Why Blog

I’m passionate about finding ways to simplify comprehension instruction and learning. I’m concerned that we are defining comprehension too narrowly as an accumulation of five or six meta-cognitive strategies when cultivating comprehension involves so much more than that. We need to help children acquire accurate fluent reading skills and strategies; build background knowledge; develop their oral language and vocabulary; make reading-writing connections, and acquire a repertoire of meta-cognitive strategies to use as and if needed.

So I invite you to join me in blogging about this ever-so-important topic. I look forward to hearing your ideas, teaching strategies, book recommendations, classroom stories, etc., basically anything that will inspire a healthy conversation among colleagues.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Building Background Knowledge at Home (Ask Sharon…an Advice Column for Teachers)

On March 13th Lauren wrote: “Sharon, I'm a mom of three who loves to read blogs about education and, in particular, reading. My oldest is 5 and amazes me everyday with the leaps and bounds in reading that children her age can make. I've been enjoying your blog, and I found the podcast very informative [see March 12th post]. I would love to hear some of your ideas for how parents can expand the background knowledge of their children. (As I comment to my daughter's teachers, we're a team in her education.) We read aloud zealously, talk to our kids as we go through the day and try to provide them with a range of experiences. I'd love to see your thoughts on this for parents.”

Dear Lauren,

You’re so right when you say that we’re a team…teachers and families working together. So it makes all the sense in the world for you to wonder what parents can do to help build their children’s background knowledge and, consequently, their comprehension. In addition, you’ve expressed three of the very most important things families can do—reading aloud to children, talking with them about how the world works, and exposing them to a variety of experiences so that they’ll have something to build on when they encounter similar experiences in books they read. I bet there’s not a teacher reading this blog post who doesn’t wish the same for every student in their class. Your children are so very lucky!

Here are some things you might also consider:

1. Learn from your child about what she’s most interested in learning. It’s always best to start with children’s interests and then branch out from there.

2. Once you find your child’s passions, gather several books on that topic and keep them in a special tote bag or basket to bear witness to the fact that there’s so much to learn on just this one topic. Keep adding to that bag or basket…but don’t limit yourself or your child to books. Provide writing tools for her to draw and write about what she knows and wonders about. Puzzles to manipulate. Games and activity books related to that topic. Learning about the world involves many facets and multiple talents.

3. As you read to and with your child, take the time to closely examine the pictures, as they hold a wealth of information. Nonfiction writers are open about the fact that the visuals in informational texts are every bit as important (perhaps even more so) as what’s written. So much information is conveyed through photos, scale drawings, charts, etc., so give them the time they deserve.

4. Look for opportunities to expand your child’s interests. For example, if she’s interested in elephants, start with elephants but then ease her into books about Africa or Asia so she can begin to explore the environments in which these amazing creatures live.

5. Don’t limit your child to “animals” even though children naturally gravitate toward animal books. It’s important to broaden her horizon and engage her in fascinating books on weather or space or the arctic.

6. And above all—make whatever you do with your child voluntary and fun. If you see her balking when you drag out the bag or basket of books, back off for the time being. Building background knowledge at home and at school is far too important to have the experience turn your child off to the experience.

Hope this helps… 

[FYI to all those new to this "Ask Sharon" column who may be wondering where I get the chutzpah to write an advice column "a la Ann Landers": I'm just having fun...seriously! But know that I do take your questions and my responses to heart!]  

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