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Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Power of Encouragement

I was recently sorting through a box of stuff my mom kept from my school days. How fun to look back over old Young Authors books, Book It Awards, and writing journals. I decided to open up my old report cards that were in the box too and I found myself reading through the teacher comments from each grading quarter.

Writing was definitely something I enjoyed when I was younger (especially in my fifth grade year for some reason), but I don't remember feeling like I was necessarily gifted in writing, and I don't recall so many of my teachers noticing my writing and encouraging that talent. In fact, I remember my sister being a Young Authors winner one year and I think I decided that she was the gifted writer in the family (If only I had known about the wonderful Bronte sisters at a younger age!). I wonder if maybe I gave up a little on writing somewhere along the way, despite the fact that my teachers seemed to all notice a talent and interest in that area. I wonder if back in my school days I assumed that the encouraging things my teachers told me were just the typical teacher-y things they say to students, instead of recognizing it as genuine praise.

It made me a little sad to read through their notes and realize that I kind of let the writing passion go somewhere along the way. I didn't keep with it like maybe I should have. But perhaps their encouragement was what kept my writing interest alive and kicking during so many of my school years?

I am grateful to have these notes to look back on and see that my teachers saw something special in me. I am grateful that I had teachers that noticed and valued my interest in writing enough to record it in ink! And maybe it's all the encouragement I need to take up an old hobby and get to some writing again!

Teachers, keep on encouraging those little ones! You never know the power your words will have. Even if your students don't appreciate or recognize your praise of their talents now, I bet they will someday!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Lessons in Rhyming and Predicting

We spent November of Literacy Launchpad having all kinds of rhyming fun. And December was spent predicting, predicting, predicting!

I've been revamping my lesson plans as I go this year to give them a new twist, and try to help my students understand the skill we're practicing each month even better. These activities mentioned briefly in this post would be perfect to be incorporated into your preschool classroom curriculum, or even to be used at home with your own kiddos.

November had us reading Rhyming Dust Bunnies (Jan Thomas), I'm Your Bus (Marilyn Singer), and Each Peach Pear Plum (Allan and Janet Ahlberg). How much do I love Rhyming Dust Bunnies? A better question would be "How much do my students love it?" The answer: A LOT! We couldn't get enough of this one and its sequel Here Comes the Big, Mean Dust Bunny!.  I'm Your Bus was another great one for allowing my students to predict and fill-in the rhyme that would end each page's text.

 We brainstormed rhyming words, made rhyming buses, hunted for hidden rhymes in a drawing, and made rhyming signs that were fun to hold up proudly each time we heard rhyming words in our stories.

Then in December we moved on to predicting and read some more fab books. We read If You Take a Mouse to Movies (Laura Numeroff), Mr. Willoby's Christmas Tree (Robert Barry), and Snowmen at Christmas (Caralyn Buehner). It worked out great to choose some rhyming books in December to help continue giving us practice with that skill w had just recently been focusing on the previous month. Is there anything better at Christmas time than some great Christmas books to hunker down with? So cozy. So fun. 

We did most of our predicting practice as we read our stories each week, and then we had crafty fun to follow-up our stories. I love how these fun crafts and activities with literature help my students to forever remember these great books that we read in class each week. We recycled like Mr. Willowby and made some awesome Christmas tree ornaments out of egg cartons that would have otherwise been thrown out. We also got creative making adorable snowmen ornaments after being inspired by all the cute snowmen in Caralyn Buehner's book. And we did some drawings to do our predicting with If You Take a Mouse to the Movies! There were a couple rhyming games thrown in there too! What a full and exciting month we had!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Forget the Reading Race

My youngest son, My Little Reader, is now four years old and in preschool. It's becoming difficult not to notice now where other kids are with their literacy and reading skills and compare my little guy to them. I see his peers coming to class with him each week, and I'm in preschools every week working with my own Literacy Launchpad students... There's a pressure isn't there, to feel like your kid has to be right where every other kid is academically, or even ahead? I find myself stressing more and more lately that I'm not spending enough time working on this skill or that skill with my son and that he'll be behind all the other kids his age.BUT then I remember all that I learned in my studies in college, as well as in my years of teaching Literacy Launchpad - that it doesn't matter when a child learns to read, it matters how much they learn to love reading. And often, heavy-handed efforts to get our kids to start reading at an early age can leave them not really wanting to read. 

I was skimming through Jim Trealease's Read Aloud Handbook this week and he quotes an education adage, reminding parents that "'What we teach children to love and desire will always outweigh what we teach then to do.'" He goes on to say that "The fact is that some children learn to read sooner than others, and some better than others. There is a difference."

I felt encouraged as I read through the pages of Trelease's book. I was reminded of the power of simply reading to my kids as much as I can, giving them a rich literacy environment, and keeping away from flash card drilling and phonics worksheets as a means to teach my kids reading. 

Our eduction system seems to push for formal reading instruction at an earlier and earlier age. I've personally experienced parents that push teachers to do reading instruction earlier and earlier. Sometimes I see preschools teaching skills that kids aren't even developmentally ready to handle yet. Often our schools can be very good at teaching our kids how to read, but as Trelease points out, the research shows that they usually aren't very good at teaching them to want to read. 

Did you know Finland has higher reading scores than the US, but doesn't begin to formally teach their children to read till age seven? Our focus here in the states, in getting our kids to read early and to read well misses the point. None of that matters if they don't want to read. We end up with kids who read at school and not any other time. 

Trelease and the experts and researchers he quotes in his book don't think there's anything necessarily bad about early reading necessarily, but they feel a child should arrive at that skill on their own, without a structured time each day when someone is sitting down with them and teaching them letters, sounds, and syllables. 

I'm so glad I took some time to get my head back on straight this week. I'm thrilled that my kiddo enjoys books and gets excited about reading time. I need to forget about the big "reading race" and revel in that. I probably need to make space in our day for even more time to simply read books aloud to my son, and stick some of the phonics instruction books I've been eyeing back up on my shelf. My son might not be diving into the Harry Potter series solo anytime soon, but he sure does love him some books and that's what matters in the long run. 

Do you (or did you) ever worry that your child isn't learning certain skills early enough? Do you find yourself comparing your child to their peers like me? Tell me I'm not alone!