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.