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.