The Buzz About Phonics and Word Study From Spelling Bees to Classrooms – Sparking Students’ Interest in Words

by Jillian Fountain, Intermediate/Middle Literacy Trainer, Lesley University Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

Jillian FountainLast month, ESPN aired the 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee.  You may have watched some of the contestants as they asked for the etymology of a word, the pronunciation again, or the familiar question, “Can you please use it in a sentence?”  The contestants certainly appeared nervous, but if you looked closely, you would also have recognized the moment when a child’s eyes glimmered, the corner of her mouth ticked up just a bit, and she allowed herself to exhale.  The expression on each contestant’s face in that moment of recognition made me realize something.  We, as educators, craft belief statements about literacy instruction, but often we leave word study out of these written proclamations.  Yet, learning about words and how they work impacts all aspects of literacy.

I am in awe of how much interest the spellers in the Scripps National Spelling Bee have in words and how they work, and I began to think about what I might begin to put in a belief statement about phonics, vocabulary, and spelling.

Students will develop curiosity and excitement about words and how they work.

When children feel excited about something, it drives them to discover more about it.  Students who are curious and excited about words will notice new words and share them with classmates, talk about favorite words, and use words or parts of words learned in various instructional contexts in their own reading, listening, speaking, and writing.  The energy they exhibit becomes infectious.

Students will use what they understand about words to expand their knowledge.

Phonics, spelling, and vocabulary are complex concepts that require many years to develop.  As adults, we continue to grow our understandings of words and how they work.  We also know that learning builds on learning, meaning that broad understandings get refined as students participate in reading, writing, speaking, and listening over time.  If during a word study minilesson, a class learned that adding the suffix –al to a noun makes it an adjective, meaning “related to,” the next time they encountered a word like chemical, the students would notice it and refer back to their previous learning.  In writing, if a student wanted to describe something that happens over and over again, he could think about how it is a cycle, and use his knowledge of the –al suffix to call it cyclical.

Phonics_Event_PhotoStudents will recognize relationships between words.

Words are closely connected with one another.  Synonyms, antonyms, homophones, homographs, words that have similar meanings that are not exactly the same, multiple meaning words, words that share the same base word, etc., turn language into a puzzle.  If students can spend time thinking about how words are related, it will deepen their understanding of words and how they work, as well as help them more quickly recognize words and their meanings, and more rapidly access words to use in talk and writing.

Students will use their knowledge of words to more clearly understand, and more precisely communicate. 

Ultimately, the point of teaching phonics, spelling, and word analysis strategies is to develop students’ proficiency as readers, writers, speakers, and listeners.  If students internalize word-solving strategies, they can quickly and without much effort, accurately read books, articles, letters, and other pieces.  They can also produce a large amount of writing to create readable stories, poems, essays, and other pieces.  If they know a lot about parts of words and relationships between words, they can understand what the writer of a piece or a speaker is trying to communicate.  They can also consider the same information when deciding how to say or write something to get across the message they are hoping to convey.  Think of the power that lies in understanding and communicating precisely.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee occurs once per year, but what I learned from watching this year’s event will stay with me.  As I continue to help teachers think about word study instruction, and how to support students’ understandings of how words work across the school day, I hope teachers see the value in this work.  A curiosity and excitement for, and a depth of knowledge of words will help students throughout their lives.

For more information on our Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling in the Reading/Writing Classroom K-3 course August 7-11, 2017 in Cambridge, MA, click here!

 

Making Joy a Reading Standard

Mary Anne Buckley - low res

by Guest Blogger Mary Anne Buckley, Literacy for All Conference  Featured Speaker

I was on an interview a few years ago and the final question was a wordy jumble of educational buzzwords and teacher-ese lingo that left me questioning if I actually knew anything at all about literacy instruction. So I asked the panel to repeat it and when they did I was able to tease out their real question… what did I consider to be an essential component of a literacy program? Without thinking I answered, “Joy” and thought that would wrap up the interview and the job. The bemused chuckles and blank stares made me realize I had some explaining to do.

I went on to describe how Read Alouds can promote fluency and reading rate, how Shared Reading can delve into word families and sentence structure, how Interactive Read Alouds can deepen prediction, inferring and comprehension strategies. I described how literacy workshops can reach all the benchmarks and standards of the Common Core, the DRA, the F&P, but without joy they won’t develop enthusiastic, independent, discerning readers.  It may, to quote G.M. Trevelyan,  “…[produce] a vast population able to read, but unable to distinguish what is worth reading.”

Today reading instruction in many classrooms has a narrow approach focused on checking off strategies and skills within specific book levels. These checklists then determine when a student can move forward in their reading and even what books they are allowed to read!  Teachers may mean well in following these programs but the formulas, the checklists, the assessments overtake their judgment and they lose sight of the bigger picture. When we put those directives aside for just a moment and focus on our students we discover something new. We see Carlos choosing books from several different levels and genres.  We ask why Anna loves chapter books as she organizes her post it notes and we listen to Ben and Simeon question each other as they read Open Wide: Tooth School Inside we find the purpose of our instruction. We find joy in reading and then we balance that with thoughtful, systematic, explicit instruction. This begins the development of readers who take risks, contemplate thoughtfully and question independently.

Joy is reading Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems. It is a delightful tale that brings our classroom community together in silly joy. And when we look deeper and explore the tenderness Leonardo feels when he chooses to hug Sam instead of “scar[img] the tuna salad out of him” an opportunity is created for students to share times when they have offered kindness to someone and how it changed the situation. Or when they accepted kindness from a peer and how it changed them. As readers we begin to look for compassion in other characters, to find connections of compassion across genres and discover compassion in real world news.

Another joy is holding March Reading Madness this past year. Eight books were placed in a bracket and every Thursday three classes gathered together to read and vote for a favorite.  As a group we examined the cover art and made predictions, we paused and discussed the problems and possible solutions, and we shared out favorite quotes by referring back to the text. After the ballots were cast one class would tally the votes and announce the winner for that week. The final pairing was held in the auditorium with great fanfare and popcorn!

One class extended the learning by writing persuasive paragraphs about their book choice; another made short video book reviews. Some children made their own brackets with books from their reading bags. They read with great enthusiasm to one another attempting to convince the other that the cunning ways of Jack and Annie were superior to that of Nate the Great.

When our class read A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams the children wondered why Rosa and her mother used all the money to buy a chair. After all a chair is a chair, right?  We read the book with a second grade class  and after many readings and discussions the students came to see how each one of them had a precious object that offered them safety and comfort. Together the students created posters of both the chair and their individual objects. The joy of the poster activity strengthened the students’ understanding of why we reread books, why we ask questions when we are confused, why we share ideas.

We read a slew of books about the power of words – Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rapport, Trouble Talk by Trudy Ludwig, Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Mr. Peabody’s Apples by Madonna, Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter and spent time thinking about the words we use and how they affect people. Then we brainstormed words that we could use to help make our community and the world a more peaceful place. As readers we began to discover the thoughtful and purposeful word choices authors make when describing a character, a setting, a gesture. We discussed words that carried powerful peace within them and wanted to be a class that spread peace.  We hung our mural in the hallway and students and adults alike stopped to read and enjoy our joy.

Joy is in listening to and being moved by words and joy is in crafting words that move others. Joy is in recognizing ourselves in characters as well as challenging ourselves to see things from a different perspective. Joy is connecting and reflecting with one another.  I wrote that I answered the last question from the interview panel without thinking but in all actuality I’ve been thinking about that answer for years. When we remember our own personal joy of reading and infuse that into our instruction the lessons themselves become joyful.

Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is not found in finishing an activity but in doing it.

– Greg Anderson


Mary Anne is speaking at the Literacy for All Conference:

Monday, 10/24

1:30pm – 3:00 pm- Friendship Workshop: How to Integrate Social, Emotional and Literacy Learning (Grades K-2)

Tuesday 10/25

10:15am – 11:45am-  Friendship Workshop: How to Integrate Social, Emotional and Literacy Learning (Grades K-2) (repeat session)

1:00pm – 2:30pm- It’s Not Education If It’s Not Mindful (Grades PreK-2)

Resisting the Frenzy: Staying the Course of Common Sense in Literacy Teaching

3.20.15 Irene Fountas Photo

by Irene Fountas, Author, Professor, and Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University

In the past several decades, there have been a variety of movements that have shifted literacy teaching in our schools. Often the newest trend has meant a total mind-shift of instructional practice for teachers. Certainly something important can be learned from the emphases of each movement, but each swing of the pendulum has also left out some important areas of literacy teaching and learning. One cannot simply make the assumption when there is a new movement in the midst that the worthy new areas of emphasis are not already implemented in schools that are implementing a high quality literacy approach.

When we have articulated our values and beliefs about meaningful, authentic literacy learning in our schools, we can examine the contributions of each new movement in the light of well-grounded principles and stay the course of common sense in our responsibilities to our students, instead of shifting to a new bias that may compromise our commitment.

I will address a few of the key areas we have articulated in our work in supporting high quality literacy approaches that we believe have stayed the course of common sense for almost three decades.

First, every student deserves to have a meaningful and interesting reading life and writing life in school.

This means students read and write for real purposes every day in school and have choice in what they read and write. Choice breeds students’ sense of agency and promotes engagement, and furthers the development of one’s tastes in reading and one’s voice in writing. With the appropriate learning environment and scaffolding, students learn that reading and writing are thinking and that they can think about a variety of topics, authors and genres when they read and mentor with the thinking of the best of writers when they write. They experience some teacher-selected high quality literature and nonfiction, but also a good selection of self-selected material that builds their understanding of their selves and their physical and social world. They learn from their teachers how to make the good choices that offer enjoyment and expand their breadth and depth as readers, writers, and global citizens.

Second, students need a variety of structured opportunities to talk throughout the day.

Talk represents thinking. Students need to think and talk in school. This means pair and triad talk, small group talk, and some whole class discussions that have intent, not just talk for talk’s sake. This includes such instructional contexts as reading or writing conferences, literature discussion groups, guided reading groups, and interactive read aloud lessons that include pair or small group talk. Teachers sometimes don’t realize they are dominating the talk and robbing the students of the process of learning through verbalizing their understandings and building on or challenging each other’s ideas. The one who talks is the one who learns. Teachers play a key role in helping students learn how to use language that promotes conversation and the analysis of texts with others to achieve deeper understandings than any one reader could achieve on his own. When students discuss a variety of fiction texts, nonfiction texts, and poetry in a community of readers and writers, they learn how to use the language and vocabulary of literate people. These rich experiences build their background knowledge and academic vocabulary and put each learner in the role of a literate being.

Third, the text base for learning needs to include a variety of high quality fiction and nonfiction texts, primary and secondary sources, as well as poetry. 

The classroom text base needs to provide access to age appropriate, grade appropriate material that is of high interest and value. Sometimes the texts students are asked to read simply aren’t worth reading or don’t engage their intellectual curiosity. The texts need to be meaningful, relevant, developmentally appropriate and made accessible. Alongside this rich base, students need the opportunity to lift their reading powers with the precision teaching made possible with the teacher’s use of carefully leveled, challenging texts at the student’s instructional level. These texts allow for the differentiated, intentional teaching that each student deserves to develop an effective processing system and move forward as a self-regulating, independent reader.  Photo of Girl Reading

Fourth, students deserve to be acknowledged as unique learners.

Every student and every group of students is different. When teachers learn how to systematically observe the strengths and needs of individuals, the assessments can inform instruction and the teaching can be responsive. No assessment is valuable if it doesn’t result in better teaching. Good assessment gives information on how students process texts and what they understand about words, language, and text qualities. High quality literacy opportunities are built on the strength of the teacher’s expertise in assessing the readers and writers he/she is teaching. Some teachers fall into the trap of teaching students as if they are all the same or focus on teaching the book or program, not the diverse group of students in front of them. Effective teachers assess at intervals to document progress and assess by the minute to fine tune their decisions in the act of teaching.

Staying the Course 

These are some of the mainstays of high quality literacy opportunities for every student. Learning to read and write is complex and will require the complexity of teacher decision-making with sound rationales that are rooted in students’ observable reading, writing and language behaviors. Let’s look to the new movements for what they add to our expertise but keep our good sense about what really matters.

For more information about the Lesley University Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative events and trainings, visit our website at www.lesley.edu/crr .

Celebrating the Professionalism of Reading Recovery Teacher Leaders

Part 2:  Ongoing professional development at the Teacher Leader Institute

by Eva Konstantellou, Reading Recovery Trainer, Lesley University

**Please read the 6/3/14 post for Part 1 of this blog post

TLI13_ChoosingBooksSessionIn addition to meeting for a number of days across the academic year with their university trainers for professional development, teacher leaders also attend an annual Teacher Leader Institute where they have the opportunity to listen to many speakers from inside and outside of the Reading Recovery community who present and discuss their research and its impact on teaching and learning.

Just a cursory look at the programs of past Teacher Leader Institutes gives us a glimpse into the rich opportunities for learning from expert scholars on fascinating topics:

  • Courtney Cazden on supporting children’s oral language development, especially when working with English Language Learners
  • Vivian Paley on the power of story and play in helping children become creative communicators
  • David Wood on contingent teaching
  • Elliot Eisner on artistry as an educational ideal
  • James Zull on the art of changing the brain through teaching that builds on the learner’s prior knowledge
  • Tony Bryk on school improvement and restructuring
  • Ron Gallimore on continuous improvement in teaching
  • Richard Elmore on the creation of learning communities in schools that sustain innovative work
  • Andy Hargreaves on investing in the professional capital of teachers

This month (June 2014) the Reading Recovery teacher leaders and university trainers will hear from Julia Douëtil, university trainer at the University of London Institute of Education, on the topic of building teacher understandings of how learners develop a wide range of mental processing activity.

Reading Recovery teacher leaders exemplify the conception of teachers as intellectuals who in collaboration with colleagues reflect on their thinking in an ongoing quest for building a coherent theory of literacy learning that informs their work with children, teachers, and schools.

For information on the complex roles of the teacher leader and on teacher leader initial and ongoing professional development please see:

http://readingrecovery.org/reading-recovery/training/for-teacher-leaders

http://www.lesley.edu/reading-recovery/

Celebrating the Professionalism of Reading Recovery Teacher Leaders

Part 1:  Refining teacher leader learning through ongoing professional development

by Eva Konstantellou, Reading Recovery Trainer, Lesley University

There’s an ongoing debate among policy makers on cultivating the leadership skills of teachers so that they become agents of change within educational contexts (see two recent issues of Educational Leadership, on “Leveraging Teacher Leadership,” October 2013 and “Professional Learning: Reimagined,” May 2014).

I cannot think of a group of educators that fits the profile of teacher as leader more than Reading Recovery teacher leaders.  The teacher leader role is complex.  Teacher leaders:

  • are expert teachers of children
  • support the learning of adult learners who take the yearlong course to become Reading Recovery teachers and continue supporting them through ongoing professional development
  • work with school administrators to ensure that safety nets are in place for the students most in need
  • oversee data collection and reporting
  • support development of the school literacy/Reading Recovery team
  • advocate for continuous support of Reading Recovery among administrators and other stakeholders

A critical feature of the Reading Recovery intervention is the inquiry-based professional development model that contributes to the effectiveness of Reading Recovery as an early literacy intervention. Following a full year of graduate level coursework in:

  • coaching skills
  • literacy theory
  • clinical work based on the theoretical work of Marie Clay
  • issues related to implementing an educational innovation

teacher leaders participate in ongoing professional development provided by faculty members at approved university training centers.  During their professional development sessions teacher leaders observe live teaching and reflect on teaching decisions in order to refine their practice and help support the learning of teachers.  They also engage in in-depth study and discussion of the work of scholars in various fields of study ranging from early childhood education, to psychology, linguistics, philosophy, cognitive science, organizational theory, etc.

Teacher leaders are true scholar-practitioners who reflect on and assess the impact of their work through actively exchanging ideas within a community of practice.

Our next blog post will be Part 2 on this topic. BTG_Vermont

For information on the complex roles of the teacher leader and on teacher leader initial and ongoing professional development please see:

http://readingrecovery.org/reading-recovery/training/for-teacher-leaders

http://www.lesley.edu/reading-recovery/

Spotlight on Reading Recovery Training Site: Springfield, MA

Springfield ImageWe are excited to begin a series of posts highlighting the great work being done at our various Reading Recovery training sites throughout the Northeast. Our hope is to give everyone a peek into the many accomplishments of our Reading Recovery teachers and their students.

To start the series off, we are featuring the Springfield, MA site. The Teacher Leaders at that site are Lynn Santa and Rosemary Brown.

Below is a quote from a Reading Recovery Teacher in the Springfield district describing a family’s reaction to the progress their child is making in Reading Recovery: “When Addy’s mom came in to observe a lesson she told me that Addy never enjoyed reading and now she loves it. She said she is so excited to open her book bag and read her books. Sometimes she’ll read the same book 3 times in one night, first to her mother, then her father and then her older brother or sister! Mom also said she is always reading signs now when they are in the car or at the store.The whole family is very excited and involved and as we know that is why Addy is making the progress that she is.”

For more information on Reading Recovery, please contact Kelly Adams at kadams@lesley.edu. And stay tuned for next month’s feature on the Boston, MA Reading Recovery Training Site.

Text Levels– Tool or Trouble?

by Irene Fountas, Author and Director of the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

irene_fountas_2012_web

When my colleague Gay Su Pinnell and I created a gradient of text for teachers to use in selecting books for small group reading, we were excited about its potential for helping teachers make good text decisions to support the progress of readers.

Our alphabetic gradient is widely used by teachers for this purpose and has become an essential tool for effective teaching in guided reading lessons.

With every good intention, the levels may have been applied by professionals in ways we would not have intended. We did not intend for levels to become a label for children that would take us back to the days of the bluebirds and the blackbirds or the jets and the piper cubs. Our intention was to put the tool in the hands of educators who understood their characteristics and used it to select appropriate books for differentiated instruction.

We are well aware of the importance of communicating student progress accurately to families. Rather than the use of levels in reporting to families, we have encouraged the use of terms like “reading at grade level expectation” or “reading above grade level expectation” or “not yet reading at grade level expectation” on report cards along with other clear indicators of a student’s processing abilities such as understanding, word-solving abilities, accuracy or fluency. In addition we have encouraged the use of indicators related to amount and breadth of independent reading.

Students actually experience a variety of books at varied levels in a rich literacy program. They may experience complex texts as read aloud or shared reading selections and a range of levels in book discussion groups or independent reading. Highly effective teaching provides a range of opportunities with different texts for different purposes.

In our best efforts to use assessment indicators, we want to be sure that our purposes best serve the children we teach and give families the important information they need. This may not mean using labels such as book levels that hold more complexities and are intended for the use of the educators as they make day-to-day teaching decisions.