Back to School Blog!

Miss Starke’s Remarks (BLOG)

Learning to read is a developmental process and varies from one child to the next.  Whether a child is below, on, or even above grade level, a question I receive often from parents is “should I hire a tutor?”  As a tutor myself, I can say that one to one attention is desirable in any situation, and reading instruction is no different.  However, for many kindergarteners and first graders, paying for a tutor is not needed quite yet since they are truly an emergent reader.  Ask yourself the following questions to determine if your child really needs a tutor.

  • What is my child’s reading level? Your child’s classroom teacher should have this information readily available.
  • Does my child receive small group instruction in the classroom? Ask your child and your child’s teacher.
  • Does my child struggle in reading?
  • Does my child have difficulty decoding or figuring out words in text?
  • Does my child have difficulty understanding what he or she has read?

If your child does not receive small group instruction in the classroom and your child struggles in reading, a tutor would be in your best interest.  Also, if you answered no to three or four of the above questions, a tutor may be a beneficial option.  If you live in the Richmond, Virginia area and are ready for an evaluation to determine if a tutor is best for your child, email today.  Parents are the best advocates for learning, especially during the summer months and we certainly want to support you, your child’s first teacher!

Fall/Winter 2013

Children learn best through active play.  Providing this type of early childhood play leads to sucess at school.  Young children acquire reading skills through pretending and creating.  Reading is developmental, and playing with books teaches reading concepts from an early age.  How do we do encourage this type of play at home?

Children love to pretend, especially by playing house or school.  Reading books to stuffed animals, siblings, or invisible students gives children the opportunity to “pretend read.”  They use pictures to tell a story and can self-correct to make sense.  They are able to retell stories that are read to them often.  Folk tales such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears and The Three Little Pigs are great for retelling.  After reading, have your children draw a picture or create a project.  Using crayons, ribbon, or tissue paper among other materials encourages critical thinking and creative expression.

Active learning can take place at the kitchen table while reading the comics in the newspaper.  Active learning can even take place in a car ride on errands.  Children love to play the “license plate” game simply by identifying the letters on the plates of cars nearby.  Environmental print is a term that describes words and signs easily recognized and read around the community.  Pointing out the signs of fast food places and stores as well as labels at the grocery store builds early reading skills.  Listening to and learning nursery rhymes is one of the most effective ways to build early reading skills.  Nursery rhymes teach the most commonly used vowel sounds and word family patterns, which are the building blocks of early literacy.  Finger plays and classic songs use repetitive text that contain high frequency words often found in books.

When thinking about the right gift that will encourage fun and learning for a young child, a picture book, board game, art supplies, or building blocks are always well received.  Think about giving something that promotes writing like sidewalk chalk or colored pencils.  Stickers and stamps are also little gifts that spark creative writing.  Playdough and cookie cutters or cookie sheets with magnetic letters and numbers help build letter recognition.  Other gifts may be around the house-shaving cream, yarn, pipe cleaners, and beans can be used to make letters and words.  Newpapers, magazines, and catalogs can be used to cut and paste letters and words.

Children that experience active play at home, in daycare, or preschool during the first five years will be successful not only in kindergarten, but throughout school.  Exposing young children to games and materials that teach language arts skills is the first step in providing quality education for our youth.

Spring/Summer 2013

Miss Starke’s Remarks Guest Post By Betty Holloway

From elementary school to college, summer reading has always been the best way for me to exercise my brain.  I fall in love with new stories which not only take my mind to new places but also remind me of things which I learned in school.  Some of my fondest memories of elementary school were showing off my favorite summer books in show-and-tell.  I catch myself still doing that some even now in college.

Encourage the children in your life to read this summer in order to help them get excited about learning.  Summer reading will help your children practice sounding out new words which they will remember for the next school year.  Both Amy’s Travels and Turtle Without a Home are stories which will teach your children about the world and also give them the building blocks they need to exercise their brains.  Read along with them on vacation, take them to a book-reading at a local book store, or just visit the library and help them find a new favorite book to show their friends.  There are so many ways in which reading can be a fun activity to share with your children this summer.

Fall/Winter 2012

Summer to fall can be a difficult transition for children, parents, and teachers.  The best solution to make this scenario easier is to maintain a routine or structure throughout summer vacation, whether it be attending a camp or summer school for a period of time.  It’s also a good idea to keep your mind fresh by reading nightly, writing in a daily journal, or even playing a game of Suduko.  Use the summer time to discuss the exciting things about entering a new grade and encourage your child to make personal goals for the new school year.  Take some time together to buy new school supplies and new school clothes to let your child understand that a new academic year is full of fun and new information to learn.  With a schedule, positive mindset, and parental support, the first day of school will be a breeze for children and parents.  Set up a developmentally appropriate after-school and nightly routine for your child; stick to it and talk daily about school with your child. You are sure to have a great year!

Summer 2012

Where do you usually travel on your summer vacation? My family always goes to the beach in the southeastern region of the US.  Imagine all of the destinations you could travel this summer simply by turning the pages of a book.  Whether a book is fiction or nonfiction, it explores a particular location or setting, where the story takes place.  The reader gets to learn what the new place looks like, what to do there, and where it is located in the world.  If you read a new book every day throughout the summer, you could travel to over sixty destinations without even leaving your home.  A girl named Amy traveled around the world as a child because her father worked for the foreign services in the government.  She traveled to five of the seven continents on earth.

Born in Honduras, Amy moved to South America as a young girl and lived with her mother and older brother.  She went to kindergarten in Kenya, Africa and vacationed in Europe.  She also lived in Asia before moving to North America and live in Washington DC.  She didn’t live in Antarctica because it is too cold to survive there, but she hopes to go to Australia in the future.  The book, Amy’s Travels, tells her childhood story with words and pictures that allow the reader to travel with her.  By turning the pages of this multicultural book, you can visit glaciers, the desert, the Amazon Rain Forest, and even go on a safari.  Amy’s Travels is the first children’s picture book to teach all seven continents.  It teaches the culture, diversity, and geography of our world through the eyes of a Amy, a young Latina girl.

In the back of the book, there are lessons and activities to complete by yourself or with a parent or teacher.  There is also a website that provides comprehension questions and projects to make Amy’s Travels come to life.  You could journey to all seven continents in one special book.  Wherever your travels take you this summer, remember to observe the surroundings and learn something new.  Knowledge is gained through experience, and experience is aquired through travel and adventure, which can be found on the pages of a great book.

Winter/Spring 2012

Winter and spring overlapped a lot in Richmond, Virginia, this year. That being the case, I decided to combine my blog this time as well. I attended and presented at the Virginia State Reading Association conference mid-March where the very best in reading share books, strategies, and knowledge that benefit our students in reading instruction. One of the sessions led to a discussion on the tangible, printed book versus the electronic, online version.

While large corporations and companies lead toward the electronic format (often because it’s cheaper), we in the profession see the excitement in a child’s eyes when he or she picks out a new book to keep and take home. They love holding and sharing the tangible book in their hands while they read to someone or better yet, listen to someone read to them. There are so many children in the world today that don’t even have real books in their home, much less a computer or ipad. We need to continue to create engaging and entertaining books for our children to read and travel with anywhere!

Fall 2011

Assessments take time but provide valuable information for teachers and parents throughout the school year.  Taking five to ten minutes to conduct an individual evaluation with your students will help you in planning appropriate and differentiated instruction for the remainder of the school year.  In this conference, you should find out academic information including your child’s reading fluency and accuracy rate, comprehension, sight word recognition, and word knowledge. You should also find out personal information, such as background knowledge, school experience, what motivates the child to read, what they enjoy reading, and what they think is the easiest and hardest part of reading for them. I also encourage teachers to ask the class to provide a short writing sample. Tell your students they can write about whatever they want; you will be able to see their style, their knowledge of language, and something that interests them. Making extra time in the beginning for these basic assessments will allow you to prepare quality and differentiated language arts instruction that will result in growth for all of your students by the end of the year.

Summer 2011

There are so many ways for children to be exposed to and engaged in literacy instruction.  Summer events provide children in the community opportunities through music, puppet shows, and even magic shows.  All of these events allow children to further develop oral language, listening, comprehension, and vocabulary skills, all important components of reading instruction.  The engagement and entertainment of the following events increases children’s ability in literacy.  Music exposes children to new vocabulary through a variety of lyrics, a fun text form for children of all ages.  It also reinforces the 3R’s: rhyme, rhythm, and repetition-three factors that are common in nursery rhymes, poems, and predictable books

Puppets allow children to use their imagination when creating or telling their own story using puppets.  This helps children become young writers, instilling the value and importance of creative writing.  Puppets can also be used to retell a well known story, fairy tale, or folk tale.  This allows children to recall details and essential events to act out the story.  Puppets also help children to understand the analysis of characters, an element of text.  Magic helps children build their critical thinking and inference skills, which are essential in reading comprehension.  Encouraging children to ask questions like How did that happen? How did they do that? or Where did it go? helps children with reasoning skills and posing “I wonder” questions, which are used to understand reading.  When you see a program advertised this summer, put it on the calendar to take your child; the fun and learning will be a family memory and an educational boost for the next school year.

Spring 2011

Activating prior knowlege is an essential component of guided reading instruction.  A child cannot fully comprehend a piece of text if they do not have experiences or background information to help them understand it.  I am the third grade reading specialist in an urban school; I work with a diverse student population who have a variety of reading levels as well as background knowledge.  I plan my guided reading instruction based on those factors.  Children love to talk about themselves and share their ideas and stories; I use their conversations to make my teaching more effective.  Therefore, each time we start a new book, we spend a fair amount of time predicting what we think will happen.  I teach the students to use book titles, chapter titles, captions, covers, and illustrations to make predictions of exactly what they think will occur in the book.

One day in particular, I handed my eight-year-olds a passage that contained only words and no pictures; the title of the story was Jumping In.  In my small group of six students, the predictions included jumping into a pile of leaves, jumping in waves, jumping off a diving board, jumping into a double dutch game, and even running a jump shot in a basketball game.  After inviting the children to make their personal predictions, I ask each of them to explain their thinking and what the title made them picture in their head.  During reading, we work on confirming our predictions and determining if our predictions or thinking change or remain the same.  I give each child a racecar cut-out for them to do so; while we are reading together each child can hold up the racecar to signal a “prediction pitstop.”  This is when we as readers stop to talk about what is happening in the story and use fix up strategies to confirm and make new predictions.  What is this story about?  Is that what you predicted before reading?  What makes you think the story is not exactly what you predicted in the beginning?  What do you think will happen next?  The “prediction pitstops” are a simple and interactive way to keep all of the students on task before, during, and after reading.  Building upon background knowledge and making predictions in reading increase our engagement, interest, and comprehension in reading at all ages.

Winter 2011

What better way to enjoy a cold winter’s night than to “warm up” with a good book.  Independent reading provides us with an educational escape to increase interest, fluency, and comprehension.  Silent reading allows us to read words at our own speed as well as to decode and figure out new words.  Our reading, writing, and oral vocabulary skills increase the more we read.  Pleasure reading sparks us to ask a variety of questions, both of wonder and intrigue.  When we read, the text often reminds us of something else, a connection to someone or something.  The text makes us think about ourselves, another book we may have read, or even something bigger like a current event or issue in the world.  All of these factors help us with our reading comprehension.  Our children should be encouraged to read to themselves at least twenty minutes a day.  By doing do, they are gaining skills in word study, fluency, writing, voca! bulary, and comprehension-elements that are a part of language arts and learning.  Students that silently read on a regular basis progress further than the peers in all content areas in school.  Reading is a gift that we should share with children of all ages.

December 2010

Retelling is the art of telling a story over and over again, which storytellers have a true knack for.  In school, we often ask the students to retell a story they have just listened to or read so that we, as teachers, can evaluate their comprehension.  We are checking their attention to details when they describe the story elements like the characters, setting, problem, and solution of the text.  We also check their understanding of the sequence of events, stating what happened in the beginning, middle, and end of the story.  When a child can accurately retell a story, it is evident that they can fully comprehend the story as well.  Young children can practice their own storytelling by retelling well-known folk tales they have heard countless times before like The Gingerbread Man or Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  They can also retell fairy tales like Cinderella or Snow White.  This practice will make the art of retelling and literal comprehension skills easier when they are in school.

November 2010

How do we teach our children to think on their own? Making inferences is a challenging task for children of all ages, but playing detective is easy and fun.  I use mysteries at the very beginning of every year to teach inferential questioning to my students in third, fourth, and fifth grade.  The children take on the role of a reading detective paying attention to details in the text.  They also use clues throughout the story to help the characters solve the mystery.  We focus on the setting, recognizing how the scene impacts a mystery case.  We also study each aspect of the characters identifying each one as a suspect, victim, or detective.  Once the children learn to think like a reading detective, they are able to apply the skill to other genres of literature, and the inference skills just kick right in.

October 2010

Reading instruction is not a “one size fits all” plan, and yet in so many classrooms today students are reading the same story from the textbook at their seats under the teacher’s direction.  The most effective reading teaching happens when teachers use differentiated instruction in small groups.  All children learn to read at their own pace, and therefore should be provided with text that matches their instructional level.  Using books that are too hard as well as too easy do not help in the teaching of the reading; instead a “just right” book is necessary.  Find out your child’s interest level, instructional reading level, and his or her strengths and weaknesses.  We use all of these factors to design a developmentally appropriate lesson to teach your children to learn to become an independent and life long reader.

September 2010

Back to school season-the time of year that stirs up mixed emotions in children and parents everywhere.  The most important question on parents’ minds-who will be my child’s teacher?  From the perspective of an elementary school reading specialist, your child will have a successful year regardless of your child’s teacher.  He or she will be successful by reading everyday at school and at home.  Reading to your child and having your child read to you for thirty minutes a day increases achievement in school.  It also increases engagement in the language arts instruction provided in the classroom.

This daily practice will lead to stronger decoding, comprehension, and vocabulary skills.  It is essential, however, to select books that match your child’s interests and classroom reading level.  It is important to provide children’s books that teach children to learn to read and in turn, read to learn.  Whether your child is entering kindergarten or fifth grade, the mission remains the same.  We want all children to become life long learners, and that begins with a love of reading at home.

Summer 2010

School is out, and the pool is open, but learning should always take place.  Summer vacation can be detrimental to a child who is already struggling in school but slated to move to the next grade in the fall.  Libraries across the country have summer reading programs, full of incentives, to keep children hooked on books.  Another solution to keep children engaged in language arts is to travel through reading.  In every book that you read this summer, figure out the setting of the story.  Where does the story take place? One book will take us on a safari to Africa while another book allows us to see the mid-West, and still another book will take us on a visit to the grocery store.  Locate the setting of each book and talk about it.  Have you ever been there? What is it like? In addition to reading and talking about it, write about it.  Create a summer journal and write exactly what you did every single day.  By the end of August, you have your own book that you can read abou! t the people you saw, places you visited, and activities you completed.  Be ready to share your book with classmates and your teacher in September.