Sunday, January 31, 2010

Active Readers Monitor Their Understanding

This topic is going to take a few days to unravel. It is complex. I will give suggestions on how to help, but first I want to tell you what to look for.

Reading, as we know, is not just saying the words correctly, it is understanding the meaning. Yet so many kids, especially early elementary age (or struggling readers in upper grades) continue to pick up book after book and "read" them, yet not get what the story is about in its totality.

What I see in the classroom for starters, are those kids who struggle with decoding. This is the "sounding out words" part. They will either read haltingly word for word and try to sound out every other one, or they will read through, "making up" or substituting words for words they don't know or can't say. Substituting words we know phonetically start the same way and make sense is a strategy we teach early readers. That is a good strategy. But after they get to about third grade, sometimes they just substitute random words and keep going.

My favorite survival skill, however, is the mumble. Those who sort of slur through the word and keep going so that you think they got it.

Red Flag. When kids can't decode, they will spend so much braintime with that aspect that comprehension will break down.

Now there are two types of "substituters" -- those who know they are putting in other words, and those who think their word is actually the word on the page. The latter is the trickiest.

There are also two types of strugglers...those who know they are, and those who don't know they haven't got it. Again, the latter is the hardest.

What I want to start with today is this...Identify what kind of reader you have. Do they know they don't get it?

If they DO, you are ready for strategies, and you also may have some issues with knowing their struggles. You may have a struggler who is frustrated, sad, angry, or resistant. Or, maybe you are lucky and they want to learn, but know it is tough.

If you have the emotional side, nurture that along with giving strategies. The more they are successful, the less emotions will play a role in resistance. We will talk attitude as we go through this.

BUT. If you have a child that has no idea that they are having trouble, you have to start there. Now I am NOT suggesting in any way you go telling them that straight out. They don't need that.

Here's what I am saying. We cannot expect kids to use strategies we give them if they think there is no need for them. They need to be aware they are having comprehension/decoding breakdown.

We need to work with them and show them how YOUR understanding of what they are reading and saying is different than what they are.

For example, as I was reading with a child the other day about worms, they were reading along and substituting words for the words that were there, but they were not getting the right ones.
Before I jumped in to either tell him the words or give him a phonics lesson, I stopped him after he read a particularly disgusting fact. "Oh MY!" I exclaimed, "Didn't that just gross you out!" "What?" He looked puzzled. "You just read that worms in some parts of the world can grow to be 3 feet long!" I added, showing him with my hands the length of his desk. "Wow. That's really big!" he said, wide eyed.

I asked him if he had realized what he had read. He admitted that, no, he didn't. He just understood that it was facts about worms and that some of the words were tricky, so he kind of skipped over them.

PERFECT. He now knew he wasn't understanding.

I praised him for telling me that and said that it was so important to have a just right book and to STOP reading when we don't understand. It could be a word or an entire paragraph. WHEN UNDERSTANDING BREAKS DOWN, STOP.

In his case, I told him he was missing some incredibly gross and funny stuff, and he wouldn't want to do that!

Now, what if your child keeps up, not knowing they are missing? It depends. If your child is a preschooler/Kindergartener, they may still be using the pictures to tell the story, so the words aren't exact. THAT'S FINE. Age appropriate.

But if your child is in third grade and still using that "skip over/mumble through/just stick whatever in" survival skill, you need to spend time helping them understand that they are not understanding.

Use my example to help you. Don't make it a big deal that they didn't get it, make a big deal about something you learned/understand from the story...sometimes it is even a reaction you get from an event or something a character did.

"I would feel so mad/sad/excited if that..."
"Can you believe what she did?"
"I didn't know..."

So step one: Let's help them see they need help.

Tomorrow...Fix Up Strategies! What to do when you don't understand!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Small Thing, but Important One

As I was reading with Nick today, I noticed something. I knew he did this already, but he was holding the book, turning the pages for me.

Again...he was holding the book. He was turning the pages.

How small a step, but it speaks volumes. He is in control, he is understanding what to do with books.

I know he has heard the same stories a billion times (keep reading them for the billionth and one time - it seems repetitive, but they are enjoying it) and he knows it, but here's the thing.

He knows when my voice will go up or down to reflect the changes in the fact, he will mimic me often. He knows which pictures go with what part of the story.

Why is that huge??? BECAUSE THAT'S COMPREHENSION! He knows there is meaning. There is predictability with the words, sounds and pictures.

Later, he will start to understand that those black marks on the page are what give mommy (and him) the story.

Today, let your child hold the book. Hesitate before turning the pages...let them have control. It will speak volumes of what they know about how to read, and give you an idea of some things they may need to work on.

Let me know what you find out.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Developing Readers = Developing Relationships

I was going to get back to the Active Readers, but this struck me.

As a parent, one of the things at the top of our "what we want" lists is A GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR KIDS.

It starts from the beginning, wanting the best for them, cuddling, cooing, and meeting their needs...but then it changes as they become more independent. They physically need you less, and they want and have emotional needs that you meet, but sometimes HOW to meet those needs and make those connections is hard.

They start giving you short answers to questions, they are off and about more, and they start creating "space" away from you.

My kids are in different stages of that right now. Take Matt - 10 - ready, but then again, not so sure, about entering teenage years. He likes to have me around -- when I am not nagging and when it's not "embarassing." Then there is Ben and Sam, still in the single digits at 7, both still needing mom -- to help, to reassure, to talk to, to learn from. And Nick, 1 almost 2, needs me in a full and complete way.

So how do I make a connection with each of them, a closeness that they can feel and remember? Well, it's not in giving them everything they want, or taking them to every event under the sun. It's sitting, listening, sharing a book.

I am not teacher. I am mom.

Matt, loves to be able to relate what he is reading to me and also to read books in tangent with me. Still.

Ben and Sam know they will get undivided attention, and it is unique to each of them -- for those moments, they are not "twins."

And Nick knows it is warm. wonderful words in his ear as he sits on my lap -- and pure enjoyment of being able to do something together.

Sometimes, issues in books prompt discussions and questions that I could never have broached with them otherwise. Bullying, friends, choices, following the crowd, racial issues...books cover the gamut and they don't feel so put on the spot. They can talk in terms of the book, but the issue is openly talked about.

Want to have a strong relationship? Of course you do. And yes, you can do all sorts of activities that connect with your kids...but there is something special about reading. Is it sitting side by side? Is it the undivided attention? Whatever the magic, it's there.

Start reading together. In those quiet, shared times, you will find them, and they, you.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

I Read With Kids Today

I have had the pleasure to read with quite a few kids over the past 24 hours (other than my own boys, by the way) and I wanted to mention something that struck me.

I sat down with these kids not knowing anything about readers, as kids, as sons/daughters...I had NO preconceived notions. I just knew they needed to read.

So what struck me? That kids are alike. They want to read. They want to understand. Sure, they may put up the tough third grade exterior, but once I just started talking with them as a reader, they melted.

I know. It is different with every child - they come from different backgrounds, they've been told different things by different teachers, on and on...

What do reluctant readers need?

Someone to read with, someone to talk with, someone to mentor them on what good readers do. That's all.

They need to hear directly what they are doing great -- they don't need to be overwhelmed with how much they can't do. They need to be shown by a good reader, then practice.

This takes time, and connection. But let me tell you, it only took me about a minute with each of the kids I saw today to make a connection. I talked to them first. I opened up about me, and why I loved reading. I talked to them about common reader struggles, and what I do to not stress out, and what I do to fix it.

For example, one of the kids came with me to work on fluency. I asked if he knew what it meant and he said he didn't really know, but he'd heard about it. Now, as a teacher, I am sure she has defined, modelled and made it a point to teach the word fluency and what it means, but it hadn't connected with him yet. Don't fault teachers...they teach, but not everything will stick for all kids at the same time.

So I talked to him. "I find that when I read something a little long or maybe a little tough for me, my voice doesn't sound smooth, like I do when I am talking. That's fluency. Being able to read like comfortable talking. Has that ever happened with you?"

He said it did, often. And he didn't ask me to prove that I struggled, by the way. He was just excited to find he wasn't the only one.

So I told him that today we were going to back up our reading by getting "warmed up." I told him I brought my favorite warm up book, Piggie and Gerald. I gave a little more info on Mo Willems, related it to his Pigeon series (which most of them know) and told them that I loved it because it was so darn funny.

I showed the title, I Will Go! and mentioned that the title gives me an idea that someone is going, but I don't know who, or where.

Then I hit them with the blurb. We talk about it, I read it to them, and then I tell them the exciting clues that I read there that get my mind ready to read. I will especially point out vocabulary words or names they will probably have trouble pronouncing. Do that with your child. Show them and pronounce them! They will be in the book, no doubt!

So then we open the book and I ask what they notice. They point out the speech bubbles, and that's where I tell them that is really really smart of them to notice. They look at me funny.

"If you know those are speech bubbles, then you know the character is talking! You know that good readers make their voices sound like the characters in their minds as they are reading, and this way you will know how to read with their expression too!" They are very impressed with themselves already.

None of the third graders were balking. I had them.

They hold the book, and they read. I point out the expressions in the illustrations and how they are hysterical, but also clues on how to make their voices sound. Later, I point out that even without the pictures, we would be able to tell how the voices sound because of the punctuation.

So they read, they laugh. And yes, they still struggle though it. But they are ready.

We then move onto a grade level passage and I ask them to remember what they just did with Piggie and Gerald. Pay attention to the talking. Pay attention to the punctuation. Hold the story in your mind. Know what's going on so you can say it smoothly.

Sometimes I read a sentence or two first, then they echo. Sometimes they just want to tackle it alone. When they falter, I encourage and model by reading it. They repeat. I PRAISE, PRAISE, PRAISE. That is what keeps them going.

And you know what? As I gathered my things to head out when time was up, each and every one said with a smile, "See you next week!"

They are, or are soon to be, HOOKED on reading.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

This is a good day...

Gerald takes the words right out of my mouth on the first page of Mo Willems' latest book, I Will Go!, which came out today, and of course, I bought today...


But here's something even better...I found my newest, most favoritist place in Austin...Bookpeople Bookstore. It's like I found Vroman's, only in Texas!!!

I took Nicholas to Storytime this morning, which was fun, and crazy -- I was very excited to see how many parents are involving their kids so early in books and reading.

Want your kids to see good reading? Go to a local bookstore's storytime or author visits. They are incredibly motivating.

Oh, which brings me to another thing I am crazy excited about. Mo Willems is coming to Austin on Feb. 18th to Bookpeople to read and talk about writing books (and he's going to sign stuff too). It's like my worlds are all meshing, huh? Books, a favorite bookstore, a favorite author

Now I know some of you all have kids that sit on pins and needles for that latest video game or DVD release, but wouldn't it be fantastic if they were begging you to preorder the latest book from their favorite author?

Where do you spend more time? Think about where you shop...and which sections you spend time in...the electronics at Target or the books (30% off in some cases)?

Any way you look at it...

This is a good day. :)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Blurb

The back of the book or the inside of a book jacket -- known fondly as "the blurb" -- is possibly the most underread and undertoted access to each and every book out there.

When I poll children if they read the blurb, more often than not they will say no.

What a travesty.

I tell my kids that they MUST read the blurb. There are so many nuggets of gold hidden in there!

First off, I read it to them every time we are doing a read aloud -- I model. I share with them how excited I am to get my mind ready! I can read there and find out the main characters' name(s), a little bit about the problem in the story, and maybe a twist that may give me a hint as to how it is solved, or at least a teaser to get me hooked!

It is so vital in another way too. It will be a clear gauge as to whether the book will be a just right read for them or not. If they struggle through the blurb, it will be a challenge to read what's inside, for sure.

When they read the blurb, we talk about what we learned. For example, if I were reading a blurb about Charlotte's Web, I would have found out the pig is named Wilber, Charlotte is the mysterious friend (Hmmm...why her WEB? I always ask them - clue - what is she!) and Fern saves this pig, yet...there are some questions about the likelihood of his not living. This is GREAT STUFF! It totally helps my mind get an overall picture of where this is going, so as I read I can say "AHA! That's what the blurb told me!"

Make sure your kids read the blurb. It's going to make a big difference on how they read and what books they select!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Active Readers Select Books

As I have said time and time again here - kids need to be taught and told that they are in charge of their reading lives. The more power they feel, the more active they will be.

Take selecting books. Many kids don't know how to do it on their own. They have either been told by an adult what "section" or "level" they must choose from, or books are simply given to them and they must read them.

There are always a few kids every year in my classes that go home and tell their parents "She lets US choose books from ALL her library!" This saddens me. From even the earliest days, children should be selecting books to read. Not that we can't guide them, but they should be doing this for a few reasons:
  • Power
  • Responsibility
  • Develops Knowledge of what they understand/don't understand in books
  • Develops awareness of what they like/don't like
  • Gives them sense of success in choice/failure in choice so they know more how to select next time

My philosophy in education is to empower them. I can teach them things, but the best education is one where they learn HOW to learn.

Selecting books is one.

I begin by asking kids how they choose books. Some have blank stares, some say they get books from series they have read before, some get recommendations from others - most of the time, they don't give me this reason, however, which is probably the most common way...

THEY LOOK AT THE COVER. Yeah, yeah, "don't judge a book..." BUT THEY DO. They will tell you flat out whether they want to read it or not just by looking at it. Attractive picture? You bet they want to read it.

This is all fine, by the way, but we want to expand their horizons.

I have a few suggestions. I ask them to get their minds ready for this book. They need to look at the cover, and think - What do I think this is about? What do I wonder? What do I already know?

Then move to either the back of the book at the "blurb" or on the inside flap of the book jacket. It will give you an idea about the book. I am going to go into how important this is on another day.

The blurb will not only give you an idea about the story, but it will give you an idea if is a just right level for you. If you struggle to make sense of that little part, it's probably too hard.

However, I do want them to OPEN the book. To read a few pages...just one or two. Get a feel for the story, and how it is written. Is it a just right book? Did they do the five finger rule?

Later, after they are aware of themselves as readers, they have strategies, and they know more about authors and genres, this will get easier.

For the library! Give them choice - teach them how to do it on their own, and don't worry, they can handle it!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Open Up Their Worlds...

My suggestion today is truly simple, yet may take some time and your help. In order to be an active reader who engages in their reading, kids need to have an interest in what they are reading.

This isn't to say that if your child is interested in space, like my Benjamin, that they only read about space, but it is a way to get them to grow as readers -- maybe just to read, or read longer, or read more challenging material.

Here's what I mean. When I had a hard time getting my boys to read, I first off, showed them how much I was reading daily. And I pointed out that it wasn't all the same kinds of books. I did show them, however, that I was interested in them and gave them reasons why.

In my reading I had: a newspaper, a chapter book for teaching, a cookbook, a magazine on triathletes, instructions on how to use the baby monitor, and a stack of my students' writing.

I told them how each one took different effort levels too. Some, like the magazine and the newspaper, were just to help me get information. Others, like the chapter book and the stack of writings, were homework. And finally, the cookbook and the monitor instructions were half "must read" and half my interests and enjoyment.

I talked to them about finding reading. Most times, kids think that reading is only chapter books, or books at school. Open up that world! Show them that instructions, magazines, books on tape, and so much more is there for them to read. I have even thought about turning off the sound on tv and putting on the subtitles -- that would at least get them reading in some ways.

My point today is to help them find material that is of interest. It may be cooking with you in a child's cookbook, or reading about a local attraction they want to go to, or even video game instructions (they may have to explain them to you, if you are anything like me).

Authors have responded to the need. You will find all sorts of levelled nonfiction and fiction that is in touch with today's children.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Active Readers Know the Difference

When kids read in class, it is always fun to catch them "pretending" to read. They think you can't tell. I always let it go a few minutes to see if they can pull it together themselves, and if not, I move over next to them for a conference. Oops...they are being kept accountable...and they were not the active reader they aspired to be. No worries, we talk about it right then and there and they help me figure out what needs to be done to fix the situation so they can focus and really read.

We always distinguish between fake reading and real reading, so to speak. They identify and chart a list of what pretend reading looks and sounds like vs. what real reading sounds and looks like. They always come up with a ton, and each one can be a lesson.

Fake Reading (A few popular items on the list, this isn't all):
Moving around
Eyes not on the pages
Talking to neighbors
Watching the clock
Can't remember what you read
Don't know what is happening
Doesn't know they are confused
Doesn't react to any parts

Real Reading (again, not the exhaustive list):
Sitting or lying quietly
Eyes on the page
Not flipping pages
Laughing at things
Crying at parts
Lose track of time
Know exactly what's happening
Knows when self is confused
Uses strategies to try to understand

There are a number of reasons kids "pretend" read, and we have touched on some:
  • Book isn't Just Right
  • Tired
  • Cranky
  • Unfocused
  • Sitting uncomfortably
  • Room too hot
  • Room too cold
And the list goes on and on...they can give you reasons up and down until next week...

BUT! If they know they are doing it...they can stop themselves. I teach them how to handle each situation. For example, if they are uncomfortable...move! If they are tempted to talk...move to a quiet area! If their book isn't just right...get one that is.

Kids don't realize that they are in control of their reading lives way too often. They think they need an adult's permission to monitor their every move. A lot of times, that is why you get them resisting. If THEY are the ones fixing it, they will be on board.

Want your kids to start to read? Give them a little responsibility. Tell them they can manage parts on their own, like finding a comfortable spot where they won't be distracted. Remember Matt likes to set the timer in the kitchen so he doesn't get all focused on that. He wants to put all his attention on the reading. But he made that choice, not me. He knew himself as a reader, and tried to solve his problem. I didn't impose limits.

Ask your kids to tell you what they think fake reading and real reading is...chances are, if they don't like to read, they've been doing a fair share of faking it. It's a survival skill, but it needs to stop if there is going to be reading growth.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Active Readers...


ItalicThat's today's thought and challenge.

Good readers find time to read, every single day. It may not be that they are engrossed in that huge chapter book...maybe they read an article in a magazine, or a comics page. But they read, putting their brain into action as they do.

Those of you who know me know that I am a daily gym rat. Yes, only hospitalizations and babies have kept me away. My body and mind need that time to exercise and rejuvinate.

So it is with reading. It is a daily workout for the mind.

Want your kids to get into reading? Make it a daily thing. Tell them that good readers even "steal" moments throughout the day to fit it in.

For example, in my profile I mention that my car is littered with books. True. I tell my boys that those mesh baskets behind the seats were made by car designers to hold books. So wherever we go, there is a book handy. Instead of "I'm bored" and "I want to bring my DS" -- have them read.

I am still shuddering from that report the other day. Seriously, average 7.5 hours a day on something's crazy how much time that is.

Be an advocate for daily reading - even 10 minutes a a week that's only a little over an hour. Compare that to over 50 on I need to say more? We wonder why our kids don't take to reading easily and don't just LOVE to read...look where our priority is in our time!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

See It on CBS?

Did you see the story on CBS? They talked about the wonderful news I shared with you yesterday. They added that most kids who use electronics that long these days are making C's or below...great news, huh?

I had Matt watch it and he promptly told his brothers. they may not get so mad that I regulate and limit them!

So today I want to talk about teaching kids about bookmarks. Seems simple, but if you tell them that bookmarks tell people something about them as a reader, they might look at you funny.

Bookmarks mean "I am committed to this book. I care to know where I left off so I can continue!"

That's a big step for kids to realize. They just like the cutesy pictures on the bookmarks most of the time, but they mean much more than that. Praise them for using one - tell them that that is a big step as a reader.

I always start out my conferences with kids with a praise. At the beginning of the year, if a child is already using a bookmark, I make a big deal of it. "Wow! You are a great reader! You know how to commit to a book! Do any others have bookmarks?" Hands shoot up. "AMAZING! You know what good readers do!" You can feel them swell with pride already. You can also bet that at the end of reading time that day, if someone doesn't have a bookmark yet, they are asking me for one!

Active readers know where they are in books. Bookmarks help that process.

By the way, did you move the computer and TV out of your kids' rooms yet?????

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

OH MY...and Active Reading Continued

Before I go any further with suggestions, I have a huge concern. Tucked neatly in the center of the front section of the Austin newspaper today was an article (not a huge one, by the way) about how the average child/teenager is spending over 6 hours a day (outside of school) on some sort of electronic device.

Remember, I am not on a soap box here. My children have a Wii and a DS, and they access the computer too...BUT...they are regulated.

I am so glad technology is has enabled our society to do things only dreamed possible in past years. BUT...we are losing our living, in some senses. Or maybe we are changing our definition of "living."

I am of the stance that our world is a beautiful playground, and we need to enjoy and savor it. Those of you who know me, know that I have survived brain tumor surgery and two bouts of, time, is precious. "Living" is contact with others. Human contact. It's breathing the air around you, and not avoiding quiet.

In this article, kids reported that they are "bored" most of the time and that is why they do it. Hmm...too much effort to actually GO somewhere, WITH someone, and TALK?????? Too difficult to LOOK AROUND, and APPRECIATE??? JUST BE????

Here's how I think that relates to what I have been saying. Kids, people, are getting complacent. They don't want to exert too much, give too much. They want it easy, and fast, and delivered to them at the couch, if possible.

So that is why it is crucial to teach kids that reading is actually an active experience. If not, they will lull into the complacent attitude and say "it's boring." They haven't brought anything to the table.

My next lesson in active reading is to actually teach them to treat books like treasures. Think of them as important as that electronic device that they would "die" if they lost.

They need to take care of books. Have a special spot for them. Know where they are. If they adopt the attitude that books are treasures, they will value them.

Don't allow them to cram them in their backpacks, buried deep in the abyss. I always made my kids in my classes special drawstring bags to carry separately. They adored them. Now I just buy those sport drawstring nylon bags which the boys think are cool, and they keep their books dry and safe.

Step one to being active? VALUE books. It is a value that can be, and should be, taught to each and every child.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Becoming an Active Reader

When I was thinking about what it was that I do that helps kids go from "reluctant readers" to voracious readers, I ran through my school year of plans.

I decided that I will give you a glimpse of that, by offering daily "lessons" to teach or talk to your kids about. Now, some lessons may be easy for your child. Great - don't belabor them. Some lessons, however, will be trickier, and you need to spend some time on them. Let's start a conversation about what is happening and I can delve deeper and specifically for your child.

One of the foundational things I do in my classroom is teach kids to be ACTIVE READERS. That's step one.

Our first order of business is to show the difference. I act out what I look like watching TV. Then I show them what I look like playing Wii. Then I show them what I look like when I am running on the playground (we go out at recess). We talk about what is active, and I do introduce the word passive. Passive just takes in, and doesn't take much energy...the Wii takes a little more, but I am not moving too much...whereas my playground work gets my blood pumping and my brain has to be in gear to safely allow my body to play on the equipment.

I talk about how the brain is a "muscle" that needs to be challenged daily to grow, just like their heart. Being active is the best way to make that happen.

I make a chart with them showing my activity level from passive to active, like a continuum. Then I add a few other activities and where they would fall on my chart. I ask them to also make a chart. For younger kids, they could draw pictures or you could even take pictures.

We then talk about how this relates to reading. It seems like a no brainer, but it isn't. I ask them to think about their activity level when they are reading. We talk about how it is hard to have your body active while you are reading, but they can think about how active their brains are.

A lot of times, they don't know. I know I am asking them to be aware of themselves in a different way, and that isn't "normal" school to them. Most of the time, teachers ask simpler questions - they are in the book. That's where I differ from most.

It's called metacognition. Thinking about what you are thinking. I just like to think it is being aware of yourself.

So back to the kids. I tell them that over the week, we will stop after every reading time and chart where we think our activity level was that day...were we thinking about the reading? were we trying to figure out difficult words? Were our eyes on the pages? Were we looking at the illustrations to help us? OR...were we skimming, scanning, or even eyelids drooping? were we looking around or pretending to read?

This is a big step. Knowing whether you are actually reading. That's the start.

I will give more suggestions on how to go from a passive to an active reader next time!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I got an email

I have been corresponding by email with several of my third grade students from my 09-10 class at Sampson Elementary. Some of you may not know that we relocated from Houston to Austin in the Fall, and I had to leave a great group of readers while they were beginning to bloom.

But email is great. I got one from a student this morning. She was telling me about having read "The Giraffe, the Pelly, and Me" by Roald Dahl. I had also asked her in a previous email about what else she had been reading.

She listed about four or five books. "Warriors," "11 Birthdays," Beauty," and one of the Junie Jones books. My eyes widened as I read. It's just like Matthew...too many going on at once!

I praised her first for the choices of great books she had made. I told her how I noticed two had a fantasy slant and the other two more realistic fiction -- very balanced. Then I asked some questions before posing a suggestion.

I asked which book she tended to pick up more often and why. I asked her to notice how her brain felt when reading each one.

"I love the books you've chosen! I noticed you are just like me -- I love books so much that sometimes I pick up too many at once!"

I told her about the book I was currently reading, The Doom Machine by Mark Teague. I explained to her that I hadn't been enjoying it until this week, when Matthew and I made our priority lists. After I wrote my list, I wasn't worried I would forget about those great books I wanted to read, and I could focus on the one book exclusively. I told her how much more I loved The Doom Machine now that I was just reading that one.

I asked her to think about why she'd chosen each book, and to get a piece of paper. Luckily, she has been exposed to my teaching. By that I mean I have taught them to know themselves as a reader, or at least to start to get to know themselves. Their preferences, their just right levels, their stamina. If they know themselves as readers, THEY can make choices. They are in control of their reading life, they don't need to depend on any leveling program or anyone else. THEY JUST KNOW.

I told her to pick one book to read now, finish, and then list the others in the order she'd like to read them. I did say that Junie could be a "brain break" for her...which she knows means it can be read concurrently with the other book because it is an easier read for her.

When I was teaching her class, I talked about how our brains need those kind of books. We can't just keep reading the same kind or level every time we read. Sometimes, readers need a brain break.

I illustrated my point clearly when I brought in the reading material that I was currently reading. I had a cookbook, a newspaper, a novel, and a People Magazine. I explained how each one affected me as a reader. Actually, that is a subject I want to delve into more later. Let me get back to my student.

Hopefully, she will take my advice.

See? Matt's and my problem is more common than we think! We have to get them focused.

Anyone else's kids have backpacks loaded to the brim with unfinished books?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sam Update


We worked more yesterday on author's purpose. Now, as excited as I am that he understands the concept, I am thrilled that he actually wanted to work with me and HE wanted to understand it.

Yesterday was a cold, rainy day here in Austin, so we took a field trip after school to the nearest Barnes and Noble bookstore. As we opened the double glass doors, all four of my boys took off in the direction of the children's section. Someone commented, "They sure know where they are going!" I smiled. Yep.

So before I let Sam get too far, I gave him a subject. I asked him what he wanted to read about. He didn't have a focus, so I asked him if he could help me with Nick's selections first. He liked that idea because he was helping, not "working." I asked him to find me a book to entertain him about animals, and an information book about animals. Immediately he headed off to the board books. He brought me a Curious George book. I asked him if this was entertain or inform. He smiled "Oh mom, it's to entertain because it is a story about a monkey." I gave him a huge hug and he went to the nonfiction section. He brought back a book about baby animals. Perfect. He got it.

Later we showed dad our new skill with another book sort at home. He was so proud to show off.

You may be wondering what new books we acquired. Actually, it was the only trip we made there where we didn't buy anything. Remember the goal Matt and I set? Well, I reminded him about that when he brought two Gordon Korman books to me. "MOM!" he sighed. Nope. Not giving in. I told him, and later Ben and Sam too, that this was a browsing day - just for looking. That was hard for them. I reminded them of all the books they got for Christmas that needed to be read.

So what did they do when they got home empty handed? Picked up something they hadn't finished yet.

Mission accomplished.

Friday, January 15, 2010


Sam was easy -- well, partly. He immediately told me that his reading spot was the kitchen table. He also told me he likes to read when other people are reading. He said it helps him, and he likes to share what he's reading with whomever is nearby.

So his reading spot is set.

Here's where he was tricky.

He bought home a paper he had done at school on author's purpose. I like how the teacher used three or four books from the classroom and had them sort and identify for author's purpose -- either to entertain, inform, or give directions. For first grade, I thought this was perfect. He showed it to me, and as we talked, I realized how he really didn't understand the difference.

SO...I backed up. I need to also tell you that Sam has been identified for Speech and Language services since he was 3. His articulation has grown tremendously, but as he gets older, we notice it is hard for him to express things that are more complex. He completely understands them, but you have to access the information indirectly with him. It is a tricky process, and add to that the fact he doesn't want to "feel dumb" by spending extra time (with MOM, horrible thought) to do the work. He likes to do it his way. Period.

Man, I can't wait for teenager Sam.

We began talking about who an author was - and that authors choose to write different kinds of books, for different reasons. He got this. I pulled out about 6 different books and we talked about why we might read these -- now it was foggier for him. I tried a different route.

We talked about TV, and the different types of shows we watch and why. He understood this much better. We talked about how when we watch Spongebob, we are being entertained...we are not learning about the sea. If we want to learn, or be informed, we watch Discovery channel, or National Geographic. It was getting clearer.

I showed him the words inform and information to see if that helped...nope.

I could tell he was getting frustrated. Frustrated the way kids do when they can't give the answer they feel they are supposed to. I stopped and looked in his eyes.

"Sam, let me help you understand WHY we are doing this. It isn't because you didn't get it right on the paper. I want to teach you this because YOU are a good reader, and this is what good readers know: Understanding why the author wrote this and the kind of book it is helps us understand what we are reading better."

He softened. His posture changed. Instead of a fight, he was ready to work with me. Has this happened with you and your child? It may not even be reading.

As parents, we need to remember - they need to know that learning is theirs...theirs to own, theirs to use. It isn't simply giving right answers.

Sam and I worked a little more. He was more open, and understood the entertain genre easily when we looked through our library of books.

He told me he didn't get what inform was, and I said we'd work on it more today. So I felt we had made a breakthrough in that we know what he struggles with, but more importantly, he is open to working on it now.

I don't expect that everything will be a walk in the park, but I know we will make more headway than butting heads.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Well, just when I think I have a focus for my boys in terms of reading, something else comes up...ever experience that????

So, I was all ready to get them snuggled into their reading spots and Matt pulls out these books he got from the library. They were all fabulous books, I might add, but..,HE'S ALREADY READING TWO OTHERS! Plus the Social Studies book in class, and Science, etc...OVERLOAD!

Here is the challenge - pare it down!

I know he was super excited about the new books, but I reminded him he had that same excitement when he started the other two books!

Then it hit me square between the eyes...he's like me! I pulled out all the new books I had bought over vacation and showed him. He laughed that I hadn't finished so many of them.

I told him how excited I had been in purchasing each one, and how I dove in...yet hadn't finished. I added that now I had muddled plots - some I had not read for a while so I couldn't remember exactly where and who.

He actually got teary eyed. "But mom," he stammered.

My mind raced. The last thing I like to see is my kids cry.

We made a deal. We each took out a piece of paper which is now taped on the kitchen cabinet near the breakfast table. We each listed the books we needed to finish, in order, and then added the books we wanted to keep "on tap" for later.

When we both visualized what we needed to do, it was more manageable, and he realized that he wanted to read the books he started.

This was a lesson in consumerism for me. I am constantly buying, buying, buying, but am I enjoying?

Your child may have difficulty finishing what they start. It may be a matter of that case, often I set a timer, beginning with 5 minutes and gradually growing that time throughout the week (Mon -5, Tues - 7, W - 10, etc.) where they have to read the book they have started. After the timer goes off, they are free to read something different. It gets them to keep going in the book, yet they feel they have had a chance to read something they "really wanted to" that day.

If the problem isn't stamina, maybe it's like Matt. He's got so many things going on, he can't keep focus. Listing like we did may help.

Again, the most important thing is that every book they are reading on their own is a "JUST RIGHT" book. If you are reading to them, the book can definitely be a harder level, because their understanding is not hindered by the fluency, vocabulary decoding, etc. And you are there too.

So tonight, I promise to get on to Ben and Sam's reading spots...if nothing else comes up!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Another thought about environment

I wanted to add that each child, each person, has a unique "reading personality" and not everyone is going to have the same "reading fingerprint."

Some will like a little noise, some need quiet. Some can lie down (I can't - sleep is tooooo scarce), while some like to sit. Boys in particular need movement. They swivel in chairs, tap feet, etc. Don't think they aren't concentrating...they are just different. They have a unique energy.

What I do think, however, is that there is a consistency to where and when. I have noticed that body rhythms tend to move best when there is routine. Find the best time, place, etc...and then make it a routine, something they can count on.

Teachers do this all the time in the classroom, and the kids crave it. They can predict it, and get into it.

One of the hardest things for kids is inconsistency. If one day it's one thing and the next it's another, they can't get a rhythm.

This may take some time. I figure that it is going to take me a few weeks to get Ben and Sam settled. We will try some different places, and times for a few days at a time to see what works.

Remember, books must be "just right" too - even the best environment will not help if the books they have are too hard or too easy!

By the way, Welcome to my new Kiker followers if you are reading this today - my boys are loving their school home and I look forward to spending some time with you all soon!

A word about environment

No, I am not on a new kick since moving to Austin - this isn't going to be about recycling - although we have a great Book Swap coming up at our neighborhood school that is a perfect way of getting new titles once your kids outgrow different ones you own already. (Although with me, for some reason I can't part with ANY!)

I had some thoughts on the environment in which your child is actually sitting down to read in. If your house is anything like mine, there is a lot of action going on...very distracting action, that is. The one year old, dinner, three separate homework sets, not to mention the host of electronic devices available in our home.

I thought about this when I went to sit down today to read my book. I am in the process of pulling wallpaper off in our kitchen, so I have the TV on as background noise (it's even on HG tv for motivation). When I sat down to read, the first thing I did was grab a cup of hot chocolate and my book. I chose the most comfortable chair in the room, and I hit the "off" button on the remote. Now was ready. My mind slowed down, the little one was napping. the room temperature was just right...

All those things are really important to teach kids. No, you don't have to readjust the thermostat every time they sit down to read, but my point is: They need to be comfortable, focused, and ready.

As I began to type this, I thought of my boys too. I thought about what the environment was like when they do their best reading.

First off, they all come home and run around for about 20 minutes, have a snack, and ALL electronics are off. I don't make dinner, or check email -- I am with them 100%. The baby even has a basket of things to keep him occupied and quiet (which doesn't work all the time, but he is getting the idea that it is "work time" and he can keep busy with his books and things too.

We normally tackle paperwork homework before our reading...

Matt, my 10 year old, is starting to be able to regulate himself and create the situation that is optimal for himself. He typically goes into our office. He also remembers to set the timer. Not that he wants to get it over with, but actually, he just doesn't want to worry about the time. He will, if interested enough, continue, but instead of coming and asking me every five minutes if his thirty minutes are up, he just relaxes, and knows that the timer will go off. I like that for him. He can keep his attention on the book.

Sam and Ben, the seven year olds, are more my job. I usually separate them. I take turns listening in as they read and ask questions. They are trickier. They are easily distracted.

This blog is great -- whenever I go to type something, it always comes back to something I need to do with my kids too.

My goal the next two weeks will be to enlist Ben and Sam to find "reading spots" for themselves. It can be anywhere...we have beanbags in their room, the couches, the floor -- I also have some smaller chairs they can cozy into.

Providing a good environment will not only help them enjoy the experience more, they will actually process more as well.

I will let you know how the reading spots are coming for the twins.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A challenge

Ok, so we've (I've) resolved to get in better shape, do things with friends more, etc...etc...But what have we resolved with reading? Maybe you "don't have time" or just "haven't gotten around to it."

If your kids are having a hard time doing it, maybe we better model a little will power on this one.

I know I read a lot with kids, but do I read on my own? The newspaper, and magazines, and when a Wally Lamb book comes out...but more often than not, I am reading kids books, with my kids.

I think I want to challenge myself to read one book a month -- for me. Now for some people that's easy, and they read far more than that. But for me, that's a stretch.

Here's the catch. I want you to try it too. BUT, you have to pay attention to your reading process. What you are thinking, how you are reacting, how you figure out things when you don't understand, all that. THEN...share with your kids. No, you don't share content exactly (some isn't appropriate), but you get honest with them as a reader. You will be surprised. The things you do, the things you notice, are all the things that good readers should do, and what you should be teaching your kids.

For example...I am going to read a new book that has a bunch of family trees in the front (those always kill me because I get them all mixed up). Well, most of the time, kids skip that first part. They figure those are some sort of crazy illustration that they don't need to worry about. Teach them to look at it! To examine it, to make sense before they start.

Remind them that EVERYTHING an author puts into a book is ON PURPOSE. They have done it for a reason, and that reason is to help their reader.

So the challenge again - read, pay attention to your reading, and share with your will be surprised at how much they will learn from you!!!!!!!!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I took a trip...

This past week I made a trip out to my hometown of Pasadena, California (along with a lot of other Longhorns). I wasn't going for the game, however. My mom's dad passed away, and I went out for the funeral.

Accompanying me was my youngest, Nicholas, who has never traveled much, and never on a plane. Thank goodness it is only 3 hours, but...

So I loaded the backpack - diapers, wipes, snacks, and BOOKS. I can't tell you how many times I read those mini board books! But they kept his attention, and I am sure all around us were grateful.

Ok, so the trip. I had a few extra days, so I had an opportunity to do some things out there in my spare time. I knew I wanted to see a few friends, visit the school where I once taught for 12 years, and then...what shops? what restaurants? There was a myriad of ideas, but only one that was a MUST DO.

Go to Vroman's.

Vroman's is an independent bookstore that has been in Pasadena for over 115 years. It has survived despite recessions, chain bookstores, and development - thanks to a great many in that town who fought for it.

I LOVE THAT STORE. It was the first bookstore my parents took me to. The first where I actually BOUGHT books instead of borrowing. Where I could put my name on the inside. True ownership.

I worked there too a summer in college, but found I spent all my paycheck, even with my employee discount. I waitressed the next summer, and actually put money in the bank that year.

I parked the car and hurried in, anticipating the time I could browse, skim, and read. I began with fiction -- looking for a book recommendation from a good friend. Finding books is easy when you have someone of like interests to recommend things. I always tell my classes that. They need to talk to each other about books they liked (or didn't like) so that others can benefit from their experience.

I quickly found what I needed (if you call an hour quick) after finding about four others I wanted, and ran upstairs to the children's section. This is no ordinary children's section. You are immediately greeted by several tables with highlighted books -- of every genre and age level, enticing buyers to start reading right then and there. There are books by theme -- in this case they were getting ready for Valentine's Day. I like how they have the books organized by level (kind of like candy at the grocery store) -- so younger kids' books were at their eye/reach level, and the older kids' books were at theirs. It is awesome -- books just begging to be read, displayed in such a way that kids just WANT them.

Tickets hung from every shelf -- reader recommendations. I began to scan, looking for things for my boys first, myself second. This time, however, I was thinking outside the box.

My boys have tons of books that fit their interest levels, yet they all gravitate towards the same subjects or series. So my mission was to find books that would interest them, yet may introduce them to a new genre or author.

Matt's tricky that way. He's read by author for years. He gets on a kick and you can't get him to read others. I have noticed he isn't a fan of the fantasy books that seem all the rage. He likes books about kids like him, and humorous.

So I found a book about a boy who writes "How to Tame a Dragon." It has the humor, and isn't scary and dark. I myself find some of the fantasy these days too dark...this one had a lighter slant. We'll see how he likes it.

After another two hours, I had a list of about 15 titles and 6 already in my arms to buy. And I felt anticipation...of starting some new books, of having new treasures, of being able to share with you.

I always leave there wanting more than I can buy, yet feeling satisfied, like a good meal. I wish that for kids.

Find a bookstore and a free afternoon. Rather than going to Game Stop or Justice, take them there. Build a "shopping" experience - get a cocoa -- make it fun.

Your child may end up like me...making hundred mile journeys to find that special spot where they remember getting their first books, and falling in love with reading.