Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cartoons for Play!

Children need play!

So many teachers concern themselves with ordering children to keep their toys in their cubbies, and to only talk about "school" things. Children are forced to ignore their instincts and interests to participate in class activities. Teachers are left with writing samples that have no meaning to the children.

Instead, some teachers are inviting the toys, TV discussions, and movie characters into their classrooms. These teachers are experiencing children who are passionate about their writing and literacy experiences. The characters provided in movies and TV shows are only so developed, and the children are given the opportunity to further develop the characters. This can be done through writing, acting, interacting, and negotiating with partners. 

Allowing children to play in the classroom gives the chance for further exploration and development. These children will be exposed to meaningful activities to enhance their creativity and enrichment in literacy experiences. So many times, a child needs something to care about to produce a quality writing experience. Children care about toys, and integrating their passions into the classroom only heightens their learning experiences in literacy. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Interactice Read-Aloud: Conversational Reading

Partner read alouds have potential to be so much more than round robin, back and forth reading. I have mostly witnessed partner reading where children sit side-by-side, and take turns reading alternate pages of the same story. This still holds value and worth in a child's literacy development, but when we think about the objectives of literacy stations and partner reading time, there is room for more!

Turn partner read aloud in a time for reading conversation!

This means the children sit facing each other: knee to knee. They continue reading in a pattern of their choice, but will engage in conversation before, during, and after the text. Children who have trouble finding the right moment to chime into the reading for conversation can predetermine a stopping point, where both readers will discuss personal connections, thoughts, text-to-text connections, predictions, reflections, or anything the text has triggered. When children are responding to the text in a meaningful way, like having a comfortable conversation with a peer, their comprehension is being engaged, and children are truly reading for meaning, to respond, and to share.

We want children to move from naming the words on a page to connecting with a text in a way that leaves an impact, a memory, and a response in a child. By fourth grade, children are required to read for knowledge, and comprehension becomes the most utmost important skill. Struggling readers many times have challenges in comprehending their texts, and a conversation can spark the reason, and provide the way for children to make meaningful and lasting connections with their texts.

Introducing partner reading as a time for conversation, reflection, and connection with a text and a partner allows children more opportunities to practice solidifying comprehension in an authentic and purposeful  manner.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Literacy Centers

Children's exposure to literacy in the classroom empowers them for rich literacy capacity and appreciation in life. The way a teacher handles her literacy experiences will stick with a child for the rest of their schooling, and life!

Literacy Centers are a perfect way to introduce children to a wide range of activities in a positive, relevant, individualized, and powerful way. The teacher sets these areas up, and from the beginning of the school year, teaches children about how to handle and move through the centers. This time allows the teacher the opportunity to spend time in small groups for focused instruction, and time with individuals for assessment and instruction, too.

Examples of Literacy Centers Include:

- Reading with 4-5 children: children read a loud at the same time for "Choral Reading," and the teacher moves his way through interacting with each child.
- Making storybooks with detailed pictures: provide books with many pages if you want the children to write more!
- Audio Books on Tape: Have children follow along in the books with a partner
- Chalk Board Writing: Children write sentences, stories, names of children in the class, or words. The teacher can help to scaffold the spelling by making and breaking.
- Making and Breaking Center: Cards to flip of three-letter words- manipulate letters to make new words
- Class name Recognition Center: Create and envelope with the questions "Whose name is this?" and cards inside the envelope withe every child's name- the child slowly pulls out the card to expose one letter at a time

These are only some ideas of great and meaningful literacy centers to integrate into your classroom literacy time. They allow the teacher to be involved with every student because children are busy working on their activities simultaneously.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Reveal: What We Value in Literacy

The way we teach and assess literacy in our classrooms provides a window into our own beliefs about literacy. Each teacher holds his own philosophies about what children should learn, and how they should learn it. This combined with the institutional state and nationial standards creates a great dilemma. How teachers react and respond to this dilemma reveals the true values held about early literacy experiences and development.

Consider a first grade classroom. A teacher designated a time for free writing, where children can collaborate in groups, or write individually. They are allowed to draw pictures, but only for a few minutes before starting their sentences. A student begins very intricately drawing his picture, using different types of utensils for specific portions of his work. Just as his picture begins to come to life, the teacher interrupts and redirects him towards sentences about his picture: "That's enough drawing. Now write me some sentences about that wonderful picture you drew!" The child knows his picture is incomplete, with many more layers of complexity to the story in the picture. This teacher knows that writing is not included in her state standards, which are strongly upheld by her administration. She fears embarrassment, judgement, and possibly even job loss. So, the kindergarten teacher tries to show her value of drawing pictures as a literacy development and process, but her compliance with requirements conflicts with her age-appropriate philosophy.

This teacher chooses to ignore her better understandings of children's literacy acquisition and development, and chooses to focus on the standards that hold her instruction and class environment back from its fullest potential. Instead of fully believing in her own methods and ideas about writing, like her initial idea that pictures have great value, she caves and forces her students into unenjoyable literacy practices. As teachers, we will always be faced with this dilemma: our philosophies will not match the standards we are required to meet. The way we react to this conflict will reveal our true values. Instead of succumbing to dry and inappropriate mandated literacy practices, believe in the experiences you provide your children. We know that literacy is a complex process, and it cannot be defined by a check-list of developmental markers. Children are unique, and their literacy development will be just that. Teachers can empower their children by standing strong by their beliefs and knowledge about literacy, and providing the most enriching experiences possible.

Monday, February 27, 2012

“I’m stuck on a word, can I skip it?"

Everyone has done it. You’re reading along well, and you come to an abrupt stop when encountering a word you are unfamiliar with. Children experience this often, and the strategies and insights we provide them to make it through these sentences while retaining the meaning are pivotal. How often is the word we are stumped on integral to comprehending the meaning of the reading? What if the word is a noun? Adjective?

Let’s use this example provided by Debra Goodman from The Reading Detective Club:

The Three Little Pigs

1 Once upon a ______ there were three little pigs.
2 One day the ______ pigs decided to go out into the
3 world to make their ______ .
4 Each little pig ______ a house.
5 The first little pig built a house of ______ .
6 The ______ little pig built a house of sticks.
7 The third little pig built a ______ of bricks.
9 One ______ a world saw the three little pigs.
10 “A little ______ will make a tasty meal for me,”
11 he ______ .

Read this passage, filling in the missing words with your best inference.

Some of the techniques that we can suggest for children to pay attention to include:
- Using our background knowledge of the story
- Using the cues in the text to infer the missing (or unknown) words
- Read the sentence without the missing word, go back and try it again
- If the sentence makes sense without the missing word, move forward in the text

You may notice as you naturally fill in the missing text that your background knowledge, context clues, and natural ability to form conventional language provide enough information to successfully complete the passage with the intended meaning.

Look back at line 2. Most readers will naturally fill in either “three” or “little.” Do either of these words change the meaning of the text? No. Both choices are rational and the story continues unchanged regardless of this word. Even if we omit the adjective completely: “The pigs decided to go out,” the story continues accurately. We can use this concept to teach our children techniques to understand adjectives and their role in a sentence. We want children to be able to read every word in a sentence, but when a tough word comes in the way of comprehension, we can empower our students to carry the meaning of the text through the barrier of the unknown word! Teach your children to omit unknown adjectives, and move on through the text. The meaning, fluency, comprehension, and confidence will be preserved. Debra Goodman suggests thinking of unknown words as “smudges” on the paper.

Now look at line 5. Here some responses may have differed. I initially read “straw,” and so did my colleague. Other people may have added another noun here. Examples include mud, candy, Jell-O, snow, etc. Unlike omitting and changing our adjectives, if we veer too far away from the intended noun (something like straw or hay), we lose the writer’s intended meaning, and our comprehension fades. Our brains are naturally search for language clues, and would suggest to us that the missing word has influence in our sentence. We cannot simply omit or replace unknown nouns in sentences, but we can tell our children to remember background knowledge, look for context clues, and read through the sentence without the word and try again with a “running start.”

Understanding what words are necessary for comprehension and meaning making can help our students to feel empowered when reading independently. Children want to be good readers, and we can empower them with the techniques to be exactly that!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Stop Correcting and Start Listening!

"In all walks of life, we know that humans learn from their mistakes. We have mistakenly believed that if teachers do not correct, errors will be reinforced and students will continue to make them forever." 
- Gretchen Owocki and Yetta Goodman

Children learn best through self-correction in all facets of their learning, including literacy development. One of the hardest, and most powerful, skills that a teacher has at her disposal is her power to listen to a child read out loud. Using the information gathered during the uncorrected or influenced reading, teachers can guide their instruction in small group or large group settings. Children reveal their understanding of reading concepts and strategies through their miscues. A miscue is anytime a child reasons through changing the written text on a page and changes the text by adding a word, changing a word, or omitting a word. Many times, a child is capable of self-correct during the struggle with a word, or later in the story as context builds. 

In order for a teacher to complete a Miscue Analysis with a child, he needs: 
- A new relevant, interesting, and rich children's literature book
- A recording device
- Note cards, or something to take notes with
- A pen
- A transcript of the text from the children's literature book chosen, divided/numbered by line
- (Possibly) A list of questions to ask the reader after the uninfluenced-reading

The teacher should introduce the child to the activity, and warn them that you will record them, take notes, and never interfere with their reading; you will not help them when they get stuck. Have the child begin to read, and make notes over the transcript when a child changes, omits, or makes a change to a miscue. After the child finishes, ask the child to tell you about the story. If she has challenges with this, make suggestions like, "Tell me more about _______ (fill in with something of the child's language that she mentioned)." This should allow you to realize if the child has truly comprehended the story. If your student can recall main points in the story, he is focused on the meaning of a story, which is wonderful. 

The marks/notes that you made on your copy of the text can now be used to address some of the child's miscues with the child. First, you need to assess if the child's miscues made grammatical sense (substituting nouns for nouns, adjectives for adjectives), and it made sense in the story's context. For example, if a child repeatedly substituted a word throughout the story, but the context did not match, the teacher can now use this to ask the child what that particular line meant. Usually, the student will express confusion, and we can use this to guide a child to focusing on the meaning of a passage. If the text does not make sense in your brain, the words are probably pronounced differently. A teacher can use this to help a student self-correct. 

During the intervention portion of this assessment, ask questions like:
- What else could you do in situations where you are unsure of a word?
- Do you know what you read in line _____? (When a child miscues, this might trigger a memory that he knew it was not quite making sense)
- What are the smart things you did in your reading to decide that word was _____? (After a self-correction)
- What could it say?
- What would make sense?
- What would you say there?

Using Miscue Analysis allows a teacher to understand how his students individually think about reading, the strategies they use, the concepts they use proficiently, and the areas that challenge them most. When a teacher performs a Miscue Assessment correctly, she has the opportunity to adapt her small group, individual, or large group instruction to meet the needs of her children. Through these experiences, children will learn strategies to self-correct, which is the most powerful instruction a child can learn. Through self-correction, a child will truly learn to read to gain insight into the meaning of the text, and worry less about the text representations on the page.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

We Don't "Sound Out"

Children are not sounding out. They are using specific reading strategies to form words, jog memories, and correlate pictures and text, but children hardly ever use the technique of "sounding out." According to a study performed by Catherine Compton-Lilly, a professor at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, children and parents both cite sounding out as their main reading strategy. Children claim that when they come to a word they are unfamiliar with, they sound out the word until they get it. When children ask parents for help on a particular word, parents are urging their children to sound out the word. When Compton-Lilly watched her children struggle with words out loud, she noticed, over and over again, that children were not sounding out. They are using specific strategies, but the times that "sounding out" is used are few.
Some other strategies that children suggest that "good readers" use include:
- go back and try again
- he thinks in his brain
- they ask their friend can you help
- try the first letter or the last letter
- spell
- look at the pictures.
These strategies are children explaining complex and effective reading strategies. Picture cues, peer help, dividing words into parts, retrying, first and last letter help, and thinking about context clues are all wonderful strategies for reading unfamiliar words. Instead of using these phrases, teachers and parents continue forcing children to think of "good reading" as a process of  sounding out. We have been taught this way, and we usually do not know any other techniques to suggest to our children, so telling them to "sound it out" becomes the most practical and easy suggestion. Well, instead of producing readers, we are creating frustration. Children cannot look at a word and simply "sound it out." They need a method. A great way to end this cycle of forcing children to "sound out" words is to educate our parents on true reading techniques.
Some great techniques to research and educate parents about include:
- Looking at the pictures
- Dividing the word into parts
- Trying again
- Asking a peer for help
- Looking for familiar parts in other words
- Looking at the first and last letters for the whole word meaning
If teachers and parents can cite these suggestions, instead of demanding children to "sound it out!" we might have better success with all readers, regardless of ability, culture, or any other demographic.

Remember! We don't sound out!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

"A Window into a Child's Mind"

Children's writing provides a wonderful insight into the concepts of conventional writing that children are currently coming to understand, have already mastered, or are still working to fully grasp. Early elementary teachers understand how important inteoducing and encouraging appropriate writing attitudes and practices with our children.

According to a University of Arizona professor, Kare Foley Cusumano, there are seven concrete ideas that teachers should always remember and embody in their classrooms regarding writing experiences. These points include:
- Praising writing by the meaning that a child intends, and its content. This means never pointing out errors regarding conventional writing norms
- Understanding that inventive spelling/writing will develop into conventional writing
- Focusing on positives, not errors; avoid a focus on "correctness"
- Introducing conventional writing ideas by pointing them out in literature, environmental print, and personal letters
- Demonstrating writing by example: let children be involved in writing letters, emails, making grocery lists, writing checks, etc.
- Incorporating rich writing experiences into family activities like writing letters to family members, journaling, making cards, etc.
- Creating a World Wall or Spelling Dictionary for children, which they create and should not be used as an excuse to demand conventional spellings

When a teacher completely understands and carries out these ideas and philosophies of writing in her classroom, she has begun to develop the "best practice" and most appropriate environment for writing, but it is not yet complete! A child needs a supportive community in order to be the most successful in writing. A child also needs family and community support, which should be aligned with the 7 best practices identified by Cusumano. Teachers have a responsiblity to educate families and community members about the ways to approach writing literacy at home. Some great times to educate families include open house, parent-teacher conferences, and writing workshops. During these times, a teacher should look to convey the 7 integral philosophies of children's writing, and provide positive strategies for practicing appropriate writing at home.

Some simple ideas to encourage appropriate early writing at home include:

- Reading good children's literature, while pointing out conventional points like spacing, periods, syllables, beginning-middle-ends, left to write orientation, etc
- Encouraging writing with materials to write on and with
- Focus on the positives of writing, never what a child is missing
- If you cannot read inventive spelling, ask the child to read to you what he wrote
- Write letters, journal, lists, notes, anything!
- Demonstrate writing practices to start conversations
- Be creative, stay positive, model well, and be open!

Using these tips a teacher should be able to create a team of support for a child so he can develop appropriate and flourishing writing habits and attitudes.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Digging for Early Literacy

Children learn and absorb literacy experiences constantly throughout their lives. This natural process is harshly and dramatically contradicted in traditional teaching methods in elementary schools. We expect children to conform to worksheets, word walls, memorization, speed reading tests, and spelling tests when these assessments and requirements oppose how children learn best: through experience. A great way to create this experience and encourage natural literacy acquisition in children is by creating a “Literacy Dig.” A Literacy Dig is a full, rich, and wonderful method to set up a classroom to boost literacy practices. To initiate the Literacy Dig, a teacher should search for some sort of outside community connection that could enrich the child as a whole. An example that a group of teachers and I are currently working on starts with a Goodwill store. We plan on starting the experience with a “field study,” where we will bring our students to Goodwill equipped with clipboards for notes, drawings, and recorded environmental print; cameras for videos and pictures; audio recorders; and plenty of writing utensils. At Goodwill, the children will try to document as much information as possible to bring back to the classroom. When back in the classroom, we will share our artifacts, notes, and pictures, speaking about these processes. To move the process further, we plan on encouraging the children to create their own “Goodwill” in our classroom/school. This will require planning for a wide range of relevant, real-life situations and the children will be using, developing, and acquiring literacy skills during the entire month(s) long process. Teachers can prearrange for members of the community to come into the classroom to share knowledge about the finance of running a Goodwill store, the environmental benefits of thrift shops, an owner of the store to talk about the business of hiring and managing employees, a banker to demonstrate how to ask for a loan to start the store, and many other community members. Then, with their new knowledge, the students can begin to form their store with very specific and accurate representations. A Literacy Dig like this has endless possibilities and can only be taken as far as the teacher is willing to run with it. A wonderful, involved, and spontaneous teacher can make a small idea like creating a Goodwill store a quarter-long event that covers all the curriculum and required standards. This is a great way to encourage, teach, and make meaning of literacy with children. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Thoughts on Culture in Literacy

After recently watching a wonderful interpretation of Shaun Tan's Arrival, which can be watched by following the link, I gained a new perspective on teaching second language learners and educating children from various cultures and countries. Tan's novel, which is not completely shown in the YouTube video, follows a man as he throws himself to a completely foreign and new country. He experiences new customs, language, and interactions. These differences limit him from being able to have a job, except from a mindless factory job. Tan's thoughts pretty accurately reflect our view on immigrants in America. We seem to have this underlying idea that if English cannot be sufficiently spoken, a person's worth diminishes. When thinking about our students in our classrooms, do we hold these same biases? Should our English language learners be required to take assessments in English, or provided opportunities in their native language. It is a debate that is hot in education today. Tan continues his story, outlining the bitter struggles the man endures, but eventually he is able to earn enough money to send his family so that they join him in the new county.

The man's language abilities are not seen as worthy of holding a non-factory job, and the question of "what it means to be literate" can be pondered through this story. If we say that literacy is a means of communicating, then this man is literate in his own sign language and his native language, but not the countries main language. Is he literate? Are our second language learners literate if they cannot speak English, but achieve milestones in their first language? These types of questions need to be considered when thinking about teaching literacy in early education. Our own thoughts can be reflected in the manor in which we teach all types of learners. Thinking about establishing an inclusion setting, a community-based model in the classroom, and an anti-bias approach in my classroom, I can only come to the conclusion that requiring English language learners to solely communicate literacy in English is wrong. As teachers, we can think of creative and innovative ways to connect the first language to the classroom in a meaningful way.