Category Archives: early childhood education

How to foster rich academic language

Academic language—the vocabulary and phrases we use to talk about what we are studying, such as “factor,” “amendment,” or “gerund”—begins early in a student’s life.  “Add” and “subtract” are academic words.  So are “vowel,” “consonant,” and “syllable.”

Today it seems there are more academic language words than when I was a student.  “Digraph” was a word I didn’t learn until I was an adult.  I didn’t need it.  As a student, I learned “blend” which meant both blends and digraphs.  I learned “evaporate” in high school when I studied the water cycle for the first time.  But my four-year-old grandson was taught evaporation in his preschool.  He explained: “The rain comes down and then it goes back up again.”

What can we do to help our youngest students become comfortable with academic language?  According to researchers Friedberg, Mitchell, and Brooke* we can do plenty.

We can foster a language rich environment, whether at home or in the classroom.  We can use precise, adult words which are just as easy to learn as “baby” words.  “Explain what you see.”  “What can you infer about the feelings of Cinderella?”

We can teach essential vocabulary, and repeat those words often so that students learn them.  “Before,” “during,” “next” and “after” are essential to describe sequences.  Synonyms and antonyms need to be taught.  “Sufficient” means “enough.”

We can teach words showing shades of meaning.    An “incident” is a small “event.”  A “catastrophe” is a big “problem.”

We can teach content area words.  In a math class, we can teach “addend” and “sum.”  In a reading class, we can teach “sentence” “fragment” and “run-on.”

We can model the use of academic language.  We can say “spider” and “insect,” not “bug.”

To reinforce meanings, we can show photos, draw pictures and use diagrams.  We can post graphics on the refrigerator or bulletin board for students to scrutinize up close.

As students become a bit older, we can teach root words, prefixes and suffixes to show word relationships.  “Un” means “not” so “unhealthy” means not healthy.  “Ful” at the end of a word turns a noun into an adjective, so “grace” becomes “graceful.”

We can model self-monitoring of comprehension.  We can read a sentence or a paragraph and then paraphrase aloud what we just read to prove we understand it.

*“​Understanding Academic Language and its Connection to School Success​” (Friedberg, Mitchell, & Brooke, 2016).

 

 

 

Is your four- or five-year-old ready to read?

At four years old, and even at five years old, most children cannot put a hand over the top of their heads and touch the opposite ear.  This was an old-fashioned way to decide whether a child was ready to read.

young child attempting to touch his ear with opposite hand

But even so, some children are ready to learn to read at four and five.  What are some of the signs?

  • The child can hear and reproduce sounds and words well.
  • The child shows curiosity about letters and words.
  • The child likes rhymes.
  • The child wants to know how to write his or her name.
  • The child has a big vocabulary and eagerly adds more words.
  • The child likes being read to.
  • The child studies picture books for meaning.
  • The child can sit still for 10 or 15 minutes at a time.
  • The child has a long attention span for his age.

Even with all these qualities, some four- and five-year-olds are not ready to read.  If you start to do sound-letter work, and he bores of it or pushes it away, back off.  But keep reading to him, and asking him to do oral work—describing what he sees in pictures, inferring what the pictures mean, predicting what will happen next, and asking him to identify the main ideas.

Eventually he will want to know more.  By six-years-old, usually kindergarten-aged, a child should be learning to read.  But even then some children balk.  In some European countries reading isn’t taught until a child turns seven, at which time the process generally goes much more quickly than at four- or five-years-old.

So you’ve decided to teach your four-year-old to read–part 2

Once you are sure your child can hear and say the sounds of the English language, the next step is to make your child understand that we use letters to represent those sounds.child making letter T with his body

One good way is to explain that people a long time ago figured out how to make pictures of sounds.  Those pictures of sounds are called letters.  In English those pictures are called ABC’s.

Say the child’s name.  Emphasize the sound at the beginning of the name.  Then show or draw the letter which the child’s name begins with.  You don’t need to call the letter by its name yet; rather, call the letter by the sound it represents.

For example, if your child’s name is Teddy, say his name emphasizing the “t” sound at the beginning of the name.  Show or draw the letter “t” but when you point to it, say the “t” sound.  Collect or point out objects which begin with the same sound.  Help the child to see that the “t” sound is in many words.  Kids will hear the sound more readily at the beginnings of words.

Some kids catch on fast and you can add another letter sound almost immediately.  For others you should focus on one sound at a time for several days.  Start with names of family members.  Focus on the first sound of the name, not middle sounds or ending sounds.  Move on to objects the child sees or uses daily.  Keep reviewing the letter sounds the child has already learned.

Stick to sounds which follow a one-to-one sound-to-letter correspondence.  For now, avoid names like Yvonne or Celine in which the first sound of the name is not represented by the letter usually associated with that sound.  Names which begin with digraphs like Shelly or Thad should also be avoided for now.  Four-year-olds can understand one-to-one logic.  Save words in which one sound is represented by two letters until later.

Learning to read begins with mimicking sounds

So many preschools teach the ABC’s before they teach letter sounds.  This is a mistake.  Knowing that a certain triangular shape is called an “A” is less important than knowing how to say and recognize the sound of “a.”

When I teach a beginning reader, I teach with sounds, not letters.

First I say the 42 sounds of English and ask the child to repeat those sounds.  You might think, “Is that really necessary?”  Yes, it is.  Almost always I encounter a sound or two that a child cannot say properly.  For one child it was the “z” sound.  For another it was the “ch” sound.

Reading begins with sounds, with recognizing the sounds of English and with pronouncing those sounds correctly.  Once you are sure a child can do that, only then is it proper to associate a sound with a letter.

Child seeing letter on dog's collar

One technique I have found useful is to associate a letter sound with a particular noun which begins with that sound.  This can be especially useful for vowel sounds.  I taught a four-year-old to read this way.  Picturing the known object which began with that letter sound helped her to sound out unknown objects.  When she saw picture of an ostrich, she would say “o as in octopus” and compare that “o” sound with the sound in ostrich to see if the words started with the same sound.  I used pictures of an apple, elephant, igloo, octopus and umbrella, but any pictures would do as long as they are familiar and easy to remember.  For brand new readers, I kept those pictures on the desk.

To teach a child reading, I start with consonant sounds which are distinct.  The English alphabet has 16 sounds which always sound the same at the beginning of words.  Those 16 letters are B D F H J K L M N P Q[u] R T V X and Z.

The letters “b,” “d,” “k,” and “p”  are distinct because no other consonants sound like these sounds.  A child can make a “b” sound and always match it with the letter “b”—a one-to-one correspondence.  That is what I mean by distinct.

But other sounds are not distinct.  For example, a “c” and an “s” sound quite distinct sometimes but if a “c” is followed by an “e” or an “i,” it is not distinct.  And an “s” can sound like a “z” sometimes.  A “g” can sound like a “g” or a “j” depending on which letter follows it.  There isn’t a one-to-one correspondence of a single sound to  one letter, so they are not distinct matches.

All vowels make multiple sounds.  When you start combining letter sounds to form words, start with short vowel sounds, some of which are more distinct than others.  Short “a” and “o” sounds are distinct.  “E” and “i” sounds can be hard to differentiate.  “U” sounds are easier than “e” and “i” sounds, but are harder to differentiate than “a” and “o” sounds.  So I would start associating short vowel sounds with either “a” or “o” first.  Most phonics systems start with “a,” so if you are using prepared materials, you might as well start with “a.”  But really, “a” or “o” would suffice.

Let’s recap.  Suppose a child can recognize and pronounce the sounds of English.  Then it is time to choose one short vowel and five or six distinct consonant sounds and begin to associate letters with them.  When the child can correctly assign one sound to each letter, it is time to form words with them.

Younger kids in a class are more likely to be assessed as ADHD

For months I have been teaching a playful kindergartener how to read, but progress has been slow.  Recently I learned that this child has a November birthday and is probably the youngest in her private school class.  Her birthday comes several months after the cutoff date for public school kindergarten registration.

Now I understand that she is not slow to learn at all.  She is doing fine for her age.  Most kids her age are in pre-K.  If she were too, she would be one of the oldest in her class, not the youngest, and one of the most advanced.

New research shows that not only is the ability to read affected by the age of a child in a class, but so is the likelihood of that child being diagnosed as ADHD.

The younger the child is in a class, the more likely that child is to be diagnosed as ADHD, according to findings just published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

According to that journal, “rates of A.D.H.D. diagnosis and treatment were 34 percent higher among children born in August than among children born in September in states with a Sept. 1 school entry-age cutoff.”

Knowing this is important if you have a child with a summertime birthday.  Your active, exuberant child might be perfectly normal for his age, but might be more active and distracted than older children in his class.  His teacher might suggest he is hyperactive.  You might begin him on medical treatments which can be harmful and which aren’t necessary if the child’s biological age is considered.

If your child with a summertime birthday is scheduled to start kindergarten next fall, consider his activity level.  All little children are active, but some are noticeably more active than others.  If your child is like this, he might have trouble sitting still in class, listening, following directions, and focusing.  He might have trouble monitoring his own behavior and keeping it appropriate to the setting.

Another study shows that younger children in grades are more likely to be assessed as ADHD by teachers, probably because those children are being compared to the group as a whole.

If your child will be young for kindergarten, consider waiting another year to start him.  There might be a cost to you (if he is in day care, or if you, the mother, are hoping to return to full time employment), but the cost to your child over his academic career could be greater.

I’ve often thought that schools should have two “crops” of kindergarteners:  older students starting in the fall and younger students starting in January.  Too much of an age and developmental difference exists between a five-year-old child and a six-year-old child to collect them all in the same class.

 

 

Bob Books author dies

The author of one of the easiest-to-read and most popular reading series has died.

Picture of 9 Bob Book sets.

Click the photo for a link to the Scholastic selection of Bob Books.

Bobby (Bob) Lynn Maslen, 87, author of the Bob Books, died August 16 in Portland, OR, of Alzheimer’s disease.

Mrs. Madden created the first Bob Book in the 1970’s when she was teaching reading to preschoolers.  One day she took typing paper, folded it in quarters, and asked her students to help her write a story.

The result was the first Bob Book.  It comprised about 12 pages and used just a handful of letters which spelled CVC words.  “Mat sat.  Sam sat.  Mat sat on Sam.  Sam sat on Mat.”  Mrs. Maslen stapled the pages together and sent the books home with her students to reread and to color.

The illustrations were almost as simple as the stories.  Eventually, Mrs. Maslen standardized her books into three sets of 12 books each.  She printed hundreds of copies and packaged them into little sandwich bags for her students.

Demand for her books grew.  Mrs. Maslen’s husband, an artist, provided new drawings.  The books were published by Portland State University, then by the Maslens themselves, and later by Scholastic.  Today more than 16 million books are in print, according to Scholastic.

Georgia Senate to study dyslexia

With one in five Georgia students affected by dyslexia—a higher percentage than any other learning disability—the state of Georgia has created a Senate Study Committee on Dyslexia.  The purpose of the Study Committee is to study and publicize the  impact of dyslexia on Georgia residents, and to recommend  appropriate action or legislation.

Two students taking reading tests on portable NEO computers.

That committee will have its first meeting on Friday, August 17 and will end its meetings by December 1.  The purpose of the first meeting is to gain information about what the Georgia Department of Education is already doing to help students with dyslexia and their teachers.  Later meetings will gather information about how state agencies are affected by people with this learning disability.  Experts from across the country are expected to testify at later meetings.  Members of the public are also welcome to speak to the committee.

Addressing the committee at its first meeting will be Dr. Leslie Stuart, a psychologist, who will speak on “identifying and clarifying the definition of dyslexia”; Dr. Caitlyn Dooley, a deputy superintendent from the Georgia DOE, who will speak on “dyslexia identification and services in Georgia”; and Dr. Jennifer Lindstrom of UGA, who will speak on the causes and treatment of dyslexia,” including teacher training.

Chairing the committee is Sen. Fran Millar.  Also appointed to the committee  are Sen. Matt Brass, Sen .Gloria Butler,  Dr. Leslie Stuart (a clinical psychologist), and Dr. Garry McGiboney (from the Georgia Department of Education).

According to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, “Evidence shows if we can identify and address dyslexia at an early age – before students reach the 3rd grade – we can significantly improve reading comprehension and overall academic outcomes. Unfortunately, on average, only 1 in 10 dyslexic students are identified by standard screenings.”

According to Donna Nealy, Sen. Millar’s assistant, Kentucky has put into effect a new law relating to dyslexia this summer.  Georgia is studying Kentucky’s law, perhaps the most comprehensive in the nation, in hopes of learning from Kentucky’s effort.  (More about Kentucky’s new law in the next blog.)

If you are not able to attend, but would like to listen to the committee meeting as it happens, go to the following livestream at the time of the meeting:  https://livestream.com/accounts/25225500/events/8321724.