Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spreading the Revolution! Food for Thought

Hello, friends,

This will be a quick post to highlight a few celebrations of literacy and early childhood education you might want to know about:

The entire month of April is School Library Month.  Kiss a media specialist for all she or he does for you (or at least take a few minutes to send a "thank you" email or, better yet, a sincere "I appreciate" note to that person's supervisor (principal, school administrator, district media and information services director).

Barnes and Nobles Bridge Street in Huntsville, AL is hosting a special event to kick off  Week of the Young Child (see below).  It's April 10 from 12:00 until 3:00PM.  (Don't worry if you see "Kathy Miller" in the announcement at this link - it's a typo that's being corrected - it is me!) 

If you live nearby, come join us for fun interactive activities for both parents of 3-6 year old children and educators from preschool AND kindergarten plus giveaways for teachers and book signings.  After the tea, we'll be having a book signing for me and other authors.

Don't live nearby?  See if your local bookstore might do something similar with local literacy advocates, authors, librarians, teachers, etc.  Either way, email me at tla@readingisforeveryone.org and you can receive a flyer to distribute about our event (or copy to create your own).  Be sure to include APRIL 10 FLYER in the subject line.
April 11-17

This year both the American Library Association's National Library Week and NAEYC's Week of the Young Child fall at the same time.  You can find tons of resources on these organization's websites to help you celebrate.

April 12 is Drop Everything And Read Day.  If your school can't devote an entire day to this event, try giving every teacher a kazoo, a whistle, or a bell and encouraging each to designate 3-5 times during the day (not announced ahead of time to the students) in which they will signal it is "drop everything and read" time.  You can set up the "watch for the signal" earlier in the week so students bring ANYTHING they want to read.  Involve parents if you like.

On the very day, be sure to have some juicy reads for those who "forgot" theirs, re-announce the "watch for the signal" (how your day will run), surprise them with a quick 5 or 10 minute break to read several times during the day.  Let the last "drop everything and read" be an explosion of sharing where as many read the best part of what they read (only a sentence or short paragraph each) and see how many you can squeeze into the designated time.  Be sure to capture the titles your students are reading so you can create a list or bulletin board to extend the excitement of the day.

You might also be on the lookout for the annual state of library's report (to be released April 13) and check out last year's plus a few quotable quotes on libraries.  Most of us dread April 15 because of tax day but did you know that it is also Teen Literature Day?

Let your students check out their favorite author's birthdays in April at http://kids.nypl.org/reading/childrensauthorbirthdays.cfm.

Do you know of other reasons (and dates) to celebrate reading (or writing) during the month of April?

If so, post them here or share your own ideas for any of the celebration days above so we can all learn and celebrate reading together!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Little Engine That Must: Inspiring Young Readers

I just spent a terrific hour talking with J. Renee Gordon of the BlogRadio show,  
Empowering Educators.

We talked about

- the importance of early childhood learning in both preschools/child care centers and at home

- what is essential for kindergarten readiness (and partnerships that foster that) and

- placed a special focus on literacy for children ages 3-6.

Whether you joined us live on the show or want to listen to the podcast later, you'll find information and resources right here.

Findings of The National Early Literacy Panel (2009)

Six early skills predictive of later literacy achievement

1. Alphabet knowledge
2. Phonological awareness
3. Rapid automatic naming of letters or digits
4. Rapid automatic naming of objects or colors
5. Writing or writing name
6.  Phonological memory

Five early skills modernately predictive of later literacy achievement

1. Concept of print
2. Print knowledge
3. Reading readiness (usually a combination of alphabet knowledge, concepts of print, vocabulary, memory and PA)
4. Oral language
5. Visual processing

Studies conducted by Hart and Risley (1995) showed that three-year-old children of professional parents had larger vocabularies than children of parents on welfare.  This finding is less shocking when considered in light of another:  children in professional homes heard 382 words an hour while children raised in welfare homes heard an average of 167 words an hour.  There can be a gap of as much as five times greater in vocabulary between these two groups by the time children reach kindergarten.  This doesn't have to be economically driven, if we can help families, in a supportive way to experience literacy with their children.  If you'd like to do more reading on this research, check out this summary of Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children or find the book itself (a good choice for staff development discussions at your school.  .

On average, according to the American Association of Pediatrics, preschool children watched 2.6 hours of TV on weekdays and 2.7 hours on weekends.  This association, however, recommends that children under 2 years old watch little or no TV.

Here are additional resources to check out on these topics:

PreK Now is an advocates of high quality early childhood experiences for young children

Harlem Children's Zone - 100% of their children are ready for kindergarten for the 7th consecutive year!

100% of third graders at Promise Academies I and II tested at or above grade level on the math exam, and in the English and Language Arts (ELA) over 93% of the Promise Academy I third graders tested at or above grade level, outperforming New York State, New York City and District 5 peers.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children addresses the needs and education of children ages zero to eight.

Want to be inspired?  Visit Inspiringteachers.com.  You might start with The Power of Teaching

Don't forget to visit Share A Story:  Shape A Future.   Whether you are a parent or a teacher or just someone how loves children and wants to share the incredible gift of literacy with a child, you should visit this live, week-long (March 8-12) virtual event sponsored by my friends at
The Reading Tub.

While you're on the inspiration channel, join my revolution!   

Whether you are a parent or an educator, you CAN make a difference with your child (or children) when it comes to reading.  The first step is to ENGAGE them, reach out to families and schools and children with the message that reading IS for everyone.  These tools will help you do just that.

Educators, librarians and parents can all benefit from this annotated list of over 180 picture books that can be used with 5-18 year olds to introduce knowledge as a base to understanding textbook contents in science, history, art, math, etc.

Extensive indexing gives educators, librarians and parents a variety of ways to use a picture book a day with great results. The 1-180 listing also provides a convenient "one picture book for each day" approach that follows many familiar themes (such as Grandparent's Day, winter holidays, etc.) throughout the school year.
Available through Inspiringteachers.com

Two guidebooks, designed to be used in tandem, one for preschool and kindergarten teachers (Before They Read) and the other for parents of 3-6 year olds (Anytime Reading Readiness).

Here's what others say:

“If you want to turn your preschooler into a lifelong reader, you need Anytime Reading Readiness. It skillfully guides parents as they create a pressure-free love of language and learning in their child.” – Susan Newman, Ph.D., social psychologist and author of Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day

“This book is chock full of great suggestions for helping children learn how to read. It includes all you need to put together a wonderful research-based program—a must-read.”
—Susan B. Neuman, former U.S. Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education

Final Words

In closing let me invite you to post your own comments about these topics and to share my parent blog full of fun, practical ideas and information, as well as this teacher blog, with those you know who play those roles. 

One question to ponder that arose during the show:

Does coloring have anything to do with literacy development?  Is there research out there to address this question?

My sense was that it is certainly a pre-writing experience that builds muscles in the hands.  I also know the importance of eye-hand coordination in coloring and in reading, so I see some anecdotal connections there.  If you know of any research, please share it.  Here's a good article about how learning across many spectrums works in early childhood, from ReadingOnline.

Are you inspired?   

A Quicky: Engaging Students - What Does That Have To Do With Literacy?

Yesterday, I was talking with a friend of mine who related 
a simple story to me which bears repeating.

As a storyteller, my friend often visits schools with no more than her voice and her body, charged with the task of entertaining and engaging students with stories for 30 minutes.  She is superb at what she does and, after her presentation, she overheard this conversation.

"I just don't get it," said one teacher to another.


"We have all kinds of bells and whistles, quick response exercises, hand and sound signals, technology and yet our kids are always all over the place.  This lady comes in with her voice and a story and suddenly then are mesmerized.  What's with that?"

What is Engagement?

Now certainly familiarity may be a part of this equation but I believe the question is worth pondering.  I also see it, not so much as a judgement of tools, but as a question - how do I engage my students?  Certainly with our tech savvy children of today, our various technology tools are important.  But there is something deeper behind whether those tools work in classrooms or not.  The real questions are

"What authentic teaching can I do that will capture their interest?": 

"Am I so much on the "delivery" channel that I've forgotten the power of teaching?"

The topic is certainly a bit broader than literacy but I see literacy as the doorway to engaging students. What about you?

Michigan State University's National Center for Research on Teacher Learning attacks the issue with some important information:  "Faced with the concerns for classroom time and "effective" use of it, can put difficult demands on teachers.  What it often comes down to is how good are we at helping students construct meaning, including having time to discuss and explore?

Take that back to literacy.  

Are we so into "drill and skill" - repeat the rule back fast - that we forget that education includes thinking?  I've met children who are compliant word callers and decoders but they don't have a clue of how to use reading as a tool to get information they need, to analyze and synthesize what is presented in the text.  Here are a few literacy-related questions to think about in your own teaching:

1.  Do you use read-alouds daily to engage and foster thinking about text?  Engaged Interactive Read Aloud techniques, covered in my new book Before They Read, are a most efficient means of exposing to student what great readers do when they read).

2.  Do you let the size of the class keep you on the "controlling" channel instead of the learning, exploring channel with students?  Professor Deborah Ball shows us how to avoid this pitfall. 

3. What is your goal for any literacy lesson you teach?  The goal MUST always be to nurture and foster the growth of an independent, thinking reader.  It can never simply be what I call "reguritation of facts" even when we are teaching facts.  What do those facts mean?  What is their significance?  Those are much more improtant questions..

4.  What does your writing instruction look like?  Writer's Workshop is a terrific approach to that authentic, engaging, interaction that needs to happen when students are creating text.

Introspection Improves Teaching

Dr. Deborah Stipek of Stanford University says,

 Teachers can motivate students only if they themselves are motivated.  They can make students feel valued and secure only if they feel valued and secure; they can foster enthusiasm for learning in students only if they are enthusiastic about teaching. The school culture can make or break a teacher in the same way that the classroom culture can support or undermine students' efforts to learn.

This thought-provoking paragraph is from her book Motivation To Learn:  Integrating Theory and Practice.

Why not use these questions as a basis for a staff or grade-level meeting?  They really boil down to whether we as teachers are sending learners to the next level or out into the world or whether we are so focused on them passing the "eternal test" that we end up providing only short-term memory/learning.  These questions also tie to the reality of the most common subjects of those meetings: 

how do we get more students to "benchmark" or pass the assessments?

Are you motivated?  If not, how do you change that?

Engagement for both students and teachers is key.

How do you motivate yourself for the challenge of the daily classroom?  How have you equipped yourself with a mastery of the subject matter so you have the freedom to engage your students and teach?  Share your secrets.

Your comments as the authentic voice in the classroom every day is essential on this topic.  I look forward to reading your posts.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Literacy As A Doorway for Family Engagement /Parent Involvement

I'm a regular follower of Dr. Catherine Snow's work at Harvard's Family Research Project.  When I talk with everyday teachers, I always hear strong feelings that family engagement might be a good thing but who has the time with all the other requirements and pressured placed on educators.  Do you feel like that?

Let me suggest a different perspective. 

Consider that every time you effectively engage families in their children's learning, you lessen your workload.  You expand the horizons of a student and, especially among those who are termed "at-risk", you foster an extra level of intervention; you find a new resource for helping you bring more children to competency in the standards you are required to teach and in benchmarking those important assessments.

The secret is not to expect the parent to do what you do.  Meet them where they are, not where you want them to be.  That mostly just takes a little thinking time.

Families have important but unique roles, especially when it comes to literacy.   Early elementary school teachers have a special job since they are often the first face of education new parents in the school meet.  Take a little time to get to know your students' families early in the year and resist the temptation to write off those who don't come to the first open house.  Find out through a simple survey or a brief 1-2 minute chat what questions they have about their children's learning and what their goals are for their child.

A tiered, systematic approach works best, no matter what grade you teach.  

Tier #1:

For those that come to the school regularly and are comfortable, all you really need to do is to provide resources (books, a BIT of information about what assessment results mean and areas that they might help their child with at home).  They will take that information and run with it.

Tier I 2:

Send a personal note to every parent who wasn't able to attend.  You can get inexpensive, custom designed postcards or even business-card sized notes from Vistaprint (they even run specials where you can get as many as 100 postcards free, only paying shipping). 

In that note, voice your genuine regret that they were not able to come and share some small tidbit of information that they can use at home. It might just be that the family wanted to be there but they had a sick child, couldn't get a ride to the school or had to work.  Don't assume that an absent face is an uninterested one.  You're beginning to build a positive face for your classroom and your school.  Remember that busy or stressed families need regular encouragement to move them toward engagement.

Tier #3:

Determine that you will continue to send positive encouraging messages, even when you get no response, on a regular basis.  Schedule it into your calendar and stagger the notes so that you are only sending out a few a week or certain times of the month. 

An absence of response is not a "get away from me, I don't want any part of this" like we can assume too often.  It more likely reflects a negative experience with authority or schools on the part of the parent (either as a mom or dad or as a student when they were young), an incredible personal struggle just to put food on the table and a roof over their family's head, or some other personal barrier.  In a national study by Projectappleseed.org, fewer than half of all parents had been formally asked by schools what assistance they might need to be more involved in their child's education.  That's a place to begin.

Literacy As the Doorway
 Every family has literacy in some form; it just may not be the formal, academic literacy we focus on in school.  Hook on to that literacy, at whatever level you find it.  It may not be reading with their children, the traditional place we want families to start.  If that is not a part of their everyday lives, finger wagging and nagging them to do it is not going to be effective.  We have to start at a place that connects more to the current experiences of that family.

The National Center for Family Literacy has a wealth of information and ideas to help you get started.  Here are a few additional examples:

 Building on Parent Strengths to Promote Literacy is full of ideas that reach out to families.

Start at a level where parents are comfortable.  One principal in California began a storytelling festival at his school which eventually led to his students documenting their parents' stories and writing them down for a school-specific book that could be shared over and over again.  Everyone has at least one story to tell.  Think baby steps to move families a little closer to understanding your challenges and standards in the classroom.

The Council for Exceptional Children has an excellent, brief article with even more ideas to get you started.  Consider taking this resource and others you find here to your principal and asking if you can devote at least part of a staff meeting to discussing this important issue and what might work at your school with your population of families.  Not possible or the administrator not on that "channel"?  Take it to your grade level meeting and start there.

Involve your PTA/PTO (they support family involvement).  But ask them to think off the volunteer and fund-raising channel.  The voices of parent peers can sometimes be more effective than educators and they often know their communities, especially in these days where teachers may not be living in the neighborhoods where their schools are located.  If you aren't a member, join.

Ask the more involved parents, PTA/PTO or not, to reach out to a specific number of families (maybe only one other, or maybe two or three, as their time allows).  The ripple effect of this personal contact, without taking time away from your teaching, is an untapped resource.

Finally, if you have parents who are computer-savvy, send home a few assignments that create learning together opportunties at home. 

and Adprima's resource list of free websites that are child and family friendly

The main consideration that educators often ignore is that presenting literacy in the light of real-life skills rather than an academic exercise is more meaningful to parents.  Think about literacy activities that will promote communication and relationship with their children, are fun and interactive, and connect to their everyday environment.

As you try these resources, I encourage you will also share your own through posts to this blog. 

Don't forget to visit Share a Story: Shape A Future  this week and share this family-friendly resource with the parents and caregivers you interact with.  It's a virtual blogging tour talking about all kinds of connections with reading and writing, brought to you by the Reading Tub.