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

5 Close Reading Activities for Pre-Readers

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

MC Close Reading Header

In my preschool class, we read so many books!  I love sharing stories with the kiddos, and they really get into the books too.  While reading new books is always fun, rereading a book allows the children to get an in-depth look at the story.

A favorite book of mine is Cookie’s Week by Cindy Ward (and illustrated by Tomie dePaola).  It tells the story of a cat named Cookie who gets into all kinds of mischief Monday through Saturday.  There’s a “cliffhanger” on Sunday, suggesting that maybe Cookie will rest.  I like using the big book version for close reading, as it draws the children in and the text is larger.

MC Cookie's Week

Below are five specific ideas for close reading in early childhood classrooms:

1. Ask the children questions that get them thinking about the book.  “What do you think Cookie will do next?  Do you think Cookie will rest on Sunday? After they’ve answered, ask what in the book led them to their conclusions.

Questions that connect to other books or to the kids’ lives are also important to consider.  “Does Cookie’s story remind you of another book we’ve read?  Have you done anything that Cookie does in the book?”

MC Cookie Sunday

2. Create a chart about the story together.  For Cookie’s Week, a list about all of the mishaps Cookie has would be great!  Remind the kiddos to refer back to the book to check.

3. Make a storyboard based on the book.  Work with the children to write about each day from Cookie’s Week, stating what happened in their own words. Students can then add pictures to the class story.  This would be a great addition to the bulletin board of any classroom!

Photo from Fun-A-Day

4. Have the children make a class book extending the story.  Each child can write what he thinks Cookie will do on Sunday or during the next week.  Again, this allows for inferences based on the information found in the book.

5. Create story necklaces based on the book.  For Cookie’s Week, there would be seven such necklaces, each labeled with the day of the week and showing a picture of what happened that day.  Choose a child to wear each of the necklaces, and then let the class work together to put them in the correct order.  Again, refer the kids back to the book!

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Mary Catherine is mama to a six year-old kick in the pants, and the force behind Fun-A-Day! She is a pre-k teacher who has also taught kindergarten and Reading Recovery.  Mary Catherine is passionate about early literacy and fun, meaningful learning experiences for children.  She loves science fiction, dark chocolate, and messy science experiments with her son!  You can connect with her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.

Close Reading: Helping Children Dissect Books

mother daughter reading

There is a lot of dialog in the reading world right now about a strategy called, “Close Reading.”  Close reading is an instructional routine in which students critically examine a text through repeated readings.  It teaches children to look for story structure patterns, new and specific vocabulary, key details, arguments, and inferential meanings.  Close reading can help children develop the habit of dissecting stories and information to understand the critical concepts and how the information contributes or relates to the child’s life.  Close reading is not currently happening in many classrooms, but it is becoming a strongly suggested method with the advent of the Common Core State Standards Language Arts skills.  Close reading can provide a wonderful opportunity to teach the difference between narrative (in story form) and informational (just the facts) texts and their uses.  The key components of close reading include:

  • Who Is Reading?  For preschool through first grade classrooms, most close reading experiences will begin with the teacher reading the story to the children.  For older grades, it usually begins with the students independently reading the texts prior to the close reading discussion.
  • Frontloading.  Background knowledge could be useful to children prior to reading the story.  The teacher should determine when this is appropriate and when the children should experience the text without any background information.
  • Developing Text-Dependent Questions.  We often use books to begin a discussion about a subject.  However, during close reading, the questions generated should be answered within the text. Those questions should be divided into general understanding questions, key detail questions, vocabulary and text structure, author’s purpose questions (informational/narrative, etc), inferential questions, and opinion questions.
  • Annotation. Reading with a pencil, whether it is conducted by the teacher or individually with older readers.  Making notes about critical information during the reading.

I strongly believe that close reading can be a wonderful teaching tool, even in early childhood settings and special needs situations.  I use close reading in preschool and kindergarten classrooms to help children think about the story or information beyond just listening.  I was once teaching a kindergarten group and was using a book called “The Stupids Have a Ball” by Harry Allard.  It is a silly book about a family named Stupid who decide to have a ball.  My purpose for reading the text was to help the children understand that there are narrative books that are meant exclusively for entertainment.  At one point in the picture book, Grandfather Stupid comes down the chimney, dressed as the Easter Bunny, carrying a pumpkin, and saying “Ho, Ho, Ho!”  As we were discussing the book, one little girl yelled, “I can’t believe you are reading us that book!  His bum is hanging out!” After using that book with groups for many years, I admit it was the first time I noticed that the only pink on the page was Grandfather Stupid’s face and the pink fluffy tail on the bunny costume.  Before I could respond, one of the boys in the group said, “No, no, look really closely.  It is his pink bunny tail.  You just have to pay very close attention.”

Education Series (sky high books)

A strong reason for using close reading with children is to help them develop the habit of paying very close attention.  Using close reading in preschool and kindergarten will help build a foundation for the Common Core standards in Language Arts that the child will need to develop during elementary school.  For special needs children, it may open up additional doors to help them decode that difficult task of reading.

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For further information on close reading, check out the following resources:

Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2012). Close reading in elementary schools. The Reading Teacher, Vol 66(3), pp. 179-186. International Reading Association.

Paul, R. & Elder, L. (2003). Critical thinking…and the art of close reading (part 1). Journal of Developmental Education, 27(2), 36-37, 39.

Phillips, E.C. & Scrinzi, A. (2013). Basics of developmentally appropriate practice: an introduction for teachers of kindergartners. National Association for the Education of Young Children.

 

Writing to Become a Reader

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Throughout my years of working with struggling readers, I have become convinced that one of the factors that contribute to a child becoming a struggling reader is inadequate support for his early writing. I have often observed inappropriate activities and instruction in preschool and kindergarten classrooms which illustrate this point. I shudder when I see a teacher have the children copy words written on the board as a ‘writing’ assignment, when — at best — it may be a fine motor handwriting practice.  I become equally as concerned when I hear a teacher tell children to use ‘invented spelling’ or ‘kindergarten spelling,’ when it is evident from the blank stares that the children have not made solid connections between alphabet letters, words, and writing.

I recently read an article in The Reading Teacher, the journal of research for classroom practice from the International Reading Association (IRA), called, “How Do I Write…? Scaffolding Preschoolers’ Early Writing Skills’ (Cabell, Tortorelli, & Gerde, 2013).* I enjoyed the article because it articulated early writing skills and how teachers can support children on their developmental levels.  At one point in the article, the authors state, “Effectively incorporating support for children’s varying writing skills provides a gateway to developing other critical literacy skills.”  I was a kindergarten teacher for many years, and these early writing skills are an essential part of helping a child develop as a reader and a writer.  Those early skills can be of great benefit to the child as he is supported at every stage of development while he moves from drawing pictures to eventually writing words.  The research in the article indicates that there are four main stages of writing development a child goes through:

  • Drawing and Scribbling. The child usually doesn’t understand the connection between writing and speech.
  • Letters and Letter-Like Forms. The child makes attempts at writing letters, although at first they don’t necessarily resemble the actual letter.
  • Salient and Beginning Sounds. The child begins to make the connection between speech and writing and knows enough about letters that she begins to write a letter for a word (e.g., B for ‘baby,’ or V for ‘elevator’).
  • Beginning and Ending Sounds.  The child has enough phonemic awareness to attend to individual sounds and begins to use her knowledge of letters to use invented spelling (e.g., CT for ‘cat,’ or AT for ‘ate’).

Within a classroom of children, you may have students functioning at all four of these levels. Different support is needed at each stage for helping the child develop a strong foundation for writing.   Think about the two classroom scenarios I mentioned above. The first one — having children copy letters off the board — would not support any of the four stages above.  The second situation — telling the child to use invented spelling — would be very confusing for any child who was still in one of the first three stages.  She wouldn’t have enough skills to use invented spelling.

What does this have to do with reading?  Everything. As a child receives early reading instruction and begins to understand how the alphabet works on paper, each one of the four writing stages can assist the child in developing a foundation for reading. Having solid support at each one of the stages will help the child learn the connections between reading, writing, and speaking.  Without that solid support, he will be missing critical bricks in his reading foundation.  Although there may be numerous reasons why a child is a struggling reader, lack of support in writing is certainly a major factor.  Struggling readers are also struggling writers.

Teachers should support the child through all four stages of writing and not force him to write under unrealistic expectations.  I was visiting a kindergarten recently and the teacher was convinced the children could ‘edit’ the stories that they had written (or attempted to write).  Reading research tells us that a child should not be ‘editing’ writing until the latter part of first grade and only if he has been taught basic conventions of writing sentences and has been introduced to enough spelling words. He would also have enough reading skills at that point to make a strong connection.  This is the natural and developmentally appropriate progress of writing for young children.  Supporting the four writing stages will assist the child in becoming a writer as he becomes a reader.

*Cabell, S.Q, L.S. Tortorelli, and H.K. Gerde. How Do I Write…? Scaffolding preschoolers’ early writing skills.  The Reading Teacher, Vol. 66, Issue 8, International Reading Association, May 2013.

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I’m a Bammy Awards Nominee!

I am elated to announce that I have been nominated in the Educator’s Voice Award category for the 2nd Annual Bammy Awards. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Bammy Awards, which are presented by the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences International, it is a cross-discipline honor recognizing educators throughout the education field. The Educator’s Voice Award honorees are selected by popular online vote and will be announced online in June and again at the Bammy Awards red carpet event on September 21st in Washington, D.C. If you would like to vote, please follow the link provided. Thank you for your support and compliments to all the other hard-working and deserving honorees. I am flattered to even have been nominated, which is recognition in and of itself, for doing what I love.

Click here to vote! Voting ends May 15th!

Repetitive or Predictable Texts

When I was a kindergarten teacher, I used to read Mrs. Wishy-Washy by Joy Cowley on the first day of school each year. The story is about the animals on Mrs. Wishy-Washy’s farm finding the ‘lovely mud’ and becoming covered with the brown mixture.  Mrs. Wishy-Washy proceeds to wash the animals in a large tub.  During the washing action, the text repeats, “wishy-washy, wishy-washy.” I read this story on the first day so that the children can instantly participate in the reading of a story. I wanted each child to feel successful and excited about the possibility of becoming a reader. I once had a mother report that her child came home that day and said, “Mom, I have only been in kindergarten one day and I can already read!”

The story of Mrs. Wishy-Washy is an example of what is called a “predictable text” or a “repetitive text.” A predictable text contains repetitive phrases that appear in the story over and over again. Besides the wonderful stories currently in circulation, many of our traditional literature or fairytales are predictable texts. Think of the repetitive lines that you hear in the following stories:

  • The Three Pigs (I’ll huff and I’ll puff…)
  • The Little Red Hen (“Not I,” said the cow; “Not I,” said the dog…)
  • Jack and the Beanstalk (Fee, Fi, Fo Fum…)
  • Rapunzel (Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair…)

I don’t think that many adults who read these predictable stories to children realize how critical they are to the development of good readers. Predictable books have rhyming or repetitive word patterns, familiar concepts and simple story lines.

When children are pre-readers and beginning readers, adults should continually model for the future reader how the reading process works. Predictable books can be a vital part of this modeling, without necessarily instructing the child in these skills. Predictable books are excellent examples and provide support in the following ways:

  • The text and illustrations enable children to anticipate words, phrases or events.
  • Predictable books can be stepping stones in the reading developmental process because they are engaging and interesting to young children. The listener can also participate in the reading.
  • Repetitive phrases can help children follow storylines and more fully understand the sequence in a story.
  • Predictable books have wonderful story patterns that help the reader deliver the story with fluency and rhythm.

I have found that predictable texts are essential examples of the reading process for struggling readers, as well. A child who is having difficulty decoding words and reading sentences smoothly would benefit from predictable books.  As a listener, he is able to hear the rhythm of fluent reading. As a reader, there will be repeated words that may simplify the decoding process.

Sometimes a book will have a repeated line that is not part of the rhythm of the story but occurs often. These repeated statements or questions can be invaluable to the new or struggling reader. Pick up the latest book by Philip C. Stead, called, Bear Has a Story to Tell, and listen to the bear repeat the same question to all of his animal friends, “Would you like to hear a story?” Great stories that become teaching tools are still being published, probably now more than ever.

Dr. Seuss Books, set of 8 (BKSETE) – click photo for more information

In addition to the books listed above, you may also want to pick up these books with repetitive text:

  • Bark George by Jules Feiffer
  • Oh No, George! By Chris Haughton
  • The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson
  • Millions of Cats by Wanda Ga’g
  • What Was I Scared Of? (in The Sneeches) by Dr. Seuss
  • Hop on Pop! or One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss
  • Click, Clack, Moo, Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin
  • There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Trout! By Teri Sloat

Developing Predicting Skills

I appreciated the comments to the last blog post. It is evident that there needs to be a strong concentration of pre-reading and reading activities for children in early childhood settings. As I stated in one of my answers to the comments in the last post, I think many of our struggling readers were left behind because of poor instruction and lack of developmental strategies.

I enjoyed looking at the website for the National Reading Panel that Scott sent along with his comments. I often teach beginning reading strategies to pre-service teachers. One component of that instruction is the discussion about predictors of reading success. We know that becoming an on-level reader in first grade is essential for a child. There are two strong predictors to that success. “Predictors” are skills so important that we should make every effort to ensure that a child builds solid foundations in these skills during preschool and kindergarten; ultimately these skills are essential to building the reading foundation. These two predictors are phonemic awareness and alphabet letter knowledge. That fact is reiterated again on the National Reading Council website. I emphasize that if these foundation skills are not taught appropriately, the child runs the risk of becoming a struggling reader, lacking the background information for making sense of the reading process.

Phonemic Awareness is the ability to hear sounds of speech (phonemes) in spoken language. It is the beginning stage of phonological awareness, which will eventually include syllables and phonics. Prior to the influx of large quantities of children’s literature, most children came to school with phonemic awareness. Parents used nursery rhymes and folktales with their children because picture books were not as readily available. That scenario changed as quality picture books became readily available. Nursery rhymes are one of the best teaching tools for phonemic awareness. They teach children to listen to the sounds that are the same and the sounds that are different.  Compare “Jill” and “hill” in the nursery rhyme “Jack and Jill.” A child can hear how the beginning sound is different, but the rest of the word is the same. When a child has phonemic awareness, you can ask the child to identify the sound she hears at the beginning of the word “cookie.” If the child indicates /k/, then she can hear that sound. At this point it is not important if the child knows it is the letter ‘c’ that makes the sound. It is only critical that she can hear individual sounds. This knowledge is essential to beginning the reading process.

The other predicting skill is knowledge of the alphabet letters. It is so important to work on letter identification with a child prior to beginning instruction in reading. As I stated in one of my comments on the last blog entry, it is important to use appropriate activities for letter identification. Using magnetic, wooden, or plastic letters is a much better way to introduce children to the alphabet than looking at a chart or paper. When the child has some background knowledge in letters, have him form them out of play dough or some other moldable material. Wet moldable sand is also a wonderful option for the child to “feel” the letters and build some cognitive memories about the letter. We must be as concrete as possible with early reading skills because reading is actually quite abstract. As I was pointing to the letter ‘a’ one day, I told a four- year-old girl that letter said /a/. Her response was, “I didn’t hear it say anything.”  Being more concrete will help the child understand this new world of reading. It is critical for us to help children instantly identify the letters. That instant recognition is called “automaticity” by reading researchers. That automaticity is the predictor of reading success.

I was recently helping one of my pre-service teachers as she was teaching in a second grade classroom. The month before, she had received a new student who could not read. The student teacher had not had success in working with the child on letter sounds and decoding words. We decided that the child must have missed early reading instruction, so we went back and worked on phonemic awareness and letter recognition. Within two weeks the child started to improve and is now sounding out words. Because we went back to put in the foundation pieces, I believe this child will eventually be on grade level with her reading skills. Without someone taking her back to the beginning, she may have been labeled a struggling reader and provided with intervention and perhaps special needs services. This experience has made me wonder how many children with missing pieces in their learning foundation end up in at-risk learning situations.

Have you had similar experiences?

Welcome to The Reading Corner!

Reading is a foundation skill that is essential for children to succeed in life.  All educators would agree that, without reading skills, a child will have a difficult time completing mathematical operations, doing science experimentation,  grasping social studies content, improving vocabulary and understanding the world in general. We really cannot underestimate the importance of learning to read for every child, no matter what his individual capabilities may be. Whether you are teaching in a classroom, utilizing small group instruction, or working with individuals, teaching children to read is important for the most capable and the most challenged children. In fact, for children with learning disabilities, a common denominator is the challenge of learning to read.  Reading opens up a learning environment for every child to discover places and people that they may never have discovered in any other way. As teachers, we need to do whatever we can to ensure that that way is open.

For the past 30 years I have been working in the field of early childhood education and have worked with hundreds of children learning to read. I continue my work currently by training teachers to be prepared for that very important job of reading instruction. I love my current role because I know children will be influenced by a well prepared teacher.  The teacher I teach today affects hundreds of children during her career. It’s a terrific ripple effect.

Research tells us that, developmentally, a solid foundation of beginning reading skills should be in place when a child is in first grade. Many of us know exactly how hard that is because of class sizes and resources. That is why many intervention and tutoring programs target first grade.  We also know that the older the child gets, the more difficult it is to help him become an on-level reader.  It may be three times more difficult for a 4th grade teacher to help a child reading on a 1st grade level to climb the steps to becoming an on-level reader.  If the teacher has 25 students, it is difficult for her to have the time to spend with the child who is behind.  These struggling readers need extra support.  Many of our special needs children are also in this category.  They struggle with the development of reading skills that seem to come much easier for typically developing children.

A struggling reader is a struggling reader, whether she has been identified as a typically developing or a special needs child.  As educators, we can use the same strategies to support the development of those very important skills in every child.

In this blog we hope to discuss important strategies that will assist struggling readers and provide extra support to all early readers.  As I move forward in future posts, I hope to open discussion on useful topics, such as phonemic awareness, working with words, vocabulary development, and  narrative and informational texts — among many other subjects that will help us to work with our future readers.

Most important, I invite anyone — educator or parents — to ask questions, share experiences, and add strategies to our blog. I look forward to hearing from you.

Here are two references I recommend:
Porton, H. D., (2012). Helping Struggling Learners Succeed in School . Boston: Pearson.

Cooper, J. D., & D. J. Chard & N. D. Kiger (2006). The Struggling Reader: interventions that work.
          New York: Theory & Practice.