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.