Opportunities to sharpen our literacy skills are all around us. Unfortunately, due to a variety of reasons (lack of support/resources at home, irrelevant curriculum, etc.) students can often be disengaged with literacy learning early in life. Once that foundation is shaken, it is tough to rebuild and instill the skills, confidence, and attitude necessary to be successful in the journey to be literate.
There is a huge disconnect. However, our students explore language everyday—we must make them aware of it, and show them how their knowledge and informal language is not too far distant from the formal academic knowledge required in today’s classrooms. Teachers and the outside learning community can instill a love for literacy if they focus on clarity of learning, opportunity, value, and enhancement of lessons. With “L.O.V.E.” teachers, parents and students can get students to see the relevancy of literacy skills beyond their use for academic purposes.
What is L.O.V.E.?
Learning- Many parents lack knowledge in the academic skills required of today’s students as it relates to literacy. Educators often teach skills in isolation or at a “surface” level. Parents and teachers often times try to spark the passion of literacy learning too late for some students and not early enough for others. It boils downs to “do you know the basic skills that your students (or children) need to learn?” Literacy learning must include a combination of motivation and innovative repetition of skills. Learning should always be a chance to fine-tune knowledge. The challenge, is that it must be done in a manner than resonates with students (and parents in order to be able to support). Most important, learning should contain a variety of opportunities to explore concepts- new and old.
Opportunity- Students need the opportunity to transcend and explore the world and their surroundings. A strong literacy foundation promotes exposure to additional opportunities in education. A literate child is given the opportunity to be exposed to creative works, and is capable of producing and using their skillset to work in many different subjects and tasks. The improvement of literacy skills is always presents a learning opportunity (as literacy learning is truly complex). When building a literacy foundation, we should be in search of learning opportunities and resources that are simple to implement and put into practice. Improving student literacy and the process of “why” we read, write, and communicate is a learning opportunity in itself.
Valued- Students will retain information that is valued and applicable. Learning new literary skills must be an experience that students can have some ownership in. Making connections to their experiences and the importance of the skills they are learning is essential. Literacy should be a valued “stepping stone” to a vast field of knowledge in other content areas. Not only should the academic value of literacy skills be taught, but the manner in which literacy accompanies societal tasks and processes is how true value is expressed.
Enhanced- Lessons and skills related to reading and writing should always offer room to further explore. They should enhance and leave room to extend steps higher in order for students to grow, reach, and explore at another time. At times, it will be necessary for open-ended tasks to be encouraged in literacy learning. However, skills should never be introduced in solely in isolation without a clear path of guiding students to a place where they are motivated to improve.
Importance of Incorporating L.O.V.E.
This post stems from the book that I wrote for teachers and parents a few years ago, titled “29 Days to L.O.V.E. Literacy”. It was written with the hopes of building a world or readers, writers, and thinkers who appreciate literacy in all forms, and respect the importance of such a valuable skill. We must move beyond the process of sharing with students “how to read” (although very important), and share the value of “why to read”.
More Information on “29 Days to L.O.V.E. Literacy” and a FREE Resource with activities: http://drkchilds.com/2020/03/free29daystll/
A literacy environment should be cultivated by its curriculum. Learning how to read and develop literacy skills is a process that will benefit a child their entire life. It is the foundation for other subjects, and a manner in which students learn to communicate and learn about their world, near and far.
The process to teach the required skills necessary is complex, and varies depending on the needs of each learner. In my experience, literacy teaching and learning should be a “dream”. A dream in the sense of literacy learning being a priceless gift—and a dream in the sense of having curriculum and teaching practices which address Diversity, Relevance, Engagement, Access, Motivation (D.R.E.A.M.).
D.R.E.A.M. Literacy focuses on practices being implemented into instruction by educators, as well as encourages at-home support and partnerships in using diverse texts, popular culture and technology, and multimodal resources. D.R.E.A.M. represents several pieces necessary to address and provide quality and equitable literacy instruction for all. When planning literacy lessons, assignments, and making curriculum decisions educators and parents should consider the following elements:
Diversity brings about a wide spectrum of issues that educators can be faced with. Willingness to learn, accept, and apply the culture (VERY IMPORTANT: Culture does not just mean ethnicity or race) of students to instructional practices is key. Here are some ways to address diversity in literacy:
Inclusion and representation of various backgrounds (An array of genres, using texts and curriculum by authors of color)
Diversity of resources (types of texts, authentic sources)
Use of books and resources that have a balance of representation in protagonists
Students need to know how to apply the knowledge being taught, and how it applies to them. Students want to feel like they are included and are represented in a learning environment. Students want to know why it’s important, and how it is useful. Students need to know why they are developing literacy skills and where they will encounter them in their future. Making content relevant includes:
Connecting books to the interests of students
Fostering a culture of literacy being all around/environmental print (various types of text on signs, products, television, digital literacies)
Letting students explore non-fiction texts (real-world relevant texts, local and regional texts, etc.)
Exploring cross-curricular connections (Math, Science, History, Fine Arts)
Engagement starts with learning the interests of the students, merged with the academic knowledge needed. Engagement also involves educators utilizing multimodal approaches in their lessons and work with students. Some great multimodal literacy strategies include:
Interviewing or conferencing with students about what they read or write
Acting out texts
Creating visuals or artwork to accompany work
Ease of access to resources and empowering parents/guardians to help build literacy skills at home is necessary for growth. Not all students have the opportunity to have access to books in their home. If books and reading are left out of the home environment, is it really that important for a child and their family? Insight on how to continue a child’s learning outside of the classroom doors is crucial. The following ideas are recommended:
Collect donated books (bookstores, sales, retiring teachers, etc.) and hold regular “book swap” events with students and parents/guardians
Provide regularly updated virtual lists of digital literacy resources (games, apps, videos, activities, etc.)
As far as motivation, our role is to grow our students’ skills and learn what makes them excited to learn—this is very important with students who have so many unique needs that are changing as society changes daily. The main ingredient for motivation in a literacy classroom is choice.
In closing, a literacy environment should thrive on partnership between the internal and external learning communities. Parents and educators are the essential component that provides students the opportunity to see literacy as a tool of advancement and an escape— teamwork makes the “dream” work.
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!
Journaling is a common way to encourage young learners to express themselves while also supporting the academic skills of reading and writing. As a reflective tool, journaling is popular among therapists as the therapeutic benefits of journaling are well-established. It’s not surprising that journaling can also be an effective way to help children enhance self-awareness, one of the 5 core competencies of social emotional learning as defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).
What is self-awareness?
Self-awareness is the ability to assess one’s own strengths and limitations. It includes identifying and understanding the different aspects of oneself, such as emotions, traits, behaviors, and achievements. Self-awareness is important for children because it sets the stage for greater academic and social success. Children who have a better understanding of themselves tend to make better choices to help them be successful in and out of school.
To attain increased self-awareness, it is necessary to focus attention on oneself. While we are born with a rudimentary sense of self-awareness that continues to develop as we mature, it is a competency that children can improve even more through purposeful reflection and introspection. Journaling, specifically guided journaling, is an effective strategy for this.
What is guided journaling?
Guided journaling involves providing meaningful writing prompts to which the child responds. The prompts give the child a specific starting point that guides them to a particular place and help the child explore their feelings. In some instances the prompts necessitate a full page response, while other prompts may require just a few words.
The goal is to provide young learners a unique opportunity to reflect about themselves and their experiences in order to achieve gains in self-awareness. While the same information can be shared verbally, the physical act of writing deepens the reflection and enhances the learning. The addition of prompts helps guide the student to look inward to examine and understand the many aspects of themselves.
When should guided journaling be used?
The starting point for social emotional growth is an understanding of self. That requires looking inward. Students are not often asked to proactively look inward in a meaningful, consistent way. They are more likely to be asked to examine their emotions and identify their personal qualities and achievements in response to a problem. Integrating guided journaling into the curriculum as a weekly practice can help support the social emotional development that every child needs.
A good place to start are prompts that ask students to recognize personal qualities. I typically ask students to journal about their hobbies or subjects they enjoy at school. I sometimes ask them to describe an achievement and how they feel about it.
After spending time reflecting and responding to these types of prompts, students are likely to discover that they have many positive qualities, including qualities they may not have given much thought to in the past. Examples of comments from students after this type of journaling experience include, “I’ve done a lot!” and “I’m not boring!”
To a child, this process is empowering.
Other journaling prompt ideas that support self-awareness include:
Prompts that identify personal qualities or achievements, e.g. Describe a situation when you helped a peer at school.
Prompts that help students identify and respond to emotions, e.g. What are some things that make you sad?
Prompts that help students set goals, e.g. What are some goals that you have at school?
As a result of the simple yet powerful practice of guided journaling, students will realize gains in confidence which is a sign of increased self-awareness. When guided journaling for self-awareness is practiced regularly, the social emotional learning gains are more likely to be lasting.
Is everyone really ready for all of the faces hiding behind the computers to return to the brick-and-mortar classroom?
Jose’s alarm rang. He rolled over and turned off the alarm on his cell phone. He was used to his new routine of rolling out of bed and opening his computer, as he sat up in bed. Who needed breakfast?
He rubbed his eyes as his day got started and he stared at 16 other black boxes with letters inside of them. It was the usual math lesson with his teacher doing most of the talking as she flipped through her Nearpod slides. Jose toyed with the idea: Do I stay in this class or roll over and drift back off to sleep?
Then his teacher shared that all students would need to return back to school next week. All Jose could think was: What? Am I ready?
The landscape of public education has undergone a seismic shift, as school systems scrambled to reinvent public education after Maryland schools closed on March 16, 2020. Some systems provided their first wave of support via paper copies that were shipped or picked up by families for about two months. No one believed that it would last beyond two months, and then it did.
The second wave lasted for the remainder of the school year and into the summer with the central office curriculum teams working around the clock to create online resources for students who were attending four synchronous instructional blocks with one asynchronous day, with four classes each day. Every Sunday, these curriculum resources were delivered (from the central office team) to teachers so that they could provide instruction as they figured out how to master their Google classrooms or Canvas online instructional platform.
The third wave lasted from the beginning of the school year, in September 2020 and lasted through March 2021. Many Maryland teachers struggled to develop daily lessons using all of the technology tools that were needed to make their lessons come alive for students. Tools like Nearpod, Pear Deck, Zoom, Screencastify, and Kahoot. Regardless, many teachers watched so many students become disengaged in instruction and there were so many phone calls home. Eventually, some parents stopped taking their calls.
When schools began to open again in March 2021, we moved students back into schools in phases with some grade levels beginning first: elementary school students and students in Special Education programs first and secondary students later. Even when students began to come back, schools had to figure out how to balance their classrooms to comply with social distancing guidelines and maintain buses at 50% capacity. It all worked out because over 60% of the students were kept home by their parents and continued to attend virtual school.
Over a year and a half later, the next leg of the journey will be all about how parents and schools will be able to navigate the learning journey to make sure that students can be accelerated towards grade level expectations in reading, mathematics, science, social studies, and other curricular areas. Many districts are exploring various intervention programs. However, they are also exploring something new: expanding tutoring support for students to individualize instruction to get back on track.
Some of the recent research by Brown University emphasizes the benefits of establishing effective tutoring supports for students, emphasizing the importance of small groups (3-4 students), frequency (at least three times a week), focus (aligned to the grade level curriculum resources), and scheduling (tutoring during the day has been found to be more effective). Time will tell as school leaders, teachers, parents, and students figure out how to navigate the shifting world of teaching and learning, as more people are vaccinated and the learning space shifts back to a normal brick and mortar setting. Who knew that schooling could be reinvented after doing school, basically the same, for over 200 years!
Every single day we are tasked with ensuring that our students are entering into our building safely, that they are to learn wholeheartedly, and that they get to experience a wide variety of knowledge along the way. In doing this, as educators one of the pivotal roles we play is to promote classroom conversations. These discussions, these special moments of discourse, are necessary to allow students the time to pull apart their own ideas, formulate their own opinions, and better understand others. We have seen the world swiftly change in the past year, more than we ever thought it would. We want to be sure to do our part to provide a forum of opportunity for our students to speak about real-world events. In doing this effectively, there are three main approaches that should be taken into account across grade and content levels:
Classroom rules and norms are a regularly occurrence, but we want to be sure we revisit them before conversations. Our students need safe community spaces to process information, so having set expectations for when students can speak, how they can address each other respectfully and mindfully, and how it can foster a positive classroom culture are all critical.
Role as a Facilitator
The classroom teacher needs to take ownership of the facilitator role. No matter what age your students are, it is easy to want to jump in and help a student clarify their own thought. But as a facilitator, as furthering this classroom conversation, it involves taking a big step back and not influencing or exerting an opinion or stance. Allow your young people to take the mic, to process their thoughts, and use their own words to inform you. This should be a big moment as they work through their own pieces of information, their own views, and find their footing.
As you wrap up these conversations, we want to be sure to tie back to those classroom norms and expectations. We are all growing, we are all learning, we are all evolving, from students to adults. Reassure them that while differences exist, it is the power of understanding one another and having respectful conversations that allows us to make change.
These necessary conversations establish and support the classroom community. They allow for relationships to thrive, for inspiration to occur, and for student engagement to be accelerated. It shows students that we know they are aware of what is going on in the world today, and we want to be there for them in any capacity that we can. It shows students we care.
Homework was not always a staple of a student’s’ life. Until the 1950s, homework felt to be an unnecessary burden on school children. When they left school, it was time for chores on the farm or around the home. It was not until the Cold War, when there was a fear of falling behind the Russians, that a fresh emphasis on homework reignited. We needed to keep our educational edge.
Over the last decade, educators have been examining the wisdom of giving students hours worth of homework every night. A rule developed suggesting ten minutes of homework for every grade the student was in. So a second grader would have twenty minutes of homework, while middle school students would have over an hour of work to do when they got home. This “10-Minute Rule”, while not an exact science, is a rule of thumb that many schools and school districts have adopted.
Homework at a young age can be a critical step in turning your child into a lifelong learner, but homework amounts can cause negative results. Too much homework can be intimidating to a new learner, driving them away from school and learning. Too little and they are not stimulated enough to want to learn outside of school. The National Education Association (NEA) goes by guidelines suggested by Harris Cooper: ten to twenty minutes per night in the first grade, and an additional ten minutes per grade. This research is where the 10-Minute Rule developed.
This rule works in multiple ways. The first way is keeping a definite time for children to explore. Studies show that the further children get in their school careers, the more homework becomes a benefit to them. Before third grade, most children cannot learn outside lessons from their homework. They can do it and understand what they do, but they cannot fully apply it. As students start to read to learn, a love of reading becomes essential. Younger students, however, do most of their learning by playing and exploring the world around them. Small amounts of homework benefit students at this age, as long as it does not interfere with their exploration of the world.
Homework at a younger age puts stress on parents as well. Older students that have developed more critical thinking skills can answer the questions on their own. Younger students do not always have that ability, and may struggle with assignments. This puts some of the onus for educating them on the parents. This can add stress to the parents, especially if they have busy lives.
Younger students’ benefits from homework are much different than older students. The repetition and reinforcement of the lessons they are learning in school are the primary reasons for elementary school students’ homework. Homework for younger students is a way to allow parents to see what they are learning in school. As parents help their young children, they can look at the lessons and can reinforce them at home. The children also are starting to understand the necessity of doing schoolwork at home. This is a valuable lesson as they move through their education.
Though the pendulum of how much homework to give students will always swing, we have discovered that homework is an essential tool for students’ growth. It teaches them more than what it is on the paper. It helps them with discipline, reinforces what they are learning in school, and builds them into better learners.
Reading and writing are skills that go hand in hand. As children develop, they learn to speak first. Reading follows, and then the ability to write in their language. Writing is a great way to reinforce the lessons they learn from reading. They start to mimic writing the words they see, much like they mimic hearing the words they hear on a daily basis. Introducing children to writing is a task that should occur early. It can start with items as simple as crayons and some paper.
Providing the opportunity to draw at an early age is one way of encouraging writing. Much like ancient cultures drew images that morphed into letters, the pictures that young children draw are their way of communicating. Getting them to put markers and crayons to paper is a way to encourage early writing skills. When they complete their drawings, you can have them tell you stories about them. As they get older, you can teach them that writing is very similar to drawing.
This playful approach to writing can be the perfect introduction to associating letters with sounds. Children can start practicing associating letterforms with sounds and words as early as the preschool years. During that time, they begin putting sounds together with the words they hear. They are starting to understand the connection between the letters they see and the sounds or ideas they represent. Picture books emphasize this connection as well, helping children to associate the images of the words with pictures.
As they become more familiar with what letters look like, those letters may start to emerge in their drawings. The letters will be random at first. Mostly they will be working on consonants and a few vowels. Each time they write down letters spend some time talking about them. What sounds do the letters make? What words are they part of? When the letterforms start to develop, they will eventually mimic the words they see in books. This is an opportune time to continue to teach them more about the words they are seeing as they begin to write them out.
Another way that young children are encouraged to write is by seeing their parents write. Children like to repeat what their parents are doing. Before computers became such powerful communication devices, there was more writing done at kitchen tables around the country. With fewer letters and checks written, it is essential to take time out of the day to show your children that you write. This is also a chance to teach them the importance of things like thank you letters, as well as their own creative works. When children tell stories about their drawings, write them down for them. Then have them read the stories back to you. They have created their own stories to share with your help!
Developing writing is a way to reinforce what they are learning when they read. They are learning the building blocks of reading, letters, and words, while they connect what a letter looks like to how it sounds. It starts with something as simple as drawing pictures, eventually turning those pictures into full-blown stories.
Sitting down with a good book for pleasure is much different than sitting down to go over tax documents or reading a book that you are analyzing for a paper. Readers relax when they read for pleasure. They make a comfortable space and do all they cannot be interrupted while they devour tales of trips to far off places, unlikely romances, and conflicts for the heart of the world. It can be about historical figures that made a significant impact on society or events that changed the direction of society. Reading for pleasure does not have to be fiction!
Reading for pleasure starts with the adults. Administrators, teachers, and parents all have to show that reading is as much a fun activity as it is a necessary activity. Any teacher, even math and science teachers, can read to young students at the beginning of class. Let the parents know what their child liked, and did not like, and help them build a library at home. Or encourage students to go to the school or community library and find books they love.
What reading for pleasure has to be, though, is self-selected. Teachers and parents who hope, or make, children read books outside of class that are “better for them” blunt some of the pleasure otherwise found in the book. As children’s book author Neil Gaiman once pointed out in a speech about libraries,”Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer.” It is a route to other benefits as well.
Reading for pleasure does not make them better at reading; it makes them better at learning. The British Cohort Study (BCS) found that children that read for fun are not just better at reading and English, they are better at all subjects. On a longer timeline, they have a better vocabulary as adults as well. In fact, whether or not a child reads for pleasure at a young age can have more impact on their educational growth than socioeconomic status.
Another benefit that reading for pleasure has uncovered is better empathy and decision making. The stories that people read often show characters interacting in a variety of situations. Children get so engrossed in the book that their brains would react as if the events were happening in the real world. A fourteen-year-old who participated in one of the studies commented that “sometimes when big stuff happens in my life, I’ll think about what my favorite characters would have done, the ones I admire most. … They all have different approaches, different ways they approach things, and then I try to apply that to my life, to see which way works for me.” The situations they see in books give them social clues to how people react to various experiences.
This understanding of socialization does not just come from what they are reading. Like any other hobbyist, readers often interact with other people that love reading. These interactions help students develop social skills at a young age. Students learn how to share opinions at a younger age as well as building their understanding of other cultures and perspectives.
Extending that love of reading to the home is equally important. Have books ready to be read at any place around the house. Instead of watching television, have a family reading night. Once your children are reading on their own, spend time reading books you like with them for pleasure. It can encourage them to ask about the book and possibly introduce them to a whole different subject or series!
Reading for pleasure has benefits that go beyond the scholastic. By giving students choices about what they want to read, a lifelong reader is created. Practice allowing your child to read what they want and see where it takes them!