Thursday, January 28, 2010

Learning To Walk: Update

I'm blogging in fits and starts lately, but it's for a good cause. My Internet was down on Monday and Tuesday, and I've been observing some grade school reading and writing classes. I'm sure next week will bring another outpouring of what I've learned.

I am also still in the process of reading and rereading The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease and Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf.

Back in September, I posted a powerful passage from Johnson and Louis's Literacy Through Literature that likened learning to read to learning to walk. In Proust and the Squid, author Maryanne Wolf includes a quote from Penelope Fitzgerald that reminded me of the Johnson and Louis passage:
Twice in your life you know you are approved of by everyone -- When you learn to walk and when you learn to read.
I am positively obsessed with giving my students the key to that kind of approval. Soon, I will tell you a bit about a sixth grader I'm working with who reads at a second grade level. This student is so sweet and earnest, and has devised ingenious strategies to make up for a lack of reading skill. I am determined to figure out how to help. Stay tuned and I'll tell you how I did it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Why I Love This Job

Yesterday was one of my most frustrating days at our after-school literacy program. Everyone was just a bit more squirrelly than normal, and I might have been a bit too tired. But this note from a 3rd grade student who left the program put me on cloud nine.

I would love to think I actually taught this child how to learn, but I have to remain humble. In all honesty, his parents probably forced him to write it. But I have it hanging up on my wall nonetheless.

Clippings: 1.21.10

New research is shedding light on Broca's area, a center of reading activity in the brain.

Braille is being replaced by technology that many consider far superior.

Grow Up With Books offers Netflix-style children's book rentals.

Researchers in the UK argue that "textisms" such as LOL might bolster phonemic awareness, and thus general reading ability.

Numerous studies are decrying the death of recess in American primary schools.

Babelhut discusses the literacy benefits of learning to cook.

And lists their 100 Best Education Blogs of 2009.

(Illustration by Flickr user Labguest. Thanks!)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Media Use By Young Americans Rises Sharply

The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) just published Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds, the third in a series of "large-scale, nationally representative surveys" about how young people use various forms of media. According to KFF, it is "among the largest and most comprehensive publicly available sources of information about media use among American youth." The survey reveals that 8-18 year-olds devote more than seven hours a day to various types of entertainment media, and that much of that time is spent using more than one type of media.

This short documentary produced by KFF provides a glimpse of the study's findings.

An article in the New York Times (If Your Kids Are Awake, They're Probably Online) reports that the study's authors, "who had concluded in 2005 that use could not possibly grow further," were "stunned" by the results.

I would encourage anyone with interest in these matters to read the study or the press release themselves. Below, I will paste some of the findings that caught my eye.

Mobile Media Usage
"over the past five years, there has been a huge increase in ownership [of mobile devices] among 8- to 18-year-olds: from 39% to 66% for cell phones, and from 18% to 76% for iPods and other MP3 players."

"...young people now spend more time listening to music, playing games, and watching TV on their cell phones (a total of :49 daily) than they spend talking on them (:33)."

Media in the Home
"About two-thirds (64%) of young people say the TV is usually on during meals, and just under half (45%) say the TV is left on 'most of the time' in their home..." "Seven in ten (71%) have a TV in their bedroom."

"The amount of time young people spend with media has grown to where it's even more than a full-time work week." -Drew Altman, Ph.D., President and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Effect on Grades
"About half (47%) of heavy media users say they usually get fair or poor grades (mostly Cs or lower), compared to about a quarter (23%) of light users. These differences may or may not be influenced by their media use patterns."

Types of Media Consumption
"Time spent with every medium other than movies and print increased over the past five years: :47 a day increase for music/audio, :38 for TV content, :27 for computers, and :24 for video games. TV remains the dominant type of media content consumed, at 4:29 a day, followed by music/audio at 2:31, computers at 1:29, video games at 1:13, print at :38, and movies at :25 a day."

"Over the past 5 years, time spent reading books remained steady at about :25 a day, but time with magazines and newspapers dropped (from :14 to :09 for magazines, and from :06 to :03 for newspapers). The proportion of young people who read a newspaper in a typical day dropped from 42% in 1999 to 23% in 2009. On the other hand, young people now spend an average of :02 a day reading magazines or newspapers online"

"7th-12th graders report spending an average of 1:35 a day sending or receiving texts. (Time spent texting is not counted as media use in this study.)"

"practically every waking minute -except for time in school - using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device..."

I am sure I'll write more about this as I get deeper into the study, but for now I'll leave you with a quote from the above-mentioned New York Times article:

Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Boston who directs the Center on Media and Child Health, said that with media use so ubiquitous, it was time to stop arguing over whether it was good or bad and accept it as part of children’s environment, “like the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat.”

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

James Geary: The Power of Metaphor

Why did so many people take out mortages based on the assumption that housing prices would continue to climb? Professional aphorist James Geary argues that it may be due to the fact that "climb" in that sense is an "agent metaphor." Agent metaphors, which imply the deliberate action of a living thing pursuing a goal, are very seductive to the human mind.

If you are a lover of metaphor, you will love Geary's short TED talk, posted below.

And, a bonus metaphor from one of The Greats, John Prine:
Some humans ain't human. Some people ain't kind.
You open up their hearts and here's what you'll find:
A few frozen pizzas; some ice cubes with hair;
A broken popsicle; you don't want to go there.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Clippings: 1.14.10

A National Literacy Trust (UK) survey
showed that students' online technology use "drives their enthusiasm" for other kinds of writing.

Literacy Toolbox is a great place to find literacy games and activities. For example, here's a list of online literacy games for pre-readers.

ProProfs provides a free online flashcard-maker. Not perfect, but pretty cool.

The Economist reports that the Harry Potter books have been an economic stimulus package all by themselves. (Hat tip to Jen Robinson's Book Page and Omnivoracious.)

SEDL provides an interactive Cognitive Framework for learning to read. This is a stellar graphic - it would be perfect if people could embed it (hint).

And finally, the video of the week: Everything's Amazing And Nobody's Happy by comedian Louis C K.

(Picture courtesy of Flickr user Archigeek. Thanks!)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Notes: Dr. Ginger Campbell Interviews Dr. Maryanne Wolf

As I mentioned the other day, I'm immersed (now in my second reading) in Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. The author, Dr. Maryanne Wolf is the director of The Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University.

Anyone who loves reading or is passionate about helping others learn to read will find this book riveting. Among other things, Wolf sets out to tell us about the development of different writing systems over time, how the human brain "rearranges itself" to make reading possible, and what happens in the brains of those who have difficulty learning to read.

A search for interviews of Dr. Wolf led me to the Brain Science Podcast, which is conducted by Dr. Ginger Campbell, an emergency physician who has been blogging about brain science since 2006. I first listened to Podcast #24 which, over the course of about an hour, concentrates on some of the main ideas of Proust and the Squid. I would recommend it for those who do not intend to read the book or who need a refresher.

This morning, I listened to Campbell's interview of Wolf. Both are quite engaging (Wolf's voice reminds me, in a way that reveals how much of a geek I am, of Barbara Kingsolver's voice).

As I said, if you have any interest in reading, you will find this compelling. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the interview. All are from Dr. Wolf.

“Language is what prepares a child to read.”

“Nothing is better in the very beginning than the simple act of reading and speaking to your child. That does not take money; it simply takes time and love.”

“Reading is a long, beautiful process that has many parts and can be arrested in many phases of development" "…it begins literally on the lap of the beloved who is first reading to us and we’re catching by hook and by crook all kinds of information from that loved one’s voice…”

Regarding children experiencing "word poverty," who upon arrival at Kindergarten have heard millions fewer words than their peers: “… that means their brain is literally processing language at a different level with a different level of sophistication and we who are determined to educate all our children to reach their potential have to be so serious about what those differences are at the Kindergarten door.”

Regarding the ever-more-common attempts to make children learn to read at early ages (3-5, say): “On the backs of three-year-olds are being visited the anxieties of parents.” These attempts are “pedagogically and physiologically premature and unnecessary.”

Dr. Wolf also refers to this article by Niel Swinney in the Boston Globe of October 28, 2007. The article, called "Rush, Little Baby" is about the aforementioned attempts by parents to hurry up the process of learning to read.

Also, Dr. Wolf makes reference to the book Leisure: The Basis of Culture, by Josef Pieper. She mentioned it in the context of her fears that the Digital Age is robbing us of the experience of deep, meaningful, enjoyable reading.

That's all for now, though I will certainly write about and refer to this fantastic book more in the future. I wholeheartedly recommend the summary and the interview by Dr. Ginger Campbell. In fact, a perusal of the Brain Science Podcast site is likely to yield something of interest to nearly "anyone with a brain," as she puts it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Photograb Letter Recognition Game - Medium Difficulty

A month ago, I posted a game that I created using Photograb, a very cool game-design tool available for free from ShuffleBrain. It's intended to let people make games using pictures on their Facebook or Flickr pages, but I thought it might be a good way to teach letters and words.

I set out this morning to create a very easy Alphabet game. As I mentioned the other day, I've been reading Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf. She tells me that the ability to recognize and name a letter is a very good predictor of future reading success. I thought a game like this might help burn these letter images into the brains of my young students.

As I said, this was supposed to be easy, but it is even moderately difficult to me. I'll try a very basic one later. For now, enjoy! (And a BIG thank you to ShuffleBrain for allowing me to embed this game!!)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Game: Erase The Face - CrossWord Edition

All Ages
10-20 Minutes
Best in Small Groups

A month ago I told you about "Erase The Face," a variation of Hangman that my students love. It's a great game, but I found that my more-advanced students guessed the words too quickly, negating much of the benefit for them and for the younger students.

So, I invented a new version. I got the idea while doing last Tuesday's NYT crossword and I am calling it "Erase The Face - CrossWord Edition" until I think of a better name.

All you need is a writing utensil and a surface. Since I'm working with small groups of students, I use my whiteboard. This could easily be done with paper and pencil, of course.

First, you need to make your grid. I have found that grids containing six or seven words can be constructed
in five minutes or so. I try to use high-frequency words, or "sight words." I use a list in the back of "Word Matters" by Pinnell and Fountas, but you can find all kinds of lists online. Pick a long word to start, and then build off of that.

On the board, draw your grid, a box for wrong answers, a "Word Bank," the alphabet, and any kind of face you like. I started writing the alphabet on the board because it greatly reduced the amount of time it took my
students to guess a letter.

One by one, students guess letters. If they guess a letter that is in your grid, fill in the boxes. If not, write the letter in the Wrong Answers box and erase part of the face. If you want to really get them going, make them erase their own facial features at the same time. For example, erase the nose and say, "Everybody erase your nose!" Guaranteed giggles all around.

When a student completes a word, make sure everyone can see it and then write it into the Word Bank. I do this to make sure everyone gets a good impression of the word. Also, some students might have trouble seeing through all of the boxes or reading vertically, so this will help them get something out of it.

The game ends when the grid is filled in or when the face is erased, whichever comes first. I have played this game a hundred times and I have never let the students lose. What would be the point of that?

I think this game has a lot going for it. It is a great way to reinforce vocabulary. I use it in conjunction with my "Word Wall," which has the 100 most frequently-used words Velcroed to it. My students have spent hours studying this board as a result. You could do this for new vocabulary from a textbook or a story just as easily.

Furthermore, I think that this game teaches some
essential word-solving skills. The students really want to know what that word is, and as they try to figure it out they are compelled to imagine what sounds and letter would fit with the ones already guessed. It's kind of like sounding out words in reverse.

The CrossWord Edition of this game is an attempt at differentiation. I can incorporate words of varying difficulties, and I have found that I can get students of many different reading levels (including adults) engaged simultaneously.

I would welcome suggested variations. Also, if you can think of a catchier name, feel free to suggest it in the comments.

Update 1/19/10: After trying it a few more times, I've decided to use 4-5 words in a puzzle instead for 6-8. If you have older students or especially engaged ones, you can use more, but I've found that I lose them towards the end.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Phoneme Breakdown - Woodchuck Twister

Here's a breakdown of the phonemes present in a popular tongue twister. I am not a linguist, speech language pathologist, or anything else with an 'ist' on the end, so this should be considered a rather crude analysis. Still, I thought it might help me be more intentional about what sounds I'm strengthening in my classroom.

I am still learning about the phonetic alphabet. For this post, I am using this English phoneme chart. I am open to information and advice about how I might refine my knowledge. In this post, I will use my best approximation of the symbol on the chart and also provide a word that exemplifies the sound I'm referring to. /e/ means 'e as in pet', for example. The number behind the phoneme show us how many times it appeared in the passage.

OK, we'll start with a classic:

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

/h/ 'hat': 1
/au/ 'cow': 1
/m/ 'man': 1
/^/ 'luck' : 5
/tf/ 'chop': 5
/w/ 'wet': 4
/u/ 'good': 6
/d/ 'door': 6
/k/ 'cat': 6
/ago/ 'ago': 2
/I/ 'pit': 1
/f/ 'fan': 1

So there you have it! I don't expect this be a revelation to you, but I think that if we had many rhymes and tongue twisters broken down in this way, we would know where to turn when we encounter students struggling with certain sounds.