Using Visualization to Promote Comprehension
One way to expand upon students’ budding comprehension skills is to promote visualization of what is being read. Students may blindly decode word after word on the page, but never really fully engulf themselves in the action of the story. Visualization is a fun way to help move students forward in their literacy learning!
When teaching visualization, I ask my students to name their favorite movie. I then remind them that all movies start out as written work, whether in a book or a script or both. We then talk about applying the movie making strategy to reading by thinking about what was read while reading. One third grade teacher made a YouTube video highlighting the idea that students should use visualization practices while reading. Read aloud to students and have them close their eyes for “movie making time.” This idea works for books without photos or even when reading a picture book without showing the illustrations.
A program I have used as an interventionist suggests using motions to symbolize different aspects of comprehension. Teachers make the motion during reading aloud to signal when one could employ various comprehension strategies. I’m sure your class could easily create its own symbol for visualization. The teacher should model when to use the visualization strategy based on what the author has written. After practicing together, the students can chime in, too. Students will be reminded to use the visualization strategy on their own as well.
There is even a recent article in Literacy Today that gives more details on a similar idea and it is titled “The Power of the Picture.” The author suggests, “Empowering students to paint a clear picture in their minds of what they are reading can bring the story to life and allow them to connect with the text in a meaningful way.” She encourages students draw what they are visualizing about the stories read in class. This way teachers can see more into what the students are thinking and they can better correct any “fuzzy” pictures, or trouble with comprehension that the students may be experiencing.
Resources from the International Literacy Association
If you are looking for a wonderful conference to attend this summer, I recommend the International Literacy Association’s (ILA’s) annual conference. It is not just wonderful, it is the best! This summer the conference will take place in Austin, TX and is reasonably priced as far as conferences go. Bonus points if you can attend with your fellow teacher friends as a mini getaway or if you have your school fund this fantastic PD opportunity for you. Even if the price tag of attending is coming out of your own pocketbook, being allowed into the vendors area with all the free giveaways is worth it alone! Last year I left the conference with over $500 in free books and resources for my classroom. On a related note- pack an extra suitcase for hauling all your literacy loot back home. If you are an ILA member you will receive discounts, and, if you are a preservice educator- you can attend for FREE! I wish I had taken advantage of this offer before I began teaching.
Speaking about the ILA, each year they put out a survey to their members about what topics concerning literacy education are HOT. For the second year in a row, the topic of early literacy took the number one spot on the survey. Why wouldn’t it? After all, a great foundation in early literacy paves the way for almost all future literacy success in students. Check out this cheat sheet for a summary of the other major takeaways from the 2018 What’s Hot in Literacy? report.
I found the ILA’s new resource for explaining phonics to parents to be a nice document to have access to as well. Phonics can be a mind-boggling topic for many, especially if one was not taught to read with phonics instruction themselves. Last but certainly not least, I need to mention that the website ReadWriteThink.org is one of ILA’s greatest all around resources for educators. Lesson plans, ideas, PD, encouragement and inspiration- it has it all! Just when I assume everyone knows about this incredible literacy resource, I meet a teacher who does not know about its wonders. So, there you go. You are welcome! Even if you did already know about ReadWriteThink, you may have forgotten about it. I encourage you to take another peek at this website today! ILA and its resources will always steer you in the direction of the best literacy practices, so be sure to keep up with what they are offering frequently. You will not regret it!
Exploring Reading Options for the Very Young
One can gain inspiration from the world around them. Right now my world is all about babies, since I am about to have my first child. Having a degree in early childhood makes one think all the things when you finally have a child of your own. One of the major things the upcoming birth of my son makes me think about is his education. Yes, I should be thinking about the birth or his health, etc., but a teacher tends to think about education first and foremost! We cannot help it. Being a literacy gal, I have been thinking mostly about how excited I am to read to him and help him establish an early bond to books from the beginning of his life.
Yes, babies can hear you from inside the womb, and yes, you can start reading to them when they are still in utero. I cannot say that I have read nightly to my little one while he is still tucked inside my belly, but, hey, all of those classroom read alouds he was present for count, right? When I am still at the hospital, however, I will take a major step towards increasing his personal library. I cannot WAIT to sign him up for Tennessee’s literacy initiative Books from Birth. This will enable Isaac to receive a book in the mail for free once a month from birth to age 5. Many hospitals now make it their mission to get all new babies registered for the program before they are discharged.
I used to be a spokesperson for our local chapter of Books from Birth. It was first established by our state’s superstar sweetheart Dolly Parton in an effort to help more students in her home county graduate from high school. Dolly used to give graduating seniors money upon their completion of high school until educators helped her realize that her money would be better spent with an investment on the front end of the students’ lives. Over time this program launched statewide and now the governor and his wife are in charge of expanding it. Make sure your own little ones are signed up and make sure the parents of students in your classroom know they can sign up their little ones at home to participate, too. Think especially about those families who moved from out of state.
Even my first graders gravitated to books on my classroom library shelves in which they had a copy of thanks to the Imagination Library. You can rack up whole class sets or at least small group sets of these books at used bookstores like McKay’s to use in your classroom, too (side note: I always get into trouble at McKay’s. When I say trouble, I mean I never leave without less than 50 or so books and sometimes educational board games, too.). It’s exciting when students realize that they can now read by themselves the texts they were given in the mail years ago and may still have at home. I witnessed kids that were certainly motivated to practice these particular texts. That’s all on the subject of books for the very young right now. I think my contractions are starting, so I better get to the hospital! Until next time!
Cornett’s Book Corner
“Some people collect stamps.
Some people collect coins.
Some people collect art.
Jerome collected words . . .”
Teach your students to be word collectors through the introduction of this inspiring new text. Words, like works of art, are meant to be collected! It is fun to understand new words and procure them for your own use. Single syllable nuanced words or longer multisyllabic words that sound sophisticated when they roll off your tongue can be collected in a variety of ways. Peter H. Reynolds, the author of The Dot, weaves together an interesting tale about Jerome’s word collecting journey and what happens one day when his collection accidentally gets spilled out everywhere. This is also a great tale to inspire a writer’s workshop lesson or poetry unit.
Teachers have learned the importance of letting students have a choice when it comes to the books they read. We have discussed this topic on Tenspire before, and research backs the claim that students certainly have increased buy in to read more if they have some control over the literature they are reading. Have we applied this idea to vocabulary, though? I for one can admit that I have dropped the ball when it comes to letting students find and choose new vocabulary words to study on their own. If self-selection is vital to successful student reading practices, why have educators been negligent in having students have some input about the new words they study? Maybe we just have not thought of it before now. Nevertheless, when we know better, we do better. Think of the impact you can have on a student’s life if they are encouraged to “hunt” down new words wherever they go?! A great starting place would be for students to create a mini journal to record their personal collection of words. There are even free templates online. Now is the time to start letting students have a say about the vocabulary they acquire. I encourage you to begin raising a classroom full of word collectors today without delay!
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 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!