How can I help my child navigate ebook technology? There are so many features to remember.

In 2012 the most popular interactive parts of ebooks (according to research) were voice narration, hot spots (places on the screen that respond to touch), games, sounds (music and sound effects), and text highlighting.

None of these features are present in traditional print books.

Kneeling young girl is playing a portable video game.

What this means is that before children can “read” an ebook, they need to know how to navigate its interactive features. For some children, navigating is fun. If they have wrestled with video games, like Mario Brothers, they might find navigating an ebook a challenge or even easy.

But for children new to electronic equipment, or for children who find new situations difficult, learning to read an ebook can be frustrating. For example, ebook readers need to familiarize themselves with numerous icons, whose meaning changes depending on the ebook. Tapping a backwards circling arrow in one book might mean go back to the previous page, while in another book it might alert the narrator to read the book aloud.

What can you as a parent do to help your child navigate ebooks?Boy on floor reading an ebook on his tablet.

  • Show your child various versions of the same book—a print version, an audio version, and a digitally available one, for example. Or show several different digital stories. Point out that reading each one requires different skills. Try to name some features that are the same and some that are different.
  • Model how to navigate an ebook, talking to yourself out loud so your child can hear you think aloud. Ask your child for suggestions. Explore the technology of the book together.
  • When you or someone close to you gets a new phone or tablet or other device, explore its features with your child. Point out to your child the new features and how important it is to stay up-to-date on these changes. Imagine together what features your next device will have.
  • When the child reads an ebook and encounters a problem, help him to solve it with minimal involvement from you, so he develops a “can-do” attitude. Remind him of another situation like this which he has already encountered. Encourage him to try various approaches. Be persistent.
  • Most importantly, make your child comfortable with the idea of change.

What is choral reading?

Choral reading is group reading aloud in which a fluent reader serves as a model for students learning to read. It is a reading method frequently used in pre-K to second grade classrooms and in ESL classrooms, but it can also be a good method to teach reading at home.

Here’s how it works:

  • A fluent reader, usually a teacher, parent or recorded voice, reads a story aloud. The students gather around the teacher who uses a large-sized book whose text is also large. As she reads, she points to each word. Or, if children have their own copies of the text, they point to the words she says with their fingers.choral reading
  • The teacher reads the selection once while the children follow along silently with their eyes on the text.
  •  The teacher reads the selection several more times, each time with students joining in for the words they can say. Usually, with repeated readings, students can read more of the words.
  • Often the selection is reread the next day or soon after to reinforce the students’ ability to read the selection.

Why do choral reading?

  • It’s fun. Children love to read aloud when they are one of many voices. Many times the selections have repeated phrases like “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down,” or rhymes, which increase the fun.
  • More skilled readers serve as models for the less skilled students sitting by their sides. The less skilled readers listen not only to their teacher, but to their peers, and they learn from each other.
  • Less skilled students, who might be embarrassed to read aloud by themselves, feel comfortable as part of the group. Their mistakes either can’t be heard or are ignored. They feel more confident about reading aloud. They also realize that with repeated readings, they can read more words.
  • ESL students learn proper pronunciation, phrasing and intonation from listening and mimicking the fluent reader.
  • Dyslexic readers, who often memorize words rather than sound them out, remember better because they are enjoying the reading experience. Their lack of reading ability is less noticeable when they are part of a group.

 

What is the right age to start a child writing essays? Is first grade too young?

3rd grade student writingFor 20 years I have tutored children in how to write. Only one rising first grader and two children already in first grade were ready to write essays. Essays require thoughtful organization for which most first graders don’t have the patience or organizational skills. They want to jump right in without planning.

What qualities do I look for in students ready to write essays?

  • Children who already write long narratives—the fronts and backs of notebook paper. Sometimes this is the sign of a gifted child who is more advanced than her peers in writing skills.
  • Children who can read at a third grade level or better. Through their reading, these children have encountered lots of writing which subconsciously will influence their style, vocabulary and topics.
  • Children with strong vocabulary skills. During a writing class, students will hear new words, or will hear words used in new ways. Liking to work with words is a sign that students are ready for essay writing.
  • Children who can spell well (not perfectly) with more correct spelling than phonetic spelling. A writing lesson is not a spelling lesson.
  • Children who speak English well, using words and grammar correctly. Writing lessons include fixing up grammar errors, but in general, the student’s command of English grammar and usage should be good. A writing lesson is not a grammar lesson.
  • Children who can focus for up to an hour. Many skills come together during writing classes—holding a pencil, forming letters and words, organizing thoughts, spelling, finding synonyms in a thesaurus, listening to a teacher’s instructions, sitting (or standing) for most of an hour, and asking questions. Writing is a process, not a single skill, and parts of the process are best worked on while the ideas are flowing, so the child needs to be able to hang in there.
  • Children willing to take direction. I have taught talented first graders who had all the above qualities but they were not willing to listen to my suggestions or to follow my directions. Children need maturity to begin essay writing.

Third grade is a good time to start essay writing for some children. For others, fourth grade is better. During kindergarten, first and second grade, students can focus on writing sentences or paragraphs. Invite to EnglishWritingTeacher.comThey can also learn from reading with an adult. You can point out to your child why a certain sentence sounds good, or how a writer gets the child’s attention. You can point out how a certain character in a book sounds like a child because of the words she uses or the way she uses them, while an adult sounds differently.

What research tells us about reading

What can we learn about reading from all the research that has been done over the years? Carol Gordon from Rutgers University offers many ideas.

Three students practicing different activities--reading being one.
 

  • Students become better readers by reading (just like swimmers become better swimmers by swimming or pianists become better piano players by practicing). The more they read, the better they read.
  • Choice among genres and media encourages reading. Restricting reading to books only is too restricting when comic books, graphic novels, magazines, web sites, blogs, emails, chat rooms, text messaging and apps tempt students. Students will read more when they are free to choose what they want to read.
  • Teaching students how to read (once they know the basics) is often no more helpful than letting students read and read and read. If they are motivated to read, they will figure out how to do it better.
  • Students read when reading materials are easily accessible. No books in the bedroom? Is it any wonder the student doesn’t read? Piles of library books next to the bed? Of course, the student will read.
  • Summer reading programs maintain or increase reading skills. Research shows that poor children lose two months or more of reading skills if they don’t read during the summer. Better off families, meanwhile, enroll their kids in library programs or hire a summer tutor, so their children’s reading scores improve during the summer.
  • Blogs, apps, reading groups, reading buddies, student reviews and other means of making reading a social experience encourage reading.
  • The best motivator is the enjoyment or satisfaction that a student gets from reading. If a student needs an outside motivator, connect that motivator to reading—rewarding with a new comic book, for example.

For more information, go to School Library Journal, November 2010.

Online site offers current events reading for young readers

If you have a young reader who is reading at a third grade level, a new online site offering nonfiction news articles might attract him.

Child Browsing the WebAt www.newsela.com news stories at five different reading levels are offered. The lowest reading level is targeted for an average third grader, and the highest (the original news story) is written at a college level.  In between are three rewrites at intermediate reading levels.  Two news articles are posted daily, along with a quiz for each article.  Both the news stories and the quizzes are aligned with the Common Core standards for nonfiction literacy.

The news stories are divided into seven topics:  war and peace, science, kids, money, law, health and arts.  Articles from Feb. 6 and 7 include “CVS to stop selling cigarettes,” “Marine biologists baffled by beached whales in Florida,” and “Fourth-graders have become better readers.”

Articles are geared to younger readers by the subject matter, choice of vocabulary and the average sentence length.  I calculated the CVS article written for third graders to have about 8 words per sentence.  Paragraphs in that article ranged from one sentence to five sentences.

To the right of each article, which comes with a colored photo or graphic, are five tabs to allow the reader to choose his own reading level.  If a child finds one level too hard or too easy, he can choose another.

Jennifer Coogan, chief content officer for the website, selects the stories to feature from the AP News Service and the McClatchy-Tribune News Service.  Stories might be international, such as a story about Parliament telling Buckingham Palace to cut back on expenses and to repair its palaces.   Or they might have regional interest, such as the effects of an inch or two of snow on Atlanta.

The people who rewrite the original stories use guidelines for readability, including sentence structure, context clues, and time shifting in narratives.  Because younger readers don’t have “reading stamina,” said Coogan, the articles’ word counts are aligned to state-wide assessments.

The quizzes use multiple choice questions, but they also might ask a student to tell in which paragraph an idea is found.  In the works are questions that require short answers from student readers.  Also coming is a Spanish version of this service.

Although the primary target audience of the website is teachers, parents can sign up for their children.  The annual cost is $18 per student for an individual student; $2,000 per grade in a single school; and $6,000 for a whole school.  So far 90,000 teachers and a half million students are using the site.

In an earlier blog, I wrote how boys often prefer nonfiction reading.  Websites like this one might be a good alternative for them.  The timeliness of the articles, the daily introduction of new articles, the subjects themselves—plus reading and answering questions online—might attract boys who are not keen on reading fiction.  –Mrs. K

How much do you know about reading and vocabulary?

1. How many word families (go, going, goes, went, and gone, for example, are one word family) does an incoming ninth grader need to know?  a. about 1000  b. about 10,000  c. about 100,000  d. about 1 million

2. If a student reads widely 60 minutes a day, five days a week, how many words will he read in a year?  a. about 30,000  b. about 100,000  c. about 1 million  d. about 2.5 million

3. If a student reads widely for 60 minutes a day, five days a week, about how many new vocabulary words will he learn in a year?  a. 1000  b. 2000  c. 3000  d. 4000

4. If a teacher assigns a student to look up vocabulary words, and to write their definitions, and to write sentences using the words properly, is this an effective way to learn new vocabulary words?  a. yes  b. no

5. If a student reads all assigned school reading, but does not read widely outside of assigned reading, can a student learn as much vocabulary as he needs to know?  a. yes  b. no

Click here for  ANSWERS

Son and mother reading on a park bench.So what can parents do to make sure their children—even beginning readers—learn the vocabulary they will need to succeed in school?

  • Read often and widely to your children. Choose fairy tales, how-to books, biographies and any subject of interest to your child.
  • Once your child can read independently, make sure she does. You read one page while she reads the next; or you read your book while she sits next to you reading hers.  If you model the behavior you expect, you are more likely to get it than if you watch TV while you ask your child to read.
  • When your child asks you what a word means, tell her, and sometimes explain how you know or how your remember that word. If you don’t know a meaning, look it up.  Make your child familiar with dictionaries, thesauruses and online search engines.
  • Make sure your child knows the vocabulary of the subjects she is studying in school. If she is learning her shapes, she needs to know circle, square, rectangle, oval, rectangular prism and trapezoid.  If she is studying grammar, she needs to know her parts of speech.
  • Some words have one meaning in one context (to set the book on the table) and have another meaning in another context (the set of odd numbers). Make sure your child knows multiple meanings of everyday words.
  • Let your child see you figuring out the meanings of words through context clues, through breaking a word into prefixes, roots and suffixes, and through the use of dictionaries, thesauruses and online search engines. Help her to do this over and over, so she has strategies to use to figure out new words.
  • Engage in conversations with your child using new-to-her vocabulary words. These could be discussions about something you are reading together or about what she studied in preschool today.  If your child uses words like “thing,” “something,” or “stuff,” ask her to use a more specific word.

To learn, we need to know the vocabulary of what we are learning.  To comprehend reading, we need to know thousands of words.  It begins at the beginning, reading aloud to your child.

How to teach short e and short i

Short e and short i are difficult sounds to distinguish for most beginning readers.  When I teach these sounds, I rely on two game-like activities that little children seem to like.

For one of the activities, I have gathered small pictures of words which either start with short e or short i or which use them in the CVC pattern.  Such pictures might include an igloo, bed, fish, elephant, mitt, pen, pin and bell.  I cut several index cards in half and paste one picture on each card.  Also on one card I write an e and on another card an i.

During the lesson, I put the e and i cards in front of the child and we practice saying those letter sounds.  Then the child sorts the deck of cards I have created, putting cards under one of the two letter sounds.  We say the word aloud to reinforce the letter sound.

For another activity, I have created BINGO-like cards of short e and short i words.  Since most children learning these sounds with me are four years old, I limit each BINGO card to nine words.  I say one of the words and the child must find and cover it, using a letter tile or a plastic marker.

Included here are several BINGO cards which you can download or use on your tablet or iPad.

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