Monday, March 26, 2012

The Interactive Read Aloud

There is so much more to literacy than repeated readings of books. The read aloud is a great addition to the classroom that engages children on a deeper level and allows a wide variety of skill levels to participate and gain reading skills.

There are many benefits to letting the children take a few minutes to reflect on a text just read, such as the following:
  • negotiating the meaning of text;
  • share their thoughts, opinions, and connections;
  • make predictions of what's to come;
  • respectful talking and listening;
  • deeper conversations.
There are three important factors that leads to positive and meaningful interactive read-aloud.

It is important to carefully select texts based on instructional purposes according to student needs. There are so many great children's books on the market that it can be overwhelming to choose quality books for the classroom. Try to find books that show situations from multiple perspectives, books with both boys and girls, and books that avoid stereotypes. Keep it balanced and diverse! The key is to pick books of a wide variety that meet the purpose of instruction, such as:
  • Connecting one text to another;
  • Learning about character development, setting, or plot;
  • Building a classroom community/culture;
  • Connect with content area curriculum topic;
  • Examine an author's craft;
  • Have fun with the playful language of the text;
  • Notice descriptive language and expand upon new vocabulary.
Second, let the children talk! Time should be provided for students to reflect on text and have meaningful conversations about the book. Reading is social and children love to talk about the books they read! By talking about the book, the children think and talk about their ideas that helps them to negotiate meaning and develop structures for independent thought.

Third, during a read aloud, read expressively. This is extremely important to engage the reader with the text. Be responsive to the story and the children. There are several tips to becoming an expressive reader:
  • Adjust the rate, pace, and volume of their voice to the story, slowing down at suspenseful or thoughtful parts and speeding up when the story moves faster;
  • Change their voices to match the characters;
  • Use gestures to help with comprehension and enjoyment, especially for English language learners;
  • Show the illustrations in picture books and sometimes linger on a page so that children can experience the illustrations with the words;
  • Read slowly enough to allow children to create images in their own heads and process the story as well as make predictions and think about the story;
  • Put their own passion for reading into the story.
With these tips, you should have a classroom full of engaged readers in no time!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Literacy Centers: More Than Just a Choice

It is quite a powerful thing to give the reins to a child to steer their own education. Or at least they think that is what they are doing!

Literacy centers are commonly used in elementary classrooms. To supplement literacy instruction, literacy centers are created as stations that allow children to practice a certain skill that they are working on while still doing meaningful, worthwhile work.

By giving children the choice to choose, you are letting the children gain confidence in themselves and teaching them important skills for the future such as concentrating on a task of their choice for a certain period of time. Even though they feel they are in total control of their learning, the teacher has laid out an important framework consisting of key skills that need to be learned and practiced in the centers developed. This is a win-win for both sides of this equation, with the teacher providing high-quality practice in the classroom while still allowing children to have some control over their learning, thus producing more competent and confident learners.

So what makes a great learning center? There are several key ideas to keep in mind while creating a literacy center for the classroom:

  • Put serious though and intent behind your learning center. Does the center reinforce concepts talked about during class and seen in the classroom?
  • Do the materials appeal to the children? Can children work independently and in small groups with this work easily?
  • Does the station provide a non-threatening environment for the child to practice and perfect their literacy skills?
And of course, it is important for the teacher to float between the stations to encourage children and use their knowledge to prod children in the right direction. Children may become very engrossed in their work and their effort should be valued. Providing several opportunities to finish their work in the future is also useful for making the children feel that their work is valued and important as well and reinforcing concentration skills and perseverance.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Predicting Success in the Classroom

How children are seen in the classroom affects them a lot, whether the teacher or child knows it or not.

Have you ever taken a class where the teacher is very positive about your abilities? I know I have. It makes you feel great and allows you to gain confidence and live up to your full potential.

Now think of a time where someone limited you, and didn't take your ideas seriously. It felt bad, right? Conversely, when a child in the classroom is not being valued for what they do and limited because of their perceived "ability", they will suffer.

Learning to read and write has no cookie cutter way to become fluent. Each child is different. So why do we expect all children to be learning at the same pace and at the same level each year? It seems counterintuitive, but it is happening each day in the classroom.

The fact of the matter is that if you limit a child's capabilities due to perceived "fluency", you are unnecessarily closing opportunities for them to naturally develop their abilities. So next time you stick a child in a bracket, think again. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Reading Strategies: Filling in the Blank

As I mentioned previously, many people focus on sounding it out to figure out unknown words. While this may work for some words, it is impossible to use this method for every word! Think of the words knee, the, etc. To deal with these words, other strategies are needed to find meaning.

One strategy that can be used is fill in the blank. In this strategy, children use context and background knowledge to read the sentence and find the missing word that they are having trouble with.

For example: "The cat played with a ball of ____." In this sentence, children can tap into their background knowledge, make use of the pictures in book and take clues from the text around the missing word to figure out the missing word of yarn.

There are several activities that can gear children towards using this strategy in their everyday reading. Most children will eventually do these things on their own, but for children just learning to use strategies in their reading, they may need a little help to get them going.

Make it fun by playing a game where well-known stories are read with several words smudged. Let the children be detectives and investigate what the word could be. After doing these activities, they will be on their way to becoming a fluent reader!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Leveled Texts: Proficiency or Deficiency?

Leveled texts are used in schools to excellerate learning to read. But do these programs really benefit the child?

Leveled texts are basically books that have been ordered by difficulty. When a child enters a level of reading, they are assigned books from their category to read and master, which would allow them to move on to higher levels. Sounds like a great idea, right? Wrong.

As with anything in life, a balanced view is usually the best course to take. By confining the reading that children do, you are not only limiting their practice with more difficult concepts but also limiting their ability to choose the kind of books that they want to read.

For example, a child may see a book that fascinates him but it is at a higher level than the teacher has placed them in. Instead of seeing the child's excitement and working with them to read the slightly difficult text, the child is confined to his reading level, and to them, less exciting books.

Why would we deny a child the right to their own reading choices and experimentation with reading?

If used wisely, leveled text can be useful to practice concepts that students need help on. But just reading leveled text sets are not enough to become a proficient reader. Each child is unique, and treads a unique path on their way to reading. To follow each leveled text set by the letter for each child would be foolish, and forcing children into a cookie cutter way of learning that is just not true.

If you are using a leveled text set in your school, think critically about what you have been given and evaluate your students. Leveled texts are not the answer, but a resource that can be useful depending on how the teacher utilizes her knowledge of her students in the classroom.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Moving Past "Sounding it Out"

If you have been in a kindergarten classroom, chances are you have heard the teacher prompting students to "sound it out" when a child is struggling to read a word. While reading, you may find students peering intensely at letters in an attempt to read the "right way". But does this approach really provide all the skills that children need to learn how to read and navigate text?

The truth is, an over reliance on "sounding it out" can have several downfalls. While it is a valid way to navigate text, it is impossible to use it for a vast amount of words in the English language that use letters that are pronounced differently or silent ending letters that plague many students.
For example, consider the following words:
  1. soon
  2. they
  3. now
  4. into
  5. good
  6. brown
  7. under
These words give little help when using sounding out as a strategy. This is a prime example of why it is important to use a variety of text decoding skills to ensure students understand the meaning of text instead of arbitrarily sounding out words without meaning or activating their knowledge about the book's context. 

Another great strategy to teach children is incorporating the meaning of the text, structure and visual to form a complete way of reading. This approach takes a lot of time and modeling from the teacher to ensure each student can use all clues from the text at the same time. It is easy to use one strategy to decode text, but incorporating another at the same time can be tricky for some children. 

For example, a child may be reading a book while paying little attention to the text. Although they are not reading the correct words, they are using the storyline and visual to come up with similar words to complete the unknown words in the story. Instead of just focusing on the context of the story, paying attention to the structure of the word such as the first letter and predicting what word would fit would be a much better strategy. Over time, the child will become so used to using all the clues from a text to read that he or she will automatically use the clues when they encounter unfamiliar words, much like adults. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Trusting in the Classroom

When we think of education, many people have the image of a class of students actively listening to their teacher, soaking up important knowledge that will be useful for their future.

The learning process of a child is actually much more complex than it seems. It is true that a teacher is a vital piece of the learning process, but children actually naturally have the desire to learn and explore their world!

From the time they are born, they take in their world and experiment with what they are given. Each cue is closely studied and practiced. A child goes from babbling to speaking through an extensive amount of practice, making mistakes, and fixing them with help from the environment.

So why do we neglect this natural desire and skill to learn? Many times, when a child enters elementary school, life becomes stressful and a strict way of learning is enforced that can make a child feel defeated.

Writing is an important skill learned during the elementary grades. During schooling, children are drilled and forced to memorize spelling words with little critical thinking. Parents are worried about their children's progress and express dismay upon seeing inventive spelling and "wrong" ways of writing. Instead of using this deficient way of thinking, we should focus on what children CAN do. Studying a simple piece of writing that may seem "wrong", will show a plethora of information about how that child thinks and experiments with writing.

Each child learns in different ways. However, they all possess the skills to experiment with their learning and master reading and writing. Instead of focusing on what is wrong, see what is right and encourage their scientific way of thinking about writing! This will result in more confident writers.