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!
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!