Singing: A Joyful and Meaningful Bridge to Literacy

by Renee Dinnerstein, 2017 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

Renee Dinnerstein“Look Renée, it stopped raining!” Akhira pointed to the window and twenty-four pairs of eyes followed her finger. Sure enough, the incessant rain had stopped and we could, at last, have outdoor play. But for my kindergarten children the ceasing of the rain also meant that at our morning meeting we would all happily sing Blue Skies.

Singing together infused my classroom with good feelings. When Vicky had a problem separating from her father one morning, we all solemnly sang our Comfort Song – “What should I do if my best friend is crying? What should I do? I don’t know what to say. I take my friend in my arms and I hold her.” Of course the children then wanted to continue singing verses for their daddies, mommies, uncles, aunts, sisters, cats and puppies. Eventually Vicky too forgot her separation anxieties and joined in the singing.

I believe that singing is a powerful tool for building community, and not only in classrooms. During the civil rights movement, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, group singing helped freedom fighters hold onto their courage in the most difficult of circumstances. “The freedom songs are playing a strong and vital role in our struggle,” said the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., “they give the people new courage and a sense of unity. I think they keep alive a faith, a radiant hope in the future, particularly in our most trying hours.”

Community building in the classroom is probably our first goal as teachers. When we form a cohesive, caring community, class rules seem to easily fall into place. Children help and support each other, bullying becomes practically a non-issue and maintaining discipline is not the teacher’s priority.

Before I continue writing about the importance and joy of singing with children, I must address the issue of voice. Many teachers have told me that they really cannot sing in school because they don’t have good singing voices. Truth be told, my voice is somewhat flat and I have difficulty carrying a tune. However, that never seemed to bother the children in any of my classes.

We sang every day and for many different purposes. As we studied bridges, we sang Love Can Build a Bridge, which led to an interesting discussion of metaphors. Maggie described a kiss as the bridge of lips between two people and Nils noticed that a rainbow could be a bridge from our earth to the sky. During the years that I co-taught with Connie Norgren, combining her first grade class and my kindergarten class each day for Choice Time, Inquiry Studies and group sings, Connie, a wonderful guitarist and folk singer, taught us many ecology songs (Think About the Earth; The Garden Song), freedom songs (Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around; Rosa Parks; This Little Light of Mine) and songs from different cultures, (Des Colores; Que Bonita Bandera; Santa Lucia)

Many literacy skills can grow out of the joyful experiences of singing together. Here are but a few of them.

Phonemic Awareness

When children sing and clap out songs, they are also playing around with sounds. They segment them and then put them back together again.  They tap and clap out rhythms. Consider the song Baby Beluga where the rhythm spaces the song into syllables, “Ba-by Be-lu-ga, in the deep blue sea” or the chant Miss Mary Mack:  “Miss Mar-y Mack, Mack Mack. All dressed in black, black, black. With sil-ver buc-kles all down her back, back, back.”

Rhyme

Because there are so many rhyming songs it’s almost difficult to know which ones to highlight. For starters there’s Down By the Bay, Jenny Jenkins, and This Old Man (which is also a counting song). Singing songs that mix up initial consonants such as in Willoughby, Wallaby Woo bring out lots of giggles but also involve children in thinking about the sounds of the consonants in addition to the rhymes.

Alphabetic Awareness

Besides the old standby of the ABC song, don’t forget about A You’re Adorable. My class loved to sit in a circle and write the letters on each other’s back as they sang. Then they rubbed their hands across the back that they wrote on to erase the letters, turned around and re-sang the song as they wrote in upper case! It was a non-threatening way for children to practice writing the alphabet and it gave me the opportunity to casually walk around the circle, singing and noticing who was still having difficulty with letter formation.

Phonemic Awareness and Spelling Patterns

A song that opens up opportunities for the engaging activity of going on hunts for spelling patterns is I Can’t Spell Hippopotamus.  After we’ve had many opportunities to sing that funny song and come up with some simple spelling patterns (can, man, pan or bet, let, set) children set themselves up in partnerships, get sticky-notes and pencils, and peruse the classroom looking for spelling patterns on charts and in books around the room. Then we get back together and sing again, incorporating their notes into the song. It’s a game, it’s a song, it’s a spelling lesson, and it’s fun!

One to One Word Recognition

After children know a song really well (“by heart”), put the lyrics on a chart and the children will begin making connections between the words that they have been singing and the words that are written on the paper. Children can then take turns being the teacher and, with a wooden stick (I’ve used a chopstick), point to the words as the class reads and sings along. Children might take turns looking for sight words on the song chart and underlining them. Then they might put circles or boxes around words in the song that keep repeating. The key importance here is to wait until the children have internalized the words of the song aurally before making them visual. When you do that, the print is meaningful to the reader.

In June, I often celebrated our year of singing by recording the children singing together, making copies of the tape (would it be a CD today?) for each child and adding a sing-along songbook.  I recently met a former student, now a college graduate, who told me that for years after kindergarten she listened to the tape and that the family played it when they went on long trips so that they could all sing along together, karaoke style!

I like to keep in mind the words from an African spiritual that encourages us to “sing when the spirit says sing,” and to bring spirit and joy into each school day. Joyful singing can become a bridge to many joyful literacy learning experiences!

 

Renee Dinnerstein is a featured speaker at our 2017 Literacy for All Conference, October 22-24th.  She will be presenting on Monday and Tuesday of the Conference.  Click here for detailed information on all of our workshops.

Navigating The Literacy Continuum to Guide Responsive Teaching

by Helen Sisk, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative Faculty

 

helen-siskTeaching in a responsive manner requires us to think reflectively about literacy growth by noticing and analyzing student talk and written work. We reflect on why students respond in certain ways and know how to help them take on next steps in building a complex and flexible literacy processing system. It takes a skillful teacher to do this effectively.

One tool that can guide our decision-making is The Literacy Continuum: A Tool for Assessment, Planning, and Teaching (Fountas and Pinnell, 2017) It is a valuable resource to support us in observing what students know and understand as readers and writers and it informs our teaching. It is organized around eight literacy learning continua that span grades PreK-8. Not only is it aligned with literacy standards, it includes detailed descriptions of student progress over time.

The Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University is excited to offer an introduction to this continuum during our summer institute for teachers of grades K-6: “Navigating the Literacy Continuum to Guide Responsive Teaching,” This institute is an opportunity to delve into the new, expanded edition of the Literacy Continuum, and learn how to use it as a guide to observe, plan, teach, and reflect on literacy teaching.

The reading focus in this institute includes extending teacher and student talk for effective processing during interactive read aloud and shared reading. Two other components that further address comprehension include guided reading and writing about reading.  All of these literacy elements will be explored.

The writing focus begins by understanding the continuum of word study and how it progresses over the school year and across grade levels. We will study student writing to develop purposeful mini-lessons and the talk surrounding teacher-student conferences to identify strengths and next steps to address in teaching.

Come hear Irene Fountas discuss the Literacy Continuum and its impact on teaching and learning. Work in small groups with literacy trainers and other teachers to refine your practice and expand your knowledge about the teaching of reading and writing.

We hope to see you here at Lesley University for our Summer Literacy Institute, July 10-13, 2017. Register now!

Technology Paves the Way for Wider Audience

By Guest Blogger Meenoo Rami, 2015 Literacy for All Keynote Speaker, Author, and Teacher

In late February, Pew Internet and American Life Project published the How Teachers Are Using Technology at Home and Their Classrooms report. The results aren’t surprising:

  • 92% of teacher respondents say the Internet has a “major impact” on their ability to access content, resources, and materials for their teaching;
  • 69% say the Internet has a “major impact” on their ability to share ideas with other teachers; and
  • 67% say the Internet has a “major impact” on their ability to interact with parents and 57% say it has had such an impact on enabling their interaction with students.

It’s commendable that a majority of teachers are finding ways to bring digital tools into the learning process and help students “access content.” But now we need to work with students to create content as well.

Douglass Rushkoff, a prolific writer on the topic of technology and society, asks: “The real question is, do we direct technology, or do we let ourselves be directed by it and those who have mastered it?”

Yes, our students need information literacy skills. But they also need the ability to code, curate, and create content to share with a wider audience. When students can reach an audience of more than one (their teacher), they can get feedback from variety of sources, become more invested in their work, and gain valuable skills in the process.

So what does taking students’ work public look like? Check out some examples:

Mrs. Paluch’s Room

Mrs. Paluch, a third grade teacher in a charter school in Philadelphia, is making her students’ work public as they uncover the country of Brazil, complete a unit on fairy tales, and help out their kindergarten buddies. Parents, grandparents, and colleagues can catch a glimpse of the teaching and learning that is happening in this third grade classroom. Knowing that others will “see their work” motivates students and helps teachers like Mrs. Paluch reflect on their practice.

Monmouth County Vocational School District Student Showcase

Sarah Mulhern Gross offers a glimpse into an entire school community, pausing to highlight excellent student work. On this blog, you will find examples of student writing, artwork, presentations and much more. Carving out a space to give student work a digital spotlight emphasizes the point that students are writers and creators and not just consumers of content.

Stash Photo

During the second quarter, my students at the Science Leadership Academy produced a teen magazine called Stash. After examining articles after which they could model their own work, they created their own teen magazine, covering topics such as music, art, time management, and Philadelphia’s food scene. My students learned about everything from research to writing to design and layout. So far, more than 2,000 people have clicked on our magazine and examined the students’ work.

What are some examples you’ve seen lately that make students’ work public in compelling ways, motivating learners and letting community members know what actually happens in the classroom?

Meenoo Rami is the keynote speaker on Monday, November 16 at the 2015 Literacy for All conference in Providence, RI. Her keynote is entitled Teacher Practice in a Connected World (Grades K–8). She is also speaking on Monday from 10:30 am-12:00 pm and again from 1:30 pm–3:00 pm. The title of both of those sessions is Empowering Your Students (Grades K–8).

Discovering Cool Web 2.0 Tools to Enhance Literacy Teaching and Learning

by Cindy Downend

Now that summer vacation is here, why not spend a little time discovering some really exciting web tools that are great for engaging both students and teachers in literacy learning?   Here, in the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, we have been encouraging one another (and the teachers with whom we work) to integrate some web 2.0 tools into our teaching.  We have learned so much from one another, the teachers with whom we work, and notables in the field like Troy Hicks, Julie Coiro, and Nancy Anderson.

As we discover these new web tools, we have been highly intentional and purposeful in the way that we use them in our teaching.   It’s not about just using a 2.0 tool because it’s cool and flashy.  We really spend time thinking about how each particular tool may strengthen our teaching and make it easier for students to grasp the concepts we are presenting.

Listed below are just a few of the web tools that we have tried out and how they’ve been used.  I highly recommend that you visit the Edublog Teacher Challenge Blog.  This blog lists 26 different web tools, gives a definition and overview of each of their uses, provides a “teacher challenge” to get you started, and has many videos that support your experimentation.

So, happy experimenting and please share with us how you have been using web tools for your literacy teaching.

VoiceThread allows you to create an interactive slideshow using pictures, videos, documents, or even Powerpoint presentations.  You or your students can record video/audio that allows you to describe each slide in more detail.  But that’s not all…Viewers of your VoiceThreads can leave responses and comments to your VoiceThread.  This tool is excellent for supporting writing workshop.  I have seen it used for publishing a class poetry book, students created informational texts that they narrated, and one first grade class published their interactive writing about a class field trip to the zoo.   VoiceThread makes it really easy to share published works with families!

Wordle creates a “word cloud” that helps to interpret the meaning of the words by assigning font size according to how frequently the word appears in a text or is typed into the Wordle text box.  We have used Wordle for brainstorming and as a reflection tool at the end of a professional development session.  Below is a Wordle that was created during a session on reading fluency.

Glogster is a Web 2.0 tool used for creating an online interactive poster.  Glogster makes it easy to combine graphics, backgrounds, videos, pictures, sounds, text and even hyperlinks into really interesting online posters.   Glogster is a fabulous alternative to the traditional classroom poster project.