Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I told you it would work!

Sure enough, when the boys came home, they were happily surprised by the re-arranging I did yesterday.

I need to figure out how to post pictures on here, because you need to see them...all four were lying in various places in the playroom, all with a "new" book in hand. They even took them in the car when we drove over to Goodwill to drop off clothes Nick had grown out of (NO I don't plan on any more kids).

So there - I told you a little Spring Cleaning and fresh look at their old books would remotivate them! Try it!

I am excited to read with my little Ali today and get her going on her new notebook. I will let you know how it goes!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Getting Kids to Read by helping them GET to books

Here's what I have done since 8 am this morning (it's 12:30) -- with no break -- CLEAN AND ORGANIZE...just the boys' rooms! Ever feel completely discombobulated (spelling?) and the urge to get it all into the right places?

Well, the urge didn't just strike me, nor should I really have to reorganize and purge since we JUST moved a few months ago, but Ben lost his glasses.

His really expensive, better-not-lose-them-son glasses.

And we have an eye doctor appt. next week. GREAT.

So I decided to get in there since he's "looked everywhere mom, I swear" and hasn't come up with them.

In the midst of all the cleaning and sorting, I discovered some books crammed into places where I am sure they couldn't have ever found them. I also realized that some of the easy readers that Nick might be ready for now were in places he couldn't reach!

How's that working?

It isn't. So here's my suggestion for today. Kids love to browse books, and are intimidated by rows of spines. They don't know where to start. Go buy yourself a bunch of rubbermaid shoe tubs and a few larger ones for picture books (or baskets if you really need the pottery barn look) and put them so they browse the bin, looking at the covers. Trust me, your kids are far more apt to pull books out.

That's where today came in. For me, I rotated some bins. Put some of the ones they have had for a while in a different place or on a different shelf. Now they will look at the bookshelf and new titles will catch their eye.

So make sure your kids aren't overwhelmed, and can get at what you have...

and I didn't find the glasses, either.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Something to Try - Comics and Reading

I have been watching my boys lately with this new Club Penguin thing they are all excited about. I am not exactly the happiest about having to purchase more fuzzy stuffed animals, but the kids have started to do something that I think has merit with reading.

Especially Sam, who is my most finicky and picky reader. He will only do it on his terms. Or if his teacher asks, not me.

So what have they been doing? They have been creating their own comic strips, using the characters from Club Penguin. I guess it started with some sort of contest -- if they scan it in to the computer they could win -- but that's not the deal.

The deal is, they are trying to write, to create, to make a "story" of sorts. I will be the first to admit they aren't that funny (although they sure laugh hard at them). I asked them the other day how many they have made. "Tons, mom. I have a bunch on this notebook," Sam proudly showed me.

So, tricky mom as I am, I had him READ them to me. Huh? Yep - read. And he did it without a fight, without a problem.

I just got him to practice fluency and expression!

My next step: "Hey Sam, you know that new Big Nate book? Why don't you do some comics like that? More like a story, with some writing in between?" He's had some experience with this already. Diary of a Wimpy Kid got smart and made a Do it Yourself book a while back (he finished that).

See? Jeff Kinney and the publishers knew what would keep kids coming back - have them create! You would think kids would balk at it - it is a lot of work to think of new plotlines, to draw it all, and to inject humor into it. But they love it.

So my Sam has embarked on creating his own book. Who does he bounce his ideas off of? His brothers, of I say it will be about a day or so before Ben and Matt start their own.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

If your kids liked "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" - I have a recommendation!

I love Target. I never get out of there for under $100, which isn't so good, but it has so much!

I was shopping for a friend's son's birthday gift when I stumbled upon something. I was in the book aisle (surprised? no...) and Nicholas was grabbing every Elmo book he could find and plopping down on the tiled floor to read I had a minute or two to browse.

I was looking for a few things...more reading for Ali (my Weds. K reader) - she's ready for a little more challenge and a change from Katie Kazoo. I didn't really find anything. There are the "Rainbow Fairy" books - maybe those, or Puppy Place -- maybe...I am not sure. I think I need to take her on a "field trip" with me to Bookpeople, where she can select something, and with notebook in hand, she can also make a list of books she wants to read later.

I was also looking for some 5th grade level "girl" books. I have a friend in Houston, and her daughter has hit a reading slump. I don't have a ton of that genre in my arsenal, so I was looking to see if I could get any new ideas. Again, brick wall.

BUT! One bright yellow book caught my eye. "Big Nate in a Class by Himself" by Lincoln Pierce. Never heard of the author, nor was it the cover that made me pick it up. Well, it was PART of the was a recommendation by Jeff Kinney written in a quote across the top. "Big Nate is funny, big time." I snatched it up. See what happens? We need to teach kids to do that. Maybe a cover isn't that awesome, and we don't really know if we'd like it, but if an author who we DO like recommends it, or writes the FORWARD of a book -- we can pretty much count on liking that book too.

I scanned it quickly -- written much like the "Diary" series...comic, boy in school, boy meets funny challenges, humor, about a 2-3 grade read. What the heck. I bought it.

Part of me was thinking, "This is great! I know my boys have read and reread the Diary books, and it would be good for them to have similar material, yet a new character, new author. Another was thinking of you all. I know if I may need it, so might YOU! :)

So I read it, but not after Matt beat me to the end. He read it in one day -- took it to brother's baseball game, read in the car, read in the wonderful warm sunshine out on the deck while eating lunch. And he thought it was a great book.

Now Ben and Sam are taking turns (Mom set up that system - to avoid squabbles) with it. So far, all I hear is laughter.

I enjoyed it favorite page was when he talked about his teacher pulling a "Full Godfrey." Ms. Godfrey is one of his teachers. This was another teacher. Lincoln Pierce has a small square "Glossary" to explain:
"When a teacher completely snaps and starts screaming,
it's called a Full Godfrey. (When Ms. Godfrey does it, it's called Monday)."
And so, I recommend it...the blurb on the back says Book 2 is coming soon! I can't wait!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

I Read It and More about How To Train Your Dragon

I really liked this book. All the way through, I was thinking about how I wished I could read this with a group of 2-5th graders in a classroom. There is so much to teach along the way -- and subtle humor too!

I finished it in about an hour and a half. I then called one of my best friends who teaches Middle School (6th) grade reading. "This book is PERFECT for those kids who are struggling!" Don't raise an eyebrow...if you looked at the statistics of where kids' reading levels have been lately, some middle schoolers are still trying to master 3rd grade level material. And rather than bemoan the tragedy of that fact right now, I just like to be part of the solution.

Here's why middle schoolers would like it (especially boys). The humor in this kept me in stitches -- subtle things along the way, sort of like those jokes stuck in for adults in kids' movies -- for example, the characters' names would be funny to littler kids (Fishlegs, Hiccup, Snotlout) -- but as you get to know the characters, you see how they actually reflect the personalities of their names. Hiccup, for example, is the Chief's son, heir to be this amazing leader, yet he is a small, unaccomplished boy -- a "hiccup" in the linage, so to speak.

Another reason it would be good for middle schoolers at this point is that they can hide behind this excuse to read it -- "My parents/teacher is making me read it before I see the movie." Followed by an eye's a perfect alibi.

So there is meat in this book that needs to be explained. There are pages where the writing is tricky because they are Vikings and the language reflects the setting and time (long ago when dragons were snatched and trained to fight for you). There are pages which describe the dragons and their qualities, but it is sort of written as a "stat sheet" -- this is where boys' knowledge of baseball cards (do they collect those anymore?) comes in handy. They understand the format. For some kids, that needs to be explained.

Another thing happened as I was reading. Knowing ahead of time that it was a movie made me sort of picture the animation that I had seen on the trailers as it was unfolding in the book. It was just interesting to me that my mind did that.

Overall, this is what I would suggest. I would have 1st (really high readers) through 3rd graders see the movie first, then read the book. Older kids (or high third grade readers and up) I would have read the book first, then see the movie.

Here's another twist, however, and it is a good thing, but you will need to talk about it. I read a review this morning in the paper that gave away the ending (I won't). Suffice it to say, it is vastly different than the book. There are quite a few parts, apparently, that do -- but the ending is really something different. One that could create a lot of good discussion for you and your child.

It would be good to compare the movie and the book as you go along, and I think with younger kids, if they have seen the movie first, you will need to remind them and check their thinking to make sure as they are reading the book, they are noticing the changes.

I laugh when kids tell me, "That's not right! They didn't do that in the movie!!" I simply say, "Well, remember the BOOK came first, but yes, I am so glad you notice they are different!"

I will definitely take my boys to this movie -- not this weekend -- we have too much baseball going on. Keep in mind that DreamWorks has also bought the rights to make movies out of the rest of the if your child enjoyed this one, get the next!

Friday, March 26, 2010

How To Train Your Dragon...and other bits

First off, I wanted to let you know that my little friend who I read with on Wednesdays did something amazing...

Remember how I told you I was going to get a notebook for her and she could decorate it next time she came? Well, she was so excited about the notebook idea that she and her mom already went out and bought her an adorable composition book that she picked out herself.

Why do I mention that? It's really not that big a deal.


It means she's wanting to commit to books, knowing what she's read, watching trends in her reading, writing responses...and most of all, it means she wants to KEEP GOING and GROWING.

That's what it means.

Yes, I know kids are like know, we get all excited and get new things, or promise ourselves every January that we are going to start doing something...and then the excitement wanes...the treadmill gathers dust, the gym gets your "donation" every month, and your closets clutter again.

Am I worried she will lose steam? No. But I am also committed to giving her fresh ideas to challenge her. Some she will enjoy, some will be tougher, some will take more time than others...but we will keep going.

I am so proud of her. And, as I told her when she brought her notebook over to show me last night, "You are such a great reader. You are so in charge!"

Ok, as for the How to Train Your Dragon movie. I read the review in the Austin Statesman this morning and they liked it...a lot. They have a weekend column on raising Austin and otherwise, and tomorrow she is going to give her slant on it.

Here's my deal. I haven't read past the second chapter. I meant to...really. Before the movie came out. But I haven't. So today I am going to plop my butt on my bike trainer and read. I will, for sure, read it before I take the boys to see it, so I better get busy.

It's Friday, my friends...enjoy!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Oh yeah, I had totally forgotten! A Reader's Notebook!

When I was teaching in the classroom, there were two ESSENTIAL pieces to my preparation for school. Outside of getting the library in order and stocked, that is.

I CAN'T teach without every child having a Reading Notebook, and a Writing Notebook.

Writing notebooks have been around for years (oh, yes, the dark ages when I started teaching -- even with whole language in play) but Reading Notebooks have grown in popularity over the past 5-10 years.

They have evolved too. Originally, I used my RN as a place for kids to do their response questions and center work. Then I added a reading log, where they write down what they read and pages/genre/author. Next came an interest list, then I found it necessary to create tabs with sections...for minilessons, for log, for responses.

But now that I am working more with individuals, for some silly (ok, stupid) reason, I completely overlooked using one with my kids.

Here's where I want you to evaluate its worth, however. Some teachers already have really extensive response homework or logs to fill out. If that is the case, just wait until summer to start your notebook with your child. It will be too much, and no fun. That's what I am doing with my boys.

But it dawned on me when I was reading with my precious girl on Tuesday that we hadn't been keeping a notebook! It came about when she was returning a Fancy Nancy book and didn't have anywhere to put her sticky notes with the new words she had learned.

I gasped, "Hey A! You know what I want to do next week? I want to set up a SPECIAL notebook for you. One where you can put your notes, we can write down all you have been reading, you can rate your books, make illustrations, whatever you want related to reading - I can't believe we haven't done it yet!"

Her eyes lit up.

I went on. "I will get stickers and special paper and we can decorate it exactly how you want to and it is going to be yours forever. Just think - you will have a huge list of books to write that you have already completed since we started reading together. At least four Katie Kazoo, and two picture books/fluency books each time you've come. WOW!"

She was so excited. And so am I.

Now don't stress yourself about how it is used. Keep in mind the age and level of your child. If I were doing this with a young child, I may write the name of the book we read on the top of the page and the date, and have my child color a picture of whatever they want from the book. For an older child, you can have as many sections as you can break it into genres, etc.

For her -- she's mid to end of year kindergarten - I am keeping it simple. I will give you ideas as we go along, but here's what I am thinking:

  • A log, or a few pages at the beginning for her to write down books she's read. I will have the date, author, and genre too.
  • The second section will be her response section. This is where we will date when she reads and she can either write a little about what she read, ask a question, predict what is going to happen, draw an illustration, react, and just be a reader. I will make sure she writes the title of the book each time as well.

That's it.

Why is a notebook important? Well, it helps organize thoughts, and gives you a concrete way to see what you are thinking and what you have accomplished -- but it is a treasure trove. I love looking back on the notebooks I have. I see where I was...and how much I have grown. I also sometimes find nuggets of "wow, that was pretty deep thinking for my age."

So today I am headed to Michael's crafts to buy some decorative girly things (since I don't have any of that at my house) and a composition book. I can't wait.

By the way, for those of you who want a cute book to get you started, there is a book "Books Make Me Happy" by Judy Pelikan...adorable.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How to Deal With Resistance

Today I was back at school reading with kids, and a funny thing happened...two of the kids I worked with tried the avoidance/resistance/"let me read something easier for me" today.

Now, not being my own children, they did this in the most tactful, sly way possible because they either didn't want to hurt my feelings, or they just thought I didn't know them well enough to know what they were trying to do.

You have to get up pretty early in the morning to outsmart this teacher (literally, you really do).

So what did I do?

Well, the first gentleman spied my stack of books on the desk, ignoring the two I had out in front of him to choose from. "OH! Is that a Gerald and Piggie??? I want to read that today!" he exclaimed. I quickly responded with no change in tone or expression, " Hey yes, that is a g and p book! We can read that after we read one of these quickly. Let's really get your mind working and then we can relax with that one!" Sure enough, that sufficed. He knew he would get to read it later, and I would make sure of it.

My second resister was a little more persistant. I told him the same thing, but because we were reading a new Chapter book, he knew we weren't going to read all of it today, so he would ask me after every few pages if that was enough and he could read Gerald and Piggie.

Oh, yes, I know. It is that testing that kids do...they are the best at wearing us down to get what they want. I am guilty -- but not when it comes to reading. I make compromises, but I always make sure I get to the goal I had with them one way or another before that.

My responses varied. Sometimes when he'd ask, I would ask a question to turn his attention and thinking back to the book. Sometimes I would remind him that we would get to it, and I gave him a number of minutes or pages to go. Sometimes, I would start sharing with him how into that part I was and he had to keep going just for me. All of them worked. He read until I said we were done.

I know it is challenging for him. I know he would rather not read this particular book...he doesn't hate it, but it is a lot of thinking...something struggling readers like to avoid. But he needs to be gently pushed. Did I mention he is ADHD too?

Now, I know these boys were not my own kids, so they were nice, and maybe just played along because they had to. But I don't think so. Both are two that ask their teachers constantly when I am coming back.

I also know that if I were working with my own kids, there would be a lot louder resistance and maybe even a tantrum...don't freak or give up if your kids pull this. Stand firm, gentle, and be consistant. Again, they are testing you. They will thank you for pushing them later (maybe much later, but that's the e ticket you get when you become a parent - we signed up for this, I have to remind myself sometimes).

Another thought...many times kids who struggle don't realize how much they HAVE done. Keep a log, a notebook, anything that says how many pages they have read, what books they have finished...we as adults like to have a list of accomplishments -- why can't they? Here's another brainstorm I just had.

I love To Do lists. They keep me from going insane with all that I have to do, and keep me from forgetting things. But they also give me great satisfaction in being able to CROSS OUT what I have done.

Maybe at the beginning of Homework, you do the same. They can cross out what they finished. It will make things seem less overwhelming to take it step by step, and they will feel so good crossing out what has been accomplished. Write a number of pages to be read...when they get there, cross it off the list.

Stick with it. Resistance is just part of it...they will get through it!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Inspiration and Motivation

Sometimes the toughest things in life just take a little inspiration to accomplish.

Think of something you know that is good for you to do, yet it isn't easy to do. For me, it's working out at 5am every day. I know I will enjoy it once I am there and into it, and I will feel SO much better (mentally, physically, emotionally) if I do it...but man, my cozy bed is awfully nice.

Think of kids who struggle with reading, or just kids in general. There are so many other things they could do instead. They know they should read, but...

Think about when you get in a "slump." How do you pull out of it?

Sometimes it is mind over matter. Just do it. Sit and push through.

But that doesn't last long, and isn't as fun. What do we as adults do? We find inspiration to motivate us and energize us.

For my workouts, I may buy a new workout outfit, or pick up a fitness magazine (or put on a pair of pants from high school - but that's not positive motivation).

What can we do to inspire our kids to read? I have mentioned several ideas in the blog so far, but let's recap:

  • Visit a bookstore
  • Buy a new book
  • Watch an author interview on a website
  • Meet an author/go to a reading
  • Get kids together to recommend books
  • Try a new genre (magazines, poetry, graphic novels)
  • Have them read to younger kids
  • Form a book club
  • Visit a place, then read up on it (or visa versa)
  • Read a movie book, then see the movie
  • Talk...find interests, passions...and find books about it

Those are just a few ways. There are so many others.

So today, look for inspiration - I am going to Bookpeople and RunTex, by the way.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Oh, the joy!

I told you how I re-bought the Diary of a Wimpy Kids for my boys -- I say "re" because they are probably the fourth or fifth set I have bought since they came out. As a classroom teacher, my boys know that their books are really "our" books, and they make their way to my bookshelves at school. And, as all teachers know, there are a few "missing" books at the end of each year.

I don't get upset, however. I know those books are somewhere in someone else's life, and hopefully they will get passed on or read by brothers and sisters, or even be reread...

I hope that they remember me too. Each of my books has FORREST written somewhere on it in Sharpie, so I know that they will be reminded. Hopefully they smile and say, "Oh geez, I have her book - I remember how she got me to read xyz..."

I know students in my class remember a few things about me. How I cry during Sharon Creech's "Love that Dog." How my favorite author of all time is Eve Bunting. How I was always pushing them to read for laugh, to endure, to grow.

Oh how I am missing the classroom right now. The boys went back today. They had Spring Break last week, and we had a ball. I got up relieved I didn't have to rush to get ready with them, but my heart aches to get in with those kids.

Back to the Diary books...the boys each took one to school today - after they wrote FORREST in black Sharpie on the cover. Maybe they will bring them back, maybe they will loan them out. Whichever happens, I am ok with. Kids are reading.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

This and That and the Other...oh, and Main Idea and Summary

Well, I read from several friends on Facebook that the movie, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, inspired their kids to read -- HOOOORAAAYYY!

I ended up getting "The Movie Book" of the movie yesterday at Costco -- Matt immediately snatched it up with Sam clamoring close behind. I told Sam he had to finish the "Dog Days" one first, so he immediately sat down at the kitchen table, and DIDN'T BUDGE until he had read over 100 pages...motivated much?

The other thing I wanted to talk about is how I am so proud that my boys accomplished their reading goals for the break. Did your kids make any? How did it go?

Now Matt and I need to sit down together and he needs guidance in harvesting all those sticky notes. He had a book with 26 chapters...and he's been diligent about the cumulative summary, so it should be pretty easy.

I have let him do it on his own since about chapter 7, so I may need to go back and help him weed out detail and focus on the main theme in order to create a great summary.

Main idea seems pretty obvious to us, but it is a cloudy subject for kids, especially when they are reading Chapter books. There is so much detail, so many "interesting" parts...they have trouble seeing through it all.

Something I do by way of analogy and preparation -- take a magazine picture and have them list all the things they see. Write them all down.

For example, I have a picture where there is a little girl on the beach holding a crab. When they see the picture, they list everything:
red hair
girl holding crab
blue shorts
no shoes

After we list it, I ask them a simple question...What is this picture about? I will pose these questions...Is it about her red hair? They say no! Is it about the waves? More no responses...I then tell them they are right...those are DETAILS. I remind them we need them in the picture to make the picture, but they aren't what it is MAINLY ABOUT. We go over our list, marking D next to things we think are details. The remainder, which in this case is "girl holding crab" and "beach" become the main idea and we mark those with an MI -- now, why is the beach a MI -- because characters can't operate in a vacuum. They need a setting.

So we then formulate our summary: It is a picture of a girl holding a crab at the beach.

Now, keep in mind these are very concrete. Keep with what is there. Do this several times, and make the pictures go from very simplistic to more complex. The more that is "happening" in the picture is tougher for them.

Why pictures? Because their brain will be doing the exact same thinking that it will when they are reading books...they are learning to "sift and lift." Just like a sifter or a colander, the big stuff stays in (the Main Idea) and the little stuff (the details) fall through.

Don't be frustrated if your kids are having trouble with the concept. It is really tough. I will try and focus on a few books as examples you can use for practicing summary and main idea...any suggestions? What are your kids reading?

Saturday, March 20, 2010


My day ended on a really high note. Being the mother of four boys is somewhat, well, limiting in that many babysitters find it daunting to watch that many, plus it hits the pocketbook hard. So Scott and I have been out, but not that much since moving to Texas and leaving the family (who LOVE to watch the boys).

But we went out last night! (here's where you are supposed to cheer or if you were on Facebook, put a "like."

Living in Austin has some real perks, namely the SXSW music festival. WAY FUN...we enjoyed the night and even saw Smokey Robinson, who, by the way, still sings his great songs -- but has to regain cardio composure between each one by talking to the audience for about five minutes...enjoyable none the less. Before his set was this AWESOME band playing Motown...they ROCKED!

Oh, I supposed to be talking reading?

We did see the movie. And the boys liked it. A lot.

Me? Well, it inspired some ways I as a mom can make my future middle schoolers cringe when I am around...but, I just thought it was ok. I don't know if it would inspire any kids to pick up the book if they hadn't already. Maybe it would. But the book, as usual, is so much funnier.

It did spark some fun conversations with my boys, however. I promised never to take them to a mother/son dance and groove in front of their friends, for one (although I would be SOOOO good all their friends would wish I was THEIR cool mom). No, seriously, we compared how the images in the book were stick figure/comic style and they had to adjust their minds to the person who played the character in the movie.

They told me they enjoyed the movie, but it was so much funnier to read about Rodrick (the older brother) "torturing" Greg, and that the way it was shown was funny, but they liked the way it was written in the book (Tween sarcastic).

So, suffice it to say, it is a good one to see, and it will provide an opportunity for you to talk about the differences in the book/movie...and lead to more talk about how that happens with many movies and books.

Next one to come out, by the way, is How to Train A Dragon...

Friday, March 19, 2010


Today is a HUGE day in my house. If you don't know about this book, you may not have boys.

Usually, I am not a big fan of movies made from books, but again, on the flip side, if the movie gets kids to read the book -- what the heck, I am game.

But Jeff Kinney, now making the big bucks, has created a boy phenomenon. It is a series of books based on the life of a preteen boy who is going through the normal bumps in life, somewhat more hilariously.

And boys love it.

Booger jokes, girls, brothers, bullies, even "the cheese touch" have been all a part of my boys' life since they first picked up the books. Ben and Sam each had their own copies of the books before Kindergarten, and have read and reread all three books many times.

I read a review on it this morning in the Statesman, where they gave it a grade B. They said parents wouldn't be as enthralled with it (there aren't jokes thrown in just for us) unless they secretly still snicker over the silliness, but kids will love it.

So we are going to see it. I hope we get a seat!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

More Nonfiction With Ben

Yesterday we had the greatest time at Zilker Park...yes, I know, we have been here almost three months and hadn't gone yet - shame on me. It was a gorgeous day and the boys enjoyed the enormous play area, the acres of green grass, and they even learned to skip rocks in the river! We will be heading there often, you better believe it. Matt couldn't believe he actually lived in a place that was so pretty, and "without alligators!" a California native, it seemed strange to hear my eldest be such a Texan.

Anyhow, to the reading.

Ben and I sat down and focused on captions yesterday. Before we did, I quickly asked him what he remembered about what we had learned before. He remembered headings, and knew what subheadings meant, but couldn't remember the term. So I reminded him about the "sub"marine and how it is a ship that goes "under" the sea. He remembered immediately, but got sidetracked by how I made that connection - which opened up a conversation about prefixes and root words. I didn't go too deeply on the grammatical aspects (his teachers can do that) but I showed him how "fun" words are because you can figure them out using the meanings of the little letters in front and the base "hidden" word. I showed him by writing some other words...Preschool, unhappy, preview, he was interested.

After that, we talked about the page he was reading today in his "Exploring Space" book. I began by asking him if he knew what the words below the pictures were about. He knew they said something about what the pages were about, but he didn't connect them with the illustrations. So I said, "You are such a great reader to know that already! Do you know why I LOVE these words? Because they are called captions, and they explain to me what the picture right above it or near it is all about!" He smiled. "Ohh. I get it!"

I went on to say that sometimes I can look at a picture and think I get it, but when I actually read the words in the caption, it gives me special information I wouldn't have guessed at all.

He pointed out that most of the captions had smaller size, and were "whiter" than the other words (in other words, they used a different font, bolded it, and made it smaller -- the background page is black for the night sky). "YES!" I exclaimed, "that is exactly right."

Instead of just leaving it at that, I told him that we need to "prove" we were fight by looking at other pages in the book about our theory. Sure enough, we were "right." He was so excited.

Next, I grabbed the newspaper (which I was doing the crossword) and we decided to see if that was true in that form of nonfiction. Sure enough, it was, although a little different than his book.

So on it goes, the process of DISCOVERING the magic of reading. Now he knows another aspect of nonfiction and how it works so he can better understand it, easily read it, and more than anything, enjoy it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Matt and his Summary

So yesterday we took a trip to Houston...lots of fun car visit some great friends. We had a good time catching up, and it was weird to be back. We have only been gone three months, but it seems like a lot longer. There were pangs of missing people, and reminiscing (ooh, spelling?) on fun times...but as we drove in our driveway last night, we talked about how it felt good to be home.

I wanted to focus on Matt's reading goal, which was to finish the mystery book he is reading for a book report. The report requires him to summarize the book, so I had given him post its and some instructions on a strategy to try.

I had him use one color post it to summarize each chapter when he came to the end of it. The second color post it was to be used to incorporate all the information he'd read so far into an ongoing cumulative summary of the book.

At first he wasn't sure what the difference was. So I explained that the chapter has its own events, but then those events blend with the other chapters to form a bigger picture. Like a puzzle...each section of the puzzle has an item, but those items go together to make the whole puzzle. That would actually be a great idea to do in the classroom or at home. Make a puzzle, and explain the analogy like that -- wow. I love coming up with ideas like that -- I bet someone somewhere already thought of that, but I am going to believe that I am so smart and creative that I came up with it...

Anyhow, we worked on the first couple chapters together. It was great to use a mystery, because it has a structure that makes it easy to do. The first chapter introduced characters, setting -- the second introduced the problem, the mystery to be solved. So when we did the summary as a whole at the end of the second chapter, I showed him how, instead of the detail of the characters as the focus (X character is a teenage girl living on Main street and friends with Y, who lives in the new house across the street -- ch. 1) or the mystery (they discover that there is a strange noise in the new house's attic and find a book that claims there is a ghost living there - ch.2), they are incorporated together...for example, X character and Y character are having to find out where the ghost is in attic of the new house. There is the summary. The first few chapters aren't too hard because there isn't too much will get trickier as more comes into play, and in mysteries, authors throw in "red herrings" to throw readers off -- so I will have to show him more then.

But so far, he is loving it. He read about five chapters on the ride yesterday, and at the end of them he kept mentioning how much he really was glad I showed him how to do it because it is organizing his thinking. "It is making sense and I am not thinking about a bunch of things all mixed up in my mind. I am thinking about how it all goes together, and it's all written down so my report will be so easy!"

I love it. Summary is easy...wouldn't every teacher love to hear their students say that!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Woo Hoo!

So far so good! We were able to all accomplish day one of our goals!

Here's something to remember: Always celebrate the small steps. Sometimes we get so overwhelmed by what needs to be done and we don't stop and appreciate the progress and what our kids have done.

As I tucked the kids in last night, I praised each one SPECIFICALLY for what they had done in reading that day.

For example, Ben and I focused on Headings and Subheadings and what they help us do as I told him, "Ben, you did a great job understanding that Headings are the BIG idea of a section, and how Subheadings (like submarines that go "under") are a part of a big idea, but much more specific to that few paragraphs. I like how you knew as a good reader that it all goes together, but you can focus and organize what your brain is thinking about in that part depending on what the subheading says."

Now of course I basically just reviewed what I had taught him that day, but phrased it in a praise for WHAT HE KNEW. Does he have it solidly? Well, yesterday was his first interaction with that terminology, so I am not so sure. BUT...he will be more aware of it and it will "click" in future exposures if he doesn't have it now.

The other thing is that we reviewed RIGHT BEFORE HE SLEPT. Brain research is showing that those last few minutes before you go down for the night are perfect times to do review if you want to remember it. Yes, those late night college cram sessions actually did help.

So at the end of the day, take a minute, review by way of PRAISING!

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Goals and the Plan...

First off, I must say that the time change hit our house like a lead balloon this morning. They didn't crack an eyelid until about 8 -- that is HUGE in our family...usually Nick loves to creep around (and get into too much mischief) before 6 am.

Ok. So the goals.

Matt said he really wanted to start and finish a book he picked out at the school library for his Book Share (another name for good old fashioned book report) due next week. Good idea. We talked about what the project entailed, and he told me that it was a book jacket with a summary inside. So I gave him a suggestion to try and 2 stacks of different colored post its. I told him that at the end of every chapter, he should write a mini summary (one or two sentences) about what that chapter was about. On the other color post it, he should write a couple sentences about how that chapter fit in to the book as a whole. By the end of his reading, he should have an easy time writing his book jacket...pull out the post its and voila! Here's why the two colors...there is a bit of a difference in summarizing a chapter and summarizing how the book is coming together as a's like a puzzle. I plan on sitting down with him when he does the first few. Summarizing chapters isn't too tough (although for some kids it is -- we can touch on that...I do a few strategies with kids to help them) but summarizing how it comes together as a whole is a bit trickier.

So on to Ben. Ben wanted to re-read his "Space Book" -- a huge picture encyclopedia of space...could be a bit overwhelming -- so we talked. I asked him what parts he really wanted to focus on. Stars? The planets? Space Travel? He said he didn't know. So I told him to think about it some more and we would talk again. He is facinated by everything, so his mind goes from one thing to another. He decided he would focus on the planets.

The book is organized with lots of pictures, captions, and explanations all over the pages. I thought a minute. This was one time I needed to do some teaching as he is reading. Nonfiction is very different from fiction. All the pictures, graphics, etc. are there to help the reader understand the topic better. Many times our kids will read their nonfiction books and be missing half of the information because they ignore the captions and graphics because they think they are "extra" stuff. So I sat down with Ben and his book. I told him that every day when he goes to read, he and I would talk about a new item he sees on the page and I would explain how it works. For example, on one page there was a comparison chart/graph of the sizes of the planets. I will sit down and explain it to him, and then we can talk about how it relates to what he read in the paragraphs. Another example is just to teach him how captions work -- so much good information there! Many, many times kids will look at and be facinated by the picture, but draw conclusions without reading their many questions could be answered if they just read those few sentences under the pictures!

So Ben and I are going to work on nonfiction text structures and how that helps our understanding of the topic.

Sam was trickier. He loves to weasel out of working whenever possible if he thinks it's working. But I will catch him picking up books, sketching, and doing "work" many times without my asking...when he doesn't think it is "work." So I asked him what he wanted to do this week. "I don't have reading from Mrs. Campbell," he stated firmly. "I know, but we are all making goals, even me," I responded. "We are going to steal this extra time we have for fun reading during Spring Break. We have so much time, why not?" I added.

He looked at me, studying my face as to whether this was negotiable. When he realized no, he started naming off a bunch of books. See? Stand your ground but don't make them defensive. It works.

"Sounds like you just want to catch up on lots of picture books you haven't read, huh?" I said. "Why don't you make it a goal to read one a day?" I suggested. "Maybe you can even read it to Nick."

He nodded. So I immediately had him go up to the bookshelves and select 7 books. I did that because 1) he was motivated, and 2) it will alleviate the "I don't know what to read." as the week goes on. So he's ready.

Nick is hot on Blue and Circle today...he even decorated his grubby hands with blue marker...whatever it takes! :)

Now take a moment. Think about what I did. First, my kids came up with goals. If they weren't sure, I helped them clearly come up with one without TELLING them what they had to do. Secondly, I gave them concrete steps to take to reach their goals. I will let you know as the week progresses how they are doing.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hooray! It's Spring Break...

And my kids have a whole week without school...

So, I plan. Yes, there will be time for vegetating on the couch, playing outside (a lot -- it's beautiful in Austin right now), and hanging with friends.

But there will also be reading.

Today they will sit down with me (after we go to Zilker Park for the Kite Festival) and make a goal. They will decide on a book they want to read, and then we will brainstorm some ideas on how we can meet the goal and finish the book too.

The goal doesn't need to be "to finish" or x amount of pages. It can be anything..."create a character trait web" "learn 5 new vocabulary words" "try a new genre" -- I want them to make it, though -- not me.

It is really important at my kids' ages to get to know themselves as readers and think about how they want to grow. That's deep.

I know that far too many kids (and teachers) are missing this point. They think that if a child is reading and comprehending on xyz level, that's the end of it.

Not in my book.

My goal as a literacy instructor, teacher, mom, and reader, is to teach children how to read, and to know what it means to be a reader. It doesn't just mean you can pick up a book, read the words, and answer questions about it. It means you are affected by books, you think about what they say, and you change as a person. It means you are in control of what you read, you have preferences, you have dislikes, you have ideas...and you have an active reading life.

So today we set goals. I will tell you what the kids chose and how we are going to go about our week...Nick and I are going to focus on a book this week. We are going to work with his Elmo shapes and colors book, and here's our plan. Each day, I will focus on a color -- and we will do lots with that color -- he will wear it, eat foods that color, use that color plates, color with that color crayon, use playdoh in that color, fingerpaint in that color -- get it? We will also focus on a shape, and we will find things all day that have that shape -- circles? Wheels on the car, bagels, elmo's eyes, the watch on my wrist...we will make it a point to focus on those things...then the next day, a new color and shape.

During the summers when the boys were little, I did a similar plan using the alphabet. We will do that again this summer. You can also use numbers -- be creative. Pick a book and run with the theme...

For example, if your child likes Fancy Nancy -- get glammed up like she does...color with glitter pens, all that good stuff. Another example, Magic Tree House...make a blanket fort and create a whole new adventure -- have them plan what to take and put it in a backpack -- find a book, think outside the norm.

I know, it is work. But no more work than breaking up a billion fights or dealing with "I'm Bored" because they don't have enough to keep their minds busy!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

See? Even Retail/Corporate Is Getting On Board

I opened my email today with a pleasant surprise. Usually, after opening the inbox, I go through and just check and delete anything from retail...more coupons/deals on things that I could spend my money on, but...

But today I opened the Pottery Barn Kids' one for some reason -- and it was publicizing their new Book Club/Storytime for kids on Tuesday mornings at their stores.

Immediately I thought about how it was another angle they took to get people in the store, but then I thought more -- Who cares WHY they did it? They are doing a good thing for kids, and if they make a buck (or a hundred bucks) more because I came in to read and bought a new comforter in the process, so be it.

Kids are reading, hearing books read, and enjoying it. That's what matters.

Will I go? Well, that depends on the bank account, really. Nonetheless, I am glad to see reading going on!

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Quick Note About Boy Readers

I know I have mentioned the difference between how boys and girls may read, but I had another discussion with a friend and fellow mom at baseball last night, and I thought it would be good to touch on it again.

She has a girl and a boy, and says that the boy is by far much harder to get to sit down and read. He's young, first grade, so this is a crucial time in his maturation as an independent reader.

I told her that from my experience, boys at this age need to read material that is funny, applies to their lives, or is just plain silly and fun. They may actually be reading things that are too easy at times for them, but that is ok.

For boys, they need to learn to fall in love with books. They need to figure out that reading is fun, and that there are great things in picking up the pages. If they don't get that, reading will always be a task they do for someone else.

I recommended Mo Willems of course, but also some of the "comic" and graphic books too. They seem to motivate my kids, and the kids I read with at school.

Listen: Yesterday I read with 8 boys of all ages, and they were rolling in laughter...and they asked when I was coming back and whether I would "bring more of these books." I did not read to them...they read to me...and they worked, hard...but they were motivated by the humor (and some gross out stuff - boys will be boys!)

So let them read they discover reading is fun, they will begin to crave longer, deeper quality -- TRUST ME.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Use It or Lose It

I always joke with my friends at the gym that as much as I love working out, I wish the effects were work out and get your body the way you want it, and then you get to take off that amount of time and eat whatever you want and it will stay exactly the same...

well, working out doesn't work that way, and nor does reading.

The boys and I had a discussion about that yesterday in the car. Ben asked if I wasn't getting paid for reading with kids, why am I doing it? I explained to him that number 1, it was something I loved to do, and number 2, I want that "reading with kids" muscle to stay strong. I told him that while I am not in the classroom, it would be very easy to not exercise that part of my brain, and therefore, it would weaken. I reminded him that it will not go away, but it won't be very strong.

Remember, reading is the same way. You can't go hard for a few weeks and then not do any without expecting a bit of a loss...again, it doesn't go away, but it isn't strong -- it atrophies.

That is why a steady pace will keep you going. Like marathoners, we don't sprint...we run where our heart rates are we can do it forever.

Pace yourself, don't expect too much too fast, and remember, the struggles will sometimes wane for a while and then crop up again. Don't give up, or throw up your hands. It is completely normal. You never completely arrive. Just keep plugging away, go back to your fix up strategy, and try again. Step by step.

I know as a parent it is hard -- you feel like you are just rehashing the same issue. But they HAVE made progress - they aren't where they were -- this is just their process.

Don't give up...pace yourself. Take a breath and keep running.

Matt and I had to do that yesterday with an old problem. He had 5 huge novels in his backpack...too many at once. We had to go back to making a priority list for him, just like we did a few months ago. But he immediately felt recharged. "Thanks mom. I needed to get that help. Now I can focus and finish," were his exact words.

Sometimes we just need a kick in the pants to refocus so we continue to work out those muscles. It's easy to slide or take a break...but remember...use it or lose it!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

An Idea to Add to Your Playdates

When your kids are little, you find yourself making quite a few playdates -- which are basically visits to each other's houses or the park to keep yourself sane when you find yourself talking to a one or two year old all day with no real conversation.

Don't get me wrong, I love being home with Nick, and we have by far the most intense bond of all my kids (he will grab me out of the blue and just plant kisses all over my face with big hugs), but as an adult, you do get lonely.

Playdates are great.

Here's what I think you could do to add some reading to the mix. Each person/child brings a book. You don't have to sit down and have an official "storytime," although that is fun for kids too, but if you just set the books out on the floor instead of a bunch of toys, watch what happens.

They will be interested, and the "new" books they see will invite them in.

I did this with friends during the summers I was home with the other boys. You would think they would be bored, but no...they loved it. It's all about things they don't have at home...the break from the norm.

So next time you call a friend, ask them to bring a book or two...add it to the mix!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Latest Craze to Hit My House (and how I still kind of win)

So Webkins are out, Club Penguin is in -- which is basically Webkins in penguin and some sort of poofball-creature outfits.

I gave in -- sort of.

The boys have been playing the computer versions of these little adopt an animal with friends and have been begging me to take them to get the stuffed animal versions. I took the twins last night to Target, and let them each choose one...but they bought them with their own money.

What in the heck does this have to do with reading? Well, after going to the toy aisle for the stuffed animal, we went to the book section where, lo and behold, there are Club Penguin books! You know what's coming, and they did too. I bought them each one of the books and made them promise to READ them before they got to log in their animals. OOOOH.

The thing about these books is, they aren't that bad, really. I am not a big fan of the comic/tv related books, but, as we began these books together, I saw some merit them.

First off, they are the "choose your own adventure" type book, so they can read them over and over, selecting different paths that would take them to different pages, and therefore, different outcomes.

Secondly, they were actually really descriptive, and gave the kids a great deal of information to create pictures in their minds.

I only got to read a few pages with them, but they were motivated, and I felt like we all won.

So go ahead, give in to the craze.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Talking about Author's Purpose

This level of comprehension can start in the very youngest readers and mature as they do. It is one skill that is "tested" in school, yet that isn't the only reason to learn it.

I would begin with my youngest readers by talking about what I liked that the author did. For example, while reading Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, I mention to Nick that I really like how she made the words match the picture, and how I get a peaceful feeling. I KNOW he doesn't get it, but he does hear my response. He hears how I think, feel, and knows the author's name. He hears me say, very specifically and on purpose, that I like how she did something or makes her books a certain way.

Kids sometimes read, oblivious to what an author really does. And that's ok, but it is sooo much richer to know more. They would be able to tell you "an author is the person who writes the book." But they have little awareness of how the author has ORCHESTRATED the book to teach, influence, persuade, and give emotions.

That is what is so valuable about teaching them about author's purpose. They will start seeing themes, intentions, and structures that a real live person has created for them to see.

They can also start forming opinions - things they liked/disliked, things they would change, things they see repeat from other books by the same author, and even whether they like the author's style or not.

Now, as they get older, it is extremely valuable in writing to have this awareness because the tables are turned. They are the author, they need to consider what they want their story to do.

I remember in third grade Matt's "AHA!" moment with this. He had never really understood how to do paragraphing, and dialogue was difficult for him. He just didn't know when to use it or not.

We took out a book he was reading, Hank Zipzer, by Henry Winkler (great boy series, by the way) and he pointed out where paragraphing happened. Then I asked him why Henry Winkler did it at that point. He looked at me and said, "What?" Again, I said, "Well, Henry is the author, and he has all the freedom to choose to do what he wants in his books. He does know how to follow grammar rules and all, but he decides what to put where." His eyes widened. "OHHH. You mean, I can decide like he does?" There it was. The synapse.

We reviewed reasons for paragraphing (change in speaker, location, time passing, new idea) and then he was off and running -- he had control.

So as you talk about stories, make sure to talk about authors:
  • How they make you feel
  • How/why they chose to write the story
  • Where the author chose a twist
  • Your opinion of the way it was done
  • How you might have done it
  • How you appreciate they did it differently

Make sure you use the author's name frequently. Talk about them as if they were a friend who told you something and you were just talking about it with your child.

Authors love when kids appreciate what they have done and learn the depth of their's a lot of work!!!!!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

There IS a Difference Between Boys and Girls!

Last Friday, as I was waiting to pick up the boys in front of school, I started a conversation with another mom that I thought would be good to address here. She was telling me about how she had been reading with some boys in class today (she has three daughters) and was surprised at how much they WIGGLED.

She asked if that was normal -- guess what...YES it is. Boys and girls differ incredibly in how they go about life. I notice it in the classroom all the time. Boys need to move, to figit, to get up, to wiggle, to look around. Surprisingly, they are (most of the time) really hearing what you are saying...but they can't do it completely still.

She asked if I approached reading with boys differently. Absolutely.

In my classroom, and with my boys, there are allowances to help them focus and get interested. I may give them a squish ball to hold as they read. They may be laying on the floor (and then sitting up, and then laying down, and then sitting up), or even have music on. (ooh, I need to talk about music and reading)

I have intervals where they stop reading, get up, and talk about the book. They just need to move.

Another thing I have noticed is that girls really like the whole ask questions-converse with you thing. And if you ask them to draw pictures of what they read, they are elaborate and colorful.

Boys, not so much.

They sketch, they tell, they like to think about it. Many times I will have paper and pencil there for them to hold and scribble/sketch as they read.

I know all too well with four boys of my own the suspicions that arise when boys get so wiggly. Are they ADD? Are they learning? Do they need meds? I would vote more often that NO they do not.

I went through a phase with Matt where we suspected ADD. He couldn't keep organized, his thoughts were all over the place, and he was switching from one thing to the next without finishing. But...he was 8. I have noticed in the last few years his maturation, and the craziness getting better. But he still needs to wiggle, and lots of times, I will have him write down what he needs to do, and we have a "spot" for everything - closet for sports uniforms, spot for shoes, place for backpacks, routine for lunch kits...

All that to say - boys read differently than girls, and it is ok. They need to move. Give them that freedom. They may not want to snuggle on the couch. They may need to get up every few minutes. That's ok. So cut your boy some slack and be will find a way to channel that energy so their brain power will focus on what they are reading.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

An Idea From Sam on Getting to Know Authors

One of my twins, Sam, is responsible for reminding me of yet another way kids get motivated to read. Now I know I said I would talk about how to talk about author's purpose, but this sort of fits in perfectly, but it isn't a discussion per se.

The boys and I were talking about Mary Pope Osborne's visit on Tuesday night, and Sam piped up, "Well, we should go to her Website to see her books and things and see her ideas."

He's right. One way of knowing your books is knowing your author. Author's websites offer tons of little insights to what motivated them to write their books, where they will be visiting next, and links to where to buy the books. Many times there are games and things that get them excited and interested too.

Matt does this with his Island book series. The website shows each of the teenage characters and their "personalities," and gives the kids chances to see through surveys who they are most like. Matt loved that.

Scholastic is a great place to start if your child doesn't have any particular authors in mind. They have lots of author links, complete with video interviews and other kid reviews too.

So you see? Sam was right. The ways to get kids to read come from their interests -- in this case, the computer links to these people who write what they read.

I am a personal fan of Mo's site, by the way...lots of fun there!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Reading with My Girl!

I have the privilege to read with my neighbor's daughter every Weds. afternoon. It is so fun to have a girl in my life! It gets lonely, being the sole female in my home...sometimes I wonder if I am going nuts or if I am really the only one who can truly multi-task.

Ok, so a few things came out of our reading. She is getting more comfortable with me (we've only done this about a month or so) so her habits before me as a reader are showing up -- by that I mean her parents had said she has trouble sticking with one book, and sure enough, she wanted to be involved in two Katie Kazoo books this week, so I had to do a little redirecting. Instead of telling her that she needed to finish one before the other, I put it to her in two ways: One, which book did she REALLY feel more involved in, and then when she selected one, I said, " Great! I was hoping you'd pick that one...when we left off, they were xyz, and I was so curious what would happen next. I remember the blurb said xyz, so I am wondering how it gets there!"

See what I did? I gave her choice, and then I directed her thinking about the book, but coached it in MY own desire to know...I would have done it with either book, by the way.

Try that the next time your child is saying they want to read something else rather than finishing what they have started.

We read a few chapters and she did something wonderful that I wasn't going to do with her for a while...but...she's got the desire now, we will jump on it!

She brought post its. At the end of the chapter, we used one to write a sentence or two about what had happened in that reading time. Next time she goes to read, I told her to get "her mind up to speed" and reread the post it to remind herself of what just happened so she is ready to read on.

She also used post its (GOSH I WISH I HAD INVENTED THEM) to write down words and their meanings when we read the Easter Fancy Nancy book...which she loves for all things glamorous!

Finally, she had brought Carl's Christmas...which is a funny thing in March, I know, but it was cool what she and I did. It is basically a wordless book. There is an introductory page where the parents speak to Carl, the dog, and then the rest of the book is beautiful illustrations. She "told me the story" as we went through the pages. This is a great thing to do with kids of all ages, and will especially help them in their writing to construct a story. Many times in writing we have kids draw the sketches first and then write as they are developing as writers.

So it gave me the opportunity to point out details to her to add into her elaboration of the story. It also gave me a chance to ask questions. She got to be the "author" in a way, so we had time to talk about how she wanted the story to sound, and why she chose the words she did instead of others...this will lead me into some author's purpose with her next week.

Tomorrow, if baseball doesn't consume my whole day, I will try and fill you in on some good ways to discuss author's purpose.

Can you believe she's only a Kindergartener, by the way????!!!
Yep, it is possible for even the youngest readers to do really in depth thinking!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Make those Author Appearances!

I have mentioned before that one of the reasons I became so excited about reading was meeting an actual live author, Eve Bunting, in fifth grade.

I was reminded of this when Ben looked over my shoulder as I was reading the Lifestyle pages in the Austin Statesman this morning.

"Hey! Mary Pope Osborne is coming to BookPeople mom! Can we go???" There it was, an open invitation to me to keep the fires burning for reading.

Even if you don't LOVE the author, or it is inconvenient, or it's on at the same time as "Modern Family," GO!

Seeing authors in person is altogether a different inspiration. Shaking their hands, getting them to sign your book -- it turns magical. That book is a forever treasure, the visit a lifelong memory.

By the way, Mary is here in Austin March 9th, so look for her coming your way -- go online to your local bookstores and peruse the author visit'll NEVER regret going!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

On a trip to Barnes and Noble, I was thinking...

Ben has a new project on frogs due next week, and thanks to baseball being cancelled on Monday night, we decided it would be a great opportunity to get some books for his research. Don't get me wrong, I love libraries, and I think it would have been great to have him check out some books and then return them, but being a teacher, I will jump at any chance to grow my own library. I always justify it by saying I can keep it in my classroom (which I hope to have another here in Austin next year) or, Nick is still growing and can use it too.

But I stray from my point. I was thinking about how I, as an educator, have a "job" to know books. To know what content, level, and authors are appropriate for different kids. Heck, I get to even be emailed when the latest books are coming out!

As your kids get older, however, books can be somewhat intimidating. You ask your kids what other kids are reading, ask other parents, and resource with teachers. That's great -- but sometimes we are lured into books either because they are trendy or advertised wonderfully, yet we never read them, and therefore do not know what our kids are reading.

Matthew is a Dan Gutzman addict right now. He reads ALL his books. I have yet to read my first one.

He's a fourth grader. He likes to do his reading alone. He doesn't "struggle." He's at that age where even though I walk to pick everyone up, he wants to walk home with his friends, not me. (But I have to put a quick plug in for him: Monday night I got the stomach flu and was up until 4am...he got everyone up for school at 7, dressed and diapered the baby, got breakfast ready, and even started a load of dirty clothes to the washer -- without Tide -- but I was floored at his sweet spirit and ability to rise to the occasion!) But normally, he's wanting me to be around less to show his independence.

BUT...I am convicted. I am sure the books are perfectly fine -- could he benefit from me reading it too? You bet. As kids mature, their book content does too. There are subtle themes and inferencial thinking that needs to be brought out and talked about.

I am not suggesting he and I have to read side by side. At his age, I would suggest we do more of a "book partnership" where we decide how much we should read and a date we would sit down and talk about it. That set up gives him freedom. It's more like what we do as adults...we discuss what we have read. If someone sees something differently than we did, we learn from them.

There are great benefits from doing this:
  • You will have time to get the reading done when YOU have time -- I read while Nick is napping
  • Your child will feel the trust you have in letting them read on their own
  • Discussions can hinge around topics you have noticed while reading
  • You can model the thinking and strategies -- for example, I put sticky notes with little phrases where I notice things or have questions. They can too, and they can even respond on your sticky to your thinking.
  • You will know the content of what your child is reading
  • you can deepen their understanding through discussion
  • You will bond deeper with your child
  • Themes and issues that are tricky (i.e. Mick Harte was Here by Barbara Park involves a death of the main characters' brother from a bike accident not wearing a helmet -- HUGE learning opportunity) can be brought out and discussed as a parent/child

I know it seems like our kids need less from us as they mature, but I argue against that thought. I think we need to spend time differently...our approach needs to change. They still want us there.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Reacting to Characters

Talking about characters is a very important focus. It will aid in comprehension and deepen their thinking about books.

Remember, these techniques and talk points are all applicable to ANY book - trust me, I can pick up Brand New Readers and do this, and Lightning Thief too. Adapt. It works.

Have a chat about how a character is like other people or characters you know. Note behaviors, actions, and words...explain how you can relate it to a type -- for example, characters will be the underdogs, or the bullies, or the hero -- and talk about how they fit into the story and it unfolds. Knowing "types" of characters will help them organize thinking, and when they encounter a similar "type" in another book, they will be able to predict and understand why they do things according to their roles.

Another thing to talk about is how there are twists and turns in the story based on a change in attitudes or actions in the character. Stories don't happen in isolation -- stories happen because of characters. Maybe a character starts out one way, but there is an event that changes their thinking, and therefore, their behavior. So many stories are based upon a character change - that is an important thing to recognize as a reader.

Something I am really happy to see is a broader representation of gender and cultures in books. It is important to note how they are portrayed in books and why. It will open them to a world beyond just their own heritage and gender...that is a great thing. Books are a great launching point for so many discussions that you would never have thought to just "bring up" with your kids. And so valuable in widening their worlds.