When was the last time you wrote or received a handwritten letter? For thousands of years, handwritten letters have played a critical part in our lives. In this age of digital communication, handwritten letters are becoming a lost art. Emails and text messages can be sent instantly; however, the impact of a good old-fashioned handwritten letter can bring a lifetime of benefits and memories.
Encouraging children to write and read letters will improve their literacy and communication skills, as well as their social and emotional development. Writing can reduce anxiety and stress, as well as decrease depression. It’s especially important during this time of virtual learning and social distancing to provide opportunities for handwritten letters. Let’s explore the academic and mental benefits of being PenPals!
Handwritten letters improve writing skills. We know that reading and writing go hand in hand… but did you know that writing by hand is just as important as reading? By definition, literacy is one’s ability to read and write. Research confirms that integrating reading and writing automatizes those skills. From kindergarten standards of using a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts to twelve grade standards of producing clear and coherent writing, all learners must be able to write to communicate ideas.
Handwritten letters improve reading skills. Research confirms that writing by hand activates reading circuits in the brain that promote literacy. Additionally, research by McGinley and Tierney in 1989 confirmed that integrating reading and writing instruction leads to a higher level of thinking than when either process is taught alone. Providing opportunities to read a letter from a teacher or loved one will lead to improved reading achievement, better writing performance, and increased awareness of self, others, and the community.
Handwritten letters improve communication skills. It’s an old saying, but it’s true: Practice makes perfect. By habit, we mimic the voices around us – which is sometimes not the best grammar. Our speech is a direct reflection of our writing. Writing forces thought and articulation of main ideas while exploring main feelings. Letter writing provides an opportunity to improve vocabulary, knowledge, and sentence structure; and better writing creates a better speaker. What better way to practice and improve communication skills through writing than writing to someone you trust?
Handwritten letters improve self-awareness. Mental health and well-being are the core of who you are. Writing helps to clear the mind, recover memories and organization of thought, and refine ideas. Research confirms that a person can better understand his/her feelings more clearly when it’s written. Writing is a creative way to improve mental recall and well-being.
Handwritten letters improve relationships. In times like these, opportunities to connect with teachers and loved ones are important. Handwritten letters confirm the importance of relationships between educators and families with children. Daily writing opportunities provide deep connections while addressing reading, writing, and social development skills. Addressing the whole child is vital.
- Use a dated notebook, versus loose paper, to keep track of how the conversation evolves. This notebook can serve as a journal, mental wellness check-in, calendar, planner, and keepsake for life (or not).
- Do not edit children’s’ writings in the journal; however, provide additional opportunities to teach correct sentence structure, etc.
- Always begin and end with something positive.
So go ahead, grab a pen and notebook, and begin creating memories while positively impacting literacy, communication, social, and emotional development, simultaneously.
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!
A University of Wisconsin-Madison study has found that the Kids Read Now program decreases or eliminates the reading losses associated with summer break
(TROY, Ohio) Sept. 10, 2019 — According to a new study of the program’s efficacy, Kids Read Now (KRN), a leading supplemental reading program designed to combat summer slide, completely negates summer reading losses for low-income students when fully implemented. Estimated at two months of learning each summer, those losses accumulate over time.
Designed for K–3 students, Kids Read Now allows students to create a list of nine books they want to read over the summer from a vast library of educator-approved titles. In the spring, participating schools host a Family Reading Night to encourage parental involvement. Each student receives three books from their list, with a new book to be delivered to their home throughout the summer each time they report completing a previous title. Each book comes with a set of questions to assist students with comprehension and help parents connect with their child’s reading. Students who complete all nine books receive a certificate of completion, a reward, and a celebration in the fall.
The new study, led by Geoffrey D. Borman, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found that “when students and parents take advantage of the full complement of 9 books delivered by KRN, the results are…equivalent to approximately 2.5 months of learning, or nearly 28% of the learning that takes place over a typical school year.”
“Our results indicate that the impact of Kids Read Now can more than eradicate the entire two months of summer learning loss experienced by low-income students,” said Borman.
Other key findings of the report include the following:
- The average impact of KRN among all participating students is equivalent to 1.7 months of learning, or almost 20% of a full school year;
- With full implementation [reporting 9 books read] outcomes showing an impact of 0.18 standard deviations, KRN has “essentially the same” impact as more intensive and expensive school-based programs, which have an average impact of 0.19 standard deviations.
“At a cost of 50 cents per day, which can be fully reimbursable with title funds, KRN is 98% as effective as summer school reading programs,” said Leib Lurie, the CEO of Kids Read Now, “making it an economical and effective supplement to summer learning initiatives that is available to all students, augmenting targeted summer programs where significant RTI is required, and where transportation challenges impact those who cannot attend traditional summer programs.”
To read the full report, visit KidsReadNow.org. To attend a webinar on the results of the study, visit https://www.kidsreadnow.org/study.
About Kids Read Now
Kids Read Now (KRN) is a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization on a mission to help all students become proficient readers as they enter fourth grade. KRN’s in-home summer reading program was pedagogically designed to prevent summer learning loss, which is responsible for 65% of the learning gap between economically disadvantaged students and their peers. The program has provided more than 800,000 books to 60,000 students in grades K–3 across the United States at no cost to the students or their families. To learn more, visit KidsReadNow.org.
Information, once something that trickled into our lives through newspapers, radio, television, and encyclopedias, now pours into our lives at a staggering rate. We have generated as much information in the last two years as we have in the rest of human history. In one month in 2011 alone, the Library of Congress gathered 235 terabytes of data. That is enough data to hold approximately 79 million copies of War and Peace.
All of that information needs a filter. Fortunately, schools and communities have an incredible one: the library. Many people think that libraries are antiquated. They carry something called “books” that people can borrow. Some of the better ones may have a row of computers that still dial into the internet. In a pinch, you can even print there. If you need help, there is always a librarian there to help you work your way through the card catalog.
That is until you realize that over 250 libraries in the United States offer 3D printing services to their patrons. And have done so for several years now. Libraries are much more than storage spaces for information. They are dynamic spaces where groups of people come to learn, access resources, and build a life. Librarians are more than keepers of that information. Their wisdom can bring you to the right books, websites, and other materials that you could spend hours discovering on your own. They are informational tour guides.
Communities are built around and through libraries.
All of this is true for a school library as well. They could be even more important to this small, but diverse, population. With the increasing importance of test scores, investing in a school librarian is a no-brainer. Test scores in elementary schools with trained librarians increased by 35% in a Michigan study. Studies in other states, like Iowa, showed that an adequately funded and staffed library aided test scores as well.
Libraries provide another space for children to learn. They can help students navigate the internet, offer a quiet area for students to study, and encourage students to read. The staff, knowing what books a student enjoys, can help them choose books that are similar to their interests. Sometimes they are not even books the student knew they would like. Providing students books that interest them is another way to encourage students to read more. They dig into a new book they started to read in the library and end up not putting it down until they must. More reading, and reading books they choose, create better learners.
In some schools, the term “media center” has replaced “library” to describe this communal space. This shift reflects the ever-changing role of what the library can do within a school. Especially as learning becomes virtual, and students can access learning media anywhere they have an internet connection. Librarians show the students how to safely access and use school resources from home, or another space that has an internet connection.
While students are typically the ones utilizing the resources the library has to offer, they can be a pillar of support to teachers. Well-trained librarians are expert researchers. They can provide teachers with research tools and educational resources they would otherwise miss. Librarians that work with teachers offer a way to complement lessons in the classroom with displays and other resources in the library. They can also provide curious students with more in-depth knowledge of the subject through school materials.
The school library, like any library, can be a hub of communal activity for the school. A well-trained library staff with the right resources can do everything from improving test scores to inspire students to take learning beyond the classroom. It is an often overlooked resource that can be a critical component of student success. Head to the library soon and have a conversation with the librarians there. They are the ones that can will, within the deluge of new information the internet offers, show you how to surf through it with confidence.