Linger A Little Longer: The Power of Rereading

Every year, over the past decade, I have attended a lecture series sponsored by Rutgers Center for Literacy, whose director, Dr. Lesley Morrow was one of my professors at the Graduate School of Education and now has become a valued friend. In June, I attended a presentation by Doug Fisher who spoke extensively about the value of surface-level learning in order to be able to deeply engage with texts. Throughout his presentation, Visible Learning for Literacy, Fisher expressed his strong belief in the power of rereading. He noted that many elementary teachers discourage children from reading books they’ve already read. When those readers mature, they hesitate to reread more difficult texts, which puts them at a disadvantage because rereading is a necessary part of understanding complex texts.

I must admit, I was one of those teachers who when a student asked permission to reread a favorite book – steered the student toward another book by the same author or on the same topic or in the same genre. Somehow, I had been convinced that rereading was synonymous with cheating – laziness – a waster of good reading time.

However, my own experience refutes this notion. As a young child, I remember listening to my other read aloud Old Mother West Wind by Thornton W. Burgess to me. Then as I became a read, I read those wonderful stories to myself over and over again. This spurred me to write my own Old Mother West Wind stories complete with colorful illustrations of all the animals I loved. And I also confess that when I was in 5th grade I would sneak upstairs to my bedroom and reread all my old Dr. Seuss books, delighting in the rhymes and nonsense words. I attribute my keen sense of fairness and support of the environment to The Sneetches and The Lorax! It is so true that everyone has stories which resonate for them and of which they never tire.

I was surprised one fall day, when talking about Peter Rabbit with a group of second graders, that most of them didn’t know who Peter Rabbit, Farmer McGregor, or Jemima Puddleduck was. I was utterly appalled.  I explained the stories to them and they begged me to read the stories to them.  I promptly went to our school library and lamented to our wonderful librarian, she nodded her head in sympathy, and concurred that most of the children did know the Beatrix Potter stories.  Over the the next month, I read the adventures of Peter Rabbit to the second graders.  I read to them, they read to each other, they reread the stories on their own and became thoroughly immersed in all things Peter Rabbit.  One girls found a biography of Beatrix Potter and read that on her own.  Rereading spurred on further investigation.

Over the years, I have been fortunate to tutor many 7th graders, which meant that I was given the opportunity to read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee no fewer than eight times so far in my lifetime! It has amazed me that with each rereading I’ve discovered something new in the text. There were many times when Harper Lee surprised me with a beautiful description or a subtle characterization, which I had missed during previous readings. With every return to the text, my understanding deepened and I became even more attached to text. I believe this is just what Louise Rosenblatt was talking about when she described how true understanding comes from readers transacting with the text (Literature as Exploration). Reading is a conversation between reader and author, and rereading allows the reader to continue the conversation and reflect on what is known and still unknown. So of course, Doug Fisher is correct – children should be encouraged to return to texts: read closely, discover new truth, and grow as readers! In our rush-about world, it is so important for teachers and students to linger a little longer with a good book.

Here are some of my favorite children books that warrant rereading:

  1. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
  2. Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt
  3. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit
  4. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  5. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
  6. Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne  – Chapter 6: “In Which Eeyore has a Birthday and Gets Two Presents”
  7. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  8. Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson
  9. The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
  10. Missing May by Cynthia Rylant
  11. When I was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant
  12. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  13. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
  14. Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
  15. Wonder by R.J. Polacio

 

 

 

 

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Reaching Reluctant Readers

Follow me through a typical day and you will see me reading: reading microwave cooking directions on the side of a frozen food container, reading articles on travel or exercise or cures for wrinkles, scrolling through educational websites, and at the end of the day picking up a novel from a three-foot stack of books next to my bed. And if you saw me going though my typical day, you would never guess that as a child I was a reluctant reader.

When I first started to read, I learned that reading was hard and time consuming. By the time I got through sounding out a word, I lost track of the meaning of the story. And there were so many words on a page! Reading was work and what I wanted to do was play! Play with my dolls; play with my dog, even play with my bossy sister. Anything was better than sitting down and reading.

My attitude quite horrified my parents. My father was a writer and worked in public relations. My mother, my very patient mother, was a teacher. Both were avid and ardent readers, as was my older sister. I was not! Most definitely I was not going to do what they all were doing. I was going to find my own way. I painted, I made up songs, I wrote poetry, I created junk-pile sculptures, but I did not enjoy reading. I read because my teachers told me I had to and my parents nagged me.

My reluctance to read worried both my parents. My father handled the dilemma by reading to me at bedtime. He hoped that those stories would spark my interest and that soon I would become interested in books. My father read widely: poetry, recipes, mythologies, true tales, mysteries, and on and on. My mother, being a teacher, kept giving me strategies for sounding out words and for figuring out unfamiliar words in context. She played word games with me and she drew pictures with me and we made up funny stories about school, animals, and the beach – anything that was of interest to me. And that two-pronged approach actually worked over time and I became totally fascinated with words and stories. I loved make-believe. I loved learning about different people in new and wondrous places, and I marveled at how writers could string together words to make pictures in the heads of their readers.

However, reading remained difficult for me in elementary school. I was a good student, I remembered what I read; I just didn’t enjoy it. I was a slow reader with a fast mind. I became impatient and devised all kinds of ways to trick adults into thinking I was reading. Most of the time it worked, except when I got to fifth grade. In fifth grade, my teacher, Mrs. Skovron, was not fooled. She knew. She sat me down and told me that I needed to keep reading and if I kept reading my reading muscle would get stronger and stronger and reading would get easier and easier. One day, one fabulous day, I would enjoy reading. I was doubtful. But I loved Mrs. Skovron and wanted to please her. So I tried and Mrs. Skovron made a list of all the things I liked. Then she found books about those things and gave them to me. What hooked me were horses. One day, Mrs. Skovron put Misty of Chincoteague in my hands, and every night for a week I locked myself in my bathroom with a pile of blankets and pillows in the bathtub and I read. And I read and I read. I wasn’t reluctant any more – I was curious – and a little slow reading wasn’t going to stop me. And it hasn’t.

Books are windows and doors to me; they open up to so many possibilities. And that’s what I want children to experience: that even though learning to read is hard, the pay-off is worth it! You get to run, climb, explore, sail into so many exquisite places and meet so many funny, scary, friendly, outlandish people. Today, I can’t imagine a day where I don’t take time to enjoy a book.

 Here are some tips that I think will help reach reluctant readers:

  1. Read aloud to them and don’t stop – even if it’s hard, even if there is not enough time, even if you think they are getting too old. Please keep reading to them.
  1. Choose a wide variety of text types (poetry, novels, nonfiction articles, recipes, etc.) and read different genres (historical fiction, mysteries, mythology, realistic fiction, etc.)
  1. When they have to read for homework 15-30 minutes a night, and can only sustain reading 5 or 10 minutes, don’t panic. Have them read for the 5 or 10 minutes and then sit with them the rest of the time and read to them. Gradually extend the time they are reading and you are listening. Soon they will be reading independently.
  1. You can also share the reading by taking turns reading one page and then another. When reading longer chapter books, I suggest that you start out by alternating paragraphs not pages so that your child stays attentive.
  1. Before reading with young readers, go for a walk in the book. Look at the cover and the pictures of the story. Talk about what you see and what you think might happen.
  1. Make a list of topics or questions that interest your child, and then find books that match these interests.
  1. When reading aloud at bedtime, choose books that are slightly above their reading levels so that you are building their vocabulary and thinking skills. If you start reading a book and your child is not understanding or enjoying it, abandon it and try again at a later time.
  1. Surround your reader with books that are slightly below and at her reading level. This way she can easily practice reading and building those reading muscles.

 

 

Poetry in Play

Experts in literacy and child development have discovered that if children know eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they’re four years old, they’re usually among the best readers by the time they’re eight. – Mem Fox, Reading Magic, 2001

Poetry is near and dear to my heart. My love of poetry came from my father, who would read poems to me every night before I went to sleep. He is a poet and always shared his love of words with me. That love of words and the beauty of language is something to which I have dedicated my life’s work. Poetry allowed me to play with words, discover their wonder, create new worlds, and express my emotions. Even now, my ninety-year-old father will send me an email with one of his poems or a few lines of a well-known poem. It is the way we communicate best!

In the school where I work as the ELA Curriculum Coordinator, teachers include poetry in their curriculum at every grade level. Some teachers develop multi-week units devoted to poetry, while others decide to sprinkle poetry lessons like sugar throughout the school year. I am happy to serve as the guest poet in many classrooms, sharing my strategies for generating, developing, and revising poems. Poetry is a great way to spark student interest and to encourage children to use their imaginations.

Poetry…

  • increases oral reading fluency
  • sparks creative writing
  • enriches vocabulary
  • plays with words and uses figurative language
  • has rhythm and rhyme
  • expresses feelings
  • adds to the enjoyment of nature
  • enhances communication skills

April is National Poetry Month, but I think poetry should be celebrated throughout the year, and I dare say – poetry should be shared each and every day! Here are some suggestions of wonderful recently published poetry books you might want to share with children and begin a tradition of your own!

  1. 100 Great Poems for Girls by Celia Johnson
  2. A Child’s Calendar by John Updike
  3. Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart by Mary Ann Hoberman
  4. Goodnight Songs by Margaret Wise Brown
  5. Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons by Jon J. Muth
  6. Hush, Baby, Hush!: Lullabies from Around the World by Kathy Henderson and Pam Smy
  7. I’ve Lost My Hippopotamus by Jack Prelutsky
  8. Leave Your Sleep: A Collection of Classic Children’s Poetry by Natalie Merchant and Barbara McClintock
  9. The Wonderful Habits of Rabbits by Douglas Florian (and all of Florian’s books)
  10. Poetry Speaks to Children by Elise Pachen
  11. The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination by Mary Ann Hoberman
  12. Treasury for All Seasons: Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Year by Julie Andrews

 Some websites you also might want to explore:

  1. http://www.poets.org
  2. http://www.poetryfoundation.org
  3. http://www.robertmunsch.com/
  4. http://jackprelutsky.com/
  5. http://www.shelsilverstein.com/

Fostering Curiosity & Imagination

Last week, I was reminded about the importance of curiosity and imagination by a second grade girl at the school where I’m the ELA Curriculum Coordinator.  At the end of the day, Chelsea came over to me a slipped a piece of paper in my coat pocket. I immediately took the paper out.  It was a series of colorful ice cream cones folded into many rectangles.  “It a magic ice cream fort,”  Chelsea exclaimed, ” It will protect you from evil.”  I smiled at Chelsea and thanked her.  I slipped it back in my pocket and forgot about it. Then two days later, when I was walking in the park, trying not to think about the pain in my back and my ankle,  I reached into my pocket and felt a piece of paper, I thought it might be money.  It was something much better!  It was Chelsea’s ice cream fort, and it did protect me!  It made me laugh and protected me from giving up.  I did an extra lap instead.  That is the true power of curiosity and imagination!

Many teachers understand the importance of integrating the arts into the regular classroom instruction to engage and motivate students.   The key to appreciation and application of the arts is the cultivation of a growth or an imagination mindset, an attitude that is both curious and resilient. By incorporating the arts into the classroom, teachers and students work together to construct knowledge and gain a deeper understanding. Through movement, drama, and storytelling, students were able to collaborate, solve problems and express what they had learned. Such artistic endeavors helped students to develop what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi termed flow or optimal experience. Teachers are instrumental in providing a creative space where students are encouraged to take risks and think beyond the box. Through creative arts experiences, students become intrinsically connected to the curriculum. They become active readers, writers, and thinkers engaged in learning and exploring the world around them. Building curiosity is key to sustaining interest and becoming a lifelong learner.  If you are curious, you will read, explore, and write about your experiences. And by doing so, you will learn more and become even more curious.

In October, my article, “Fostering Curiosity and Imagination” was published in The Constructivist, the journal of the Association for Constructivist Teaching and it has just been republished by Education Closet in May.

https://educationcloset.com/2018/05/01/fostering-curiosity-imagination/

 

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For the Love of Words

 

Some words feel wonderful in your mouth: benevolent, pashmina, Constantinople. They roll right off one’s tongue and into one’s imagination.  Words hold meaning and are the building blocks of all human thought. When I began teaching thirty-eight years ago, I marveled at my preschool students’ curiosity about words and how they could understand and use words far above their age and grade level.  One boy was so enamored with geology and dinosaurs that his vocabulary in these areas far surpassed mine, affording him the opportunity to be my teacher, and I, his attentive student!  I believe that spark of curiosity and imagination in learning vocabulary ignites the power to explore a universe of ideas and concepts.  Teachers consistently embed vocabulary learning throughout the day.  Word learning is not compartmentalized into the teaching spelling or phonics or reading.  It is integrated into all content areas.  For example, the word “boundary” may be introduced as a geographic word in social studies, but then used in physical education to describe the limits of a game, used in art to mean a shift in color, texture, or shape, or again in mathematics as boundary lines on a graph. This deep learning allows students to remember and recognize the new words they are learning and apply them across subjects.  Students at all grade levels are encouraged to use new vocabulary as they speak and write, constantly building their knowledge.

At the school, where I am the ELA Curriculum Coordinator, we celebrate the love of words as a whole community by learning a new word each week. Every Monday, I post the word of the week, its meaning, and a sentence containing the word.  Teachers reinforce the Wonder Word throughout the week, and it often is added to class word walls or vocabulary charts, gradually becoming part of a student’s personal vocabulary bank.  Many of the words I choose coincide with a current theme such as “wisdom” in September to begin the year, “gratitude” in November to acknowledge Thanksgiving, or “absurd” in March to celebrate the work of Dr. Seuss. Those connections allow students to associate and visualize, helping them put new words into their long-term memory. At the end of the year, older students work together to create a vocabulary quiz show that incorporates some of their favorite words, and the whole school participates during our final school assembly. In this way all students celebrate the wonder of the words they’ve learned throughout the year. At the core of vocabulary learning is the love of words, the pure joy of expressing yourself with wondrous words that roll off your tongue!

The Power of Listening

“If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.”

               — Turkish saying

This quote is important to me because now in our culture SPEAKING seems to be gold and listening is pretty much non-existence.  Everyone is racing to be heard – to get their point across – to be in the limelight.  Very few people slow down enough to listen. This is also true of me.  I often find myself thinking about what I’m going to say next instead of really listening to the other person. For the last few years, I have been intent on slowing down and creating opportunities to teach students how to pay close attention and actively listen.

Last October at the Rutgers Literacy Center’s Conference on Reading and Writing, I presented a workshop for teachers to help students develop close listening skills. I thought I would share some of the ideas I presented because it is such an important subject and integral to learning in all content areas.

First, let’s start with the question – Why do we listen?  We listen to obtain information, to understand, to learn, and for enjoyment. The five key components of listening are: paying attention, discriminating sounds, building memory, processing information (understanding what is being said), and promoting active involvement (responding to what is heard).

Depending on the study being quoted, people remember only 25%to 50% of what we hear. That means that when you talk to your boss, colleagues, students or spouse for 10 minutes, they pay attention to LESS THAN HALF of the conversation! On the other hand, this means YOU are not fully listening when getting directions or being presented with information either. You hope the important parts are captured in your 25-50%, but what if they’re not?

Over the years, the teachers and I noticed that students needed instructions repeated several times because they were not fully attending to the teachers’ instructions. Also, we observed that students would raise their hands without listening to the question that was being asked. Students raised their hands while another person was speaking and concentrated on what they wanted to say, not what the speaker was saying. Given these observations, the teachers began to consistently institute active listening skills and I created a listening curriculum in 2nd grade which consists of three types of activities: listen and draw, listen to poetry, and listen to stories. For listen and draw activities, the girls listen to a set of directions twice and then draw what they heard from memory. Once they have become familiar with this type of listening, the teacher reads a poem aloud and asks the students to visualize what they have heard. Then the students respond to questions about the poem as a group. After listening to many poems, the teacher then reads aloud a picture book, stops regularly to ask questions, and then students respond in writing using the  “stop and jot” method. These listening activities promote active listening and help students practice important comprehension skills.

Active Listening Skills

  1.  Ears are ready to listen.
  2. Eyes are on the speaker
  3. Mouth is quiet.
  4. Hands are quiet and raised when you want to speak.
  5. Your mind is on what is being said.

Close Listening Resources

 Articles & Books for Adults:

  1. “ Active Listening: Hear What People are Really Saying”
  2. (http://www.mindtools.com/CommSkllActiveListening.htm) 
  3. “Exercise to Teach Listening Skills” by Sandy Fleming (http://www.livestrong.com/article/251607-exercises-to-teach-listening
  4. “Say What? Five Ways to Get Students to Listen” by Rebecca Alber (www.edutopia.org/bog-five-listening-strategies-rebecca-alber)
  5. Teaching Children to Listen by Liz Spooner

Books To Read With Children:

  1. Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns to Listen by Howard Binknow
  2. Lacey Walker, Nonstop Talker by Christianne C. Jones
  3.  Listen, Buddy by Helen Lester
  4. Listen And Learn by Cheri J. Meiners
  5. My Mouth is a Volcano by Julia Cook
  6. The Listening Walk by Paul Showers
  7. Too Much Noise by Ann McGovern
  8. Why Should I Listen? by Claire Llewellyn