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.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Branching Out—Our Nonfiction Collection Needs to Address More Than “Animals”

My interest in informational texts and the importance of bringing them into classrooms and children’s hands has made me rethink a whole lot of things. In fact when I went into my basement to check out the nonfiction books I own, I was alarmed to find that so many are about animals. And when you consider all there is about the world for children to learn, it would seem that the books in our private and classroom collection should include titles for a wide variety of nonfiction subtopics—weather, transportation, astronomy, biology, history, etc.—you get the picture.

I’m happy to say that I’ve recently added three new titles to my nonfiction collection:
The Digestive System: What Makes Me Burp? by Sue Barraclough is an fine example of an expository text written with primary-grade students in mind. Each chapter title is written as a question, which prompts kids to find the answer as they read. In addition, it’s jam packed with gorgeous photographs and text features to held kids access and recall information, e.g. table of contents, labels, captions, close-ups, index, glossary. There are other books in this “Body Systems” series: The Circulatory System, The Respiratory System, The Sensory System, and The Skeletal and Muscular Systems.

A Is for Astronaut: Exploring Space from A to Z by Traci N. Todd and Sara Gillingham is, you guessed it, an alphabet book about space. Instead of lengthy paragraphs for each letter, there are several key words for each letter and a simple phrase to describe each word. For example, the word “cockpit” on the “C” page says that it is “the part of a spacecraft where the pilot sits.” The illustrations (a combination of gorgeous photos and vintage illustrations) are sure to pique children’s interest and the information is easily assessable to primary-grade readers.
The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeannette Winter a beautifully written biography about this world-renowned animal researcher and activist. In addition to learning about Jane Goodall’s life-long passion for learning about these primates (which seemed to begin with a toy chimpanzee given to her by her father), children also learn how important it is to “observe” what’s around them and follow their passion.

I’m excited about these books. What’s more…these three titles span three distinct nonfiction subgenres: expository text (digestive system), sequential texts (space from A to Z), and biography (Jane Goodall). We need to branch out on so many levels.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Noteworthy Informational Text Strategy Book

Let me tell you about a really cool book I found when preparing for some content area professional development I’ll be doing next week. It’s Barbara Moss and Virginia S. Loh’s 35 Strategies for Guiding Readers though Informational Texts. It’s a newly revised and expanded edition of Moss’s 25 Strategies for Guiding Readers

I love the way the book’s organized. Lessons are chunked together under the following categories: Getting Started Strategies, Building Background Strategies, Vocabulary Strategies, Comprehension Strategies, and Writing Strategies—although I must say that to me they’re ALL about comprehension. The strategies in this K-12 resource are accessible and applicable to children in kindergarten through grade 5. 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Yet Another Nod to Background Knowledge

I just returned from the International Reading Association Conference in Orlando, FL where I presented a session on "Re-Envisioning the Five Pillars of Reading." One pillar that I include in my re-envisioned paradigm is background knowledge since it's most essential in helping children comprehend what they read.

After the session, a teacher shared the title of this YouTube video that I'm now sharing with you. It's by cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham and it's called Teaching Content Is Teaching Reading. I highly recommend it. It's only ten minutes long and although the music is a tad annoying, the message—that kids need prior knowledge to comprehend text—is dead on. I hope you enjoy it, share your thoughts, and then, of course, pass it on.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Book Selection for Independent Reading: Reading Conferences "Yes"—Book Shopping Days "No"

Let me state right off that while I’m a huge fan of shopping—for clothes, shoes, cosmetics, etc.—I’m not a fan of book shopping days where young children go off to select books for independent reading from a basket of leveled texts. Quite often the results don’t match our expectations. Even though the books are “at their level,” children often have trouble reading them “cold” with the recommended 98 to 99 percent word accuracy. And the teacher misses the opportunity to guide students’ selections and help them work out some of the books’ more challenging aspects. Words, organization, or design, for example. This absence of teacher guidance and feedback is unfortunate.

That’s why I build book return and selection into our reading conferences. If children are emergent and early readers I either go with them to the leveled pots or bring several baskets to the conference table. Then I direct the child to select a couple she might like to try, and I also select a few I think might be a good match. From these pre-selected titles, the child selects three of four she’d like to have in her bag. Then she might have a go at reading several pages of one of them. This gives me an idea of how challenging or supportive the text in fact is. When children are transitional or fluent readers, they anticipate that they’ll be exchanging books that day and come to the conference with several titles in hand.

During the reading conference, we also discuss nonfiction topics the child is interested in learning more about, or I refer to the book preference notes I’ve already recorded in her reading notebook or to the reading inventory which accompany the child to the conference via the reading folder. Children can select “look” books that, while too difficult to read word-for-word, can provide interesting information through pictures and other text features.

The ability to independently choose books that are a good match to ability, interest, etc., is a skill that develops over time with teacher guidance and feedback. I have more input into children’s selection when they’re just starting off and gradually hand over more of the responsibility to them. (Please recall from my post on April 26 that during the first independent reading time of day children can read any book they want, regardless of level.) In addition, I teach students how to select books throughout the year during mini-lessons, and I excite them about the possibilities through the book talks I provide.