By CRISTINA ROMEO COMPTON
Distance learning can be challenging, especially for our young, emerging readers. In the classroom, young students are exposed to print-rich environments, and are supported and guided through a multitude of literacy activities such as phonics, guided reading, shared reading, and direct reading instruction. Now that learning is taking place in the home, there are growing concerns about the deficits young students will experience, particularly when it comes to reading. What can we do? How and when should we do it? And how can parents prioritize reading practices at home?
As a Master’s student, the focus of my thesis included understanding and improving the reading habits and attitudes of my third grade students. I launched my study by administering a survey, and provided them with a number of statements including, I like to read, I prefer reading to watching TV, and I read more than I watch TV. I had students read each statement, and then circle an emoji that best matched their feelings about the statement (ranging from positive to negative).
My students’ responses, along with my observations, were pretty discouraging. I noticed many of my students didn’t want to read, or would read for a few minutes before putting their book down and saying, “I’m done.” I was determined to do something. In the next phase of my work, I reached out to parents of those students with particularly negative responses to the survey, and asked if they would be willing to participate in my study. Their participation included signing a contract in which they agreed to engage in three specific literacy practices at home: reading aloud, shared reading, and independent reading.
It is these three literacy practices that I think parents should prioritize, as I believe they are simple, effective, and particularly helpful when it comes to supporting reading development outside of the classroom.
Reading aloud promotes fluency and exposure. Exposure plays a significant role in reading development and cultivating a positive attitude towards reading. The parents who participated in my study agreed to read to their children for 20 minutes a day, at least three times a week. I would encourage all parents to do the same. If you can do nothing else, read aloud to your child! Expose your children to as many books as possible, and regularly engage in read alouds. This can be incorporated into a lunch break, added to a bedtime routine, or even occur first thing in the morning — whatever works best for you. If this feels too difficult, there are many read aloud resources available online that can support you, such as Epic, which offers a massive digital library for children aged 12 and under, and YouTube, which offers free access to a variety of voices and titles to choose from.
If you’re ready, interested, and able to step up your read aloud game, you can engage your children further by asking simple questions: What do you notice? What does this make you think? What are you learning about ____? This kind of work promotes comprehension and inferencing skills.
The tried and true think-aloud protocol — in which you share what you’re thinking and what you’re predicting — can also be a powerful model for children. I even do this with my 8-month-old. As her mother I know she’s brilliant (of course!), but can accept she is clearly too young to do deep thinking work on her own, so I point to the pictures and the words in each book, narrating what they are, for as long as she lets me. It’s never too young to cultivate a love for books!
Fountas and Pinnell define shared reading as a reading experience in which children and their teacher engage in multiple read alouds of an “enlarged version of a text that provides opportunities for students to expand their reading competencies. The goals of the first reading are to ensure that students enjoy the text and think about the meaning. After the first reading, students take part in multiple, subsequent readings to notice more about the text.” From there, students discuss the text, and parents or educators determine next steps for support.
Ideally, parents would be able to put on their teacher hat while reading with their children, tracking and pointing to the words together, sounding words out along the way. Shared reading like this can help improve the rate at which children read, increase their fluency, and add to their enjoyment for reading.
Don’t be discouraged if this feels outside of your reach. Shared reading can also mean simply engaging in shared reading time, without any additional components. Each family member can select a text of their choosing, and read near each other. Whether this happens first thing in the morning, as you read the newspaper or your favorite magazine and enjoy a cup of coffee, or before bed, as you are winding down the day and in search of some quiet time. Being exposed to others who are reading can have a positive effect on a child’s attitudes and habits around reading, as it did for my young readers.
The final activity in my study involved an agreement from parents to provide quiet and uninterrupted time and space to engage in independent reading for at least 20 minutes a day. One of the biggest challenges to reading at home, according to my third graders, is the lack of space and opportunity to read alone. Children are often sharing rooms, household tasks and chores need to be done, and child care responsibilities need to be managed. This, I’m sure, has only been exacerbated during the COVID-19 crisis, as everyone is now living and working from home. Home can feel even more chaotic than before, and quiet time can be a challenge. However, if you can find a calm space where children can engage in independent reading even for even small periods of time each day, it can have a positive impact on reading abilities. This space might be the corner of a room, on a bed, or even in the bathroom. We have to get creative!
If you’re ready to level up your independent reading game, task your child with practicing one simple strategy while they read. This might include asking them to jot down questions as they read, notice and note (What do you notice? What does this make you think?), or it could involve a challenge to find words that start with certain letters or that contain certain blends, such as Bl or Cr. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just one strategy that will allow children to practice on their own, and then share with you.
The last tip I’ll leave you with is: if it feels like these strategies aren’t working for your readers, be prepared to throw all these strategies to the wind. Put the book down, and try again later. This is a challenging time — stress and emotions are running high — and we all know that the dynamic between parents and children, when it comes to learning, can be difficult and unpredictable. Some days our children want our help, and sometimes they don’t want anything to do with us! Give yourself some grace and flexibility. Trust that what you’re doing is enough, and remember that one day will not create lasting, negative implications for your child’s reading abilities. Be kind to yourself and to your children, and remember that tomorrow is another day.
By G. FAITH LITTLE
Being aware of 21st century skills as a common phrase and focus in our schools is a first step many of us have taken toward planning and teaching for our students. We are integrating the language. We may have even tried a project as an assessment for one of our units. Yet, making the shift into full integration of real-world projects that set the stage for our students to practice these skills regularly eludes us.
Uchenna Ogu and Suzie Reynard Schmidt, in their article The Natural Playscape Project: A Real-World Study With Kindergarteners beautifully articulate a design that can be applied across grade levels and content areas. Students are the authors of their own playscape, with teachers as their guide and support. In this case, playscape refers to the natural playscape created by kindergarteners — a “playground with as few human-made components as possible”. The process brings together research, exploration, and the hard work of thinking and taking action, both individually and collaboratively, where the playscape is not a final project for the purpose of assessing learning. The playscape is the unit.
Lesson: The playscape is “designed to bring children back to nature and offer a wide range of open-ended play possibilities that allow children to be creative and use their imaginations.”
Application prompt: What is the playscape for your classroom? Consider the landscape students could create and navigate in math, social studies, foreign language, physical education, literature, or science. What world could they build that would engage their senses and invite them to learn in order to create?
Lesson: “To begin the project, teachers shared their own knowledge from studies about play and sustainable schoolyards with the children.” Teachers went on to share a text the children read together and articulated some boundaries for their building: "You may build houses small and hidden for the fairies, but please do not use living or artificial materials."
“With inspiration and wonder, we set off to imagine, play, and invent small worlds for fairies and other fantastical and real woodland creatures at a nearby park and on an empty back lot on the school campus that eventually became our natural playscape.”
Application prompt: What knowledge from your own field of study do students need in order to begin to plan or build their playscape? What texts will open new possibilities for them or serve as foundations for their invention? Consider what knowledge students truly need to begin and what knowledge it makes sense for them to discover on their own. Invite them to discover for themselves, serving as a mentor or guide rather than an expert giving out all the answers.
Lesson: Plan and prepare for meaningful collaboration: “…teachers offered each pair of children a tray of sand. Teachers provided glass beads, twigs, seashells, and other natural materials, as well as time to play, experience, create, imagine, and explore. Children used these materials to create small worlds, miniature playgrounds, or fairy houses. Teachers then asked the children to draw on all of their previous experiences, both indoors and out, to generate a comprehensive list of materials that they might want or need when designing their miniature playscapes. Pebbles, seeds, dirt, grass, leaves, and flowers all made their way onto the list and eventually into their work…Next, teachers invited the children to collaborate in small groups to create miniature playgrounds for the fairies and small woodland creatures.”
In the third year, the second-graders, who were the originators of the project while in kindergarten, rejoined the process as collaborators and consultants.
Application prompt: What mini-scape could students create as a model for their larger playscape? Instead of listing the materials they may need, support students in generating their own lists of materials. As a mentor, you may do the advanced work of obtaining possible materials, but have them waiting in the wings. Let students take ownership by asking for what they need. When grouping students to collaborate, give each student a specific role that requires an outcome, so that each person’s contribution can be seen.
Lesson: Committees were formed to investigate a specific aspect of the playscape in depth. After learning more deeply about their subject, children shared what they learned. “For example, since it was important to the current kindergartners to invite birds to the playscape, those involved with the Birdhouse Committee researched native Missouri birds and built birdhouses.” The committee members expressed their love for birds through letter writing, addressing their notes to the birds themselves and including important details from their learning, “We are bird experts. We can tell you apart. You are really cute. We hope you like to splash in the birdbaths. We made them look like flowers, because we thought you might like that.”
Application prompt: What are some buckets of information or concepts all of your students will need to understand in order to create a useful playscape? Consider grouping them and naming the groups as it makes most sense in your field. Are they architects? Technical writers? Applied mathematicians? Statisticians? Commentators? In what genres do people in these roles write?
Lesson: “Being on the committees engaged the children by allowing them to research and pursue one aspect of the playscape with depth.” At one stage in the process, kindergarteners were matched with second graders to explore their design process further. “The two age groups facilitated and scaffolded each other's learning as they talked about, represented, reflected on, and began to evaluate aspects of their own and their partners' design ideas.”
Application prompt: Whether it’s pairing students in different grade levels or perhaps pairing students with complementary skills, how can you support students to listen to their partner, communicate clearly, and come to an agreement on next steps? What skills do you need to teach? What practices should students engage in to get the most out of their collaboration in order to sharpen their own critical thinking skills?
Lesson: Ongoing reflection is key. During: “Throughout the natural playscape project, teachers encouraged children to frequently reflect on their experiences.” After: “At the end of the study, as a way to help children reflect on their growth and learning, teachers asked them questions about their experiences.”
Application prompt: What structure will you support, or put in place, so that students reflect after each step of their process? This reflection will allow them to quickly make use of their learning, going back to foundations or taking a risk, based on their findings. What will the final reflection look like? How can you support student to design their own reflection?
Consider responding to each application prompt as you plan for next year. Whatever grade level you teach, incorporating space and time for creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and reflection for your students will boost their 21st Century skill set!
TAGS: 21st CENTURY SKILLS, ELEMENTARY, G. FAITH LITTLE