( Open Court , Trophies , Reading Street ) might have their own opinions about teaching with those programs.
I'd encourage everyone to read the report, and if you're inclined, come back and comment. And while I agree with Moats' recommendations for policymakers at the end of the report, does anyone else agree that they seem disconnected from the report's content?
"Level-Mania" and the Identity of the Reader
I read something interesting at the Edge of the Forest about leveled book systems in elementary classrooms. A small snip from the thoughtful piece:
In the name of "just right" books, we may be sacrificing real reading experiences that will last a lifetime.
The author seeks to make the point that leveled systems in classrooms which funnel children into baskets of books that match their reading level deny those students authentic ways to develop the 'behaviors of readers' by building 'their own identity as a reader.' Predetermined reading baskets provide fewer opportunities to explore genre, favorite authors or illustrators and provide greater opportunities to read only with the purpose of getting to the next level basket.
Don't get me wrong — by recognizing this piece I'm not arguing against leveled systems. Leveling systems can maximize the instructional value of a lesson by providing a reliable way to match a young reader with a book. They also provide guidance to teachers who are new to the concept of the reader-text match. But I see the author's point about reading ownership.
So, here's the challenge: have kids read on their instructional level (defined here as 90% accuracy) to help develop their skill as readers and, as teachers, engage in all kinds of other behaviors that help children develop their "reading identity". Some tips for doing that, again from the Edge of the Forest :
Help children find favorite authors.
Guide them to choose books with characters they might come to love — books where the same character appears in several books
Ask them about the kinds of books they like, not the level of book they want
Organize our books in baskets by author, genre, topic and series, rather than by level
Allow kids to choose books that are too hard or too easy if it fits their purpose
Talk to kids about my favorite books, authors, and genres
Introduce children to new books, authors, and genres
Have conversations with children about new books that I am excited about
Share ways that I keep up with new books coming out using internet resources
Share book reviews with children and talk about the kinds of books that sound good to them.
Should she stay or should she go? (to kindergarten)
I knew it was coming — re-enrollment time at preschool. Top of the form, first question: Will your child be going to kindergarten next year? Our answer: UGH!! We can't decide!
Anna (our younger daughter) turns five in early July. In Virginia , the kindergarten cut off date is September 30, so she clearly could go. But, should she? We waited an extra year with Molly (our older daughter), whose birthday is in mid-August. Molly entered kindergarten having just turned 6, and she's done beautifully. It was the right decision for Molly. But Molly and Anna are different from each other. Very different.
This concept of "academic red shirting" for rising kindergarten students has gotten a lot of attention. CBS covered the story, with opinion from Barbara Willer, deputy executive director for the National Association for the Education of Young Children . The National Center for Education Statistics examined the reading and math achievement data of children who repeated kindergarten or who began kindergarten a year late.
Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children refers to the practice of holding young children out of school for an extra year before kindergarten as "buying a year," and suggests that the practice widens the gap between the most and least advanced children. I'm not looking to do that! I just want to provide Anna with every opportunity to flourish once she does get on the hamster wheel of public school. I feel like this is our only opportunity to give her the gift of time; like others , I wouldn't consider a grade retention later on in school.
Academically, Anna's ready. Knows her letters, sounds, loves to "write" and will count to 100 for anyone who will listen. Socially, she's ready. Outgoing, friendly and funny. Motor development, ready. Rides her two wheeler like a whip, jumps rope. Hmmm. As I write this she seems ready, doesn't she? Maybe it's the mom that isn't!? Stay tuned. Forms are due by the end of the week!
Teaching phonics: Great idea, poor examples
Almost every week Anna (my four year old) brings home a "sound wheel" from preschool. Her class studies a letter a week (which I will blog about later ... I'm not big on letter-a-week) and they use these letter wheels as part of their work. Sort of like this, but not exactly.
The kids paint a cover and attach a circular piece of tag board to the back. The circular piece has four picture/word examples for the letter they're studying. After the "wheel" is attached, Anna spins the wheel to view (read?) one of the four picture/word examples showing through two small windows. Sounds good, right? Here's the problem: the sound examples are TERRIBLE! (Note: Her teacher didn't create these herself, they're from a publisher).
For example: When studying the letter T, the four exemplars are: truck, tiger, turtle, tree. See what I mean? Two /r/ blend words, and two that contain at least one prominent sound that is NOT the one being studied! It's nuts! What about using clean 't' sounding words like top, tub, towel, and ten? Here's a second example, for the letter G — exemplars are glove, grapes, giraffe, and guitar. Two blends (/gl/ and /gr/) and a mix of hard and soft /g/. Argh!
You should know that I'm okay with Anna learning about sounds and letters in preschool, although not everyone is (she's desperate to read and write like her big sister). I just want to know that the examples she's getting present good, clean examples of the sounds. Am I right?
Talk to your baby, narrate what you're doing, talk to your baby, words, words, words!
I usually skip over Sunday's USA Weekend section, heading straight for the Wall Street Journal business section (sounds dull, but there's a column I love!). One week USA Weekend ran a light, but good article, called Baby Talk. In it, Kelly Dinardo identified 15 things parents should do for their baby. In addition to important things such as dosing properly and developing baby's sleep habits, Dinardo addressed the importance of talking to your baby.
I'm so glad the author included something about the importance of fostering language skills. The long term effect of talk within families was most carefully documented by Hart & Risley in one of my favorite books, Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children (reprinted in 2002). Their methodology was painstaking; their results fascinating and really important. Here's a small example of their findings:
In professional families, children heard an average of 2,153 words per hour, while children in working class families heard an average of 1,251 words per hour, and children in welfare families heard an average of 616 words per hour. Extrapolated, this means that in a year children in professional families heard an average of 11 million words, while children in working class families heard an average of 6 million words, and children in welfare families heard an average of 3 million words. By kindergarten, a child from a welfare family could have heard 32 million words fewer than a classmate from a professional family.
These differences can have a huge impact on children's vocabularies and literacy preparedness. If you haven't read this book yet, consider it among your professional book choices for 2007, and check out Todd Risley on a Reading Rockets webcast
called From Babbling to Books.
Pleased to Meet You!
I'm happy to be blogging for Reading Rockets, although I must admit to being a little bit self conscious about it! My goal is to blog about reading and literacy while wearing at least one of my "hats": former teacher and university professor, parent, research consultant and early literacy author.
I'll try to be fair and thoughtful, as I know we've all got the best interest of readers at heart. I hope some of you will chime in once in awhile to keep the conversation going, and keep us all thinking. I promise that I won't write TOO often about my own two little emergent readers I've got here at home, although I must say, that is quite an education!
Perhaps the biggest compliment I've received lately was from my 6 year old, who excitedly came up to me and said, "Mommy, listen to this! I can read this book and sound JUST LIKE YOU when I do it!"