Academic Achievement For All—When Are Children Ready to Learn?

SnipBlog107aWow!  You’ve come a long way, baby! In the 1980s and 1990s, educators and policy-makers were jumping on the bandwagon to provide free kindergarten programs in all public schools. The reasoning then was that after a year of kindergarten, every child would finally enter first grade ready to learn.

Fast-forward to 2015. Now policy makers are clamoring for academic preschool programs so that every child will enter kindergarten ready to learn.

The president proposed that we should provide full day preschool programs for all kids, even though it is well documented that current preschool programs like Head-Start have limited success.

“Head Start has an impact on 4-year-olds’ language and literacy skills while they are in Head Start, but these early gains are not sustained as the children develop and move into the early school years. Furthermore, there is no evidence of impacts on children’s math ability, pre-writing skills, or teacher assessments at the end of Head Start, at the end of kindergarten, or at the end of 1st grade. In other words, the children in the Head Start group ended their Head Start year with moderately higher skills than their counterparts in the control group, but this advantage did not lead to longer term gains when they were in school. At the end of 1st grade, they end up at the same point as the children who were not given access to the program…The Head Start group scores are not statistically different from the control group scores in kindergarten and 1st grade.”  (1)

Not many years ago kids were expected to start learning the ABC’s at age six when they entered first grade. Now it is no longer acceptable for students to enter kindergarten expecting to be taught everything they need to know to move on to first grade. If they don’t know at least some letters and sounds, they are already behind. In a decade or two from now, will we be saying that kids still don’t know enough, therefore we need to provide a full school day for three-year-olds so they will enter preschool ready to learn?

Administrators in my district say they want to “focus more effort on connecting with early learning and child care providers to ensure that they are equipped to help children prepare for kindergarten.” (2)

Maybe we should stop and think about this!  If putting kids in school a year earlier didn’t achieve the desired results back then (since our test scores have remained flat), what makes us think putting children in school yet another year earlier will work now?  A number of studies demonstrate that starting children in school at age four can actually be detrimental to their achievement.

Do we really think that all four-year-old children should be in school for a full day? Not everyone does. Education Corner writes, “Even though children in daycare programs can develop intellectually, children benefit most when parents stay at home with their children and educate them.” (3)

If they are not going to go to school, what should preschoolers be doing? Playing, of course! Play gives children the opportunity to learn to be self-directed, to persevere, focus attention, imagine, experiment, discover, problem-solve and create. Too much formal education at a tender age may detract from this very important part of child development.

Young children learn things informally, from parents and siblings. During parent or caregiver interactions, children learn that something is big or little, sweet or sour, smooth or rough, loud or soft, light or dark, red or blue. Parents naturally teach their preschoolers basic concepts like colors, shapes, counting, sorting, etc.

Children are listening and talking and expanding their vocabulary. We know that exposure to adult conversation with rich vocabulary usage will increase young children’s use and understanding of complex vocabulary words. Parents should be reading books aloud to young children which also helps develop vocabulary. A large vocabulary is linked to better reading comprehension and more successful decoding. Learning to read is critical for school success.

Some children are ready to learn to read as young as age four. I know a few of them. But most children at this age need to be physically active in play, and will not thrive in a formal academic setting. Play helps young children’s brains develop. A number of studies show that play-based preschool learning is good for kids. (4)

SnipBlog107b

Some will argue that preschool helps children become better socialized, learning to take turns and share. That’s what parents used to teach kids along with their brothers and sisters and friends before formal schooling began! Unfortunately, far too many children are not taught considerate behavior prior to entering school and teachers are now expected to fill in the gaps. This steals time away from formal learning for these children and for those around them who are affected by their lack of self-control.

It seems that the argument for preschool socialization actually isn’t a very good one. “A study by researchers at Stanford University and the University of California showed negative social­ization in the areas of externalizing behaviors, inter­personal skills, and self-control as a result of even short periods of time spent in preschool centers.” (5)

Some states already have a proven track record with preschool programs. Academic gains favoring children who have attended preschool are quickly lost. “More than a decade after offering students uni­versal preschool, neither Oklahoma nor Georgia has shown impressive progress in students’ academic achievement, as measured by the National Assess­ment of Educational Progress. In fact, in Oklahoma, fourth-grade reading test scores have declined since 1998 when the state first implemented universal preschool. Furthermore, the report notes, ‘by the end of first grade, children who did not attend preschool had skills similar to those of Georgia’s preschoolers.’”  (6)

Years ago, parents kept children home until around age six when they entered first grade, and then they learned the alphabet and how to add and subtract. So why did we start sending children to school at younger ages?

“The kindergarten movement was propelled by the industrial revolution and the introduction of women into the factory labor force…Kindergarten, once a half-day affair required by only 40 percent of US states, has become largely a full-day affair required nationwide. Academics, including math and reading curricula, testing and grades, are now the norm in many schools. Programs for younger children have expanded as well…Having your child cared for outside of the home, once looked down upon as an abrogation of a mother’s maternal instinct, is now a socially accepted practice. Indeed, those parents who choose not to put their children in out-of-home settings are the ones perceived as insufficiently concerned with their child’s welfare.”  (7)

The big question is when do we decide that enough is enough?  When are children too young for schooling? When do we stop requiring more academic achievement from children at ever younger ages?  We have seen little gain in test scores in the years since we began providing kindergarten for all children and I strongly suspect it won’t happen when we provide full day preschool for all children either. Let’s let kids be kids a bit longer and let them imagine and build and learn through play until they are really ready to learn.

SnipBlog107c

References:

1- http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/hs_impact_study_final.pdf  (Chapter 4, page 15)

For more information on Head Start, see this:  http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/strengthenheadstart03/report.htm

And this:  http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2009/05/Does-Universal-Preschool-Improve-Learning-Lessons-from-Georgia-and-Oklahoma

2- http://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/news/education/2015/01/14/salem-keizer-kindergarteners-room-grow/21737253/

3 – http://www.educationcorner.com/importance-of-early-childhood-education.html

4- http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22029435.000-too-much-too-young-should-schooling-start-at-age-7.html#.VLbhiivF_dY

5- http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2009/05/Does-Universal-Preschool-Improve-Learning-Lessons-from-Georgia-and-Oklahoma

6- http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2009/05/Does-Universal-Preschool-Improve-Learning-Lessons-from-Georgia-and-Oklahoma

7- http://www.communityplaythings.com/resources/articles/2010/history-of-early-childhood-education

Information on Early Literacy: http://nieer.org/resources/policybriefs/10.pdf

 

 

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.

 

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

Sound Bytes Reading: Top Ten Blogs in 2013—Part 2

SnipBlog70

6 – Diagnosing Children with Reading Problems

This blog post will begin to address the difficulties of struggling readers and how parents can begin to understand the problem and help their students.  Reading can break down at any of these points when students are not explicitly taught the sound patterns in English.  We will cover each step in the next few blog posts.  Part One in a Series of Fivehttp://bit.ly/10jioWR 

7 – Preparing Young Children to Learn

What makes children ready to learn? What can parents do to help prepare their children to learn?

Whether your children will be attending school or are homeschooled, they need to be prepared to learn.  Being prepared to learn involves many things.  This includes developing self control, learning to pay attention, managing your time so you can get assignments done, and a willingness to co-operate with others and take turns.  Educational leaders have labeled these things as “soft skills.” Read more here: http://bit.ly/14t04Li

8 – Preparing to Learn—Teach Children How to Clean Up

Children appreciate cleanliness and a sense of order in their lives—but they don’t usually know how to achieve it. It is our job to teach our children how to clean up after they play and how to keep their things organized so they will be prepared to learn when they begin school. Read more:  http://bit.ly/15dX8Pm

9 – 12 Great Activities to Help Prepare Young Children for School

Child’s play is really child’s work.  You can easily provide your children a wide variety of fun activities that will help them develop small motor coordination and finger strength and dexterity. This will also help them be well prepared for school activities. Here is a list of 12 activities that can help your older preschoolers develop their skills and prepare them for more formal learning.  Read more:  http://bit.ly/11wo55q

10 – Why Is Reading So Difficult For My Child?

Does your child frequently guess at unknown words by saying another word that has the same beginning letter? Does your child look at the pictures for clues?  Were you told he/she has “eye-tracking” problems? After reading a passage, is your child unable to tell you what it’s about (low comprehension)?  Does he/she have problems with fluency (not reading smoothly)?  But this same child may be a whiz at math, easily remember in detail anything that you read aloud, and be highly skilled in other areas.  Why does your child have so much difficulty with reading?  Read more:  http://bit.ly/1a092nC

Bonus: You Can Teach Your Struggling Child to Read – Now!

Is your child a struggling reader?  Have you tried to help your child learn to read and it just doesn’t seem to click?  Learning to read does not come easily for many children, so you are not alone.  Many people will tell you that your child just needs to wait longer—but for most kids that’s just not true!  You can help your child become a strong competent reader.  Read more:  http://bit.ly/1c0a81z

 

Sound Bytes Reading: Top Ten Blogs in 2013—Part 1

SnipBlog691 – All Students Reading at Grade Level by the End of Third Grade? 

The goal:  Every child reading on grade level by the end of third grade?  No!  The goal should be:  Every child reading on grade level by the end of first grade!  With this goal in mind, we must  use effective research-based reading interventions as soon as we see children start to fail—before the end of first grade—and before they have fallen so far behind their peers that many of them will never catch up at all. Teach every child to read by the end of first grade!  Read more:  http://bit.ly/145VDFK

2 – Spelling for Beginning Readers – Part 2

This blog is part of a series on spelling.  It includes a game to help your children learn to spell.  Beginning readers often ask us how to spell words they want to write.  When students ask you to spell words, you can help them develop phonemic awareness by telling them the sound of each letter in the word as they write instead of telling them the names of the letters.  This is what phonics is about—learning to associate letters with speech sounds rather than learning words as a whole unit.  The more we use the sounds associated with the letters the more quickly students will remember them and use them when trying to spell words.  Read more:  http://bit.ly/VFdeTD

3 – Spelling for Beginning Readers – Part 3

Spelling is an important part of learning to read.  Learning to spell helps students learn to read and reading phonetically can help students learn to spell.  If you give your beginning students word lists that have consistent spelling patterns, they will learn to spell much more quickly and they will not forget what they have learned.  Read the blog here:  http://bit.ly/Wj1UJV

Get the FREE Spelling Game for beginning readers here:  http://soundbytesreading.com/assets/files/Spelling-Game-for-Beginning-Readers.pdf

4 – Five Spelling Tips for Teaching Beginning Readers 

Our brains are designed to recognize patterns that make sense.  For beginning or struggling readers, learning that is based on consistent patterns will make reading and spelling new words much easier.  Here are five tips to help you teach spelling.  Read more:  http://bit.ly/11TpQcL

5 – Should You Continue to Read Aloud to your School Age Children?

Reading books that are above your children’s reading level will help to increase their vocabulary. Even though they can read for themselves, older children enjoy having longer stories read aloud to them.  Get the book list and read more here: http://bit.ly/ZlKWw

Next week: Part 2

Reading Aloud Can Help Develop Your Child’s Vocabulary

In the article, Vocabulary Instruction Failing U.S. Students, published on January 24 of this year, a Michigan State University study takes a look at kindergarten reading curricula and concludes that students are not learning enough vocabulary words and that not enough attention is paid to make sure students understand the meanings of words. You can read the article here: http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2013/vocabulary-instruction-failing-us-students/

This is interesting because vocabulary acquisition really begins at home.  Children first learn words from their parents or other caregivers.  I have written about the importance of reading aloud to children because that is one of the best ways you can introduce children to new words.  Children also learn vocabulary from listening to parents and other adults talk.  They do not gain extensive vocabulary from watching TV or playing computer games.

Children should spend time doing things that will help them develop a broader vocabulary, encourage their creativity, and help them increase their focus and attention span so they will do well when formal instruction begins.  Time spent talking and doing things with adults is well spent.  Even very young children can use their expanded vocabulary to describe things.  A 2-year-old that I know recently looked up at the sky and exclaimed to his dad, “Birds.” His dad asked him, “How do you know those are birds?” and he answered, “Wings.”

The study found that common words are what is more likely to be taught to students. Try to use alternate words to describe things.  Once your child has learned a simple word like “little” to describe something, teach her words like “tiny,” “small,” “miniature,” and “minute.”

Why is vocabulary so important?

“Low vocabulary scores were associated with low reading comprehension scores…Wright said low-income children may start school with 10,000 fewer words than other students and are then exposed to reading programs that teach as few as two vocabulary words per week. She said more than 10 vocabulary words should be taught every week – not just in reading class but across all subject areas including math, science and social studies.” http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2013/vocabulary-instruction-failing-us-students/

Parents, be proactive in helping your children learn new words.  Don’t wait until your child is in school. Use lots of big, descriptive words when you talk to your children.  Nonfiction picture books are great tools for developing vocabulary. Talk to your child about the pictures and use lots of different descriptive words so your child will learn lots of new words to name and describe things.

Having a large vocabulary also helps students when they begin to learn to read. The more words they have heard and understand, the more words they will recognize when they are learning to sound out words. Recognizing words quickly and knowing what they mean makes reading easier and more enjoyable.

Should You Continue to Read Aloud to School Age Children?

School age children like to listen to more complex stories that are above their actual reading level. Reading books that are above your children’s reading level will help to increase their vocabulary. Even though they can read for themselves, older children enjoy having longer stories read aloud to them.  If they read well, they may enjoy taking turns reading aloud with you.

There are so many good books that any list can only be an introduction.  The first books on this list are short and easy (try other books by these authors as well); the rest are chapter books and series of books that you can read in installments.  You can get them from the school library or the public library.

Here are a few favorites:

  • If You Give a Mouse a Cookie / If You Take a Mouse to School   (Books by Laura Numeroff)
  • Arthur   (Books by Marc Brown)
  • A Boy in the Doghouse   (Betsy Duffy)
  • How to Eat Fried Worms    (Thomas Rockwell)
  • The Boxcar Children   (Series by Gertrude Chandler Warner)
  • Ramona / Henry and Ribsy / The Mouse and the Motorcycle   (Books by Beverly Cleary)
  • The Indian in the Cupboard   (Series by Lynne Reid Banks)

Reading aloud together is an adventure!

Top 10 Favorite Books to Read Aloud To Your Preschoolers

The stories we read in books impact our lives in many ways.  They help develop imagination and inspire creative thinking. Our children loved Go, Dog, Go! so much that we quoted lines from it when we were in traffic. One of my children can still recite most of The Cat in the Hat from memory.  And we even made green eggs and turkey ham for breakfast—only once—because our boys wanted to try it.

I included only my two favorite Seuss books in this list because Dr. Seuss is already so well known.  One of my children can still recite most of The Cat in the Hat from memory. We think The Digging-est Dog is a wonderful story. Our all-time favorite book, The King, the Mice, and the Cheese, is unfortunately, out of print, but you can sometimes find copies at yard sales and secondhand bookstores.

Beware, you will have to read some of these stories over and over again!

Here’s the list:

1.  The King, the Mice, and the Cheese (Eric & Nancy Gurney)

2.  The Best Nest (P.D. Eastman)

3.  Are You My Mother? (P.D. Eastman)

4.  The Digging-est Dog (Al Perkins)

5.  Green Eggs and Ham (Dr. Seuss)

6.  Go, Dog, Go! (P. D. Eastman)

7.  The Cat in the Hat (Dr. Seuss)

8.  A Fish out of Water (Helen Palmer)

9.  Flap Your Wings (P.D. Eastman)

10. Put Me in the Zoo (Robert Lopshire)

If you are like many people and cannot afford to buy new books for your children, there are many places where you can get them for reduced prices or even for free.  Check the discount/bargain shelf at your local bookstore, go to garage sales and second-hand bookstores, watch out for book give-aways in your community, ask for books in place of other gifts from grandparents or friends, get hand-me-downs from friends, and get your child a library card so you can use your local public library to borrow books.

Top 10 Board Books for Toddlers


Babies and young toddlers enjoy books, but the pages are easily torn. Fortunately, there are many wonderful “sturdy” board books with thick cardboard pages that are easy for little fingers to turn without tearing them.

Young children have a short attention span, so when you read to them—or talk to them about the pictures—they may not be able to sit and pay attention long enough to finish a book.  Let your child be your guide to how long you spend with a book.  If he/she loses focus, stop reading and come back to the book later.

Not all books need to be “read” to a child.  Many of them can be used to teach your toddler colors and counting or to talk to your child about things in the world around us. It is difficult to narrow down to a short list, but here are my favorites, plus, I’ve included a set of sturdy and colorful animal flash cards by author Eric Carle that your children will enjoy.

1.  Go, Dog. Go!   (P.D. Eastman)
2.  Big Dog…Little Dog   (P.D. Eastman)
3.  Good Night, Little Rabbit   (J.P. Miller)
4.  Babies   (Gyo Fujikawa)
5.  The Very Hungry Caterpillar   (Eric Carle)
6.  The Best Mouse Cookie   (Laura Numeroff)
7.  I’ll Teach My Dog a Lot of Words   (Michael Frith)
8.  Cars and Trucks from A to Z   (Richard Scarry)
9.  Color Book   (Richard Scarry)
10. Tails (Matthew Van Fleet)
Plus: Animal Flash Cards   (Eric Carle)

This website shows you how to make your own sturdy books:  http://www.ehow.com/how_7715359_make-book-thick-cardboard-pages.html

Reading Aloud to Children—Inspiring a Desire to Read

Children learn so much from being read to and they love to hear stories read over and over again.  It helps to develop their imagination in a way that viewing TV or playing games on the computer can never do.  When I was young, my siblings and I listened to books that were read aloud on a PBS radio station after school and I still remember some of the stories we heard.

Even very young children enjoy books.  With our own children, we just talked about the pictures in the books at first, and then, as their attention span increased, we began to read the stories to them.  We accumulated many wonderful books over the years and some of them were so well loved that we still quote lines from the stories to one another on occasion.

Reading aloud to your children is not a guarantee that they will learn to read without difficulty, but they will develop a far richer vocabulary which has been shown to be a factor in raising reading achievement.  They will also develop a broader, more colorful imagination which will be very helpful to them when they are asked to write creative stories of their own in school.

You can inspire your children to want to learn to read by reading delightful stories aloud to them often. Let them see that you enjoy reading their books to them—and that you also enjoy reading books of your own.

While you read together, teach your toddlers how to handle books properly so that they, and you, will enjoy your wonderful books for many years to come. Recently, eNannySource posted a helpful blog with tips on teaching children how to handle books as well as some additional teaching tips.  You can read it here:   http://bit.ly/15lNtIY

Next week I will post my top 10 favorite books for toddlers—and then a top 10 list for preschoolers and kinders.  Enjoy reading aloud with your kids!