Take a book. Leave a book.

Are you trying to encourage a child to read more this summer in order to avoid the “summer slide”?  Here’s a suggestion I learned about while driving around Orlando a few weeks ago.

This Little Free Library is located in Arlington, VA.

I saw what looked like a bird house on someone’s front lawn near the sidewalk.  “That’s too low to be a safe house for a bird,” I thought, so I investigated.  The structure, made of wood with a glass front which opened and closed, contained about a dozen books.

It was a lending library on a private citizen’s lawn.

Perhaps you have a Little Free Library in your neighborhood too?  They were started in 2009 by Todd Bol who constructed a single box, but the idea has spread across the US, Canada, and Mexico to 70 other countries.  There are close to 100,000 registered Little Free Libraries, part of a nonprofit organization started by Bol.

This Little Free Library is located in Peachtree Corners, GA.

The idea is that anyone is free to take a book or leave a book from the Little Free Library.  Usually the family who establishes the Little Free Library takes care of it.

If you want to start a Little Free Library of your own, you can order your own library box fully made.  Or you can order construction plans to create your own.  Or if you have a flair for building, you can create your own.  Pictures I’ve seen include light house inspired boxes, phone booth inspired boxes, and simple wooden crates.

Some people add personal touches to their Little Free Libraries such as benches, a guest book (as simple as a spiral notebook), a handle to which you can attach your dog’s leach while you browse, bookmarks, pencils, crayons and solar lights.  But all that is really necessary is a weather-protected box and some books.

What kinds of books?  Whatever you think your neighbors will enjoy.  Picture books, graphic novels, biographies, decorating magazines, sci fi, thrillers—any kind which you think your neighbors will appreciate.

The Little Free Library has its own website with an interactive map that makes it possible for you to find a Little Free Library near your home.  When I checked, I found two within two miles of where I live in Georgia.

For more information, go to https://littlefreelibrary.org.

Which comes first—reading or writing?

For many little kids, writing comes first.  Not writing words but writing pictures to tell stories.

I was with a four-year-old recently, and listened as he explained his drawing on a white board in his house.  On the left were three smiling stick figures—a tall one who was waving, a medium-sized one with long hair, and a short one.  “That’s my dad, that’s my mom, and that’s me,” he said.

Next was what looked like a rocket ship in motion.  “We are flying,” he explained.

Farther along in the drawing was a circular object.  “That’s the moon,” he said.

“Are you going to the moon?” I asked.

“No!” he said, rather disgusted with my reasoning.  “We are going to Brazil.”

At the far right of the white board were the long-haired stick figure and the short stick figure, almost falling off the edge of the white board.  “Now me and Mom are in Brazil.”

This story’s ideas came from the child’s head—he will be traveling to Brazil soon with his mother—but also from the many books his parents have read to him (and the many cartoons he has watched).  From those sources he has unconsciously learned that stories are written in English from left to right; that they have a beginning, middle and end; that they are told in chronological order; and that they contain characters who do something.

This child can write his name.  He knows the alphabet in English and in Portuguese.  He can read some sight words in English.  But he cannot write a story in words.

Yet he can write a story in pictures, incorporating many of the fundamental aspects of story-telling.

So which comes first—reading or writing?

Is copying words the best way to learn spelling?

A typical elementary grade spelling homework assignment goes like this:

  • Monday night: Copy each word correctly five times.
  • Tuesday night: Arrange the words in alphabetical order.
  • Wednesday night: Write each word in a sentence.
  • Thursday night: Take a practice spelling test.
  • Friday day: Take a spelling test in school.

Child Browsing the Web

The theory behind these homework assignments is that the more children write words, the more likely they remember the word’s spelling.  But will they?

According to Marie Ripple*, author of a book on how to teach spelling, here are some things to consider if you hope this type of writing and rewriting of spelling words will help a child to learn to spell.

  • Copying is a visual process. See the word, write the word the same way.  But with so many young children being primarily kinesthetic learners, copying is a method of learning which does not tap into many children’s natural way of learning.
  • Copying is a memory process. Research has shown that in learning to read, memorizing words is a far less effective method than using phonics.  Reading and spelling are closely related.  So using phonics to show how letter sounds are combined to make certain sounds is a better way for most kids to learn spelling.
  • Copying can be an “automatic pilot” situation for children. They write words over and over while thinking about something else.  When they are done, they have retained little.

Instead of copying, Ripple recommends a variety of approaches to teaching kids spelling.

  • Combine visual, auditory and kinesthetic processes when you teach spelling. Don’t rely on one sensory process.
  • Use the Orton-Gillingham approach, used to treat dyslexia.  It explains why words are spelled the way they are and how certain letter pairings lead to certain sounds.
  • Teach a child based on what he or she already knows, ignoring what grade the child is in.
  • Teach the logic of English spelling. According to Ripple, 97% of English words follow predictable spelling patterns which can be learned.
  • Customize teaching spelling to a particular child based on that child’s preferred learning style and speed. Some kids need little review; some need constant review.

*For more information of Ripple’s book, go to http://info.allaboutlearningpress.com/6-ways-spelling-easy-thank-you?submissionGuid=18c9c079-27d3-4d1e-8965-917681da5d93

Discussing a story from different perspectives

Little children need to learn that there is usually more than one way to view a situation.  This includes viewing a reading passage from different perspectives.  How can you teach children to look at situations from various perspectives?

One way is by creating “hats,” one for each important character in a story.

Suppose, for example, you have read kindergarteners the story of Cinderella.  You could separate students into groups of four, and give each student a crown-like band to wear on top of the head.  The bands could be made from construction paper in four different colors.  The pink band could go on “Cinderella’s” head; the gold band on the “fairy godmother’s” head; the black band on the “stepmother’s” head; and the blue band on the “prince’s” head.

Ahead of time you have prepared a set of questions to ask, such as

  • At the beginning of the story, is this person happy or not happy? Why?
  • Why is the ball important to this person?
  • How does this person help or stop Cinderella from going to the ball?
  • At the end of the story is this person happy or not happy? Why?

By calling on some students wearing different hats for each question, students will learn that not all the characters think the same way about the events in the Cinderella story.

This same “hat” strategy can be used to discuss unrelated topics such as precipitation (rain, hail, snow); phases of the moon (full moon, half moon, quarter moon, new moon); and community jobs (police officer, fire fighter, teacher, grocery store owner).  By reading first about precipitation or the moon or community workers, children have a basic understanding.  Creating questions which force students to think about the ideas from various perspectives encourages young students to learn there are many different ways to understand the same circumstances.

I have spoken to many adults who say that as children, learning that not everyone did things the same way as their family did things came as a surprise.  And that not everyone thought the same way as their parents came as an even bigger surprise.

The “hats” strategy can be used not only to better understand literature, but also to understand the world around young children.

Behavioral signs that your student might be having trouble reading, writing

Students are really good at hiding or masking reading and writing problems.  If your student shows any of these signs, take another look at his or her cognitive skills.

Slurring over long words.  Some kids stop phonics instruction before they get to dividing words into syllables or deconstructing prefixes and suffixes.  When they see a long word, they say a word which begins the same way and slur the rest, hoping you won’t hear.  If you ask them to repeat the slurred word, they can’t read it.

Speaking softly.  Kids think, “If my teacher can’t hear it, then she can’t tell me it’s wrong.”  So they read or speak to you in a whisper.  Confident readers or speakers speak as loudly as you do.

Rarely asking questions.  If a student reads but doesn’t understand what he’s reading, it’s hard for him to ask a question.  But students who do understand often want more information.  Beware of silent students.

Talking off-topic.  Some students who are socially adept will precede a lesson with small talk, or interrupt to ask about your family or haircut.  They are stalling because they find the work hard.

Going last.  If a student routinely wants to go last, it can be because she is hoping against hope that there won’t be time for her complete lesson.  These students are reluctant because they are unprepared or don’t understand what is being taught.

Needing to use the rest room during the lesson.  Good students rarely need to be excused for part of the lesson, but poor students routinely do.  They say they need to use the rest room or to get a drink of water, taking more time than seems reasonable.

Checking the time.  Some students check their watches or phones every few minutes.  That’s not because they want the lesson to last.  They know to the second when the lesson should end and remind you when that time comes.

Coming to a lesson without workbooks, texts or homework.  “Oh, let me get it,” they will say, cheerfully, heading to their bedroom or locker and wasting three or four minutes.

What can you, the parent or teacher do?  We’ll discuss that in our next blog.

How to solve some behavioral problems masking trouble reading, writing

Hiding unpreparedness or lack of knowledge can become an art form for some students.  In the last blog we spoke of some of the ways students do this.  Now we will talk about how you can overcome these strategies.

You diagnose the reading problems.

Slurring over long words.  Assume the student needs advanced phonics instruction.  Work on dividing words into syllables and how to pronounce those words.  Work on prefixes and suffixes by separating root words.  Then discuss what each prefix and suffix means.  Put them back together again.  After four or five such lessons, ask the student to read a new passage and see if he still stumbles.  Ask about particular words which might be hard to pronounce or understand.

Speaking softly.  Ask other teachers if the student speaks softly in their classes.  If it is just in your class, there is probably no speech impediment.  Make sure there are no distracting noises.  If there are, move to a quieter spot to work.  Insist that the student face you when she speaks, and that she reads or speaks slowly.  Have her repeat if you still can’t hear her.  If this leads to tears, offer a moment for the student to collect herself, but keep going.    You could always bring a microphone.  Or bring a tape recorder and replay the student’s voice on “loud.”  The student needs to know the stalling tactic won’t work.

Rarely asking questions.  Turn the tables.  You ask the questions which you think your student should be asking.  Wait patiently for the answers.

Talking off-topic.  Interrupt Mr. Congeniality and say you would love to chat about your weekend after class.  Check your watch each time your student goes off-topic and make sure the student know you are adding that time to the original start time.  Continue to add minutes if the student interrupts.

Going last.  Mix the order of students if there is more than one, so the student who prefers to go last goes first or second.  If this is not possible, arrange your teaching time so you will have more than enough time for the one who desires a short lesson.

Needing to use the rest room.  If possible, five minutes before the lesson begins, call the student who usually needs to use the rest room and instruct him to use it now because there will be no time during the lesson.  If that is not possible, tell the student at the beginning of the lessons that there will be no bathroom break, and stick to it.  If the student still insists, time the student and make the student aware that you are extending the lesson by that amount of time.

Checking the time.  Tell the student he may not check his phone or watch during the class period.  Instead, you tell him every ten minutes or so how much longer the class will last.  Make sure he knows the time exactly when you begin—you could show him your cell phone—and show him the time again when class ends.

Coming to a lesson without workbooks, texts or homework.  If possible, before the lesson begins, remind the student what materials will be needed and tell her to get them now.  If that is impossible, tell the student as she approaches for her lesson that she has exactly 30 seconds to get what she needs.  Start counting aloud from 30 backwards.  Then add 30 seconds to the end of the lesson.

Your hope is that the student will improve his or her behavior.  If they do, say  thank you.  If there is another parent or a homeroom teacher whom the student respects, make sure you also let that person know the student’s behavior has improved.  Always spread good news.

Identify the main idea with a colored pencil

I find colored pencils or highlighters are so useful when teaching writing.  But they can be just as useful when teaching reading, especially if the same colors are used consistently.

Suppose you are teaching students to identify the main idea in a reading passage, and that the students are reading from a source which they can mark.  First, have students read a passage.  Then help them discover the main idea.  Instruct them to underline or highlight the main idea with a particular color, such as red.  Later, whenever you are working on main idea, ask students to identify it with a red underline.

Sometimes a whole sentence is a main idea, but sometimes the main idea is not identified so neatly.  Sometimes a phrase can be underlined.  Or sometimes the student needs to write the main idea over the title using red ink if it is implied but not stated directly.

Many times all or part of the main idea is repeated in paragraph after paragraph.  Students need to know that the main idea is often repeated, and they need to identify examples of it by underlining those repeats with their red pencils.

What if you are teaching supporting details?  A different color—say orange—could be used to underline supporting details.  If the main idea in a Cinderella story is that Cinderella wants to go to the ball, then all the details helping her get there should be underlined in orange—the fairy godmother, the pumpkin carriage, the mice footmen, the ball gown and of course the glass slippers.  Even the clock striking is an important detail.

Almost every reading test asks for the main idea.  Students need practice, lots of practice in all kinds of reading materials, to identify the main ideas and the details which support the main ideas.

If you are consistent with your color choices, students will get used to seeing their reading through the colors they apply.  And if you are checking to see if students are identifying correctly, all you need to do is look for the color red or orange or whatever color scheme you decide on.  Walking around a classroom, you can easily tell if the students identify correctly, or if they are fooled.

You might be thinking, but students can’t mark textbooks.  True.  But so many schools today use workbooks in many subjects for each student.  Even if the purpose of a particular passage has nothing to do with finding a main idea—a science or math passage, for example—you can still use it to identify main ideas.