Saturday, February 17, 2018

Phonics and the Decodable Text Connection

A direct connection between phonics instruction and what students read is essential. A common instructional pitfall is following up a phonics skills lesson with at text that does not require the reader to apply any of the skills he or she has been working on.
This type of follow-up instruction is like teaching a child how to play chords on a guitar and giving him a piano to practice on. 
In an early research study, Juel & Roper-Scheinder (1985) concluded "These types of words which appear in beginning reading texts may well exert a more powerful influence in shaping children's word identification strategies than the method of reading instruction."

What this means is we can teach an award winning phonics lesson, but if we fail to follow it up with a decodable text that allows students to practice the skills they've learned, then our efforts may be in vain.

In early 2000 Wiley Blevins (2006) conducted a study to examine the effectiveness of decodable text in promoting word identification, phonics, and spelling abilities. The study determined that children who use decodable controlled text in their early reading instruction get off to a stronger start in their reading development.

Many types of books exist for instruction. Each type of book has a purpose and place in reading instruction. The types of text most frequently encountered in early grade classrooms are:

Decodable text - The majority of the words can be sounded out based on the sound-spelling relationships students have learned. The book may contain a few sight words that have been taught. This type of text should be used when following up a phonics skills lesson. This type of book is typically used during guided reading.



Predictable, patterned text - This type of book has a repeated pattern that students quickly pick up while reading. The stories are often about familiar concepts, there is a close match between the pictures and words, and the text might contain elements of rhyme and alliteration. This type of book should be used to practice high frequency words. It is typically used during shared reading.
Trade books -  These books are usually written by well-known authors and illustrated by popular artists. They come in a wide range of genre and formats. These stories have no connection to the phonics or sight word skills students are learning. This type of book is used to build vocabulary, give children a sense of story, and teach comprehension strategies. It is typically used during whole group read aloud.

The government document Becoming a Nation of Readers (1985) set a criteria for controlled, decodable text. The following criteria should be considered when choosing decodable texts:

Comprehensible - The vocabulary must be understandable and the stories should make sense.

Instructive - The majority of the words in the text must be decodable. There must be a strong connection between phonics skill instruction and the text being read.

Engaging - Students should want to read it again and again.

So... why is this important?
Over time, if students aren't given opportunities to use their phonics skills, they will undervalue their knowledge of sound-spelling relationships and over-rely on context and pictures. Research tells us that most poor readers over rely on these types of clues.

If we want to teach our students to use all three cueing systems effectively, then we must ensure they are getting quality practice applying all three while reading connected text.


My Awesome Summer by P. Mantis

My Awesome Summer by P. Mantis is one of my latest book purchases. It is a great combination of story and factual information regarding the Praying Mantis and his life cycle. It is a perfect addition to a classroom study of insects or for a child who simply loves them. Little ones will think it's both gross and funny that P. Mantis "eats his brothers and sisters" and the simple text makes it easy for young children to follow.

The front and back cover contain all kinds of great facts about the Praying Mantis. They are written in small blurbs, so you can share them one at a time and over a period of time. 

The book uses a diary-like format similar to that of Diary of a Worm. The story also follows along through the seasons, so it 's great for a lesson on seasons and for changes. 


Friday, February 9, 2018

Good Night, Bat! Good Morning, Squirrel!

A couple of weeks ago I joined Jan Burkins for a preview of the new Who's Doing the Work? Lesson Sets. While I love the lesson plans in the set that is a post for another time. What I really liked about the lessons were the literature connections. Jan read one of the books from the shared reading lessons and I fell in love with it.

Bat has to find a new home, but that is easier said than done. Fox wants to eat him and Skunk thinks he stinks.
Bat finally finds the perfect home where he can hang from a twig and sleep all day. However, it just so happens that the cozy home Bat finds belongs to Squirrel and he is not happy that Bat has moved in.
Squirrel and Bat go through the days and nights never seeing one another since one sleeps during the daytime and the other at night. Each day Squirrel leaves Bat a note trying to get him to leave his house, but no matter how many notes Squirrel writes, Bat just keeps coming back! Check out Good Night, Bat! Good Morning, Squirrel! to find out if daytime and nighttime animals can become friends. 

You can learn more about the author and the other books he's written and illustrated from his website. His books See Me Dig and See Me Run are great texts for shared reading. They are made up of easy to read repetitive text that tells a funny story with great picture support. The story and pictures provide students with an easy-to-read book that allows for lots of great questioning and discussion. 





A Fresh Look at Phonics

I started reading a new book last week and felt like a "Super Nerd" as I excitedly told my husband I was reading this "really great" book about phonics. I have read a lot about phonological awareness and phonics over the years and always believed they both play an important role in learning to read. A Fresh Look at Phonics is different than other books I've read though.
Rather than just tell you about phonics, why you should do it, and the phonics activities you should use, it delves into the key ingredients for success and most importantly the 10 common causes phonics instruction fails. It provides research and background to support suggested phonics practices, it addresses common instructional pitfalls (which I learned I was guilty of), and it offers clear next steps.

There are a few ah-ha's that stuck out to me from the first chapter.

1. We over emphasize rhyme. Instead of spending so much time looking for rhyming words, naming words that rhyme, and playing rhyme games we should consider spending more time on the "power skills" of oral blending and oral segmentation, which have a greater reading and writing pay off.

The ah-ha... Rhyme and alliteration activities abound and children's books are full of both making reading aloud lots of fun, but the instructional benefit of working with rhymes is not as great as spending the bulk of your instructional time working with words as the phoneme level.

2. Typically, there is an emphasis on separating phonemic awareness from phonics. We often hear the following: "you do phonemic awareness activities in the dark because you only need to be able to hear" and "you need the lights on for phonics activities, so that you can see the print."

When in fact, research suggests that when students being learning letter sounds, slowing integrating them into phonemic awareness tasks is helpful. For example: follow up a oral segmentation activity using sound boxes and counters by having students place letter cards or write the letters in each box to connect the sound to the spelling.

The ah-ha... we are missing the opportunity to increase learning when we don't gradually include letters into phonemic awareness activities as students advance through the skills.

3. There is a lack of support during phonemic awareness activities. Supports and scaffolds should be added to phonemic awareness exercises, then slowly removed to assess student growth.

The ah-ha... Hand signals for stretching sounds, manipulatives, and support aids such as sounds boxes and picture cards should be added to phonemic awareness activities in order to concretize the activity and support remembrance of sounds.

4. We lack accuracy in testing alphabet knowledge for both accuracy and speed. This causes teachers to miss valuable opportunities to adjust their instruction and be responsive to the diverse needs of their students. 

The ah-ha... Teachers should monitor student growth in recognizing letters and their sounds over an extended period of time to ensure mastery. Teachers should determine whether or not students can name the letter and sound (accuracy) as well as whether or not they can do so automatically (speed). Both scores provide separate information that informs instruction. There is a difference between the student who can name 20 letters accurately in 20 seconds and another who names all 20 accurately in two minutes.

5. Our language of instruction is confusing language or lacks specificity. For example: mat and sat rhyme because they both end in /at/ not because "they end in the same sound." Saying it is because they end in the same sound implies that it is because they both end with the /t/ sound.

The ah-ha... To avoid confusion, carefully consider the language and explanations you use.


Saturday, February 3, 2018

Bunny's Book Club

A book that recently arrived in my mailbox...

Bunny's Book Club is my new favorite picture book. So much so that my teenage kids and I curled up on the couch together for a family read-aloud and then I hosted a work teammate read-aloud amidst our cubicles and desks.


Bunny falls in love with books while listening to the librarian host outdoor story time all summer long, but when the weather turns cold and story time is moved inside Bunny grows desperate to get his hands on some books. Soon Bunny finds a way into the library and over time turns all of his woodland friends into book lovers too. Learn more about the story's plot and check out other pages from the book here
My Favorite Page
I love the way Bunny has to squeeze Bear through the library's book drop.

To learn more about Annie Silvestro and to build the concept of authorship with your students click here to check out the her website. The site also has a contact form to request author or Skype visits for your students. 

I am super excited because I learned from the site that the sequel, Bunny's Book Club Goes to School, will be released in the summer of 2019!


Friday, February 2, 2018

Rethinking Book Introductions During Guided Reading

Lately, I've been thinking about the ways we scaffold for students during guided reading lessons. Over the weekend I attended the TCTELA conference in Galveston and had the privilege of listening to Jan Burkins present a session (author of Reading Wellness and Who's Doing the Work?). A few ideas that Jan shared coupled with what I've observed in district classrooms got me thinking more deeply about the way we introduce a book at the beginning of a guided reading lesson.

I visit classrooms throughout my district every Thursday and week after week I see teachers using up large portions of their guided reading time on book introductions and picture walks.

Your introduction should be "brief and lean" (Fountas & Pinnell, 2006). There is no need to spend time talking about what students already know. An effective introduction prepares readers for the language they will come across in the book while giving them a sense of the plot or theme of the story (Fisher, Frey, & Hattie, 2017). In a sense, you are providing them with a type of "road map" to the text (Fountas & Pinnell, 2017).

The introduction is not meant to take problem solving away from the reader. An effective introduction should leave work to be done. You want to provide only enough support to enable students to take on a more complex text than they can read on their own. By providing them opportunities to engage in problem solving in the text, they are building their reading processing powers (Fountas & Pinnell, 2006, 2017).

When using books with illustrations, the introduction oftentimes is a picture walk. Similar to a text introduction, the intent of a picture walk is not to tell students everything that will happen in the story. Instead it should prepare them for the language they will come across in the book while giving them a sense of the plot or theme of the story. Also, it is not a pop quiz. Avoid using the introduction to belabor students with questions about the book and its illustrations (Fisher, Frey, & Hattie, 2017).

In their book, Who's Doing the Work?, Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris provide an alternative idea to planning for an elaborate introduction. They suggest letting students decide which strategies to try in order to familiarize themselves with the text. In their next generation version of guided reading they encourage teachers to do less (tell) and facilitate more. Prompts are mostly general and teaching points are reflective rather than directive.

The following is an example of an introduction from the book, Who's Doing the Work?:
TEACHER DOING THE WORK
"This book is about a dog and a cat who go on an adventure in a big city."

TEACHER FACILITATING THE WORK
"How will you figure out what this books is about?" or "What should we do first to get started in this book?"



When we give students all the information they need and always prompt them by telling them what strategy to use and/or exactly what to do, then we are robbing them of the ability to problem solve as a reader. This is not to say that you should never give a student information or help them out. Create anchor charts with students during read-alouds and shared reading that will help jump start their thinking during guided reading.

So... as you get ready for your next guided reading lesson consider how much time you are spending on the introduction and how much information you are giving your students. Also, ask yourself "Am I asking questions that tell my students what to do or am I prompting them to think about the text and make a decision on their own?"