Something that I’ve learned in my time as an educator is the power in providing students with choice. Choice to explore their learning, choice to figure things out on their own, choice to learn new things in a variety of ways. Literacy skills are the foundation of learning, and something that educators should get excited about, because there are so many ways to create and mold literacy instruction in the classroom.
The formative years for a child, let’s say ages 2-6, are critical for literacy development. Reading, rhyming, talking and singing are all ways in which children interact with both written and spoken language. When they are provided with experiences in literacy during those formative years, they are developing the foundation for their relationship with reading and writing that will continue throughout their lives. Healthy development of the brain requires children to have these experiences.
So, how do we give children in the classroom these rich, meaningful experiences that will shape their relationship with literacy?
Research and studies have shown time and time again that children learn best through exploration and problem solving, opportunities to work things out in a way that makes sense to them. So, what does this look like and how can educators incorporate choice into their literacy programs? One way to do this is designing structured, engaging centers that provide students with multimodal learning opportunities. While students may have specific “work with teacher” time, other time can be spent exploring other centers. One center could focus on consonants, having students use a stamp, sticker or other tool to indicate which consonant letter a picture starts with. Another center might have students create a pretend grocery list and find items that start with certain letters. A third center might be a letter-sounds listening game, where students listen to a word, and decide which sound they hear at the beginning of the word. Another center might be working with syllable cards, where the students look at a picture (ex. dog, banana, etc.) and match it to the number of dots – or syllables – on a card (ex. 1 dot for dog, 3 dots for banana). A final center could be a simple picture rhyming match.
That’s 5 interactive, differentiated center ideas! The point? Choice. Allow students to choose which center interests them. Create structured, timed rounds for students to explore each center, before going to a new center. Giving students the power of choice and the opportunity to explore a variety of ways to learn a concept is key to building a child’s relationship with literacy and promoting lifelong learning.
How do you get kids excited about books? Over my 25 years of teaching, I’ve discovered many ways to spark excitement. Here are 10 to get you started:
Start an After-School Book Club
Invite a guest reader from the community to kick off the meetings. After the read-aloud, the kids spread out to read independently or with a friend. You can also invite a high school sport team or club to buddy read with the kids.
Be a “Book Fairy”
Use your points from Scholastic book clubs or grants to gift books to kids. Try to give every student a book by the end of the year. Kids love the surprise and owning their own book is more special than borrowing, so they treasure it.
Invite Guest Leaders as Readers
Leaders in schools and the community love to be a part of this and your students will be inspired to see what some of their role models read. Invite the football coach, the mayor, chief of police, a local veterinarian, and others to share a favorite book.
Encourage Kid-Created Contagious Book Reviews
When a student reads a book they love, have them create a book review to share with the class. You can do these live, or have kids create a video. You can even take the videos, create a QR code for them, and adhere the QR code inside the cover of the books!
Hold a Reading Marathon
The day of the “marathon,” have kids wear running gear, create paper running bibs, allow healthy snacks and water bottles, and read all day! Have kids read independently, in pairs, Zoom in guest readers and authors, and YOU should read aloud to them too.
Kick off the Year with a Book Tasting Event
Use tablecloths and place settings and serve a pile of books on plates. Provide wish lists for your students to jot down the books they are interested in reading that year. This is a great way to get kids familiar with your classroom library and excited about what they get to read! (Use their lists to get ideas for book fairy visits too!)
Host Book-Bartering Days
Kids bring in a book that they’re willing to part with in exchange for another book from someone in the classroom. Students give a 30 second pitch on what they loved about the book they’re offering. Arrange the books on tables and allow students to make their selections.
Get Your Own Little Free Library
As a class, write a grant for a Little Free Library for your school. Your class will love this service project and visit it often! To fill the library, send home a request for gently used books as a donation to the Little Free Library. You will be surprised at how many books come in!
Host Chat and Chews
Choose a book you have multiple copies of. You can make book marks with the dates for each meeting and what chapters need to be read each time. On assigned dates, enjoy your lunch and discuss the chapters of the book together!
Have an Author Visit!
I may be biased, since I’m a children’s book author who LOVES to do author visits, but I truly believe in their power. Kids love to meet authors in person and have a renewed passion for reading and writing afterward. From hearing the story behind the stories, or special secrets the author shares, it is a memorable experience.
When kids see you make reading a priority and a treat to be enjoyed, they are on their way to becoming life-long readers.
The young students frantically waved their hands high in the air. They couldn’t wait to run to the front of the gym and participate in a game I call, “5 in Ten!”. I recently spoke with hundreds of students in different settings (urban, rural, and suburban) and they all enjoyed “5 in 10’!”. The gist of this interactive game is to name 5______ in ten seconds.
The catch is that the students do not know what I will ask them until I say, “go!”. For example, I will call someone up to the front of the class, gym, auditorium, etc. and immediately say, “Name 5 dances in ten seconds…go!”. I typically will have the audience be my shot clock and provide a whisper countdown…10…9…8….7…6…..5…4….3…2..1…Short Buzzer sound! The choices one can use are endless. I can ask participants to name 5 dogs, 5 birds, 5 pizza toppings, 5 songs, 5 movies, 5 shoes, 5 cars, 5 words that start with the letter “A”, etc.
I use “5 in 10” as an ice breaker for students, staff, parents, and families of all ages when I present. Similarly to “5 in 10”, I also use “3 in 5” and “1 in 3.” These are variations of the same “5 in 10” game with the exception that you have to name 3____ in 5 seconds and 1_____ in 3 seconds. Even in virtual environments, students. staff, and parents are excited to play these games!
It was a breath of fresh air to many who were struggling with the remote learning options that were very rigid at times. These fun games get students to speak in front of others. I use it to enhance listening. I use it to help with the correlation between listening, speaking, writing, and reading as well. Before I tackle reading, I typically get students to listen. Historically, stories were told orally (speaking) and the hearer had to “listen well” to pass the story on. Many of these stories were written and these words were read from papers and books. The correlation between listening, speaking, writing, and reading must be leveraged more.
Below are a few ways you can leverage the fun to get some reading gains!
Try “5 in 10”, “3 in 5”, and “1 in 3”
Tell a story and have your students continue where you left off. For example, “It was the first day of school for Anthony. He was so excited he ran out the door and forgot….” Have a student “continue” until you have a complete story! You can interject at times to get the story to keep moving.
After the students finish their collective story, have them write down the story on paper. Allow them to change up certain parts as they see fit.
Collect the stories and make a list of words that you want to highlight for vocabulary improvements.
Encourage students to take these same ideas home and have their families do similar activities!
So here is my call to action for you! At the very least, please try “5 in 10”, “3 in 5”, and “1 in 3” with your students, colleagues, and families. Let me know how they enjoyed it! Remember to leverage the fun as you learn!
We want our kids to reach for the stars, dream big, think for themselves and grow up with a life and career that they happily built. But how when the winding path to achieve such goals involves so many variables and, sometimes, challenges that may be out of our control? Well, there is a way, and the path is actually straight forward. I’ve walked it myself with the many students I’ve had the honor of teaching. It’s a ticket that our children can take anywhere and it opens all doors no matter the variables. It’s Reading to be a Critical Thinker.
In education, all roads converge with Reading. Reading is key to becoming a Critical Thinker. And Critical Thinkers reach whatever stars they set their eyes on. Simple Reading strategies to obtain Critical Thinking Skills are easy and exciting.
The technical definition of Critical Thinking is to utilize data, decipher fact from fiction, gather information to synthesize, reflect and find resolution. Because our kiddos are not quite ready to knock out a dissertation, it’s easy to swat the entire concept away. After all, we want them to enjoy reading. Not to fret. The real-world, enjoyable, application of Critical Thinking that I teach is much smoother: Emphasize conversation not curriculum.
Two simple strategies reap indispensable rewards:
Set a comfortable reading routine; 20-30 minutes daily and if the child wants to read longer, then great. However, never allow reading to be a chore or punishment.
Check in with your child by asking about what they read; a 5-10 minute conversation twice a week can accomplish this and when you can do more, then great.
Yet, there isn’t always time to read every word your child read. So how will you know what to ask? Simply ask anchor questions like the examples below and keep the conversation lighthearted. When a child has this consistent interaction, they naturally find deeper meaning as they connect to the story and build a greater awareness of the world around them.
Ask about any fiction book:
Before you read, glance at the pictures. Can you predict what the story will be about?
Have you had a similar experience to that of the characters?
Did you read about an idea or situation that surprised you?
Where did the story take place and how did it eﬀect the problem in the story?
Can you tell me in your own words what you read about today?
Describe a character’s personality? Do you agree with their actions? Why?
Ask about any nonfiction book:
Before you read, take a brief glance at the pages. Can you predict what the text will be about?
What is the main purpose the author wants to share? How do you know?
Did pictures, maps, graphs or visuals help you better understand the information?
Did a person share information about the subject? What did they say?
Did you learn a new fact?
Do you think combining the diﬀerent pieces of information is helpful?
Playing an active role in a child’s reading is nothing less than exceptional. Encourage them and you will engage them. Have fun involving your child in book selections, yet also expand their palette by seeking a variety of fiction and nonfiction. Soon, it will be second nature for your extraordinary child to read beyond the page. Critical Thinkers are lifelong learners, reflective, more responsible, innovators and their opportunities are plenty. They pave their own road ahead and won’t just reach for the stars, they will probably find and name a few new ones. So begin sharing the joy of reading today.
The typical image of a child reading includes a comfortable chair, plenty of light to read by, and a colorful book with a riveting tale. If you are looking for a great story for children, the New York Public Library has a list of 100 classic books for children. Or maybe you want to look at what Time Magazine selected for its top 100 children’s books. There is plenty of overlap between the two lists in terms of books. You cannot discuss the best children’s books without having Where the Wild Things Are or something by Dr. Seuss on the list. There is another factor both lists have in common.
There are very few nonfiction books on either list.
Amazing nonfiction books are available for children of all ages. However, most of them are not making it into the hands of students. According to a study performed in 2000, in the first grade only one of ten books on average is nonfiction. Those books were not removed from the shelf often; children were reading them for 3.3 minutes a day in high-income school districts. In low-income districts, that number dropped to 1.9 minutes a day.
Getting children into the habit of reading seems easier with fiction. However, nonfiction stories encourage students to learn different lessons. Most school texts, the ones they will need to succeed, are nonfiction. Preparing them to extract information while they read when they are young improves their ability to do the same with school texts down the road.
One lesson they learn from reading nonfiction is that they do not need to read books in a linear fashion. With the help of the table of contents, they can skip right to the information they need and read from there.
If they do not see it in the table of contents, they can look for information in the index. These are two ways second- and third-grade readers can start to learn how a textbook or other nonfictional tome can be used.
The most obvious benefits of nonfiction reading are the lessons children learn from reading the books! They can learn about Balto, the heroic dog that saved an Alaskan town, or about presidents like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. There may even be some focus on the curious critters we come in contact with in our everyday life! Encouraging children to read about subjects that interest them at a young age lays a strong foundation for learning about those topics in school. And such reading may lead them to find other topics and books that interest them.
As you build your home library, or looking through the library for new reading material, spend some time with nonfiction. It teaches lessons that fiction cannot, like how to search for information, and exposes them to different vocabulary words. Reading nonfiction can lay a foundation of knowledge that will help them as they go through school. It will be just as comfortable in that reading nook that they love while teaching them skills that help through college and beyond.
When your children get their first books in their hands, it is a good bet they are going to end up in their mouths. Exposing infants to books is an important step on their journey to becoming lifelong readers. They become familiar with the books, exploring them by turning pages, looking at the bright pictures and, yes, even biting them.
At each age, there are certain milestones in reading they should be hitting. These include starting by interacting with the book as a physical object to discussing the broader themes and details of the story they just read. Paying attention to their growth as readers keep them on track to hit that third-grade goal of going from learning to read to reading to learn.
Here is a basic outline of what to expect at each age and grade level:
Up to twelve months:
Learn to communicate through gestures
Understand over fifty (50) words
Respond to books when read to
Enjoy the tactile aspects of books, like turning the pages and holding the books
One to three years:
Answer basic questions
Identify images of simple vocabulary words (cow, green, girl, etc.)
Encourage them to talk and listen during reading time
Learn vocabulary and language concepts through repetition of their favorite stories
Preschool (three to four years old):
Name and recognize most of the letters of the alphabet (up to 18 of them)
Recognize the sounds associated with individual letters
Understand how print is read (left to right, top to bottom)
Explore books independently
Know the difference between pictures and letters
Imitate reading a book aloud
Start to recognize logos and other symbols
Acknowledge their own names in writing, as well as other commonly seen words
Start to match spoken and written words
Recognize basic grammar structures
Read basic words and understand how they work in a sentence
Write out letters, numbers, and basic words
Use pictures and other clues to understand basic words they do not know
Understand basic story structures (who, what, where, when, why, and how) as well as story organization
Create basic stories on their own
First and Second Grade:
Take big leaps in reading starting in first grade
Read their favorite stories for pleasure
Recognize an increasing number of sight words
Start to recognize when they make reading errors and can self-correct
Figure out unfamiliar words using context and images
A good time to listen to them read and start correcting them as they do
Second and Third Grade:
Understand how pronunciation and emphasis affects the story
Use correct punctuation
Use correct spelling
Learn new words through story context
Organize their writing into paragraphs
Apply new vocabulary and phrases appropriately
Read more complex books independently
Recognize deeper themes and engage reading as a learning tool
Hold discussions about the stories they are reading
One thing to remember about these milestones in reading: all children learn at their speed. These are all basic guidelines as to what can be expected, but by no means carved in stone. Your child may be more advanced in some stages while behind in others. Teachers and parents working together establish the best way to help each student. The most important part is to stay engaged with students’ efforts and keep encouraging them to read!
There is no way it can be stressed enough: the benefits of having books in the home are crucial to future reading success. Think about your children’s toys. If there are toys in the house where children have access, they are going to play with them. The same holds true with books. The easier it is for children to access books, the more likely they are to read and interact with them. And the more they get used to them being around the home, the more they will ask for them.
Building your own home library can be intimidating. Books can be expensive; you cannot always be sure of what your children will like, and there is the big question – how do I afford to get all of these books? This is especially important since many studies show that low-income families benefit the most from home libraries. Such libraries give children easier access to books.
Many parents of low-income families work multiple jobs and odd hours. This makes it difficult for them to get their children to libraries or other places that may have free access to books. School libraries help, but only if students go there frequently. Having a robust library in the home means that there is access to books all of the time. All your child needs to do is grab the book he or she likes, find a comfortable spot and start reading!
What are the best strategies for building a home library? Here are a few:
Create a space. If you are going to fill your home with books, you are going to need space to put them. Most houses have at least one corner where a bookshelf and a chair will fit. Ideally, this is in a quiet area where the child can focus on the book. A spare closet can also be used as a nook if there is little room in the home, but you have extra closet space.
Be thrifty. Books can be expensive, but they do not have to be. There are many ways to fill a home with books and not break your budget. The public library is still a good place to start; it will periodically sell off its books to make new room in its collection. The library’s books may be older, but they are still ready to be read! There are retail stores, like Half-Price Books, that sell children’s books for low prices. You can look for deals there as well. Many thrift stores have sections for used books as well.
Start a book swap. Your children’s tastes are going to change over time. That means some of the books they loved just a few months ago could end up on the shelf collecting dust. Having a book swap amongst friends and neighbors is a great way to get rid of some older books and keep the home library fresh. New materials to read will keep your children going to the shelves over and over!
Let them guide you. Allowing children to select their own books is a major way of ensuring they will want to read. Shelves of books you choose for them because they are the “right” books to read are not going to have the same draw. Let them fill their shelves with the things they want to read. This will give you a better idea of what books and topics they want to read. You can suggest a few titles you would like them to read based on their own selections.
Keep it organized! Work with your children to establish a way of keeping the books organized. It can be by title, subject, author, or even book color! This will keep them engaged with the collection even when they are not reading. Giving them their system means that they know where the books they want are, when they want them.
A house with books in it has a long-term impact on building lifelong learners. They gain grade levels over time, improve their literacy, and are shown that books are not just for the classroom or homework. But compiling a library of books is not something that can be done overnight. With patience and a keen eye for a good deal, you can have a home library your child will be able to gravitate to when looking for a good book to read. And you will be helping to build the love of reading in a student.
Much of our current educational system maintains the late 19th- and early 20th-century methods that build it. At that time, students learned the basics, preparing them for urban life which translated into a job in a factory. The industrial model became more efficient by standardization, which then emerged in the schools. Better students became better workers and citizens. This common goal meant that all students were taught the same thing in the same way.
Today we are faced with a new revolution, one where massive amounts of data are becoming the key feature. This flood of data is improving the industry in ways that the people of the early 20th century could not dream. It is leading to the personalization of many sectors, with Netflix and Amazon being two significant examples. Both of these platforms utilize data from the people using them to customize their experiences. Such data collection now affects every aspect of life in the 21st century, including education.
With computers being used more and more frequently in the classroom, it is becoming more feasible to gather data about how students learn best. This data comes from both the programs the students are interacting with and the observations of teachers in the classroom. Many educational management systems, like Google Classroom and Blackboard, allow teachers to see how often students communicate. Other programs adapt to what students are learning, and how fast they are learning the subject matter.
These technologies provide data that educators can use. This data can be recorded, stored, and used by teachers in future classes to develop plans that adapt to student learning needs. Not only can they adapt to the pace, but they can also adapt to topics that students find more engaging. On a larger scale, districts can use this information to see what curriculum is effective, and what is not. This can help them keep what the students are learning more relevant, and therefore keep them more engaged.
On a larger scale, data collection improves when students learn. There is an experiment going on in California right now that pushes the edges of how data can impact student learning. Information gathers via through Fitbits, cameras, and a variety of other tracking mechanisms and uploaded to a cloud. There, engineers access the data, analyze it, and report it back to the school. Should we teach math before or after lunch? How can we address the restlessness in class that happens at 10 AM every day? These are questions they are trying to solve to see if they can create the ultimate in customization of the educational experience.
Gathering information plays a big part in the Kids Read Now program. The data we collect helps districts see who is participating during the summer, what they are reading, and how that reading affects their test scores. What we have provided shows the impact of our program over time on students and on their ability to read.
The amount of data in a classroom is vast. Utilizing data to improve educational outcomes is being explored at the dawn of the 21st century. Much like industry affected the 20th-century class, data and customization are impacting education in the 21st century. Not only will the collection and customization of data improve state and federal educational metrics, these processes also will optimize the learning experiences for students. The information is all there, just waiting for schools to use.