Wednesday, July 11, 2012's a part of life

Ok, so summer is halfway over here in TX, and I had a mom suggest we offer some Book Clubs to our kiddos from class. For those of you who don't know, I team teach a class of 68 kids...multiage 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders.  This was the first year, and the kids "loop" with us, or go to the next grade with us. So last year's 2nd graders will be the first group to stay with us for 3 years. It's amazing, but I digress...

So I forwarded an email invitation to the 68 and within 2 hours had over 25 ready to go...awesome! My email has an "alert" and it was constant beeping! :)

I mention this to give you an idea of how once the passion for reading is ignited, it's limitless! They even want to meet in the summer!

I'll update you as we get the groups going!!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Books bring "Aha" to things in life...

"The rule that saved my life was that there is an exception to every rule," Aaron Likens, Finding Kansas.

Stop and think about that for a moment. I did. When I really let the depth of that quote hit me, I was doing what I hope for every reader to do with books...let them affect you. Apply. Grapple. Try and find meaning in.

Now that particular quote may not have hit you in the same way it did me, but remember the post I did earlier about readers needing to be "ready."  This statement has incredible meaning to me because it is applicable to someone in MY life, an experience in my world, right now.

It made something make sense for me...outside the book.

BUT - it took effort and energy for me to force myself to stop, not gloss over, and pay attention to that one little sentence amongst a plethora of other sentences. That takes MINDFULNESS as we are reading.

We need to be modeling that when we are reading aloud...we need to teach our children to pause and dwell on smaller parts - maybe not a sentence, but maybe an event that takes place or a character's actions or words. Be choosy. Don't just stop willy-nilly...teach them, so they will start to do it.

They will, by nature, want to give you a quick answer and keep going. But slowing them down and allowing them to "struggle" to go deeper is good.

As they unpack it, they will get to new layers of understanding. Remember, they may not go as deep as you do. They might not be ready due to their schema being less complex about things. That's ok.

You will find as they do, they will also begin to ask questions. Questions about why and how. That's good.

That means they are THINKING

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Call Me Old Fashioned (in this realm of my life anyway)...

"Just get rid of it! It's all there online anyway..."

To be honest, those words from my husband caused me to want to get defensive. I know, I don't read the whole thing every day, but I LOVE getting the newspaper every morning.

I enjoy my coffee (when I have the time), do the crosswords and word puzzles, read the comics (even though a lot of them aren't very funny anymore), and muse over the editorials.

Yes, I could read it online, but I would have to teach myself to enjoy it. I spend enough time at a computer screen doing WORK...that's not relaxing for me. I will admit, it's a rare occasion I will read an article online for myself. I will research and get tons for kids to read, but not for ME.

I think that's where using technology gets blurry. We use it for SO much - social, informational, communication, research - we even Skype or IM rather than using the phone...that's when I start questioning how much I am actually ON the computer (but don't give up reading this blog :) !!!)

I have liked the Kindle for books, but I can't give up holding that newsprint, marking up the paper...and having it around to protect the floor and table during various kid projects.

Yes, it is an expense, but NO, I won't give it up.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My Turn, Your Turn

I started reading a really good book yesterday...Jake and Lily by Jerry Spinelli. I picked it because it was by a favorite author, but also because it involves two characters, twins, telling the story from their own perspectives. One chapter is Jake, then Lily picks up from there in the next chapter. Sometimes they overlap explaining their "side" of the story, but it's like an ongoing, moving forward conversation.

There are TONS of books for adults written this way - it's nice to see children's authors realizing this is a great structure. I am always excited when adults realize that if we like it, kids will too.

Which got me thinking. Kids have mentioned to me how they enjoy books when different characters "write" the chapters. They can sometimes take sides, but often, they learn how the same situation can look completely different from another person's eyes. Readers will wish they could tell a character some piece of information they aren't aware of, or something one character knows that the other doesn't. It creates a cool tension...quietly.

I got to thinking - it would be neat for me to be a character and my boys to be the other, and we can alternate reading "our" chapters. It would be a good exercise in fluency, and the role playing will force them to really pay attention to how the character is thinking, believing, and feeling.

If Jake and Lily aren't your thing, I took time to look up some other titles which have varied narrators. I didn't include picture books, just chapter books. It is in no way comprehensive, just a few suggestions to get you started.

Schooled, No Passengers Beyond This Point, jake and lily, Every Soul a Star, Flipped, Origami Yoda, Wonder, Wonderstruck, The Candymakers, The Homework Machine, The Tale of Despereaux.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

We have to be ready...

"People focus on what they are ready to see." - Ralph Fletcher, Mentor Author, Mentor Texts

This quote came from a book about writing, but I found it struck a chord with me today. It's really true in so many areas of our lives....

But in reading, how can we know what our kids are "ready" for? How can we give them what they are able to digest?

I suggest we be keen listeners. Suggestions like, "Hey, I think you'll like this because you like sports and it's about baseball," or "You read this author before and liked the book," are fine, but I would only make them if your child has stated those preferences themselves. That's how you will know if they are ready. If it comes from them.

In class, I give them small snippets of readings and tell them I need their opinions of them. I have them read them once aloud, and once in their heads, and then I listen.

What stood out to you? Did you like it or no? Why or why not? I ask them their favorite word, sentence or image. If they liked it, it may be the genre, the character, the style of writing, the subject matter.

Make sure you don't make it an interrogation to them as a mutual reader. Also, don't make it a teaching session. You don't need to tell them all of what you notice. You can do that at another time. Focus this experience on them doing the talking and you the listening. You will learn a lot.

Maybe they don't have much to say...that speaks volumes too. I need to keep searching.

Where can you get the readings? has "look inside" for many books, you can use a paragraph/page from those.

If they aren't ready, they will miss it. I think that's why we suggest so many titles and they start, but give up. Some of it is stamina, and that is something to be developed. I am also not saying don't suggest, because that is very important too.

As a teacher, I am always shooting for that very next baby step up...independent + them what they are able to do on their own, but a little bit more so they can grow.

I do a lot of listening.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Stopped me midthought...

This summer my eldest, Matt, graduated to traveling sans the rest of the crew. He flew to my parents, and they have taken him and his cousin to the East Coast for a week.

Matt's been gone for almost two weeks, but he makes daily calls (I am thankful he still wants to talk to me). However, usually it's me who steers the conversation about what he's seen, done, and eaten (gastronomical fun for a few weeks). So I started to chatter.  He took a dramatic pause, ignored the question, and said quietly...

"Mom, I finished the book..." 

There are a few voice tones your children use that cause moms to stop. Not just silent, but everything that's usually buzzing around inside your mind comes to a screeching halt.

This was one of those times. I could tell The Running Dream had hit him deeply.

I love that he lets books make him laugh, cry, and angry. He invests in the characters and cares about what happens to them. Readers like him learn about others who live drastically different lives, have experiences he may never have, and overcome challenges I pray he will never face.  BUT characters are just like us...they love, they rage, they fear, they think.

He wanted to talk about Jessica. How she survived almost losing her life, physically adjusted to being in a wheelchair, worked to walk again with a prosthetic, and didn't fall into a valley of pity and self-loathing (my words there - think of a middle schooler's vocabulary). He was most impressed with her best friend, however. Fiona never, not once, leaves her for new friends. She sacrifices for Jessica with a smile. And then there was Rosa. The girl with CP that Jessica befriends and stands up for.

It sounded to me that he was most relating to the issues of acceptance, friendship, and being confident in yourself that face middle schoolers. Each of these characters were fine with being just were, flaws and all...and true friends not only stick up for each other, and push each other, but they are loyal and rejoice when their friends succeed. He's in that stage where friends like that are hard to find...but they will come.

We talked for 30 minutes...not about New York, but about how he's let the book affect him.

Yes, he took his first leap of independence flying solo to get to my parents, but I see these steps, where he is developing independence mentally.

Books can do that. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Keep going

Today is a busy one...which is what I want to quickly talk about. Summer, with all the spoils of extra time, can actually be a time where our reading habits get crowded out.

Set a time each day - a scheduled time that can't be interrupted - like an appointment. And don't waiver. Yes, the kids would rather play outside, or videos, or swim...and having home all day can be tiring for you and you may weaken. I understand!

But keep it up. You don't want to get to the end of the summer and say, "I wish we had done more reading..."

And it can be fun! It doesn't have to be, "You can't do ____ unless you do your reading first..." Ask them to read and tell you what adventure their character had that day. Be curious about what happens next in their book. Sit down and read a little to get them started.

Rounding the bend on the end of the first month...this is where your endurance needs to kick in! :)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

How to Help Them Transition

Yesterday I was talking with a friend about her child's reading. She expressed a common habit that kids get into...reading the same (most of the time too easy for them) series over and over. They don't want to branch out. Sometimes it's fear, sometimes it's just the effort.

I suggested that she get a book a little above where the current series is, and look for one with more plot or character development. Instead of having the child read it alone, they should read it together and talk about the deeper themes and the thinking it's producing.

Sometimes kids just need that modeling to take the next step. I know that many kids have tried new books/authors simply because of a read aloud we've done together. I have talked them through how I am thinking about it and what images are coming to my head and supported them in doing the same thing. It bridges them to the next step. They are coached to the next level.

It's a great way to introduce them to new genres too. I actually became more of a fan of fantasy after I read a few to them. :)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What's the Issue?

I have been ruminating over a thought since the school year ended. 

There has been lots of debate here in Texas over state testing, whether it's a good measure, whether it's too hard, whether the accountability is taking the joy out of learning and putting too much pressure on the kids.Curriculum and standards are changing nationally, and there are people who are questioning those as well.

My thought has been about how we are spending too much time debating the wrong things. There will always be people on both sides of the spectrum...there will always be disagreement.

We should, and I do, shift my attention to the thing we ALL agree on...we want the absolute BEST education for our child, we want them to come out of our classrooms armed with the ability to be successful in our world. RIGHT?

In my 20 years of teaching, I have been a part of enough presentations with teachers, grad students, and administrators. I hear a lot of buzzwords: "I want them to become life long learners," " to love learning," and "I am using best practices." 

But...I hear a lot of "I want to create," "I want to make my classroom," "I want the kids to understand..." I may be picking at language here, however, those statements are lacking. I don't doubt the sincerity and the good intentions, but those statements feed into the arguments above: that there is some sort of perfect "method" that works best, and it's our job to have that all in place in order for kids to learn.

I completely disagree. Our world is all but static, stable, and predictable. We need to be teaching kids to be flexible, to take on challenge, and to look at things as problem solvers. That's what's going to make them successful.

Intrinsic learners, capable of looking at any test, any piece of literature, any math problem, any science query...and THINKING. Not just searching for a set of steps they memorized to get through the task, but LEARNING through doing it. 

Behaving like learners means treating life like a puzzle without a box top to show you it's completed picture (which, in my life for sure, it is). When you are doing a puzzle, you know certain things...edges have straight sides, corner pieces look different, and each has a specific cut which matches somewhere. You are fully capable of figuring how it goes together. It just takes time and THOUGHT.

Those of you who know me know I have done a great deal of reading brain research and brain based teaching. It's amazing. The brain/body/emotion connection is huge. So are there ways that are better to teach? Yes.

Do I sound contradictory? But ways/materials/strategies (for lack of a better word, stuff) is merely that. It's more that what you do with's YOU. 

How many of you have ever heard your kids tell you they had fun learning on the computer? Think about the words they use to tell you and their emotional attachment. OK, now think about your kids talking about a favorite teacher - things they said/did - and how long they remembered them...Yes, there is a distinct difference.

Here's another example of what I mean. I have always taught reading from literature. From books. Not a textbook. Textbooks have come a long way in including good literature, and there is nothing inherently wrong with them. But think...did you prefer reading your college textbooks, articles, or  trade books that discussed the same subject matter? Think about the way in which you approached each of those types of reading. Which is the most motivating? Think as your child...which would give you the impression that reading is a task...reading is for fun...reading is part of life? 

Teaching has definitely grown in this area. Teachers are using book sets more than ever. However, I don't want to make the issue about the kind of material, the structure of the classroom, or the routines. Again, those are so very important to making the environment prime for learning, BUT...and here's what I want the focus to be...the PEOPLE factor is the key.  The approach is not "You need to learn to read" but "you ARE a reader."

Add RELATING and CONNECTING to kids with respect, admiration, and high expectation - they will TRUST. With trust in me, I can teach them to be trusting of THEMSELVES. I can show them, through whatever content, that they are capable beyond their wildest imagination. They have things INSIDE that are not only worthy of sharing and's ESSENTIAL to the world that they do.

That's how they develop the sense that they matter. That learning matters, because they get to think. 

That is what is going to take away the issue of what the test looks like, what the standards look like...because teaching will have shifted the focus to teaching kids the one important thing...that THEY ARE THINKERS.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fluency Strugglers

I want to take a few days to focus on some specific reading struggles and how to find books to match. Keep in mind each child is so complex and that each "struggle" can have many different facets. I will generalize a bit, but feel free to email me or comment with specifics on your child and I can try to help.

Kids who struggle with fluency (how smoothly, fluidly the read) may be stopping word to word, every few words, or they may add a filler ( to give themselves a chance to process the next word. There has been a ton of focus on fluency in the past 10-15 years and how kids need it in order to comprehend. Again, there may be limits in their phonics (letter/sound) or phonemic awareness (the combination of letter sounds) or they simply haven't engaged the feeling that what they are reading is what people are saying and doing. Reading is simply saying words to them.

For fluency kids, you hear teachers say to "take a step back." Careful. This doesn't mean that they need to read repetitive, vocabulary controlled books. They still need that quality (like I said yesterday).

What you need to look for may be an easier level, but they have a certain something that gets kids to want to read it out loud, and to say it like the characters do.

Graphic novels like Big Nate, Baby Mouse and even comics are good for this. They can practice talking like the character. They can inflect feelings and add tension by modulating their voices.

My ABSOLUTE favorite for fluency is Mo Willems. From the very youngest of age, his Cat is Cat, Piggie and Gerald series, Pigeon/Puppy Series, and Knuffle Bunny will ring a bell with your kids. And I use it with 3rd graders. They are not too old! They laugh and really get into character. I swear Mo is a MASTER at crafting books that lend themselves to so many wonderful pathways to teaching fluency.

He uses speech bubbles, lots of punctuation, varied fonts and font sizes...perfect for trying out fluent talking. Ask your child why they think he uses those techniques, and then relate it to how the character is feeling. For example, if Piggie is shouting, the font is usually huge, bold, and there are exclamation marks in the bubble. Compare that to when Piggie is sad or shy - the font is tiny, thin, and there are periods.  Kids need to understand that the author does EVERYTHING ON PURPOSE - including those funny punctuation marks. They need to pay attention to them so they know how to make their voice sound.

You may think in looking at the books that I am will think it's too babyish...NO WAY. You read it first -- you'll laugh! Trust me.

But here's the thing to remember: if they aren't varying their voice, they probably aren't understanding what the character is trying to get across. Take the time to read it together, you can model, they can repeat. Or you can read it where each of you take the role of different characters and act it out.

Once they have those mastered, move to new books. Look for ones with lots of dialogue first. Kids with fluency issues seem to do better when they are reading what characters are saying. Then move on to less and less dialogue.

Will their fluency change to perfect just like that? Well, sometimes it takes longer than you think...stick with it. Don't give up, and don't let them give up. Just enjoy the point they are - enjoy the books. Stay with the focus that reading is fun...they will give up if they are just "getting through the books to read better."

Monday, June 18, 2012

Choosing Books to Suggest

Getting books for kids can be challenging...but it can be really fun too!

Today I will focus on choosing the book part, and then talk about identifying kids needs and matching books to readers later.

I think about the books I read as a kid - Nancy Drew really stands out. Initially, I dove into the pages, rapt with each suspenseful moment. Then I began thinking, "This is predictable, but I still like them." I made a new goal to keep me reading them...I would read the whole series! The mysteries had lost their luster, but I was feeling memories are pretty blurry for a while, but in the same year I had finished the series, two books came into my life that changed EVERYTHING.

One was Rawling's The Yearling and the second was E.B. White's Charlotte's Web. I remember crying with the main characters and grappling with themes that touched my heart.

What was the difference? Why do I make that comparison?

I think of Carolyn Keene as the Jeff Kinney or Mary Pope Osborne of my time (yes, I am old). Those books are great to pull kids in, but not enough to give them the "meat" they need. Again, those books are great for certain things (my boys have read them), but...

The books I pick for my classroom library have to have certain criteria. Normally, I look for favorite authors. Authors I have read before who I know WRITE WELL. That is the number one thing on my list. It must be written well. If not, even the best story will fall flat.

To test, I start by reading the blurb (book jacket). Sometimes there are reviews, and I will take those into consideration. But that's not enough. I have to read the first page of a few chapters. Again, the writing will immediately stand out. Figurative language, description, imagery and character dialogue will be evident.

This is more essential than you may think for kids. Even at the earliest of readers, there will be well written (Cynthia Rylant). If not, your child will get bored. It's also MUCH easier to teach kids with good writing. For later chapter book readers, it's absolutely CRITICAL.

It won't take long to develop a discerning palate. Spend an hour or so going through the bookshelves of your library or bookstore.

Don't hesitate to ask librarians, book sellers, and others for their recommendations. That's a GREAT place to start.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Taking off the Authority Hat

Time and time again, I am asked, "How DO you do it?" How come I can suggest books to my child numerous times with flat refusal, but when YOU suggest one, I can't stop them from reading!"

Well, it's not that simple...and not every suggestion I make is a home run. FOR SURE.

But there are some things I do that make a difference.

First off, I approach with confidence. They know first off, that I am good at this...I know books, and that can't be argued. It's like having an Olympian as a coach. You don't doubt they know their stuff.

Secondly, I ask questions and listen. What are their interests? What have they read last? What makes them laugh? If they have trouble with those questions, I ask more. Taking the time to do this makes all the difference in the world.

Even if you think you know your child, reading lives are extremely personal, and it takes a while to understand them. Most of the time, the focus is on getting the kids to IMPROVE - which translates to your child that this is hard, it is something they have to master and accomplish, and that they can "arrive." 

That's not my approach. I want them to learn that reading is a facet of's enriching, exciting, fun, and  exactly the opposite of a task to be "done." 

Think about it...when was the last time you put reading on your "to do" list, and then checked it off?

I have an especially tricky spot too, because quite a few kids who enlist me for help in finding a book think that reading is an assignment from me...something they are doing because I want them to. They have been asked for repeated years to keep logs, read an amount of minutes, etc. Not that there is anything wrong with any of those things! (I like them to do those, but I tell them to look at them as ways they can keep track of what they have read, how much they have grown, how much time they spent in such a great endeavor -- like a scrapbook of reading, so to speak).

Here's what I think I do that breaks that perspective - I talk to them about their reading as a mutual reader.

What does that mean?

It means, just like we talk about books, I talk to them that way - not a "what-did-you-read-today,""tell-me what-the-character-did" questioning way - but an "oh-my-gosh-can-you-believe-that-part" and "I-couldn't-stop-reading-at-that-part-either" way. It's subtle, but makes all the difference in the world.

Kids pick up on sincerity, interest, and curiosity. I read a phrase somewhere recently that passion is at the core of excellence...and it inspires.

It's kind of like taking off my teacher and mom hat for a moment and putting on my READER hat. Once I stop looking at this as my job to do, they realize too that I am not doing this just because it's my job.

And that's what's enjoyable. 

Do I really forget that this is my job and what needs to be done with each one? NO! Being a teacher is being a coach and always thinking of each individual and how I can help them each grow. I have examined where they are, listened to them read, and actively made plans for them BEFORE the moment I am helping them. I don't pull it out and say, hmm...let me see, what did I plan for you? 

So, what does this mean for you? Talk to your kids as a reader. Gasp, laugh, and cry at what they are reading. 

I can talk more about how I make those other plans - and how to pick quality books to match those plans - tomorrow.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Brain Break

Today I am going to delve into a professional book, Boy Writers, Reclaiming Their Voices, by Ralph Fletcher. It's not the first time I have read it, or bought it --

I have a rather relaxed "check out" policy in my room. It isn't the most economically savvy, but I don't mind. Books come and go as kids start and finish -- but sometimes they don't come back.

That's ok. I maintain the hope that it was read, loved, and someday...when the bookshelves are being cleaned, it will be found and a fond memory of reading (and me) will rise to the surface. If it's returned, that's only a bonus...hopefully, it's passed on and someone else is captivated by it.

That's the case for this book. I loaned it to a teacher friend sometime, somewhere...but it's always been in my mind as a book I have wanted to re-read. So...thank you Amazon, I have another copy (I made sure my name was on the front this time in Sharpie).

I know I told you I would talk about how I select books today, and I will get to that...I promise.

For today, I wanted to point out how I naturally shifted from fiction after about 5 books to delve into a different genre. Half of me knows I should, but part of me is craving something different so I can process differently and give my fiction "muscles" a break.

Know that your children need to be taught those rhythms...that we don't shift genre only because the teacher has assigned it, or the library has a rule about making sure you have a numerical variety at check out. It's something we NEED as living readers.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

a MUST read!

How can I put this into words...Wendelin Van Draanen has written a book with the rhythm and freedom of the subject matter wrapped in an amazing and powerful package. The Running Dream is so much more than a story of recovery. It's got sweetness, and suspense, and grit. Each page turns gracefully, like a runner's gait.

HIGHLY RECOMMEND this one. I started it today at noon and finished it at about 5...front to back. Yes, it resonated with me. I am a medical miracle as a brain tumor and twice melanoma survivor. I understand the road to recovery and the gift of a second chance. I also understand the power of pushing through pain and what the body can do when you believe, set goals, and have support. It's about step at a time.

It also reminds me that we all have our challenges, some more evident than others. And they aren't always physical.  We need to start with an open mind - believing the BEST about and the MOST of everyone..."I want people to see me, not my condition." We all want to be seen, understood, and loved for who we truly are - we don't want to be judged, labelled, or put into a neat little box.

What I loved about it most was that everyone can find joy in this book. It's a message that will make the world a much better place and each one of us appreciative of what we have.

As Promised...A Few Suggestions

Summer, now that my boys are more independent, affords me time...time to read that I don't have during the school year.

Throughout the year, I have been stockpiling a list of what I want to read. There are some good adult nonfiction and novels, but the bulk of my reading desires entail the latest children's books.

Here's a few I have already read:

Hound Dog True by Linda Urban: Linda is a personal friend of mine from California. Her first novel was Texas Bluebonnet Nominee A Crooked Kind of Perfect. Well written, clean, and a perfect read for 4th/5th grade girls. Themes are deep, but not overwhelming and they will relate with the character. I read it cover to cover in one day!

Wonder by RJ Palacio: A great book to help kids walk a mile in someone else's shoes. Especially good for kids to step outside the world they see and see from a different perspective. Boys and girls alike...3rd and up.

Junonia by Kevin Henkes: Kevin is one of my fave authors. This chapter book is sweet and deals with change and maturation. Again, a great read for 4th/5th grade girls.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia: Multiple award winner. Taking place in the late 60's...themes of the time from a child's point of view. This would be one that would be worth having lots of background knowledge of the influential people, events, and reasons behind feelings people had during that time. Powerful book, but lots will be missed if they don't understand the impact of the characters' choices and actions. WELL written, age appropriate.

On My Honor by Marion Bauer: A Newbery award winner. Captivated by this one. Dramatic and deep. Influential book for 3rd and up about choices - content is heavy, involving dealing with a death of a character. I highly recommend this book. All my boys read it and really liked it. We had GREAT discussions as they were reading and afterwards.

Here's a list of books I recently bought that I will be working my way through:

One Day and One Amazing Morning by Joanne Rocklin (mystery)
SOS Titanic by Eve Bunting (historical fiction chapter book by my FAVORITE author!)
Jake and Lily by Jerry Spinelli (another fab author - it's about twins)
May B. by Caroline Starr Rose (historical fiction again)
Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood (magic and fantasy)
The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen (this is my next one)

My son Sam finished On My Honor and is currently reading and recommending:

Big Nate- What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (a new graphic installment)
George Brown, Class Clown by Nancy Krulik (easy chapter book)

Four Year Old Nick Recommends:

Happy Pig Day! by Mo Willems (for the beginning readers on up!)

My middle schooler, Matt, is reading Game Changers by Mike Lupica and he also already read On My Honor.

How do I choose and how do I help kids be selective? More on that tomorrow...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Next Step and an Example

Ok, so now you and your child have looked at your current reading life. It's time to ask yourself, what is it that I want? What are my goals?

I don't have to go into the explanation of why goals are important. You know that. But...your child might need you to spend some time talking about why READING is important, and why goals are important.

HOWEVER...don't give them a list of reasons. That gives them the impression that reading is a task to be accomplished, and it doesn't become part of them.

I have found in teaching that it is FAR more effective to talk to them about why I am passionate about it , why I find it important, and why I chose my goals. It's contagious, I promise. You may need to spend a minute right now making an inventory for yourself.

There will be many of your kids who don't have any idea of goals...but they may very well surprise you. They do know what they need to grow, and sometimes set very lofty endeavors.

Our job is to help them break down the long term goal into manageable steps.

Let's focus on one example which involves book selection and stamina:

My son Ben told me he wanted to read a chapter book cover to cover without skipping and reading something else in between or abandoning it. A great goal...but I knew he hadn't been successful in several attempts to do that over the year, so we set up some smaller steps.

First, we started by talking about what kind of book - fiction, nonfiction, what topic, etc. Depending on how well you know your child and your child knows their interests, this could be a short or long discussion. Many kids haven't found that spark in any particular book, and that may be a goal in itself. Book selection is going to be 90% of the deal...It's so crucial!

He had a hard time, so I laid out about 6 books in his "just right" level for him to look at (just right books can be found early on in the blog). He read the blurbs (on the back of the book or book jackets) and then narrowed it to two. We talked about the reasons he picked those two. I asked this important question: "What is SPECIFICALLY pulling you to this book?" I want to see if his motivation is intrinsic, knee-jerk, or general. The more specific and internally motivated, the more likely he will be to stick with it, enjoy it, and want to read again.

We had just finished the book Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper in class (AMAZING book by the way...see earlier posts about it...I can't rave enough about it), so he chose Wonder by RJ Palacio. It's about a boy who was born with a prominent facial deformity who is going to school for the first time as a 5th grader. Ben told me that he wanted to learn more about another person who is different that himself like Melody in Out of My Mind who has to work to do everyday things that are easy for him and like Rick and Dick Hoyt (real life dad and son who do Ironman competitions together - dad pulls/pushes adult son who has severe cerebral palsy).

Three things stood out from his answer that made me think this was a match. #1 - he was connecting it to  another book that had him captivated. He had invested in a character -- he cared. I knew this because he called her by name and understood that he learned not to take things he does for granted. #2, he was relating it to something inspiring to him. Finally, he wanted to know more.

For his goal, we made a reading log and he set a daily amount of pages he'd like to shoot for. I estimated the time it would take him to finish the book and we looked at it on the calendar. We talked about what was going to be challenging (reading every day) and that there would be obstacles (friends, pool, TV, etc.) that would be enticing for him rather than reading. He and I came up with a plan for how we'd handle those situations. He suggested a time in the day that he thought would work best too.

So far, he's been doing well. I might add that I read the book he's reading, so we are able to talk about it along the way. Secondly, the book is well written and has a great story line, so he's pulled in.

Tomorrow I will give you a list of the books I have bought/read recently.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Where Did Time Go???

It takes longing to bring one back...and sometimes it's just time.

Summer's here, and I have just realized that it's been over 9 months since I have posted. Not that I had forgotten - there simply was not enough time in the day.

This year was one of trying new things, using what works, and growing and adapting. Multiage, new partners, 70 kids, new assessment...each day an adventure in itself.

I learned a lot. I changed - my passion for the art of teaching reading and writing became even stronger, but broader...

Which is leading me to think about this blog, about how it can change and reflect that growth. I will continue the reading focus (I have already finished four books and only been out of school 5 days), but also how to get kids to write too.

Sprinkled in will be things that tie into knowing how the brain works. I have done lots with Mindfulness (thanks to Goldie Hawn's Ten Mindful Minutes and MindsUp curriculum. POWERFUL!

My goal will be to blog every day - to share something that will enrich the reading and writing life of not only your child, but you as well. I assume since you have interest in your child reading, you yourself would eagerly apply new reading ideas too! :)


Step one.

Get a notebook, spiral, binder...something that you will enjoy writing in every day. In class, we call them our "notebooks" and they are our TREASURE. It's where we put down our thoughts and ideas, where we grow as readers and writers. This is YOUR notebook. Allow your child to make one too - they can personalize it in any way that is special to them.

Organize it in a way that works for you. We have a notebook for reading, and one for writing, but you can section one in half if you want. We also have sections in each notebook. Our reading notebook has post its that mark a space for our reading identity (first 8 pages), strategies and responses (the bulk/middle part), and a log (count 10 pages from the last page). You can also just go front to back chronologically. It's again, up to you. Let your child pick them both ways, but let them choose.

I have learned that there is a time in kids' lives where they need to learn organization from us, and there is a time when they need to start personalizing their organization. I've noticed girls seem to start owning it in about 2nd grade. Boys, on the other hand, need nudging to start owning it in 3rd (would make an interesting research study!). More on gradual release later...

Task for today:

Write down what you have been reading. Internet articles, magazines, books -- if your list is sparse, don't fret...that's good to know!

Look at the list. What does it tell you about YOU as a reader? What genres are there? Do you have preferences? Know yourself as a reader. We all go through phases. For me, I don't read much for "fun" until summer, when I am more relaxed. There are also times where I have just finished something "meaty" or deep, and I need a brain break with a quick People magazine. Note those things.

Take a minute to journal under your list about what you know now about yourself as a reader. Date it. Later on, you can do this very same exercise and you will see differences - growth, change, and maturation as a reader (and person).

Now it's time for you to do the same thing with your child. Even preschoolers...they can draw, scribble, can transcribe their list. The act of THEM writing is crucial. They need to know this is their work, not yours.

It's ok to coach. You are not giving them answers. Remember a coach helps YOU achieve -- their passion infuses the athlete to go beyond, even when the body is tiring (or whining or complaining). They need to write something about themselves as a reader under the list. Know that they may or may not notice things about themselves. That's ok, and good to know. Point out what you notice. "I see you like to read Graphic Novels...Fantasy...I notice it's kind of hard for you to remember what you've read...I like how you thought of something!" Encourage, don't set goals yet. That's tomorrow...