Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do- Book Review

A few weeks ago I posted about reading resources for parents and mentioned Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do by Daniel T. Willingham. I purchased the e-book version because I was too excited to wait for Amazon to deliver a paper copy, which was a blessing because I read it on my phone and Kindle over the last few weeks. It took me much longer to read than I anticipated because I couldn’t stop highlighting and writing notes.

Since I started teaching I’ve been on a quest to find a book to help parents (and teachers) address reading concerns and I believe I have finally found it! This book is truly one of a kind. Willingham’s writing voice is superb. He speaks to the reader as a fellow parent/educator with a calm demeanor. He never makes the reader feel incompetent nor does he command or belittle the reader.

One of my favorite ideas from this book is to start now. The introduction states this and it is repeated many times throughout the text. I love that Willingham doesn’t make parents or teachers feel that it’s too late. Many feel that by the time a child is in middle school it’s too late to improve reading skills and motivation, but Willingham constantly denies this with realistic, supportive ideas for adults.

The book starts off with a great explanation of general reading information including: the role of sound, the role of knowledge in comprehension, and motivation. As an educator, I loved his clear explanations of phonics and the role of sounds in reading. I was one of the those children who struggled with phonics, which resulted in my reading struggles and repeating kindergarten. I think if my parents had read the excerpt below during my struggle period it would have helped them understand.

“If reading is a code between written symbols and speech sounds, it’s going to be hard to learn the code if you can’t hear those sounds. Lots of research indicates that this reasonable supposition is right. Children who have trouble learning to read often have difficulty hearing individual speech sounds. At the other end of the spectrum, children who more or less teach themselves to read turn out to hear them easily. This relationship between the ability to hear speech sounds and reading is not unique to learning to read English— you see it across languages. So we have our first clue about how we can help kids become good readers: help them with this auditory challenge.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (pp. 12-13). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

Part one of the text examines reading in birth-preschool age children. My interests the last few months have been on this age group because of my daughter and the two classes I’m teaching, Mommy & Me Literacy and Children & Literacy. The author’s main points in this section are to create a love of reading and to prepare children for decoding. He gives great ideas/suggestions for parents, educators, and child care providers. One of my favorites he mentioned was using word games to help students with speech sounds.

“Here are some examples of word games that help children to hear individual speech sounds: Some children’s songs and rhymes center on word play, for example, The Name Game (“ Dan, Dan, bo-Ban, banana-fana fo-Fan, fee fi-mo-Man. Dan!”) and Apples and Bananas (“ I like to eat, eat, eat, eeples and baneenees”). Classic nursery rhymes use much of this sort of word play. So do Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, and other children’s authors. Sing songs they know, replacing the initial letter of each word with the letter of your choice, for example, “Mary had a little lamb” becomes “Bary bad a bittle bamb.” Find excuses for alliteration: “Great golly! Gobs of grapes!” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 33). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

Before a child can read, he or she must be able to recognize letters, which Willingham discusses. One of the easiest ways parents can help children with letter recognition is what Willingham calls “letters in the wild”. Caregivers should interact with children daily with letters they see on billboards, logos, etc. “If you prompt interest in letters in these daily interactions, it’s that much more likely your child will show interest in letters during read-alouds.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 36). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

Part two of the book addresses kindergarten-second grade. I really liked how Willingham starts off this section by discussing the different reading programs used in schools, phonics vs. whole-word, and balanced literacy. Each school district uses a different approach, so it’s important for parents to be aware of the program their school uses. It’s also important to keep in mind that each student learns differently. “Programs vary, and kids’ experiences within a program vary.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 83). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

The author also addresses the hot topic of technology: “With all the power we attribute to technology, that seems like a pretty wimpy effect. But the modest impact is actually typical for educational technology interventions, no matter what the subject: math, science, or history. More disturbing is a point made by researcher John Hattie: when you try anything new in the classroom, you see, on average, this sort of modest boost to student learning. Why? It’s not clear. (My guess is that the excitement of trying something new makes teachers enthusiastic, and that excitement rubs off on students.) The conclusion I’m emphasizing is that educational technology interventions in general (and those targeting reading in particular) have been less successful than we would have expected.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 85). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

Willingham does go on to mention that technology apps and videos vary in quality and how they are embedded. On the flip side, he also does a great job of mentioning how technology can provide individual feedback and other positive ideas (I really appreciate how he can be so calm when discussing hot topic things).

I love that he follows up the discussion of technology with techniques and ideas parents can use at home with their kids. He includes ideas such as: reading with your child, choosing the right book, providing feedback and dealing with reading frustration. Reading is a challenging skill that takes lots of time to develop, so it’s only natural for children to get frustrated with reading while being at home with a parent. The author includes some great ideas for parents on dealing with this frustration.

“I can offer four suggestions if you find yourself frustrated. First, the habit of not talking much is not only good for your child (so she hears mostly her own voice, reading) but also good for maintaining your composure when you’re frustrated. Second, when you do speak, you can usually find an intonation other than frustration that carries your message in a positive way. When my youngest would look to me for help on the same word three times in sixty seconds, my inclination was to shout, “You KNOW this one.” I trained myself to say, “You know this one,” with the intonation of, “You sly dog.” I probably should have said nothing, but at least I used a positive tone. Third, remind yourself that the whole session is only five or ten minutes. Fourth, if you find that you just can’t keep it together, quit. Ask your child to read with you later. Grinding through the process gives a little practice in decoding, but it carries too high a cost in motivation.”(Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 90). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

The final part is third grade and beyond. Since I’ve taught middle school language arts for five years, I was really curious about his thoughts on motivating struggling readers at this stage. Fluency is discussed in great detail in this part of the book, and it’s fascinating how Willingham connects fluency to spelling.  “It would be nice to get kids to fluency faster, especially given that national tests indicate only about half of kids have reached desired levels of fluency by fourth grade. Is there a way to hurry the process along? Three techniques can help. First, explicit spelling instruction seems to improve fluency. Although the spelling knowledge you use to read is not identical to the knowledge you use when you’re thinking about how to spell a word, there is some overlap. So that’s a reason to include spelling instruction in schools, even though we all use word processors with spell-checkers.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 137). Wiley. Kindle Edition.). I have worked in environments where administration feels that students don’t need to spend time on spelling after a certain grade, but it is evident that spelling does translate to an increase in fluency.

The next big concept Willingham tackles is reading comprehension. This is the number one struggle I see with struggling readers in middle and high school. The author addressing the importance to reading comprehension strategies which include ideas like activating prior knowledge, listening actively, summarizing, visualizing, etc.

However, it is important to note, as the author does, that texts become increasingly more challenging the older a child gets. By third grade students are starting to read more nonfiction texts (articles, textbooks) and they are expected to understand the material and then interact with it in some aspect. In addition to that, some schools have made the transition to digital literacy. Instead of simply stating a positive or negative stance, the author breaks down and examines the different components which include general tech savviness and the ability to evaluate information. He then follows up his thoughts with information about the digital revolution.

“One change wrought by the digital revolution is that kids are actually reading much more than they used to, even though reading is commonly thought to be in decline.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 156). Wiley. Kindle Edition.). If you think about what students today are doing, this makes total sense. Kids are constantly reading tweets, captions on Instagram, blogs posts, etc. They may not be reading novels, but they are constantly reading.

Overall, I am in love with this book. The ideas and suggestions are explained in a clear, concise manner that is extremely user friendly for those not familiar with the education or reading world. It is the perfect book for any parent because it addresses all stages of reading. It is the perfect book for an educator to use to provide parents with guidance.

Damaged Goods Book Review

I have always been a huge reader, especially with young adult literature. Over the last few years I have followed The YA Gal (Jennifer Bardsley) on Facebook. I always find her posts honest, which is one of the reasons why I like her. She just released her new book, Damaged Goods, a few weeks ago and sent free copies to those interested in writing a review. I totally took advantage of this opportunity and want to share my thoughts about her book. Damaged Goods is a sequel.

damaged-goods

This post is for teachers of middle and high school and parents.

This is from my review on Amazon:

I’m an avid reader of young adult literature and a teacher, so it can take a lot to impress me with a new book. I found Damaged Goods to be an interesting futuristic read that really makes the reader reflect on current trends in society. I read the book in two sittings because it was that good I had to read past my bedtime.
The plot was not as predictable as I thought it would be. It jumps right into the story and the plot moves along at a steady speed. There were a couple of twists that really accelerated the plot in the right parts, especially towards the end, that felt very natural. I loved the theme of social media and how it can change society, which is something we don’t always think about. The extremes that Bardsley went to were risky, but worked in her favor and got her message across clearly.
I really enjoyed the character of Blanca in this novel because of her realness. Her emotions and reactions to the events are realistic and relatable to girls of all ages. She’s a strong young woman, but is still very vulnerable.
Overall, I would recommend Damaged Goods to any lover of young adult literature. The plot is great and the characters are relatable and likable. I can’t wait to read more about Blanca and the next chapter of her life.

For Teachers:

*This book would be a fabulous literature circle option for science fiction for grades 7-12. It falls under themes such as: futuristic, good vs. evil, friendship, and technology.

For Parents:

This book is great for a child:

* reading at a seventh grade reading level and up

*with an interest in science fiction and social media

*who likes books such as The Uglies and Divergent

 

Reading Aloud

Research shows that reading aloud consistently at all ages helps with word recognition, comprehension, higher order thinking skills, and so much more.

I decided to experiment with this idea during my third year of teaching when I was a literacy support teacher for sixth and seventh grade. I was working with students who were below proficient on standardized tests, who struggled with reading, and who didn’t like or want to read. I chose my books carefully (Divergent in 6th and Double Identity in 7th) and started my read aloud. I would read for five minutes at the beginning of every class and we would have a quick discussion based on a question.why-read

To this day, this was the best thing I have ever done as a teacher. It was amazing to see how well my students responded to this activity every day. The fact that I made reading aloud part of my classroom routine was not only good classroom management, but also allowed kids time to appreciate and develop a love of reading. Unfortunately, my supervisor at the time did not agree with my use of class time, and at the end of the year I was non-renewed because I wasn’t a “good fit”. Even now almost three years later, I still wouldn’t change how I spent those first five minutes of my class.

Today’s post is about incorporating reading aloud into daily classroom and home life, so this is meant for both parents and teachers. Sometimes reading aloud isn’t just the adult reading to the child, but can be the child reading to the adult, or a child reading to another child.

Teachers

  1. Class read aloud. For the last few years I have incorporated a read aloud during the first few minutes of my classes. They should be between 5-7 minutes (depending if you have a block schedule or not) and each session should end in some sort of a discussion to check for understanding. This can be done at all grade levels (yes, even high school). Some things to remember for a class read aloud:
    1. Make sure the book is appropriate for the class. The text should be equivalent to the grade level or a little higher. Since the book is being read aloud along with a discussion after every reading, you can challenge students with a more complex text.
    2. The book is engaging! It’s hard to carve out class time in general, let alone every day, so you want to make it worth the time. Choose a text that will have students excited to read, and that you enjoy.
    3. Be consistent with the time. When I taught in a block schedule I would read for seven minutes then post a question for kids to respond to for about a minute, then we would discuss answers for two minutes. When I taught in a 40- minute class, I cut my reading time down to five minutes and responsepartner-reading sharing down to one minute. It’s so important to keep the consistency because students will get used to the timing. However, some days when my timer goes off my students beg for a few more minutes. It’s so hard to say no when this happens, and almost every time I give in, although I warn them they may have additional work, but they never seem to mind. As a teacher, use your judgment. Some days you can read for a few more minutes, others it’s just not possible, but you want to keep the “usual” reading time as consistent as possible. **Save time on student sharing by using technology tools like Padlet, Google classroom, Random Name Picker, etc.**
    4. Recap! Always make sure you recap the last reading before moving on to a new section. This is a great pre-reading strategy to help students prepare for the next reading, and it also catches up any kids who missed a reading.
    5. Be excited! I think one of the reasons why my read aloud times were so
      successful was because I was legitimately excited for them myself, and my kids knew it.
  2. Small group read aloud. For upper elementary, middle school, and high school lots of lessons involve analyzing a text as a small group. This is a great opportunity for students to read aloud to one another. Most of the time, the set up of this activity involves students reading, highlighting, and discussing a text and answering questions, so all you would need to do is have students incorporate reading the text aloud. Depending on the groups, I either let students determine who reads what sections (everyone has to read something) or I instruct them to read one paragraph or one page each.
  3. Partner read aloud. This is often a concept seen in elementary classrooms because of the many benefits, but it can be used in all grades. Students are able to hear and see reading habits of a peer. The teacher can choose partners based on reading level, high student and low student, so students can learn from one another. The teacher can also give the option for students to choose a partner, allowing them to work with someone they are comfortable with, which is half the battle with some students.

Parents. Reading aloud is a great way to help your child with reading skills and develops a love of reading.

  1. Pick a time to read. Most families are super busy all day and don’t have a chance toread-aloud-everyday really sit down until bedtime, which is what makes it the most popular time for family reading. Whatever time works for your family, keep it consistent. Some nights it will change or not happen at all, but for the most part keep the time consistent.
  2. Pick a spot. Along with the time consistency, you want to dedicate a special reading place. It could be your bed, the child’s bed, or a special chair.
  3. Involve the whole family. Kids learn so much just by watching their parents, so it’s good to have the whole family involved in reading. The goal is to get everyone involved in the read aloud in some way, even if it’s just listening along. I’ve been reading aloud to Molly since she was born, and we make it a point to read every night before we put her to sleep. I’m normally the one that reads to her because my husband isn’t a big book reader, but he will read articles and blogs. He knows how important reading is to me, so he participates by choosing the books and listening on the floor.
  4. On the go reading. Sometimes reading at home just isn’t possible, and that’s okay. Growing up I spent most of my time in the car traveling from one activity to another. This is still true for many parents today, so it can be challenging to get some read aloud time in. However, it is possible. Option 1: Read in the car. My mom actually had my sister read aloud to her while she would drive. It was a great way for my sister to practice reading aloud because my mom could help her with decoding and reading comprehension. My sister would stop and ask questions periodically and the two of them would discuss the reading. It did take them a while to finish the book, but those car ride sessions still allowed them to practice great read aloud strategies. Option 2:Read at the event. Parents are always waiting for one activity to end and another to begin, so use this down time to read with your child. The great part about technology today is that so many books and articles are available digitally, so you always have a text at your fingertips. You could also leave a bag of books in your car for situations like this. This would be best for younger children because they rely on pictures to comprehend the stories, and many digital books are tiny so the visual is hard to see.

Usborne knows how important reading aloud is to children, so they have a whole collection dedicated to read aloud books.

*Aesop’s Stories for Little Children five-min-bedtime-stories

*Big Book of Little Stories

*Five-Minute Bedtime Stories

*10 Ten-Minute Stories

*10 More Ten-Minute Stories

* Animal Stories for Bedtime

*Fairy Tales for Bedtime

If you’re interested in purchasing any of these titles, or other Usborne product, click here.