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Bright Ideas Lesson Ideas

Weaving Literacy Into Learning Numbers

Here’s a fun way to help your child expand their vocabulary when you aren’t even “working” on reading.

Chick Pea is working on a weekly art project that is geared towards helping her learn the numbers that are multiples of ten. Each week, she gets to glue the appropriate number of objects onto the numbers, counting them out (with Ana’s help when needed). There’s also a corresponding sentence that accompanies each number that describes what’s going on in the picture. These will later be put into a book that she can look through on her own for review.

She loves to do art projects, and it’s really helping her get a concrete idea of amounts of objects. That alone makes this a great activity. But while I was admiring her work last night, Ana pointed out something very interesting about the project that I hadn’t picked up on. Can you see it?

Notice that the words “speedy”  and “fierce” are used to describe the animals in the project. This is important because Chick Pea doesn’t know what these words mean–at least she didn’t before. She knows what “fast” and “angry” mean. Those are words she can naturally understand because they are used so often. And even though she may not make sentences with the new words on a daily basis, just being exposed to them is helping to expand her vocabulary.

Another activity Ana has planned once an entire book is finished is to point out to her that all of the sentences start the same: “I am as…”. Notice how those small words are one line by themselves. This can be used to help her expand her bank of sight words and also introduce the concept of similes.

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Articles In The News What Others Are Doing

Literacy On the Web

One of the issues we’re already concerned about is setting a good reading example for our kids. We feel like it’s important to not only read to them, but for them to see us reading on our own as well. Ana is much more apt to read books than I am. I’ve always been a pretty voracious reader. I’m constantly reading, but 90% of my reading now occurs online. I feel like I need to make a conscious effort to read books when little ones are around because I’m afraid they’ll associate a computer as some type of toy and won’t understand that what I do with the computer is actually reading. But even if they realize that I’m reading, is that the kind of reading kids need?

Yesterday’s New York Times has an excellent article discussing the changing face of reading and how it affects literacy. Reading online is increasingly popular with young people, and the experience of reading online resembles more of a zig-zag-bob-and-weave than the linear beginning, middle, end type reading most of us grew up doing in books, magazines, and newspapers. When I was a kid, I was big fan of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books because they offered a little bit of control over the story, and the story could change. One of the reasons I love reading online is because the experience is similar, and it offers many more tangents. The difference is that those books I loved so much still had a beginning, middle, and end to their stories.

From my own experience, I think the big issue with reading online is that I don’t tend to get as much granularity as I would from a book. I use my online reading as more of a macro view of a subject. Although I can get many more vantage points on a subject, I tend to miss out on the details. I tend to use what I read online as a guide to what I want to read more about in a book; the overview that I get online helps me decide what I’d like to learn about in detail. But, just as the article suggests, I think the way my brain works has definitely been changed by the availability of information we now enjoy.

I think it’s interesting that for kids born in the last ten years or so, this way of getting information is perfectly normal, and for the generation before mine (at least a large number of them), they haven’t really transitioned to life online the way many in my generation have. It’s definitely a strange spot to be in, having experience “extreme reading” both before and after the presence of the web.

Still, I tend to agree with this statement from the article:

Even those who are most concerned about the preservation of books acknowledge that children need a range of reading experiences. “Some of it is the informal reading they get in e-mails or on Web sites,” said Gay Ivey, a professor at James Madison University who focuses on adolescent literacy. “I think they need it all.”

What do you guys think? Does reading online really count as reading?

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In The News My Humble Opinion

Where Does Literacy Begin?

Well, according to Esther A. Jantzen’s article in the LA Times, literacy begins at home, and I couldn’t agree more. She had this to say about the study which found that Bush’s Reading First program is not working:

I doubt if anyone with experience in urban education is surprised at the announcement. We’re disappointed that, once again, a generation of public school kids didn’t get whatever is needed in order to learn to read well.

But we’re not surprised. We’ve been barking up the wrong tree a long time.

I’ve actually been watching and waiting for the inevitable finger-pointing that was bound to happen once the news spread about the lack of success the Reading First program has had in improving student performance in urban schools. It should come as no surprise that the blame be tossed around and passed down from office to office before finally landing in the laps of the schools and teachers. While I knew the finger would also eventually be pointed at parents, I didn’t expect it to be done this quickly.

Although I think some blame belongs to the schools and the administration of the program in general, I completely agree with the author’s views in regards to the importance of starting literacy in the home. She goes on to share the findings of an eye-opening study that was done on children’s vocabulary and literacy; an important one that most parents (and many educators) are sadly, unfamiliar with:

They found that by age 3 children of welfare parents heard 10 million words, those with working-class parents heard 20 million words, and those with professional parents heard 30 million words. In addition, with children 13-18 months old in welfare families, almost 80% of the feedback to the child was negative, in working-class families about 50% was negative, and in professional families more than 80% of feedback to the child was affirmative.

It turns out that verbal development is not so much about IQ, parental love or socioeconomic status. These skills are related to how much a child is talked to and the tone of the communications. Literacy is founded on words heard and words used. What this means is that the critical place that literacy develops is the home, not the school, and that the crucial intervention period is very early in the life of a child.

This is powerful information for any parent to have and act on! I wish every parent would make it his or her personal mission to assure that their child gets the best start possible by simply following what this study suggests: talking and interacting with your child in a positive manner as much as possible! Jantzen goes on to supply several realistic ideas for parents, companies, and the community at large to make this change happen in homes across the country. Having worked at a couple of urban schools myself where parental involvement meant calling a social worker, I can only hope that her message is heard.

I can at least help by spreading her word and by providing parents the knowledge to teach their kids to read at home through our site! Read the whole article here to find out more about her ideas.

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In The News

We Love Free and We Love Spanish

I love it when big companies reach out to help communities and make resources available for free! To honor El Dia de Los Niños – a Latin holiday that celebrates children as the center of the Latino family, the NCFL (National Center for Family Literacy) has released a new Spanish version of their magazine Cultivating Readers (Cultivando el hábito de la lectura). The magazine gives parents activities, ideas, and support to help their kids learn literacy and language skills.

“Parents are in the best position to instill in their children a lifelong love of learning,” said Sharon Darling, president & founder of NCFL. “Studies show that children who spend time reading with their parents are more likely to become accomplished readers themselves. This magazine will help parents incorporate effective, research-based literacy and reading activities into their daily routines. Many Hispanic parents need information in their native language, so that they can fully understand the reading continuum and become comfortable with the information without worrying about translation.”

The 16-page magazine includes activities and strategies to increase the reading readiness and school success specifically for three age groups — infants and toddlers, preschoolers, and students from kindergarten through grade three.

I think this is a wonderful thing and I hope many parents take advantage of it! Read the whole article here.