Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Reading at Home: Building Your Child's Home Library

"Kids not only need to read a lot but they need lots of books they can read right at their fingertips. The books that entice them, attract them to reading." - Richard Allington

This is the tenth blog entry of this school year, all focused on Home Reading, to help families successfully support children as they learn to read :)

The Power of Choice
It is almost December - a perfect time to begin talking about building your child's home library.  'Tis the season of giving and giving books to a child is an act of great promise and anticipation - children who love to read see each new book as a possibility to be explored, an adventure to be had, a friend to meet or a discovery to be unearthed!

As we have been exploring the various elements of home reading, there have been numerous parent 'tips' embedded in these blogs encouraging parents to consistently be 'talking' about books with children as they have engaged in numerous ways to read texts. Asking children what they like about a book, which stories they prefer, why do they want to read a particular book, which book is their favourite, what would they like to read next, what genre appeals the most to them, which book does the new text they are reading remind them of - a similar story or experience they have had.  All these questions - that hopefully become mini-discussions between parents and children - help young readers come to understand there is a process to selecting stories, a reason why we like some books more than others, that there are particular kinds of stories that are similar or different and that, as readers, we have a great deal of control over what we read and why.  These are critically important considerations for children who may believe books 'belong' to the adults in their lives and it is the adults who choose what to read, when and why.

The power of choice for children is an elixir - especially for young children. There are so many choices made for them, not by them - what to wear, when to sleep, what to eat, where and how they will spend their days, what activities they will participate in on any given day - the world can feel very full of being told what to do and how and when and why. But the magic of reading can hold extra attraction for children if they are allowed and invited to exercise their power of choice! (And, as parents, we can always answer the age-old complaint of "I never get to decide anything!" with "Of course you do! You always get to pick the books for reading!"). 

Building A Child's Library
So, when December arrives and parents' thoughts turn to gift giving, it seems like a perfect time to begin thinking about how to build up your child's library so they always have something 'enticing and attracting' them to read. There are a few strategies for building a child's library with them - all of which will help them learn to categorize and organize books as well, key skills that are foundational to study skills as they grow and become more independent learners. Building a library collection takes care and consideration, choice and thoughtfulness, organization and reflection. In other words, critical thinking skills they are expected to learn in school and in life!

It has been my experience that when we start referring to a child's book collection - no matter how small/large/messy/neat a collection it is - as their 'library', suddenly owning books of their own takes on a new complexion - they see their books as something 'more', something to take care of and celebrate rather than just decorate their room. When children enter school, they visit the Learning Commons and see the books organized into collections, on display, celebrated with book talks or posters, and cared for in particular ways. As children begin to identify their books at home as having importance similar to the books in the school collections, they become more attentive to them as important elements with a purpose, an order, a way of being other than just an item to be picked up, looked at and discarded. This elevates the significance of their personal book collections - their 'library' of enticing and inviting reading materials requiring care and attention perhaps previously overlooked.

What kinds of books should children have in their libraries? 

What would be the most meaningful books to give them at this time of year to build up their collections? 

What would organizing my child's library look like? 

How do I help my child learn to care for their book collection?

These questions really begin with knowing your child as a reader - not as your child, but as a reader. There is a difference! 

Your child, the reader, will be able to share what stories they like best - fiction or non-fiction, fairytales, humorous, comics, adventure, fantasy, mystery or science - there are many genres of books for children to read and love. Usually, we start simply with children, identify fiction from non-fiction and that may be the most organized your child can currently manage with their personal book collection. You may want to start by organizing the books your child already has at home into two categories - fiction/non-fiction - to build a sense with them of the different kinds of books they already own. If your child enjoys that organizational activity, try sorting into sub-categories of fiction or non-fiction books. Books can be sorted into categories and housed on bookshelves, or in milk crates, laundry baskets or boxes in your child's room. The more out in the open they are, the more likely your child is to pick one up for a quick read. Some children are perfectly satisfied with a 'library' sorted into fiction/non-fiction while others will want to be very specific and have numerous catgeories of fiction or non-fiction stories as well. I would encourage parents to take a cue from your child as to how much organization you are willing to invest in the home library - sorting and growing a child's library is not a one-shot action; rather, it takes several tries and re-tries before one could say they are fully comfortable with the home library organizational system. I do know this from long experience: if I organize my child's library the way I like books to be organized, the system will last until I leave the room :) If a child does not understand or appreciate the organizing system, the system is bound to have a short shelf life (pardon the pun!).  Perhaps your child is only able to organize one small collection of favourite books and the rest remains in a higgeldy-piggeldy mess - that's okay! Everyone adjusts to organization in their own time and way and the idea has at least been introduced in a small way. Time will pass and this idea can be readily revisited.

For your child's collection, there should be an assortment of fiction and non-fiction items in your child's library collection. If you are looking for suggestions for gifts, start there - which side of the collection requires attention? What topics or type of stories does your child prefer? When you go to the public library or a bookstore, what are they most drawn to as they browse the Children's Book section? Are there books your child automatically chooses over and over again that also have sequels or other, similar stories written by the same author? These are good beginning points for selecting new titles for your child's book collection.

Once you have established a system for organization  - no matter how simple or complex it may be - gently encourage your child to ensure their books are returned 'home' at the end of each reading. I like making this a little ritual of celebration - 'See? the Giraffe book likes being home, next to his friend the Whale book' - kind of encouragement. If there seems to be a general lack of disinterest in returning favourite books to favourite places, then your child is not quite ready for caring for the library collection independently just yet. It's sometimes a good strategy, when a new book arrives as a gift, to make a little ritual or ceremony of finding 'just the right home' for it midst the current book organization system. 

These are all suggestions that may or may not work with your child - only you know them best as the reader of their books:) 

Here are a few favourite ideas for picture book gifts for early readers from my own collection (often gathered from recommendations by my grandchildren or students :)
  • Boxitects by Kim Smith
  • My Map Book by Sara Fanelli
  • Beyond the Pond by Joseph Kuefler
  • Home by Jeannie Baker
  • Sleeping Ugly by Jane Yolen
  • Goldie Socks and the Three Libearians by Jackie Mims Hopkins
Just in case you were looking for gift ideas!

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal

Monday, 18 November 2019

Why Doesn't Home Reading Use Levelled Books?

"Reading good fit books is essential if students are to progress as readers.Much of the research into young children and how they learn to read is that children should choose books that they enjoy and that they can use the reading strategies they are taught to assist them to confidently read to themselves or have books read to them. As our students begin their reading journeys, they need to “want” to connect to the materials that they choose to engage in." - The Daily Cafe (Gail Boushey & Joan Mosher), Parent Pipeline

This is the ninth blog entry of this school year, all focused on Home Reading, to help families successfully support children as they learn to read :)

Over the past couple of decades, the idea of 'levelled reading' has become enormously popular in the field of education, and subsequently with children and their families as well. Books are levelled according to many different criteria, most commonly to organize the challenge level of text from the simplest to most complex. As children successfully read texts, their achievement levels may be easily tracked to determine growth as a reader.

The use of levelled reading books serves a definitive purpose for teachers, particularly when it comes to assessment of reading, as they detail progress in student's developing reading skills. Similar to basal reading series that were popular through the 1960's, 1970's and into the 1980's, but with more broadly developed vocabulary, text diversity and interesting, current topics, levelled reading texts bring a contemporary element to the concept of students learning to read with increasing skill through consecutively demanding books. 

Along with using levelled texts to assess student reading, teachers use direct teaching (sometimes in guided reading groups, sometimes one-to-one with students) to ensure students acquire the skills needed to consistently advance through levelled reading texts. 

The use of levelled reading systems has brought new insights and research into the development of reading with young children, benefitting both teachers and students alike. Teachers have more contemporary, research-based assessment devices. Students have fresh, interesting texts to engage with as they become stronger readers incrementally.  And parents understand the premise of levelled books as well, knowing that making progress through the reading levels indicates success for their children. There are, certainly, distinct advantages to the use of levelled reading systems.  There are, however, several challenges as well.

One of the greatest challenges with levelled reading resources is that they are not uniform in how they are developed, organized or in the way they assess reading progress and success. Each commercially produced system of levelled reading resources is different from the others, based on individualized research and development that does not correlate with the next set of resources. Schools are free to choose whatever levelled reading resource they prefer, so student progress may vary from school to school simply because the resources of schools are not aligned in content, scope or sequence. Simply put, the discrepancies and differences between the different commercial resources mean reading within and between levelled programs is like comparing apples and oranges. While this causes many issues teachers must grapple with, it is not the most significant reason why we are not using levelled reading books for Home Reading on a consistent basis. 

Although levelled reading books have certainly helped develop students' reading abilities over the past twenty years or so, research shows the most successful readers throughout life are those that become avid readers - just being a skilled reader is not all that is required to become a continuously advancing reader who enjoys interacting with texts. It is when readers find joy in reading that the greatest proficiencies and success as readers occurs and continues through to adulthood. 

Learning to read is an absolute requirement in our digital world - there is no form of learning that will not require proficiency as a reader in our 21st century.  Loving to read is what will guide learners to become invested, curious, motivated and dedicated to advancing their reading skills. Learning to read with skills is not enough; loving to read is essential for becoming a broad-based investigator, invested in the words and meaning, always wanting to read more and with greater skill and knowledge. 

Our first goal for Home Reading, therefore, is that our students will love to read. Whether families have been reading at home since birth, or are new to the practice of read-aloud and reading with children at home, our primary goal must always be to foster the love of reading. 

Certainly, we are also consistently working with students to develop letter/sound/word/meaning proficiencies as well as a working, highly-skilled knowledge of the intricacies of language. Armed with such knowledge, reading becomes increasingly easier as students develop these skills. The reality, however, is that students do not readily internalize language awareness without a purpose for doing so - wanting to be a better reader is the ideal purpose for continuing to improve at the craft of reading. 

Every teacher, every school will manage their Home Reading expectations and routines differently. At EHS this school year, our Grade 1/2 Teaching Team decided to focus on fostering joy in reading with students, teaching students to use the 'I-PICK' strategy for book selection as a way to begin exploring how to make connections with texts. Additionally, teachers are working with students to internalize the three main ways to read a book: read the pictures, read the words, retell the story. Using these three strategies, any child will be able to find a way to engage with any text in a meaningful way.

'I-PICK' is an acronym for; "I-choose a book", "Purpose (why read this book?)", "Interest (what is interesting in this book?), "Comprehension (what just happened? What's next?), 'Know the Words" (what do specific words mean? what do particular sentences mean?)

As we work through strategies to support students with being thoughtful about their text choices, students begin to develop a true appreciation for reading that is deeper than just knowing decoding skills or word meanings; it is the integration of all the technical knowledge with personal choice and purpose that generates tremendous interest and joy in personal reading, and launches children as successful readers.

Home Reading offers opportunities for students to elevate their experiences with reading in the company of their families. Shared, enjoyable reading experiences at home reinforce positive and successful reading experiences at school. That is the basic - and most important - premise that underpins the Home Reading experience. 

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal

Monday, 11 November 2019

Encouraging the Unenthusiastic Reader :)

"Students will read if we give them the books, the time
 and the enthusiastic encouragement to do so."  
                         - Donnalynn Miller, "The Book Whisperer"

"Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them." 
- James Baldwin (writer)

This is the eighth blog entry of this school year, all focused on Home Reading, to help families successfully support children as they learn to read :)

The most challenging parts of parenting, at least from my perspective, are those parts that sneak up on you when you are least expecting them - like toddlers who slept as infants but have now abandoned the practice, or a school-aged child who ate strawberries every chance she got but has just declared she hates them and refuses to take them in her lunch (after you paid a fortune for them for just that purpose!!). 

Home reading offers similar challenges for parents - just when you think you have figured out what the school expects from your child around 'home reading' - a routine reading time, positive parental support, a book chosen with the child or by herself, praising effort not success, not pointing out mistakes or covering the pictures, signing off on daily reading - all of a sudden, your child no longer wants to read at home at all! Refuses, whines, runs to the bedroom or bathroom, says they don't like every book that is offered, is hungry/tired/thirsty...any excuse to escape trying to read with you - and clearly does not care at all about "what will your teacher say??".  Your child feels like they have been reading for a while (could be days or weeks or even just once before); they perceive reading as hard work, or it might feel like just 'doing more school', or they may think of many other things they would prefer to be doing - like tablet time, watching a show, playing with friends. They do NOT want to sit with you and try to read that sorry book again and will do pretty much anything to avoid home reading altogether.  

Well, this was unexpected...and what is more unexpected will be the things you discover about yourself as you begin to peel back the layers to determine why this apparently sudden mutiny towards home reading.

To begin with, if this is the first sign of mutiny and refusing to engage in reading, consider the day your child has had - was it very busy? Longer than usual at hockey or soccer after school? Did they sleep well the night before? Has their routine been interrupted in some way that was unexpected today? An argument with a sibling or friend?  If this is the first time they have balked at participating in home reading, and you can identify a reason why this might be, it never hurts to take a 'day off' from home reading.  Some families do this on any evening when there is an outside activity - 'daily' home reading really does mean 'as daily as possible for you and your family'. While we know the act of reinforcing reading is hugely beneficial for children at home, we also don't want to place undo pressure on families to get home reading done at all costs.

However....if the refusal to participate in home reading continues and your child does not seem keen or excited to participate, there are some simple things to do that might guide them back to the process. The first thing is to examine our own attitudes and practices related to home reading. Do we approach this task with kind enthusiasm as if this is an exciting part of our day? Do we truly participate in the child's efforts to become a reader (or are we surreptitiously checking our phone, hoping our child doesn't notice?). Have we acknowledged our child's successes as they attempted to read in the past, engaged in conversations about what they are reading, helped them make connections between two stories with similar ideas or something else they have experienced? How do we respond to hesitations, choppy reading, a million questions that divert from reading? Do we sigh heavily? Appear mildly irritated in our body actions even if we don't say anything?  For some of our children, if our heart is not in reading, theirs certainly isn't either! Therefore it is always a good thing to examine our own 'home reading' practices if our child suddenly no longer wants to participate in reading at home.

And, once we've taken a look at how we are modeling participation in home reading for our child, there are a few fairly easy things we can do, as parents, to encourage an unenthusiastic reader to jump back into the learning process again.  

  • Be genuinely excited about home reading (after all, this is the most important academic skill your child will learn in an entire lifetime!) 
  • Pick up the book and read to your child - if bargaining is still possible, offer to read first and then have your child read; or offer to engage in an echo reading session (you read rather slowly, the child echoes the text right behind you) - any form of engagement in reading behaviours is better than not reading at all
  • Make a chart of all the books your child has read - a digital one can work as well, although it is harder for it to be visibly shared for your child to see and celebrate privately when it is digital; however, choosing a time to sit and celebrate the list each day or at the beginning of each reading session could be a great launch to bringing excitement back to home reading (and, since I am a sticker-lover myself, adding stickers to the home chart is an option if you are a parent who is like-minded :)
  • begin a 'child's library' shelf where your child organizes favourite titles - by color, title, genre, author - this is a lovely way to begin preliminary conversations about how to organize books; and every now and then, shop for a title to add or get one from a local Little Free Library
  • visit the public library and browse books together; make this a family event and share your choices with each other and why you chose them; library books get added to the chart as well
  • talk with your child about reading, be explicit about when you are reading (recipes, billboards, menus, magazines, letters, bills, cards, etc) - the more often your child is aware of you reading, the more likely they will be to want to read
  • make signs together for your home - my youngest daughters used to make a new sign each month, decorated with the fanciest coloured letters and illustrations, to hang on their bedroom doors; signs for other rooms advance the purpose of reading as well - or instructions for feeding the dog, turning out lights, etc. are handy to have around and lend authenticity to reading and to writing
  • continue reading aloud to your child even when they are reluctant about reading themselves; the more modeling and vocabulary development, language fluency and voice modulation a child experiences, the more likely they are to be a successful reader themselves
  • set goals with your child for reading - mini goals are loads of fun - "today I will read 3 pages of my new book, Dad will read 3 and Mom will read the title and the last page" - and also help the child understand how text is organized in a book; big goals work too - 'I will read 10 books all by myself before New Year's Eve'
  • re-set the home reading routine to a different time - maybe before dinner? 
  • try not reading a book for one night, just look at the pictures and talk about what might be happening
  • use silly voices to be the characters when you are reading, laughter is a great way to share a book successfully
  • have your child sign his own book to show he has read - full ownership of the reading practice is often a great motivator for children 
Most of all, accept that this too shall pass - your child will find a reason to re-engage in reading when they recognize it is both important and possible; that they have the skills, the support, the time and the materials to become a practicing reader. And every day they read, they become a little better at the reading process - recognition for a huge effort to become a skilled reader is the most important motivator of all. "You can do it!" holds absolute power for children, so long as we wrap them in the opportunities, the time and the relationships needed to ensure that becomes every child's home reading reality.

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal