Back to School – Make Your Own ABC Book!

It’s nearly fall and children are going back to school.  Whether you homeschool or your children attend public or private school, you may enjoy doing this activity with your preschool or kindergarten student.

SnipBlog101c

At ages 4 and 5, children should still be playing a lot of the time, so learning should be casual and informal. If your child shows an interest in learning the alphabet, you can teach the letters in many different ways. You might post a large letter on the wall or refrigerator (one at a time) and talk about its name and sound at random times during the day. You can read ABC books together.  You can point out words for objects that begin with a specific letter.

Your child might also enjoy making his/her own ABC book. This is a fun activity for your preschool or kindergarten students that can help them begin to recognize letters and learn letter names. Teach just one letter at a time.  It really does not matter at this age whether you teach a letter every couple of days or one a week. Let your child’s interest be your guide.

SnipBlog101bb              SnipBlog101cc

Your child will need to be able to cut reasonably straight lines with scissors first.  Then he/she will be able to do this activity with just a little guidance from you. Use plain white cardstock or typing paper for each page and bind it when you complete the project—or purchase an inexpensive spiral notebook to paste the letters and pictures into. Give your child the pictures for just one letter.  Ask her to cut out each picture for the letter she is learning. Show her how to paste the letters and pictures onto the paper. It doesn’t need to look perfect. Use a glue stick rather than liquid glue. Young children may find it easier to use a glue stick that looks purple when applied, but dries clear, so they can see where they have put the glue.

Here’s where you can get your FREE Cut & Paste ABC Book from Sound Bytes Reading:

ABC Cut & Paste Book – part 1 & part 2

 

Can Your Students Comprehend Texts That They Cannot Read?

Absolutely! Students do understand texts that are read aloud to them that are above their independent reading level. But if they are struggling to read text on their own that is too difficult for them to decode, they will not have good comprehension.  SnipBlog100Struggling students in the upper grades are increasingly expected to read texts that are above their level of reading ability, because they need to learn complex subjects. This presents a problem. Does it make sense to require students to read texts that are above their independent reading level?

Some teachers understand the futility of requiring reading at a level that is above a student’s ability, so they look for and assign books at the students’ actual reading level.  These teachers sometimes endure criticism for doing what they believe is best for their students.

With so many struggling readers in our schools, we ought to be looking at why we have this problem. We first fail when teaching our children basic reading instruction. There are many reasons why children fail to learn to read, including bad reading programs and inconsistent attendance. But we continue to pass children who have not learned basic decoding skills on to the next grade level. Then we blame the teachers in the upper grades when their struggling students fail to progress.

Students need to learn to read well by the end of first grade!  If a student is not progressing, change the program.  Students who are not reading well by early to mid-first grade should be given a phonics reading program that includes all of the Orton-Gillingham phonograms, and that uses those phonograms in decodable stories. Nearly all struggling readers who are taught to read this way can learn to read.

Students can comprehend texts that they cannot read on their own. The short term fix may include reading grade level texts aloud to students who are struggling. But to be successful, students need to be able to read on their own. When students read texts independently, they will only comprehend what they can quickly and easily decode. We may provide accommodations for struggling readers, but we owe it to them to teach them how to read for themselves.

 

Common Core and Reading Assignments—What Are We Missing Here?

SnipBlog99What a concept! Some teachers assign books to their students that they can actually read instead of assigning them to read books that are far above their reading ability! Is this surprising? Is it a bad thing? Are policy-makers suggesting that students should be assigned to read books at an instructional level that they cannot read because those students are in a grade based on their age?

The Thomas B Fordham Institute published a report on October 22, 2013 titled, “Common Core in the Schools: A First Look at Reading Assignments.” Here is a quote from the press release:

The CCSS emphasize the centrality of texts in the English language arts curriculum. Yet the majority of teachers still report that their lessons are dominated by skills and are more likely to try to fit texts to skills…Indeed, an astonishing 73 percent of elementary school teachers and 56 percent of middle school teachers place greater emphasis on reading skills than the text…

The Common Core asks teachers to assign texts that provide language complexity appropriate to the grade level, but significant proportions of teachers—particularly in the elementary grades—are still assigning texts based on students’ present reading prowess. Specifically, the majority of elementary teachers (64 percent) make substantial efforts to match students with books that presumably align with their instructional reading levels…This means that many youngsters are not yet working with appropriately complex language in their schoolbooks.

It appears that because students need to be learning complex language, they had better be reading complex words. That is all fine and good if the student is a strong reader and can actually read those complex words. But many students are not strong readers due to poor instruction and through no fault of their own.  What are we to do?  Start where the student is, not where you want him to be.

Let’s say you go out to the mountains and you are just learning how to ski, so you can barely stay standing up on your skis. Your instructor takes you out to the bunny slope and gives you some tips on how to fall safely (because you are going to fall!) and how to point your ski tips and whatever else they teach a beginner. But the resort owner comes out and tells the instructor that you need to be practicing the giant slalom because that is what skiers should be doing at your age.  Wonder how well that’s going to work?

What are we to do? Start where the student is, not where you want him to be. You cannot start where you want them to be if they have not learned the skills needed to function at that skill level and expect them to be successful. That is a recipe for creating dropouts.

If students are reading at a first grade level, then they need to begin at that level and be taught the skills that will allow them to quickly improve their ability.  We have programs available that will do exactly that—but we aren’t using them nearly enough and our students are paying a high price.

We can teach students the complex language in higher level books—but we can’t expect them to read those texts on their own until we have taught the reading skills that they need to do so. We should not discourage struggling readers—we must start where the student is. We know that students learn much of their extensive vocabulary from reading a lot of books—but students who cannot read well have been left behind.

Instead of insisting that we force difficult or impossible reading assignments on our struggling readers, we need to put a much greater effort into first teaching students to read well. We need to think in terms of teaching students to read well by the end of first grade rather than by the end of third grade. But if that is not where they are—what are we to do? Start where the student is, not where you want him to be!

 

 

See the Thomas B Fordham Institute report  “Common Core in the Schools: A First Look at Reading Assignments” here:                         http://www.edexcellence.net/publications/common-core-in-the-schools#

Sound Bytes Reading helps struggling readers learn the basic skills they need to become strong and independent readers.    www.SoundBytesReading.com

Learning to Talk and Learning to Read – Part 2

Learning to read is a process that involves both visual and auditory input.  Children must learn to match symbols to sounds and then connect those symbols to make words.  Some children have difficulty remembering the symbols if too many are taught at once.  Reading can be made easier by teaching only a few sound-symbols at a time and then using them to practice decoding simple words.  Students should practice reading short stories using the same words they are learning to decode.

Diagram

Learning to Talk & Learning to Read – Part 1

Some educators in the past have postulated that learning to read happens easily and naturally and is just like learning to talk. But is this theory true?  If so, why is virtually everyone who can hear able to speak, but not everyone can read easily and with little effort?  Why is reading so difficult for many children?

Children learn to talk by listening to speech. The process of learning to read is actually quite different than the process of learning to talk. Reading involves visually matching written symbols to speech sounds and then learning to decode those symbols. This is the first of two charts that show you the steps involved in each process.  Part 2 will be posted next week.

Diagram

 

Winter Art and Descriptive Writing

SnipBlog92

Here’s a great way to inspire your kids to write—connect a creative art project to a descriptive writing assignment! Students will enjoy creating a work of art and then writing a little bit about it. 

Make the picture first. For the picture, start with an 8 x 10 piece of cardstock.  Use color pencils to wash the paper in shades of blue and green or even purple and pink.  Then take a piece of plain white paper and use scissors to cut out some tree branches.  Children can try to cut a tree shape in a single piece—or they can cut lots of long and short pieces.  

Next, use a glue stick to glue the pieces onto your colored paper to make a tree and its branches.  Imperfect shapes will work best, just as tree branches are not uniformly shaped. If you want mounds of snow, cut mounded shapes out of your white paper and add them to the picture.

This is a project that kids of all ages can do.  You will need to do the paper cutting for 3-4 year-olds, but they can learn to use a glue stick at this age with some help.  Most children at this age will not be able to write yet, so the younger set may only be creating the picture. Some might be able to copy the letter “S” onto their paper.

Next is the writing assignment. Some preschoolers with good small motor skills might be able to copy the word “SNOW” to label their picture.  5-6 year-olds may be able to write a sentence or two if they are beginning to read and write, and you can help them by writing out the sentence they dictate and then letting them copy the words onto their own paper. Older students may write an entire paragraph or more without help.

A few weeks ago I wrote about learning to describe what you hear, see, smell, taste, or touch—and writing about each of the senses in a separate assignment. That exercise will help your students learn how to describe things in writing. You can print out the graphic organizer from the blog that follows that one here:  Helping Students Think About Descriptive Writing.

Time to do a fun winter art project and write about it!

 

What to Do When It Snows?

SnipBlog82

Read!!! Read books about snow!  Here is a list of books about snow with something for everyone.  Make a snowman, and then make some hot cocoa and share a picture book or read a story aloud together. Some books in the list are for beginning readers and some are for strong readers. Older children who are strong readers may enjoy reading the chapter books by themselves.

Snow, by Uri Shulevitz (read aloud)

Big Snow, by Jonathan Bean  (read aloud)

Tracks in the Snow, by Wong Herbert Yee (read aloud)

The Snow Bear, by Miriam Moss (read aloud) 

Snow, by P.D. Eastman and Roy McKie (beginning reader, mid to late 1st grade)

Charlie the Ranch Dog: Charlie’s Snow Day, by Ree Drummond (mid to late 1st grade)

Splat the Cat: Blow, Snow, Blow, by Rob Scotton (beginning reader, mid to late 1st grade)

Curious George in the Snow, by Margret Rey

There Was a Cold Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow! by Lucille Colandro

Fancy Nancy: There’s No Day Like a Snow Day, by Jane O’Connor

Let It Snow, by Maryann Cocca-Leffler (read aloud, picture book, poetry)

The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonder, by Mark Cassino (nonfiction, science)

The Secret Life of a Snowflake, An Up-Close Look at the Art and Science of Snowflakes, by Kenneth Libbrecht (nonfiction, science, photography) 

Animals in Winter, by Henriettta Bancroft (animals, science)

Oliver and Amanda and the Big Snow, by Jean Van Leeuwen (chapter book, 2nd to 3rd grade)

The Big Snow, by Berta Hader (3rd grade)

The Mystery in the Snow (The Boxcar Children, #32), by Gertrude Chandler Warner (3rd -5th grade)

Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (strong readers)

Snow Treasure, by Marie McSwigan (strong readers above 3rd grade)  

Snow Dog, by Jim Kjelgaard (strong readers above 3rd grade)

SnipBlog83b

Make Your Own Magnetic Letter Tiles

SnipBlog81aA while back I wrote about teaching students how to spell. The easiest way to teach spelling is in connection with reading, so children should be learning to spell the same words they are learning to phonetically decode. Spelling is a lot more fun if you teach it with a hands-on activity. My spelling game includes a list of very simple words for a student who is just beginning to read, but you can adapt it to any phonetically regular spelling list. A side benefit to this game is that your child is also gaining phonemic awareness while playing around with spelling. You can read the blog and get the spelling game here:   http://soundbytesreading.com/spelling-for-beginning-readers-part-3.html

Recently I was channel surfing and ran across a great idea.  The TV channel was ION Life and the program was “She’s Crafty” featuring Wendy Russell (11-14-2013).  I could not find a link to the specific program—but I’ll describe the quick and easy craft project she demonstrated that you can use to make magnetic letter tiles for spelling.

Use the letter tiles from an old Scrabble game for this craft.  Purchase a roll of Roll-N-Cut Flexible Magnet Tape (cost is around $6). It has an adhesive backing so it’s really easy to attach to the letters.  Cut off squares the size of the letter tiles and attach them to the back of the Scrabble letter tiles.  Now you have inexpensive magnetic letters for your kids to play with and learn to spell with (all capital letters).

Put the magnetic letters on the refrigerator and help your kiddos learn to spell while you cook. I’ve included some lists below to get you started. One list is for first graders, the others for second and/or third graders. The target spelling pattern is underlined in the first word in each list. Use whatever works at your child’s spelling level.  Have fun playing around with spelling!

SnipBlog81cSnipBlog81dPrint a PDF copy of the Spelling Word List here:

http://soundbytesreading.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Spelling-Game-Word-Lists.pdf