Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Don Peek: Reading To, Reading With, Reading Independently

This post is authored by Don Peek, a former educator and past president of the training division of Renaissance Learning. He now runs The School Funding Center, a company that provides grant information and grant-writing services to schools. To learn more, or to subscribe to the School Funding Center Grant Database, go to schoolfundingcenter.



Reading To, Reading With, Reading Independently


Last time I discussed how important it is for all teachers to teach their students to read.  Reading is the most important skill we can teach our students, disabled or not, and it opens many, many doors to them.


Almost all students like their teachers to read to them.  I know I’ll never forget my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Nickerson, who read a few pages of Pippi Longstocking to us each day after recess.  The whole class enjoyed it.  


Reading to students is good because even if some of your students have poor reading vocabularies, they have much higher listening vocabularies and can piece together the story quite well even if they don’t know some of the words and could not possibly read the book independently.  Where we fail quite often is letting students off the hook by not providing them with a copy of the book we are reading so they can follow along.


When they are required to follow along in their own copies of the book you are reading, they turn listening vocabulary into sight vocabulary.  I like to use the word Sioux as an example.  You are reading a book about this great American Indian tribe.  You read the word Sioux many times to your students, but they do not see it for themselves.  When they go to the library and get a book about American Indians and come to the word Sioux, they will not recognize it.  They will not know how to pronounce it or know what it means.  Even if they have good phonetic skills, they won’t be able to work the word out.  If your students had been looking at the word each time you read it, they would know the word and recognize it when it appeared in their own library books.


During the read to of multi-chapter books students can add dozens and dozens of words to their sight vocabularies simply by seeing the words as you read them and fitting them into the context of the story.  Yes, it is still good to read to students even if they don’t have a copy of the book as you read, but it is much better and more productive when you have them follow along in books of their own.


Students also pick up sight vocabulary if you let them read to you.  When they miss words, you correct them and have the students repeat the words so they can remember them the next time they come up in their reading.  Don’t interrupt and correct students too much.  It can be frustrating for the student and defeat the purpose of the exercise.  If you have to correct or give hints on every second or third word, the book is probably too difficult for the reader.  Get another book at a lower level.  Also, if you have to correct or help the reader on many of the words, skip the corrections on the words that don’t make a difference to the meaning of the story.  The read with experience should be helpful but also enjoyable to the student.


Reading with a student can be very tiring to a weak reader.  You may want to swap out reading every other paragraph or page.  This allows the student to rest and allows you to provide a model of good, fluent reading.  Also, discuss the story as you go.  Make sure the student is not just calling words but has an understanding of the text.  If the student stumbles through the reading and cannot tell you what is happening in the story, the material is likely too difficult.


Finally, the best practice students can get once they build a vocabulary of a few hundred words is independent reading in books at appropriate levels.  The level of the book is the key.  If their book is too easy, they will not be introduced to enough new vocabulary words, and their reading levels cannot grow.  If the book is too difficult, they are encountering too many words that they don’t know, and they are unable to comprehend what they are reading.  Students who know 80-90% of the words in a book and have good phonetic and contextual skills will quickly raise their reading levels as they practice, practice, practice reading independently.


I taught some students in the 8th grade who had 2nd grade reading levels.  There are no shortcuts.  You must read to and with students using books at the appropriate levels, and you must provide students with an abundance of books at appropriate levels that they can enjoy and read independently.   This is true for non-disabled students, learning-disabled students, dyslexic students --- all students.

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Grant Info:

Grant Name:  IWP Foundation Educational Grants
Funded by:  Innovating Worthy Projects Foundation
Description:  Giving on a national basis; giving internationally if agency is recognized by the United Nations to provide support primarily for the education, service, and care of disabled and special needs children, and pre-school programs. No grants to individuals.
Program Areas:  Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Early Childhood, General Education, Math, Reading, Science/Environmental, Social Studies
Recipients:  Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline:  8/31/2012

Average Amount:  $1,000.00 - $14,000.00
Telephone:  305-861-5352
Email:  info@iwpf.org

Availability:  All States

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Guest Blog: Terri Mitchell - Talking to Parents about IEP Goals

This post is authored by Terri Mitchell; a HighScope field consultant who currently serves as the Early Childhood Administrator in Canyons School District in Sandy, Utah. Terri is a certified teacher in special education and early childhood special education. She has contributed her experience with instructional coaching, assessment, and systems change to the development of several high-quality early childhood programs. She co-authored the book I Belong: Active Learning for Children with Special Needs (HighScope Press).

Talking to Parents about IEP Goals



Sharing with parents how their child’s Individual Education Program (IEP) will be implemented in the classroom can help alleviate their concerns about how their child’s goals and development will be supported and monitored.



In this article, we’ll look at information a teacher shared with the parents of a child named Alysia. The teacher explained how Alysia’s parents’ communication goals would be supported and embedded within the daily routine of the classroom.



A Conversation with Alysia’s Parents



The teacher begins by confirming that one of Alysia’s communication goals is to use a two- to three-word phrase. The parents agree and ask, “When can Alysia practice this in your classroom, and how will you practice this with her?” The teacher responds, “Alysia will have many opportunities to communicate within our daily routine.”



Then the teacher walks the parents through each part of the day and shares the following examples:



• Greeting Time: “We sing a greeting song every day and discuss what is written on the message board. Often children call out the messages and say what they think they mean. I will encourage Alysia to share her own ideas, whether it is by a single word or gesture, or even repeating what one of her classmates has stated, as a way of helping her understand how verbal and nonverbal communication carries meaning.”



• Planning Time: “Alysia will be able to use a variety of props, photos, and drawings to share her choices. For example, she might indicate where she plans to play by choosing a toy from that area. As she becomes more comfortable using words, I will encourage her to describe the materials and how she plans to use them.”



• Work Time: “This is the time Alysia is able to carry out her plans and interact freely with adults, peers, and materials in the classroom. Adults will be supporting and expanding the words Alysia uses. For example, if she says, ‘book,’ I might say, ‘You want me to read you this book.’ Later Alysia herself might be able to say, ‘Read book’ or ‘Read me a book.’ I can also help with interpreting for peers as needed. For example, if Alysia says ‘red’ and points, I might say, ‘Jonah, I think Alysia is asking you to move the red crayon closer to her.’ Suppose Jonah does this and Alysia smiles in response — the two of them are then forming their own bond. At a later time, Alysia may use a short phrase when addressing Jonah directly. Moreover, if Jonah speaks to her in short sentences, she might be motivated to do the same with him. Sometimes, children learn more from one another than they do from adults!”



• Cleanup Time: “Alysia is very good at matching pictures — she will be able to help her peers put items away by matching the labels on the toys with the labels on the shelves. By adults and children occasionally attaching words to the labels (for example, I might say, ‘you put the puzzle on the shelf’), Alysia will gradually learn new words and simple phrases.”



• Recall Time: “This is when Alysia can share what she did during work time, including talking about the materials she used and peers she interacted with. Again, she can use the words she has but I will have props and pictures to support her communication.”



• Snack Time: “Often at snack time children continue their conversations about what they have done at work time. This is also a wonderful time to initiate new conversations. Children share the responsibilities of passing out napkins, cups, and milk, and they talk about what they are doing with one another. We eat together family style, which provides a nice atmosphere for conversations. You can help me involve Alysia by telling me things that Alysia has done recently at home, and I can introduce those ideas into conversations. You’ve already told me some of her favorite foods. By serving these at snack time now and then, she might comment on the fact that she likes them or eats them at home.”



• Large-Group Time: “Everyone meets together as a whole group in our block area. We sing songs and move in different ways. Children who want can take turns being leaders in these activities. We encourage children to change the words in songs and will ask Alysia for her ideas. We will also encourage Alysia to name and demonstrate movement ideas, for example, patting their shoulders. We can provide picture cards of the movements until she is able to name the movements.”



• Small-Group Time: “This is when children work in small groups to explore materials, practice skills, and form concepts. As I move among the children, I will also have the opportunity to work one-on-one with Alysia. Alysia will have many opportunities to describe the materials and how she is using them, as well as to exchange ideas with me and her peers. These activities will support her vocabulary growth, and gradually she will begin to combine the new words she is learning into short phrases and then simple sentences.”



This example illustrates how focusing on parents’ concerns about their children with special needs within the context of the daily routine and learning environment can help to create a vision for family members that their young children can participate, belong, and thrive in a HighScope classroom!



From: Extensions Newsletter (p.9) authored by Terri Mitchell, Ypsilanti, MI: High/Scope Press. © Year High/Scope Educational Research Foundation. Used with permission.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Don Peek: Reading - The Most Important Skill


This post is authored by Don Peek, a former educator and past president of the training division of Renaissance Learning. He now runs The School Funding Center, a company that provides grant information and grant-writing services to schools. To learn more, or to subscribe to the School Funding Center Grant Database, go to schoolfundingcenter.


Reading – The Most Important Skill


In my last post I discussed the merits of a skills-based curriculum.  I firmly believe in that concept, especially for students with disabilities.  Out of the many possible skills that we teach children in school, I don’t believe any is as important as reading.  When children master the skill of reading, the world truly opens up for them.


That is especially true today with high-speed Internet available to almost everyone.  Once a person learns to read and comprehend what he/she reads, all of that information in books and on the Internet, every idea or concept ever imagined becomes accessible.  That wasn’t true just 25 years ago.  Our world has truly changed.


Only a very small percentage of our students lack the mental capacity to learn to read well.  Other students may struggle, battle with dyslexia, or have other difficulties, but in the end, if we concentrate on teaching them this one very important skill, they can master reading and change their lives forever.


I taught remedial reading myself at the middle school level, and my wife taught 1st graders to read for 34 years before she retired.  I can’t say it’s an easy task, but it is worth every bit of the time and effort you put into it.  Some students can’t hear the vowel sounds properly.  Some students aren’t seeing the same symbols on the page that you see.  But the key to reading well that so many educators ignore is that once students have obtained even the most basic reading skills, the way for them to improve is by practicing their reading. 


Worksheets may be helpful for students struggling with blends, vowel sounds, prefixes, suffixes, or compound words, but in the end, if a child doesn’t practice reading in a real book written by a real author, those minor skills they pick up on worksheets are not going to stick.


When I was a principal in Northeast Texas, we moved our reading scores from less than 50% passing the state reading test to more than 90% passing the state reading test in two years.  Every teacher in that middle school became a reading teacher.  Students practiced independent reading an hour each day (broken down into two 30-minutes segments) in library books appropriate to their own individual reading levels.


Yes, we used Accelerated Reader (a commercial product from Renaissance Learning that helps educators monitor independent reading) to help monitor and motivate our students.  I won’t apologize for that for one main reason.  It worked.  It worked for us, and it worked for our students.  When we first started our program, our students were reading an average of two grade levels below the national norm.  After two years, they were reading on grade level.


Their grades went up in all subjects.  Why not?  They could now read and understand their textbooks in science and social studies.  Many of our learning disabled students were dismissed from our special education program.  Even if they had really had a legitimate reading disability when they started our program (such as dyslexia), they were able to overcome it by learning to recognize the reading symbols they were seeing and practicing their reading an hour each day at the appropriate level for them.


Next time I will discuss our balance of reading to students, reading with them, and having them read independently.


 In this blog, I just want you to know that if you were forced to teach only one skill to your students, disabled or not, that skill should be reading.  No other single skill can have the impact on their lives that reading does.  Make sure your students can read at the highest possible level, and you can change their lives forever.
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Grant Info:

Grant Name:  Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring


Funded by:  National Science Foundation


Description:  The PAESMEM Program seeks to identify outstanding mentoring efforts that enhance the participation of groups (i.e., women, minorities, and persons with disabilities) that are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The awardees serve as leaders in the national effort to develop fully the Nation's human resources in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. This program provides educational opportunities for undergraduate students, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, k-12 educators.


Program Areas:  Math, Science/Environmental, Technology, Disabilities


Recipients:  Public School, Privates School, Higher Education


Proposal Deadline:  6/6/2012


Average Amount:  $10,000.00 - $100,000.00


Contact Person:  Richard A. Alo


Email:  ralo@nsf.gov


Telephone:  (703) 292-4634




Availability:  All States