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.

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Summer Reading Plan

boy reading library

One of my student teachers recently shared with me an email that she had received from her site teacher just prior to the end of school. My student teachers begin their pre-service training in August and complete it at the beginning of April. They are a permanent part of their students’ daily experience during that time. The teacher in the class where this particular student teacher had been working shared with her the results of a writing activity in May. The assignment was to write about five things that they have learned during their second grade year. One of the students wrote, “I have learned that student teachers disappear and leave you missing them.”

I thought of this story when I recently discussed helping children retain the academic learning that they receive during the school year. Will some of the skills “disappear” without the child missing them? Maintaining and supporting learned skills during the summer months is an age-old problem facing teachers and parents. We can’t afford to have skills “disappear.” When I was a first and second grade teacher, I was often dismayed in the fall when it was evident that many of the students had lost their mastery of some of the basic skills over the summer. This seemed to be particularly true with children who struggle with learning, especially in reading and math. Because learning concepts has been such a struggle for them, when the summer months come, these children feel released from that “learning prison” and feel free to “not think.” When fall comes, they have often slipped even further behind and the struggle begins again. It is critical that parents and schools do everything possible to put a maintenance program in place for those summer months so that skills are not lost. One important element of any plan is reading.

The following list contains suggestions of ways to engage struggling readers during the summer. While the suggestions would work for all children, special attention has been given to struggling learners who need to feel engaged in books and build connections between reading and real-life excitement.

  1. Create a fun and challenging game with an incentive at the end of the experience. Three of my grandchildren attend a school that challenges their students to read a certain number of pages each summer. When school begins in August, the children bring their individual reading logs back to school and they are totaled for each classroom. The classrooms with the highest number of pages earn a half-day outdoor activity and treats. This has proven to be very successful for that school. For struggling readers, I might change the activity slightly and use a total number of books instead of pages. Since they struggle with reading, counting books may be more appropriate. I think this activity could be adapted to a family situation, with a visible chart in the home to record progress and an appropriate fun experience at the end.
  2. Turn books into projects and activities. Some of my fondest memories as a parent came while helping one of my children build a project centered around one of the books that we had read together. I remember helping one of my sons build his own bow and arrow after reading The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks. There are so many great books out now that invite project development. I recently read, Sophie’s Squash (1) and thought how much fun it would be to plant a squash plant in a garden area or even in a pot as a follow-up to this engaging story.
  3. Visit the local library on a regular basis during the summer months. Public libraries often have displays and other activities that encourage children to read particular books. Sometimes, visiting the library can be an adventure. We have a spectacular main library in downtown Salt Lake City that is right on the train line. When my grandchildren are visiting, they love to ride the train from my house to the downtown library. Whatever the situation, make going to the library a fun adventure.
  4. Read with the child. It is very critical for the adults in a child’s life to model reading and display excitement and joy in reading. I read to my children routinely from an early age. Even with all of that reading time, I still had one child who struggled with reading early on in school. I know it was the constant modeling of good reading and having someone else share excitement about the contents that helped him overcome his difficulties. When a child is able to read, the adult should take turns with him. Reading books also gives the adult a chance to have discussions about various topics. Book discussions offer opportunities to talk about subjects that are difficult to discuss out of context. I remember having a discussion about families coming in different sizes, colors, and configurations with one of my children. The discussion was more natural and had a connection for her because of what we had read. It was more powerful than discussing the topic without any particular references. During the project I mentioned in #2 above, my son and I were able to have a great discussion about stereotypes and the Native American culture.
  5. Choose a comfortable place to read. By suggesting this I am not saying that summer reading can only take place in one spot. I am suggesting a comfortable place in the house (or even outside if the child has a yard) that makes reading comfortable and regular. Having a familiar place that quietly says, “Reading Time,” may make reading more pleasant for some children. I know a family that has reading time at 11:00 a.m. every morning when they are home during the summer. The children go to their “reading nook” and pick up their reading where they left off the day before. This is especially effective in this home because Dad sometimes reads at the same time as a model, or he reads with them individually.

We know that children who read regularly during the summer months are more likely to retain their reading skills from the previous school year. In fact, in many cases, the child is able to even improve on skills by regularly practicing what she has learned.

Here are a few recently published books that would be fun this summer:

Younger Children

(1)  Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller

Rufus Goes to School by Kim Griswell

Moo by David LaRochelle

If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown

Bully by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Count the Monkeys by Mac Barnett

That’s Not a Good Idea! By Mo Willems

 

Beginning Readers

Check out the Elephant and Piggy Series from Mo Williams. There are lots of titles and the books are easy to read and very engaging and fun.

 

Older Children

Mr. Orange by Truus Matti

Paperboy by Vince Vawter

Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

On Came Home by Amy Timberlake

Prisoner 88 by Leah Pillegi

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