Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Read Alouds and Storytelling

Read alouds are great experiences for children. Not only do they gain literacy skills, but they participate in a very interactive experience with their peers and teacher. While reading, they share their ideas, wonder about things and convey their emotions.

In the classroom, a good foundation with books is necessary to allow children to understand the role of a writer and their ability to write. To do this, texts should be explored in the classroom, the process to make them, and what exactly it means to be a writer.

There are five key areas to focus on in the classroom:
  • the people who make books: understanding that normal people write and illustrate books and do this as a job. through this knowledge, they will understand that they too can be writers and "play" being a writer in the classroom.
  • what makes a picture book a picture book: students start to understand that a picture book has both writing and illustrations, they change from page to page while still on the same topic, it is about something and the writer decides what it will be, and the book has crafted language in it. The students and teacher can wonder aloud why an author decided to write the story or why the illustrator chose to illustrate a page a certain way.
  • different kinds of books: Students understand the difference between books with stories and books with lists.
  • different purposes for books: A beginning to understanding the difference between fiction and nonfiction. Some books are made for entertainment, while others are made for informing. Other elements of literature are discussed, such as maps in books. This helps to build intentionality when children write their own books. A great way to involve the children is to have them make a book about what they are doing.
  • decisions that writers and illustrators make: This helps children notice how the author and illustrator are using elements of the story to bring it to life. Words that are written a certain way and pages illustrated convey a specific meaning that children can talk about and understand. This will come out in their own writing work.  
Another great tool to use in the classroom is storytelling. Similar to read alouds, it builds a strong connection to story writing with the added play factor. It helps children to feel in control and really helps them to convey their meaning thoroughly.

Some great ideas for lessons are:
  • Stories have settings: Find different settings that stories can take place. After choosing, they may create life size representations of their ideas. 
  • Stories have characters: Stories all have characters with unique characteristics and purposes. Children can brainstorm characters and decide what makes them special to identify them and create their own image. From here, they can illustrate their own character.
  • Stories have a sense of time: All stories use time. Time uniquely places what is happening. Several books can be investigated to see how they use time to do different things. Children can then make their own set of "time-based" stage props to illustrate their ideas.
  • ...and so much more!
Storytelling can really be investigated through many topics. They all are engaging and meaningful ways to get children involved with their work around them. 

Already Ready by Katie Ray
Castle in the Classroom by Ranu Bhattacharyya

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Reflecting on Tweets from the NAEYC Convention

Children's imaginations will wake our own. - Vivian Paley 

I totally agree with this statement. Several times in the class, I am amazed by something the children do that never came to my mind. It is humbling to step back and realize that as the teacher you do not know everything and there are so many opportunities to get inspiration from young children!

Tell me & I'll forget; Show me & I may remember; involve me & I'll Understand by mentormadness

Another great quote that I agree with. Unfortunately, when you enter the elementary grades so much emphasis is put on memorizing with no context or relation to their life. Most of this is forgotten and children struggle with work they consider boring. It is important to involve them in their work and make connections to their lives so that those meaningful experiences will stay with them and really prepare them for school. 

Ability to creatively use what u already know is much more a success predictor than rote memorization by teachermeg

This is so crucial for the future. What we lack in schools now is creativity, which is more closely related to real world experience. There won't always be set answers and we need students prepared to take on that challenge!

Technology: Where Does it Belong?

We can't deny it; technology is everywhere! As technology becomes more and more advanced, students are preparing for things that do not even exist yet. Children are arriving at school for the first time knowing more about technology than their parents did at the same age. Yet, technology at school is usually not embraced in the early childhood classroom.

Children's lives are full of technology, whether it be through TV, the computer, or video games. The question is how to integrate their experiences in the classroom so that their work is relevant. Many people think of integrating technology in the classroom as making tasks too easy, or that it will be detrimental to grades and state standards but this is not necessarily true. Technology can be used in a way that promotes strong literacy skills and social/emotional skills. Technology can be integrated in the classroom in a way that still builds key skills. The only difference is that instead of using traditional materials, more modern technologies are used.

For example:
  • Claymation with Photostory allows children to use digital photographs with toys or clay figures*;
  • Storyboarding and live action media allow children to plan, direct and record their own plays*;
  • Use of digital texts such as wikis, classroom blogs, and podcasts*;
  • Activities using mobile, multifunctional, handheld devices in the classroom*;
  • Bring in technology resources that children are already using at home*

*A is for Avatar: Young Children in Literacy 2.0 Worlds and Literacy 1.0 Schools by Karen Wohlwend

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Play it to Learn it!

It is well known among early childhood educators that play is the key to learning.

So why is play so beneficial? The answer is quite simple once you think about it. A play environment is stress free and without the worries of judgement and failures. Because of this, children feel more confident to explore new topics and make meaning of what they see around them.

For example, Abi may imitate an eye doctor in the classroom after a recent visit. The child has tapped into their background knowledge and confidently practices what she knows. She repeats what she has heard and speaks in a professional tone. She may look into her peers' eyes and ask them to read a letter board that she has created while covering one eye. All of this is important interaction with a new experience in her life!

Sociodramatic play easily ties into literacy due to the print rich environment that we live in. Students notice print and writing all around them such as lists, signs and menus. Naturally, they mimic those same things and interact with form, letters, punctuation etc.

A great way to further learning connected to curriculum in the classroom is to set up sociodramatic play areas in your classroom. These can even be done in the home. They can be as simple or as elaborate as you'd like.

Some examples:
  • Art Gallery: To supplement experiences with an art gallery such as demonstrations of art and visiting museums, rope off a corner of the classroom with plenty of wall space for hanging children's art. In the middle, place a shelf with children's sculptures. Include a stand for patrons to pay for tickets and pick up brochures (either real or made by the children). Nearby, have easels and small tables for artists to do work with plenty of materials. (ex. cash register, money, note cards for naming the artist, gallery maps, etc.)
    • Some questions to explore: Who contributes to the workings of an art gallery? What do exhibit designers/tour guides/patrons/artists/custodians/museum shop workers/cashiers/ticket takers do? What materials and tools do they use to do their jobs? What print materials do they use? How are you using the art gallery to explore the artistic techniques you are learning at other times of the day?
  • Bakery: Supplement a tour of a bakery and cooking activities done in the class with families and teachers with a table for baking. Include a shelf to display baked goods and a cash register stand with money. Include many baking materials such as cookie sheets, pie pans, pots, spoons, rolling pins etc. Some literacy items to include could be recipe books, note cards for recipes, and materials for labeling and pricing objects.
    • Some questions to explore: What kind of jobs are in a bakery? What ingredients, equipment, and tools do bakers/cake decorators/cashiers need to do their work? What literacy materials do they use? What do people bake? How do people learn to bake?

If you would like to see a few videos of sociodramatic play in action, check out these videos here and here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Take Home Literacy Packs: A Great Way to Involve Families!

Every year, many teachers worry endlessly about how to develop a trusting relationship with the families of the students in their classroom, and how to get them involved in the classroom.

There are so many ways to give families an active role in their child's education; they also become a partner with the teacher throughout the school year.

For example,
  • Invite them to do a read aloud for the students in the classroom;
  • Encourage them to chaperone field trips;
  • Have them share their jobs with the students to model real life experiences;
  • Create a blog that is updated weekly with helpful resources and news;
  • Get to know the interests of the families and integrate their ideas into the curriculum if possible (such as a parent who is interested in sustainability helping out during a sustainability unit);
Of course, to get parents participating in the classroom you must communicate, communicate and communicate some more! Keep your interaction meaningful and pleasant; families may become embarrassed and frustrated if they feel that too much is expected of them.

A great idea for incorporating family participation in the classroom without having them come into the actual classroom is to send home literacy packs throughout the year. A literacy pack is usually a a file that includes several books and activities on a certain topic that can be enjoyed by families and their children. It is extremely easy to use because all of the materials have been premade with directions.

Recently, I created a take home literacy pack for the topic "Counting and Numbers". It is extremely easy to make and can be reused throughout the year again and again. It doesn't have to be elaborate, all of the items are inexpensive.

For this literacy pack, I have used a expanding file folder to hold the books and activities. Included inside are:

  • 1, 2, 3 to the Zoo by Eric Carle
  • One Too Many by Gianna Marino
  • Bag of colored popsicle sticks
  • Bag of assorted "creatures" (for use with paper cups)
  • 10 paper cups, labeled first, second, third, etc. 
  • Number cards
  • Number-Word cards
As you can see, there are many materials for use at home. Families can easily use the literacy pack with their child and be assured that they are helping them learn critical skills; they have a powerful role in their child's education and this should reflect in their communication with the teacher because they have taken the time to prepare materials and include families in their child's learning. Not only parents can use this pack; other family members, such as siblings, can also easily do these activities.

So, what activities can be done with this pack? Ideally, there should be an index card with each bag in the folder that tells families how to use the materials, and a letter to the family in a folder/journal explaining the purpose of that particular literacy pack and how it will help their child.
  • Read the books together;
  • Use the popsicle sticks to make different shapes. Increase the number of sticks each time and discuss what shapes are made and how many sides it has;
  • Arrange both the number and number-word cards in order (1-10);
  • Count the "creatures" by twos, fives, and tens. Free play with the items and make up a counting or number game;
  • Play a guessing game: Line the cups from first to tenth and hide a "creature" under one of the cups. Have the child guess which cup has the "creature" by using first, second, third, etc;

    While I have chosen two counting books that I enjoy, any books can be used. Some other excellent counting books are More than One by Miriam Schlein, The Icky Bug Counting Book by Jerry Palotta, Over in the Meadow by Ezra Jack Keats and Anno's Counting Book by Mitsumasa Anno.

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011

    Getting the Most Out of Books

    I have fond memories of spending countless hours with my mother reading books. While fiction is the preferred genre of books for children in classrooms today, I was an avid nonfiction reader. I could not get enough of the books my mother would pick out. The world was full of amazing possibilities I hadn't thought of; a book gave me many answers!

    When I think about classroom libraries, this scenario comes to mind. Fiction books are great, but to appeal to all students you need a good variety of books available in the classroom.

    But literacy does not stop with just reading a book! There are so many possibilities that educators and parents can use to further the benefits of reading a book which I will discuss here.

    An activity can be made for literally every book that a child will read. One of my favorite options for furthering information gained from a book is to use sensory tables. Not only do students remember information better, but other skills are gained depending on the activity.

    Here are some great examples for what can be done with a book and a sensory table:
    Another great way to further learning is to incorporate art activities:

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    Phonological Awareness: What is it and why is it so important?

    If you have a child in preschool to second grade, you may have heard teachers mentioning the words "phonological awareness". While you may be unaware of what phonological awareness is, it is good to have a basic understanding. Phonological awareness is actually a crucial set of skills that are typically mastered as a child progresses through preschool to second grade. A crucial part of phonological awareness is phonemic awareness.
    • Definition: Ability to attend to and manipulate unites of sound in speech (syllables, onsets and rimes, and phonemes) independent of meaning.
     A crucial part of phonological awareness is phonemic awareness.
    • Definition: Ability to attend to and manipulate phonemes, the smallest sounds of speech. 
    But what does it really mean? How does it look? Lets see some examples!
    • Abi has a set of pictures in front of her. She matches each picture with another picture that rhymes. 
    • Mr. Mustafa is leading his class in a syllable activity. As he says each word, they clap the syllables. 
    • Natalie is sitting with her teacher during group time. Her teacher says the word "cat" and asks her what sound is in the middle. She replies, "/a/". 
    Phonological awareness is very important to master. The English language is made up of sounds, and our writing system is based on these sounds. Without mastery of these skills, reading will be difficult.

    There are several ways to incorporate phonological awareness activities, at school and at home.
    • Books: Find books that play with sounds. There are many children's books that focus on alliteration, rhyming and sound substitution. 
    • Poetry: Many poems rhyme. Children can add to the rhyming after the poem has finished to create their own rhymes. 
    • Songs: Songs can be great to play around with sounds. Some good examples are: Willoughby Wallaby Woo, Down by the Bay, Apples and Bananas and The Bee and the Pup.
    • Games: Many games can be adapted to work with sounds in words. For example, I Spy may be used to find words that begin or end with a certain sound. 

    Tuesday, October 4, 2011

    Literacy is More Than Books!

    When we think of literacy, most people automatically think of books. While books are an important part of becoming literate and reading will be the building blocks of learning throughout life, there is so much more to literacy than reading books in the classroom or at home.

    Early childhood presents many opportunities to do activities to extend literacy from books into other domains of learning. Having a narrow view of literacy and just incorporating books in the classroom is a waste of opportunity! Blending literacy through several mediums and curriculum in the classroom engages the class in a meaningful way. Not only will literacy improve, other areas will improve too.

    There are several different things that can be done to extend a literacy activity:
    • Incorporate a short video clip relating to the book being read. For example, if the book has an alligator as the main character, a clip with an alligator can be used. Make sure it is engaging!
    • Singing and dancing are amazing ways to get some exercise while exploring a topic. Try to find songs that connect to the book being read and get the crowd participating and having a good time!
    • Fingerplays are great for fine motor skills. There are many classic fingerplays that can be adapted to whatever is needed; or you can simply make your own!
    • Storytelling is fun and interactive. Children pick up on intonation from the teacher and enjoy seeing their teacher act in a fun and silly way to portray a story. 
    • Dramatic play is a must! Children display their understanding of the story while adding their own unique take.
    • Art is very flexible and literacy can be incorporated into any art activity. For example, children focusing on letters of the alphabet may write them with their fingers in colored shaving cream. 
    Exposure to books and the joy that comes with reading is an awesome thing that your child will carry with them throughout their lives. With these connections to interactive methods of exploring literacy, their experience will be even better. 

    Tuesday, September 27, 2011

    The Role of Text in a Child's Life: How Do I Know What is Best?

    There are so many options for children's books nowadays, it sometimes feels impossible to choose the best one for your child or student. Should we choose non-fiction, fiction, magazines? Rather than look at the types of books, looking at the authenticity of the text is more beneficial.

    [Children Enjoying Reading]

    So what makes up an authentic text? Authentic texts are simply texts that children can relate to and expand upon with their knowledge.

    Some qualities of authentic texts are:
    •  Informational books that expand children's knowledge
    •  Gives the child the option to interpret the text in their own way
    •  Fosters a connection to the book and encourages conversation
    What is an inauthentic text? Any book that focuses more on patterns, decoding etc would be considered inauthentic. They are meant to be taken one way and improve on a skill. For example, a book focusing on phonics may rhyme a sentence on each page. Inauthentic texts are beneficial because they can improve a certain skill for a child but can be repetitive and boring if used very often. It is best to have a good mix of both texts to read.

    How does this look and affect writing? Children naturally explore the world around them and try to make sense of language and writing; inauthentic experiences with writing does not mesh well with the meaning making that children have learned through intense observation through their years before school.

    Authentic writing activities have a large effect on motivation and satisfaction with writing. Activities that involve writing worksheets, copying text from a teacher, or writing letters repeatedly are not very meaningful and most of the time are very boring for a child. When a child is told to do a writing activity that has no meaning for them, they do not feel the satisfaction from doing something meaningful and therefore may not fully understand the concepts that are trying to be taught. To really cement important writing skills, it must be used in an authentic and meaningful way.

    Some examples of authentic writing experiences:
    • Making lists and signs
    • Writing made up stories
    • Signing your name on a class attendance sheet
    • Writing notes to friends, family or special people
    • Choosing child-driven topics that they enjoy writing about
    Happy learning! :)

    Monday, September 19, 2011

    Environmental Print as a Tool for Literacy

    Did you know that nearly 93% of children 3-5 years old can recognize the McDonald's brand? It is true, brands are all around us and young children just learning how to read are not excluded from absorbing the huge amount of ads that are constantly around us.

    [Brands Targeting Children]

    Many do not realize the role this recognition of brands play in early literacy. A child is making meaning out of their day and the things around them constantly. The brands they interact with and the things that their families expose them to on a regular basis become ingrained in their identity and forms a personal connection to that item. 

    While association with brands in the classroom is usually frowned upon, easily recognized brands can be used to promote literacy and the ability to recognize symbols. At such a young age, recognizing brand names on products can be used to encourage exploration of text that they are familiar with.

    Parents and educators can get creative and use subjects closely associated with brands to create different activities such as:
    • Upon recognition of brands related to food and restaurants, you can move onto a social activity such as pretending to be in a restaurant and store, and explore more types of literacy such as reading menus, ordering etc. 
    • Hygienic brand products may be used in activities highlighting healthy practices or during dramatic play. For example, a student pretending to be a dentist working on a patient may find a brand of toothpaste to give to their patient before leaving.
    • Any activity that can incorporate a well-known brand is beneficial by simply having the children recognize and explore the print.
    With this knowledge in the back of your mind, think of creative ways to engage your child or student with the print around them. It is easy and convenient on the go, while building unique literacy skills.

    Monday, September 12, 2011

    Family-Teacher Relationships and Their Effect on Second Language Learners

    Developing a rapport with families is an important step for any classroom teacher, but especially so with parents of students who are second language learners. Students are entering the classroom and combining their home experiences with school instruction to come up with their own third space; their own literate identity. To ensure they have all the tools available in the classroom to get the most out of their experience, teachers should work in a partnership with a child's family.

    A family is a wealth of knowledge about their child, what practices they work on at home, and what things are important to them culturally. All of these are beneficial knowledge that is essential for a teacher to analyze to ensure abundant opportunities are had in the classroom.

    Some great topics to explore with families are:
    • Find out which languages children understand, speak or are learning to be literate in. You can include materials in the languages provided and represent that part of the child's culture. 
    • Ask families for examples of songs, rhymes and jingles they share with their children and which children who are not yet interested in focusing on picture books at story times enjoy. This can be incorporated in the classroom to provide a familiar environment for the child, and to encourage interaction with the language being learned.
    • Keep families up to date with activity in the classroom. Many families want to be involved in their child's education but can not due to language barriers. If any written communication needs to be written in another language, make sure to have that available. Having a translator or assistant available in the school to mediate during conversations may also be beneficial.
    • Are any displays in the classroom stereotypical or uncomfortable for families to see? Evaluate what types of items would promote literacy in the classroom and connect culturally to the child.
    When doing assessments or observations, keeping family input in mind can put a new perspective on your thinking. Supporting diversity in the classroom will promote a safe environment for the child learning a second language and allow them to enjoy their journey of becoming literate at school with the comforts of home. 

    If you are interested in exploring this topic further, see the information below for a concise description of second language learners in the classroom and how families and teachers can work together to give children a richer literacy experience.

    Further reading:
    What the Children Tell Us: Policy Implications and Practical Strategies by Claire Kelly

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011

    Exploring Literacy in Early Childhood

    Welcome to a new school year! This year holds great potential for your child. Literacy is a big part of a child's life, and they will use it to navigate the world. Whether it be through reading books or signs, literacy is an important part of elementary curriculum. Throughout the school year, your child will be exploring literacy and what it means for them. To better prepare parents to foster this exploration, there are several things that may be useful to know.

    [Cartoon courtesy of Ham]

    1. Literacy is individual
    Literacy is often though of just in the context of what a child learns in school. In reality, a child is learning to read and write from the moment they are born! Through trial and error, they experiment with language and writing to make sense of the world around them. Although that squiggle a two year old made doesn't look like language to an adult, it is actually an important part of literacy development. Writing for him/her isn't something that needs to be taught, they will seek it out themselves! As they become older, their experiences with making meaning of the literacy around them will allow them to develop sharper literacy skills.

    2. Literacy is a cultural practice
    Literacy is a wide topic, with no one child's literacy being the same as the next. As such, different cultures connect to different ideas and social structures. Many ethnic groups have forms of literacy that are not part of school expectations. Children will naturally connect with literacy forms that connect to their culture, status and other things that relate to their life. Exploring non-traditional texts may be beneficial to children.

    3. Literacy is social
    It is no surprise that developing friendships and interacting with peers is an important part of acquiring social skills, but did you know that social interactions also greatly influence literacy? When children interact with others they are sharing their experiences and adjusting according to new information. Storytelling and dramatic play are all forms of literacy that are not necessarily on paper. Dramatic play can also help a student understand a text better by giving them the opportunity to experience it. When exploring a text that a student may be struggling with, it can be beneficial to use dramatic play as a supplement.

    I hope these three pieces of information has given some insight into literacy through a child's eyes. If you would like to learn more about literacy and its various forms, feel free to check the link below to an article that sums it up nicely.

    Remembering Critical Lessons in Early Literacy Research: A Transactional Perspective by Kathyrn F. Whitmore, Prisca Martens, Yetta Goodman, and Gretchen Owocki.