Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Just Right books are the KEY

Today I had the opportunity to talk to my kids about choosing Just Right books. I began by talking about Goldilocks, and how she went from Papa's bed (too hard), to Mama's bed (too soft), to Baby's bed (which was just right) to finally be comfortable enough to fall asleep.

We related it to books. Finding a just right book, one that is not too hard or easy, will make it possible for us to settle in and lose ourselves in reading.

When we have just right books, we enjoy them. They feel good. We understand.

We talked about the five finger test for a Just Right book. When reading the first few pages, count on your fingers each time you get to a word you don't know, or a place where you are confused. If you put five fingers up, that is a sign the book might not be right for you RIGHT NOW. I emphasize that with the kids. If we label a book as too hard...sometimes they get very discouraged and frustrated because in their minds, that means they can't handle something they really thought they wanted to do.

If you word it like this, "It may not be just right, right now -- let's put that on a waiting list for later and check back on it." Then there is hope -- they know they can go back to it later.

My kids took independent books and did a five finger check today. Tonight, their homework is to go home and explain it to mom and dad and show them how the book THEY chose is a just right one.

I conferenced much of the day, helping kids make selections. Were some of them right on? You bet. Were some of them choosing books that weren't? Yep. I coached a lot today, but a lot of my time was spent LISTENING to them. Forming bonds. And making an occasional suggestion.

Right now I need to earn their trust. I need them to trust that I am there to help, but that they are the ones who need to make choices...good ones. I need them to learn to be honest with themselves as readers...where they are, what they can do, what is too hard.

So it goes...tomorrow, more just right books.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Realizing where you are to know where you want to go...

Today we did our first page in our Reading Notebook. We have 3 sections: Identity, Strategies, and Log. The first section is where we write down things about ourselves as a reader.

Our first page of this section is "What's True About Me as a Reader." I did it today for myself to model for them, and something interesting happened...I made a realization in something I wrote on my page.

I wrote "I don't read at home as much as I would like to."

I continued modeling the rest of my list, although my mind was turning.

Why don't I? What could I do to change that?

I gave them a chance to make their lists in their books and then I talked with them specifically about a couple of mine.

I pointed out that I have a library card...that's a sign of a reader that seeks out books beyond what is "right there" at hand. I like writing in my books, which shows I respond to what I am reading and writing helps me.

Then I went back to the not reading at home one.

First of all, their eyes were big as plates that their teacher admitted something not-so-good about herself.

I began, "This one stood out to me the most. Although it is true for me now, I am thinking I would like to change that. It could become a goal of mine. I could go home and see what things take me away from reading and try to "steal" moments to fit in reading. I may need to turn off the TV, or get the boys to help out...I need to explore the possibilities."

I gave them a few more minutes to see if they wanted to add anything else to their lists, and look for things they may want to set goals about.

Do it for yourself, and then have your kids do it. You will be surprised at how easy it will be to find things that are strong, and things that we can improve!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Planning will help it happen

Ok, so going from zero to about 250 mph a day has got my mind spinning. I find myself having to write everything down, and think ahead to what is coming up so that I am prepared...between football/baseball, laundry, teaching all day, planning, keeping the house clean, and demolishing a kitchen (oh yes, the granite is on it's way), I am moving a fast pace. Sometimes forgetting appointments, sometimes delaying what is on my mind (lesson plans).

You may feel like me. It may feel like you are running like crazy. Here's my advice...carve out your time. Keep one thing in your day solid: something you love to do for you. Mine is working out. I have to have it. Maybe it is that cup of coffee in quiet. Maybe it is yoga.

I have been mentioning about how important it is for kids to know themselves. As readers, as writers, as people. My Third Graders are developing this awareness, but it amazes me how so many of us don't STOP our crazy lives enough to know what WE need.

I need to use old fashioned pencil and paper to write down my plans. That includes play, reading, homework, appointments...I need to see it sketched out on a week calendar. Why? That is the way I can wrap my mind around what I have going on and not feel overwhelmed.

Some people are opposite. They only want to see one day at a time. That's great. If I flew day to day, I would be insane.

So today I am going to sit down with my calendar. I am also, like I do for school, going to write down each day what I am going to read with my kids. It is less likely to get pushed out if I plan.

Try it. You may find it works for you. If it doesn't, find something that does. Reading, like every other appointment, needs to be given a special time...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

S found a book I love...

Sharon Creech is one of my favorite authors. She writes books that have depth, and I appreciate that in children's books.

I got hooked on her by reading Love That Dog. It follows Jack through a school year, and through his diary/journal/conversational style, we see him go from a resistant writer/reader to an author himself.

There are sections where I bawl, I gasp, I reminisce about my life too.

I usually do it as a class read aloud early in the year because it is a quick read with A LOT to think about.

I noticed one of my girls, S, reading it yesterday, so we talked for a bit. As we talked, she was aware of the storyline and got some of it, yet she was missing some of the deeper layers in the details.

Was I worried? No. First off, maturity makes a huge difference in how kids experience books. I remember reading Charlotte's Web independently in late Third Grade, but when I read it again in Fifth, I understood it on a completely different level.

We are also going to be reading the book together, so she will have some AHA! moments then. I was just excited to see her pick it up.

Usually after we do Love that Dog, there is a rush to get a hold of her other books. Some I love: Replay, Hate that Cat, Granny Torelli Makes Soup, Heartbeat, Walk Two Moons...she has others, but those are the ones I focus on with my 8 year olds...the content is rich and again, deep.

Happy Saturday!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Day two: the sly avoider

Well, great news! This morning my friend met me at the door and asked if he could have that Spongebob book for the morning session with my partner. A bit surprised, I exuberantly agreed.

Later, when his class switched and came over to my room, he brought the book, huge grin on his face. "I finished it! Do you have more?"

I put both arms around him and gave him a huge hug. "Do you know how awesome that is?" I exclaimed. "You are such a GREAT reader -- you finished it!" And then I made a huge announcement to the class. "My friends, your classmate C knows what it is to be a good reader! He stuck with this book and FINISHED it!" They smiled and gave him a "Kiker cheer" with their hands.

I always make a point to CELEBRATE any accomplishment -- especially breakthroughs like this.

We headed back to the TV/movie bin, but alas, my other Spongebob books were checked out. But I didn't hesitate a moment -- I didn't want disappointment to set in...

I grabbed another graphic novel, Kit Feeney. We previewed it together and he agreed to give it a try.

How did it go?

Well, after independent reading, he needed a bookmark (which I tell them is a clear signal that they are committed to a book -- they are going to continue on)...


Thursday, August 26, 2010

The sly reading avoider...

Yep, I have a couple. I need you to know that getting some kids to read, much less fall in love with reading, is not instantaneous, even for me...

I worked with one young man in particular today -- we conferred not once, not twice, but three times -- in the span of 20 minutes.

Initially, I noticed him selecting and abandoning several books from the bin on his desk early on. I knew I would need to help, fast. Conference one, I had him bring the book he had most recently picked out of the bin. It was about the Titanic, and he talked on about how he was interested in it because of a tour he had taken aboard a fighter ship.

I gushed about his great choice...and I previewed...we read the blurb, and he read a little to me. I pointed out how exciting it was that words in the book that were highlighted in gray were found in the glossary in the back, and we talked about how important those were to know. He was excited, so I told him to read the first 10 pages and check back with me.

No less than 5 minutes later, the book was back in the bin.

Round two. We talked about why he put it back. He wasn't exactly clear why. So we talked about other interests he had. Sports, he said, were his thing. So we headed to the sports bin, where I carefully selected four different books. He liked the basketball one (Sport Shorts) and we went through preview, blurb, reading, and goal setting. One chapter that was 5 pages long.

Back he went, and back to the bin went the book.

Third shot -- go get book and talk about why he abandoned...try again. What shows does he watch? Movies? I have a whole bin of books based on characters from tv and movies, and here's why. Some kids need that to motivate them, and some kids have trouble making images in their minds -- they need to have seen it to help kick start independent envisioning.

He chose a SpongeBob graphic book. Ok, so it wasn't my fave, but he was interested.

He did end up leaving my class and the book had been returned...so I didn't win this time.

But I am not frustrated. Just challenged.

Now I have questions -- Does he read at home? Does someone read to him at home? Are there attention problems? When are situations where he focuses for periods of time? Where is he when this happens?

I also don't think he personalizes things much -- let me explain. I don't think he thinks much about his likes and dislikes -- I think he does things he likes, but pressed to tell me favorites, I bet it's pretty general.

So that is actually where I am going to start with him. Teach him how to think about books, and activities in general, and start to be aware of what he likes and doesn't like, and why. Getting him to verbalize that will tell me volumes and help me be able to diagnose the issue and get him books that fit him.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A fun way to tie team building and character traits

Today was my last day of having my homeroom for the entire day -- tomorrow we begin our official "switch" schedule. My team teacher teaches Math, Science and Social Studies, and I focus on all the Reading, Writing, Word Work, and Spelling.

Our first reading unit focuses on Character Development, using character traits as a start. I wanted to incorporate our team building/get to know you activities to get the most bang for my buck in terms of my time. I am always looking for ways to teach more precisely and efficiently, so nothing ends up busy work.

I love the book, Elmer, by David McKee. It is a story about a patchwork elephant who longs to be like everyone else. When he tries changing color to blend in, he realizes that he feels strangely, and the plan doesn't work out exactly as he expected. Finally, his ruse is discovered, and the elephants tell him how special he is. They do so by having a parade in his honor, where they are multicolored, and he is plain elephant color.

It is a simple story with a huge lesson.

We have been brainstorming and listing character traits of several characters as we have been reading (we have read over 6 books already) and have created a huge word wall in our room as a resource.

Today, after I read Elmer, I had the kids do a guided drawing of an elephant with me. I love doing that, because even though I model, each of the elephants come out so unique! It's so much better than Xeroxing an elephant pattern. They were told to write traits for themselves around the outside of the elephant, and then decorate the elephant inside however their creative hearts desired.


My next steps were a brainstorm from a friend of mine who is a middle school teacher. She suggested taking the character trait list and either using Thesaurus or computer, finding "juicy" words that are more descriptive. My kids thought of "nice, helpful, and fun." We could definitely step it up to "energetic, outgoing, and responsible."

So there you go. Teach kids to be who they are, and get some character development in it as well!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Create the buzz about a book

I had another great day - and see more areas where we can grow -- that's good news!

Here's my tip for today - kids are just like adults in that when something is deemed "in," everyone clamors to get it.

So I created a stir about an author today -- it doesn't matter which, but it was Katie Couric, actually. The past two days we have read her book, Brand New Kid and Blue Ribbon Day. Each talk about aspects of being accepting, kind, and the person you are. As I read them, I made a big deal of how much past students have loved these books, and how I enjoy them too.

Guess which books they were asking to read independently? Katie's books. One of my girls even asked if she had more books (which she hasn't yet, but I suggested to her we write Katie and tell her she should).

What can you do with your kids? Name drop! Hey, I was talking with some other moms, and they say their kids were reading ____. Or - I read in the paper that kids in Austin really like ____. Show them the "Bestseller" list for kids - they have it every Sunday in our local paper.

Create a buzz...heck, it's worked for things like Silly Bandz...why not books?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Phew! The First Day Down...

Today was my first day of school with kids -- wow -- what a whirlwind. Right now my head is reeling from learning new routines, watching kids and LEARNING A LOT about them, and finding a new pace after being relaxed all summer.

I learned so much today -- just by being a careful observer. Have you done that with your own child without them knowing? It tells you volumes about them.

With twenty in the classroom it is a little more difficult, but here's what I picked up...

Attention spans (length, depth)
Need for positive reinforcement
Novice Readers
Readers with great survival skills
Developing Readers
Kids who need guidance
Kids who need to channel their energy
Kids who want to please
Independent kids

I worked with two today specifically ~ one who didn't stick with a book, and one who didn't stick in the seat.

I noticed both were lack of direction oriented issues. Neither knew what to actually look for, or how to go about making a selection. Not that they couldn't "pick" a book -- they weren't able to choose a book that HELD THEIR INTEREST.

I will go over deeper lessons in how to choose a book in the next few weeks for the whole class, but I knew I had to get to these two TODAY.

I began by having a conversation with them about topics that were outside of reading (or so they thought). I found out things they enjoyed, things they did for fun, and actually asked them things they didn't care for too. It wasn't easy. They actually had a hard time verbalizing it. So I spent more time and asked questions a different way. I asked them if there was one thing they could do for their birthday, what would it be, who would it be with, and what kinds of things they would include in their day. Why? Because birthdays are special, and they would do things that are important and the most fun for them.

Then I went to the bins -- "You know what? This author writes books that relate to you..." "This one too..." What about this?" I gave 3-4 choices. We talked about them, read a bit, and then WE SET A GOAL AND A TIME TO TOUCH BASE AGAIN. I gave each one about twenty pages to read and told them to get to that point no matter what, and then come see me so we could talk again.

Did it work? Well, one of them wanted to take the book out to recess, the other sat in the seat longer than with the other books...so I consider it a success.

Will I have to do it again? I am almost sure of it. But have I planted the seeds? Yup.

Think about your child. If they are constantly switching in and out of books...it may be an interest thing, or a stamina thing. I think I took a two pronged approach today. See which, or if both, work for you.

Can't wait until tomorrow!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Technology and Reading

The Austin Statesman had an article today about e-Textbooks. Normally, I am not a fan of books on the computer (I prefer holding a sturdy book, the smell of new pages, and being able to make notes and mark it up as I please), but I like this idea.

Let me clarify what they mean by e-Textbooks in its true form. Rather than simply a PDF format of the book (which is the way some of it is now), it is a resource with links, forums, interactive quizzes and activities. That would be cool.

Textbook companies make MONEY...and they certainly use a lot of trees. I like my textbooks, but...I use them as a resource. Kids can't make margin notes...they can't highlight in them. I use them to teach text structure, and, thanks to their attention to updates, a few good selections of literature if I want the whole class to read it simultaneously.

E-textbooks would open all new ways of learning. Kids could extend or remediate simply by selecting a pathway. That's neat. It could individualize learning.

BUT...I am old school. I love my books. It's hard because I realize that our kids are a technologically savvy generation, and they love it. When do we say, "Ok, textbooks are now all online." I like the idea of not breaking my child's back carrying them home, but, what about the value of learning with a book in hand? There are skills and strategies specific to reading that way -- will we lose that?

If we grow those synapses strictly with technology, those other parts of the brain will not grow. Hmm...will that eventually change the brain make up entirely?

The discussion grows. I think I am at the point where I want my boys (and myself) to use technology, but to keep a balance right now. It's not like going from the old record player to CDs to music online...it's much more than just improving what is existing.

Maybe that's the scary part for me. It may be CHANGING entirely what exists.

For now, I like holding my newspaper with my morning coffee AND coming to the computer to blog...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Great Question

Leticia wrote in yesterday with a good question. She has a daughter who is in Second Grade who likes to read, but doesn't necessarily LOVE it.

I've been thinking about it, and here's what I have come up with.

I am very happy to hear she likes reading. That is a huge positive. I am thinking about a few other kids her age that are in the same place -- and I think the solution is TIME.

If I think about the kids who were in my looping class (a class stays with the same teacher for the next grade), they were in one place coming in, another the following year, and completely different when they left me.

They matured.

What I found was that I had to #1, provide stimulating material. It is very hard at that age. So many "Early" chapter books are written quite formulaicly -- they get boring for kids who have mastered reading well. It's the content that matters.

Look for books that may NOT be in a series. That is a good place to start.

#2, I had to keep them accountable -- which sounds like it would do exactly the opposite of making them love it, but here's what I mean by accountable...

I talk with them DAILY -- and progressively --i.e. What's happening with ___ character (use the characters name)? Hey, in chapter 2 they did xyz, how did that come out?

BE INTERESTED (Genuinely). They will pick up on that, and guess what...they will keep reading.

#3, I had to have them buying in - they had choice in the selection, the area they read, the responses varied and fit their personality.

And, in time, with maturity, they will begin opting for reading. They will begin forming opinions -- trust me...it will go from "oh, I like reading" to " I LOVED that book!"

Did that help?

Friday, August 20, 2010

This and That

Ok, first off I have to apologize if this is disjointed today. Our upstairs A/C went out yesterday -- wow does it get hot inside when it is triple digits outside -- so we half slept on couches downstairs. Thank goodness Mr. Repairman will be coming today.

I actually have a plea. I want this site to be helpful to YOU. I know that there are times where you have questions about either a term a teacher is using in regards to reading, or maybe she/he explained something really fast and you need a little more clarification.

Keep me in mind. Send me questions via comments or email. I would love to help.

Today in most Texas schools, we have what is called "Meet the Teacher." Students come to the classroom, meet us, and get a little settled before the big day Monday. It is a whirlwind of new faces, quick chats, and getting things put into place.

If your school doesn't have this in place, you might want to suggest it. It is a great opportunity to alleviate fears and build confidence.

Yesterday I called all my kids (all our school's teachers do) and it was great to talk directly to them. I was excited to hear their voices -- and I bet they were glad to hear mine.

School is academics, yes, but it is the relationships that matter. I have already started forming new bonds...it's going to be a great year!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

More time READING is what makes the difference

I am so grateful I have a strong philosophy about teaching. It gets so overwhelming at times -- the new curriculum, new textbooks, new professional books, workbooks, etc. -- it would be really easy to try and either 1) do everything handed to me, or 2) do "busy work".

But I know this one thing to be true. More time actually reading text is what makes the difference in kids' reading.

It's not worksheets -- it's not a specific program.

It can be electronic reading - articles or short books on the computer, for example. I am not saying it has to be a book, per se. Books are my first choice, but I am aware we live in an age of technology.

The more time they can actually get their heads involved in reading, the better. Think of it like piano. I can study great pianists, read sheet music, tell you all about music theory. But unless I put my hands to the keys (A LOT, and consistently), I am not going to get better at it.

I say this as a precursor for my own parents. I don't give a ton of homework. I want them to read. But, I WANT THEM TO READ. That is non-negotiable.

Don't be alarmed if your teacher is like me...maybe worksheets or paper/pencil tasks aren't being assigned...it's ok.

Just get them READING!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

First Day Jitters

There is a book with this exact title -- many teachers read it the first day of school. It is a cute story where a girl is having mixed feelings about getting up and going for her first day of school -- the twist is, it ends up the girl is the teacher.

It's true, however...we all get first day nerves...even after 18 years, I have a tough time sleeping that night before.

I know your kids do too. Here is the perfect opportunity to talk with them...by using books. Go to any bookstore right now and you will find a plethora of "first day" books. Read a few together, and see what kind of conversation crops up.

Talk about the characters, their feelings, and events. Ask them their opinions. This will come around to their feelings towards school starting, believe me. They will probably talk way more with books as a segway than they would have with you just asking questions directly about their feelings.

I don't think it will take all the jitters away, but knowing that other characters have those same feelings will put them at ease a bit. You will also have more information about what they are anxious about, and you can talk specifically with them to calm their fears.

Happy Wednesday -- four more days!!!!!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Are you getting prepared????

I am. It's nuts! School is abuzz with energy and excitement, and the countdown is on. Tonight I prepped my "handbook" -- a little compilation I put together that explains the routines of my classroom and why I do them.

I love this (although it is a lot of work) because as a parent, I know my head is spinning after "Back to School Night" (usually a night after school starts when teachers have parents for an hour or so to explain things). It's not enough time, and I get overwhelmed. And with three kids in three different classes, I can't be at all of them.

So I really lean on any notes of explanation that go home. I give out the handbook before the first day of school ("meet the teacher") because I know how much paperwork goes home that first day/week and I don't want it to get lost. Parents then have a chance to read it over and feel like they are informed before they come in for Curriculum/Back to School night.

Why am I telling you this?

Because this handbook makes me THINK, PRIORITIZE, and REMIND me of what I am doing and why. There are lots of things I could spend my time doing, but what is the BEST use of time? What is the most precise way I can teach? The most effective?

It reminds me to stay fresh. To not always do things the same way.

Hmm...can we take that to heart at home? Are there ways we can tweak what we have going? Can we think of ways to make reading more fun? Maybe a new "reading spot" -- only used for reading -- or maybe it's a matter of being better with our time -- read while on the way to practice, for example.

As you are evaluating your new "homework plan" -- you do have one, right? Think of ways you can freshen things up -- or keep things the same, because they are working well.

Happy Tuesday -- and yes, I realize my posts are getting later in the day -- I am finding the quiet after the boys go to bed the best time to do this these days!

Monday, August 16, 2010

A good resource...

I am beginning to specifically plan for the first week of school. Our district standards state that the first theme we have in reading is "determination."

I have PLENTY of books, but sometimes that makes it tough to choose which books I want to begin with. I have to also keep in mind I have all year to read with these kids, but somehow I always want to find that "perfect" book.

I remembered a website I have used, Carol Hurst's Literature site. She has lists and lists of books by genre, theme, grade level, etc. It is wonderful. She also has reviews on the books she lists.

I think this will help immensely. Think about it. Your child has been assigned a book report in a specific genre. They can go on the website, preview, and select from the lists by grade level and genre.

It will save you a lot of worry that the book is appropriate.

Write down her name and keep it handy.

By the way, today I got a taste of the juggling act which I call life...full time back at school, four boys at home, laundry, dishes, dinner, baseball and football...

I AM GOING TO BE BUSY -- but I wouldn't change a thing...I am getting excited to meet those eager new faces!!! Get ready to read little ones!!!!!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

They do remember...

Somehow, through the spiderweb of connections that is Facebook, I have reconnected with a large group of former students. When I say former, I mean pre-kid days...so over 11 years ago.

I was excited to find out what they were up to...most all of them began their messages by telling me they still have their writing notebooks from my class -- that's cool. All have gone to college, some are in credential programs, some are writing for their college newspapers -- that made me smile.

I know I am not the only influence. But I was an influence. We all are.

What kind of impact will we make. I chose teaching because I felt like it was the best way to make a difference in the world and it fit my God given gifts.

Now as a parent, I have four of my own to raise and nurture. How am I doing that? Am I guiding, fostering, supporting? Am I pushing, steering, and opening opportunities? Do I have my own agenda or am I helping them find their own path?

Those kids who I taught have grown into adults now, making their own decisions. Yet I know, simply from these little messages we have sent, that there is still a connection between us. I made myself vulnerable and accessible to them.

All these kids have seen me cry, laugh, and question -- mainly through the sharing of books, sharing my writing, and listening to them.

It was funny. They mentioned activities they remember, and they asked if I was still doing them. I have to admit, many things have changed. As I have continued my growth as an educator, I have tweaked, streamlined, or simply stopped some of those things.

But one thing never changes...I offer myself. As a reader, a mentor, and a cheerleader...they have me. And that, in a nutshell, is my favorite thing about teaching. The connections.

Thanks Riley, Ardis, Anthony, Beth, Cary, Paul, Emily, Samantha, Melissa, Shastee, Daniel, Matt and Martin...pass the word that I would love to hear from more of my old (ok, I am the old one) friends!!!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Set a time

We all know the importance of reading to or with our children. We also know that, in the busy lives we lead, sometimes it gets squished out (like some people with the gym).

So I propose we put it in a sacred spot as a daily routine.

Here's how I would go about it. First, watch your kids. Know if they are morning or afternoon or evening people. Then check yourself. When do you feel freshest?

Then get 15-20 minutes. Maybe it's when they are going to bed. I am horrible in this time slot because I am not a morning person, and because of sports/difference in ages, the kids have different bedtimes. So when I stayed home, it was best to read while they are eating breakfast. It got them off to a good start.

Now, with the hustle of the morning (now I have to get the four of them up, ready and fed, plus look presentable and get out the door by 7:05 -- after getting back from the gym at 6:35 -- whew!) we are going to change our time to baths. The bigger boys shower, but while Nick is in the bathtub, we all sit in the bathroom and read. Captive audience.

Whenever the time -- right after school when they are having a snack -- make it a set routine and don't waiver. They will look forward to that time, and you won't skip or get to the end of the day and say, "oops, we forgot."

Have a fabulous Saturday.

As an afterthought, I found some former students on Facebook last night...it is amazing to see them graduated from college...holy cow -- I am old (but still 29, of course).

Friday, August 13, 2010

Here's a Mindblower for that resistant reader

I was thinking about how important it is to know how to read...and I thought about a fun game to do with your kids. Have them take one day...or even one hour...and tally how many times they do something that involves words, letters, and knowing how to read.

Oftentimes kids are so inundated with worksheets, questions, and tasks surrounding reading that they feel like reading is simply something done for someone else...for school, the teacher, grades...

But it would be interesting to see what kinds of things they do that involve reading every day...and to think about how it would be challenging not to be able to read. They would find themselves limited. I think it would show them how vital it is to everyday life...and how, even though it might be tough now, they need to keep practicing and working through it so they can improve and do it with ease.

When I did trainings for teachers in California, I would type "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" on the computer and then switch all the font to "Wingdings" or some other symbolic font. I would give it to them and ask them to read it to me. Some would give me quizzical looks, some would shake their heads, and some would start working to decipher what it was.

JUST LIKE FIRST TIME READERS. And that was why I did it. I wanted them to remember the helplessness...and remind them that their kids go through it with new content every day. My next step would be to scaffold it...to give them bits and pieces to support them. I would continue this help until one of them would yell out in pride, "I've got it!" And share with the others.

I think I will have my boys try it for the morning tomorrow. I want to see how big our list is and how many tallies we get!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Write Around

Today I was putting away files when I came across an old planning folder chock full of ideas I used in training teachers in California. One strategy I thought I would share with you is called Write Around, and you could easily do it with your child.

Here's how it works: You have a piece of text and post its. Start out by modelling. As you read a paragraph or two, write down what you are thinking and then explain it to your child. For example, I would write down a reaction to what a character did, or a connection I had with a setting in the story. Then I would ask them to write something they thought about either when they read that section or read what I wrote. They then add their thoughts to the sticky note. This is tough for kids at first. They may not have developed their thinking about reading very much. They will tend to either say "I don't know," or something very similar to what you said. That's ok. Teach them that saying "I agree with you BECAUSE..." is a perfectly wonderful thing to say. Stretch them, ask questions, and offer ideas past what you have written.

Next step would be to have them writing their thoughts first and then you reacting to them.

Eventually, it will grow. They will have more thoughts, and will be able to do it on their own. What I would do with Matt at this point would be to give him paper and have him write his thoughts and write the page numbers down. It would be perfect if we had two copies of the material because that way I can do stickies in my copy and he can do stickies in his and we can switch books to react.

It prompts wonderful discussions. "oh wow! I didn't think of that" "that part didn't stand out to me, but now that I see what you think," or "I disagree, I think...because..."

It is AWESOME deeper thinking.

Now how to do it with the little ones...you can just do it orally. Or you can do it where you ask them a question to think about before reading and then they can react as you read. For write around in kinder, it may be simply identifying words they know and you confirming and affirming.

I love this in my classroom because I have the kids pass to three or four classmates to respond. I usually make copies of the text so they can write directly on the paper instead of using stickies, but I also hate making copies -- this works best in my small groups when I have a small set of the same book.

I have vowed to do this more in my class this year...I can't wait!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

SO Inspiring!

Here's a morsel to chew on today.

Be the inspiration.

What do I mean? Well, yesterday I was at Kiker (my new digs) for our onsite New Teacher Orientation. We met with our administration, got a tour, learned the nitty gritty.

But I said inspiration...and that, in a nutshell, is how I would describe my principal.

I have had several (ok, many) administrators in my career, and each has been unique. Some were good managers, some strong with curriculum, some good with people...

This principal is a true leader. She empowers EVERYONE (not just the adults or employees) to be the very best they can be, to live the life they were designed to live, and to pursue things outside of the moment.

How do I know this? Trust me. It was in her words.

I do not know her well, but she has already opened herself to me (and us all), made herself vulnerable, and expressed more than once how she wants to support and push me to greater heights. She has high expectations, but she is going to be there, communicating with me and moving me.

I have had only one other administrator in my life like that, and I am forever grateful for her. Leslie Thomas was that principal, and my year with her changed me.

These two women have not tried to fit me into a box -- or given me their "agenda" for me -- they have asked me about my passions, talents, and strengths and let me fly. They have looked at my weaknesses and not been judgemental, but helpful in refining or finding support.

People like that are so rare. It makes me want to be a better person -- to be like them.

Let's think about our kids. We, as their parents, have a different role, yet we can also be that positive influence. Their biggest fan, their coach.

Remember, as my principal does, to develop people -- find ways to help them grow. As you inspire, they will blossom. Probably farther than you could have imagined.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How DO you teach kids to read?

I had a friend post a question on Facebook this morning, and I thought it would be a great question to address.

She has three young kids, and was wondering how to teach them to read. Several people posted comments. I was surprised by the fact that a few mentioned computer or paid "programs." I don't know why I was surprised, but...

Let me explain.

My philosophy on reading with young children is this: Make it a wonderful experience. When I think about teaching my boys, I remember sitting with them, laughing, hugging, and talking about books as I would read to them. I never pushed "knowing the words" -- they naturally gradually began asking me. First it would be mimicry, then memorization, then -- as if by magic -- they began reading.

Now I know it isn't magic. There needs to be direct instruction on what letter names are, what their sounds are, and how those sounds go together to make a meaningful word.

Here's my take on reading with toddlers. They really dictate what happens. If you notice, kids will ask for the same book over and over. That makes sense. They want to begin making sense for themselves of these scribble lines -- those "words" adults read and a story comes out.

Take time to explore the pictures and tell the story orally. As you do, if your story has words that are written there on the page, point it out. For example, if I was reading a book about a dog, or Curious George and I am orally talking about the word, I will look for that word in the text and say, "See, that's the word Curious George."

Your work as a parent of a toddler is to make reading a part of their life. I know we get anxious when others state that their 4 year old is reading Magic Tree House books, but THERE IS NO RUSH.

Kids that young don't need to be competing when it comes to reading. They need to be enjoying. Trust me, they will lead you...there is a natural curiosity about books. If you are worried they have a learning block, that is another story...and about 4 years old you will start to see it.

Relax. JUST READ. There is no specific path to take...but the best thing you can do...is provide the attitude that reading is fun, energizing, and exciting.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Day Has Arrived!

Well, today is my first "official" day of work in AISD. Now, for those of you who are teachers (or those who know me), you know that I have been back preparing my classroom for a few weeks already...as soon as my floors were waxed and dry!

I have mixed emotions, I must admit. I am extremely excited about getting back into the classroom, but I am worried about getting back into the juggling act of full time work, a home, and four kids (and a husband who travels a lot).

I know it is my passion, however. I am so fortunate to be doing exactly what I love to do. Many people have a hard time figuring that out.

You are probably starting to prepare yourself and your child(ren) for the return to school. It's never completely easy...there are nerves, adjustments to new schedules, and new personalities.

Think about buying (or just sending a favorite you already have) a special book to take to school that first day. Not for the teacher, but for them to read. Taking that out of their backpacks will give them a sense of security and pride. Especially the little ones...it's like a piece of you, and home, to take with them.

I am bringing a little book that I take with me every year. It's called "Selma." It is about a sheep who is asked several times if she could do anything in life, what would she do. She responds (basically) -- do a little grazing, sleep a little, walk in the meadow. And then at the end of the book we discover that is her day to day routine. So the message is CONTENTMENT. It always reminds me that I do LOVE my life, and I am doing what I love to do. I am blessed.

Anyway, that book always gives me courage amidst first day jitters...your child will find the same calm in their book.

Happy Monday!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

It Works!

I love it when things I think, "Hmmm...maybe that will work - actually does!"

Last night, after I blogged about having kids act out stories, I tried it. What surprised me was not that the older ones got into it, but NICK got into it spontaneously.

He saw his older brothers, and then brought me a book from his bin downstairs. It was called "Yummy Yucky," and he acted it out wholeheartedly. It started with my reading a part and him repeating, but after a few pages, he did it on his own. I was soooo excited! He's only 2 and he gets it!

So try it. It works!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Read Like an Actor...

Here's a quick idea: have your child "act" out the story. They can either use dialogue there, or make up their own. For example, Piggie and Gerald books have all dialogue, so they can use that. Others may have little or no dialogue. In that case, you can read a portion and have them use that information to create dialogue. Picture books would work well.

I say that because you wouldn't believe how kids love what's called "Reader's Theater" -- where a book is typed as a play, and kids act it out.

I am always amazed at how kids love drama and acting. I wasn't that way, but I have seen plenty of kids who eat it up.

Why? Because it will help develop fluency, oral speaking skills, and comprehension. They have to understand what is truly happening in the story to play a part in it.

Try it...I am going to get the twins to do Gerald and Piggie with each other, and Matt and I are going to use a Hank Zipzer...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Wow - Cried Even with the Fourth One

I was in a familiar, yet never easy, position today. Nicholas went to his new preschool today for the first time. Oh yes, TEARS. He wasn't exactly happy either, which made it even tougher.

Which brings me to my thought today. Parenting is so humbling -- there are so many situations where you have to let go and trust your most treasured children to others. 44 families are going to do that with me in a few weeks.

It has been wonderful to grow as an educator since becoming a parent. It definitely changes you. I understand what it feels like to be on both sides.

Today I thought about how I could support my sons' teachers. Because I can't volunteer anymore, I have to get creative. I always like to donate to "wish lists" ~ but sometimes teachers are afraid to ask for what I LOVE to give ~ yes, books.

I think I am going to ask each of the boys' teachers to tell me a genre or type of book they would like to have. Maybe there is a unit on animals, or folktales, etc, that they would like to have. Or I also ask for titles of books they might want multiple copies of...so that book that "everyone" is clamoring for can be read by more than one child.

Or maybe a book set for their guided reading group (small group reading).

Don't underestimate the power in giving books. Plus your kids will know that you gave them, which will make them all the more special...

Oh, and Nick had a fabulous day...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Home Again!

Great time with family - and cooler weather - so strange to be in the 60-80 range in late July!!!

We were so busy that I didn't have time to post, but hopefully you got a chance to go back in time and look at old ones.

My boys did read (on the plane, at bedtime, in the car) but most of the time we were on the go. We hadn't seen our cousins for about 2 years, so it was time to catch up (and let them have more than their share of screen time).

I took the time to let myself mentally and physically recharge. We all need it, and I am really ready now for school to start.

Remember that for yourself. We are always so driven to be busy that we forget to recharge. And then we end up dragging and feeling no true energy or excitement. Sometimes our "time off" consists of projects or visiting, which doesn't fill up our tanks...we feel good, but still drained.

And we are on the last few weeks until school begins. A friend of mine put it this way, "I think I can, I think I can..."

Yes, you can. But recharge yourself so you can light up with excitement when they bring home their books to read.

Oh, and by the way, I couldn't help it - I had to recommend and leave "Big Nate" for my youngest nephew, Nathan. Go figure - it's just my nature to talk and give books!