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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You diagnose the reading problem

You diagnose the reading problems.Situation:  A first grader can read CVC words in lists and on flash cards.  When another consonant is added to create a blend CCVC word (cot to clot, or ran to bran) she stops, sounding out the first consonant and skipping the second consonant.  She asks what the four-letter words mean.

When she sees paragraphs, she cringes and says, “That’s too hard.”  Throughout a half-hour lesson she asks every five minutes or so if the lesson is over yet.  The mother is concerned that this child is behind her classmates in reading.

Diagnosis:

  • This little girl is already intimidated by the reading process. Her repeatedly asking if the lesson is about to end shows her discomfort with reading.  This child needs much encouragement.
  • Repeating successful work might be a good way to begin a lesson in order to give the girl confidence.
  • She could benefit from frequent but short lessons (ten or fifteen minutes), perhaps with a timer.
  • How two consonants work together to form blended sounds is a new concept for her. Working on one blend each lesson (“bl,” for example) might be a good place to begin.  She could be shown pictures of “bl” words (blue, black, blaze, bleed, blocks, blossom, blueberry, blush, blow, and blouse).
  • After sounding out the words and recognizing the “bl” sound, she could be shown the “bl” letter blend. Letter tiles moved slowly together to form BLVC words could reinforce the blended sound of those letters.
  • She also needs work on vocabulary, so as often as possible seeing a picture of the new word, or acting out the new word, might help her remember its meaning.

As for the mother’s concern that the child has fallen behind classmates, that might be true.  However, the girl is not far behind and can easily catch up with frequent, short, unpressured lessons.  Her mother might read to her strictly for pleasure, perhaps pointing out a CVC word here and there that the child probably knows.  The mother could keep a list of words that the child can read on the refrigerator, asking the child to add a word or two each day a day so the child and the mother can see progress.

Should my child go to a full-day kindergarten? I have a choice.

Yes!  Research shows that

  • Students in full-day programs learn more than in half- day kindergartens, particularly in reading and math. Most full-day programs are 4.5 to 6 hours daily, while most half-day classes are 2 to 3 hours daily (30 hours weekly v. 15 hours weekly).

    Reading time in full-day and half-day kindergarten.

    Making the Most of Kindergarten: Present Trends and Future Issues in the Provision of Full-day Programs by Debra J. Ackerman, W. Steven Barnett, and Kenneth B. Robin (March 2005)

  • Full-day programs allow the student to spend close to an hour on self-directed activities which are linked to long-term learning, compared to about a half hour for such activities in half-day programs.

However, most states do not require districts to offer full-day kindergartens.

  • Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, West Virginia and the District of Columbia require districts to offer full-day kindergartens.
  • Thirty-four other states require half-day kindergartens; however, many districts in those states offer full-day kindergarten.
  • Five states—Alaska, Idaho, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania—do not require school districts to offer any kind of kindergarten, though most districts do.

The trend to attend kindergarten full-days is growing.  Only ten percent of kindergarteners attended full-days in the 1970’s, while more than half do now.

What is driving this trend?

  • Research showing academic gains by children in full-day programs is convincing legislators to budget more state money for full-day kindergartens.
  • The rigor of Common Core standards may be spurring longer kindergarten days.
  • The emphasis on early learning in general (prekindergarten through third grade) and the push to make all kids readers by third grade has educators looking for more time to teach children.

My older two children attended half-day kindergarten in Michigan—all that was offered in the school they attended.  But my youngest child attended full-days in Georgia.  He had not attended a pre-K program, so he found the long day in school tiring at first even though, after lunch, the lights went out and the blinds were drawn while the children lay on mats and were encouraged to nap.  Within a few weeks he had adjusted, paging through picture books while his friends napped.

Did I notice an academic advantage in my third child?  No.  Would I send all three to full-day kindergarten now if I had that opportunity?  Yes.  The growing research convinces me that full-day kindergarten gives children an advantage as they start first grade.  Other research shows that many students eventually lose that advantage as they move on to second and third grades.  However, that cannot be blamed on the kindergarten program.  –Mrs. K

I think the issue of full day kindergarten has changed from years ago.  The real question is, “What will my child be doing during the other half of the day if he is not in school?”  If a parent is lucky enough to be a full-time, stay-at-home parent, then maybe the child will be better off getting more TLC at home.   But if both parents are working, then those parents will probably want full day kindergarten .

One of my children had full-day kindergarten.  The other one had half-day kindergarten and half-day daycare.  My grandson is lucky enough to live in one of the three states that offer free preschool for four year olds.  He attends a half day program five days a week.  It seems to me that this year of preschool for four year olds is very much like what we used to call half-day kindergarten.  –Mrs. A

How about you?  Did you send your child to full-day kindergarten?  To half-day kindergarten?  Did it make a difference?

How digital ebooks—including picture books—are evolving

Is your young child using a laptop computer, a notebook or a tablet in the classroom?  One in three students are, according to a survey by Project Tomorrow based in Irvine, CA.

Young girl 's reading choices include a print book and an eBook.Young girl 's reading choices include a print book and an eBook.Until now, most of the ebook material available has been at too high a reading level for beginning readers, but that is rapidly changing.  (For example, Mrs. A and I created five ebook stories for children learning short vowel sounds.)

The narrative or story ebooks (picture books) that would attract grades preK-2 are becoming more sophisticated as publishers experiment with the features these ebooks can offer.

  • The first such ebooks were scanned versions of picture books in their original form—same cover, same font size, same everything except that these ebooks were available on a digital platform. Some features of picture books were lost, such as the tiny size of board books or the large size of some illustrations, but other features were gained, such as the fun of using a computer or phone to read a picture book.
  • Later ebooks took the Reading Rainbow approach—a voice reading the book aloud, and pictures zooming in or out as if to show action. Instead of the child being in charge of the reading, and moving through the book at his own pace, the film director decided what was important, what words to emphasize and how much time to spend on any one illustration.
  • The next step in the evolution of ebook picture books was interactive ebooks. The design of the print version was altered to take advantage of features like “Read to me” (the child presses a button and a voice reads the book), music, sound effects and animation.
  • More recently, tablets and smart phones allow children to move characters about so that the reader becomes part of the story. The child reader can “help” a character by performing certain actions, or at the end of the story, complete puzzles, word games and coloring activities related to and enriching the story or the child’s reading skills.  Many of these new picture books begin life as ebooks, bypassing the printed stage altogether.

What’s next?  I suspect ebooks will become personalized, with the child able to change the name of a character to a name of his choice, and to change the outcome of the story to fit his mood.  He might be able to change the color scheme or to select more advanced vocabulary as his reading skills improve.  Look to video games, to wii and x-box 360 for technology that will eventually work its way into ebooks.

What would Dr. Seuss think?