Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Reading Aloud is always essential...

Reading aloud to kids is as important all through life as it was when they were toddlers. They learn so much listening to the inflection and expression in your voice - and they are able to comprehend stories without the burden of decoding.

Reading aloud to your child should not be the way you read exclusively. Even now, with Nick at two, I have him read me a book each night. He tells me in his babble about the pictures, and whatnot I don't understand. As he does, I nod my head and confirm with words, "Yes, that is a bulldozer. I see how it pushes the dirt," or whatever is on the page. He usually acts things out or makes noises like the item.

One time we were reading an ABC book and he saw a balloon. Immediately, he stood on his bed, pointed towards the ceiling and shouted, "Up in the sky!" I remembered that we had "lost" a balloon to the sky before...and he remembered looking up and watching it go. That is connecting for him - schema - using what he knows from his prior knowledge/experience to comprehend what he is reading.

Wow. Long tangent. My point is to read out loud to them, but balance that with them reading to you aloud and them reading alone silently. BALANCE.

We are reading Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff. It is a Texas Bluebonnet Nominee, and I know that most of my kids wouldn't pick it up on their own. But since we have been reading, they have been asking for other books to read either by the same author, or similar in content.

That's the magic - you can introduce and get them excited simply by sharing it with them. Yes, I know you are busy - but make the time to keep reading aloud.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I forgot - it's officially been a year in Austin

This past week marked one full year here in Circle C, Austin. So much has happened in a year...

and I feel like it is like New Years in that I need to reflect and set some new goals.  When we came last Fall, I was home with Nick for the year...very different goals for my time and energy.

Now with teaching full time again, and boys that are older and more independent, it is time to push myself in new ways.

Reflection is the key. Looking where I have been, what's gone on...looking for patterns, even ruts.

I know myself. I need times to do that. If I don't, I am simply functioning day to day.

One goal I have is to grow this blog. How? I don't know yet. I do know that many people have read this the past year, and I want each and every one to walk away from the computer feeling positive about reading. Maybe even motivated.

So this weekend is a long one, and Wednesday I plan on taking time in between cooking and cleaning to sit back, get a cup of coffee, and journal about where I want this year to go.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Seriously? It's Sunday Night?

Wow. Has it been since Thursday? Yep. That's because my life has gone that quickly this week.

And now the holidays begin. It's not going to get much slower around here.

So I am in need of prioritization. Obviously, blogging has gone by the wayside in that more has been pressing on the immediate, needs-my-attention front.

This past few weeks has been emotional. One of Sam's teachers presented me with a question. Had we ever considered that he may have ADD? Yes, we had, but that had been ruled out - tests had shown more of a language processing issue in the past. But then I got to thinking...and analyzing, and, well, those of you who have gone down this road can relate.

I have so many thoughts: would this help him? does he need meds? what would the meds do? he has many characteristics, and maybe that is what is hindering him with expressive/receptive speech. Maybe there are lots of things running around up there and he can't grab a thought to get out.

We have agreed to screen him, and talk to the pediatrician. Chances are we will be referred to a neurologist.

All this to say that my mind has been preoccupied with him.

I say this too, to show you that my family struggles in their own ways, and I don't have a handle on everything.

I would like to...but that's not realistic.

So, two days till vacation...a well deserved break all around.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Handling it all

I know how busy life can be. Trust me.

Four kids, husband travels, full time teaching job and all those things entail -- when do I fit it in? The day to day chaos can easily push out time spent in quiet, spent with reading.

But make it a priority. Like exercise. You know it's good for you, and you feel so much better after you do it.

Think of it as an investment.

Yes, I know time is precious and fast fleeting...use what you can for what matters.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Kids Talking about Books

The nice thing about having a big family is that there is always someone to talk to...you don't wear the same brother out...you can go to the next one and they have fresh ears for you.

My boys have been talking a lot about books they are reading - to each other. There is something wonderful and easy about talking to someone your own age, rather than an adult (your parent or teacher).

If you have a smaller family, try and find opportunities for them to talk with other kids. I have noticed that happens when we are at the bookstore. They just start talking to other kids as they are looking at books.

Or start a book club. Or ask your child's teacher if they ever have time to provide time for kids to get together and just talk about what they are reading in class.

I think sometimes that is overlooked as a powerful strategy to keep kids reading.

Think of it as positive influence, positive peer pressure, so to speak. It will pique their interest, and make reading a social, fun thing.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Reading Nonfiction

Today I SLOWED kids way down...

It is very normal for kids to pick up nonfiction books, be fascinated by the pictures, yet never read a caption or put the picture together with the information that is being talked about in the text.

Today I taught them how to LOOK, EXAMINE, CRITICALLY THINK, AND INFER about pictures. We spent a lot of time on each and every picture and READ EVERY CAPTION.

I made it a mandate that they read captions NO MATTER WHAT (you must think I have caps lock on, but I am really emphasizing this for a reason).

It is common for kids to skim through or not read the captions at all and have several misconceptions and misunderstandings before they even begin to read.

I taught them how pictures should be a source of information, but also a springboard to lots of good questions to guide them in their reading.

I told them that each picture and caption is placed there for a reason: to help them understand.

Skimming or skipping this information would be tragic.

So ask your kids, require your kids, to look, read, examine. It will amaze them how much easier the text reading will be, and how many interesting things they will learn!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Making Books Accessible

I know this...but more than ever, I have realized that a lot of the reason my boys read is because...books are everywhere. Not in the clutter-filled, hoarder type way, but in a "we-have-books-at-hand-all-the-time" way.

The boys' backpacks, the baskets in the car, baskets in the armoires in the family room and den, the bookshelves in their rooms and the office...they are always available.

I think when books are a constant option, they are more apt to be involved with them.

Liken it to food - I read an article this morning on how San Fran (love that city) is trying to ban toys from Happy Meals. It mentioned that it isn't the toys that are the problem, but they are a draw. They talked about  how the meals aren't the evil in themselves (albiet not healthy), but it is the frequency that kids are consuming the meals.

Ok, so how does that relate to what I was saying about accessibility? Well, when we lived in Houston, there was fast food on every corner (just about). It was everywhere. On any drive we took, we would pass something. Of course, that made it that much easier to swing through (oh yes, the drive through makes it really simple) and get a quick meal rather than going home.

It takes more effort (and time) to go home, prepare a meal, and sit down. It even takes more effort (and time) to go to a sit down restaurant. Both of those options, however, provide a setting where people will savor their food, talk, and make eating an experience - people make choices - what to eat, how much to make, etc.

Back to books. It's kind of the reverse - we WANT books to be easy for them to get their hands on. Once they have the habit, then we want them to go to the library, bookshelf, and bookstore and be discerning - choosing what they want to read.

Maybe not the best comparison, but my thoughts on books sort of collided with what I was reading in the paper this morning.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cars and Trucks and Things That GO!

Nick's new favorite. I have not written about the preschool reader for a while, and last night Nick reminded me of his passion as he REFUSED to go to bed without reading two or three books.

What I have noticed in him as a reader is that whenever we read, he begins to act out things in ways that show me he sees this in real life.

For example, when we are reading ABC books, he insists on telling me things he knows that start with that letter ~ especially N "for me, Nicky."

In reading word books, we will see "lamp" or "lion" and he points to the lamp in his room or growls ferociously. He even showed me where the lightbulb was in his light when we saw one in his book.

Why is that important? Why do I make note of it?

Because he is connecting reading/books to his world.

He even sees a character doing something (say, Winnie the Pooh putting his hand in a honey pot) and he will say "that's messy mommy, go clean!"  He gets it.

Those are the building blocks. If Nick wasn't engaging at this point, I would be pointing those out to him, modeling how to do that.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Rich Content Engages

We have been doing an author study of Patricia Polocco. Her books are deep, meaningful, and full of content that kids really have to grapple with. There is a lot of inference too - they have to put pieces together to figure out some of what is happening.

Perfect fit for Veteran's Day yesterday was her book, Pink and Say. It takes place during the Civil War, and brings to life two 15 year old boys who are fighting in the Union army.

Let's suffice to say that there are some heavy moments - wounding, death, slavery, racism - and my kids hung on every word. It's a long book too...but it sparked amazing thoughts and discussion from my kids.

Oh, and yes, I cried. I always do. And the kids just patiently wait for me to compose enough to continue reading. Sometimes I explain my tears, sometimes I ask them if they understand why I am affected, sometimes it just goes unsaid.

I heard my kids gasp at one part...what does that mean? They were INVOLVED. They CARED. They REACTED.

And that is all I could ask for...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

New Wimpy Kid is Out!

First off, day two of reading in the morning - peace and quiet - I am loving this!

The past few days have been a waiting game for my three oldest boys. They knew I had pre-ordered (and saved about 12 bucks!) the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, and they were DYING for it to get here in the mail.

We knew the book was released on the 9th, so of course, the mail was the most important thing in the world to get on our way home. Unfortunately, no box yesterday. The sadness and disappointment! Matthew, who checked on Tuesday, stomped his foot after opening our mailbox and seeing nothing but bills (I have much the same reaction).

So they were SURE that yesterday the package would arrive. First, they fought over who was going to get to check the mailbox. We have a neighborhood set of boxes, so we have to stop and use a key before we get home.

Lucky Matt won the toss. He ran quickly to check...but by the slump in his shoulders I could tell it wasn't there.

Then Ben tried to brighten everyones' hopes, "Maybe it was too big and it's on our porch. Sometimes when mom orders books that's what happens."

So Sam starts craning his neck from the backseat as we pull into our driveway. I begin unloading Nick and the various other items I have to drag into the house and I hear, "IT'S HERE!"

As I turn to look, my porch is covered in dropped backpacks, pieces of torn cardboard, and packing wrap. They didn't even wait for scissors to open the box~and Sam stood there and immediately began to read.

Can you say excitement? Those are kids who love books...and yes, I made them clean up the mess...after they read a chapter or two.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

First thing in the morning

My boys have started a new routine...we usually arrive at school about 20-30 minutes before the bell. Therefore, they are in my classroom with me.

Yesterday they figured something out. They could use that time to do their reading homework, freeing up time later.

It is a total win-win. It is so quiet and peaceful in my room right now...I am actually getting things done!

Maybe instead of the TV in the morning, they could start out with a book - like we adults with the morning paper and our coffee (even though sometimes it is electronic versions of the paper).

The tone for the day is so different - they are ready mentally - it's set them up for success.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Rigor in Reading

We have been talking a lot about how in our teaching, we need to be providing rigor - complexity, opportunities for creativity, higher level thinking - every minute of the day.

I say a hearty AMEN.

I have always strived to provide precise teaching - knowing that every moment there is a plan - everything on purpose, that is. I have to know that my children are getting MEAT, not milk.

It's looking not only at what they are reading and writing, but what they are processing with that reading and writing.

Rather than simply retelling, they need to synthesize, analyze. Rather than choosing an answer from a,b, or c...they need to be creating, questioning, and inferring on their own.

We need to be asking questions that get them to think. Think about relationships between characters, motivations, influence...asking it in a way that makes them bring thoughts to the table. Why do you think? How does? Tell me about,,,

And give them time to think. Don't let them just say "I don't know."

Prod - "tell me what you are thinking..." If they say "I don't know," push for an answer (gently) by saying "I know you have great thoughts in your head about this - let's try to find one." Again, if they say they don't know, model what you are thinking. Then have them come up with a thought too. Don't let them off the hook.

Some of it might be they don't know what they are thinking and they just need to be taught to get in touch with their thoughts...others may be passively reading and need to be taught (or kept accountable) for having thoughts while they are reading.

Create opportunity where they bring their thinking to the table. That's where good conversations start. That's when they start understanding that reading is more than a task.

We need kids to be prepared for this world - which is ever changing - they need to be self directed, independent thinking, and able to generate ideas and processes...their brains need to have that exercise now. If all we are giving them is questions with discrete answers and then "let's move on," that's all they will be able to do.

I am all for rigor!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Giving You Feedback, Naturally

If you aren't sure what your child struggles with, watch them when they read -- without them knowing. I learn VOLUMES from body language, facial expressions, and the amount of focus they are giving. Watch for patterns in what they are "willing" to read, and where they are resistant.

I had an experience with my son, Sam, yesterday at the Book Fair (thus the entry entitled "patience"). He repeatedly tried to get me to buy books that were either too easy for him or were sticker books/Star Wars manuals.  Not that anything was wrong with the actual books, but - they weren't the right thing for him. We have more than enough Star Wars, and he needs a challenge to keep him growing as a reader.

He's my one who will always choose the easier route: "That's too long." (and yes, he does exhibit some ADD symptoms and receptive expressive language difficulties) Or, "I don't feel like that one right now."

I knew I shouldn't give in. We'd have to move past this, get over this hurdle, in order for him to get to the next level. 

Therefore, we clashed. I never raised my voice, I just kept talking him through it in a quiet, calm manner. He, however, disintegrated into a crying, whining, can't-handle-life state. 

But I stood my ground, and, a half an hour later, we came to a point where he could chose wisely, he could handle me saying no. 

Some parents would have just put everything back and said "I'm done with your attitude." And I do that, but this time, I knew that we needed to get through this and he would be better for it. Liken it to Annie Sullivan with Helen Keller - I am sure she dealt with her hand worth of tantrums and struggles before they broke through with "Water" as her first word.

So sometimes, it's watching, sensing, knowing what they need and following through (also known as just getting through).

Thursday, November 4, 2010


I have used a lot of it recently. With both a classroom of 40 and 4 at home, I have found that I need to dig deep sometimes.

But, thank goodness, (with some prayer) and some perspective, I keep remembering that they are only kids. And they need time, patience, and guidance. Lots of it, over and over.

Keep that in mind with your kids too. You may feel like you are at tug of war with them over reading at times, but stay focused, cool, and calm.

They will come around, and with each time, they grow -- you might too. I know I do.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hmm..not so sure

I got an email ad from Barnes and Noble for the new! latest! V tech reader -- something touted to help the bittiest children to learn to love to read.

Something didn't sit right with me.

Why would I give another electronic gizmo to my little one (complete with animation) to get them into reading?

I give my kids books.

Ones that don't light up and talk. Ones without buttons.

Here's my gut feeling - they are getting kids ready to be itouch/nook/kindle buyers.

End of story.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Opening up worlds to writing

It is amazing to me, even though I already know this to be true...

Kids that read, write well.

They may not be the best spellers, and punctuation may still be a struggle, but MAN! They can tell a story.

Reading opens worlds, presents ideas, models what they themselves can do. And here's the other thing...now that my kids' stamina for reading is a minimum of 25 minutes, guess what? They can WRITE for that long too.

Today they worked for over 30, and yesterday about the same.

I have one student, A, who has always been a fabulous reader, but hated to write. Today he finished Chapter 3 of an AMAZING piece that I swear sounds like something that could be published. What happened?

I provided opportunity, time, and choice. I didn't limit him. I let him write. And I am so glad.

Sometimes teaching is too rigid - worksheets don't offer limitless responses. That stifles. But then again, it is more demanding for them to create without boundaries...it's scary, and risky.

So hand in hand with time, opportunity, and choice in BOTH reading and writing is SUPPORT. They need to know I am ok with them making mistakes, that I am there to guide, ask questions, and provide a safe place for them.

By the way, post 301 -- that's quite a bit of chat about reading!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Visit your school book fair...

This week is my school's book fair - a perfect opportunity to buy a special treasure for your child (or your child's teacher) :) 

My classroom previewed and made wish lists last Friday. What I really enjoyed was that they were picky! They weren't just goggling the posters and do dads, nor were they just picking out any old book.

They knew what they liked, what would be a "just right" book, and what authors/genres really interested them.

They have come a LONG way in just 9 weeks!

Many of them picked out books that are parts of series they are involved in - Rick Riordan, JK Rowling, Secrets of Droon, Big Nate, and of course the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid due out in a week. But others looked for their favorite authors - Sharon Creech, Patricia MacLauglin, Cynthia Rylant, Dan Gutman, Gordon Korman.

Not one had to ask me, "Is this ok? What book should I pick?" and not one, "I can't find anything, can you help me?"