Learning, Leading, and Loving Literacy

Posts tagged ‘motivation’

Summer Literacy Lessons

Each year, we are lucky enough to partner with Providence College and host their students from the Graduate Literacy Program.  The students are teachers who are working to earn their Master’s degree and become certified Reading Specialists.  In order to do that, one of their final courses requires that they work intensively with students who struggle with aspects of reading and/or writing. We invite students from our school who could benefit from extra summer instruction for a four week intensive Summer Literacy Program.  It is a win-win for our students and the Providence College students.

The children work in very small groups (1:2 teacher to students ratio) and get individualized instruction from teachers who are motivating, caring, and learning best practice.  Of course our goal is to have the students maintain or make gains in literacy learning – but it is also to foster their love for reading and writing.  We work on developing basic skills such as phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, fluency, and self-monitoring.  However, we always put the joy of reading and writing first and work on these skills by reading real texts and writing real pieces for authentic audiences.  In short, we focus on what it really means to be a reader and writer.

We are just starting week 3 of our program.  Our daily schedule consists of reader’s workshop, a whole class lesson, and writer’s workshop.  Our whole class lessons are designed to enhance the individual lessons of the reader’s and writer’s workshops. Below are some samples of what we have learned so far, and how families can encourage and support the work we have been doing at home.

Lessons in Reading:  We have learned

  • How to use punctuation to make our reading sound good and make sense
  • How to check that our reading makes sense, sounds right, and looks right
  • How to ask questions and wonder as we read
  • How to use clues within the text to figure out the meaning of new words

How you can help at home:  Looking at the lessons above, there are many ways to support the work we have done. The best way to help and support your child at home is to read with them and talk with them about what they have read.

As you share a story, model your thinking such as asking “I wonder why the character did that?” to model asking questions.

Change your voice as you read aloud and mention “I saw the exclamation point so I knew I had to make my voice sound excited”.

When you read a new or unfamiliar word, model your thinking about what the word might mean. “They say the bird was perched on the branch and from the picture I notice the bird sitting on top of it.  That must be what perched means.”

When you notice your child reading and making an error, give him or her some wait time to see if they notice the error as well.  If not, wait until the end of the page and then say something like “You said ‘The bunny hopped in the call grass (if your child read call/cool).  Does that make sense?”  Always ask your child to check if his or her reading makes sense, sounds right, and looks right;  all three are important.

Lessons In Writing:  We have learned

  • How to plan out our writing to include a beginning, middle, and end
  • How to add details to our writing to help readers visualize our story

How you can help at home: Good writing almost always begin with good language.  Talking about the events that happen in life is a great way to prepare your child to become a better writer.

As you recount something you did throughout the day, model how to retell the events in order using words such as first, then, next, and last.  A great way to do this is to ask your child to tell another adult about something that happened.  For example, when my husband comes home, I might ask my son to “tell daddy what happened when we went outside today” and then begin by modeling “First, we went outside to go on a nature walk. Then…” and I let my son fill in the blanks.  Modeling that story structure makes children become familiar with the sequencing of a story and it will become natural for them to tell stories in this way.

Additionally, expand your child’s vocabulary (and ability to add details to their storytelling and writing) through conversation. The best way to do this is by using a strategy called the PEER strategy by Grover J. Whitehurst as you read or talk:

PEER Sequence:

Prompt the child to say something about the book or topic.

Evaluate the child’s response.

Expand the child’s response by rephrasing and adding information to it.

Repeat the prompt to make sure the child has learned from the expansion.

Example:  You bring your child to the beach and on the way home you ask “What did you see at the beach today?” Your child says “I saw the waves”. (Prompt)  You answer “Yes (Evaluate), we saw the waves crashing on the shore.  They were tall and moved quickly” (Expand). Finish by saying “Did you see those tall waves today? (Repeat to see if the child picks up on and uses the new vocabulary).

This is a very simplified example and usually reserved for reading but the concept is to take every opportunity you have to expand your child’s speaking vocabulary as this will prepare them when they write.

Summary:  I have a poster hanging on the wall of my classroom and it is one of my favorites.  It says “The Top 10 ways to become a Better Reader: 1.Read 2.Read 3.Read 4.Read 5.Read 6.Read 7.Read 8.Read 9.Read 10.Read”. The best way to help and support your child is to enjoy and talk about books with them.  We are having a great time with the kids and hope that knowing what skills and strategies we are working on will help you think about how to expand this work at home.  In a future post, I will include a list of the books we have read aloud so that you can share them with your child as well.





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Using “You were almost right” to boost learning

My husband and I work out at home (more now that our New Year’s resolutions have begun) and we recently decided to purchase a new set of DVDs.  We have done P90X and we were doing Jillian Michaels for a while and after a certain amount of time, our routine got stale.  With this comes less and less motivation for working out and hence, the New Year’s resolutions.

Like any practice, if you do the same thing over and over again, you lose your edge.  The thing you once loved becomes mundane and any progress is stalled.  The same goes for teaching. I like to read new articles and books about teaching because it keeps me fresh and helps me reflect on my practice and shake things up.  I need this as much as the kids do, so we can stay on that cutting edge of learning.

I could open up any catalog or visit any teaching website and find thousands of new titles or articles to read. However, I often find myself going back to my favorite books and authors and rereading something that once inspired me.  This week, I picked up Peter Johnston’s book “Choice Words”, which beautifully details how our language and the way we speak to students affects their learning.  Reading this book long ago really helped me notice and refine my language so I could not only communicate clearly with my students, but also make them more active and engaged as they learn.

One of my favorite ways to respond to students as they read and write is this:

“I like how you did______ and  it was almost right!”

This is a great response for two reasons. 1) It acknowledges and confirms what the students did well and 2) It directs the students to action.  This comment is usually followed up with me telling the students what was right and then directing their attention to a part that might need fixing.  For example, if a student reads “something” for “someone” and does not self-correct, my response might sound something like this: “You were almost right! I like how you noticed the first part of that word.  You noticed “some” and you were right.  Now take a closer look at the ending and see if you can read the whole word”.

Peter Johnston writes “the most important piece is to confirm what has been successful (so it will be repeated) and simultaneously assert the learner’s competence so she will have the confidence to consider new learning”.  We use this same theory in kid writing and writing conferences when we offer a “praise” and a “push”.  Hearing the praise first boosts the learner’s confidence and allows them to hear what might be done differently.  If we started with the “push” (or talk about what’s not going well), students may immediately shut down and find advice about the instruction hard to listen to.

Lev Vygotsky, a famous child psychologist from Russia, demonstrated very well what he called “zones of proximal development”. He stated “We need to be pushed, not too far.  Good development occurs when we are invited to accept challenges that are just big enough to demand we work at solving them, but that they don’t completely defeat us”.  Marie Clay used this theory in Reading Recovery, teaching teachers to praise the “partially correct” as a way to progress children forward.

This is the power of “you were almost right”.  The next time you are working with your child, force yourself to notice and praise what went well before you offer a correction or direct attention to an error.  This small shift can make a big difference in lifting the learning and moving kids forward.