We’re on a mission to find books that your students will love—and once we find these books, you can hear all about them in our ongoing podcast series, Booktalk. This month, we’re talking about the first book in Patrick Carman’s acclaimed series, Trackers.
In Trackers we get to know Adam, Finn, Emily, and Lewis, a group of teenage tech-prodigies called the Trackers who find themselves lured into a dangerous web of blackmail and deceit by a hacker named Lasko. But this is no ordinary book. Trackers is actually a “vook,” a new kind of book that combines traditional print with online videos and interactive digital media!
To listen in on what we have to say about Patrick Carman’s “vook,” click here.
We’ve mentioned it before, but when we were kids, we devoured Choose Your Own Adventure books—especially those released by Bantam Books. Bantam ended the series in the late 90s and we’re not embarrassed to admit that we shed a few tears over it.
Thankfully, Choice of Games has picked up where Bantam left off and thrown in a few perks: First, all of their titles (or what they are calling “text-based games”) are free on the web. They’ve also produced mobile versions that can be played on iPhones, Android phones, and other smartphones.
But there’s more.
Choice of Games has developed a simple scripting language for writing text-based games, ChoiceScript, which they make available for others to use. Readers are encouraged to use this technology to write their own text-based game; the company will then host submissions on their website.
Currently they have 12 text-based games, but there are also 18 other user-created books to choose from.
At school, our students are faced with—let’s be honest now—agonizingly dull reading comprehension passages. Then, when they are done, students are asked comprehension questions (equally dull) about that passage. While we can’t control the content in these tests or the fact that students have to take them, you can find a way to help struggling readers relax, learn to love reading, and stop associating reading with the tests they face at school. Teachers can do a lot to make this happen, but we certainly can’t do it all, so we thought we were overdue to offer a few reading strategies to share with your students’ parents.
5 Reading Strategies you can share with your students' parents
Use a hands-off approach
Have you ever had a conversation with someone who had a habit of interrupting, correcting or attempting to finish sentences for you? You didn’t appreciate it very much, did you? If it bothers you, chances are that beginning readers aren’t going to appreciate it either. Instead of interrupting or correcting, give this a try:
When the reader comes across a tricky word, don’t force them to stumble through it; instead, s/he should just say “blank” and continue on with the passage. Worry about that word later.
Allow the reader to choose or abandon a book
We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Allow the child to choose the books she reads at home—and don’t force her to struggle through something that is either too challenging or does not suit her interests. To struggle is to learn, but remember that you are teaching the child to love reading.
If the child is unsure of how to find books that suit her interests and reading level, stop by Book Wink, a website that uses podcasts and 3-minute video book talks to introduce students to books they’ll love. Each video book talk is about a different topic, and additional “read-alikes” can be found on the website. In addition to this, users can browse Book Wink’s database where they can search for books by grade, subject, author, or title.
Show a bit of empathy—even if you never struggled with reading
I remember catching my junior high math teacher after class one afternoon and asking her if she ever struggled with algebra. “Nope, I always loved it” was her response and five seconds later, the conversation was over. You see, I was looking for empathy and support from my teacher. While I anticipated that she had always excelled in math, I was hoping that she would at least admit to me that she empathized with what it meant to struggle with something.
Reading isn’t easy, even for adults. Try reading Finnegan’s Wake or Derrida and you’ll get a sense of what your students go through. We’ve all encountered texts that make us feel inferior. Likewise, we’ve all experienced what Kumar Sathy calls the “passive eye shift”: Your eyes scan the pages and take in the words, but your brain is on another continent, planet or universe! Keep this in mind and go easy on beginning readers.
Make read-alouds fun for you and the child
In her cornerstone text for teaching reading, The Art of Teaching Reading, Lucy McCormick Calkins says there are “only a handful of things” that everyone agrees are essential for teaching reading: “Perhaps the most important of these is the fact that children need to listen to the best…literature read aloud to them.” We’ve made it a habit to read aloud to younger students, but when they get older, for one reason or another, we tend to think that they’ve outgrown this. But good writing is meant to be read aloud.
There’s a story about a rather well-known poet, John Keats, who was given a new translation of Homer’s great works by a friend of his, Charles Cowden Clarke. That evening, Keats and Clarke sat up until daylight reading to one another and “shouting with delight as some passage of especial energy struck [their] imagination.” If a grown man like Keats did it, so can you.
Try out three of Esmé Raji Codell’s tips for reading aloud to children
Yes, yes, you already know that March is National Reading Month, a time when your students “fall in love with reading all over again.” Right... You, meanwhile, are still trying to figure out how to get your students to truly fall in love with reading for the first time.
A few weeks ago we mentioned a 2008 survey that found that 55 percent of the students surveyed agreed that there aren’t enough good books out there that target their age demographic. Of course, this isn’t true; there are plenty of good books for all ages. It is true, though, that our students could benefit from an easier way to find books that suit their interests and reading levels.
Book Wink has heard your students’ cries for help and answered with a website that uses podcasts and 3-minute video book talks to introduce students to books they’ll love. Each video book talk is about a different topic, and additional “read-alikes” can be found on the website.
But there’s more: Book Wink also allows users to browse their book database where they can search for books by grade, subject, author, or title.
Check out one of Book Wink’s video book talks on Sharks:
If you are a reading teacher, you know that you must motivate as well as instruct. To help you accomplish this, we’ve compiled a Best Practices Guide that can help you build a successful reading program in your classroom.
These strategies really work. No fads, no politics; just common sense scholarship for K-6 reading comprehension.
In an ideal world, our students would pop out of the womb with an innate appetite for books. That’s not the world we live in, so rather than dreaming, we’re going to offer a few tips to turn your reluctant readers into avid readers. One thing to keep in mind when trying to engage reluctant readers is that there are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Reluctant readers—students who can read, but choose not to—have little intrinsic motivation, which means that you’re going to have to be the extrinsic motivator; it’s up to you to use the techniques to unite students with books! Finding a reading role model is one way you can make this happen.
Engaging Reluctant Readers By Recruiting Reading Role Models
- Warm your students up to the idea of a reading role model.
Before you wrangle up your reading role model, you’ll want to have a heart to heart with your students. Explain to them that many people love to read—in fact, reading is as essential to many professions as breathing is. How would a television or radio newscaster be able to tell us what’s going on in the world without reading? Would your students want an illiterate, or even a reluctantly literate, lawyer to take their case? Probably not.
Now ask them to think of professions that require reading and discuss why. Make a list on the board and discuss it. Use it to reach out to potential speakers now
- What do I say to my potential reading role model?
As you start to email or call potential reading mentors, you might say something like this:
This year, I am making it my priority to engage my reluctant readers and teach them not only to value reading, but actually love it. Last week, we had an in-class discussion; we talked about various professions and why reading is an essential part of that profession. As an insert profession here, my students thought that you would be a perfect reading role model! They would be impressed if you would stop by our classroom and tell them about your reading habits and how they correspond to your profession.
- You’ve found your mentor. How do you prepare them?
You might ask the mentor to tell your students about the different types of reading that they use on the job every day. Of course, this isn’t limited to just reading books. Your mentor may not be used to public speaking, so it might be helpful for you to talk a bit about your own reading habits and what you’ve told your students about them. If you need a framework, here’s what we might say:
Every morning, I wake up, brew a pot of coffee and sit down to check my email. I encourage people to contact me as much as they like, so usually there are five or six emails from some of my colleagues, students or parents. Once I’ve read and answered the emails, I read over my lesson plans, reacquaint myself with some of the assigned readings and if I have time, I check out my favorite celebrity gossip blog. Remember, there’s no such thing as “real reading.” When I get home, I have to cook dinner—which means that I have to read and follow the directions in my recipe book. Etc. etc. etc.
One thing we always try to keep in the forefront of our minds is the fact that most of us excel at something when we truly love it. Without passion or love, motivation will almost always diminish. Finding a reading mentor is only one small step we can take toward teaching our reluctant readers to love books. If you need a few more tips, check out one of our most recent blogs, “Teaching Reading Means Teaching Our Students to LOVE Reading.”
If you’re one of the lucky teachers who won’t go back to school until after Labor Day, there’s still time to squeeze in a couple of good summer reads! Teachers who are able to share their own personal love of reading with their students can instill a love of books that carries on throughout their lives. Make sure you share some of the titles that you’ve read with your students, and ask them to share theirs! Talking about books fosters an increased interest in reading, so make time for it in your classrooms this year!
Three great summer reads for teachers:
The Summer Book (Jansson, 2012) This beautiful story, set on a tiny island in the Gulf of Finland, examines the connection between a young girl and her grandmother in her final months of life. They spend the summer together in companionship and exploration while discussing things that matter to everyone, regardless of age.
Heart and Soul (Binchy, 2009) An uplifting tale of friends, family, patients and staff at a heart clinic in Ireland, this book will provide intersecting stories that all tie together in the end. Dr. Clara Casey is tasked with establishing the clinic and is faced with a variety of challenges including funding, demanding patients, and family life. Dr. Casey’s story plays out among the accompanying tales of patients and staff and celebrates the story's setting of modern day Ireland.
Learn Me Good (Pearson, 2006) This is the story of Mr. Woodson, an engineer who loses his job and decides to try his hand at teaching math. The book is actually a series of emails that Woodson writes to a friend still working for his former employer. A quick read, you'll find yourself laughing at the funny subject lines, names at the closing of each email, and how true-to-life the hilarious stories are.
Reading for pleasure is important but you can also choose books that benefit you professionally. These two titles are quick reads that can make a fast impact in your classroom.
Two great professional summer reads for teachers:
Opening Minds (Johnston, 2012) A thorough analysis of the words teachers use with students demonstrates the power language holds. Peter Johnston makes the case for carefully choosing your words and how small shifts in word choice can affect a student's perception, sense of self, and emotional, moral, and social development.
What Keeps Teachers Going? (Nieto, 2003) This collection of vignettes about teaching and learning serves as an inspiration to everyone in the field of education. The author examines lessons that can be learned from veteran teachers who have served in the classroom a number of years and maintain a hopeful enthusiasm.
Get more intimately involved with reading and words—download our FREE quick guide to explicit word analysis instruction for a refresher on the power of words and word play! Have a powerful year!
There are many long-held assumptions that "girls don't like math
" or "boys don't like to read
." A recent blog by Andrew Meltzoff and Dario Cvencek on NBC’s Education Nation
takes a look at gender stereotypes, and raises questions about how we may be socializing our children in this country to prefer one subject over another. While there is compelling research that suggests boys and girls do learn differently, there are no definitive conclusions that both genders can't succeed in any area of learning.
There are things teachers can do to promote learning for all, regardless of gender or subject area. It is a suitable and appropriate role for teachers to help students understand that their academic and cognitive abilities are not predisposed from birth. This understanding and concerted myth de-bunking can help students be more adaptable and open to a variety of learning approaches and instructional methods. They may also be more willing to take academic risks.
- Girls who have more confidence in their math and science abilities, and have had teachers explicitly emphasize these abilities, are more likely to enjoy and excel at their math studies. Long term, they also are more likely to opt for math and science electives in high school while also considering a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) career.
- Boys who learn in a boy-friendly, print rich environment will understand that reading isn't just for girls. Teachers need to research and provide books that are interesting to boys (non-fiction, science fiction, mystery, action) to demonstrate that no matter what they like to read; there are many great titles available.
Teachers should provide direct feedback on a student's performance and work production. When feedback is both explicit and prescriptive and focuses on the learning process, specific learning strategies, and a students' effort—achievement increases. This feedback will help to improve persistence during a difficult task, increase performance, and support students' beliefs about their abilities.
- Direct feedback during math or science instruction will help to support girls' learning by providing explicit instruction on their performance and the logical/mathematical processes likely accompanying a math or science task. When teachers place emphasis on the strategies that were used and whether or not they were successful, girls will understand the sequential process of math and science learning.
- In order for any student to be a successful reader, he must be able to independently apply a variety of comprehension strategies during reading. Teachers need to provide direct feedback to boys regarding their use of these strategies. Particularly when reading fiction texts, boys should be engaged in conversations regarding their use of comprehension strategies and whether they enhanced their overall understanding.
Teachers can expose all students to a variety of opportunities and possible careers that break gender stereotypes. Students need to understand that your gender doesn't determine what you enjoy learning or what your future career may be. Exposure to these beliefs in elementary school will shape early understanding for both boys and girls.
- There are many prolific female mathematicians and scientists available as examples for girls (including Marie Curie, Jane Goodall, and Sally Ride). Profiling these successful women will help to demonstrate to girls that there are a variety of STEM careers available to them that take advantage of their math and science abilities. Teachers should explore how to use the text and website, Math Doesn't Suck, by Danica McKellar which demonstrates that math can be both easy and relevant.
- The website "Guys Read" is a place where boys of all ages can discuss boy-centric books, provide literary reviews, and learn what some of their favorite male authors are currently working on. Created and maintained by Jon Scieska, this terrific website focuses on books and genres that boys like most, while providing substantial support and encouragement for boy readers.
Let us know your thoughts about gender and learning--we acknowledge that we are just scratching the surface of this very complex issue.
You can learn how to motivate every reader in your classroom by viewing our FREE webinar on Goal-setting and Reading Fluency, today!
If you want to encourage your students to take charge of their own reading habits, make sure they know how to perform the Five Finger Rule to determine if a book is appropriate for their reading level. This is one of those amazingly simple techniques that can be overlooked simply because it is so easy. But it is a very effective indicator to quickly determine a child’s reading ability.
We recommend that K-5 teachers post this rule somewhere in the classroom—all year— as a reminder for young readers, because we know that children are sometimes hesitant to ask us to repeat things.
Make a poster that says something like this: (Or download one from the Internet)
THE FIVE FINGER RULE FOR ALL READERS
How to choose a book that is just right for you!
Step 1 Pick a book that interests you.
Step 2 Open the book to a page in the middle of the book. (No pictures)
Step 3 Start reading the page outloud to yourself.
Step 4 Hold up a finger for EVERY word you do not understand or cannot pronounce.
If you raise
0 - 1 Finger - put the book back, this book is too EASY!
2 - 3 Fingers - this book is fine for an interesting read.
4 Fingers - this book will be a challenging read; try reading it with a buddy.
5 Fingers - this book is not a good choice for now; please choose another title.
Posting this simple rule in your classroom will help maintain a positive literacy rich environment. Readers of all ages and levels must be exposed to a wide variety of literature on a regular basis. Give your students exposure to many different types of books, magazines, newspapers and web resources. Provide reading opportunities during structured and non-structured times.
Building your classroom library also helps readers. Do not rely solely on your school or city library for book selection. Teachers can get inexpensive books at garage sales, church book sales, second-hand bookseller clearance tables, and a really great resource we heard about called paperback swap. Also, you can appeal to your students’ families for donating age-appropriate books for your class.
It helps, too, if you can sort your classroom books into levels for multiple intelligences. Fountas and Pinnell is a good resource. But if you need some good, free lists, these will get you started. One teacher we spoke with says you can keep your leveled books organized with color-coded stickers on the book spines, then sort the books into sturdy dishpans of the same color. The color of the dots indicate the level of difficulty of the book. These dots make sorting books back into the bins at the end of the day a snap. It’s an easy-to-assemble, leveled library for students to help themselves!
The best way we know to preserve a classroom library is to buy hardbacks whenever possible (check out those garage sales!), and cover paperbacks in clear contact paper. Be sure to attach those self-adhering colored dots to each book’s spine before covering in contact paper. Also, stamp your name on each book, or place a bookplate inside each one.
The bottom line is to offer students the opportunity to read, read, read. You’ll notice a difference in your students' abilities.
For more helpful tips to improve reading comprehension in your classroom, download our Free Best Practices Guide now!
New Jersey goes to the head of the class in reading, according to the report out last week from The Nation’s Report Card, a communication of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) that measures student achievement in elementary and secondary education in the United States.
In an article by Jeanette Rundquist, the state is encouraged by its fourth and eighth graders posting the second highest reading scores in the country. New Jersey also ranked an impressive number three and four ranking nationally in mathematics for fourth and eighth graders, respectively. But Rundquist is quick to point out that there is a lot of work to be done, since just less than 40 percent of students nationwide were considered “proficient” in writing and math.
The NAEP results reveal an interesting insight into student habits—on the national level, fourth graders who say they “read for fun almost every day” had higher reading scores. What’s more, this year’s survey found a higher percentage of fun-reading fourth graders than in previous years.
Reading for fun? It’s heartening to know that children are still doing that. We can thank dedicated parents and teachers—and especially the authors of the “Harry Potter” series and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” for keeping fourth graders interested in books. But the national average for fourth grade reading comprehension has not changed since 2009; even despite the NAEP data that shows approximately 47 percent of fourth-graders in the nation received 10 or more hours of language arts instruction per week in 2011, which is higher than in 2005.
While we are gratified that language arts instruction hours have increased in the school day, we still need to ask ourselves if we could be doing more to improve the flat-lined progress in reading comprehension across the nation.
Here’s what helps encourage a love for reading:
•Work together with parents to ensure there is a literacy-rich environment both in class and at home. Ask parents to have their children read out loud to them every week, if not every day. Also remind parents to keep reading to their children, too—no matter how old they are.
•Include a variety of Book Talks in your classroom, using the strategy of Think Alouds for students. (Davey, B. (1983). Think-aloud: Modeling the cognitive processes of reading comprehension. Journal of Reading, 27(1), 44-47.) Two important things teachers need to do during a Think Aloud are share their personal reading selections with the class, and model behavior during Read Alouds for interpreting text. It really works.
•For older children, start a student-driven book club. Ask students to form groups outside of school and report back to the class on their experiences.
•Make sure you are choosing age-appropriate books for your students, and send home book lists to parents and guardians, to make choosing books at the library or book store much easier. One useful site to explore is the PBS Bookfinder page, where you can find age-appropriate books through third grade for Read Alouds or independent reading, organized by subject.
To learn more about comprehension best practices, download our free guide—and help your students become the master readers they deserve to be.
As a continuation of our discussion on Reading Strategies for new teachers, here are three more ways to prepare students for reading success. No matter what grade level or subject area you teach, we can’t emphasize enough that students must have a strong reading foundation–which includes a variety of comprehension strategies– to serve them well in middle and high school, and onward to higher education. These strategies are great for the new teacher, as well as the seasoned pro.
1) Assessment: It is important to assess students in their general reading abilities on a regular basis. Even if you do not see your students for the subject of reading, consider using the assessment strategies as outlined in the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Literacy Skills (DIBELS) one to three-minute assessment tests created by Ruth A. Kaminski, Ph.D. and Roland H. Good, Ph.D. of the Dynamic Measurement Group. Their work on DIBELS is based on previous work on Curriculum-Based Measurement conducted by Dr. Stan Deno and a team of researchers at the University of Minnesota, which began in the 1970s, and continues today. You can gain free access at dibels.uoregon.edu.
Marygrove Master in the Art of Teaching (MAT) offers Reading 510, a dynamic, case study-based course which will take Elementary and Secondary teachers through the process of learning how to use these screening instruments effectively, and what to do with the results.This distinctive course, tailored to meet the State of Michigan Reading Requirement for Professional Teaching Certificates, will provide teachers from every state with crucial information to help identify the problems of struggling readers and offer possible solutions.
2) Collaboration: Talk with your fellow teachers on a regular basis to share ideas about teaching reading. They may be able to provide new material that covers any number of specific topics, including comprehension strategies. If you are struggling to find strategies that pertain specifically to your unique content area, consult the Internet. Many teachers post their ideas on discussion boards, forums, and lesson-submitting sites. Check the right-hand column of our Marygrove MAT website for content-specific information.
3) Reflection: It is important to reflect on your curriculum, specific lessons, and students' progress on a regular basis. If you don't find yourself doing this naturally, remind yourself to do it by scheduling time for it. You’ll be glad you did, and before long it will become second-nature. MAT Academic Director Diane Brown sets an alarm on her cell phone to ensure her daily reflection time. “I have an alarm that goes off every day at 2:05,” she says. “This is my ‘get your act together, you have three hours left in the day’ alarm…it started as an accident, but has proved to be incredibly valuable in getting me to fit everything in the day.”
For more ways to boost your students’ reading comprehension levels, download our Free K-6 Reading Comprehension Best Practices Guide.
Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks