Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Empowering Children to Think Critically and Tell Stories

One of the most powerful strengths a teacher can facilitate within her students is giving children a voice. In Negotiating Critical Literacies with Young Children, a teacher explains her experiences with a kindergarten classroom. She takes us through the process of setting children up for critical thinking, and exposure to intense literacy, and the opportunities to use their well-develop literacy skills. The chapter encourages teachers to answer children's questions with a challenge, instead of a blatant answer or another reframe of their own questions. These methods are usually, harmless, but they also do not grow children in their critical thinking and literacy skills. Instead, if we answer children's questions by pushing them to figure out the problem, challenge it, and create a change, we are setting the stage for a rich literacy experience and exponential growth. The example provided takes us through a kindergarten class's frustrations of being excluded from a school-wide cafe, which has been reserved for first-eighth grades. When a child asks the teacher why they are not allowed to go, she responded by asking "what can we do to change the situation?" This simple change in diction and attitude towards the capacity and willingness of children to make change happen creates an incomparable change in environment and exposure. The children are not required to work together, debate, reform ideas, and reshape opinions to come to a common end. The suggestions provided by Negotiating Critical Literacies with Young Children allow teachers to foster a meaningful, rich, and relevant environment, that does not limit able children to surface level topics, but digs deeper and enriches their literacy functions on the way.

Children's storytelling capacities can be imperative to their literacy development, and success as a reader. Teachers have the chance to create an environment that supports children as writers, provides the tools for storytelling, sets the stage for what a story includes and embodies, and celebrates children's final creations. In Castle in the Classroom, Georgia Heard explains how she facilitates writing in her own kindergarten classroom. Instead of simply reading children a story, providing them blank booklets and writing materials, and saying "go," Heard has an elaborate, carefully planned out list of activities and lessons that educate children about what stories can mean, what they can include, how they can be told, what they can say, and how they can say it.

This type of background includes lessons in:
- Stories Have Settings
- Stories Have Characters
- Stories Have a Sense of Time
- Stories Have Problems
- Stories Have Solutions to Problems
- Writing Descriptions of Settings
- Writing Character Descriptions and Dialogue
- Writing Golden Lines
- Exploring Story Planning
- Exploring Story Writing
- Writing Story Titles

Not until a teacher has successfully introduced and integrated these concepts together, does she expect children to be equipped to produce a full story. When a teacher brings children through the process of understanding storytelling through these interactive, fun-filled lesson plans, children get to the last three steps, and they are flourishing with ideas and plans for their own storybook. When the rough plans have been created, using many mediums for illustrations, teachers can formally publish the books for each child. This culmination project leaves students with a beautiful piece of their learning from many weeks of study, work, and determination. Castle in the Classroom provides teachers with explicit instruction to create storytelling mentalities within each of our students, and the manner in which to introduce concepts to empower children in storytelling.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

NAEYCAC on Twitter

This past weekend, the National Association for the Education of Young Children held its annual conference in Orlando, Florida. As technology has taken over almost every facet of our lives, it has also breached the NAEYCAC. Although I did not attend, I was able to follow the progress and conference key points through tweets on Twitter. These are some of my favorite tweets, which included the easily followed hashtag #naeycac

Social and emotional confidence is more important than knowing the alphabet.  

- I love this, and thought it was a great and bold point to make. Children are under so many pressures in preschool, and learning the alphabet should second to protecting children. Empowering children with social and emotional confidence is the best education we can provide a child. Through this, children can become strong people, who are equipped to learn new things easily. Although the alphabet is important, it will come. Children who are damaged and self-conscious by kindergarten will most likely carry these traits with them through life.

Babies catalog sounds. The research says the key window to develop  is 8 -10 months of life! ~ Dr. JoAnn Deak 

- Early Childhood Education advocacy!! We often believe that talking to a baby before he can "understandably" respond is only for our benefit. Children are receptive, and take in the experience provided to them most in the formative, early years. Talking to, reading, playing with, interacting with, and writing with our babies are all great ways to start the early foundation of literacy.

Childhood has gotten too neat and tidy. Embrace the dirt and celebrate the mess!  

- I completely agree with this! Our preschools are required to be neat, clean, and spotless, but that doesn't mean that our activities have to be!! One model that I recently observed provided children with clothes to change into at school. This way, children can be messy and fully experience the sensory activities provided in a messy fashion. Teachers can wash these clothes, and throw them in the drier before leaving. The next day, the clothes will be ready to dirty again. We shouldn't fear messy. It is one of the best ways for children to become attached to an experience.

Technology and Preschool?

There seems to be much debate over the necessity, usefulness, and practicality of integrated technologies into a preschool curriculum and setting. Traditionalist usually believe that children should experience literacy, science, geography, math, and other subjects through the physical (non-technological) mediums first, then learn to use the computer and other techy sources. There is a new philosophy emerging that looks at children's home lives, and the amount of learning and interaction that exists through technological services at home. These teachers believe that allowing children the opportunity to use technology devices in preschool settings only deepens the knowledge, understanding, and curriculum integration of an activity. Take for example, linear activities like drawing, reading, writing on paper, are usually concerned with the basic level of understanding. When children write stories on paper, we stress things like progression of the story in the correct beginning, middle, and end format, and if the pictures match the words. Using technologies, or non-linear) tools to teach children, we can create experiences that integrate reading and writing without strict structure or restraints. Technologies allow for a new type of literacy, one different from the traditional "reading and writing." A new form has came into existence: a blend between the two that can be experimented and carried out at the same time. Another great benefit of teaching through technologies at home is the idea of the "third space." Children are exposed to technology at home, they are using it, learning from it, communicating with it, and using it for entertainment. In order to educate a whole child, in the most effective manner, teachers need to bridge the gap between home in school. How can we do this without technology? In many cases we can't. Children are truly digital natives that learn and absorb knowledge through tech tools.

Ideas for technology usages in the preschool classroom: blogs, wikis, podcasts, videos, and other emergent ideas from the children (possibly programs they are already using at home)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pretend Play: So Much More than Acting

Pretend Play can be under appreciated in preschool classrooms. Often, it is used as a choice area that children are welcome to visit along with blocks, art, reading, or other centers. Teachers often incorporate this area with kitchen and it together becomes "housekeeping" or "dress up." I have recently read an article that challenged teachers and parents to think about Pretend Play differently. Pretend Play uses children's imaginations, voices, and ideas to produce a social interaction between children. This time of situation can be used for so much more than modeling home-like functions. Teachers are urged to use Pretend Play as a tool in many portions of the curriculum. A great example can be seen through literacy. If a class is beginning a unit on fairy tales, I would urge the teacher to have the children create a script for the class to remake a common fairy tale (or a variant if they wish!) Then, the children can plan out how to reenact this particular story. Literacy concepts can be used through the script making processes, and children can imitate this in other subjects as well. The reason that Pretend Play is encouraged so heavily is because it provides a depth of experience that cannot be substituted with any other experiences. The act of interacting out loud to display a wealth of new knowledge with peers is unmatched. Children are gaining confidence, utilizing creativity, making deep, personal connections with the curriculum, practicing social skills, and creating unity through their school experience. Subjects should not be exclusive, but inclusive and each should be integrated throughout the entire curriculum. Creating this time of cohesive experience in a preschool setting will allow students to make connections between subjects, and allow them to think creatively and logically when problem solving. I love the idea behind Pretend Play in all areas of the classroom. Bring this experience out of the choice area, and into your daily activities. Let children enjoy the opportunities that Pretend Play provides, and watch as your students become critical, well-rounded thinkers through the curriculum integration.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Take-Home Literature Packets

What is one of the most influencial, beneficial, and special, yet simple, activities that a parent can facilitate with a child?


Allowing for a child to extend their curriculum into the home, and continuing the exposure to literacy is wonderful. Children crave interactions with literacy, and love spending this quality time with their parents. Teachers across the country would probably all say they want their parents to read more often with their children. Well, instead of making the suggestion, teachers can make it happen. A Literature Packet is a bag created by the teacher, or perhaps in collaboration with the children and parents. Inside this bag contains:
- 2 books
- A list of 7 related activities
- The materials to complete the activities
- A journal to write about the experience
A teacher can create as many bags as necessary/possible, but each should be unique and present a specific concept or subject. Some examples include: Counting and Numbers, Days, Family, I Can!, etc. Teachers can choose to integrate the current curriculum focuses into the packets, which can really hook the attention and interest of the children.
The creation of these literature bags can be a cooperative effort. Call for a meeting with the children and parents, and open a conversation about what types of subjects they want to receive in the bags. After a nice list has been made, offer the opportunity for parents to bring in (inexpensive) materials for the activities. When the bags are completed a rotation chart needs to be compiled, and the children can begin "checking out" the bags for a week.
During the week that a child has a bag, the parents should read the two books with their child, and complete at least two of the activities. In order for this project to allow for healthy communication between parents and teachers, a journal is provided. The journal can be used for parents to write about the experience, and especially for the children. Both the student and parent comments are useful for a teacher to gain insight into the literacy experience provided in the home. Teachers can even send the journals back for the next week with encouraging comments and remarks about the past journal entries. It can be used a communication tool from both ends!
Take-Home Literature Packets are a great way to bridge the gap between school-life and home-life. Children benefit from the literacy exposure and quality time. Teachers and parents begin to establish a closer relationship through the collaboration and journal entries. This type of home activity will allow for parents to know exactly what they can do to participate in the education of their child. Every parent wants the best for his/her child, and these literature packs provide the tools for them to achieve that.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Recipe Books

Literacy is all around us, and I love watching children explore new facets of their interests. A great suggestion to encourage children to read familiar texts is integrating recipe books into your class library. Teachers can read and model the books to the children, taking time out to point out the types of foods, and ask the children if they recognize any. Recipe books with pictures can be great for picture to text association. An additional activity can be created if the children's interest is sparked through the recipe books. A project that I recently heard a past teacher speaking out really excited me: a family recipe book. Have the children tell you what their favorite at home meal is, possibly one that mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, or auntie cook. After they tell you this, send home a request for a recipe of their dish. When all the recipes are collected, ask each child to read the recipe to you. The younger the child, the more adorable the story. Children will go on and on about their favorite foods, and while they are talking, write down what they are saying. It will go by quickly, but saving these thoughts makes a beautiful ending product. Children can really relate to a favorite food. It has a history, a story that they would love to share and tell the class about. Having them relate the text of their parents writing to a recipe that they probably know pretty well, can be great for their written literacy development. At the end of the process, put together the family recipes, children's version of the recipes, and a drawn picture of each. Send this book home with all the families, and it will be cherished. Ideas like this can build community while tuning early literacy.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Authencity in Literacture

As adults, we read what interests us. Literature has to give us some type of enjoyment for us to choose to read it. Many times, in our early childhood classrooms, teachers have predetermined the literature for children to "enjoy." Instead of allowing children the opportunity to pick and decide what they want to read, we rob them of this! An important thought to keep about the types of literature we expose our children to is authenticity. Children want to read interesting, authentic, relevant, thought-provoking, and understandable material. Books that are written with the purpose to be enjoyed, laughed at, informative, and interesting capture our children's attention. Children read these to be impressed upon, and they are! They are longing for a reason to keep reading. So many books fulfill this requirement for children, but others miss the boat completely. Books that are written for a purpose to work on a specific skill with a child (ie decoding, rhyming, etc) are not interesting to a child. They see through the intentions and become easily bored in the text. So, instead of increasing the child's reading skills, they have detracted from the literacy experience altogether. The books that aim to be aesthetically pleasing to a child have so much more of a meaningful impact on a child. As teachers, we should be mindful of this when collecting books for our classroom libraries. Try to choose books that spike the interest of the child. These types of books include: fairy tales, realistic stories, playful stories, thought-provoking stories, poetic stories, and even folktales. The genres are nearly limitless, and the children will marvel in the authenticity of these stories. Children want to be engaged in the text, and through this they can experience the most rich of literacy skills.

Apprenticeships and Our Children

Children learn through observation and performance. They will watch adults and peers closely to gain knowledge about how people do certain things. Then, when they can gain the confidence, which can be fostered by a safe, supportive, and risk-taking encouraged environment, they will try it for themselves! Specifically when looking at a child's development through literacy, we see children imitating writing styles and spelling words from memory. For example, a student in first grade recently heard his teacher read a book about a mean, awful teacher. The children laughed at this book, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Later in the day, Kenny decided to write his own version of this type of story-line. He wrote a story containing 45 words. Included in his story are 19 words that he spelled conventionally, we call this conventional spelling. The other 26 words were words that he spelled to the best of his ability. We can call these words "inventive spelling," or "temporary spelling." Kenny did a great job correctly spelling 19 words, but more valuable than these words are the 26 inventive words. Here, we can learn about Kenny's though process through literacy. We know that he has some background knowledge about words, possibly memorization. Instead of demonstrating strict "sounding out," Kenny spelled "was" w-u-s. This means that he knew the word contained and "s," instead of placing the right sound, a "z," at the end of the word. Inventive spelling is a great way to dig into a child's brain and understand their concepts of literacy. Without this freedom to spell things "incorrectly," children would miss out on this opportunity for creative, real, and interesting literacy experiences. Although names for this type of spelling differ, I have come to appreciate "inventive spelling," "temporary spelling," and the "developmental form of spelling." I prefer using these terms instead of wrong spelling because it is important to realize that this is a phase for children: an important phase. Children will move out of this developmental stage, but it should not be forced. Teachers can use inventive spelling to further understand and appreciate the children in their classrooms. What an amazingly beautiful picture of a child's pure thoughts and ideas!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Meaning-Orientation and Code-Orientation

As we think about the innocence of a child, an infant even, it seems impossible to think we could ever purposely corrupt such a fragile being. From protecting children from bullies at school, to inappropriate words on the television, we are always trying to keep our children true to themselves... In almost all facets of their life, but literacy. As teachers, we pressure our students into "getting it right!" We correct poor grammar, and endorse only functionally correct sentence structure. We are forgetting to protect their beings. Children grow up with meaning-oriented purposes. They grunt, move, sign, and cry for something: a bottle, more food, Mommy, or a sore belly. Children have this innate concept of speaking for a purpose, to come to a desired goal or ending. As children mature, and begin to speak in formal language terms, they use this same concept. Little girls might point and say, "dolly," meaning, give her the doll. As a parent usually does, the response might be, "can you say, 'can I have my doll please?'" Instead of accepting and appreciating the child's pure and true attempt to communicate a need and want, we correct them. The message we are sending to our children is that their form of communication, though authentic, is incorrect. Thus, as children enter Kindergarten, they are conditioned to be careful with their words. Children carefully construct sentences with the absolute more correct diction. They lose their risk-taking nature, which destroyed their ability for creativity and new ideas and words. At this point, children become code-oriented thinkers, instead of meaning-oriented. This means, as elementary school learners are reading a book, they are reading to dissect the words, get the pronunciation right, and impress their teachers/parents with their "A+" reading skills. While the child is struggling to correctly pronounce the sentences, he is losing comprehension. Instead of reading the passages for content and interest, he reads to "decode." I can think of nothing less interesting than decoding a page, or more, of foreign text, word by word. It is no wonder to me why so many children become uninterested or put-off by literature. If reading because a forceful and painful process of right and wrong, no one can appreciate the rich content within the words. The words on the page are only a gateway into the reason for the book; children should read for excitement, new ideas, enjoyment, experiences, and knowledge. We should always be mindful of the message we give our children as we correct their speech, or mispronounced word in a story. Keep in mind that children are malleable, and making the right impression could make or break their attitudes towards literacy for life.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Children Know Reading is Everywhere

Environmental Print is a fancy term for defining the types of reading that adults, and children, find throughout the day. It encompasses food labels, posters, street signs, restaurant signs, t-shirts, and more. Children can easily identify many examples of Environmental Print, McDonald, Disney, and Tony the Tiger. The children see these images, which includes the print, and can identify the names of the object. They are reading! Connecting students with the Environmental Prints they already know and recognize with the print of the object solidifies reading skills that many of the children already have. A project that I plan on making for my students, and suggest for other preschool classrooms, is an Environmental Print book. Here, I will include 3-D identifiable objects, mounted pictures of recognizes logos and pictures of commonly seen Environmental Print. With this book, I can bring it into a classroom and ask the students to read the labels or signs to me. With some luck, each student will recognize a few of the prints, and we can focus on these words. What an interesting concept that a child can identify the exact name of the object before understanding the "make-up" of the word. This type of book allows teachers an inlet into the intelligent and memory-keeping minds of our children. With this, hopefully we can spend some quality time with each student, helping them to read the picture, image, and eventually match the words to the already identified logo.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Third Space

The distance between literacy languages used at home and school, so often, is too large. 

Take for example, a student I recently read about, Jamie. At home Jamie is involved with technology; he loves computer games, television shows, books with his favorite television characters, remote controls, and watching DVDs on repeat. While watching television or movies, Jamie reenacts the characters with his brother. His literacy is surrounded with technology at home. When Jamie gets to school is literacy window is narrowed. The teachers provide him with the chance to listen to stories during group time, which he gets very fidgety during. After reading the book, the teachers prompt the students' comprehension by asking questions. This literacy worries Jamie and he never participates. The classroom often sings songs with hand movements, which Jamie can tolerate, but he hardly chooses to partake. Occasionally, a teacher will give Jamie enough attention for him to speak about his favorite TV shows, and he will act out some of his favorite scenes. 

There is a disconnect from Jamie's literacy experiences at home, which is his native literacy language, and the literacy opportunities he is presented at school. This is hindering his education, and keeping Jamie from deepening his literacy.

The Third Space is an idea that there is a way to integrate Jamie's native literacy language into his classroom experience. During this integration, Jamie can utilize and be comfortable with his literacy experiences from home, but also be challenged to introduce new literacies into his life. 

A great example of The Third Space includes Jamie's day on a train at school. His teachers set up a train simulation with a television monitor at the front of the train, displaying the outside of the train while they cruised along. Chairs were set up in rows, and children were invited to validate their tickets before entering the train. This is a perfect Third Space for Jamie. He was lured in by the technology, and the repetitious movie. Instead of only focusing on his technologic-based literacy, the teachers introduced a text-based literacy with the train ticket. He had to use the ticket, with text to get a stamp, that said "PAID," for example. The Third Space, in the instance, provided a gateway between home and school, and, intern, maximized Jamie's knowledge base. 

Teachers should always be on the look-out for ways to make a classroom more individualized. The only way for a Third Space to be effectively utilized is if the teacher keeps close communication with the parents. A helpful tip may be to have a brief home visit during the beginning of the year, or possibly a conference to discuss activities at home. The better understanding the teacher has of her students' home lives, the more effectively and efficiently she will be able to teach and challenge them appropriately. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

dA dJNe (Dear Johnny)

dA dl Ne l e

This is a letter written from an almost five year old girl. At first glance, the letters appear to be meaningless and an imaginative form of language. After reading from p. 298, about literacy coming from an individual perspective, I gained a deeper appreciation and knowledge of children's formation of words. The article clearly described that each letter combination was thoughtfully placed on the page. I am amazed, now, looking back at the letter. Sarah wrote carefully and from her heart. I am very interested in this process. I would love to have been with Sarah as she wrote the letter, and listened to her as she carefully sounded out each word. It would be interesting to see how Sarah's letter would compare to a boy's at the same age level. Each child's process of spelling differs: children's literacy is a product of their individual lives. This portion of the article really excited me to expeience children around the age of Sarah, 4 or 5, as they begin to gain independence with their literacy.