Nurturing Meaning Making

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 6.39.23 AMWhen I read a professional book with a powerful message I just have to shout it from the rooftops!  This one’s a keeper. You may see the title and think, “Oh no, now they are pushing down the teaching of reading to pre-schoolers!” But don’t worry that’s not what this book is about. Kathy Collins and Matt Glover are talking about a different aspect of reading with preschoolers, kindergarteners, and first graders.  They realize that even before conventional reading and decoding words, children can be reading texts.  Their definition of reading is “an interaction with a text during which the reader uses a variety of resources within the text (words, pictures, graphic elements) and within themselves (schema, skills, strategies) to make meaning” p. 10. Their main purpose is to “help children love books, to read widely, and develop a lifelong enthusiasm for learning” p. 76.

The authors talk about three categories of reading texts – familiar (like Pete the Cat that the children have heard many times), unfamiliar (books a child has never seen or heard read to him before) and informational books (any non-fiction book that the child is drawn to by the cover, pictures, or topic.) The focus of their teaching is how to read this type of book.  Within each of the three categories they have come up with 3-4 language levels as to how the child reads the text. They have worked with hundreds of children to inform their decisions and provide you with ways to view videos of their work throughout the text. As they listen to children read, they think about the child’s level and then give us ideas of how to proceed and support each child further. I love the cautions they write about “leveling” as their view is similar to the one that Katie and I present in our Catching Readers book – “levels are tools for gathering information about children’s understandings rather than tools for labeling them” p. 30.

Collins and Glover are teaching us how to support children in developing a healthy reader identity before reading conventionally. They are not deemphasizing the importance of teaching letters and sounds. They acknowledge the importance of that teaching. Here’s what they have to say about their expanded view of what it means to be a reader.

“…the act of reading is made up of much more than just decoding the words on the page even though so much of the instructional focus and adult concern for our youngest readers is about getting them to decode. Although this is certainly an obvious and important part of becoming a well-rounded reader, a narrowly centered focus on teaching young children to decode at the expense of other kinds of experiences with texts may actually strip away their very early sense of agency (Johnston 2004) and comfort with books.”

This book presents a multitude of ideas for working with preK- 1st grade children (and ELL students in any grade). It answers the question, ‘what else can we be doing to support young children in developing an image of themselves as readers, whether or not they can read the words yet.’ When you read the authors’ belief system (p. 107-8) I think you will agree!  I hope you enjoy the book.

Training Volunteers

Week 14 2008 097Recently I’ve been working with some volunteers who wanted to read with students in a first-grade classroom. Though the volunteers had some past educational experiences, they were not familiar with working with early readers, especially struggling readers. I had 45 minutes to share information with them and then each one watched me as I read with some students. With less than an hour to impart some knowledge, what would you choose to share?

Here are the things I decided would be most helpful for them:

  • Learning about the three sources of information (meaning, structure, and visual cues) that students need to use when solving words was of utmost importance. Many parents and other volunteers might think that early readers solve words by “decoding” only (sounding out words.) We need to use the questions “Does it make sense?” “Does it sound right?” and “Does it look right?” so that students eventually internalize these questions and use them automatically. We want students to learn to cross-check one source of information against the other flexibly and fluently. For more information on this topic (in case you want to share this info with your volunteers) see Chapter 4, “Beyond Sound It Out,” in Catching Readers Before They Fall.
  • Another big issue for volunteers is “when do I jump in and help when a child is stuck?” For this reason I talked a bit about prompting. We looked over some possible prompts from the Fountas & Pinnell book, Guided Reading: Good First Teaching for All Children, page 161. I wanted them to review some prompts for solving words, some for supporting fluency, some to encourage self-monitoring, and some just to get the students to be active and try something (even if the child couldn’t solve the word.) I also shared the strategic behavior card that you can find in Appendix 4 of our book. After all the prompting ideas, I did tell the volunteers that if the child made some sort of attempt or two, it would be OK to give the word. Having the child feel safe and comfortable with the volunteer is crucial.
  • The teacher and I knew that, because of the population of students at this school, the individual attention would be beneficial for the students. Just having an adult listen to them read their familiar books would be time well spent. The volunteer could also read aloud a book to the student, especially if the child had been absent for some of the Read Alouds that the teacher had done recently.
  • Language, language, language. Because many of the students they would be working with are English Language Learners, I stressed how important it is to have conversations with the students about what they are reading. Authentic conversations support vocabulary building as well as the student’s oral communication. The kids need someone who will carefully listen to what they have to say and work at understanding them.

The Q/A chapter in our book, Chapter 11, may also help if you find yourself in a similar situation. The volunteers I worked with asked to borrow a book so that they could read through those suggestions. So what would you do if you had only 45 minutes to train your classroom volunteers? What’s your top priority?

 

Independent Reading: A look in a kindergarten classroom

2014-12-17 11.45.29Independent reading time is a key component of any reader’s workshop. It looks different at every grade level. What’s important is that we have a time, daily, for kids to read by themselves or with a partner, to choose what they read, and to have time to talk about what they are reading. In my kindergarten classroom, we have book boxes and a book box time every day.  Every child has their own box. Inside the box is a variety of books. There is a Ziplock bag with their “just-right” books. In the bag there are guided reading books, paper books that we have read together as shared reading charts throughout the week, ABC charts, name books, cut apart sentences from guided reading groups and ABC books. Children know that they are to read their baggie books first. There are also “look books” – books they can read the pictures or retell the story. They can choose 5-7 “look books” to put in their book box. These are library books, books from our classroom library and favorites that have been read aloud. This might be a super cool book on snakes, a Pete the Cat book we’ve read out loud several times, a Mo Willems or Todd Parr book from our author study or any good book they find on our shelves. Finally, each child has a poem and song binder that is full of poems and songs we’ve read together as shared reading pieces. Our book box time is social, full of energy and full of engaged kindergarten readers – reading the words, reading the pictures, retelling the books, making decisions as readers and talking about books. Children choose a cozy nook to read, they decide if they are reading by themselves, with a partner or with a group, and they choose what they read – just like readers do. Here is a glimpse into our book box time. Enjoy!

A Look at Our Day

2015-01-09 12.23.28Lately I’ve had quite a few visitors in my kindergarten classroom. One of the questions that I’m asked over and over again is, “how do you fit it all in?”. I don’t have a magic answer. There is never enough time for all I want to do and explore with my kiddos. I integrate my curriculum as much as possible, teaching the content areas throughout the day and integrating literacy whenever I can. I’m always tweaking our schedule as the needs of my children change over the year. Our schedule doesn’t look the same in September as it does now – and it will change again before June, I’m sure. Here is a look at what our day looks like now and how I fit it all in.

Monday, Wednesday, Friday Schedule

8:30 – 8:45 Children arrive – read books, talk, share stories, connect with each other and me before we start our day

8:45 Morning news show

8:50 – 9:00 Morning Meeting, Part 1: Greeting (song, chant, game), Sharing (2 kids every day), Quick calendar check (look at schedule for the day and week), Read Aloud (a short, fun book for pleasure)

9:00 – 9:30 Explore Stations (Children are free to choose from play-based stations including play dough, sensory boxes, water play, dramatic play, legos, blocks, iPads, puzzles, sand table, science stations, math stations, reading books, making books, art, etc – anything we’ve done in our classroom is open at this time) I meet with guided reading groups (2 groups, 15 minutes each).

9:30 – 9:50 Morning Meeting, Part 2: Morning Message, Dance/Movement Activity, Interactive Read-Aloud and Reading Focus lesson

9:50 – 10:20 Reading/Writing Stations (Children are free to choose from literacy stations including big books, classroom library, sensory boxes with letters or words to find, magnetic letters, name writing, making books, wiki stix letters, sound boxes to sort toys by first letter, letter stamps, play dough letter making, rhyme and sound matching cards and games – they know they have to be doing reading or writing at this time) I meet with guided reading groups (2 groups, 15 minutes each).

10:20 – 10:40 Shared Reading (poem, chart, big book – usually 3 pieces of text each week, we do the same text every day for at least a week, this usually connects with a science or social studies topic), Community Writing (shared or interactive writing for a text we are working on over time  – it may be a mural, letter, labeling a science project, retelling, etc. – often is a content area topic)

10:40 – 11:00 Recess #1

11:00 – 11:30 Lunch

11:30 – 11:45 Book Boxes (Children read from individual book boxes including: “baggie books” – guided reading books and copies of books we’ve done as shared reading, “look books” – 3-5 books that they have chosen from our class library or school library and a poetry folder – a collection of all the charts we’ve done for shared reading) I have reading conferences with children.

11:45 – 12:30 Writer’s Workshop (Includes a focus lesson that is typically a read aloud or looking back at mentor texts, community writing or a conversation, then independent writing (making books), and sharing)

12:30 – 1:45 Specials (PE, Music, Drama, Library) *on Tuesday and Thursday I only have one special, so on these days we have a full hour for Writer’s Workshop 11:30-12:30, Book Box time at 1:05, and social studies, science or Explore stations from 1:20-1:45. Science and social studies are integrated throughout my day so we do a great deal of this in our literacy block with read alouds, explore stations and community writing.

1:45 – 2:00 Recess #2 and Snack (given to kids on the playground)

2:00 – 3:00 Math Workshop (includes whole group math stories, read aloud, math counting routines, math explore stations (I meet with small math groups during this time to do problem solving) and sharing)

3:00 – 3:15 Closing Circle (end of day math routines (calendar, counting days we’ve been in school), sharing, closing song, read aloud, passing out folders)

3:20 Dismissal

I hope this gives you a look into our classroom and how our day typically goes. Again, I am flexible to the needs of the kids. If I need to meet with extra reading groups or if the kids need more time with a particular project, I may schedule an end of day Explore time to meet with another group or work on a project. If you have a great scheduling idea, we would love to hear about it!

A Few Words for Parents

lt-blog-
It’s evening story time and as your child reads through a new book she suddenly comes to a difficult word and stops. What do you do? Do you give her the word? Or do you say “sound it out”?

Many teachers are beginning to realize that, although “sound it out” often comes to their lips, it isn’t necessarily the best response. The English language is not consistently phonetic so it is not helpful, or even fair, to tell a child to “sound out” words like said, night, or know, just to cite a few familiar examples.

A better strategy is to give your child a little support by saying, “Hmm, what would make sense there?” or point to the picture. Sometimes encouraging the child to go back and reread the sentence from the beginning helps as well. It’s important for story time to remain stress-free, so if your child is getting frustrated by too many unfamiliar words, just give her the word or read the entire book to her.

Here are some answers to other common concerns parents have about their child’s reading:

My child memorizes books, instead of reading them. Is this OK?

This is not unusual for very young readers, but we don’t want them to get the wrong impression about reading. We want children to understand that reading is not about memorizing books or lists of words, but rather about making the story make sense. Figuring out the words, attending to the print, and making the sentence make sense are all part of reading. If you run into this problem, maybe your child is ready to move on to books where the pattern changes. It is OK for her to do some real work while reading.

My child seems to know a word one day, but then she forgets it the next day. Should I put the words on cards and drill her on them?

Kids need to see the same words many times in a variety of settings to get to know that word. It’s better for her to see a word in an actual book than on flash cards, out of context. She may come to think that reading is just about accurately calling the words and not about understanding the full story or book. It’s normal for beginning readers to have words that are only ‘partially known.’ The more they encounter those words in authentic reading and writing situations, the more familiar the words will become. Eventually those words will become fully known and instantly recognized.

Should I give my child prizes for every book she reads?

It is great to encourage a child to read more, but reading should be its own reward. When we offer kids pizza or stickers for reading a certain number of books, we are actually sending a message that reading is something unpleasant so we have to resort to prizes to get them to read. Also, when kids are counting the number of books they read in a race for a prize, they often sacrifice quality for quantity. When you take your child to the library or a bookstore, spend some time finding books she enjoys. Ask her what she wants to learn more about or what kind of books she likes to read. Make a special time each evening for you and your child to sit down and read together.

How do I know my child understands what she’s reading? What should I do when she finishes a book?

While she’s reading, you can tell if your child understands if she laughs at the funny parts, talks about what the characters are doing, or connects to an experience of her own. Encourage these responses. But if your child pauses or reads the punctuation wrong, these are hints that she might be losing the overall meaning of the story. Encourage her to slow down and reread those parts; talk together about what’s happening in the book. Just talking naturally will help you know whether your child understands the story. You can start a conversation with some questions like “What was your favorite part?” “Did it remind you of anything?” or “What did you think of that book?”

If my child is struggling with reading, should I take her to one of those learning centers or buy a kit to teach her how to read?

Talk to your child’s teacher if you think she is struggling. Learning centers and expensive computer programs might help your child pass a test, but they won’t help her build good reading strategies in the long run. A reading tutor who can support what is going on in the classroom and work together with your child’s teacher is a much better option.

Note: If you are a teacher reading this post, feel free to duplicate it to use in one of your parent newsletters or to give out at parent conference time.  Also look in Chapter 11 of Catching Readers Before They Fall for more Q/A for families.

2014-11-26 12.07.28

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

How do you encourage and celebrate thinking in your classroom?

Something to think about…

Should we teach kindergarteners to read?

Playing with cloud dough

Making a volcano with cloud dough

Making friend's names with magnetic letters

Making friend’s names with magnetic letters

This week I read an article citing a report saying that forcing kids to read before they are ready could be harmful. The report specifically references Common Core Standards in Kindergarten and says “there is no evidence to support a widespread belief in the United States that children must read in prekindergarten or kindergarten to become strong readers and achieve academic success”. While it was surprising to me to hear that there is “no evidence”, it was not surprising to read the other findings the authors reported. I hear over and over about blocks and dramatic play stations taken out of classrooms, recess taken away, and endless inappropriate assessments being given (an “online, practice quiz for kindergarten” should never, ever happen). Our children deserve better.

Reading in the Gingerbread House

Reading in the Gingerbread House

I agree completely with what the authors of the study share in the report. Children need to play – it is how they learn (and research does support this).  But I also think it’s important that we give our kids every chance to get that important school literacy piece as soon as possible – with developmentally appropriate practices. It is tragic that, as the article states, “teacher-led direct instruction in kindergarten has almost entirely replaced the active, play-based experiential learning that we know children need”. I don’t think that we should force children to read, but I do think we can immerse children in rich literacy experiences early on and ignite an interest in learning to read and write. We don’t need to have hours of drill and kill and teacher-led direct instruction. We don’t need worksheets and mindless one-size-fits-all instruction. We don’t need hours of assessments. We don’t need to make kindergarten (or first, second..or any grade, for that matter) full of these things.

Acting out Knuffle Bunny in the "laundromat"

Acting out Knuffle Bunny in the “laundromat”

My classroom is a play-based kindergarten classroom, with a great deal of authentic and meaningful literacy experiences offered each day. We read aloud, we have choices throughout the day in curriculum, content and activities, we have a daily Writer’s Workshop, we play, we learn letters, sounds and links, we have 2 recesses each day, we have snack, we read pictures and words in books, we build things with blocks, we learn how to read,  we dress up in the drama center, we play in the kitchen/spaceship/laundromat, we put on puppet shows, we learn how to form our letters, we discover things in sensory boxes, we have guided reading groups, we explore things we are interested in, we read charts and poems, we wonder, question and grow and we do it all in an active, playful, meaningful and developmentally appropriate way. And at the end of the year, some of my kindergarteners are reading at the county-wide benchmark. And some aren’t. But they can all tell you a favorite author and what kind of books they like. They can all read books they’ve written and tell you what author/illustrator they see as a mentor.  They all see themselves as readers and writers. That is ultimately my goal.

Negotiating the order of the alphabet letters with friends

Negotiating the order of the alphabet letters with friends

I’m reminded of the phrase from medicine, “first, do no harm”. This needs to hold true in education. The last thing any of us want is a child refusing to go to school, locking himself in his bedroom, and hiding under his bed. We want children excited about learning, passionate about topics they are discovering at school, talking about favorite authors and illustrators, questioning, wondering and eager to learn, empowered because they know they have a voice in their learning. We don’t want to harm our children. If we are being asked to do things that we know are not developmentally appropriate and that may harm some children, then we need to speak up. It’s worth fighting for the blocks, the recess and the dramatic play. It’s worth fighting for our children. Thank you to the authors of the Defending the Early Years project study for giving us another tool to fight with.