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What's on your list?

December 20, 2013 4:40:52 PM

It's holiday gift giving time. I made my shopping easier this year as I decided just about everyone on my list will get lasting gifts — books, of course! What's baby or toddlerhood without Mother Goose rhymes? So the youngest children will receive one of my favorite, most accessible collections: Colors and Opposites (Chronicle). There's a 7-year old boy who doesn't particularly like to read but who loves building things so I think he'll get Cool Creations in 35 Pieces by Sean Kenney (Holt), a nearly wordless guide to making lots of different things with Lego blocks. (A few new Legos will round out that gift.) For a fine read-aloud for an entire family, I'm giving a copy of Kathi Appelt's National Book Award finalist The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp (Atheneum). This charming story of loyalty, loss and friendship is sure to engage everyone. A friend of mine has a new grandchild. She remembers reading Tomie dePaola's books to her own daughter, so she's getting a copy of dePaola's Christmas Remembered (Puffin), sure to remind her of her family's traditions — and lasting enough to share when that grandbaby is older. Wouldn't it be lovely if there was book on every bed for every holiday or celebration? In fact, that's a suggestion from the Family Reading Partnership. They believe that not only do books make great gifts but books make a huge difference to all children, especially the hard-to-reach. Here's hoping that your holidays are happy and filled with good memories and lots of stories!

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Don't forget the book on the bed!

Laurie

December 19, 2013 12:39:47 PM

This is our family's fourth year for "a book on every bed," and it's one part of my shopping that I really look forward to! Three years ago, the Family Reading Partnership and Ask Amy from the Chicago Tribune launched a homegrown, grassroots literacy campaign with a goal to raise a generation of readers. The idea was inspired by the author David McCullough, who says he woke to a wrapped book at the foot of his bed every Christmas morning during his childhood. Here's how it works: Choose a book. Wrap it. Place it on a child's bed so it's the first thing the child sees on Christmas morning (or the morning of the holiday you celebrate). That's it. "A Book on Every Bed" is an appeal to spread the love of reading from parents to children. It also encourages families to share books by reading aloud. As I've written, one of my favorite aspects of this tradition is that the book can be new or it can be a beloved copy of a childhood favorite. In the past, we've given our girls our much-loved copies of The Giving Tree, and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. The books belonged to me and my husband as children, but now our girls are proud owners of those treasures. I like to think that someday they'll be wrapping up those same books for their own growing readers. While those choices were highly sentimental, this year's choices reflect their busy schedules. With limited time to read and the demands of their school reading, our older daughter will wake to some Garfield (who doesn't love Garfield?) We went with a three pack to extend the fun a bit. Our younger daughter will read and reread National Geographic Kids 125 True Stories of Amazing Animals. She loves that sort of book! Every year I hope the book on the bed will keep them in bed just a little later on Christmas morning. So far that hasn't happened, but it has been nice for them to have a new book to curl up with once the bustle of Christmas morning has passed. Happy Holidays to you and your family. I'll see you again in 2014!

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Making a list? Check these twice!

Laurie

December 08, 2013 12:30:23 PM

If you're like me, you're scurrying around looking for the perfect gift for a child in your life. Below are some helpful gift suggestion lists I've come across. Maybe you'll find just what you were looking for! A treasure trove of resources from Jen Robinson's Growing Bookworms Newsletter. Be sure to look through the links she shared on Twitter. Lots and lots of book suggestions! Parents' Choice offers children's media and toy reviews, which are sortable by age, price, and award. You may want to take a peek at their awards for Toys, Mobile Apps and Magazines. Common Sense Media offers up a Holiday Gift Guide with over 100 holiday gift ideas "hand-selected to inspire, educate, and entertain kids of all ages and stages." I got several good ideas from the list, but don't tell my girls! For the adults on your list, how about a banned book bracelet or a Shakespeare pill box? Those are just two of the ideas from this fun list of 10 unique gifts for book lovers. And don't forget our very own 2013 Books as Gifts Buying Guide. Lots of things go away quickly. But stories and books have sticking power and can be shared time and time again. Try a new story, revisit an old favorite. How about a story of fact or perhaps a fantasy? Stories can be read alone, together, aloud or quietly. Pick up a book for yourself and your favorite child this season.

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A wide divide

December 05, 2013 5:37:47 PM

Have you ever thought of how the digital world influences us — and by extension, our children? A number of recent articles made me rethink access, about the use and popularity of digital books by young readers (and their parents), and about what and how is presented in them in both mediums. We've all heard about the digital divide; a Pew study reports that 70 percent of American households have Internet connectivity. That's the good news. The bad news is that broadband access still breaks down along socioeconomic lines. Most of those who have Internet access solely by smart phone are more likely to be in a lower socioeconomic group and to be a minority. In a recent Salon article, Larry Ortega seems to suggest that the divide may be even deeper. He contends that another digital divide is emerging: "one between 'digital consumers' on one hand and 'digital contributors' on the other" — with a potentially significant impact on perspectives presented. On the other hand, there's interesting research citing young people's preference for physical books. Books are three-dimensional, often handsome works of art, and need nothing other than a source of light to enter into them. Plus, they can be shared easily with groups or in families. Books (like high-speed broadband access) can also be limited by social and economic factors. Reading Is Fundamental says that in "underserved communities, only one in 300 children own books." How can we help level the playing field? Why is a level field crucial? Is it even possible to achieve? These and many other questions are likely to continue long into the New Year.

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The power of books and text sets

Laurie

November 20, 2013 12:57:23 PM

We've all read books whose plot or main character stay with us for a long time. With kids, books can be a great and subtle way to illustrate personality traits we may want to engender. Collections of books with similar themes (sometimes called "text sets") give teachers and parents a way to focus on a theme but do so in such a way that you're not beating your kid over the head with the same message over and over again. Years ago I wrote about a text set on persistence whose message of perseverance and persistence we still refer to around our house. ("Sometimes you gotta Tillie it…") using Tillie and the Wall as our reference. A really great resource called the Mind in the Making Book Collection recently became available. Mind in the Making partnered with First Book to create a book collection that combines children's books with tips for building Mind in the Making's Seven Essential Life Skills, including Focus and Self Control, Making Connections, Critical Thinking and Taking on Challenges. For each book, users will find an age group recommendation and a tip sheet for using the book with your child. The book suggestions make great additions to any home or classroom library!

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A boy, a birthday, and a fresh take on a bunny book

November 18, 2013 4:17:30 PM

Books always make terrific gifts, but it's possible that kids don't always like the books adults think are charming. A recent book brings that point home with laugh out loud humor. Plus a book that makes even experienced readers check twice to make sure that it has been untouched by an aspiring child-artist. I have read, reread, guffawed, and shared with lots of friends — experienced and inexperienced readers — one such book. Battle Bunny (Simon & Schuster) is the result of collaboration between two creative, talented, thoughtful, and offbeat, sometimes irreverent book creators whose work continues to push the envelope and always engaging young readers. What happens to the tale of a sweet birthday bunny at the hands of Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett? It's sure to delight and surprise readers of all ages. A sweet, handwritten inscription from "Gran Gran" to Alexander appears on the title page. Clearly, the story of the doe-eyed bunny is too sugary for Alexander who, with a pencil, adapts the book art to create a battle worthy of the toughest forest critters. Think 'Golden Book illustration' meets 'third grade boy combat art.' Young readers, parents, and educators are invited to follow up with a visit to a website where there are links to allow artists (or other sweet birthday bunny detractors) to adapt their own art as well as ways to incorporate the book into a curriculum. It's funny and fresh — and makes an interesting commentary on the disparity between adult and kids' penchants.

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Much ado about media

Laurie

November 05, 2013 11:00:23 AM

Screen time for young kids has been in the news a lot lately. The last few days of October gave us two new resources on the topic of children's media use.

First, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued new guidance on managing children's and adolescents' media use. Access to the new policy requires a subscription to the American Academy of Pediatrics, but the press release provides a glimpse into the thinking:

Second, CommonSense Media summarized their findings from a series of surveys designed to understand the media environment for kids ages 8 and under. In a concise infographic we see several trends:

Here at Reading Rockets, we offer up Children and Digital Media: Rethinking Parent Roles in which we provide guidance in two areas in which technology can provide a good literacy boost. This includes exposure to new words and learning more about interesting topics. We encourage parents to think about themselves as "media mentors" and to be an active participant in your child's media use.

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Six words can say so much

Laurie

October 24, 2013 1:20:35 PM

As LD Awareness month winds down, I want to share a few words (literally!) with you. They come from the 6 Word Parent Story contest that the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) ran earlier this month. NCLD received over 1,400 entries from parents of kids with learning differences. The parent entries range from hopeful, "No longer three grade levels behind," and "Sarah is smart, and is trying," to those that made me nod with understanding, "Silent e's. She hates them passionately," to those that made me sad, "Why can't we find help??" and "Son out of district. Parents broke," and finally, those that made me chuckle, "We three have ADHD! Go squirrels!" Each one holds important meaning for its author. I encourage you to read them for yourself! In response to the contest, NCLD's Learning Advisory Board wrote 6 word encouraging phrases back to parents. Those phrases included great reminders: "Your child succeeds with your support," and "Never stop being passionate about yours," to things to consider, "Collaboration is a road to success," and "Good intervention can dramatically improve outcomes," to my favorite: "Of course we can do it!" Six words can say so much! What's your six-word phrase?

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Learning from graphics

Laurie

October 17, 2013 11:32:20 AM

There's real value in spending instructional time helping kids decipher the information found in graphic form. Textbooks, nonfiction books, and magazines are chock full of diagrams, tables, charts, and graphs. Visual information used to be limited to bold words and captioned pictures, but nowadays infographics, maps, and interactive tools carry a lot of the content weight within a piece of text. Successfully navigating these graphics, especially in STEM and content-area subjects, will lead to greater comprehension. The September 2013 issue of the Reading Teacher has a helpful article on this topic. Diagrams, Timelines, and Tables — Oh My! Fostering Graphical Literacy (Roberts et al). Within the article, authors describe and provide examples of several common graphical devices, including different types of diagrams, maps, tables, and timelines. There are also suggested children's texts to use when introducing each type of graphic. The authors provide guidance for teachers that can help students navigate graphics more successfully. One suggestion includes talking about graphics during read-alouds. It appears especially important to help students understand that good readers use graphics to deepen their understanding of the text. A second suggestion is to fill the classroom environment with graphics and use these as a part of daily classroom routine. For example, "preparing for recess by consulting a table that indicates ranges of outside temperatures, whether recess will be inside or outside, and appropriate clothing." I think students would have a lot of fun with that! What other ways have you engaged your students with visual information? Related topic: Infographics for young kids

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Too good to be true? Treatments and therapies for LD

Laurie

October 07, 2013 1:25:41 PM

Parents of kids who struggle in school want to help their child in any way they can. This is especially true for parents of kids with learning disabilities. I've sat through many conferences with parents of a child with LD who are eager to find "the thing" — the type of instruction, the experience, or the treatment that will help their child struggle less and succeed in school. Unfortunately, there's a lot of junk out there claiming to be that "thing" that will "treat" a child's learning disability. Fortunately, there's a new resource to help parents navigate their way through claims that are too good to be true. The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) website has a section dedicated to Treatments and Therapies. Within the pages, you'll read about some warning signs of bogus treatments (Does it sound too good to be true? Is the treatment based on a secret formula?) and some things to look for (Are there well-designed studies? Have those findings been replicated?) Browsing through the articles, you'll find information about Convergence Insufficiency, an eye coordination disorder, auditory training therapy, and some thoughts to consider if you're thinking about complementary and alternative therapies. The NCLD pages are helpful, though no specific products or therapies are mentioned by name. There are other reliable, no-nonsense sources of information that I use fairly regularly. These include John Lloyd's LD Blog where you can read about many topics that surround the topic of LD, including advocacy, interventions, instructions, and research (and be sure to read the "bologna" articles!), and Daniel Willingham's Science and Education blog, where Dr. Willingham writes on a wide variety of topics (most recently tracking and math self-concept and the vocabulary development of toddlers). October is LD Awareness Month, so I hope you'll use these resources — and others — to become a good consumer of information about LD!

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Board books: Three a day keeps the reading specialist away

Laurie

September 27, 2013 11:46:29 AM

That's essentially what I write in every card as I hand over a stack of board books to expectant mom friends: "Three a day keeps the reading specialist away." After a chuckle and a roll of the eyes, my Mom-to-be friends add our tried and true board book titles to the pile of baby gifts and toys. But I'm happy, knowing that those board books will be loved and chewed on for years to come. My standard stack includes Jamberry, which taught us all a rhyme we can STILL recite, "One berry, two berry, pick me a blueberry," Mrs. Wishy Washy, whose wishy-washy rhythm had my very young daughter waving her chubby little hand to help "wash" the animals, and Good Night Gorilla, a book my husband loved to read to the girls the most. (His use of different voices made it so fun for all who listened.) As you can see, my stack doesn't include usual suspects such as Goodnight Moon, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? or The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Those wonderful titles are also must-haves, but I like to share our own family favorites for something different. Most people have their favorite board books (and memories that go along with them!) Here are a few ideas in case you too are looking to share the love of reading with friends and babies: New York Times Board Book Round Up article and slideshow A list from Parents Magazine A fun list with an eye towards design Must-haves from the School Library Journal

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Why field trips are worth the effort

September 25, 2013 1:26:47 PM

Taking a group of children for an outing can be rough — perhaps more so for adults than for the young people. After all, it's up to parents and teachers to keep track of their charges, worry about transportation, safety, snacks, and more. So why bother? Because field trips make a difference. There's research that supports field trips to art museums, aka "culturally enriching" activities, has a significant and positive impact on students. In my experience, almost all family or class outings can make a positive impact. I was reminded of this when I attended, the 13th annual National Book Festival in Washington DC recently. On a cloudy Saturday and a bright Sunday there were lots of families with young children and huge groups of young people from schools in the region (some from its farthest reaches), easily identified and highly visible in bright tee shirts emblazoned with school names. Many attendees were starstruck by their favorite authors — Phyllis Naylor, author of the Alice series, Matthew Quick who wrote Silver Linings Playbook, the novel turned into movie, National Ambassadors Jon Scieszka and Katherine Paterson and many, many more authors and illustrators for readers of all ages — informed, inspired, challenged and engaged. Lines to have books signed were often long. But the kids and their adults waited patiently for the chance to have their treasures signed by the people who wrote them, to meet them face-to-face, to share a bit of admiration or ask a question. Hear the author (or illustrator) in person and suddenly books come alive, making this and other field trips well worth the effort.

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How schools can help parents

Laurie

September 17, 2013 2:54:36 PM

I read an article in Slate last week called Parents Left Behind that resonated with me. The author writes of her back-to-school night experience: "The evening passed in a blur of acronyms, test names, and emendations to last year's system." Then I experienced my own first middle-school back to school night, and left feeling a little "behind" myself. New initiatives, "project-based" learning assignments, and the use of new technology in schools means parents have to work harder than ever to support their kids at the homework table.

Setting off on the right foot this school year, here are four requests to teachers that might connect parents and schools:

  1. Send home a textbook or examples you've done together in class that are like the problems students are being asked to do for homework. Students (and parents) need a model to turn to; without one we're floundering.
  2. Double-check your expectations for home-based projects. Are you assigning outings or experiences that will be difficult for your families? Many families have busy work schedules and weekends are precious hours for catching up on family time and housework. When possible, build in alternatives to assignments and give families lots of time before the due date.
  3. Assess the ease of Internet access for your families. Many teachers are posting videos and putting assignments on class blogs. That's no problem for families with constant and fast Internet access. But for other families, those requirements mean finding a way to access the Internet, and on busy weeknights, it just might not happen.
  4. Keep in touch with us. Find some method of communication that isn't too burdensome for you and use it, frequently. Close communication will help us understand what's going on, and help us be proactive participants in our child's schooling.

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Celebrations fit for a new school year

September 13, 2013 10:21:06 AM

Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer after which schools are in full swing again. Various September celebrations are ideal complements to school, community and home activities. In 1965, September 8 was declared International Literacy Day (ILD) by UNESCO. This year, ILD was marked by presentations and discussions (on the Monday after the official ILD) featuring among others, Alma Powell representing America's Promise Alliance and Maureen McLaughlin, President of the International Reading Association. September is also National Library Card Sign-Up Month, to remind everyone in the community — at the start of a new school year — of the power of access to library resources. Libraries are the ideal place for all kinds of literacy; information on various topics for myriad readers is available in multiple formats. Plus, reading is central to each type from financial to science to workplace literacy. One thread that links them all, however, is the ability to think critically (key in the Common Core State Standards) which begins with the ability to ask questions. Perhaps adults could model the open-ended questions asked by curious young children; remember the dreaded "whys" and "hows"? (Marcus Pfister's Questions Questions provides a handsomely illustrated model for open-ended questions — sure to inspire further explorations.) To adapt a quote from Voltaire, one can learn a great deal about a person — adult or child — by her questions rather than by her answers.

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Take note of chronic absences

Laurie

September 12, 2013 2:53:30 PM

This September marks the first-ever Attendance Awareness Month in schools and communities. Attendance Works, one sponsor of the month, is a national and state initiative that promotes awareness of the important role that school attendance plays in achieving academic success starting with school entry. According to their site, absences of as little as 10% can have a real impact on a child's achievement in elementary school. As kids get older, missing that much school (about 18 days a year, or 2-3 days per month) is strongly linked to course failure and even eventually dropping out of high school. The attendance issue is particularly important for kids at risk. Students and families with health issues, transportation issues and unstable housing are particularly vulnerable to missing school. And, as teachers, we know how hard it is to help kids catch up once they've missed. Sustained, repeated absences make it even more difficult. Homework packets can help, but they cannot replace the real-time instruction teachers provide. Attendance Works offers a helpful resource that includes some key attendance concepts and messages, as well as tips for talking to parents and what to say to students. They also offers a Parent Engagement toolkit designed to support parent engagement at the school and community level. Within the toolkit you'll find materials to share with parents about attendance, and an interesting set of interactive exercises designed for working with groups of parents. This first month of school is a great time to establish good attendance habits and to communicate the importance of making school a priority for families.

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Getting boys hooked on reading: How can digital media help?

September 05, 2013 7:19:33 PM

Did you know that boys often underestimate their ability to read? That boys, on average, read less than girls? And that boys are often less motivated to read than girls? Not only that: By the time boys reach high school, roughly half of them will describe themselves as "nonreaders." Several theories may explain why these facts are true. It may be that boys have a different cognitive style than girls, preferring action-oriented activities rather than more traditional classroom tasks. It may have to do with what boys see as a lack of personal choice in reading materials. Research also suggests that many boys view reading and writing as the province of girls. Left to their own devices, they often distance themselves from books and writing assignments that don't grab them. For more on these theories, see the enlightening article by first-grade teacher Nicole Senn titled "Effective Approaches to Motivate and Engage Reluctant Boys in Literacy" in the November 2012 issue of The Reading Teacher. So. Where does this leave us? What can we do to entice boys to read and write? And how can digital media help? We can begin by giving boys more choices about what they read. Boys often like action, adventure, and (sometimes outrageous or salty) humor. They also enjoy nonfiction topics that relate to their lives — animals, cars and trucks, and exciting weather events — to name a few. Given that most boys love digital devices (right along with girls), iBooks and eBooks offer new ways to capture their interest. Look for titles with high boy-appeal and invite students to choose the books [i]they[/i] want to read. Six-year-olds, for example, might enjoy the iBook app version of The Magic School Bus: Oceans (Scholastic, $7.99). Older boys might be captivated by the digital version of the Goosebumps books by R.L. Stein, via Scholastic's digital eReading app called Storia (see Scholastic for information on pricing). What about boys and writing? If the boys in your life enjoy comic books, introduce them to tools that can help them create and narrate their own comic books. One excellent choice is the "Monsters Vs. Superheroes" app by Duck Duck Moose, for five-year-olds and up. (Note the companion product, "Princess Fairy Tale Maker.") For younger boys (four-year-olds and up), try the "Draw and Tell" app by the same company. It's also fun, but simpler in design ($1.99 for each of these apps). Also, check out one of my favorite websites, Guys Read. Created by the popular children's author, Jon Scieszka (The Stinky Cheese Man, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, and many more delightful picture books), this site is hard to resist. Take a few minutes to browse the various book genres together, such as "Ghosts," "Cars, Trucks, Etc.," and "At Least One Explosion." You might also explore the "For Little Guys" section, which offers a great collection of mini-book reviews. What strategies have YOU used to encourage the boys in your life to read and write? Have you found any media products and/or websites to be particularly helpful? Share your ideas! In writing this blog post I drew upon the thoughtful reviews posted on Common Sense Media.

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Talk it up!

September 05, 2013 6:57:42 PM

One of the goals the writers of The Common Core Standards had in mind was to build natural collaboration and discussion strategies within students, helping to prepare them for higher levels of education and collaboration in the workforce. In our Common Core classrooms today, students are being asked to incorporate multiple strategies, complex texts, and evidence-based responses. When faced with this overwhelming task, we must put many building blocks in place for our kiddos to be successful. Buddy Talk — a best practice — benefits everyone in the classroom. Of course we know buddy talking is important, but in the Common Core classroom, Buddy talking is IMPERATIVE. Peer explanations give students an active role in learning and create an entirely new level of scaffolding for students, which we as adults don't quite fit into. It enables students to take their thinking and articulate it into words, which allows their brains to build and make connections that would typically not occur. Furthermore, the listening component of buddy talking allows students to hear the thinking of their peers, which helps them to clarify their own thoughts. Teachers can utilize buddy talking in many ways, every day: formative assessments, simultaneous engagement, closing a lesson, discussion of vocabulary, breaking down of concepts by students, and connecting with prior knowledge. However, the prime purpose for buddy talking is to provide students with another opportunity to connect with the new learning in order to make it their own. Let's Break it Down! There are 5 steps that will help to ensure that effective buddy talking is occurring in your classroom:

Plan — When planning your lesson, plan specific times when buddy talking will be imperative to student understanding. Write questions ahead of time to ensure that they are higher level, and not formed "off the cuff." Also, make sure that your questions build on one another, which lends to ideal scaffolding opportunities. Write questions on post-its and place them in the text to indicate where questions should be asked. In guided reading, I have my own copy of the text we are reading, which has the questions written in it before we read. This way I remember what questions I asked at certain points in a novel discussion, and will have them for the next time I'm teaching the novel. Pose — When posing the question, make sure you have strategically paired up your students with other students who can initiate thoughtful conversations. Your ESL learners should be paired with a student with an average vocabulary. Your higher students should be paired with higher leveled thinkers, and your average students can be paired with average to high-average thinkers. Have students sit criss-cross, knee to knee, so they can see eye to eye. Also give students indicators of who's talking first. I like to have students pick whether they would like to be Partner Peanut Butter or Partner Jelly, Partner Rain or Partner Boot, etc. Then you tell them who's talking first. Wait — Students must have an adequate amount of wait time after you ask the initial buddy talk question. The average teacher waits 3 seconds for a student answer, however most students need 10-15 seconds, or more, to formulate an answer. The higher leveled questions that we should be asking to align with the Common Core sometimes incorporate two or more components, which will require adequate wait time for students. During this wait time, repeat the question, as well as provide supporting questions and scaffolds where appropriate. Monitor & Feedback — Students should take turns talking. Explicit buddy talking that is intended to lead to a deeper understanding should include opportunities for students to listen to each other's thoughts. The teacher, should also be listening to students as they are responding, to check for understanding. Monitoring conversations will also help teachers to provide feedback, clarify misunderstandings, and ensure that all students are appropriately engaged. Monitoring will also enable teachers the opportunity to identify students whose thinking will benefit the entire group. I try to choose 2-3 students who have mastered the intended understanding, included key vocabulary, and made higher leveled connections that other students might not have made on their own. Write — In the final steps of buddy talking, students should have an opportunity to solidify their understanding by piecing together their original thoughts, as well as thoughts they heard throughout the buddy talking session. Writing can serve as a formative assessment for the teacher to identify students who have built the connections and learning intended. One last thing you can do to help students be successful buddy talkers throughout the year is to set up an environment so students have access to a natural buddy. My students sit facing another student, which allows a natural pairing. I also have control over the seating chart, so their buddy can be changed based on the needs of students. Here are a few resources to look at if you'd like more information on buddy talking: In the end, however it's phrased: Buddy Talk, Think-Pair-Share, Accountable Talk, Classroom Chat, Turn and Talk, and many others, we just need to get our kiddos talking! Any opportunity for students to make connections with new learning is critical and essential to student understanding in the Common Core Classroom. BUILD those connections, CHALLENGE that thinking, and give students the tools to DISCUSS!

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Big doings in DC

September 04, 2013 1:00:58 PM

There's always a lot going in the Nation's Capital but this week was particularly special. The 50th anniversary of the landmark 1963 March on Washington was celebrated, commemorated, discussed, reviewed and dissected in all media all week long. It's difficult for younger children to relate to the huge crowds of people gathered much less their very adult talking — particularly when this historical event is from a time that is even precedes their parents. Who was Martin Luther King, Jr., really? Martin Luther King III introduces what it was like to grow up with a famous father in My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Amistad). It wasn't always easy, but young Marty grew to better understand his father's actions — and what was said about him (and it wasn't always positive) — and went on to share that with his siblings. Realistic illustrations by award-winning AG Ford and a straightforward telling bring MLK Jr. the icon into focus as a family man as well as a leader. Andrea Pinkney's words and Brian Pinkney's illustrations swoop and swirl to bring Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song (Little Brown) off the pages of a book for a more sophisticated view of how and where their talents intersected. Though they started out similarly, Martin's words and Mahalia's songs were completely entwined on August 29, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The addition of further resources (including a select discography) and a timeline allows this book to grow with readers. These books and others capture moments in time from more personal perspectives helping younger children understand that famous people — like Martin Luther King, Jr. — were real people with real families and real feelings; that history begins with one person — and surely, a child reading a book today will become a leader of tomorrow.

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Grounded in evidence. Part 1: Fiction

August 30, 2013 10:12:33 AM

It's funny to be a teacher! When everyone else thinks of the "New Year" starting January 1st, teachers are getting ready to start their "third quarter."" Usually about our "half-time" (aka: Winter Vacation) I enjoy reflecting on our year so far, and how I can tweak my instruction to streamline our focus. So after the presents have been opened, traditions enjoyed, and champagne and poppers cleaned up, it's always a good opportunity to sit back, and begin deciding where instruction needs to be strengthened. I am looking forward to sharing a three-part series focused on an instrumental shift in the Common Core: answering questions grounded in the text. What I am noticing in my students' responses is a lack of "proof" that supports their answers. We are just getting into an in-depth unit on inferring and character analysis. I enjoy pairing these two, back to back, because there is an abundant amount to discover about characters, theme, and plot development through evidence that the author provides. However, I typically find, that unless explicitly taught, even my above grade level readers have a hard time finding the evidence, understanding how it connects to their schema, and then processing it into a constructed response. So hopefully the next bits of information will give you some ideas of teaching your students how to make fictional inferences. Schema We, as educators, understand that schema is all of the knowledge we have, organized and connected to itself in our brains. We begin lessons with it, use it to ground our students' understanding, and help students to connect to new learning, we call it: prior knowledge. However, where we typically fall short, is teaching kiddos what schema is, and how they can use it in their own learning. A student's understanding of how his brain categorizes information is a new awakening for most of my third graders. So you can bet that when I'm teaching my kiddos how to infer, they are going to struggle, because half the battle of learning how to make an inference is the understanding of, WHY we understand. One of the first lessons I teach in third grade is about schema. We open the filing cabinet and pull out file folders and discuss how our brain organizes information in a similar fashion. Following that, we discuss how life experiences, school, reading, our families, and interests help build a larger cabinet the longer we are alive. This discussion helps students to see how their connections and familiarities to things in life, stems from their schema and experiences. For example, when I taught in Arizona, many of my students didn't have a ton of schema about snow, or the beach, but could go on for days about cacti and scorpions in their backyard. Whereas, in Washington DC my students have trekked through inches of powder, just to get to school, and opened up newly caught crabs off the bay in Maryland, but hardly know anything about the desert. This is their schema … TEACH THEM THAT! Finding the Evidence When students are reading, everything looks the same. The font's the same size and color, the text is endless, and finding evidence can be like looking for a needle in a haystack ….especially to a below grade level reader. So our job is to give our students strategies to FIND the evidence. Here are a few I have come across over the years, and find to be very helpful for my students. Reading with a "Pen in Hand" (Preface: I am not claiming this strategy — this is all Mike Schmoker!) Imagine you're at a staff meeting, your principal hands you this FABULOUS article that you can't wait to dig into! The first thing you do is grab a pen, pencil, highlighter, or anything that will help you extract important info that you want to remember! So why, when we give students a text, do we go out of our way to make sure there aren't any pens around to write in the books. Schmoker explains, that we, as educators, keep this very influential strategy from students, and it is IMPERATIVE that they use a writing tool when they are extracting information from text! I know, I know … you HATE it when students write in their books! But take a moment and think about what must be going through a student's mind when he has to extract information, and everything looks the same! How are students going find, decipher, and eliminate information without a tool to help? I understand that copying the text, or dealing with writing in novels is sometimes not an option, but Post-its™ and pencils work just as well! Coding A couple weeks ago, my students and I were reading a Washington Post article on Kepler 22B, a planet that has a few similarities to Earth. I knew that finding similarities and differences would be tricky, given the level of text and comparing paired with contrasting. So I just quickly discussed, prior to the read, that when we find a similarity to Earth, we write an "S" and when we find a difference we can mark a "D." Do I need to tell you how easy it was for my students to write their compare-and-contrast constructed response? (That's probably one of those pesky rhetorical questions!) I know this example was related to an informational text, but it can work the same with a literary novel! Students just need to know HOW to label their evidence, and they'll go at it like gangbusters! Let's imagine you're teaching kiddos elements of a story, you can easily provide codes such as: S — Setting T — Talking Characters O — Oops! A Problem! R — Attempts to Resolve the Problem Y — Yes, the Problem is Solved! Something as simple as having students draw a star where they might find evidence of an action that shows a character being vain, or brave when you teach character traits, will help students to extract information, and draw their eye to it later in order to use it in their constructed response. The Inferring Begins! So now comes the fun part! We have to teach our students to pair the schema with the evidence. Let me give you an example. There's a book called The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg. The book provides a GREAT way to teach how to make inferences. The gist of the story is this: there is a man, and he represents winter. The man visits a farm, and as he's visiting there are clues in the story: the thermometer mercury drops to the bottom, when he blows on his soup there is a rush of cold air, etc. This is the evidence. Where we must connect students' schema is their understanding that cold air is a sign of winter, a thermometer dropping means that it's getting colder. This is their schema. In younger grades, picture clues can draw inferences better than anything! The characters' faces, body language, and actions are all clues — for example, are the people/animals in the picture running from a situation (scary/danger), or are they coming towards the event (happy/intriguing). You can use pictures to begin inferring in upper grades as well. Pictures such as those in Van Allsburg's The Mysteries of Harris Burdick help to pose questions, draw upon schema, and extract evidence from text. If you have ever read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, there are incredible pictures to use to draw inferences. The key is to pull evidence by asking the beginning questions, and then leading to deeper Bloom's-based questions. How do you know? What tells you he represents winter? Explain why he doesn't represent fall or snow? My favorite two words to use with my kiddos are: PROVE IT! It's a challenge! Find the information, highlight it, dig deep in that text! The Mysteries of Harris Burdick Asking questions that are grounded in evidence and expecting that your students answer questions that way, is a best practice. Hold your students to this expectation and challenge them to TRULY understand their schema and the way inferring connects with it in literary text.

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Resources for parents of kids with special needs: Back-to-school edition

Laurie

August 28, 2013 3:37:37 PM

Parents of kids with special needs, whether a child has learning or physical differences, often have additional considerations and worries to contend with during back to school time. I've gathered a few resources that may smooth over a bump or two and get you started on your advocacy efforts for the year. NCLD's IEP Headquarters is a great place to start for all things related to your child's IEP. There are several very handy resources, including information about the Fundamentals of IEPs, a video for understanding how involved a parent should be in the IEP process (answer: very!), and understanding how a 504 is different from an IEP. 12 Ways to Help Children Say Goodbye has helpful advice that can apply to many ages and settings. Whether it's heading off to the school bus or preschool, these tips can make for a smoother transition. From Reading Rockets, some tips for parents of children with special needs — and tips for teachers too! Parents often find it helpful to write a letter to their child's new teacher. A letter is something that can be read over and over again, rather than a hallway conversation that may be rushed. A letter gives a parent a chance to write down important information about their child, as well as any signs, symptoms, or things to look out for. Obviously much of this will be covered during a parent-teacher conference, but doing something for the first few days of school can be helpful. Here are some tips for writing this type of letter and two sample letters: this one from a Mom with a child with Asperger's and dyslexia and this example about a child with ADHD. I don't think of these as templates, but ideas for thought. And, because everyone needs some outside time, NPR's Playgrounds for Everyone, a community-edited guide to accessible playgrounds. Hopefully there's at least one in your community. And if not, hopefully the new federal requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act will be supporting one soon.

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