I have been teaching reading and writing for many years, mostly to 4th-8th graders. By the time they get to me, in reading we work on developing vocabulary, understanding the text and text structures, and deepening comprehension. Somewhere along the line, my students’ previous teachers taught them to decode the sounds, understand the words, and make sense of the text at their grade levels. Apparently, in many places that hasn’t been happening.
The podcast series, Sold a Story, is a game changer, unless you already knew or have been changed. The way many schools have been teaching reading has been mistaken, misguided, incomplete, because that’s how teachers were instructed to teach reading. In many places students were not taught to decode the words, to sound it out. While the comprehension strategies such as predicting and understanding the theme are great, first students have to be able to read the words.
Please listen to the series, Sold a Story. You won’t be disappointed.
Teachers, at times, argue about silly things. Years ago I walked into a classroom and into heated discussion that pitted Bloom’s Taxonomy against Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. (Really, I did!) While there were teachers on either side of the discussion, they were all arguing for the same thing: Good Questions! After listening for a while, our literacy coach wondered aloud, “How about using both to get the students think in lots of different ways about many different ideas?”
That’s the ticket! Let’s use the ideas of Bloom and Webb to motivate student thinking, speaking, and writing. If you haven’t revisited Bloom and Webb in a while, now might be a good time to review the questions you ask, think about your wait time, and consider who does most of the talking in your class. (Someone once told me that the person in class who is talking is the one who is doing the learning. It was probably that same literacy coach).
The resources (click on the pictures) are tools to get you thinking and to get your students thinking. Have high expectations for your students and they will rise to the challenges that you scaffold for them. All students can and do learn. We can help them.
Recently, I was reminded of the power of theater in education. Thinking about students who are new to English… but not completely new… I have been looking at improvisational theater exercises to get students talking. This is not a strategy to teach new vocabulary but to build fluency, spontaneity and confidence while speaking.
Imagine having two students create a skit where someone is lost and the other has to help the first person find his or her way. Imagine adding a third person who says that the first person is wrong. What would you say? What would you do? Can they ask for an additional person to assist?
Make it a little bit harder and open ended: Imagine students creating a skit based off of three nouns- pencil, stove, rake. Throw in a verb and shake things up a bit.
There are a million scenes that you can have students improvise based on anything that students need to practice. Try it; see what happens!
The short answer is: speak to your children in the language you know best. Oral language is the precursor to all literacy skills:
What you can think, you can say;
what you say you can write;
what you can write you can read.
When parents ask me what language they should use with their children I consistently tell them to use the language they know best. Most of the time the parents are non-English speakers wondering if they should speak with their children using the little English they know. “No,” I tell them.
When children are offered rich language in extended discourse they develop amazing vocabularies and complex sentences. If their caregivers offer them limited vocabulary and limited discourse that is what the children will develop. Because literacy skills transfer, the extended discourse will transfer once the children have the necessary vocabulary in the new language… but they can’t transfer what they do not know.
Speak to your children often and listen to their answers.
Have them tell you stories and ask follow-up questions.
Ask open ended questions (questions that require more than yes or no).
Ask them to explain more or tell you what that means.
Give them new vocabulary as you ask them questions and respond to their stories:
Child: I used that thing to cut cheese.
Adult: Oh, you used the cheese slicer.
Child: Yes, I used the cheese slicer and I cut a lot of cheese.
When you read with your children ask them questions such as:
What do you think will happen next?
Would you have done that?
How would you solve the problem?
Tell me the story
Talk, talk, talk!
There is much research about the importance of oral language. Give your child the gift of language through conversation and story telling.