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:               

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

What to Do When It Snows?


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)


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:

Featured Book—Creature Count: A Prehistoric Rhyme

Children are often fascinated by dinosaurs and love to read books about them.  My friend, Brenda Huante, has written an imaginative book that your children will love.  This book is beautifully written and illustrated.  If your children enjoy wonderful stories, this is a great read-aloud that will be well-loved and it is a book that your children will ask you to read over and over again.

This summary is quoted from the book description at Amazon Books:

Set to the classic counting rhyme “Over in the Meadow,” Brenda Huante’s catchy text makes a perfect read-aloud, and illustrator Vincent Nguyen’s adorable dinosaurs and early mammals are simply irresistible.   

Amazon Link:


Getting Ready to Read – Five Great Pre-School Activities

1.  Give board books to your baby.  Talk about the pictures.  Read simple rhyming stories aloud (helps develop phonemic awareness).

2.  Get a library card. Read books to your toddler every day. Talk about the story (increases vocabulary).  Some favorites:

    • Are You My Mother?
    • The King, the Mice, and the Cheese
    • Go, Dog, Go
    • The Best Nest
    • Hop on Pop

3.  Give your preschoolers games to play with that will help them develop mental and motor skills (not those noisy electronic games that do everything for them).  Some suggestions:

    • Matching pictures (teaches children to pay attention to details, differences).
    • Matching shapes or colors or numbers.
    • String large beads on a shoelace—only when your child is old enough to keep the beads out of her mouth (helps develop eye-hand co-ordination).
    • Simple puzzles—wooden puzzles are more durable for younger children (teaches sequencing).
    • Wood Blocks and/or Legos or Lego Duplos (for building, counting, adding, sorting, following directions, etc.).
    • Fat crayons and blank paper (small motor development).

4.  Play games with words and numbers (vocabulary development, listening and thinking skills, following directions).

    • Example:  “I’m thinking of something that is in the kitchen.  You can eat it.  It is red. It has sort of a round shape. It grows on a tree. It can fit in my hand. What is it?  (An apple.)  Give more clues if they can’t guess the object.
    • Example:  Give your child a few wood blocks (5 or 10) in a basket.  Say: “Take two blocks out of the basket.  Now, take out one more.  Count them. How many blocks are outside of the basket?  How many are left inside the basket?”

5.  Give your child balls in various sizes. Roll a ball back and forth with your toddler. Play catch, or kick a ball back and forth with your preschooler (co-ordination, co-operation, sharing).

Read, talk, and play together often.  You are developing your child’s vocabulary, phonemic awareness, listening skills, thinking skills, observation skills, small motor skills, and the ability to follow directions and co-operate with others.  This is valuable training for when your child is ready to begin reading and writing in school.