Saturday, August 29, 2009
Certainly, words have never hamed them. It brings me back to the days of when they would ask questions upon questions about words: “What does obedient mean?” to “What is the difference between exquisite and beautiful?” If there are “foodies” in the world (forgive me, I just saw Julie & Julia) then we live in a house of - “wordies”. My father once wrote that his mother, regarded words as valuable as electricity and were not to be wasted. This view of language has shaped my understanding of words - how choosing the right one was a matter of efficiency and precision. I mused over this when my daughter wanted to use the word trenchant, she had read in a review of Leopold’s Sand County Almanac. We looked it up, trenchant means having keenness and forcefulness and penetration in thought expression or intellect. She later used the word to describe Georgia O’Keeffe in a report she did for school. By the way, other than speaking directly and purposefully with children as a means to endow them with an expansive vocabulary, wide reading is the next level for learning new words.
So it has been that I have always found this a normal state of being, this regular questioning and answering regarding words. But can you imagine there is a scientific/ educational term for this? It is called, word consciousness. When a child asks you what a word means they are operating on the highest levels of critical thinking – they are analyzing words in order to create meaning. Just as my daughter did with word trenchant, she owns that word it is there for her use whenever she needs it. If she sees it text it will hold nuances of meaning that others would miss for not having access to its influence. It is tucked away in her phonological processor (the region of the brain devoted to processing speech sounds) waiting. Since she has had prior experience with this word, she will be more likely to decode this word than the child who does not share this kind of wealth.
Yes, this is a kind of wealth - intellectual wealth. Here is the darker side to the statement “…words will never harm me.” Not having rich experiences with language does harm children. Remember that I said this journey to literacy begins before a child ever sees the printed word. It is true children entering Kindergarten can have a 30 million-word gap between socioeconomic groups. To learn more check out the watermark study, Meaningful Differences, by Betty Hart & Todd Risley. The following link is an excerpt from their book in an article published by American Educator: http://www.aft.org/pubsreports/American_educator/spring2003/catastrophe.html Children who have limited exposure to language find themselves in a dire state. They are behind their peers before they even enter school. We educators know this, and this knowledge can change everything, but we must intervene early. We need to create partnerships with parents.
Next time dear readers we will talk about how to read with children to increase their capacity for language through a method known as Dialogic Reading. I leave you with this, in the minds of children there is a river, a current of thought. Brilliant and spectacular charged with bolstering energy. If there is a life force then this is its power source. Words flush out ideas, and it is these ideas that will change our nation. Let the river run.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
One of the primary goals to becoming a literate person is to know real freedom and autonomy. Freedom is to access knowledge and autonomy is to use it – or not. Do you read to entertain and escape? Do you read to learn? Do you read as a form of communication with others? Whatever the reason – the experience of engaging text is truly unique it carries the reader away into its world of language in imagery.
Have you ever seen a baby bird take flight? Well no, I haven’t either but I imagine that it is more like graceful falling than flying. Getting to know how to use wings to fly takes time and practice. That’s exactly like what the fledging reader needs. Time and practice. How do you guide your little one to learn how to take flight with words?
Your child’s classroom teacher may discuss reading strategies or fix-up strategies. Here are strategies that a reader can use to help them learn how to deal with mistakes (miscues) as they learn how to decode text.
“Use a picture clue.” – Many beginning books have a high correlation from picture to text the picture is a clue.
“Skip it then go back reread.” – Skip the troublesome word and finish the sentence then go back and reread it maybe you’ll have the information you need to solve the word.
“Reread” – If the reader doesn’t understand what was just read go back to reread, or if the reader took a long time solving a word go back to preserve the meaning of the sentence.
“Get your mouth ready.” – Sometimes the reader just needs to consider the initial letters of a word e.g. if the word is slip get your mouth ready by saying the /s/ sound.
“Look at word beginnings and endings.” Often times, middle (medial) parts in word are the more difficult for children to decode. We want to build confidence beginning (initial) parts of words are usually easier to figure, as is the end (finial).
“Find a word chunk.” This is a phonics cue in programs like Fundations they call these glued or welded sounds e.g. fan, an is the chunk or glued or welded sound.
“Does it look right?” When a child reads a word like glad and they read it as happy this, is the time to cue child back to the word glad and say does it look right?
“Does make sense? Why?” Children should always be reading to understand what they read, so if the child has just labored over a few sentences ask them if it made sense and then say why do you say that? See what they tell you.
These strategies help young readers learn how to read with autonomy – so that they can be free to learn and create.
One last quote from a favorite poet, “Hope is the thing with feathers” (Dickinson 1830-86) Literacy is what gives me hope – teaching children to read is teaching their minds to fly. They will answer all of the unanswered questions of today, but they need our help.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Children need to be engaged in sustained reading. That is why we have programs like DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) thanks to the remarkable Jim Trelease, if you don’t know him check out his website: http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/ . Jim Trelease was not an educator he was a parent and school volunteer, who made significant contributions towards literacy instruction. I use one his quotes on the reading logs I send home to parents: “Students who read the most, read the best…” Trelease goes on to say, “achieve the most, and stay in school the longest. Conversely, those who don’t read much, cannot get better at it.” This seems like common sense but there is another quote I like to use, “Common sense isn’t too common.” Thanks mom, I don’t know the origin of that one I just heard it a lot growing up. And yes, of course, my mom is right.
Make reading a daily priority there is always a bit of time that can go towards reading. What if a child does not like to read? Make it fun. A simple way to do this is to make it special – this is the power of the paw let your child read to the family pet. Children will be more forthcoming at times with an animal than they might be with a person. If you don’t have a pet, let your child read to a stuffed animal. The whole point is to create a risk taker when it comes to learning how to read, “Students who read the most, read the best…” Make a special corner in your house, where a child can be in charge - be the reader, and tell the author’s stories. One more important piece to this is that the book the child reads needs to be a “just right” book. A “just right” book follows the three-finger rule. It used to be the five-finger rule, but the latest research from Allington (2006), asserts that if there are three or more words on a page that the child cannot decode the book is too difficult for independent reading, unless it is of extremely high interest to the reader. Tell the child to put down one finger on the page for each word that they cannot read if the child can read a page with less than three errors it is a just right book. Setup a little timer and be sure to reward the reader with your praise and interest when that special time is through. Once you find a “just right book” allow for rereading of the book. Rereading is an excellent way to increase comprehension, fluency, an confidence – it’s not cheating.
Teachers can do this in the classrooms as well. Setup a bean chair or tent put a big old stuffed dog in there with a tape recorder. It can be an incentive, who gets to read with Francine the Reading Dog today? Children will be clamoring to get into that spot and be the reader. Later you can listen to the tape to check on fluency. Go on to create a post reading activity setup a mailbox and ask children to write a friendly letter to Francine the Reading Dog. In their letters, they can tell her their favorite part of the book, or describe their wonder page (I wonder why…), really it’s only limited to the imagination. For those reluctant writers a way to differentiate is to draw a picture and label things.
The sun is out and now my cup is empty. So you know why this blog is The Reading Dog, because it has to be fun – it has to appeal to the ones who count the most. I want to leave you with ten rules for reading. This came from an article I read from the Reading Teacher (Litt, D 2007 pg 570-581). Besides appealing to children, we need to use language that is easy for them to understand and more importantly put to use. It has been my experience that these rules can really make a difference. Try them let me know what you think.
1. You can't make it up. That's pretend reading. Little kids do that sometimes, but in real reading you are only allowed to say the words you see on the page.
2. Reading is always supposed to make sense.
3. If what you're reading doesn't make sense, it's your job (as the reader) to Figure out what was wrong and fix it.
4. The words count more than the picture. If the picture seems to be saying one thing, but the words are saying something else, go by the words.
5. If you see a word you know, you have to say that word. You can't say something else just because you think the book should say that. When you read, the letters are the boss.
6. If you see a part of a word you know (we sometimes call these bits “chunks”), you have to say that bit when you get to it. For example, if you see un in punch, read un when you get to it. You can't read push, pitch, pinch, or anything else, even if it makes sense, because when you see the un you have to say un.
7. You always have to read from left to right; this way [slide finger left to right]. No exceptions. There is no to in got because you always have to read from left to right [sliding]. Reading from right to left, even for just part of a word, is against the rules.
8. You can't change the order of the letters. Form is not the same as from and spot is different from stop because you always read from left to right and you can't change the order of the letters.
9. You're only allowed to make sounds for letters you see. You're not allowed to make sounds for a letter you don't see.
10. You're not allowed to ignore letters in words. All the letters have a job to do. Sometimes a letter's job is to be silent. Sometimes a letter is working together with other letters, but you're not allowed to ignore any of the letters.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Where to begin? If a child is a reader then they can read in the backseat of your car, they can read in a quiet corner, or in a noisy restaurant. If they are a reader they can read anywhere at anytime. Start by storing books everywhere make opportunities for reading. My advice for reading varies as to the age of the reader. However, there is a global rule for learning to read, talk about what is read before, during, and after. Ask questions, and not just the who, what, where kind; but ask the did you think that was going to happen, or what do you suppose will happen next sort. When these kinds of questions are posed the reader has to think more deeply about is being read and how to respond accordingly.
The important thing is to make reading time an intimate time where the child reads to you, or you read to your child. That's the best place to start - do it every day for at least 15 to 20 minutes. Then talk about what you both think - and don't be afraid to use more sophisticated language with your child. The more words children know the more it can help them to decode. Until we speak again dear readers remember you are the torchlight for literacy let your light shine and let them follow, that is how they will eventually lead.