The possibilities for online learning these days are endless. I am a big fan of online learning because I love the convenience and flexibility that it provides. As well, the fact that online courses are usually more wallet-friendly is also another perk that I really appreciate! If you are interested in learning more about the current world of online learning here is a link to an Online Schools Guidebook: accreditedschoolsonline.org/online-schools-guidebook
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I just don’t know what to do to help my child learn to read! This is the biggest complaint that I hear from parents. A close second is, but they don’t like reading with me. I remember reading with my dad in kindergarten. I hated it! More specifically I hated not being able to read perfectly when I read with him. This is usually what makes reading with parents (or getting homework help from them) such a struggle. Your children love you and don’t want to disappoint you. They need to hear regularly that you don’t expect them to read perfectly and you are just happy to read with them. Here are my ideas on making reading less of a struggle and teaching them to read at the same time. A big part of getting children to read regularly at home has to do with access, choice, time, and space.
Let’s start with access. Kids need access to reading material. What a blessing, that there are so many community libraries here in Canada! The best way we can show our appreciation for these libraries is to use them. As well librarians are trained in helping you find books that are the right fit for your child and they are happy to help. Personal books at home are also very helpful. Even if your child is a beginner reader and most of the books are at a higher level, they can still get a lot of benefit from having regular and easy access to these books. First of all reading pictures is an early literacy skill that helps build a strong foundation for more advanced literacy skills. Of even more value is when parents and other caregivers read to early readers. Children not only develop a love of books, stories, and reading (more foundational literacy skills) they also have many reading strategies modelled to them when they listen to books read to them. These reading strategies are then absorbed by children and they will automatically use them without even having to make a conscious effort to do so. Just as you use them automatically and may not even be aware of what they actually are. Reading to your child on a regular basis is the single best thing that you can do to help them develop strong literacy skills. Yes, it’s as easy as that! Even if your child isn’t a beginning or developing reader and many of the books at home are at an easier level they are still of value as they provide your child with a choice of reading material.
Children love to choose books to read and have read to them. Visiting the public library on a regular basis and letting your child choose books to take out is fabulous motivator for getting them to read. If your child is choosing books that are not at their reading level, you could always ask for a compromise, and say for every hard (or too easy) book they choose, you would like them to choose a good fit book as well. Of course early readers have less choice of good fit books but if the book is bit beyond their level then you can always share the reading. They read the words they know and you read the other words. Or you read most of the words and stop on words that you believe they know or are able to figure out. For example, you can stop on words that are easy to guess based on pictures or context. This is a reading strategy that successful readers use. You can also stop on words that are common sight words (the, of, look) or words that are easy to sound out. Library visits coupled with a personal collection of books at home provide children with lots of choice of reading material.
The most reliable way to help your child find the time to read is to develop the habit of reading at a particular time of day. As adults we rarely forget or struggle to make time to brush our teeth. That’s because it is built into our getting ready-for-the-day and getting-ready-for-bed routines. When my daughter was young we made a habit of reading before bed. Actually it was before getting ready for bed. This seemed to make getting ready for bed less of a fight for a child who felt there was too much fun to be had and sleep got in her way of getting all the fun she could out of her day. Different times will fit differently for various families. Mornings could be a nice way to help children who are slow to wake up start their day. You could climb into bed with them and start reading an old favourite. By the end of it they will probably be awake enough to then share the reading of the next and then read one short book on their own before getting up and getting on with their day. As working parent, I understand that it can be challenging to find the time to read with our children. However, if it’s a priority then we can do it.
Having a quiet reading space is important as well. Even though I have been reading for decades and have lots of practise at it, I get distracted by things like conversations, television, loud music, and mom requests. Children don’t think that they are distracted by television, video games, and music but brain research suggests differently. Music or television is just the sugar that makes the medicine go down. Ideally children should read in a quite space with as little distractions as possible. Although my daughter and I co-created an attractive reading corner in her bedroom, her favourite reading place was cuddled up next to me on the couch. She often prefers to read while walking around the living room by herself. She is a very active child and sitting still is what she does at school so she avoids it as much as possible at home. In small homes, finding a quite space may require a quiet time for the whole family, ear plugs, and/or a book lamp for reading in a closet. Have your child try a few options and choose what fits for them. Not only do kids like to choose their reading material, they also love to choose their reading location and position!
Good habits aren’t necessarily easy to develop but they are worthwhile and have pay-offs. With reading the pay-offs are immense. Reading provides access to information, entertainment, life-lessons, and life-changing wisdom!
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Although it isn’t a super common question, I have been asked a number of times, “Why didn’t my child get an A in (insert the subject here)?” Now if a child typically gets an A in that subject, typically meaning more than once or twice, and it is an area this child has a learning strength in then it is a fairly logical question and there is usually a straight forward reason. However when a child has mostly A’s and there is only one or a couple of subjects that the child didn’t get an A in then I always think to myself, why would they get straight A’s? No matter how “with-it” a child is when he comes to school, we simply can’t expect him to “exceed expectations” in every area. In fact, there is a certain risk involved if we expect a child to get straight A’s.
That risk is the risk of lessening our child’s love of learning in order to foster their love of achievement. Now I don’t think that there is anything wrong with fostering a love of achievement in our children, but I do think it is a shame to do it when it comes with the cost of dampening a love of learning. How does the expectation of consistent A’s take away from a love of learning? When a child is more concerned with getting an A rather than learning, they avoid taking on learning risks and challenges. For example, after giving my grade 7 students a list of criteria of what they need to show me they have learned for an end of unit project, I would often give them the freedom to choose how they would like to show me that knowledge and those skills. They might demonstrate their learning with an essay, a skit, a song, a poster, a chart… well you get the idea. There are many ways to demonstrate what you learn. Now this is a great opportunity to try something new. Very often my typical “A students” would stick to what they were used to, an essay and/or a poster board presentation, or maybe even a PowerPoint presentation. (It’s been more than four years now since I taught grade 7 so I’m sure that students would be more apt to use technology now than they were then.) More often, it was my typical “B” students who would see the project as an opportunity to test their hands in an artistic or unique manner of representation. Sometimes they would miss some of criteria for demonstrating their knowledge because they got so caught up with pursuing their project but they usually had a really creative and innovative project and often their projects did include all the criteria too.
Learning should be about trying out new things and taking risks. Often my daughter comes home with some lofty idea for a project that she is working on and I often feel dubious about what the results will be. However I keep my mouth shut about my doubts and stick to asking her questions about how she plans to do this or that. It can be tough to keep my opinions to myself. As well, it’s has been tough to resign myself to the idea that she might not get an A on the project if she is trying her hand at something that is not her strong suit. However her learning is her learning, not mine. I am grateful that she loves learning and she loves trying out new things and being creative. I want her to keep her love of learning strong and to continue to being willing to try, try, and try!
Learning is not about being perfect. There is a time and place for perfect presentations. It is a great attribute to want to do well. B’s are great grades too and if students can’t take learning risks in elementary and middle school then when will they be able to? I think that the years leading up to grade ten are a terrific time for children to try out new pursuits and ways of learning. After grade ten if does make more sense to treat school as a job. Although even in the working world, it is still good to be willing to take on learning risks and challenges.
Here is a great video that demonstrates the power of valuing our failures! It was also my inspiration for this blog post.
I am re-posting these two documents as I hear more and more parents expressing a desire to homeschool their children while the public schools are closed.
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Is there more to reading books than just reading? Yes! There is comprehension, reflection, and connection to name a few higher level thinking skills that go along with reading. In simpler terms, that means, understanding, thinking about, and relating to other ideas learned. Follow up reading activities are a great way to get readers to engage in these higher level thinking skills. In teacher jargon, we call them “reader response” activities. I guess that is because they get the readers to respond to what they read. There are lots of reader response activities that are a fun way to get kids to think more deeply about their summer reading.
Above is a picture of a diorama that my daughter made for a scene in the novel Charlotte’s Web. It’s the scene where people come to see Charlotte’s web when it says “some pig”. She also did a write up of a summary which is glued on the back. My daughter dislikes writing but she loves making things. I have sometimes wondered if she had a bad experience with a pencil in a past life but she also dislikes typing. Fortunately the write up was totally overshadowed by the fun of making a diorama. The summary encourages differentiating between main points and minor detail whereas the diorama encourages attention to detail. Here are more reader response ideas:
· Do a book review (there are lots of online samples)
· Write the author a letter
· Write a summary (younger kids can summarize the beginning, middle and end)
· Act it out
· Write the story into a play format
· Identify the story elements (characters, setting, problem, climax, resolution, theme)
· Compare and contrast the book with the movie (Venn Diagrams are a nice way to organize thoughts)
· Write a different ending for the story
· Make a commercial to sell people on the idea of reading the book
All these activities require readers to use higher-level thinking skills. They are also a great base for discussing what they read and what they thought about it. And many of them are suitable for children who dislike their pencils (and keyboard).
If your child is reading regularly this summer then great! Talk about the value of doing some reader response activities and let them choose an activity to do for the next book they read. If your child is not reading regularly then I would work on helping them develop that habit first. For some ideas on how to do that see the previous post “Summer Reading”.
A fun way to keep up on or improve math facts over the summer is a game called, Speed. It is actually very similar to the old card game called, War. However my daughter was horrified when I suggested we play a game called War so I switched the name to Speed. Anytime that I have slipped up and called the game War, I get the same horrified reaction which goes something like, “No! Why would I want to play War?! Mom, that’s awful! How could you even say that word in front of me?!” So if I just call the game Speed from now on then I’m less likely to slip up and use the old name.
You can use the game Speed to practise addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts. Let’s start with Addition Speed.
· Use a deck of cards, remove all the face cards (Jacks, Queens, and Kings), explain that Aces have a value of 1.
· Shuffle what remains of the deck and deal out all the cards between two players. Each player keeps all cards face down in a pile, as in the picture above.
· Dealer gives a signal, which might just be the word “go” and both players turn over their top card. The first player to give the correct sum of both cards wins both cards.
· If both players say the correct sum at the same time, then it begins a battle for the tie cards (not a war!) and each player turns over the top card again until there is a clear winner and that player wins the tie cards as well.
· Continue in this manner until all the cards have been played. The winner is the player who won the most cards.
· For Subtraction Speed, the players want to be the first to say the correct difference of the two cards, just have them take away the smaller number from the bigger number.
· For Multiplication Speed, the players want to be the first to say the correct product of the two card numbers multiplied together.
· For Division Speed, the players want to be the first to say the correct dividend by considering one card number to be the divisor and the other two be the quotient. For example, if a 3 and a 2 are turned over the players would need to think what? divided by 2 equals 3 or what? divided by 3 equals 2. However once a child plays this game, they will probably realize that it’s really just Multiplication Speed. But it forces them to think of the relationship between division and multiplication to reach this conclusion.
· To make the Speed game easier, use two dice. That way the numbers to be added or subtracted are 6 or less.
· To make the Speed game harder, include the Jack as 11, the Queen as 12, and the King as 13.
· To make Addition Speed harder, include another player or more. You could do this for Subtraction Speed as well but if you take away the two smaller numbers from the biggest number, then the answer might be a negative digit.
Now if your child complains about having to practise their basic math facts, you can always give them a choice of Speed, flash cards, or worksheets. Choice always makes the work go down easier!
As a classroom teacher I spend each September figuring out each of my students’ reading levels so that I can provide them with what I like to call “best fit” reading instruction and practise. Depending what grade I am teaching, and whether or not there has been a lot of staff changes, I can sometimes get the students’ reading levels from the previous May. This is helpful because instead of randomly guessing where a student might be reading at and then having them read a book at that level to see how they do, I can instead base the first book I give them on how they were reading three months ago.
So one year as I was checking reading levels for a class of grade two and three students. I sat down with one boy who had tested at a level 13 in May of his grade one year. Now with the system that I was using, the district I work in has the expectation that by the end of grade one students should be reading independently at a level 16 and by the end of grade two they should be reading independently at a level 22. Now that is ideal but the reality is that students come from all different backgrounds, some with very little exposure to books at home, some with lots of exposure, and they have all different strengths and weakness. So even though this particular child had received intensive reading support in grade one, he was not able to get to level 16 by the end of grade one. So I pulled out a level 13 book and after the first page, I told him I had changed my mind and wanted him to try a different book. I gave him a level 11 book and it was still way to challenging for him. I went for lower and lower books. I asked him as casually as I could, if he had been reading over the summer. He said flat out, “No!” His tone suggested that he thought this was a crazy idea why would he do that over the summer. The final result was that he was reading at a level 6 at the beginning of grade two.
This is what is commonly referred to as summer reading loss. By the end of grade two this student was reading at a level 17, which is a beginning grade two level. When he was in grade three his teacher told me that she checked his reading level and he was reading at a grade one level. It seems he had another summer without reading. Now this is one of the more extreme cases that I have seen and it is definitely a prime example of how the most “at-risk” students are the most vulnerable to summer learning loss. However if I was to sum up what I see year after year, I would say that overall (and each class is slightly different) less than a third of the students in any given class improves their reading level over the summer. Typically, these are the students who have a regular habit of reading over the summer and throughout the school year. I would say that just over a third of students stay at roughly the same reading level over the summer. These are the students who do some reading over the summer but typically they don’t have the regular habit of reading. Finally, the third of the students who regress in their reading skills are typically the ones who admit, sometimes rather shyly and sometimes rather boldly, that they did not read over the summer.
Reading over the summer is imperative to preventing summer reading loss! A regular reading habit over the summer is likely to help with an improvement in reading accuracy, comprehension, and fluency. The best way to build a habit according to Charles Duhigg author of The Power of Habit, is to have a cue, routine, and reward. Over time this sequence becomes more and more automatic until cue and reward are intertwined. I have always found that an easy cue to use is a particular time in a daily routine. Some more practical cues might be, in the morning before any screen time (tv, video games, movies, computer pleasure use), after lunch, before dinner, after dinner, or before bed. The routine could be to read for 15 minutes for primary students and 30 minutes for intermediate students. Ideally the reward would be that the reading was enjoyable but some children could use a little bit more of bang in their reward. For those who like their screen time then having their enjoyable screen time after reading would be a reward. Checking off their reading on a calendar could also be a reward. Many libraries have a summer reading programs that gives the children their own calendar to keep track of their reading and after completing a specific number of days for their reading, they can come in for some form of recognition. My daughter has joined the Surrey Public Libraries summer reading program for the last number of years and I know that the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries also offers a similar summer reading program. I highly recommend these programs especially for younger children. For older children, an incentive might be to read them the example above to offer proof that it isn’t just their parent who thinks reading over the summer is important.
Here is a link that I came across for 24 books that will captivate your kids this summer. I emailed it too myself because I want to check out some of these books over the summer and now I don’t remember where I came across it. Picture books are fun for all ages and lend themselves to lots of rich discussions about story elements (character, setting, plot, and theme) and connections to other stories as well as life lessons. Picture books are great for a family story time with different family members taking turns reading them and asking other family members discussion questions. Stay tuned for a blog post on follow up reading activities or reader response activities in order to squeeze some more Language Arts learning into the summer.
Stacey Hernberg is a brain-based learning enthusiast. Passionate about parenting, teaching, and helping children get the most out of their education.