Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Do You Know The Reading Tub?

Come to the Author Showcase at the Reading Tub

Those of you who are regular visitors to my blogs have heard of the Reading Tub.  I'm pleased to let you know that I appear in their author showcase this month.  You'll not only find the interview with me but archived interviews with other authors.  At the Reading Tub, you'll also find a blog (I'm also featured there), book lists and reviews and quality articles of interest to both educators and parents. 

In the interview, you'll learn a bit more about the Literacy Ambassador but, as usual, I'm also sharing resources (wonderful picture books for older readers, advice for parents, references to quality book lists, and an announcement about a special kit Maupin has created from my latest books called The Home/School Literacy Partnership Kit).  You can also watch my new Youtube video through a link on the blog (playing the game Rhymin' Simon).

Practical, Use in the Classroom Tomorrow Ideas

Even as school district budgets tighten, we all know the importance of continued quality in-service training/staff development.  Here's a unique spin for preschool and kindergarten teachers:  Check out the free facilitator's guide for a book discussion of Before They Read, my new title at Maupin House Publishers.  Invite your preschool colleagues to join you in discussions that will build bridges and help young children be ready for school.  You'll also find a sample activity, the table of contents and other excerpts from the book on the book page for that title.

If you'd like to plan a day with the Literacy Ambassador which could include staff development, a parent meeting, opportunities for students to group write with the Literacy Ambassador, contact me through this blog or TLA's website for more details. 

Next post we are back on the teacher channel, providing even more inspiration and resources for honored educators.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Gettiing Back on Track

The new year has started and well on it's way so I realized it was time I came back and started posting more frequently to this blog.  Please forgive my absence; we have some exciting new resources to share with you!


This past weekend I was privileged to see my friend, Dr. Steven Layne, at a conference here in Alabama.  Many of you may know him if you are members of IRA.  Wow! 

I never cease to be inspired by Steven's passion for literacy.  The fact that a partnership to produce a book and the related friendship helped draw him from the brink of death is an amazing story.  In addition to all the wonderful picture books and books for young adults Steven has written, he now has a great new book out entitled Igniting a Passion for Reading, for teachers.  In it, he asks an important question:  "how can we teach the 'how' without the 'why'?

Perhaps at no time in history is that more important to ask as our literacy requirements and the definition of literacy expands and the motivation to read seems to get so little attention.  If we do not give children authentic, meaningful-to-them reasons to read, then they will not choose to be readers.  And what a limitation that puts on the future of our world.

My question relating to this topic is:  are you as a teacher a passionate reader?  Do you read yourself?  Do you share that passion in the middle of decoding and fluency lessons with your students?

I just finished Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer, which is another title I would heartily recommend on this neglected subject.  Miller is a 6th grade teacher in Texas that takes what some might consider a quite unorthodox approach to teaching reading and social studies.  Yet, in this world of "teaching to the test" she has incredible results on her student's state assessments without doing so (in four years ALL of her students have passed the state reading assessment - not one failure to meet "AYP"!).

Both these books send strong messages:


We must pay attention to the motivation of our students to learn to read and to sharpen their reading skills.  Dr. John Guthrie has been studying motivation of students for a very long time and, if you need research to back your attention to this element, and to "justify" its inclusion to your administration, he's the one to reference.

Teachers can include both instruction in the mechanics AND create a strong rich environment that draws children of all ages and of all backgrounds to the reading table. 

Of course, it is challenge to do more than deliver a script, teach a lesson or assess our students, especially with the varied and heavy responsibilities all teachers face.  Many educators can get easily frustrated, discouraged or dulled by ignoring the part of them that drove them to be a teacher in the first place. In fact, what brought you to teaching in the first place was the same thing that we are talking about - a spark, motivation to make a difference, a love of learning. 

I encourage each of you to read these resources and others and recapture that spark in your teaching.  That is when we will have children benchmarking assessments, we'll have the wisdom to know how much assessment is essential and how much is counterproductive for our students, we'll get to know the needs of our students, have the standards stamped in the back of our minds and go out and teach.


Now that I've given you a few resources for yourself, I'll list a few ones for your students (and their families):

The Reading Tub, a family and educator-friendly nonprofit, is adding more and more book reviews and resources (for children of all ages). 

You can subscribe to their Scrub A Dub Tub Blog to get a regular dose of what's available.

Do you know that they have an Author's Showcase (which I'm excited to be participating in this week!)? 

They also have community projects you can involve your students in like Read it Together and Use Your ABCs?  And a newsletter called The Wash Rag?

Adlit.org (from the same people who bring us Reading Rockets) has terrific book lists for those teaching tweens and teens. Don't forget that among your "assigned" readings, you need to give your students at least a snippet of time to read something of their choice.

You can meet authors of nonfiction (how many kids do you have that like to read the real stuff) and get their insight into teaching and using nonfiction books at I.N.K.'s blog.  They share even more resources for using nonfiction to teach at their INK THINK TANK.

Don't forget your parents. 

If you teach kindergarten through 3rd or 4th grade, you have quite a bit of engagement and involvement from at least a core group of parents. 

1.  Encourage them to play a unique role with their child's literacy development (not the one you do with lessons and worksheets, etc.). 

2.  Help them learn to help their children use reading and writing in authentic, everyday situations. 

3.  Let them know it's OK not to like a book and to choose another. 

4.  Surprise them by telling them that you want them to have fun with reading and books, play games, and use the time they have with their child to strengthen their relationship (real chats with their children can do that and grow vocabulary).

If you teach 4th grade or above, children are becoming more independent and many parents don't see a role they have in continuing to support their child's literacy development.  Certainly the "snuggle and cuddle" bedtime reading doesn't work for many of them any more. 

Again, go back to that theme or authentic experiences.  Every family has to grocery shop, pay bills, do laundry and run errands.  Literacy is right in the middle of all of that.  Making lists, reading labels, checking figures and reading statements, checking labels so we don't shrink shirts or turn underwear pink, reading street signs, maps and billboards - that's the stuff real-life reading is made of. 


It's easy to make the mistake of trying to teach parents techniques, strategies, etc. that you have learned are effective in the classroom but you will limit the number of parents who want to be engaged in that.  If we are going to help our most at-risk and struggling students, we provide more than rigorous classroom instruction.  We must draw families into the experiences that will create life-long readers, writers and learners.

For more authentic ideas for families, 

1)  share my blog for parents which fluctuates between postings from that "sit with your child and read" stage to the support of independent older readers. 

2)  If you teach children in kindergarten, Anytime Reading Readiness, my new book for families of children ages 3-6, is chocked full of quick, easy, ready-to-use ideas.  It's partner book, Before They Read, is a guidebook for teachers in preschool and kindergarten.

3)  The National Center for Family Literacy has a free newsletter for parents

4) Even if you choose to use "educationese" with your families (and they are receptive to that), make sure you translate that into family-friendly terms and activities.  The South Shore Regional School Board in Canada has put together a guide to do just that with parents who have K-6th grade children.  

5) The Peel District School Board has put together a rare guide for parents of independent readers in middle and high school that you must check out.  It's one of the best I've seen.


This blog is established as a sounding board, a collaborative tool, a chance for a community of teachers to find resources AND communicate questions, comments, encouragements and challenges. It will only improve with your input.   Feel free to share your comments about this important subject.

Invite a teacher friend to follow the blog and add their input as well.  If each of you do this, we can grow this community and spread important messages.  I can't do it without you!