Sunday, March 27, 2016

Nurturing Young Writers Through Book-Making- Week 1 Already Ready Book Study

A teacher emailed me last week asking my thoughts on traditional writer's workshop versus a book-making format of writer's workshop. When I was in the classroom I used a traditional model of writer's workshop, we made lots of books as a class, I offered up plenty of invitations for functional writing, and provided the materials needed for individual book making. I thought I was doing everything I needed to do to build my students as writers and illustrators.

Since I had recently heard someone speak on making books during writer's workshop, I decided to look more into this alternative version of writer's workshop before answering the question. In my effort to find out more, I turned to several books by Katie Ray Wood. In the end, the book that was the most helpful was Already Ready: Nurturing Writers in Preschool and Kindergarten.

Through my reading I discovered three "big" things about writer's workshop-
1) Many of my previous thoughts, attitudes, and methods for growing writers were right on
2) I could have achieved so much more with my young writers if I have used a book-making format during workshop time
3) While I did not use dictation often, when I did it may have sent a message I did not intend to send

The more I read from Already Ready the more I decided that a chapter by chapter book study over several posts would be more helpful and less overwhelming than trying to sum up everything in one long post. So here goes...

Chapter 1- What It Means to Be a Writer

People define themselves by the kinds of things they do in life and young children are no different. If a child spends his time in the classroom doing what writers and illustrators do, then he or she will think and act like a writer and an illustrator. You, the teacher, need to make the time, space, and materials available so that young children can do what writers and illustrators do- make books about topics that interest them. 

Book-making is fed by the same energy children bring to any activity where they are making and creating things - such as in the art or block center - or making things up - like during dramatic play. 

Oftentimes adults see young children as illustrators rather than writers because their written work doesn't yet match adult expectations for what someone who knows how to write should be able to do. The first step in growing young children as writers is to see them as writers- not pretend or play writers or even emergent writers- but simply writers.
I loved this quote shared in the chapter-

Members of the literacy club are people who read and write, even the beginners, and the fact that one is not very competent yet is no reason for exclusion or ridicule. A newcomer is the same kind of person as the most proficient club member, except that he or she hasn't yet had much experience.
(from Joining the Literacy Club by Frank Smith, 1988) 

Young children do not need to do anything to get ready for membership.
Young children are already ready.
Young children may say they know how to draw a dog, but not make the words. Experienced writers are prone to tentativeness too. It's okay not to know how to do everything. Just do the best you can.

Teachers must hold two understandings of young children- They are writers and they are 4, 5, or 6 year olds. The two do not cancel each other out. They are equally true at once. Teachers must not let either one of these identities hold more weight than the other in their thinking.
If a teacher focuses on the "writer" then he or she runs the risk of having developmentally inappropriate expectations for the child.
On the other hand, if the teacher focuses too much on the child's age, then he or she runs the risk of not helping the child realize his or her potential as a writer.

A few things to consider about your own classroom...

Do you think that children need to learn to read before they begin thinking about writing? Does your classroom offer suggestions or invitations for writing?

Offer invitations to write regardless of whether children are reading or not

Do you provide markers and paper for writing and drawing, making lists, writing notes, and signs, but offer very little to children in terms of book-making- in doing the work of an author and illustrator?

Invite children to make books- to work as authors and illustrators

Do you always give your students a topic for writing or do you allow them to choose their own ideas?

Allow children to choose their own ideas, decide what will go on each page of their book, make changes along the way as they reread and revisit, and to decide when the book is finished

Do you only offer up one sheet of paper for writing and drawing because you think making an entire book is too overwhelming? 

Allow students to use their understandings of genre and text structure to create books. 

Do you believe that building writing stamina is not really an age-appropriate goal for young children? Do you believe your students can't stay on task long enough to work on a book?

When students make books, they are not just writing something, they are making something. Young children can stay with with something for a good bit of time when they find it engaging. 

After your students write and illustrate a piece do you encourage them to save the writing and reread it or do you believe that once it's over, it's over? 

Children need to see that while they may have finished the piece, writing itself is not temporal. Their work should be a fixture in the classroom that is read over and over again. 

Do you take dictation? Do you transcribe students' words underneath their writing? 

Regardless of the benefits you believe dictation or transcription might bring, if a student sees an adult's writing as part of the writing process, then the transcription has a message attached to it, whether it is intended or not. The child can try to write on his own, but adults are the real writers. This message gets enforced when teachers make students redo the writing, but not the illustrations. 

Teachers needs to accept approximations. They need to welcome the understanding that a young child's finished book will not look the same as one finished by a writer with more experience. 

Do you understand that a young child's writing may not carry as much meaning when he or she is not there to read it and that is okay?

If you hold that writing has to hold its meaning when the writer is not present, then dictation and transcription are the only options for turning the youngest writer's work into writing. This belief privileges the text itself over the writer's intention to make meaning. 

Do you value a child's writing because it supports their development as a writer or because you think it supports their development as a reader?

When writing is valued for how it supports a child's reading development, an emphasis is placed on getting the words down- on the transcription aspect of it. Practices that focus on a child's growing letter-sound knowledge and accurate transcription are privileged above all others. 

The chapter concludes with a few thoughts on the goals of the book. This thought stood out to me... 

Randy Bomer (2006) calls a blank page for writing an invitation to make meaning and reading an expectation to figure out someone else's meaning. 

When children are new to the literacy club, invitations are more developmentally appropriate than expectations. When children respond to an invitation they can't get it "wrong" because their was no expectation to begin with. 

We will pick up next week with Chapter 2- Composition and the Importance of Making of Picture Books.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Pairing Informational & Narrative Texts to Develop Content Vocabulary Knowledge

Vocabulary development plays a critical role in young children's learning to read, however, it continues to be one of the most difficult skills to teach.

Word meaning does not exist in isolation, rather vocabulary learning is connected to acquiring sufficient knowledge of the world and allowing children to talk about their vast experiences in it. The instructional implication for this is that content vocabulary must be taught within the context of building knowledge (Anderson & Freebody, 1981; Nagy, 2005).

Recent studies in shared book reading showed improved oral language development and vocabulary acquisition when new words were explicitly taught in the context of related science concepts and organized around high-priority content knowledge (science themes), varied text genres (informational and narrative texts combined), and explicit interactive discussions of content words (those involving science-related words) (French, 2004; Leung, 2008; Spycher, 2009).

So then, how can we teach content words to young children in ways that are effective and that accelerate learning?

We can begin by helping young children understand the relationship between new words and their connected concepts. For example, it would be difficult to understand the importance of watching out for the tight end, the offensive player who can either block or catch the ball, without knowing something about the sport of football. Therefore, effective vocabulary instruction needs to help young children understand the relationships between new words and connected concepts while deepening their knowledge of the world.

Two research-based ways to do this are to integrate informational and narrative text in order to provide young children with multiple exposures to new words and concepts and to provide ample opportunity to talk about connections made between the words and concepts.

What does this really mean and what does it look like in the classroom?

Let's say you are getting ready to do a unit on the earth. You might pair the informational text The Earth (vocabulary- earth, river, island) with the narrative text Over in the Meadow (vocabulary- meadow, shore, pond).

I had trouble locating The Earth by Trent Johnson. Another possible option is Earth by Thomas K. Adamson.

For a look at several different versions of Over in the Meadow, check out the  post Over in the... from the blog Pen Pals & Picture Books here.

Day 1
From the narrative, introduce three new theme-related words with connected concepts. Introduce each of the three words using picture cards.
          A meadow is a place outside with lots of grass where animals live. 
          A shore is a part of the ground that is next to water. 
          A pond is water with ground all around it where animals can live.
Since Over in the Meadow is a narrative, review the characters in the story (all of the animals that live in the meadow) and the big event that occurred (the mother animals told the baby animals what they could or could not do on the earth).

Introduce the book, do a picture walk, and have students make predictions about what they think will happen in the story.

Read the book, stopping briefly to define words when they appear on a page. After reading, have children discuss the book while trying to use the target words. Facilitate and scaffold the discussion as needed to ensure students are using the target words in their discussion.

Day 2
On the second day, reread the story and review important words and concepts.

Day 3
Have students examine pictures of the earth's surface.
Discuss the new theme and build background knowledge.
         "This week we are going to read books and learn about the earth. Our earth           is where we live. It is made up of land and water. Look at these pictures.              This is land and it is part of the earth. This is water and it is part of our                   earth. You will listen for three magic words in the book."
Point to the first picture or concept card- earth
          "This is a picture of the earth. The earth is a place where we live that is                  made of land and water."
Have children share what they already know about the earth. (Most likely- it has land, it has water, it is round)
Point to the second picture or concept card- island
          "This is a picture of an island. An island is a place where only a little bit of           land has water all the way around it."
Focus the discussion on what an island looks like- islands have land and palm trees.
Preview the last picture or concept card- river.

Children predict what they will learn about the land and water on the earth as they look at the pictures in the informational book, The Earth (Johnson, 2001). Read the book.

By pairing the informational text with the previously read and discussed narrative text, you provide students with multiple exposures to the target words and concepts are connected. By beginning with and spending two days on the narrative text, you help students build background knowledge before reaching the informational text.

Another example, is a pairing of the narrative text Moonbear's Shadow (Asch, 1999) and the informational text All About Light (Trumbaur, 2004) to study the topic of light and what light can do.
Use Moonbear's Shadow to introduce the words shadow (a dark spot when something gets in the way) and sky (the air that is up high with the sun and the clouds). 
Use the informational text All About Light to introduce the words light (what the sun and lamps give us make to help us see), dark (when there is no light and it is hard to see), shade (a cool place with little sunshine). 

You follow the same steps as above for days 1-3. On day three, connect the following concepts-
           There is a difference between light and dark. 
           There is a relationship between shadow, light, and dark. 
           Shade is connected to the word shadow, and both words/concepts imply a            quality of darkness or condition of no light. 

Learning words may have a smaller impact when young children do not have the language base that is strong enough to allow them to participate in deep discussions (Beck & McKeown, 2007). One strategy that facilitates opportunities to talk about words and connected concepts is having children make comparisons- to describe what is similar or different about word features or concepts.

For example:
Teacher: "What is the difference between light and dark?"
Possible responses: "It is hard to see outside when it is dark." or "Light helps us see."

Teacher: "You are right. Light does help us see. At night, is it mainly dark or light?"
Students: "Dark"

Teacher: "Yes it is very dark at night. Would it be dark outside if the sun was shining in the sky?"
Students: "No, the sun is light."

Teacher: "You are right. The sun gives up light during the day. Now get ready for the big question- What do we use to help us see at night when it is dark outside?"
Possible responses: "lights on the street," "a flashlight," "stars in the sky"

Teacher: "Yes, at night there are stars in the sky that give us light. There are also street lights and flashlights that can give us light too. Remember- dark is when there is no light and it is hard to see."

Research shows that opportunities to talk about connections between words and concepts via associations and inferences are beneficial to young children's vocabulary learning. Specifically, the more time spent on vocabulary-related association talk (What is the difference between light and dark?", the more benefit realized in children's receptive and expressive vocabulary.

Other possible text pairings-





I was recently given a Purposeful Pairs kit from Teacher Created Materials. This kit already pairs texts for you for teaching science themes and content vocabulary. It is a great resource and one that you may want to look into if your campus has money to spend. Learn more about the Purposeful Pairs kits here

You can read more about developing content vocabulary, knowledge networks, and text pairs in the article listed below. 

Pollard-Durodola, S., Gonzalez, J., Simmons, D., Davis, M., Simmons. L., & Nava-Walichowski, M. (2011). Using Knowledge Networks to Develop Preschoolers' Content Vocabulary. The Reading Teacher, 65 (4), 265-274.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

I'm Back! Welcome to My New Blog!

After about a year off, I am happy to be back with all of you- back to posting, back to linking up, and back to following you.

When I left the classroom last school year and moved into the role of a Pre-K specialist, I no longer had a class to blog about. For awhile I posted about what I was doing as a Pre-K specialist, but ultimately I did not feel like the posts I was making were in line with the original format of the blog.

In August, I took a new position for the district and became the Professional Development Manager for the K-2 Curriculum & Instruction Department. Even though I was still working in a position outside of the classroom, I truly missed blogging and knew I needed to find a way back to it. A few months ago I began thinking about starting a new blog and what that might look like. I considered my work as a Professional Development Manager and how I could incorporate all of the things I was doing and learning into a new blog. Since most of the work I do is centered on literacy, I decided that needed to be my focus. Thus, "My Life in Literacy" was born. Since Chalk Talk remains such a huge piece of my life and is what I am known for, I decided that I needed to find a way to tie it into the new blog title. Feeling like I was simply picking up where I left off and moving on or moving forward, I decided to start the blog's title with "Chalking On."

So... what can you expect from "Chalking On: My Life in Literacy"?
I plan to post important bits of information, research, and strategies from books I am reading, chapter by chapter book studies, and new read-alouds I want you to know about and use with your students. As classroom teachers, I know you are very busy and do not always have the time to read up on the research and the "why" behind what you are doing, so my plan is to help you out. I'll do the reading, condense it down for you, and pass it one in small easy-to-read chunks through blog posts.

With that said, I want to say a special "thanks" to Megan from A Bird in Hand Designs for all of her hard work on my new blog design. I feel like she truly captured my love of books and my personality in the design. Thanks Megan!

So... welcome old friends and new ones. I am truly happy to be back with all of you!