Tag Archives: literacy education

reading magic - read, talk, play, laugh, have fun

A sprinkle of this, a pinch of that, and poof! It’s reading — magic!

ArtbyJonz ©Norah Colvin 2015

My children were early readers. Both began reading real books well before their fourth birthdays. Of course, the timing, whether early or late, matters little now that they are adults. What matters is that they are readers who read competently and confidently for a range of purposes including for information and pleasure. They are readers by choice as well as purpose.

The ability to read is something that most of us take for granted. Many have no recollection of learning to read, only of being able to do so all of a sudden, as if we just could, by magic.

But, as with any spell, there are certain essential ingredients that make the magic happen and others that inhibit the process. Creating readers of choice and not just purpose is the real magic. Creating non-readers is the effect of a spell in reverse, of a bad mix of ingredients, that sadly occurs all too often.

Bec reading to herself at 12 months

Bec reading to herself at 12 months

My children were readers of choice long before they could read anything for themselves. I wouldn’t say I set out to “teach” them to read. In fact, I didn’t at all. I set out to encourage in them a love of books and writing. Their learning to read was a by-product of sharing the love of words, language and reading.

The magic ingredients for developing readers:

  • Talk
  • Play
  • Read
  • Write
  • Love
  • Fun

I loved having time with my children. Being with them, watching them grow and develop was special, the best and most magical of days. They taught me as much or more about love, life and learning as they learned from me.

Talk

From their earliest days I talked to them, explained things to them — what was happening, what we were doing, and how things worked. I pointed things out and told them what it was called, what it was doing, what it was used for, or how it worked. When we were out and about, I’d point out signs and explain how I knew to stop or where to go. I avoided “baby” talk and always used appropriate everyday language.

Play

We played and had fun together, using our imaginations to create our own games. Sometimes we played simple board games and completed jigsaw puzzles. Whatever we played, talk always accompanied it.

Nor and Bec reading the family book

Reading to Bec at about 12 months old.

Read

I read to them, every day, not just one but many books. As I read, we discussed details in the illustrations and made predictions about the stories, sharing our thoughts. If a word was presented in a large or colourful font, I’d point to it as I read it. We’d laugh at the funny stories and cry at the sad and discuss all the story events. When they could read, they’d read to me, and we took turns reading together until they were early teens.

Write

When they first started to talk, I made books with pictures and words from their growing vocabulary. I labelled items in their rooms; for example, bed, shelf, window, door.

I made books about things we did with photographs and text. A book about our family made for my daughter’s first birthday was one of the favourites when cousins came to visit too.

The environment

I provided my children with an environment rich in language, books and opportunities for thinking. I’d read and write with them and to them, and they’d see me reading and writing for myself as well.

When son Rob was little, I didn’t yet know what I now know about the development of language, reading, and thinking. He taught me much that was later confirmed by my studies.

Rob reading to his toys at age two

Rob, aged two, reading to some of his toys.

When he was only two, Rob would line up his toys on the couch, sit in the middle, and “read” to them. He would almost recite the stories from beginning to end. He already knew that the words in a book remain the same each time they are read — an important concept for beginning readers to grasp. When he was only three, he’d jump into bed beside me in the early morning after Hub had gone to work, prise my eyes open, and read to me! Magic!

Daughter Bec was born twelve years after Rob. Meanwhile, I had returned to college and studied the development of reading and language. I was amazed to find that we had unwittingly created the essential mix of ingredients for his learning to occur

Naturally, armed with experience as well as understanding, I did things pretty much the same for Bec — talking, reading, writing, playing, having fun and enjoying time together.

Bec sharing one of her favourite books.

Bec sharing one of her favourite books.

When she was five, Bec was invited to participate in a study of children who learned to read before starting school. Of the children (maybe half a dozen) involved in the study, Bec was the only one the researcher considered to be really reading. She was reading fluently, with comprehension and at a higher level than the other children.

Some of the children were able to recognise isolated words, but not read them in continuous text. Others had been taught letters and sounds using flashcards and stopped to ‘sound’ out every word. They hadn’t become real readers.

Bec was not subjected to reading “lessons” as the other children had been. She was immersed in an environment that encouraged a love of learning, language and literacy.  The other parents had a need for their children to read as if their value as parents depended on it.

While I had an expectation that Bec would read, I was confident that she would come to it in her own time. My credibility as a parent was not tied to her ability. Having said that, both children (adults) are now very successful in their chosen fields, so I must have done something right. Or perhaps we were just lucky that we chanced upon the magic mix of ingredients.

I do wish that all parents would include a sprinkle of language and a pinch of reading mixed with love and fun into their children’s lives every day. It would contribute greatly toward eradicating illiteracy.

Carrot Ranch flash fiction prompt by Charli Mills: magic

What got me thinking about reading, and magic in particular, is the challenge by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes magic. It can be a supernatural force, a moment or idea, or use it as a verb. Go where the prompt leads.

The ability to be transported into other realms is pure magic. The ability to share this magic with others is bliss.

Mem Fox has more to say about that in her lovely book for parents Reading Magica book I always include when selecting gifts for first-time parents.

Reading Magic by Mem Fox

Here is my response to Charli’s prompt. I hope you enjoy it.

A Sprinkle of This and a Pinch of That

“Whatcha doin?”

“Makin’ a spell.”

“What sorta spell?”

“A magic spell.”

“Can I help?”

“Sure.”

“Whadda I do?”

“Put stuff in the pot.”

“What sorta stuff?”

“Gotta read the recipe.”

“What’s it say?”

“Ya gotta read it.”

“I can’t.”

“Oh. Okay. I’ll help. Look, it says …”

Mum stopped at the door to the kitchen. “Wha— What are you doing?”

“Nothin’,” mumbled the older.

“Makin’ magic spells,” grinned the younger, covered in flour from head to toe.

“What sort of magic spell?” asked Mum, wishing for her own magic spell.

“Take us to outa space.”

“Can I come too?”

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

You’ve got the power

 

Super s

If I had the ability to bestow upon each of you a super power of your choosing, what would you choose?

I’m sure you’d be eager to accept with a suggestion immediately. I am not an exception. I would love to be able to control time, to make it go faster or slower when I want, and basically to just have more of it.

But the reality is that each of us reading this post, myself included, already has one of the most amazing super powers available: the ability to read. Living in a print saturated world as we do, the ability to read is essential for full participation. Not surprisingly, but perhaps also a little sadly, those of us who can, tend to take it for granted.

The love of reading is gift

I am a compulsive reader. I read everything everywhere. I wish I could stop myself reading the signs on the back of the toilet doors for the umpteenth time, but it’s virtually impossible. This is not my genre of choice. Many of us bemoan the fact that we do not have enough time to read all the wonderful material available to us.

studentbooks

Time is not my only reading frustration. As I age my eyesight is changing and even with the assistance of reading glasses I struggle (and often fail) to read the fine print on labels or in instructions. Not only that, my eyes tire more quickly now than ever before and the physical act of reading is not as pleasurable as it once was.

However, even with these frustrations, I am one of the lucky ones.  Not everyone in the world is as fortunate as I with my lack of time and failing sight. While the literacy rates around the world are improving, there are still too many suffering the disadvantages that result from inadequate opportunities to acquire an education in general, and specifically, the ability to read. Even in our midst there are those who, for various reasons, have failed to become literate.

The empowering effect of the ability to read and of acquiring a quality education is never far from my mind or my blog. If you were to type the word “power” into the search button at the top right of my blog you would find at least ten posts with the word “power” or “empowerment” in the title, including

The power of reading

The power of imagination

The power of words, and

Empowerment – the importance of having a voice.

This week at the Carrot Ranch Communications Charli Mills is talking about power and has challenged writer to in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that explores the question, “What good is power?”  What choice did I have but to discuss the empowering effect of reading, an ability that is a right of everyone.

reading

Super Power

Bored with responses as repetitious as their store-bought costumes, he scanned the room of superheros, wondering how many more interviews to fulfil his quota. Spying a child sans costume, he winked at the camera crew and moved in, the opportunity to highlight another’s inadequacies all too alluring.

“And what superhero are you?” he smirked.

The child held out a book, drawing artefacts from within its pages. “I am a reader. I can soar on dragon wings, explore the Earth, and the farthest galaxy. I can fill my head with imaginings, or discoveries new and old. Reading: my Super Power.”

Thank you

Thank you for using your Super Power. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Hear ye! Hear ye! Read all about it!

This week over at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that is ripped from the headlines. Look at local, regional or global news.

Now if there is one thing I have noticed about “the news” over the years, it’s that the news reported in the media is generally bad. Often the stories are meant to alarm or frighten. I think it must be easier to control a population through fear. A little scaremongering may go a long way.

Although the song is called It’s Good News Week, it doesn’t have much good news to tell.

I selected a few headlines (expressly for my purpose) from a recent Conversation:

  • The role of water in Australia’s uncertain future
  • The scariest part of climate change isn’t what we know, but what we don’t
  • Stop, go back, the NDIS board shake-up is going the wrong way
  • We’re overdosing on medicine – it’s time to embrace life’s uncertainty
  • Australians less likely to survive home ownership than Britons

“They” can do it with Education too:

  • Is your child less likely to be bullied in a private school?
  • Uni drop-out rates show need for more support, not capped enrolments
  • The slide of academic standards in Australia: a cautionary tale
  • The absurdity of English spelling and why we’re stuck with it

F

All of these headlines state the existence of a situation or condition as irrefutable, like falling standards and failing students. I’m sure most of you will be familiar with headlines such as this one from the Conversation nearly two years ago:

Lost for words: why the best literacy approaches are not reaching the classroom

In this article Misty Adoniou attributes the failure of some Australian children on national and international literacy tests to their lack of exposure and experience with standard English – they do not speak standard or “school” English at home. Adoniou says that is up to teachers to improve the language used by students and to make their understanding of correct usage explicit. However she says that many teachers do not have an explicit understanding of English and, as a result, are unable to teach it to their students.

 

I’m not sure how true that statement is. However, what I do like about this article is the advice Adoniou gives about teaching. She says that “all our teaching about language must be done in context and in the course of achieving real outcomes.” I couldn’t agree more.

Daily news – learning in context

In fact, from their first weeks of school I was explicitly teaching students about language and literacy using a strategy I borrowed and developed from the ubiquitous “show and tell”. I called this strategy simply “News”, and found it to be a powerful tool for teaching the skills of both reading and writing.

Its strength came from the familiar context, the connection to children’s lives and the importance it placed upon them. The teaching could be adjusted to suit different stages of development, to reinforce learning for some and extend the learning of others. For me, as teacher, it was a powerful learning tool. I was able to gauge children’s developing strategies, understand their needs and identify next steps for learning.

How it worked

Talk

A few children each day would have the opportunity to share their item of interest or “news” with the class. Class mates could ask for additional information or clarification if they wished.

Compose

We (teacher and children) would collaboratively compose a report, initially just one or two sentences, of what had been shared.

Write

I would model the composition and the writing process, rehearsing what to write while involving children in thinking about what to write and how to write it. How much they were involved, and the detail of language and skills discussed could be easily adjusted to suit their development.  There was always ample practice and repetition, in a meaningful context, for children who needed more time; and discussion of strategies and ideas to extend the most advanced students.

Some of the writing strategies children were learning include:

  • Composition or rehearsal before writing
  • Directionality of writing
  • Translating conversational language into written language
  • Changing first person spoken text into third person written text
  • Identifying letters used to spell the sounds of language
  • Awareness of punctuation
  • Tenses, past and future, depending on what the children shared
  • Rereading to ensure message is correct and what to write next
  • Proofreading and editing
  • Identifying the main idea through choosing a suitable headline

Read

After the news was written, we would read it together to ensure it was correct and the child was happy with the way the news had been reported.

The text could then be used for developing a number of reading skills, for example:

  • Recognising words by sight
  • Noticing similarities in spellings, or differences in spelling of words with similar sounds
  • Punctuation and its effect on reading
  • Comprehension and grammar: who, what, where, when, and (sometimes) why
  • Reading with expression

Share

Each day I would print up the news for the children to take home to share with their family. It was a great first reading experience – about them, their friends and their families.

While this is only a brief overview of the strategy, the learning that can take place using children’s own language is obvious. Used as one small part of a rich literacy focused and literature-based classroom environment it is a powerful teaching tool. One day I will explain the strategy in detail so that others can use it too.

Flash fiction

But back to the headlines and Charli’s challenge.

Over recent years I have noticed an increased use of ambiguity in headlines and the introduction of (attempted) literary expressions into the body of articles. I have drawn on that for my flash. I hope it works.

 

Bridge plans in jeopardy

She scrolled through the headlines, searching …

Minister passes over bridge in favour of tunnel

Minister fails to dig himself out of tunnel fiasco

searching …

Minister reveals hand on bridge impasse

Minister’s tunnel vision blocks bridge improvement

searching …

Minister jumps from bridge over tunnel plans

Talks with Minister over bridge collapse

searching …

Bridge closure forces Minister’s hand

She was sure she had heard something … it must be here … why couldn’t she see it?

Scrolling … scrolling …

“Finally,” she sighed.

Bridge players wanted, Tunnel Street Community Hall, Wednesdays 10 am!

 

A Day in the Life

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.