Reading tips from Scholastic

Scholastic, the publisher of so many children’s books, offers seven tips to increase reading opportunities for children on its website, http://www.scholastic.com/parents/resources/article/more-reading-resources/reading-tips-parents.  I have paraphrased them below.

  • Label everything in your home with masking tape or Post-it notes.  This is a great way for young children to learn vocabulary, including long words such as refrigerator and calculator.
  • Find a book that is “just right” for your child.  Have the child read the front cover, the back cover, and the first page of a book.  If the child can read all the words, the book might be okay or it might be too easy.  If the child can’t read five of the words, the book is probably too hard.
  • Teach the child how to read a street map of your neighborhood.  Reading diagrams, maps and graphs is an important skill in Common Core curriculum.  Have the child translate the diagram into word directions.  “Go down the front steps.  Turn left.  Walk to the end of the street.  Turn left onto Delaware Avenue and keep walking until you get to Lincoln Park.  Be careful crossing the street.”
  • Read greeting cards together.  Go to the grocery store or drug store’s birthday card section.  Read the cards together and vote which one is best.
  • Take pictures during an outing or vacation.  Later, ask the child to create captions for each photo and gather them into a photo album.  Or make a booklet of photos and words.
  • Read the Sunday comics with your child.  Cut out good ones to hang on the refrigerator.  Reread them.  [Inference can be learned from this activity, looking at facial expressions where words are not used.]
  • Help your child write a letter to his favorite author.  Most authors have a website which will accept emails.  Or you can find a mailing address on the publisher’s website.

How to encourage multiple perspectives on a reading topic

When students take Advanced Placement (AP) courses, they must read and analyze several documents on a given topic.  Those documents come from various sources, such as diaries, government publications, laws, news reports, emails and speeches.  The documents approach the topic from various perspectives, such as a private citizens, columnists, people with a grudge, historians and mental health experts.

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From all these documents students are asked to understand a complicated issue and to make sense of it.

Can we work with young readers, even beginning readers, to encourage a similar wider, multifaceted understanding of a topic?  Can we help children to identify important ideas and then help them to compare and contrast those ideas through various reading sources?  Can we help our earliest readers to become critical thinkers?

Yes.  One way is by choosing several books or other reading sources which approach a topic from different perspectives or genres.  First, decide on a question you would like the student to explore, such as, What was it like to take the Oregon Trail? or Why do polar bears need ice?  To have the greatest impact, the topic should be one the student is studying or a seasonal or timely topic.  Together the sources should give a wider and more profound understanding than any one source alone can give.

Here are some examples for primary grade students.

graceforpres

The question might be, Can a girl be President?  Show the student a copy of The Constitution and explain what it is.  Then have reproduced the appropriate lines from Article II defining the President’s qualifications.  Discuss what they mean.  Then have the student read Grace for President by Kelly S. DiPucchio, about a little girl who decides to run for president at her school.  Discuss how hard it is to become President.  Finally, your child could read a biography of Hillary Clinton, such as Hillary Rodham Clinton:  Some Girls Are Born to Lead by Michelle Markel or Who is Hillary Clinton? by Heather Alexander.  Discuss whether Mrs. Clinton has the qualifications needed, and what other strengths might be needed to be a President.

If the question is What’s an idiom? your student could start with In a Pickle: And Other Funny Idioms by Marvin Terban. This book explains what an idiom is and then illustrates well-known idioms with funny drawings.  Next, your child could read Raining Cats and Dogs: A Collection of Irresistible Idioms and Illustrations to Tickle the Funny Bones of Young People by Will Moses.  This book illustrates common idioms, but goes one step further:  it explains how the idioms came to be.  My Teacher is an Idiom by Jamie Gilson shows what happens in a fictional second grade when a new student from France misunderstands English idioms, and when the English-speaking kids misunderstand French idioms.  The reader learns that all cultures have idioms, but sometimes they do not translate into another language.

If the question is What is the water cycle? you could explore Water is Water:  A Book about the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul.  With poetry and evocative art, readers follow two children as they pass through the water cycle as water goes from rain outside to steam in the tea pot to evaporation into clouds.  In The Drop in my Drink: The Story of Water on Our Planet by Meredith Hooper, readers travel back to a young planet Earth to find out where water came from and to learn about erosion and how all living things depend on water.  National Geographic Readers: Water by Melissa Stewart shows more about the water cycle through beautiful photography and easy reading words.

Do you multitask when you teach your child?

Do you multitask when you oversee your children’s work?  Do you listen to little Sia read while stealing glances at your smart phone for text messages?  Do you cut away from little Andy writing his ABCs to check your Facebook page?

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According to research, those little breaks in concentration — just two or three seconds — can double the number of errors a person makes in his or her work.  When your work is supervising your child’s work, you can miss your child’s victories and mistakes and miss opportunities to intervene.

All the technology around us and our speed in using it encourages us to multitask.  We run the treadmill while watching TV.  We drive with buds in our ears.  We push the baby carriage while texting.  We make dinner while we supervise the children’s homework.  It’s not possible all the time to stop multitasking, but when it is possible, we should.  Research shows that multitasking is just another word for doing two things poorly. Single tasking, or as Grandma used to say, “paying attention” is the way to do work well.

I have seen parents on their laptops or cell phones or both while their preschooler works a puzzle in a doctor’s waiting room.  The child looks up for affirmation, but no one notices: an opportunity to show the child how important he is — wasted.

When your work is teaching children to read or write, turn off the electronics.  Put the tablet and cell phone out of sight.  Sit close so your child can see he has your full attention.  When he speaks, respond not with “uh-huh” or “um” but with specific words that show you are listening.  Look at your child’s body language.  When her grimace shows you she is confused or needs help, offer encouragement.  When she pronounces a word well or writes a big kid word like “irritable,” say how proud you are of her work.

If you must take a call, answer an email, or mix the meatloaf, tell the child you will work with her in four or twelve or however many minutes.  Then set the kitchen timer so the child can see it, and when it rings, give her your undivided attention.  Let her know some of your time is just for her.  Make her feel treasured.

For more information on the ineffectiveness of multitasking, read an article in The New York Times, at https://goo.gl/m33dNg.

My son’s kindergarten reading teacher says he won’t talk. He talks at home, but he is really shy. What’s going on?

It helps to know the reason for the speechlessness so that your son’s teacher will know how to modify her teaching style to make the student and teacher comfortable.  Since he has normal speech at home, perhaps he is selectively mute.

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Selectively mute children might be speechless all the time or only in social situations which make them afraid.  They might show anxiety, excessive shyness, fear of social embarrassment and withdrawal.  Symptoms* include

  • “consistent failure to speak in specific social situations (in which there is an expectation for speaking, such as at school) continues despite speaking in other situations.
  • “not speaking interferes with school or work, or with social communication.
  • “not speaking lasts at least one month (not limited to the first month of school).
  • “failure to speak is not due to a lack of knowledge of, or comfort, with the spoken language required in the social situation
  • “not speaking is not due to a communication disorder (e.g., stuttering).”

Ask that your son be evaluated by a speech pathologist.  But also have his hearing tested.  Sometimes persistent middle ear infections can make hearing hard.

After you have pinpointed the problem as much as possible, then you can plan how to make your son verbal in school.  This may take several professionals working together—the school psychologist, the speech pathologist, his teacher, you and possibly his pediatrician.

In the meantime, inform his reading teacher that you are following up on her observation.  Ask her to accept that this behavior is normal for him right now.  Ask her to find nonverbal ways for him to respond and participate in group activities until an intervention plan gets underway.

*According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Best illustrated children’s books of 2016, according to The New York Times

The New York Times Book Review judges picture books published in the past year and chooses the best ones based only on the illustrations.  The covers of this year’s ten winners are shown below.

Picture books about voting and elections

With the election looming, this is a great time to read about how a president is elected.  Below are five picture books which get the job done.

Vote!  by Eileen Christelowvote

This book introduces children to the fundamentals of voting, including political parties, campaigns, pollsters, debates, voter registration and casting ballots.  The candidates’ dogs try to figure it out.

Vote for Me!  By Ben Clantonvoteforme

A donkey and an elephant seek votes and after a while, resort to exaggerating, name-calling, making silly promises and even slugging mud at one another.  This satirical view of an election is told in red and blue.

Grace for President by Kelly S. DiPucchiograceforpres

When Grace hears a woman has never been elected President, she decides to run in her school’s election.  She soon figures out it’s not easy to get elected.

 

If I Ran for President by Catherine Steirif_i_ran

What would you need to do to run for President?  This picture book shows how you would develop a platform, choose a vice president and campaign for votes.

 

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One Vote, Two Votes, I Vote, You Vote by Bonnie Worth

The Cat in the Hat explains American democracy.  Why are elections in November?  Why do political parties exist?  The focus is on electing the President, all told in rhyme.

For more book selections, go to http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/25617.Children_s_Books_About_Voting

What kinds of questions help students learn?

Asking the right kinds of questions can help students learn, according to Robert J. Marzano*, an expert in the field.  He divides questions into four kinds, those that elicit

Students shouting I Know to teacher

  • details (narrow information or facts),
  • characteristics (general information about the category into which the details fit),
  • elaborations (enhanced details about the information within a category, including the reasons why certain things happen) and
  • evidence (sources that bolster or debunk the reasoning made by the student when elaborating, or reconsideration by the student of his own thinking and logic ).

Let’s apply his ideas to some reading that children do.

For third graders reading Judy Blume’s Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great,

  • Details: What are some things Sheila is afraid of?  Where does Sheila live most of the time?  Where does she go on vacation?
  • Characteristics: Is Sheila the Great a book of fiction or nonfiction?  What kind of fiction?  Can you name some other books that fit into this category?
  • Elaborations:  Why is Sheila afraid to learn to swim?  Why are other kids afraid to swim?  Are they the same reasons why some kids are afraid to ride bikes or to touch spiders?
  • Evidence: Where could you find information about why kids are afraid to swim?  If you use the internet, what key words would you use to find out?  If you talked to a person, what person would be an expert?  a non-expert?

For preschoolers being read William Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble,

  • Details: What kind of animal is Sylvester?  Where does Sylvester find the magic pebble?  What kind of animal scares Sylvester?
  • Characteristics: Are there really such things as magic pebbles?  What do we call stories that are make-believe?  Can you think of another make-believe story?  Why do children like make-believe stories?
  • Elaborations: Why is Sylvester sad after no one can see him?  Why are his parents sad?  Would I be sad if you were lost like Sylvester?
  • Evidence: If you became lost, who could you go to so I could find you?  What would be some information about me that you could tell the police?

Each level of questions becomes harder to answer, so if you use this questioning strategy, begin with details questions and work your way to harder questions. The first two levels, details and characteristics, can be asked of a group, but the other two levels require more thought and might better be considered through discussion.  Evidence-based questions might require time to answer, so might be given as homework, or be talked over again when the child has had time to consider his response.

To make this line of questioning easy on you, the parent or teacher, think details first, then genre and characteristics of that genre, then questions beginning with “why,” and last sources for more information.

*Marzano heads Marzano Research Laboratory and is author of books on teaching.  He wrote about this questioning technique in the February 2013 issue of Educational Leadership.  For examples of his questioning technique, go to   http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/journals/ed_lead/el201302_marzano.pdf.