The Number One

Three of my grandchildren spent several weeks with me this summer. We decided to drive to a local mountain resort during their visit. While we were driving, the old song, “One is the Loneliest Number” started playing on the radio. After a few minutes, my eight-year-old granddaughter said, “That can’t be right. One can’t be the loneliest number. What about zero? It’s got nothing.”

I was reminded of this story when I was in one of my student teacher’s classrooms this week. She expressed her concern about a boy who was below reading level and was continually isolated and targeted for support services. The teacher was concerned that all of that isolation had to be lonely, and he had no reading role models or reading friends during the instructional time. Being by yourself, or being one, can be a lonely number.

Young Girl Reading

Recently, I read some research about reading specialists who were discovering that using only instructional level texts (the level at which the child is reading) with a child, especially a child who is reading below level, doesn’t seem to support the child in making progress toward a higher level. Experts believe that, when a child is only exposed to on-level texts, it can isolate her and make it difficult for her to progress.  In fact, some of those same experts are convinced that children learn many things from books on their frustrational level (print too difficult for their skills). The Common Core State Standards also encourage teachers to use frustrational level texts with students to help them dissect new words and vocabulary.

I have always believed this to be true. During the years that I taught school, I tried to teach as many reading skills during whole-group instruction. Of course I took children in small groups to work with books on their instructional level, but I didn’t limit their exposure to other texts outside that small group instruction. The entire group participated in shared reading experiences appropriate for their grade level and the interests of the group. My goal was to give every child a positive attitude toward reading and a feeling that each one could navigate that “tricky” world of reading.

Although each child is an individual with specific needs, I think there are suggestions I can make that will generally help struggling readers in a classroom setting.

  1. Even when extra support is available for children reading below level, be sure the child does not feel isolated and is allowed to participate in reading activities with the entire class.
  2. Use challenging texts with the entire group on a regular basis. The best way to do this is to read the book to the class, not requiring individual students to try to decode the difficult text.
  3. The reading block is usually divided into four instructional activities. Here are suggestions for each of the activities:

                    a. Read-Aloud: The teacher does all the print work. The teacher and students discuss the meanings together.
    b. Shared Reading: The teacher and the students do the print and meaning together.
   c. Guided Reading (small group): The student does most of the print and meaning work.
d. Independent Reading: The student does all of the print and meaning work, with varied texts-easy/challenging.

Independent texts are critical for the activities in c and d. However, frustrational texts can be used in a, b, and occasionally d.

Finding a balance is the answer to good reading support, especially when helping struggling readers. We can shift some of the attention away from leveled materials and move toward creating what researchers call a productive effort. Productive effort provides challenge to children, and even struggling readers must be challenged to keep their heads in the game. When a child begins school, he is usually excited to learn to read. Most struggling readers have lost that excitement when they get behind and know they are struggling. Providing some challenge and excitement, allowing the child to participate with everyone in some reading activities, can help him redevelop the interest he once had in learning to read books.

When a child is continually isolated for reading instruction, he becomes a ‘one,’ which can be the loneliest number. Our goal should be to move him toward feeling part of the group of many, and not move backwards to actually become that ‘zero,’ who’s “got nothing.”

References
Burkins, J. & Yarris, K., break through the frustration: balance vs. all-or-nothing thinking. Reading Today, Vol. 32, Number 2. 2014. International Reading Association.
Croft, M. & Burkins, J. Preventing Misguided Reading. The Reading Teacher. 2010. International Reading Association.

10 Butterfly Books for Reading Aloud with Kids

submitted by Mary Catherine from Fun-A-Day.com.

Recently, we had an insect and plant theme in preschool. The kiddos enjoyed exploring our nature center built around this theme.  Hands down, the stars of the show were the caterpillars!  My students and I watched the caterpillars as they grew, created chrysalises, and then became butterflies.

MC 10 Butterfly Books

At the nature center, I placed a basket of books. They covered a variety of topics – bugs, plants, gardens. The books about caterpillars and butterflies were, of course, incredibly popular. The children loved hearing me read these books to them. As I did so, I incorporated some of the helpful techniques outlined in John Funk’s reading aloud article.

Below are just a few favorites from our science book basket:

1.     The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

2.     Ten Little Caterpillars by Bill Martin, Jr.

3.     A Butterfly is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston

4.     The Butterfly Alphabet Book by Brian Cassie and Jerry Pallotta

5.     Gotta Go! Gotta Go!  by Sam Swope

6.     Clara Caterpillar by Pamela Duncan Edwards

7.     Monarch Butterfly by Gail Gibbons

8.     Waiting for Wings by Lois Ehlert

9.     Ten Wriggly Wiggly Caterpillars by Debbie Carbett

10.    Glasswings: A Butterfly’s Story by Elisa Kleven

I loved using the books to connect to the real life cycle of butterflies. The books gave the children more vocabulary to use as they discussed the insects. The fictional stories also let their imaginations “take flight”, encouraging the kids to make up their own stories. The children created some very interesting tales of about caterpillars and butterflies!

What are some of your favorite butterfly books to read aloud with kids?  I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.

Pocket Chart Poems for Teaching Reading and Name Recognition

submitted by Mary Catherine from Fun-A-Day.com

As John Funk explains in “Music and Reading”, children can learn a variety of important skills via songs, poems, and chants.  I love incorporating them into my preschool lesson plans because the kiddos learn so much while having a ton of FUN!  Using pocket chart poems and songs when teaching reading and name recognition is a favorite activity of mine.

MC TRC Pocket Chart Poems 1

Recently, my class and I did just that with the song “Old McDonald Had a Farm”.  We’d been discussing apples, pumpkins, harvest time, and farms over the past two months.  So “Old McDonald” was a great choice based on our recent themes, and the fact that the kids already knew the song.

To set up this activity, I wrote out the first few lines of the song on sentence strips.  From there, I added the sentence strips to our big blue pocket chart.  Once that was settled, I asked the children what animals we should have on our farm.  They chose cow, chicken, pig, sheep, and horse.  I just drew simple pictures of those farm animals on construction paper and added the animals to our pocket chart.  (If you’d rather have a printable version of farm animals, I have a free version at my Teachers Notebook shop). We already had sentence strips with our names on them, so I added those too.

Once the pocket chart was ready, I grabbed a pointer and we got started!  The sheep was up first, so I made sure to add the appropriate card to our pocket chart.  We sang the song together while I pointed to the words on the chart.  I didn’t have the last part of the song written out, but the kids were fine singing that on their own.

Once we went through all the farm animals, we decided to add the children’s names to the song.  This is ALWAYS a huge hit in my preschool classroom!  The kids like to see their names in any of our classroom activities, so that really grabbed their attention.  It also made the song even funnier for the children – they were giggling up a storm at “Old McMary Catherine had a farm . . .”!  A well-known song, their names, AND humor equaled an incredibly fun learning experience!

What did the kiddos learn from this short and silly pocket chart poem?

  • The concept of a word (“a word goes from space to space”)
  • We read from left to right and top to bottom
  • Name recognition – their own names, as well as their friends’ names
  • What we say can be written and what is written can be said
  • Simple farm animal words
  • Letter-sound correspondence
  • And much more!

What songs and poems do you enjoy using in the classroom?  Do your students have any favorites?

Mary Catherine is mama to a 6-year old kick in the pants, teacher to a fun group of pre-k students, and the force behind Fun-A-Day!  She loves reading (especially science fiction), messy science experiments with her son, and dark chocolate!  You can connect with her on Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ and Twitter.

Music and Reading

This post is authored by John Funk.

When I was a classroom teacher, I used music and songs for a variety of reasons. I found that music helped children become engaged in classroom activities. Most children enjoy music and songs, if they are fun and upbeat. Children respond to the presence of rhythm, beat, and physical actions. This type of music is different than forcing children to memorize a lengthy song for a program, which can be very tedious and inappropriate. However, for me, fun classroom songs are a wonderful transition tool to help maintain positive behavior standards while the group moves from one activity to another. Once I understood about the importance of phonemic awareness to pre- and beginning readers, I used music to help children listen for specific sounds and rhyming. I always believed that music and song would help children in many facets of life.

Songs with words have always been a tool for helping children learn to read and increase their reading skills. When a teacher teaches a simple song to the class, it is helpful for the teacher to have the words on a chart or board. This can help children associate the written word with the spoken word they are singing during the song. Repeating the song over a period of days supports the child in recognizing the written words of the song. Many teachers may give the child her own copy of the song lyrics and allow her to illustrate parts of the song. There is a growing body of research that indicates how singing has the potential for improving reading skills. (**Iwasaki, 2013).  From my personal experiences, I can attest to the fact that songs add enjoyment and a visual memory to the reading process.

The key is to choose songs that have words which will assist children on their reading levels. Even though we should strive to choose songs that reflect the child’s reading level, songs can also increase a child’s vocabulary by introducing new words that he may not yet find during reading instruction. I also know that music sticks in our memories. Many of us hear a song on the radio or in a production and continue to sing it or hear it in our heads for the rest of the day, especially if it has a catchy rhythm or lyric.  In a recent article in The Reading Teacher, the authors suggest that music can help with reading in the following areas:

  • Regular repeated singing of songs seem to help struggling readers progress in reading
  • Singing increases time spent reading when children can see the words of the song
  • Melody and rhythm help children remember
  • Songs help with the development of phonemic awareness (see our earlier posts)
  • Songs help teach word families (rhyming words)
  • Singing can model reading fluency
  • The ability to sing and read a song is an accomplishment for children who struggle with the ability to read a paragraph.  (**Iwasaki, 2013)

My personal philosophy has always been to find as many teaching strategies as possible to help children succeed. Multiple strategies are especially important for struggling readers. Most of them, including those with a true learning disability, are struggling because they have not been able to master reading under the strategies that have been used in their past. Music could be one more strategy that will help the pre-, beginning, and struggling readers in your classroom. Music that is used in an interesting and engaging manner in the classroom can add a lot of joy and fun to learning. Although there are many different types of music available, I have listed a few of my favorite age-appropriate resources at the bottom of this post. I do believe that music is an additional resource and strategy that can assist a child when learning to read or improving his reading skills.

**Iwasaki, B., Rasinski, T., Yildirim, K., Zimmerman, B. (2013) Let’s bring back the magic of song for teaching reading. The Reading Teacher,  67 (2), pp.137-141.

John’s Favorite Early Childhood Music CDs:

Hand Me a Picture Book!

This post is authored by John Funk.
We Are in a Book

One day, my granddaughter and I were reading, We Are in a Book!* by Mo Willems. We could hardly finish reading because we were laughing so hard. In the book, Gerald and Piggy discover that they are being ‘read.’ The illustrations show the two looking out at the reader and becoming excited. At one point they celebrate and shout (in large print), “THAT IS SO COOL!”  My granddaughter found the pictures more engaging and funny than the text. This happens with picture books, no matter the book or the age of the reader.

The “art” in a book is “text” to read, rather than merely pictures to accompany the story. (1) Books in which the illustrations are at least as important as the text is the very definition of a picture book. When I first started working as a teacher, I was cautioned not to allow children to use clues from the illustrations to try to decode the print on the page because it might lead them to guessing instead of decoding. Researchers now strongly indicate that the opposite is true. ‘Reading’ the artwork or picture cues in an illustrated book will help children develop a more complete understanding of the story. In fact, picture books offer wonderful examples of text structure, story composition, vocabulary development, and writing, in addition to many other reading skills. Picture books are not just excellent for pre- and beginning readers, but they also model skills for children who are already readers. (2)

Picture books are essential for the beginning reader and struggling reader. Using picture clues provided in an illustrated text does help the child decode the text. When sounding out or using other word clues does not decode an unfamiliar word for a child, looking at the illustration can often provide additional information for decoding the word. That is why beginning reader picture books, such as We Are in a Book, are so useful to children learning to read. The books not only use short, simple words, but they provide visual clues to what the text is saying. While allowing my granddaughter to read part of the book with me, I noticed that when she struggled with a word she immediately glanced up at the illustration and then returned to the word she was decoding. It was almost like a natural instinct to see where she could find additional information to help her figure out the word that was challenging her.

Besides helping children decode words, picture books serve as wonderful models of story structure and are essential for vocabulary development. Children who are read to often simply know more. Reading picture books to children, even accomplished readers, is an essential part of reading instruction and support. I personally know middle school teachers who use picture books with their students on a regular basis. Children’s discussions after reading/listening to picture books increasingly demonstrate they are reading the art and integrating that meaning with the written text. (1)

I recently read an article written by a retired professor of children’s literature about how she used picture books with her mother who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.  She and her mother shared many wonderful moments of clarity and discussion over picture books. Since her mother had read to her as a child, the connection was revisited again when her mother was losing touch with other portions of life.  During their experiences, the illustrations caught her mother’s attention and became the focus of most of their discussions. Even as her mother was slipping further away, she would pick up a book they had shared, and, after looking at the pictures, she would start reading the text again. The connection between the illustrations and the text in a picture book lends itself to life experiences. (3)

We are so fortunate in 2013 to have an abundance of picture books at our fingertips. Never in history have there been so many resources. Good teachers and parents should continually use picture books with children. Picture books will help a child become a strong reader and increase her/his understanding of the world in general.

(1)   Martens, P., Martens, R., Doyle, M.H., Loomis, J., Aghalarov, S. (2012). Learning from picturebooks. The Reading Teacher, Vol. 66. Issue 4. Pp. 285-294.

(2)   Lewis, D. (2001). Reading contemporary picturebooks: Picturing texts. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

(3)   Poe, Elizabeth. Reading with my mother. (2013). The Horn Book Magazine, Sept/Oct 2013. Boston, MA.

A Few Suggestions of Newly-Published Picture Books
That is Not My Hat – Jon Klassen
A is for Musk Ox – by Erin Cabatingan
Extra Yarn – by Mac Barnett
Goldilocks and the 3 Dinosaurs – by Mo Willems
*We are in a Book and That’s Not a Good Idea!  – by Mo Willems
Goldilocks and Just One Bear –  Leigh Hodgkinson
Oh No, George! – by Chris Haughton
Bear Has a Story to Tell – by Philip and Erin Stead
The flying Books for Morris Lessmore – by William Joyce & Joe Bluhm
Each Kindness – by Jacqueline Woodson
Island – by Chen (non-fiction)
Forgive Me, I meant to Do It –  by Gail Carson Levine
Chloe – by Peter McCarty
Last Laughs – by Lewis & Yolen **
Sadie and Ratz – by Sonya Hartnett
Sophie’s Fish – by A. E. Cannon
Penny and Her Song – by Kevin Henkes
And Then It’s Spring – by Julie Fogliano