Posts Tagged 'literacy'

A Parent Toolkit for Supporting Reading at Home

12779343884_3fb3122e0a_o.jpgBy Peggy Wuenstel – Our district is in the thick of planning a community literacy event to support and encourage reading in the home. It joins the forces of our school district, the public library, and a group of community and university personnel who have formed a committee to study and advance the literacy of our city. I am by nature a doer rather than a discusser and the pace at which larger groups move often frustrates me. It is incredibly difficult to create a shared vision of what good community literacy would look like. It is even more daunting to determine, and then fulfill, the needs required to get to that goal.

In a community-wide forum in September, the group generated a list of needs as perceived by the attendees. I took that list and selected three action items that I could make happen with the support of my principal, coworkers, parents’ organization, our student council, and some community volunteers.

  • Grandreaders – Soon after the community meeting, a fellow attendee contacted me about reading with students weekly. One of the needs our teachers identified is that some students do not have a parent or caregiver that is available to consistently read and discuss books with our early readers. Two amazing retired women come each week to read with kids in 20 minute blocks, not to instruct, but to provide reading practice and share their love of books.
  • Many of our students participate in free and reduced lunch programs during the week. There has been an uptick in the number of comments from students about not having enough to eat on the weekend. This is often paired with a limited access to books in the home. We have organized an In-Out pantry to provide an anonymous way for families to receive breakfast and lunch items and age appropriate books to take home each Friday through a backpack program, supported by the generosity of our students. Kids who cannot make food or financial donations are able to earn items to donate through academic and behavioral excellence. It is tough to make literacy a family priority when physical needs are not being met.
  • We have changed the focus of our annual Family Literacy Night to reaching out to families who have not traditionally participated in the past. Changing the venue from our individual elementary schools to the public library and educating the community about the resources that are available after school hours, facilitating library card sign-ups, support for home language enrichment and book-sharing and various giveaways, including a “Milk and Bookies” wrap up from the Walworth County Dairy Council, may reach readers in new ways than in the past.

Whitewater’s business community has made offers of funding to purchase and distribute books. University drives have collected books and cash that have been placed in bins on school buses to provide the opportunity to read and take home books.  While these generous offers of financial backing are greatly appreciated, it also misses the mark. Just putting books in the hands of kids won’t spark the positive change we are seeking. We have to find a way to help make literacy a priority at home and help families feel competent in providing support.

The evidence is clear, families of all races and economic standing care deeply for their children and about their education. They vary greatly in their confidence in providing what kids need. As educators we have to make it our mission to change that, to make families feel valued in their efforts and capable in the attempt. The best books ever written are of limited use if no one shares the joy between their covers.

These are some of the tools we’d like to provide for kids and families at our upcoming literacy event:

  • How to use conversation and vocabulary with our children to maximize their success in school.
  • Why reading with a child is even more valuable than reading to a child or having a child read to you.
  • The places we read matter — lap sit, snuggled up, knee to knee and shoulder to shoulder –and this contact helps to create lifelong skills and bonds around books.
  • Making life-to-text connections makes books come alive. People want to read about things they know and places they have been, and we dream of exploring the places and activities that we have read about in books.
  • Decoding words is not everything. Parents benefit from knowing what emerging reading looks and sounds like and what to expect as grade level expectations rise.
  • Harnessing the power of pause and understanding that strategy use, interruptions and re-reading can be very good things, helps everyone relax and enjoy the ride.
  • There are things we can do to build stamina and perseverance. When we help kids revise and reward and prompt their use of strategies we build resilience, self-reliance and self-esteem.
  • There are many ways to take advantage of the reading and writing we do every day to build literacy minutes. We read signs, on-line, manuals and recipes. We write lists, directions and love notes. Parents inspire and model success when kids see them reading and writing, especially when they are enjoying it.
  • There are fun and efficient ways to read together, write together and practice basic skills.
  • Community literacy should be important to everyone and there are no more important voices than those of parents who love their children and are building successful, literate futures.

Raising Readers

wallpaper__book_by_analaurasam-d6cak0wBy Peggy Wuenstel — I have posted before about my recent career change to reading intervention.

After more than a full year under my belt I am reviewing some of the key moments and lessons I have learned. I also have a few new challenges to meet and skills to refine. That is what this change of direction has created , a new mission to guide students in growing in both their skills and love of reading.

In my final practicum experience I was privileged to work with a young man who had suffered a severe brain injury in an automobile accident eight years before. While we worked on his reading accuracy, use of appropriate strategies, and building his confidence, I realized that I had to do more to make this meaningful for him. He was the typical high school sophomore, interested in girls, sports, working out, and hanging out with friends. He was also unique in his love of farming and certainty about his career path in joining the family farm business. We read farm journals together, and his reading for enjoyment grew exponentially. He also discovered that texting suited his challenged spelling skills. His confidence in being able to make himself understood led to a wonderful e-mail from his mom who was delighted that her son was now texting her independently.

My takeaway: Make it real for your students and reading will become a student priority.

It is easy to get overly focused on creating accuracy, comprehension, and fluency in emerging readers. Those are the things that are easy to measure, that we are held accountable for in district goal setting and common core standards. If our intent is to create lifelong readers we must not forget our responsibilities to also build confidence and motivation to read. That has been the biggest change in my approach to my students in this school year. We read to learn, to laugh, to share. Decoding, remembering and applying strategies are the way we get there, not the destination. My takeaway here: Teach me how, but remember why I want to read.

Raising readers has to begin early. Research conducted by Dr. Pia Rebello Britto of Yale University looked at the interactions of teen moms and their children. Children of storytellers perform better than children of story readers. The difference is the orientation to have a conversation, an interaction about the shared reading experience. We need to encourage parents and students to add what they think, predict what may happen next, and connect to what they have read before. We need to teach kids to that book characters can be friends, and should be frequent visitors, companions for a whole life. This extends thinking, builds vocabulary, encourages creativity, and adds miles on the page. My takeaway: get readers to make friends with books early, often, and widely.

We know that the minutes we can spend reading during the school day are not enough to ensure strong reading development. We need to make parents feel important and capable in this joint process.  Encourage them to label and point to things in the story that interest, surprise, or anger them. This can happen at any age. We can over-emphasize accuracy and forget about meaning and fun. Parents need to know that it is okay to provide high levels of guided assistance.  It is not only okay, it is great to fill in the words kids don’t know. At school it is our mission to link instruction to what child needs. At home, it can be to give kids what they need to be successful with a book and allowing them to enjoy it, such as giving clear verbal cues, filling in the background information that kids need to understand.

Get out the map, the dictionary, Google what you don’t know. A great way to think about reading instruction is to use a crossword puzzle analogy. Ask readers to do as much as they can, to try some things that may or may not work based on the information they do have. Assist them in looking up the answers for the remaining blanks. Nobody knows everything.  Puzzles can be easy or hard. It helps when you know the words that get used over and over again, and reading and puzzles are so much more satisfying when the boxes are all filled.

My takeaway:  Empower parents to help everyone have fun.

Literate communities should be a community concern. Be aware of what are things like in the community in which you teach. Where are improvements needed? What partnerships exist and which ones can be built? Get books into the hands of those who need them. Check out organizations, local and global that can provide resources. Start a book club, hold a literacy night. Partner with your local library. Check out programs like, and for ideas. My takeaway: Build alliances, find partners, reach out and teach.

Lastly, use your adult voice. Keep reading aloud in school and at home.  This falls off markedly in homes for kids after age 9. Older kids love to be read to. Cultivate your inner actor, impressionist, and comedian. Choose books at an appropriate reading/listening level. The goals here are understanding and enjoyment not advancement. Revisit old favorites, those books you want to hear again and again.  Embrace the audiobook. My 6th grade granddaughter has asked for the Jim Dale narrations of the Harry Potter series for Christmas this year. You can bet they will be under our tree with her name on them.

My takeaway:  Reading aloud is a gift we can and should share. Do it tonight.

Books: A new way to hear

84347cc6b506dc98800660497b0f10e2By Adam Ballent — I was born into a silent world, free of noises and distractions.

My parents soon found out I was profoundly deaf and quickly set me on the fast track to catch up on oral communication. However, in my younger years I was drawn by the allure of the written word, one that needed no struggling repeated sentences and confusion.

My bedroom in kindergarten contained a bevy of short stories, children’s books and science and history tomes.

When I was 12 I opened a new novel and found myself standing on Privet Drive next to Albus Dumbledore and my life changed forever. I immediately fell in love with the fiction genre and journeyed to many fantastical worlds hidden in the pages. That love of reading has continued into my college life, where I grab the newspaper every morning on my way to work or class, where I still study communication today.

Now I find myself reaching out on behalf of the Hartman Center for Literacy and Learning, a group of wonderful people dedicated to making that magical world of reading available to all kids in Milwaukee. They need help to allow those kids much easier access to reading material at home and away.

So I ask you, if you ever found yourself closing a book and wondering if the world you just experienced was perhaps as real as the one you live and breathe in, please consider donating so the underprivileged youths of Milwaukee can enjoy that same wonderful experience.

Can’t donate right now? Helping is as easy as retweeting THIS.


The Power of Words

By Liz Fitzgerald — Over the past few months I’ve had the privilege to work with the Hartman Literacy Center on Marquette University’s campus and within this short period of time I’ve learned the power of words.

While I was taught how to read many years ago, I’ve recently rediscovered what reading means to me because of the Hartman Center’s devoted work.

I’ve seen the power of passionate educators helping young students develop their reading skills. You are able to read this sentence because a passionate teacher taught you letters, words, sentences, paragraphs and eventually you were able to read books all on your own.

While one out of 10 Hartman students do not own books at home, I’ve realized the power of libraries.  Our campaign this semester has been dedicated to raising funds for a digital database system that will allow the students to check out books electronically, so they may read at home, or in a tree, or on a crowded school bus . . . or wherever ‘home’ may be.

You read to gain knowledge and now you can make a difference.  Learn how your simple donation can be that difference. Click here:

The power of literacy goes beyond words.

Slipping Between the Cracks

rasp 001By Cecilia Ware — For the past few weeks in my field placement, I have had the opportunity to work with a student who I consider to be at an extreme disadvantage in the classroom, and this is by no fault of her own.

A couple weeks ago, my cooperating teacher suggested to me that I work with this girl one-on-one for an activity, because she could not read very well. This student was initially very reluctant to work with me, she became very uncomfortable and standoffish when I asked her to be my partner. This student is one of the very few well behaved, she is always quiet as a mouse in class. When we finally set to work on the activity, I asked her to read the first paragraph in the text aloud to me. She got past the word “the”, and immediately clammed up.

I figured she was shy and/or embarrassed because she could not pronounce all the words well, so I read along with her and we sounded them out together. She barely spoke above a whisper and was extremely edgy, and getting work done was like pulling teeth; it took forever. Finally, when I asked her if she understood the questions for the activity, she stared down at her paper and shook her head. It was at this point that it dawned on me, she doesn’t just have difficulty reading, she can’t read at all!

Since that day, I have spent much more time with this student, I even got to help her take a test. She has become much more comfortable working and talking with me, and has begun to ask more and more questions in her search for meaning behind words. Regardless, she is so far behind the rest of the class, it seems practically impossible to get her on the same track as her peers.

This frustrates me and has me wondering, how on earth did this student make it all the way to sixth grade without having any idea how to read? How could she possibly have passed any classes prior to sixth grade??

The conclusion that I have come to is that this girl has somehow managed to slip through the cracks every year, just barely getting by because teachers just pass her along and couldn’t be bothered to deal with her or– God forbid — do their jobs and teach her. I find it quite frustrating that this poor girl, along with many other students I’m sure, has been struggling to get by because her blaring hindrance has been overlooked and ignored for years. In all fairness, this student has in no way received the education she has a right to, and is the product of highly insufficient teaching.

Every teacher who has had her in their class up until sixth grade (where her teacher has finally recognized and taken action on the issue) has failed in their duty as an educator by passing her along, knowing the essential skill she lacked and not providing her with the tools to alter the situation. I will continue to work with her, and hope to contribute the most I can to her growth in the classroom and her reading ability. Stay tuned, I’ll be sure to keep you updated on our progress!

Putting the FUNDS in Reading Is Fundamental

By Bill Henk – There are some things that an education dean just ought to know.  There are some things that an education dean just ought to do.

Well, this education dean just discovered a harsh reality that he should have known and done something about quite a while ago.  And now that I DO know, I really AM going to do something about it –starting right here and now with this post.

Here’s the story.  Recently I was asked if I’d be willing to be Marquette’s spokesperson for the Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) program.  Keep in mind here that RIF is the largest children’s literacy non-profit in the United States.  And also keep in mind that its main thrust is providing access and ownership of free, high quality, age-appropriate books to children living in poverty.

My first thoughts were, “Why would Reading Is Fundamental need a Marquette spokesperson?  Why would I agree to something like that?  How could I even manage that extra work?”

You see, my summer has been ridiculously busy, and the thought of taking on another professional commitment seemed crazy.  Besides, the RIF program had been around for almost half a century and stood on the firmest of footing.  Why would it need me, or anyone else for that matter,  shouting its praises at all, let alone now?

And that’s when I learned the bitter truth.

Continue reading ‘Putting the FUNDS in Reading Is Fundamental’

Building Immunity & Encouraging Literacy

By Stephanie Rappe — It’s difficult to remember the last time I was in good health since I started my first year of teaching. No amount of hand sanitizer can prevent me from all of the germs and bacteria that travel in a classroom. It seems that if I don’t have a soar throat, I have a fever, and if I don’t have a fever I have a stuffy nose. I’ve come down with some of the most bizarre sicknesses, and every time I see a doctor they tell me it’s the curse of being a first year teacher. However, the doctor also said that after my first year my immune system will be much stronger and more able to fight against all these germs that I encounter on a daily basis. Can’t wait for next year!

On a different note, I’ve been working closely with the literacy coach the past couple of weeks to make the Reading block more engaging and beneficial for the students. We have created stations that the kids rotate through that involve writing, fluency, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, and whichever reading skills we are focusing on that week. The literacy coach has been in the room to help implement the stations, and it has been so nice having more than one adult in the room. The students are given more individual attention, and working with small groups is much more feasible.

Another exciting reading improvement my class has made is with our school’s Reading Challenge. Each child has a goal of reading 10 books by the end of May. For each book that they read they receive a certificate and a sticker for the chart that is hanging in the main hallway. This chart allows everyone to track each other’s progress and see how each class is doing compared to the other classes and grades. Each child has to complete an independent reading packet afterwards so that I can make sure they’ve read the entire book and comprehended the sequence of events. Once the students read 5 books they get a bracelet and a free 20 minute gym period. Once the students read 10 books they will be able to participate in a Field Day in June. During this Field Day there are planned outdoor activities for the students to take part in.  This competitive reading challenge has vastly motivated my students. It is incredible to see students working exceptionally hard to earn these rewards.

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