Saturday, December 27, 2008

Reading Aloud Builds Fluency

Young readers (K-3) often stumble from word to word as they read. They do this because they are just figuring out how to decode words. As their reading progresses young readers should start to gain fluency. This can happen with school instruction, but with large classes of students at different reading levels it is difficult for teachers to work on fluency. Parents need to take an active role in helping students develop reading fluency.

What is fluency?
Fluency is the ability to read a text quickly and accurately. A person who reads a text fluently does not pause to decode the words, but moves along at a steady pace. Fluency depends on the level of the reader in relation to the level of the text. For example, high school graduates should be able to read the newspaper quickly and accurately, but might struggle when reading scientific or academic texts. In other words, they are fluent in reading the newspaper, but not fluent in reading more difficult texts.

Why is fluency important?
Fluency is important because it frees readers from the decoding process and allows them to focus on comprehension. Fluency is separate from comprehension. A fluent reader might be able to read a text accurately, but might not understand the text. A high school graduate might be able to read an academic or scientific text fluently, but might struggle at comprehending what it means. Being able to read a text fluently is the first step toward comprehension. If you can read a text fluently, you can put your energy into understanding the meaning. If you have to struggle with both decoding the words and understanding the text at the same time, reading will be quite difficult. This happens with many adult second language learners, who have the fluency of a young reader, yet desire to read texts with adult complexities. Their fluency level makes reading complex text a time consuming process.

How do we build fluency in young readers?
The National Institute of Literacy recommends that students read text aloud to develop fluency. They offer three important considerations when having students read texts aloud.
  1. Find an appropriate book-- Students should read a variety of texts, including fiction, nonfiction and poetry. The texts should be at the reader's level, meaning the student can read the text with a 95% accuracy.
  2. Model the text for the child-- Students need fluent models to emulate. Students need to understand proper pronunciation, proper use of pauses, proper pacing and proper inflection. Occasional explanation of pauses or inflection can help children understand why the text is being read the way it is.
  3. Have the child read the text aloud several times-- Children often have to read a text aloud several times to get it right. Reading a text several times gives them the opportunity to focus on the way they are saying it.
What kind of text do you like to read aloud?
I like to read poetry aloud. Reading the newspaper or a novel aloud just isn't much fun. Children feel the same way. The National Institute for Literacy recommends that teachers use poetry for fluency practice.
"Poetry is especially well suited to fluency practice because poems for children are often short and they contain rhythm, rhyme, and meaning, making practice easy, fun, and rewarding."
Children like to read poetry and the rhythm of poetry helps them to read poems more fluently. My son is particularly fond of Jack Prelutsky. I have made attempts at introducing William Carlos Williams, with only mild success. The poetry you offer your child does not have to be of literary value, as long as your child is reading and working on reading the poems fluently.

More on Reading at The National Institute of Literacy
Ideas for this blog came from reading a pamphlet, "Put Reading First:The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read", published by The National Institute for Literacy. The pamphlet summarizes research about young readers. It provides an overview of pertinent research on the five areas of reading instruction; phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and text comprehension. It is designed for teachers, but is helpful for concerned parents.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Children Suprise You and They Read Poetry

Kyle Writes a Poetry Book Review
Kyle wrote a poetry book review for his most recent blog. He did this without any guidance from me. He was responsible for posting on the weekend and knew he had to do it before he could play with his friend. In order to get the post done, he woke up early, about 6:30, Saturday morning and got to work on the post. He completed most of the post before I got out of bed. We had spoken about book reviews as a blogging option, but I did not provide him with models or guidance. So, he was completely on his own. He choose to do a book review and he choose a poetry book. I was surprised by his choices, but quite pleased.

Organic Nature of the Language Lesson
Many of the post Kyle does are not thoroughly planned out. From a teaching standpoint, I prefer to let the lesson unfold as a post progresses. The poetry post is a good example of the organic nature of the lessons. I usually find teaching points in what he writes. In this post a lesson evolved from his use of the word hear. After reading his post, I pointed out to Kyle that he wrote "Do you want to hear one?", instead of "Do you want to read one?" Kyle typed out the poem with no intention of adding audio to the post. I then asked him if he wanted to change the word hear to read or if he wanted to record himself reading the poem. He chose to record himself. This required him to practice reading the poem. I took this opportunity to teach him about the rhythm of the poetic line, pauses at the end of lines and changing the tone of his voice when reading. He enjoyed reading the poem. He practiced until he was able to read it straight through without mistakes or long pauses. He gained a new respect for poetry by having to perform the poem himself. This could have been difficult to force upon him with a lesson. But, since the post was his idea and he wrote hear, the recording and the practice seemed a natural progression to him.

A Poetry Book that Encourages Vocabulary Acquisition
The Dragons are Singing Tonight by Jack Prelutsky is poetry book written for young boys. The poems are fantastical and are all about dragons. The poetry is rhythmical and reads very well, but the poems are not simple. They are complex grammatically and use challenging vocabulary. As an educator, I really value texts that my child is interested in and that challenge his language ability. This book does just that. That said, the gist of the poetry is still attainable without understanding the challenging vocabulary words. We have been reading this book since Kyle was five. He didn't understand all that was being read to him, but he still loved the book. Now that he is older, he can read the poems himself and is interested in knowing exactly what they mean. He uses his dictionary and/or comes to me for explanations. In this poem amiable, fret and tremble required the dictionary.

The Sound File Converted to a Movie
We used Audacity to record Kyle's reading of the poem. Audacity is a simple to use freeware program. After recording the poem, we converted the audio file into a video file with Windows Movie Maker. We did this because Blogger does not accept audio uploads. It is simpler to upload a video to the site than to get an account elsewhere to host the audio. The picture from the book was available at

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Personalizing Online Videos is Fun

Website Recommendation
Now that Christmas is approaching, e-cards are abundant. One of the best sites for video e-cards is JibJab. JibJab allows you to add your face to videos in order to personalize the experience. You simply upload a picture that includes a good head shot. JibJab provides tools to clip the face from the background. The tools are easy enough for a child to use. Once the faces are available you can use them in a number of cards. You will be required to signup to the site and not all cards are free, but the signup requires simply an email address and a password and there are enough free videos for the kids to enjoy the site. We started by Elfing Ourselves. The kids loved this. We did it last year as well, but the videos are getting better as the technology improves. After we elfed ourselves, Kyle explored the site and found a High School Musical video that he could add his face to. We all laughed out loud at the results. After the kids were done, I made the following image.

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

The videos are designed to be humorous, so not all are appropriate for children. Also, the videos might not be available forever. Last year, the Elf videos stopped being available after Christmas. We can no longer view the videos we made last year. If you really like your video, you can buy it for $4.95. I prefer to emphasize the process over the product and to save the money.

The Writing
I made Kyle write about his video. I decided to have him focus on the process of making the video. We talked about different ways to approach it, either a series of simple sentences or one complex sentence. It worked better for him to write it more concisely in a complex sentence.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Security and Privacy

I started looking for blogs by other children around Kyle's age. I found very few and mostly ran across blogs talking about the safety of children blogging. Most sites give some safety rules for parents to follow when children blog. The basic rules are:
  1. Never offer personal information.
  2. Use sites you can password protect.
  3. Screen content and monitor the blog.
  4. Work on the blog with your children.
Have I followed these rules? No I haven't followed the first two rules, but I have followed the second two.
  1. Kyle's name, first and last, is used on the site. I don't see this as a problem. Maybe, because we tend to live in a protected environments overseas. Will I feel the same when we live in America? I hope so. I think the value of using his name gives him a strong sense of identity and confidence. I don't like the secrecy of some code name. What do we teach our children when we ask them to use a code name or to hide their identity? Once, we convince them that acting in secrecy and having a different identity is expected on the Internet how far will they take it?
  2. Kyle's site is open to all who want to read it. Frankly, this is part of his motivation for writing. He loves to look at the map and see people from around the world are accessing his blog. He would see less motivation for writing and writing well, if he thought it was just for family and friends. The fact that so many young bloggers (under 10) seem to be hidden away somewhere, doesn't allow Kyle to look at other children's blogs. This is sad, because it cuts of the social aspect of blogging.
  3. I screen and monitor everything that goes on the blog. All comments come through my email. Basically, no one can communicate with Kyle on the Internet, but through me. All of his blog entries are planned and are essentially writing lessons. This is different from some other blogs, but there is still a lot of personal content. The fact that I screen and monitor the blog allows me to break rules 1 & 2.
  4. I work on the blog with Kyle. I talk to him about it and plan it with him. Will this work as he gets older? Will he want to have a more secretive web space? I hope not and I hope that the lessons set forth now will prepare him for honest and open relationships in the real and the virtual world.
I understand that there are predators out there, but I still believe in the overall goodness of human nature. I don't want to keep my children from the world and the world from them, because I am scared of a few people. This view might be idealistic, but I see greater risk in teaching children to get comfortable with secrecy and to write in generalities. Personal identity and personal pride are characteristics that are worth encouraging in young children.

About. com: Should you let your children blog?
Microsoft Security: 12 safety tips on blogging for parents and kids

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Blogs in Plain English

This is an easy to understand video that could be used to introduce children to the idea of blogging. This video comes from Common Craft, a company that makes "complex ideas easy to understand using short and simple videos." The videos use simple pictures and plain English which could be used as a model for children to create their own videos. The process relies on putting together a number of still images and is time consuming, but the results are great. To see how they do it take a look at this page which shows how they made an election video.