Tag Archives: spelling

great app for teaching reading - Word Zoo

Great App for Future Readers: Word Zoo | Ask a Tech Teacher – readilearn

This week I am pleased to share with you information about a new reading app, Word Zoo, reviewed by Jacqui Murray on her website Ask a Tech Teacher. If you need to know anything about using technology in the classroom, Jacqui will be able to help you out.

Over to you, Jacqui:

Reading is defined as “the action or skill of absorbing written or printed matter silently or aloud.” Sounds dry, maybe even boring, but the ability to read has been credited with exercising the mind, saving lives, bringing people together, and predicting success in school. It alleviates boredom in the bits of free time that pop up between soccer and dinner and it can be done alone or in a group.

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends…”
― Charles William Eliot

So when I find an app that organically encourages reading, I get excited. But I’m fussy. Here’s what I look for–the red answers are how this mystery ready app sized up:

Continue reading: Great App for Future Readers: Word Zoo | Ask a Tech Teacher – readilearn

teaching apostrophes

Teaching apostrophes with lessons ready to teach – readilearn

Do your children have difficulty spelling contractions or using apostrophes for possession correctly? If so, you are not alone. Many, and not only young children, do.

To support your teaching of this punctuation mark that many find tricky, I have produced an interactive resource that explains, demonstrates and provides practice in its correct use.

I have called the resource Apostrophes Please! to encourage young writers to get their writing right.

About Apostrophes Please!

Apostrophes Please! is an interactive resource, ready for use on the interactive whiteboard. It consists of enough material for a series of lessons teaching the correct use of apostrophes in both contractions and possessive nouns.

Like other readilearn resources, Apostrophes Please! recognises the value of teacher input and the importance of teacher-student discussion. It is not designed for children to use independently. While the activities have interactive features, there are no bells, whistles and gimmicks. It relies simply on effective teaching.

The resource provides flexibility for the teacher to choose activities which are relevant to student needs and teaching focus. All lessons and activities encourage explanation, stimulate discussion and provide opportunities for children to practise, explain and demonstrate what they have learned. There are nineteen interactive slides and over thirty slides in all.

Organisation of Apostrophes Please!

Contractions and possessive nouns are introduced separately.

Continue reading: Teaching apostrophes with lessons ready to teach – readilearn

teaching phonics and initial letters and sounds in an early childhood classroom

readilearn: Teaching phonics and letter-sound relationships in early childhood classrooms – Readilearn

Teaching phonics and letter-sound relationships is an important part of literacy education in early childhood classrooms. To be fluent readers and writers we need to understand the relationship that exists between the letters and sounds of our language. This knowledge is what enables us to extract meaning from texts we read and ensure that others can interpret the intended meaning in words we write.

The process of expressing thoughts in writing can be laboured for young children as they stretch out words to identify individual sounds and the letters we use to represent them. From the initial stages of making arbitrary marks upon the page, children develop into proficient writers through recognisable stages of approximation. Readable writing is dependent upon the effective use of letters to represent sound.

Reading is not so dependent as there are other cues and strategies that readers can employ to interpret a writer’s message. Young children garner information about texts they read from supporting illustrations, prior knowledge of the subject matter and text type (for example, narrative or non-fiction) and understanding of how language works. This information supports their reading which is guided by words they recognise by sight as well as their knowledge of letter-sound relationships.

When teaching children to read, it is important to ensure children learn to use effective strategies that access all available cues. Over-dependence on any one cuing system leads to a break-down in the process. While the teaching of phonics has an important place in early childhood classrooms, I have resisted making resources for teaching phonics in isolation for two main reasons.

Two reasons against making resources to teach phonics in isolation
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I believe reading is best learned and taught by reading. Knowledge of letters and sounds can be learned while reading meaningful and enjoyable texts. Teaching and learning can occur in literacy lessons, lessons in any subject, or whenever an opportunity to interact with print exists, which is frequent in our print-rich environment.

I have previously written about some strategies I consider beneficial for teaching reading and will no doubt write more in the future. You can read some of those posts here:

What’s in a name? Teaching phonics, syllabification, and more!

Engage Learners with pizza-themed cross-curricular teaching and learning resources

Continue reading: readilearn: Teaching phonics and letter-sound relationships in early childhood classrooms

Let’s read, write and spell with Schuyler: readilearn

I don’t normally post twice a week, but this post is really an addendum to the previous post What’s in a name? Teaching phonics, syllabification and more! so I decided to break with tradition and share it.

For the inspiration for this post and the resource it describes, I must thank Pamela Wight, who featured in the author interview last month.

In commenting on the What’s in a name? post, Pamela mentioned the awkwardness of singing and spelling her grandson’s name – Schuyler, a name with which I was unfamiliar. I joked to Pamela that I’d thought of recording a few names, innovating on the tune of BINGO, to show how “easy” it might be. Pamela suggested I should, even though I explained that my singing voice is anything but, and she told me the pronunciation for Schuyler: Skylar. Well, I couldn’t help myself. My head started racing with ideas of incorporating Schuyler’s name into reading and writing lessons teaching phonics and spelling skills. The result is the resource Let’s read, write and spell with Schuyler,

and the recording.

Continue reading: Let’s read, write and spell with Schuyler: readilearn

Readilearn: What’s in a name? Teaching phonics, syllabification, and more! – Readilearn

teaching phonics syllabification

The first words children learn to recognise, read and spell are usually their own names. It’s not surprising, these words hold significant meaning and power for them. Why not harness that energy to teach the skills that are basic to literacy development?

Even before they begin formal schooling, children are able to read and spell their own names; and possibly the names of significant others in their lives, including parents, siblings, other close relatives and friends. When we write their names on pictures they’ve drawn, inside the covers of books they own, on letters and envelopes written to them, as well as on their belongings, they come to understand “that word means me”.

However, not all children are exposed to the same opportunities for learning prior to beginning school. It is important that we make connections with the children and help them learn in ways that are both fun and meaningful.

In this post I suggest some strategies that can be implemented in the first three years of school, starting from the very first day when children can write their names to demonstrate their knowledge of letters and sounds and fine motor coordination. Throughout the early years, children’s names can be used as a starting point in teaching phonics, initial sounds and syllabification.

The ideas suggested in this post are presented in more detail in a new resource uploaded this week:

name phonics syllabification

Name Games – teaching phonics, syllables and reading long words

Suggestions for before, or in early days of, school

Teaching letter sound relationships

An easy way to teach young children to recite the letters of their names in sequence, is to utilise their love of music, singing and recall of lyrics. Even if sung out of key, children enjoy special songs about them and their names. Simply adjust the tune of B-I-N-G-O to the children’s names as you sing.

After just a few repetitions, they are able to join, and even sing their names independently. If you sing

Continue reading: Readilearn: What’s in a name? Teaching phonics, syllabification, and more! – Readilearn

Invention vs gobbledegook

kids writing

One thing I love about working with beginning literacy learners is their use of invented spellings.  To avoid inhibiting the flow of ideas, children are encouraged to “have a go”. This invention involves an interaction of

  • knowledge of letter sound correspondence
  • recall of familiar words, such as basic sight words
  • memory of words previously encountered including words of interest or meaning to them,
  • in conjunction with available resources such as classroom word walls or lists.

The purpose is to encourage them to write, to express their ideas. There’s plenty of time for attention to the finer details later.

We early childhood teachers become experts at reading children’s writing. Like all effective readers, we use a combination of letter-sound knowledge, syntax, and meaning. If we are ever unable to decode a message, the writer is always happy to read the work to us, and may never realise the request stemmed from our reading disability.

As children’s knowledge of written language develops, their spellings more closely approximate the conventional. The comparison of writing samples taken over time informs teachers of the child’s progress. Consonants, especially beginning consonants, usually appear first; then a combination of first and last consonants. Vowels may be the last to be included.

© Norah Colvin

It is not surprising that vowels are the last to appear. They are more difficult to hear and distinguish, and not only may they be represented in more than one way (think of the long ī sound from my recent post A piece of pie), their pronunciation may (does) vary from locale to locale. Not only that, they are less important to reading than consonants. Think of text messages on the phone, or check out this article A World Without Vowels.

Or maybe now with predictive text available on phones, you are less likely to use the abbreviated form of words and allow your phone to predict what you want to write. That tends to work less than perfectly for me. It doesn’t always predict what I’m thinking and is just as likely to accept gobbledegook as any real word, let alone the correct one. Give me children’s invented spellings any day. At least I can use meaning and prior knowledge to help me unlock the message.

As a literacy educator, I am particularly interested in written language and fascinated by children’s development. I enjoyed the opportunity to write about children’s writing in a guest post on the Carrot Ranch A Class of Raw Literature earlier this year. I previously shared thoughts about spelling tests and the difficulty of knowing how to spell a word if its meaning is unknown. A variety of resources for teaching writing also appear in the readilearn collection.

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a speller. It can be one who spells or a primer like Lawrence once had. You can deviate from the primary meaning if magic catches your imagination. Go where the prompt leads. Thanks, Charli. I love this challenge. Spelling: my forte. But which meaning should I choose?

  • To represent a word in written form
  • To create an event using magic
  • To have a rest
  • To signal the occurrence of something (usual disastrous)

Can I include all four?

Here goes.

MISSPELLING SPELLING DISASTER AVERTED: NEW SPELL RELEASES OLD FOR A SPELL

Chatter erupted as assessment commenced. A pass would grant membership to the Spellnovators, but the best would replace Imara, who, for her final duty, mixed their potions and tested their spells. She praised ingenuity as stars exploded, flowers blossomed, and extinct animals reappeared. Choosing her replacement would be difficult. Suddenly her glare in Ruby’s direction spelled trouble. The chatter ceased. “What’s this?” she demanded. “Mix in happy witches!?” Ruby’s lip quivered. “Wishes. I meant to spell wishes.” Voices united in wishes. Instantaneously, everywhere, hearts opened with love.  Goodwill rained down, filling all with hope. Imara would spell in peace.

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

What measure success?

 

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I have often expressed concern about what I consider to be an over-emphasis on standardised and national testing and the pressure it puts on students to achieve. I explained some reasons for my misgivings here and here and here, for example.

As a parent and a teacher the most important thing I want for my children is for them to be happy. After that I wish for them to be healthy and successful. But what is success? In a recent post I referred to a seventy-five year study conducted by George Vaillant who came to the conclusion that success means leading a happy life and that “warmth of relationships throughout life have the greatest positive impact on ‘life satisfaction‘”.

bee 5

Last week I wrote about spelling tests and spelling bees and the effect that doing well, or not, might have upon a learner’s self-esteem as well as attitude to self as a learner, attitude to school, and to learning in general. While writing it I was not aware of an article written by Kate Taylor and published in the New York Times on April 6 2015: At Success Academy Charter Schools, High Scores and Polarizing Tactics.

I discovered the article via a series of stepping stones from Lloyd Lofthouse to  Diane Ravitch to The New York Times.

Taylor opens the article by describing how the struggles of students to learn are made public, for all to see; posted on charts in hallways and reproduced in class newsletters. To see one’s name at the bottom of the list in a red zone, clearly showing that year level expectations have not been reached seems to be rather harsh, and humiliating for the child. Perhaps even more so if the teacher considered the student was just not trying. The teacher, it is reported, had difficulty watching the child take the tests for fear she would be upset by his mistakes. Months later the child scored 90% and was warmly congratulated.

Taylor goes on to say that the school, which has mostly poor black and Hispanic students, outscores many students from more affluent areas with results much higher than average on the state wide tests. I know that everybody loves a winner and that we all want our students to succeed, but at what cost? The article describes the school as being very rigid with a competitive atmosphere that requires strict adherence to rules.

Last week in my post A sprinkling of semicolons I shared an article by Ron Berger who talks about regular students whose “teachers have helped them develop the skills and mindsets necessary to produce work of exceptional quality, and have built classroom and school cultures in which exceptional work is the norm.” He says that most of the work comes from students in low-income urban schools.

I suddenly became fearful. Were the students and schools described by Berger similar to those of the Success Academy schools as described in Taylor’s article?

In both cases the students were from poor areas and they achieved remarkable success with most attending college. Austin, as described by Berger, made six drafts of his butterfly drawing before it was considered to be “scientific” enough. I wondered how much, if any, duress he had been under.

The article described Berger as the Chief Program Office of Expeditionary Learning Schools. I followed the link to discover a little more about Expeditionary Schools, checked with Wikipedia and other sites that came up in a Google search, including Open World Learning which says that expeditionary learning (EL) “fosters curiosity about the world by creating learning situations that provide something important to think about, time to experiment, and time to make sense of what is observed.” It also says that EL schools “promote rigorous and engaging curriculum; active, inquiry-based pedagogy; and a school culture that demands and teaches compassion and good citizenship.  EL schools are based on the Outward Bound model, which starts with the belief that we learn best through experience.

This all sounds wonderful and praise-worthy, and I was feeling a little happier about what I had shared. However, if there’s one thing I have realised after a lifetime involvement in education is that the written statements of any educational institution sound wonderful and praise-worthy. It’s the way the principles are applied in practice that makes the difference.

I didn’t like what I had read about Success Academy Charter Schools in the New York Times, so I thought I’d better check out their website to discover what philosophy and principles guide them. First thing I spotted was a letter from a parent responding to the article in the New York Times! The parent, Polina Bulman, painted a very different picture of the school from that offered in the Times.

Bulman describes the decision-making process she went through in choosing the Success Academy for her five year old daughter. She shares what had concerned her and explains how those concerns had been answered. She describes her daughter’s happiness at school and the progress she is making in all areas of her learning. She has nothing but praise for the school, and concludes her letter, which she shared on Facebook, with these words:

“I was so touched by the warm and welcoming atmosphere. I had a chance to hang out in the hallways, listening to what teachers say to students as they pass by, and watching what teachers and staff members say to one another. I saw so much collaboration and kindness, so much teamwork. The best thing is that as a parent I feel like a part of this team and am proud of it!”

These words are in quite strong contrast to those of the New York Times.

The “Approach to Learning” statement of the Success Academy explains that students are engaged in only 80 minutes of direct instruction each day and that the rest of the time they are engaged in small group instruction and hands on learning.

 

So what does all this mean?

For one thing, just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t judge a school by its policy statement.

For another, you can’t believe everything you read, even when the source seems trustworthy, you must question the author’s credentials, viewpoint and purpose in writing, “What barrow are they pushing?” (I’m upfront about my biases!)

And mostly, question, question question.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

These are important lessons for readers of any material and of all ages. I have talked about the importance of developing critical literacy in a series of posts about using “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” in the classroom. No, definitely not in science lessons, but in lessons to discuss those very points discussed above:

Don’t believe everything you read

Check an author’s credentials and purpose in writing

 And question everything.

While I applaud the end result of Austin’s butterfly drawing, I question what the process may have been. We are not privy to that, though the supportive voices of students in the video do give us an inkling. I hope for the sake of all students that it was one of encouragement and support rather than pressure. Additionally I hope that the report in the New York Times got it all wrong. But if that is so, what is Taylor’s agenda and why would she attack these particular schools so fiercely?

Note: I wrote this article a couple of days ago and upon re-reading it now I have a couple of further thoughts re my advice to check an author’s credentials and purpose in writing. I have not followed my advice. I failed to check out the author of the NY Times article. However I think it is fair to say that Lloyd Lofthouse and Diane Ravitch are both anti the emphasis on standardised testing; and the Success Academy is probably reliant on the tests to measure its “success”.

There is no black and white truth. There are only shades of grey.

Thank you

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