The Beauty of Repeated Readings
I recently had the opportunity to hear one of my favorite literacy experts, Lester Laminack, speak on the topic of reading stories multiple times. Repeated reading is a subject that I have touched upon previously during our discussion of interactive read alouds. However, Dr. Laminack reminded the us that repeated readings of books are so much more than just another instructional tool in our teacher toolboxes.
He stated that we have “best friend books.” These books, like best friends, are the ones you turn to time and time again. These books can bring us comfort in times of turmoil due to their dependability. We feel confident reading them, because we already know the conclusion by heart. Students naturally uncover the more complex themes and meanings in books they adore over time since they spend so many hours in these texts!
Lester made an interesting point during his speech. He said that schools and teachers are perhaps doing “something” unknowingly to discourage the re-readings of books. How do we know this? Simple fact: Parents send us students who LOVE to hear the same stories over and over. Schools send back students who do not like to reread.
Think of any toddler you have ever met. If you have read to a young child, you know they request the same books to be reread over and over again, sometimes until you are blue in the face. Something happens when kids enter schools, though, claims Laminack. Kids are suddenly bored by the same old books, or they refuse to reread a book on their own. Are we as educators discouraging repeated readings? Do libraries let students renew the same book multiple times? Do teachers encourage students to “pick a different book on their level” or choose a variety of books to take book tests over? Do we bore students to death with repeated fluency probes? Is the education system subliminally sending the message to our kids that rereading is bad?
This is all food for thought. Make sure you encourage your students to read what they are interested in reading, and advertise Best Friend Books in your classroom, too! You know we all need our BFFs!
Introducing Shared Reading
Happy New Year! Ahead of us lies an entire year’s worth of learning potential, for both ourselves and our students. However, we cannot forget about previous goals not yet achieved. Tennessee’s Read to be Ready campaign launched a few years ago with the goal of improving the literacy skills of students across our state. Specifically, the Read to be Ready campaign unites stakeholders across Tennessee in the pursuit of one common, critical goal – by 2025, 75% of Tennessee third graders will read on grade level. The campaign is driven by five key beliefs: early literacy matters, but it’s never too late, reading is more than sounding out words, teachers are critical, and it takes a community. Maybe your school or district has already been involved in this campaign in some form. You can find out more by visiting the resources on the Read to be Ready page.
One of the strategies that Read to be Ready coaches have been trained in to bring back to their schools is the practice of shared reading. Reading Rockets lists some of the benefits of employing a shared read in the classroom:
- Allows students to enjoy materials that they may not be able to read on their own
- Ensures that all students feel successful by providing support to the entire group
- Students can act as though they are reading if they cannot yet
- Helps novice readers learn about the relationship between oral language and printed language.\
- Assists students in learning where to look and/or focus their attention
- Supports students as they gain awareness of symbols and print conventions, while constructing meaning from text read
- Assists students in making connections between background knowledge and new information
- Focuses on and helps develop concepts about print and phonemic connections
- Helps in teaching frequently used vocabulary
- Encourages prediction in reading
- Helps students develop a sense of story and increases comprehension
2018 has arrived, and this leaves Tennessee educators with just seven short years to boost our students’ reading proficiency statewide. Is your classroom on the right track? This year we will continue to explore shared reading ideas to help boost your students’ literacy learning. See ya next post and cheers to the new year!
Learning New Words
What individual component of reading instruction is most highly correlated to comprehension? Vocabulary! The more words you know, the more knowledge you possess. For every word that you can access the meaning to, you can apply that word to your background knowledge and even your speaking or writing. Give your students the gift of gab this holiday season and by working towards building up their vocabulary!
The top researchers argue about the number of exposures to a word it takes to truly know the word. There is a discrepancy in the research is since the amount of practice needed with a new word varies greatly among individuals. Since there is no conclusive evidence on this matter, teachers should think about what vocabulary instruction will best meet your students’ needs.
Even though we are not certain how many times a student needs to practice with a new word to fully “own it,” you might have guessed that a one-time worksheet exposure to the word is simply not going to cut it. Students need multiple exposures to a word in text and in real life contexts. I always go for a goal of about 20 exposure to a new vocabulary word with my students. Yes, some needed more time and some needed less- but 20 exposures is always a good starting point. Besides introducing the words and having the students use the words in sentences, think of some other ways students will be held accountable for using their newly acquired vocabulary words. I had students keep a “word bank” of weekly words in their desks that they cut out during small group time on Mondays. Each day we used the words in some way. Some days I gave a definition and they had to see how quickly they could pick up the word I was describing. Sometimes we put the words in alphabetical order. Other days we looked at lexical features such as the number of syllables or phonemes a word had. Websites like Wordle or WordItOut create word art or word clouds for your viewing enjoyment, too. A vocabulary journal works well for students to illustrate new words and refer back to ones they have learned over the school year.
If your students already know a meaningful part of the word, or morpheme, they will be able to better pick up on the new word’s meaning. Therefore, we teach affixes such as prefixes or suffixes. Students can study roots, too. The English language is made up of many Greek and Latin roots, so having a base knowledge of the more common roots will help your students immensely. Refer to this chart to help you out and good luck with your lexicon learning!
Just like one can use Little Red Writing Folders to organize classroom writing assignments, you can also designate folders for reading practice. We utilized these folders for take-home purposes. I realize many schools do not assign “homework” anymore, but it seems the majority of schools will allow for some guidance on reading practice at home. I found the folder method to be very helpful in organizing students’ reading responsibilities. This simple folder format allowed even the youngest students to take ownership over their nightly literacy practice and parents were thankful for the ease of nightly homework rituals.
Our folders were the sturdy plastic types and could hold a book in each pocket. In the front pocket, we typically placed the basal reader that students had been practicing in class. Our “assignments” followed the same trajectory every week, with the warm-up story needing to be practiced Monday nights, the main story on Tuesdays, the supplemental text was read on Wednesdays, and the main story was reviewed on Thursday nights. Since we needed the basal textbooks for both in class and at home practice, the folders helped my students keep up with where their books were at all times. To everything a place, and everything in its place! The back pocket of the folders could hold extra mini readers they were working on in small groups for extra fluency practice, too. Library books are an option here, too, but sometimes those books did not fit our folders’ pockets.
Also like the writing folders, the resources in the middle of the folders were my favorite. One can pretty easily differentiate what is placed in the page protectors attached via prongs in the folder’s center. My students helped me switch out the pages, too. Some items I have used in the past include sight word practice pages, parent letter, decoding strategies, sight word phrases, fluency poems and songs, reading logs, reading contest forms, and my favorite- the Elkonin boxes page for spelling practice. Elkonin boxes or sound boxes were used in class to practice spelling words, then used at home, too. The students loved them and I saw an increase in true spelling understanding!
Overall it was just nice to have a folder that equated simply reading. When parents and students saw it, they knew they had a grip on their assignments and knew where everything they needed to practice was located. Even as an adult I believe that half the battle of completing tasks is having items you need to accomplish your goals organized and easy to access. Try out a reading folder with your class today!
“Wonder”ful New Book Recommendation
Welcome to November! Fall is in full swing and it is an awesome time of year to curl up with a good book! I hope you are modeling great reading practices for your students and perhaps even your own children. Keeping up the classroom reading is important, too. Here is this month’s review.
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
I have seen this novel utilized in so many fantastic ways with upper elementary and middle school students, and now there is a younger student version, too. In today’s day and age of selfie photo perfection and judging all that is “different” as wrong or bad, this book is a needed read for discussion of these issues with your students. The main character Auggie Pullman is about to begin 5th grade in a public school after being homeschooled for years. He has a significant facial deformity that causes others to look away in fear. Even though he looks different on the outside, he feels the same as everyone else on the inside. As one book reviewer from Kirkus Reviews put it, “Auggie may be finding his place in the world, but that world must find a way to make room for him, too. A memorable story of kindness, courage and wonder.” For instructional purposes, I love that it is written from various viewpoints! There are many digital resources available to accompany your study of this novel with your students. Check out the publisher’s website to see all of the related texts. This website has many downloadable Wonder teaching resources, too. The author’s page shares some helpful classroom discussion questions, too. There is even a Wonder app! Many teachers use this book at the beginning of the year to foster a classroom as a community environment and have their students take the #choosekind pledge. This month, on November 17, there is even a movie of the book coming out starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson. It will be all the buzz, I’m sure, so get a head start and read this novel with your students. If I were you and you were me- remember to keep the tissues nearby when reading this book aloud to your class. Just so you know, this book is based on a child with an actual rare genetic condition called treacher collins syndrome. I leave you with this quote: “You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.” I’m not crying- you’re crying!
Growth Mindset + Literacy
You know what I am hearing a great deal of discussion about in the education arena today? I keep hearing about growth mindset. I love it! You know what I do not hear a lot about in these conversations? For some reason I am not hearing much discussion about growth mindset in regards to literacy skills. And, as you might have guessed, I don’t love it. It seems to me that the growth mindset concept, which has been evolving over the years, leans towards mathematics. While there have been a few attempts at adding literacy into the conversation, I think we as educators can do a better job. Here’s a start to an ongoing conversation we will be having about this topic.
What is Growth Mindset?
Just in case you are out of the loop, let’s get you into the loop. Growth mindset’s main constructs were developed by Dr. Carol Dweck’s research. When investigating mindset we learn that one can have either a fixed mindset: believing that you can never grow or improve in an area, or a growth mindset: believing intelligence or ability is malleably and can be cultivated to grow over time with work, patience, and practice. Actually, one’s personal philosophy can go from one end of the mindset spectrum to the other and it can always change over the years. Your mindset can also change depending on the task at hand. As a teacher, maybe you have a growth mindset about the potential of your new class of students this year, but you have a fixed mindset on your ability to ever be caught up with all that grading.
As Dr. Dweck says in a more recent talk, you do not really ever achieve a complete growth mindset, it is something to always be striving towards. Some folks, with good intentions, skewed her original message and thought that growth mindset it something you achieve in a day. In actuality, growth mindset might not be fully achieved over a lifetime and it can be applied to all aspects of your life. I will leave you with this TED Talk featuring Dweck as she discusses some of the ins and outs of her mindset concept. Hopefully you will be thinking about ways to better incorporate this philosophy into your teaching and we will specifically be discussing its use in literacy instruction next time we get together. Bye for now!
Monthly Book Reviews
In the spirit of keeping up with a few new pieces of rich literature for read aloud or to add to your classroom library, I began featuring two new books for you to check out last month. This month we have two additional finds you may or may not have seen before, but I suggest considering them for your classroom needs.
TEK: The Modern Cave Boy by Patrick McDonnell
Is it a phone? Is it a tablet? Is it an iPod? No, look closer. It’s an actual book! This story’s illustrations make it look like one of your favorite handheld technological devices. Maybe this feature alone will draw in some of your reluctant readers during our technology driven times.
The beauty of this story is that it weaves the ideology that technology may not always be all that it’s cracked up to be. In fact, Tek’s obsession with high tech devices leads him to be very disconnected from reality. Think cave man life here. As a lady that still rocks a flip phone, I can really relate to this story’s message. We need to make sure that our students understand both the advantages and disadvantages to being “plugged in” all the time. Use this fun story to help set the notion into motion that everything has it’s time and place, but moderation is key. Hmm. I’m sensing this would be a great text to use with author’s purpose and theme. To avoid irony, I hesitate to mention that this book does have a YouTube video, but it might be an option for your student’s viewing pleasure as well. Just promise me you won’t forgo all actual text for videos, ok?
10 Things I Can Do to Help my World by Melanie Walsh
Not a new book, but new to me. This book was introduced to me this summer as a selection one of the Read to be Ready summer camps had used in their programming. Being the tree hugger that I am- I LOVE it! I loved it so much that the teacher sharing the book with the group gave it to me to keep. One of the best features about this book are the pages- many of them have cut-outs, flaps, and creative ways of displaying the text. It is just an awesome book with an even more awesome message. I think it would be a wonderful option for building fluency since the students will hardly be able to put it down because it is simple in nature and they’ll want to play with the pages. It would also be a great text to use with a follow up writing prompt concerning other ideas students generate about helping our world. Help your world and help your classroom library by checking out this book!
Cozy Up with New Literature Picks
A topic that we need to talk about more in our literacy blog is: BOOKS! What are you and your students reading? Any new favorites? Here are a couple I was recently introduced to that you may find a use for in your classroom, too.
Ordinary People Change the World Series by Brad Meltzer
We had the chance to hear from Brad Meltzer, the author of this amazing series, at Scholastic’s “My Favorite Teacher” Breakfast at the ILA conference in Orlando this summer. Brad is definitely an inspiring individual himself, but his books bring to life heroes from history in a kid friendly format. In fact, many teachers are already familiar with his work, but I had no clue how vast his series had grown. I read the Jane Goodall story and enjoyed the fact that it started describing her life as a child and showed the steps she took along the way to achieve her goals. What an awesome concept for students to see how they can become role models and great achievers, too. There are plenty of titles to choose from and the collection is expanding all the time. These would be great for read aloud in most classrooms (yes, even high school students like to be read aloud to!) and awesome additions to your classroom library as well.
They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
Teacher preference showing here- I LOVE cats. Even if you are not crazy about the furry felines yourself, there are a lot of wonderful opportunities for using this book with your students. We were introduced to this text during Tennessee’s Read to Be Ready summer reading program because of its originality and implications for instruction. First- it is just a neat text. It features simplistic writing with repetition for our youngest learner’s engagement. I would not limit this book to early childhood, though. Each page’s beautiful illustrations (it is a Caldecott Honor recipient) show the cat from a different animal’s perspective. There are plenty of speaking and listening opportunities with this text if you discuss why each animal views the cat differently. There are art and science connections when you consider the illustrations or the scientific reasons a particular animal views the cat the way he does. Lastly, I think it would be a great model text to inspire creative student writing, too. Have your students think of another animal or object and then write about others’ perspectives of it. My cats give this book two paws up and I am sure your students will enjoy it, too!
Incentives and Reading Levels
When I began teaching, parents were all about the level their child was reading on according to the Accelerated Reading (AR) program. Students were all about reading to get points, too. There were school wide reward parties for the “top readers” in each grade level. Funny thing is, I usually did not let my students participate in AR. The program itself has many benefits. The problem was how it was implemented.
This post will not be about nixing all reading incentives or disregarding tested reading levels altogether. The points I want to drive home in this post are that you may need to reexamine your incentive practices and not rely solely on a one-time computer generated reading level for your students.
First, there were the issues with the parents. Why didn’t their child get picked for the AR party? “That’s not fair!” they would whine. The truth was, it wasn’t fair. Some students were reading at levels far above the others and therefore better able to earn points and rewards. When I was in middle school I would read the first and last page of lengthy chapter books, take the book’s quiz, and rack up some major points even if I did not score well on the test overall. I think I missed the point of reading! The above examples are what you want to avoid if you choose to use reading incentives in your classroom. Students should not feel behind others or judged by their reading levels any more than they already do. Some incentives promote excitement in reluctant readers who enjoy games and contests. Some incentives make those readers who are behind become even more hopeless and they give up. If you do offer incentives, make sure there are not ways students can cheat the system, too!
If I have your student in my class, I am going to find out his or her reading level from a computer generated test that we administer to all students at the beginning of the year. This score is conveniently accessible and gives me a good place to start my further investigation of your child’s reading abilities. I never stop at just the one score. Sometimes students test far below or above their actual abilities (blame test anxiety or lucky computer clicking). Students’ reading abilities may progress slowly or quickly and many times another computer test is not available to be administered in a timely manner. There are many factors that contribute to skilled reading and one test score is not going to give you the whole picture of the readers in your classroom. Please do not leave your students on the same book level all year just because there has not been a time for another reading test on the computer.
My biggest take away from using AR in the classroom was discovering the root cause of why parents and students liked it so much. Parents like to be informed about their child’s progress. If they see a simple test score that says “reading at grade level 2.2” parents can easily think about that number in terms of their child’s grade level. As educators, we know it’s not as simple as a single number and we also know these scores are sometimes inaccurate. Please take the time to explain to your parents exactly how their students are performing. What are the student’s strengths and weaknesses? This may take longer than placing a score in front of them, but it is well worth it! Students like reading incentives because they like to have fun. Make the enjoyment of reading the incentive! Take the time to truly find out what your students are interested in reading and reward them with great literature. Continue to use incentives and reading levels if they suite your needs, just proceed with caution to avoid the pitfalls!
Is goal setting really worth all the hype? I think so! Dr. Hattie says so, too. His collective research on preexisting educational studies (he conducts meta-analyses) led him to conclude many things about effective teaching practices. When it comes to goal setting Hattie defines learning intentions as “describing what it is we want students to learn in terms of the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and values within any particular unit or lesson.”
One can have long or short terms goals. Not only do your students need to know the expectations for their daily lessons, but they should know about appropriate long term goals as well. The experts suggest that goal making be led by the student or at least have some student input. We do not always follow this recommendation as educators, but we should! Consider how you would feel if all your goals were set by someone else. Not very motivating, huh?!
Why don’t you put yourself in your students’ shoes and set a teacher goal for yourself first? Just like you would with the students, you can start small. What is something you can do to improve your literacy teaching practices this school year? Maybe you could join an online professional book club and gain teaching ideas from peers. Perhaps you decide to set aside one day a month to sit down and analyze your students’ reading progress, scores, classwork, etc. Make a small goal that you are interested in and stick to it!
Now on to your students. It would be great to explain to your students some appropriate goals for their grade level or to even work individually with students on options for areas to focus on. Maybe stick to one area at a time, for example, have your students set a writing goal for themselves. Make sure it is measurable! Have students share their goals with their peers and their plan for making progress. You will surely not be disappointed with how far your students will grow when they have goals they are determined to succeed in. Go for the goal, kiddos!