Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Some Word Games to Play...They WILL play them!

This afternoon has been rainy...not the pitter, patter, it's-not-so-bad-we-can-still-go-out rain...POURING BUCKETS rain.

So here we were, stuck inside. The boys had the three neighbor boys over (6th grade, 4th grade, and 3rd grade), and I have banished the Wii for reasons any mom of boys understands.

After making the usual boy mess, and making a myriad of Lego creations, they were getting "bored." When they wandered down for a snack, I took the opportunity to try out some new word games I had been reading about.

Guess what? They were captivated for over an hour with me!

First we played categories. There is an actual board game called Scattegories you could buy, but I just used my head and a scrap piece of paper. I didn't make them write for this game, although that could be another level. We just shouted out answers together like a team. I thought of a category, say "food", or "sports", "animals", "transportation," "movie stars," "furniture", "things that are red" (do one category at a time -- additional categories are different rounds) and listed about 8-10 letters on the paper (I used a, t, s, r, p, f, g, w, and o). You can use any letters, and more or less depending on your child's age. They had to think of an item that fit the category that started with that letter. They had a blast.

After that, we played a form of crosswords. I wrote a word down, and they had to think of a high frequency word (common words they need to know how to spell, write, and say automatically) that started with the letters in the word. For example,

F from
A also
M mother
I inside
L look
Y young

This is great practice for some kids...I have third graders come in spelling who for how...they do need to know these words instantly. You can usually get a list of high frequency words from your district's website in their language arts/reading curriculum section. If not, google FRY'S high frequency list and that is a great one.

Finally we played the game I had talked about in an earlier blog...I gave them the word "ELEPHANT" and they had to make words off of it. I helped the 3rd grader and we made 20 words...I didn't whisper either, so the others were hearing me brainstorm with him, so they benefitted from our discussion. I taught him to look for patterns first - ap, an, at, et, en, al...and put other letters in front to form words. Then I taught him to put the silent e on the end and see how it changes the word. It was cool to see him involved. He's the more reluctant/struggler, so that was fun.

Here's another one...finish the compound word. Give them the first part - sea, wind, house, fire, snow, night, etc...and have them finish them...seahorse, seashore, seagull, seaport...fireman, firehouse, fireplug...nightshirt, nightlight, nightowl, nightgown...those work with older kids.

Try them...you will be surprised at how involved they get!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Moved My Things to My Classroom Today

The only problem with owning so many books is hauling them from place to place...which I have done more than my share of the past 5 years...so today, since my arms, legs, fingers and back ache...I am going to take a rest. My brain even feels frazzeled...maybe it was because I chose a 102 degree day?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lead by Example

There is an instructor at my gym (DAVID) who is absolutely, positively, INSANE...I say that in the most loving way, of course. Every class I take from him is intense, but he keeps everyone motivated and pushing to a new, higher limit. I have never once heard him complain. His motto is "Inspire by Example." And he does.

Let's take that out of the gym and into real life. What are we inspiring our kids to do based on our example?

It's a tall order to be a parent, isn't it?

If you were to peak into my family room right now, this is a glimpse...all the adults are reading. The newspaper, a magazine, and even the LA Times on the computer. (The inlaws are here, so there are four adults -- let me clarify).

So what are the kids seeing? What are we talking about? What are they looking over our shoulders at? TEXT of some sort.

Remember...they will mimic what they see. Pick up something to read today!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Quickly...It's late and I have been sweating at Sea World all day...

So we are back. It was very fun, and Scott kept asking the boys how they knew so much about San Antonio and the surroundings when they hadn't been there...

Their response?


It was a great way to solidify what they had read...they saw it in person.

Not to mention that our experiences have led to a longer list of what they want to read more about...Ben especially.

G'night...I am wiped out.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Reading and Travelling

We are taking a quick road trip to San Antonio for the next two days...this year I involved my boys in packing. I had them sit down and tell me what they thought they would need. Weeks ago, when we were planning the trip, I had them read up on the places we were going to visit, the average weather, and about the hotel. That way they were informed, and now when we see the places, it will connect immediately with what they read.

They were awesome...they knew the hotel had a pool, so they would need their suits, they thought about the hot weather, so they decided on shorts and short sleeves -- no jackets necessary. So they wrote down their lists, took them up to their respective rooms, and checked off the list as they put it in their backpacks.

Don't underestimate what they did. That was a small example of authentic ways to use reading and writing at home.

It was not a manufactured workbook, a prompt, an isolated text...which is what many of them think of when you say reading and writing in school.

Think of real experiences to get them involved like this. Oh, and yes, they each packed two books for the car ride!!!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Getting to Know What is Out There

Last day of my GT inservices done! Yea!

What I want to talk about today stems from several conversations during my week. As we were making lesson plans, I found myself again and again referring to (and searching my mind for) literature that would either introduce, reinforce, or cause deeper thinking about the concept we were planning to teach.

I found myself recommending titles and authors quite a bit.

I am always surprised when teachers are not familiar with selections. I think there should be a course on Children's Literature offered on a regular basis to teachers. Maybe school librarians should offer them...or maybe I should start doing it.

There is so much GREAT literature out there...pathways to new concepts, other cultures, worlds outside their world...

But kids won't know about them if we don't introduce them.

I know it is my passion...I remember as a grad student spending hours (literally two or three before and after class) in a library on the Claremont campus that housed strictly children's books (literally my Heaven on Earth). I would sit in the aisles reading and selecting exactly which text would be a part of my 50 book checkout limit. I did this every week.

And now I know hundreds, maybe thousands, of titles, subjects, and authors.

Maybe I should start "book talks" on my campus where teachers bring new books they have "discovered" and highlight them for each other. Everyone would benefit.

Here's how parents can take this home. Maybe you can swap book chat...talk about what books your kids are checking out with other parents.

Better yet, when you go to the library or a bookstore, browse on your own. Pick out 5 or so titles to simply read by yourself. Start building your own literature knowledge base. Read picture books, young novels...read anything and everything. You don't have to buy them or check them out. Maybe start a notebook with titles and subjects...later, when your child shows an interest or you need to use that book to say, open a discussion about bullying, you will know exactly what you need.

I can recommend things, but I want to empower you to begin your own journey too.

Just remember you are a reader too...reading children's literature will change your life too...there's amazing work out there!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Involving Kids in Goal Setting

Today on my break in class I was reading another professional book about teaching reading (no surprise there!). The authors were talking about how, after initial reading assessments with kids, they sit down with them to goal set. I like that. I do that, but they took kid's involvement to a higher level.

Knowing already what they need to work on (fluency, comprehension, or accuracy -- or some of each), the teacher "guided" the goal setting, but formed it as a situation where the child buy in. For instance, she would say, "Hey, I know you have wanted to work on ways to get a better understanding of what you read...how about we work on that?" Then she would pose options for the kids -- they could either stop and jot down after each paragraph, or meet with a partner after each chapter, or draw a sketch after a few pages, etc. After the child decided, she would write it in her notebook to remind herself of what the goal was and they would mutually decide the next time she would get together with that child to "check in" on how that strategy was going.

But here's the good part. The CHILD wrote the goal down on a post it and put it in her book, along with the date they would be meeting again.

That way the student would open the book and be reminded immediately of the strategy they were to do. I liked that a lot, and thought of a way to extend it. I thought the child could have a notebook -- each time they read they would date the entry and write the title of the book, and write a sentence or two about how they tried the strategy and how it helped them. If not a notebook, they could just date the sticky note and add a sentence right on that on how they tried it and how it worked.

Just an idea.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day Two...

Of my Gifted and Talented training...

Today we talked about planning lessons that gave kids complexity and depth...which I enjoyed. I think it is important that kids think this way.

Some things you can talk about with your kids. If you are discussing something, think about talking about the effects of that event over a span of time. Get them thinking about cause and effect. Another thing is to talk about the ethics of the situation. Does it benefit? Are their downsides? Along that line is perspective. Do all see it from the same angle?

Let me be concrete. We used the oil spill in the Gulf. Talking about it from these angles gives a lot more complex thought than simply the facts.

Look at patterns, trends. Look for the Big Ideas...for example, with the oil...see how other oil spills have occurred and how they were handled...big idea - Is this the best way for an energy source? Are there alternates? What will the ramifications be there?

Here's how I would apply that to books, even the most simple. Let's take Gerald and Piggie for example...

Cause and effect of characters' actions...patterns...character attributes and how that affects others...is their behavior acceptable? why or why not? what trends do you see in his books? How can we use that to predict? What is the overall idea or theme of the book and how does that connect to us? What can we learn?

All these things cause deeper understandings...not just retelling the story.

So, two days down, two to go...

Oh, but before I go...a great story. One of the students, one of the two males in the class, finally opened up today. He had been very quiet and reserved the first day, but today we were doing an activity which asked us to find commonalities in an article we read about cheetahs. I can explain that but...here's the short version. He started sharing how he related to the reading because he had been "shut down" in the classroom his whole life because he was Spanish speaking and his teachers had become impatient with how quickly he was responding in English. He talked passionately about how he had begun to feel dumb and decided just to "get by" -- which left a lot of gaps in his learning. He did say that his father, a scientist in Costa Rica, was extremely important in that he would spend time with him, simply talking about deeper level ideas and concepts. He closed his story by saying that it was thanks to a professor in college that he began to open up.

I pried (of course!). "Is that why you are becoming a teacher?" He replied yes, to which all heads in the room nodded and "ahh" was heard.

I kept going (of course!). "What did he do that made the difference?" I asked.

"He saw past my struggles and heard what I had to say. He told me I had great ideas and he wanted to help me. His positivity and reaching out made the difference."

Enough said.

So, as I always say, reading is an avenue to get to the hearts and minds of kids...it was the article on cheetahs that opened him up. I don't think we would ever have known so much about him had it not been for that story.

Have I made a point?????

Monday, June 21, 2010

New Training

So today was Day one of a Gifted and Talented training -- one of four -- and, despite being long, it was an informative day.

I agree with what they are advocating...it's called differentiated instruction. It is a way of individualizing your teaching to meet the learning styles and needs of children in your class.

Of course, this is focused on how to extend the learning for very bright, but I think it is just GOOD TEACHING FOR ALL, and I repeat, ALL, children.

I think my job is more fun that way...look and learn about the child - their needs, talents, ways of learning -- and then give them the experiences, opportunities and material that match.

The most memorable part of the morning for me was a conversation about the "challenge" of finding the right way to connect with these kids. We were talking specifically about a gifted kid who constantly questioned, scoffed, and claimed things were too easy.

OF COURSE, I brought up books as the avenue...I suggested finding the right book for that child could open doors like nothing else. Holes, Maniac Magee...characters outside the "norms."

There were quite a few new to teaching, and I hope they heard...and will do.

More learning to share, I am sure...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day!

Today your kids are reading! They are reading those cute cards to their wonderful dads...

Hope everyone has a great Father's Day!

Friday, June 18, 2010

New Mo Willems Book!

Got my preordered copy of "Can I Play Too?" It is Mo Willems' latest Gerald and Piggie book, and all three of my boys screamed to be the one to read it first.

But mom is smart...instead of turning it into a fight, I had them each take turns reading the part of a character because in this episode, there are three main characters: Piggie, Gerald, and Snake. So we read it over three times in the first twenty minutes of having it in our posession.

It is, as always, humorous and fun. Your youngest to oldest readers will love it and laugh, and it will be great fluency and expression practice...

Go get a copy asap!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Some cool games that tie into reading...

Part of the plan of "our day" is always to play games rather than turn on the electronics. There are a few that the boys have been playing over and over...which is great.

I like this new game Quiddich -- it has cards with letters on it, and the challenge comes for players to make two letter words first, three letter words, etc. and work up to as high as they can. It really makes them use their logic, problem solving skills, and spelling and phonics knowledge. Ben and I love it.

There is another one that Scrabble just put out too...I am going to get it. The point is to start out with one word and change one letter at a time to create new words. That again uses all those skills.

We have also been doing the word scramble and crosswords in the newspaper. Those are harder for them because they are adult oriented, but it has got them interested in getting some kid crossword books. Sometimes I will just write words they know with the letters all scrambled up and they have to figure out the word.

I have also been doing a great mind stretcher. You get one word, say investing, and see how many words (four letters or more) you can make out of it. Invest, vest, nest, gist, etc.

Getting them to play with words will only help in their reading skills, both in decoding and vocabulary.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I called it...

Sure enough, mom brought about 15 different things for us to read. Some for me, some for Scott, and some for the boys.

And she had the chance to talk to each of us about the text and why she thought they would be perfect for us.

I got to thinking...she really knows us. She knows the kids.

My parents, on the other hand, usually have to ask me what the kids want for Christmas, what they are into, etc. And they see my kids more than my in laws.

Which brings me to my point today. Get to know the people in your life. Don't let time/circumstances be the only reason you are together. Make every opportunity to bond and know each other.

Relationships are why we are here. Our souls crave it.

The closer we get to people, the more we will know what makes them tick, and trust will develop.

Remember that reading can be a bridge, an open door to communicate and connect.

Maybe something you read today (maybe even this) will spark an idea to share with your child about reading. It's funny...my kids ask me daily what I blogged about and if we are going to try something new.

I think of this sort of like those aerobic instructors...you walk into class thinking "I cannot lift my leg to save the world right now," but as soon as they start pumping you with "you got it - higher - 8 more - nice!" you are putting more energy out than you thought possible.

SO - "GO read!"

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

You are a HUGE influence...

My in laws are coming in today for a visit. Which got me thinking...

Scott, my husband, is a reader. He reads very complex and "heady" things...oh, and the newspaper every day.

Where did he get it? His parents. Whenever we go to their house (especially on Sundays) there are newspaper sections strewn about on the coffee tables and breakfast table. They read it all from first to last page...and they talk about it. My mother in law is a clipper -- she will find articles to send to people that she thinks they will enjoy or learn from. I get an envelope of LA Times or Star News (local paper) every few months...just to keep me abreast of the California happenings, I guess. My father in law reads it, but he's more apt to talk about the sports.

Scott is like them in that he reads it, but we don't have discussions...he isn't that way about his reading. And I get that about him. Some kids are like that too...they get it, but they aren't into the talking about it part.

So I appreciate the influence they had on him in that they modelled reading for him and he took those habits from them, yet kept his personhood.

Keep that in mind with your kids. They may not be voracious readers like you are -- right now -- but they are seeing it happen, and I am willing to bet they will be readers later on in life...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Remember "Mad Libs?"

I fondly remember them. I also remember trying to make the oddest responses in hopes that when we read back through it, we would be laughing hysterically.

And most of the time, even though it wasn't actually very funny, we would be falling on the floor, rolling with tears in our eyes.

My boys were playing today. Of course they are in this not so wonderful stage of everything bathroom talk..."butt" being the noun of choice, of course, with "toilets" as a plural noun close as number two ("haha, number two" Ben just read).

Anyhow, it was fun, they reviewed parts of speech, and they each got a chance to read it out loud. That was the fluency practice, but also, each of the entries are kind of themed, so they had to make their voices reflect the meaning.

For example, they had a "movie trailer" one that Matt read in a deep "announcer" voice. It was great to have him enunciate the words and inflect them appropriately.

So go ahead, let them say butt...they will have to read it later!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Check this out!

Today Amazon emailed me a new link they have in their "store."

It is called "Summer Reading for Kids and Teens" and I clicked on to check it out for you (and myself).

It didn't have any rare or unusual gems that I hadn't heard of yet, BUT...it has deals on what is there. There are some good bargains. It also has recommendations, reviews, and blurbs about them to help. You can search by age, author, etc...

I think it is a great way to get books at a cheaper cost. Of course, the only drawback is waiting for the shipping, but that will add a bit of excitement for your child in anticipating their very own mail package! (At least it does in my house...they LOVE mail)

Hope that helps!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Using time wisely...

So we are a week and a half into summer and I can't believe how these boys are testing me...

Like most kids their ages, they love video games, TV, and having friends over constantly. Because we are a large family, it is tough on the pocketbook to be putting them in camps...try 400 per week times three...oh, and I am off work...

It is my job to make sure we are active and engaged in things that don't have an on/off switch. It isn't easy.

I will admit, we have had days where they have snuck more electronics in than I would like. But I am not beaten down yet.

I could be, with the numbers against me, but I think about the staggering statistics of kids who are disengaging from learning...it's scary. Not only that, but they are disengaging from life in the sense that they are living in virtual worlds.

Now I realize that reading a book is also a solitary endeavor -- but it isn't in the sense that it connects the reader to the author -- a literary community. Also, books are a connecting activity -- it brings together emotions, experiences, and prior knowledge...not so sure Mario Bros. does that.

So when the going gets rough, stand firm. Yesterday I had to physically sit in the same room and read with them to make sure they were really reading. Some days are like that. Then again, some days are not...and I also need to remember that so I don't get frustrated.

I think we need to make a field trip to Book People this week...just to get some remotivation. I promise to keep it to one book per kid!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Keep them Reading

Have you ever considered what it is that keeps YOU in a book?

Think about it.

For me, there are a number of things. First, an author -- if I have a favorite, I will keep reading their books, and pick up any new ones they write. If someone recommends a book, I am more apt to pick it up, and secondly, I will read to find out what they thought was so good. I also like to read books that I know I can put into practice. For example, the professional books I read. They also keep me reading because I relate to them. I can picture lots of the stories in my head because I have classroom experience. I also will read if it is emotional -- it pulls me in. I will continue to read if something is humorous too. It matters a lot to me HOW the book is written. I need good writing to keep me involved.

When you have figured out a few reasons you keep reading, share it with your child. They may not know "why" they keep reading (or abandon, for that matter). Knowing what keeps them engaged will help them make smart choices about books to read, and you will have less "It's boring."

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Stop and Look for a Minute

And I mean literally, look.

I was perusing facebook this morning and started to see milestone after milestone announced...graduations, birthdays...of our kids.

Our kids, who are getting older faster than we can keep up with.

Sometimes I am so caught up in the day to day that I miss noticing who they are right now -- my Matthew is 10 -- capable, self-directed, full of feeling. The twins are 7 - beginning to sprout their wings and maturity. Nick -- well, he still needs me, but yesterday I watched him carry his little lunch from Subway in a sack all by himself and get it all out on the table -- even he's growing up.

Take interest in who they are -- get to know those "older" ideas they are gaining.

This is still the time to read with them, although now we can appreciate being side by side, beginning those more mature conversations.

Sometimes I think we (well, I for sure) look forward to their independence so much because we have worked so hard in their younger years. I remind myself to pull back and give space, but always stay connected.

Remember, as I always say, books are a way to connect.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I Can't Say Enough How Important People Are...

in making a difference.

Today I got sad news about a former principal and friend in California. She's been in the hospital since last Thursday and is basically being kept alive.

Such a vibrant, young person...full of love for children and living her passion to make a difference in education. So unexpected and sudden in the prime of her life.

My fondest memory comes in one of our last visits together, right before I moved to Texas 4 years ago.

She handed me a book. One from her personal library, one she loved...yet knew I would love too. It's called Missing May, and it is well written and a beautiful story.

I have kept it, not with my hundreds of other books, but tucked neatly in my nightstand drawer beside my bed. That's where special, meaningful books go in my life. Only a few.

She may or may not have known what a statement it was to give me that book. But I think she did. It is now even more a treasure because it keeps that bond and memory of her with me.

Tiff, I am still praying you pull through, but if not, thanks for making a difference in my life. I will pass that on...and hand someone a book.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Helping them Select Books

Yesterday, after the boys had taken rock wall climbing class, swim lessons, and had lunch, the afternoon stretched before us like a barren desert. I needed to clean the house and Nick needed a long nap, so we had things to do, but the older three didn't. It was really hot outside, so outdoor activity wasn't appealing.

Their solution? DS, Wii, or TV.

My solution? Board games and reading.

I won (this time)...

After Ben and Matt had played Ben's version of chess for an hour and a half (Matt had never played, so Ben was "teaching" what he had been learning from Scott -- but bent the rules to fit a win for himself), they were officially "bored." I suggested they go into the office and get some books that I had recently bought. They are being stored in a large rubbermaid container, which presents a problem.

I watched as Ben looked at the few books on top. "There's nothing I want to read here," he announced. Nevermind that there are about 200+ books in the container. There just wasn't anything on top.

So I helped. I took out about 15 and started talking about them as I picked them up. Lo and behold, I hit jackpot on two that were under there.

One was a nonfiction book about the Valdez oil spill. He is extremely interested in all things oil spill since we watched Dateline last Friday. He has tons of questions, and this tied into his wonderings. The second was a Magic School Bus about the Ocean Floor. I told him he may like that one because it will tell him about the creatures that may be affected right now in the Gulf.

He was happy as a clam and ran to the nearest couch. I didn't see him budge for the next hour, and when he did, he had tons of new information to teach me from what he read.

So my lesson: help them see through the piles, the stacks, the rows on the shelf. Talk through some books and why you would find them interesting or why they might. You will, I promise, find one that fits.

It's like that needle in the haystack, or the cute dress at Ross...you have to dig to find them!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Rereading is a Good Thing

Those of us will little kids (under 3) know that they LOVE to have the same books read again and again and AGAIN -- to the point where we have them memorized. That's great - first off, it shows that they enjoy books and reading -- keep them on that path!

What I have been trying to do with Nick is to find something new to talk about each time we read it. Maybe we look at the picture, or look at letters, or point out words. Try and make rereading something they just like to do.

It is really great, when they are older, for them to continue to reread things. Many times, I will "point" other kids to look for things they didn't notice before on previous reads...or things they understood in a new/different way.

The first time kids read things, it's similar to the first time they see a movie -- it goes by quickly and they get the main jist...but when they see those movies again the second and even third time, they are seeing details they didn't see before.

Very true for reading, especially if kids are just moving up a level to more difficult text.

How do I get them to reread? I let them read independently first, then the second time, we may read together. The third time, I may have them read again on their own, but this time ask them to look for something specific, say, description of a scene or a character to see if they "see" the picture differently in their minds.

Rereading is great for fluency too. You can play around with a timer and ask them to "beat their time" on further readings. They can either read a page and you can clock the time, or my favorite way is to set a timer for 10 minutes or so and ask them to write down the page they start and finish. The next time, again 10 minutes, record start and stop pages to see if they read more this time.

Don't diminish the power this will have. Trust me. Their understanding of the story will improve, plus they will have practiced reading!

Sunday, June 6, 2010


I finished it ~ and did fine. It was tough, that's for sure, but I set a goal to finish strong, and I did. The hills were high, the swim was crazy crowded, but I did it.

I got through the swim, enjoyed the ride, and then realized...I still had to run!

So I took each step and just told myself to keep going. There were several who were walking, and it was darn tempting to, but I just kept plugging along.

It felt like a snail's pace, but when I got my results, I was actually doing a 9 min. mile!

So here's how it connects to reading: during the process it may feel slow and sluggish, but realize you are getting further along.

Set some goals, complete with a "finish line" for your child...then you can look back and appreciate what you accomplished.

Hooray for me ~ 42 and still "tri ing"

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Better Late than Never

So today was one of preparation for me. Tuesday of this week I crazily decided to sign up for a triathalon (local) which takes place tomorrow.

Here's where I am going to use it as an analogy.

I haven't swam laps in a pool for over a year and a half. Before that, I was swimming regularly, 2-3 times a week for about an hour. My muscles knew what to do, it was easy. I also have a situation with my head. Well, I did. At 27 I had a brain tumor removed which was located above my cerebellum, which operates our balance. I have struggled with dizziness ever since, which is exacerbated when I turn my head (oh, like freestyle). So practicing helps my head get used to it so it doesn't bother me much.

Well, this week, when I had to get back in the pool asap, I did. And I paid for it.

My arm and leg muscles snapped right back into it...good muscle memory. My head did not. I had nausea for several hours after.

But what did I do -- Give up? No. I got back in the pool the next day, modified my stroke and paced myself and did it again. And it was better.

Remember, reading takes muscles -- exercise and practice will keep them in tune and toned. When your kids take a break, there may be some struggles getting back into it, but there will be parts of reading that snap right back into the grove.

Don't give up. Keep practicing.

I will let you know how I held up tomorrow.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Thinking When They're NOT Reading

This is something I was reminded of as I was reading that "Notebook Connections" book. She brought up the fact that she likes to ask kids what they are thinking about their reading -- when they aren't reading.

Most kids probably give her a strange look. "But we're out on the playground, not reading!" they may respond.

But here's why it is important to get them to do this: THEY NEED TO LET BOOKS AFFECT THEM. So many kids read something and then simply put it down. If you were to ask them how they felt about it, you might get a blank stare (or a "good" or shrugged shoulders). They don't understand how books can actually CHANGE you.

They can make you think differently, they can teach you new information, they can make you cry, scream, or gasp.

But many kids don't think about a book after they put it down.

Think about the first book you remember crying. How old were you? You let that book affect you, and I bet you thought about that book many times since.

So I am going to start having discussions randomly with the boys about their reading. Were they remembering that funny part? Were they feeling sad for that character?

Here's how to get it to work. Find something to read that has depth. That will put them in tune with feeling, and they will remember that. But it doesn't have to be a tear jerker all the time...just getting them to talk and think about books after they have put it down is the key.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thinking As They Are Reading

Today I want to suggest that you try asking your kids about what they are thinking while they are reading. This is not as easy as it sounds.

Sometimes kids are concentrating so hard on sounding everything out that they can't think about what's going on in the story.

Maybe they haven't been asked to think about the story - they have only been asked to regurgitate what they read.

There are tons of things to be thinking about. Formulating predictions, confirming ideas, forming opinions, making connections (to other books, experiences), and pulling information.

I love Third Grade. It seems to be the year where kids start to really gain independence...mostly in their thinking. They question deeper, they decide preferences, they understand things in a whole new level. But that isn't to say you can't lay the road for that great thinking from day one.

In reading with Nick, I am always talking with him (of course more to him), giving him ideas about what I think, what I wonder, and times where our life connects with the book. "Remember when we saw the fire truck? It made loud noises," when we read a page about transportation.

It's as easy as that. Talking out loud about what you are thinking.

Kids need to see that modeling.

Again, it is fun when, about third grade, things get more abstract. There may be many ways to look at a situation, to think about what is happening in the reading. One of my favorite things is to have a child say something they are thinking that is completely different from me. "WOW! I didn't even think about that! Thanks for sharing that ~ I learned something."

Hearing their thinking tells you a lot about them too. It tells you where there may be gaps in what they are understanding, and where you can help.

But don't let them get by with, "I am thinking about the story." Delve deeper. It may take a while, but the payoff will be great.

"Text is merely ink on a page until a reader breathes life into them," Rosenblatt...my favorite quote of all time.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Here's to the Last Few Hours

Today most of Texas is getting out of school...yesterday was the big "take home your desk and other various valuables."

My boys came home, backpacks filled to the brim with completed work, extra supplies (not many) and workbooks that hadn't been finished.

After sorting for about an hour, I looked at the workbooks...hmmm...do I keep?

I started to weigh the pros and cons:
Daily practice - pro
Enjoyment - con
Keep them busy - pro
Out of context of reading - con

I decided to put them in the coloring bin...where they could, if they wanted to on occasion, take them out.

But our summer is going to be spent in BOOKS. There really is no better way for kids to get better at reading than to read. Yes, there are skills to build, but I say, bang for your buck -- spend the time in literature.

I also am brewing some ideas from that new Notebook Connections book I told you about earlier. I will let you know how I use it with the boys, because I think it will help their writing skills to write about what they are thinking in reading a few times a week.

So, if you are feeling guilty about not having enough worksheets or workbooks - DON'T. And don't go buy any either...spend your money on books and a good spiral notebook/journal. That's all you will need.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Getting Kids to Talk to You through Reading

I hope everyone had a great Memorial Day -- we went and joined the Texas Rowing Club downtown, and it was a fun time to be together as a family. Kayaking is harder than Matt, Ben and Sam had envisioned...but they had a blast nonetheless.

Later, we were with friends at their pool and the subject of teenagers (let's just say kids in general) opening up and talking with their parents.

I am a novice at this, but I do know that kids in my classes have opened up and shared things in their journals and in discussions based on books we're reading. It is a perfect avenue to open up talk without putting them on the spot or making it a question/answer session.

And children's authors have risen to the occasion to give us a plethora of subjects that relate to them right now.

One book I love for my third graders is Barbara Park's (yes, the Junie B. author) Mick Harte Was Here. The main character is Phoebe, a young girl (late elementary/early middle schooler) who has lost her older brother in a bike accident -- because he wasn't wearing a helmet. It is a bit intense to hear her grieve, but the way it is written is completely honest and with words a girl her age would say.

I read it with Matthew, and now he wears his helmet no matter what. Instead of me giving a huge lecture about being safe, etc...he now knows the reprocussions of not wearing it. He knows how it will affect others if he gets injured or killed.

Could I have brought up the subject? Sure, but this was a much better way.

So search books by subjects...and open up the lines of communication.