|February and March, 2013|
Our Readers’ Theater began in February upon completion of Wonder. First the kids were given two or three days to rehearse in the classroom. They brought props to school , highlighted scripts, discussed stage directions and "entered" the role of the character they chose.
Then it was their day on stage. Everyone had a turn to perform in the tri-building auditorium. I videotaped as much as I could on the Flip camera but hadn’t anticipated how quickly videotaping drains the battery life. Since I didn’t get to record all of the afternoon classes, I threw everything I had recorded into the "garbage" bin.
During these months we began to read shorter passages, like the short story, "Eleven," by Sandra Cisneros. We listened to the audio version of Lucille Fletcher’s play from the 1940s, "Sorry Wrong Number." Kids were riveted by the plot and couldn’t wait to hear more.
Then everyone took their first shot at memorization by memorizing one stanza of Robert Frost’s poem, "The Road Not Taken." Several students committed the entire poem (all four stanzas!) to memory – showing great drive and perseverance. After the Powerful Passages were taped to the windows, kids did a "Gallery Walk" and extrapolated themes from what they had read.
In mid-March we spent four days in Computer Lab 900, creating Digital Book Trailers, Round #2. The NYS Reading Association had selected our very own Elizabeth Attanasio’s Digital Book Trailer on One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, to run on their blog. As a result, my classroom was gifted with 30 new hardcover books and a party for Elizabeth’s reading class.
Oh… and one more thing…http://tingoed.tumblr.com is another great find we incorporated into reading class. Each week, an educator named Devin adds another terrific video. We’ve been exploring a word with accompanying video every day. Check it out!
|December, 2012 and January, 2013|
We reflected back on a year (or at least from September on) of reading and created goals, or Reading Resolutions. Here’s what some resolved to do in the months ahead:
Apart from Reading Resolutions, the kids searched their IRBs (Independent Reading Books) for Powerful Passages. They mined the text for words which resonated deeply by asking , "Which part of the book made me pause and think?"
This naturally led to a conversation about plagiarism and how students must PROTECT themselves whenever they lift text out of books which have been written by others. They can protect themselves by inserting quotation marks around the words that they copy.
Another project was the introduction of the Article of Day or AoD. We have eminent educator and author Kelly Gallagher and his resources to thank for this contribution (nota bene: his is actually called "Article of the Week"). Every day kids have a high-interest, non-fiction article to mark up. With weeks and months of this practice, kids should always remember to read non-fiction with pen or pencil in hand, ready to underline what’s important and write their words in the margin.
We continue to march through 26 non-fiction mini-lessons created by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis. Each homework assignment corresponds to these lessons; in other words, this week’s focus was on inferring and so the graded assignment was on making inferences from the text.
Every day that your child walks into Room G-5, s/he pulls the Reader’s Notebook from the classroom counter and makes an entry called "Status of the Class." After writing the name of her or his independent reading book and page number, your child completes the sentence "I’m at the part where." I use this system in combination with my weekly check-in to see that every reads for at least 30 minutes (or roughly 20 pages) each day, seven days a week.
Below I’ve copied an article adapted from Mary Ehrenworth’s (Columbia University Teachers College) discussion with parents at NYC’s Salk Middle School: What Makes Teens Literate?
According to Dr. Mary Ehrenworth, one of the foremost experts on teen literacy, there is a direct, quantifiable relationship between a child’s ability to read and his or her overall academic success. The correlation is so strong, in fact, that even the most basic reading test can usually predict a student’s SAT scores—both verbal and math—with surprising accuracy. Not that it’s surprising to Dr. Ehrenworth. As students get older, she points out, they’re expected to read and comprehend longer, more complex works, everything from the proverbial 400-page "classic novel" to daunting 15-pound science textbooks. If they can read well, great, but if they can’t, they won’t keep up.
Unfortunately, students receive almost no reading instruction beyond sixth grade. Teachers simply expect students to keep up with hours of assigned reading per day with little patience—much less assistance—for those who can’t. Sounds like a losing battle, but it’s not, because whether their children admit it or not, parents are still their primary influence and there’s a lot parents can do to help their teens become better readers.
First, it’s important to know the three main components of reading: rate, volume, and comprehension.
A slow reading rate can be one of the biggest stumbling blocks. Slow readers take longer to do their homework, tend more often to forget what they’ve read, and are easily overwhelmed by seemingly endless chapters in seemingly endless books.
Luckily, improving reading rate is also the quickest and easiest fix. The more you read, the faster you read. It’s that simple. And reading anything will do the trick: sensationalized tabloid articles about man-eating tigers, fantasy football magazines, trashy romance novels—anything. Exploit your child’s hobbies, obsessions, or interests by finding reading material that taps into her passion. It’s not the time or place to question what she’s reading, just keep her turning pages. Reading rate will improve in no time.
Reading volume, or endurance, is also a relatively easy hurdle to overcome. Dr. Ehrenworth likens it to becoming a better distance runner: just do it. You would never run a marathon without training first; reading is no different. Your child isn’t going to suddenly start reading four hours every night, he’s got to work his way up.
This is where you come in. Carve out time every day to read with or in front of your child. Relaxing as it may be, don’t read alone during your precious "me time"; grab a book or a magazine and lounge around with your kid. "If your child doesn’t consistently see you reading," Dr. Ehrenworth says, "you’re sending a subtle message that it isn’t actually important, it’s just another annoying task like emptying the dishwasher or mowing the lawn." Middle schoolers should be reading at least one hour per night, about two hours for ninth and tenth graders, and between three and four hours for juniors and seniors.
Reading comprehension is perhaps the most difficult skill to improve. Still, there’s plenty a parent can do. For starters, gauge your child’s reading level by having her read aloud. If she can’t read a passage smoothly, with expression and inflection, she doesn’t really get it. Choose an easier book and make sure she’s mastered that before moving on. Like increasing rate and volume, improving comprehension is a deliberate, step-by-step process. It doesn’t happen overnight.
Reading books in a series is a great way to improve over time. As the series progresses, the story gets more complicated. Find a series your child particularly likes and encourage him to stick with it all the way through to the end. Dr. Ehrenworth finds many of the most popular fantasy series particularly helpful. "Fantasy worlds are complex," she says, "with their own sets of rules and logic. He doesn’t know it yet, but your child is making connections—understanding and tracking cause and effect—across hundreds, even thousands, of pages. Readers who learn to do this early are much better equipped to make similar connections in a cumbersome college textbook."
Another easy—if somewhat sneaky—way to improve your child’s comprehension is to get her to talk and write about what she’s reading. Show an active interest in book choices and start asking questions: Who are the main characters? What’s the setting? What it is about? If your child seems confused or forgetful, encourage her to go back and reread the text. Ideally, she should jot down notes, questions, and comments every chapter or so. Several studies have shown that writing even the simplest notes while reading greatly improves retention, and better retention means better comprehension.
No matter what, remember that every child is a reader. "If a child says, ‘I don’t like to read,’ " says Dr. Ehrenworth, "they’re simply telling you there’s a problem. The book is too hard or too easy, or simply not interesting to them. Give them the right level book, on the right topic or with the right story, they’ll read it and ask for another." And that leads to academic success.
Isn’t it frustrating when your child returns home from an eight-hour day at school and the only descriptive response they can provide to, "How was your day?" is "It was okay."
Then, when you press for detail, you’re likely to get an exasperated, eye-rolling "I don’t know!"
Help is on the way by asking them for specific information on:
Dear Incoming Sixth Grader,
In our home, we don’t use a thermometer to signal the change of seasons. Nope… in our home, we have Bella, our 125-pound Newfoundland who HATES warm weather. If she’s outdoors for longer than a quick spell, we know the change of seasons is imminent.
Ah… a new school year… excitement abounds….and anxiety too. The transition from elementary to middle school is a big one. You’ll be governed by bells, and yes… you’ll have lockers, which is really chill. There’ll be lots of new faces, a foreign landscape of hallways and classrooms to explore, the list goes on.
Reading should and will be a pleasurable subject for you. If you haven’t enjoyed reading yet, I hope to make you a devotee this year. In addition to this pledge, my other goal is to provide you with a toolkit of strategies for reading informational or nonfiction text. Every reader’s notebook (binder) includes 26 mini-lessons on short nonfiction text; each mini-lesson is designed to target another strategy, beginning with the first lesson on "inner conversation." These notebooks will be left in the classroom so that you can always track yours down.
Best of luck with the start of the year… remember that I’m always available to chat and help out in any way possible.
See you soon!
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© Stacey McDonald, 2012