Posted in Books

Print Climate in the Home, School, and Library

At times it feels like Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook is repeating the same thing over and over again but I think that sometimes things need to be said many different ways, with many different stats for it to reach some people.  Chapter 6 really struck me in the differences between the ‘halfs’ and the ‘half-nots’.  I normally don’t like that phrase but it works many ways.  It is not just social economic status (however that is a big part of it) it is also about books, newspapers, magazines, libraries, and librarians.  If they are present achievement is higher than if they are not!

In my past life as a teacher-librarian read many articles, books and references on the impact of librarians and well stocked libraries.  It is nice to see many of these same stats it in a more popular and well read publication.  Trelease clearly sums up one such study on page 108:

A higher number of books per pupil and a full-time librarian meant an eleven-point advantage, and that a higher percentage of the student body visiting the library per week accounted for a twelve-point advantage.

There are many more studies just like this one with the same results, but I have seen first hand that it still doesn’t seem to make a difference in school programming and scheduling.

I loved that one section is titled: How many Books Should be in the Home Library?  I have a bit of an addiction to collecting children’s books.  This is a pet peeve of my husband who routinely says our kids have way too many books.  I think I may make him read this section of chapter 6.  I am still working on organizing and cataloguing all our books, I have barely started and have 220 cataloged.

Print in the home is a proven life changer worldwide.  Using data from seventy thousand families in twenty-seven nations, accumulated of multiple decades, researchers showed more books in the home led to a higher grade-leve completion rate.  (page 111)

Trelease has another great section where he comments on series books, often called ‘trash’ or ‘junk’ books.  I have never had a concern with this as a teacher or a teacher-librarian but I do love his quote:

Our job is to lead them eventually to the better books by reading aloud to them. (page 120)

Finally I just wanted to talk a bit about how this chapter is causing me to think about my own classroom.  I have a fair number of books in my classroom but I think I could do a better job organizing them and displaying them for the class.  I have three permanent sections: non-fiction, fiction, and concept (math, abc, etc).  In these three section the bins are labelled by theme (Clifford, bugs, colours, etc), but the books are not facing out.  In another shelf I rotate books that are relevant to current student interests or time of year and these are all facing out.  I am happy with both of these set-ups but think I need to take a bit more time specifically modelling how to use them with my  class.  After reading chapter 6 I want to create another section for other forms of reading: magazines & newspapers.  I am really interested in knowing how others use & display these types of media in their Kindergarten rooms.  In particular I would love to know what publications are put out.  Currently we get Chirp and Hightlights and I think I would like to get National Geographic Little Kids next year.  I am going to try and get copies of our local newspapers – weekly and daily but will have to make sure I check the content prior to putting them out.  I would love to hear what others are doing.

Posted in Books

Superhero Sidekicks & a preteen Gender War

I missed the chat for the chat on Wednesday for the July Sharp-Schu Book Club as we had visitors over that evening.  I have read both of the books so I am just going to blog about my thoughts.  A great link about the chat (including a partial transcript) can be found at Watch.Connect.Read.

Sidekicks by Dan Santat

Dan Santat is a fantastic illustrator of many books but this is his first graphic novel.  I will start by confessing that I am not a superhero fan, and never have been.  Saying that I found Sidekicks ad fun and enjoyable read.  My 7 year old daughter Kaitlyn, who lives on a steady diet of princess and fairy books, also very much enjoyed it.  Her review is actually the first post on her own blog .  It is a fantastic book to introduce the graphic novel genera to young readers.  Sidekicks is the story of the pets of Captain America and their mission to become his new sidekicks.  For readers, like Kaitlyn, who may not relate to the typical superhero character, the idea of pets being superheros is fantastic.  My girls have been asking to get a hamster for a pet and when she finished reading Sidekicks Kaitlyn has revised her request to a hamster with super powers.  A great read.

Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) by Lisa Yee and illustrated by Dan Santat

This is a tale of Bobby, fourth grade, and the intricate relationships between 9 year old boys and girls.  As my own children are not yet at this stage I forgot about the disgust that boys and girls can have for each other at this age.  As a parent I think I may like that stage better than the teenage years.  Bobby and Holly have been best friends since Kindergarten, but at school it is as if they don’t know each other.  I love how Yee has specifically labelled a ‘Parting Place’ to hightlight importance that Bobby and Holly are never seen together by their classmates.  Bobby vs. Girls is a cute story with many different story aspects that readers can connect with: desire for a pet, fitting in with friends, sibling & parent relationships, and the trials of being in 4th grade.  Santat’s illustrations are a perfect addition to Yee’s story.  For younger readers his illustrations will help them make the jump to longer chapter books from picture books.  I am adding this to Kaitlyn’s pile of books to explore.  I had considered doing this as a read-aloud with her but I think for her this would be best enjoyed as an independent read.

I have been looking up a number of Dan Santat’s other books and I think we may just have to do an illustrator study on his work week this year.  From short excerpts I have a feeling my class will love him!

Posted in Books

SSR – Reading Aloud’s Natural Partner

I know I am playing catch up but still wanted to post my thoughts on Chapter 5.  I am not new to the idea of Sustained Silent Reading.  Before I taught Kindergarten I was a Teacher-Librarian and for a course I took I did a Sustained Silent Reading project (click for attachment).  I know I have a number of great professional books on SSR but as one of my goals this summer is to catalog and organize all my books I was only able to find one: Building Student Literacy Through Sustained Silent Reading by Steve Gardiner.  I love the program and had used it with older grades but it never crossed my mind to use in my Kindergarten class (JK/SK split ages 3-5).  I was happy to read this chapter and it has given me a bit to think about on how I may be able to implement it in my current class.

Key Highlights:

  • “Until it is explained, silent reading is sometimes a mystery to young children.” (page 81) At one point in my education I remember learning about the developmental stage when children are capable of internal thought.  I can’t remember the age or stage but to me it connects to how young children feel like they always need to read out loud.  I need to go back and research a bit to see at what age they are capable of reading ‘in their head’.
  • My analytical mind really appreciated the ‘Fraction of Selection’ illustrations on page 84 and 85.  I thought it was really ironic that as I was reading about the difficulties of distractions my daughters were practicing their tap dancing – just a bit of a distraction!
  • I often see the summer slip with some of my student between JK and SK (they are usually in my class for 2 years).  I really appreciated the comment by Trelease on page 88 that “the better readers don’t take the summer off and thus the gap widens”.  As a parent I use the summer as my opportunity to work with my children myself, and even when we are not doing formal learning we are always exploring.  As a teacher I find it so frustrating that some parents won’t even read with their children over the summer.  Especially when it doesn’t take much: “reading of four to six books during summer was enough to alleviate summer loss” (6th graders)
  • “The teacher stands before the class and daily gives mini-book talks based on the classroom library” (page 101).  Another great idea I need to figure out how to fit in my day.

So I would love to hear how preK and K teachers use SSR in their classroom, please share your ideas.  I am trying to figure out how to implement in my class next month when school starts back.

Posted in Books

Do’s and Don’ts of Read-Aloud

I am a few days behind so I am trying to catch up on my blog posts before we go to Boston tomorrow.  Chapter 4 is a short chapter that is a list of Do’s and Don’ts for Reading Aloud.  I thought I would just comment on a few that really resonated with me.

The first thing that I have really been thinking about for a few days now was sparked by reading the Managing Interruptions post on Teach Preschool from an interview with Jim Trelease.  Trelease discusses interruptions by both reader and listener.  I understand and agree with his comments on student interruptions – managing them is a skill.  It is interruptions by the teacher that I have more of a struggle with.  When we are learning how to ‘teach’ Read Alouds much of the focus is on ‘Thinking Aloud’.  In Ontario a lot of this is outlined in Guide to Effective Instruction in Reading.

In the think-aloud process, the teacher models reading strategies – that is, the teacher says aloud to the students what he or she is thinking in order to make meaning of the text.

I understand Trelease’s comments on maintaining the flow of the story and avoiding stopping but there are times when teaching that it is useful to stop and ‘think aloud’.  The goal for a teacher is to determine when it is more valuable to comment and when it is better just  to keep reading.  A few points in this chapter discuss this idea.

  • As you red keep listeners involved by occasionally asking, “What do you think is going to happen next? (page 74)

  • When you come to a part of the story that the audience might not sense is important, pause and then whistler, “Mmmmmmmm.  That could be important”.

I think that while considering this, often as a teacher I sometimes ‘Think aloud’ a bit too often.

Here are a few other Do’s that jumped out at me:

Set aside at lease one consistent time each day for a story. (page 73)

I need to work on this one in my class.  I think it may be first think in the morning but as I work on my daily schedule for next year I need to find a way to schedule in a time every day.

Allow your listeners a few minutes to settle down and adjust their bodies and minds to the story. (page 74)

In my class we sing a lot, and often our singing indicates transitions.  I have been looking for a while for a song to sing with the the class to signal that it is time for a Read-Aloud.

Create a wall chart or back-of-the-bedroom-door book chart so the child or class can see how much as been read (page 76)

I love this idea, I just need to find the way that works in my class.

Chapter 5 up next, if I don’t get it read today it will probably not be posted until next weekend.

Posted in Books

Chapter 3 – The Stages of Read-Aloud

The main thing that struck me (again) in chapter 3 is that I really wish I had read this book before I had kids.  I think it may be on my list of baby shower gifts.  In chapter 3 Trelease breaks down read-alouds at different ages and stages of development.  I found it particularly helpful that he highlights the key features of each age and some recommended books.

Infants: “… parents frequently read aloud books and stories that rhyme.” (page 49)

Toddlers: “As much as possible you want the child to interact with you and the book” (page 51) “labelling the environment” (page 52)

Some other key things that jumped out at me:

  • Taking a short time to introduce the book and some unknown vocabulary prior to reading can increase learning benefits.
  • The transition from picture book to novel should be smooth.

While you don’t want to drown the child in words, you do want to unconsciously entice him away from a complete dependence on illustrations for comprehension and into more words. (page 57)

  • I love how he discusses the difference between novels that are meant to be read aloud and those that should be read silently.  I hadn’t thought about it before but  it is a great point!  There are some things that need to be processed more slowly as you read to yourself but others that have so much more power when you hear them.  This is a concept I would like to further explore.
  • bowdlerize 1: to expurgate (as a book) by omitting or modifying parts considered vulgar 2: to modify by abridging, simplifying, or distorting in style or content (Merriam-Webster app).  I learned a new word!
  • I love the rule of 50!  I don’t know why I haven’t come across this before but I am totally using this in my own reading.
Posted in Books

The Read-Aloud Handbook Chapter 2 – When to Begin (and End) Read-Aloud

I have  a bit of a confession to make, I didn’t really ever read to my children until they could sit up with me (approx. 6 months).  I have a really cute picture of my husband reading to Kaitlyn with 1 week old Eileen in his lap but usually they were not read to as babies, especially Kaitlyn (my eldest).  Since then we have read to all of our children and filled our house with books.

Much of the first part of chapter about the impact of reading-aloud to children starting young and continuing to read to them as they grow up. There are a number of very inspiring stories of different families in different situations with different challenges.

I am a parent and teacher who likes specific an concrete steps to follow.  Before my teaching career I earned a degree in Microbiology and I have a pretty analytical approach to most things.  Because of these I appreciate the steps Trelease outlines throughout his book.  On pages 32 and 33 he gives 4 factors found in the home environment of every early reader (I love lists):

  1. Child is read to on a regular basis.
  2. Variety of printed materials are available in the home.
  3. Paper and pencil are always available to the child.
  4. People in child’s home stimulate child’s interest in reading and writing.

So I thought I would check. 1 – Our kids are read to on a regular basis, we could do better but we could definitely do worse.  2 – We have tonnes of books in our house, if we weighed them they might actually come close to a tonne.  Both the girls have bookshelves in their rooms (we are working on Michael’s), there is one in the kitchen, our raingutter shelves in the playroom, and many drawers are filled with books.   We have some magazines but could improve on the variety of material available.  3 – There are definitely writing materials everywhere, from and early age the goal has been to keep them writing on paper and not the furniture.  4 – I like to think I am pretty good at stimulating their interest in reading and writing.  I am always answering my children’s questions in proper detail and posing new ones to them, even Michael’s thousand why questions a day.  If I don’t know an answer we always go to a book or the computer to find an answer.  We go to the school library frequently and in the summer the public (even though right now I am a bit scared to due to over due fines we owe).  This summer both of my girls are keeping journals and as I expect this of them I am also keeping my own journal, and sharing it with them.

Some other thoughts from chapter 2:

  1. Page 35 talkes about reading to each child separately if possible.  At school, in my class of 30+ kinders this is virtually impossible but I encourage co-op students, volunteers and anyone else in my class to read to individuals and small groups.  At home, when my husband is home, we try to divide up so that throughout the week everyone gets some one-on-one reading time.  I was happy to get a little reminder how important this is.
  2. “When a child has little or no experience with books, it is impossible for him to have a concept of them and the pleasure they afford.” (page 36) Very simply but honestly put!
  3. Bed lamp – my girls each have a bed lamp but I like the idea of suggesting to them that they are old enough to read for 15 minutes.  My eldest has a really hard time falling asleep and this might be the one thing to help her wind down, she loves to read and loves to think she is ‘big’.
  4. Can I still read Dr. Seuss to my kids?   Eileen went through a phase where she loved Horton Hears a Who and we read it every night.  I personally feel this is still important as it is her pleasure in reading, but maybe I need to throw in a few more challenging (vocabulary books) for her.  With Kaitlyn we are in to reading chapter books but maybe Eileen, my advanced reading (almost ) 5 year old, is ready for read-aloud chapter books

Looking forward to chapter 3!

Posted in Books

Lisa Moore’s “Caught”

Today I finished my one adult fiction book of 2013.  It sounds a bit depressing but I only usually read one adult book for enjoyment once a year, and unless I make myself I don’t think that would happen.  I read a lot of children’s books, and a fair amount of professional material (books, journals, etc), but in my busy life this is one little luxury that I don’t often allow myself.  The one time I do read, for solely enjoyment, is the one week I rent a cottage with my family every summer. I spend a lot of thought and research selecting a book.  It has to been an adult novel, fiction, not too much of a thinker but also not trashy.  This year I selected Lisa Moore’s new fiction Caught.

I found this book by an online suggestion at the Globe and Mail.

It met my criteria – it kept me hooked, I was able to read it in a couple of days and it was the appropriate level.  I am not really sure why I picked this book, normally I am not in to stories of drug smuggling and escaped cons but I did enjoy the book.  I don’t know if I will read it again or put it on my top 10 list but it was a good cottage read.  I enjoyed Moore’s style of intertwining the different characters and time periods seamlessly, however the lack of quotation marks for dialogue did drive me crazy at first.  I think I may have to check out her other books February and Alligator if I every have time to read another adult fiction book.

Posted in Books, Uncategorized

The Read-Aloud Handbook – Chapter 1: Why read aloud?


At a cottage in Muskoka this week, I enjoyed sitting in a screened porch looking out over the lake, as I read Chapter 1 last night.  I enjoyed reading the introduction a few days ago so I had no trouble getting in to the book.  Prior to starting I made sure to first read with my girls – Kaitlyn a chapter from The Wide Awake Princess and Eileen a story from her Cars anthology.  Michael was not sitting for a story last night but I was not too worried. There are a few distractions here at the cottage and at home where he can pick one of his hundred own books he always brings a book to “Family Reading Time”.  Trelease often writes of making reading enjoyable for children and this can’t happen by ‘forcing’ them to sit and listen to a story, to me that seems counterproductive.

Trelease starts chapter 1 with statistics, there are a lot of statistics in this book and a lot of research.  The first shows the decline in the number of students who read for pleasure as they age.

“We have 100 percent interest in kindergarten but loose three-quarters of our potential lifetime readers by the time they’re eighteen.”

Trelease has a a good discussion on his thoughts on electronic reading – tweets, email, facebook etc.  His points on vocabulary are important and became more concrete when you see the table on page 18 comparing the number of rare words per thousand in different forms of oral and written communication.  This kind of sums of the content of this chapter.  Trealease goes from discussing the reading problem, discussing what needs to be done to fix it, and then finishes with discussing why this is important (background knowledge and vocabulary).

Key thoughts that jumped out at me and what is rolling around in my head:

  1. The opening stats discusses not only if children are reading but what they are reading.  It states that children are reading less magazines and newspapers than they are books.  Do I need to have more varieties of print in my classroom?   I have a bin of magazines (Chirp and Highlights) but do I need to have enough variety.  Maybe I need to have a bin/area for ‘environmental print’.
  2. We read the newspaper online in our house – is this good enough modelling for our children?  My husband gets one magazine (The Economist) in print and the girls each get two magazines but we don’t have any print copies of the newspaper. Is this something we need to reconsider?
  3. I don’t need to abandon what I am doing now in my class, I just need to re-jig a few things. “You need the combination of know-how and motivation (pg. 10)
  4. Background knowledge!!! As a parent this is the one area I feel very confident, our children have lots of experiences and adventures but I teach children from a diverse SEC group that don’t have as rice of background experiences
  5. Types of vocabulary, I found the illustration on the different types of vocabulary on page 14 very helpful – listening vocabulary, speaking vocabulary, reading vocabulary, and writing vocabulary.

Final favourite quotes from chapter 1:

The one prekindergarten skill that matters above all others, because it is the prime predictor of school success or failure, is the child’s vocabulary entering school.  (page 15)

The least expensive thing we can give a child outside of a hug turns out to be the most valuable: words. (page 16)

The eventual strength of our vocabulary is determined not by the ten thousand common words but by how many rare words we understand.

Posted in Professional Development

Summer Book Study Blog Party – The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

This year the Summer Book Study Blog Party is starting a bit later, which is so much better for me.  In Canada we don’t finish school until the very end of June so often I find I am playing catch up with the blog party.  This year I have had time to relax for a few days and just last night I read the introduction in Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Hanbook 7th Edition.  If you would like more information on the blog party you can check it out here.  I participated last year and really enjoyed it – a fun an relaxed way to do some professional development over the summer.

Let me start by saying I love books, and I love to read, however I often forget to give myself time to read.  My collection of professional resources I want to get through is daunting.  I have given up reading ‘adult’ books, with the exception of one great book I ‘make’ myself read at the cottage every year.  My ECE partner would confirm that I have an obsession with collecting picture books, between myself and my children we may have more books than the school library.  One of my goals this summer is to organize all my books so today I downloaded the app Book Crawler.  Just starting today I have already added 90 books.  But, I digress, the reason I say this is because even though I love books they are often the quickest way to solve my insomnia.  This wasn’t the case last night when I started The Read-Aloud Handbook.  

After reading the introduction a few key thoughts stuck with me:

  1. I need to read more with my own children.  All three of my kids LOVE books.  My girls (7 an 4) are both avid readers and advanced for their age and my 2 year old son loves following his sisters lead.  Saying that we have become a bit lax with family reading time.  We sometimes read throughout the day but our 20 minutes every night is much more inconsistent.  We rectified that tonight.  First Michael picked a board book Franklin’s Shapes.  Next Eileen and I read Stephanie’s Ponytail together (she insisted on saying the repeating lines).  Finally Kaitlyn and I started a new chapter book The Wide-awake Princess.  The key is for us to keep this up – I know how important it is but even I sometimes need reminders.
  2. How can I get the parents of my students to read this book?  I understand the importance of reading with my children (even though I need reminders) but sometimes I feel that the parents of my students don’t understand quite how powerful it is – which is VERY evident in the introduction to The Read-Aloud Handbook.  Prior to blogging I went on Trelease’s website to check out his brochures.  I am going to take a closer look at these later in the summer and see how I might use them in communicating with my students’ families.
  3. I am excited to keep reading this book, and like it says, I am going to try and get my husband to read chapter 9 (we will see how that goes).

I wanted to share a few quotes from the introduction that really jumped out at me.

It  comes down to simple arithmetic: The child spends 900 hours a year in school and 7,800 hours outside school.  Which teacher has the biggest influence?  Where is more time available for change? (pg. vii)

Contrary to the current screed that blames teachers for just about everything wrong in schooling, research shows that the seeds of reading and school success (or failure) are sown in the home, long before the child ever arrives at school. (pg. xvii)

What we teach children to love and desire will always outweigh what we make them learn. (pg. xxi)

The first two quotes are great to show the influence of parents in education.  I know that some may take this as teachers trying to ‘put the blame on parents’ but I don’t feel that this is warranted.  I work very hard for the hours I have my students during the day to make their learning the most meaningful and relevant that I can but when I see it is number of hours it is overwhelming.  As always the education of children needs to be a partnership – “It takes a village”!

The final quote, I would like to blow up and put over top of the door to my classroom!  This is applicable to a love of reading but has a more broad context to a love of learning!

Posted in Literacy Tuesdays

ug Bugs

We have been working a bit on word families and our wrap up activity for the ‘ug’ family was a great success today so I thought I would share.  I have to confess that these ideas not completely mine but I have taken the ideas of other and made them work for me.  Please visit the sites I link to to get the originals.

My class is bug obsessed right now.  To capitalize on this I have made my SK required centres as bug based as I can.  (We are a student led inquiry based class but at this time of the year my SKs have 5 required centres they must complete each week, to structurally prepare them for Grade 1).  I found a cool free unit with literacy based bug activities on TPT.  I found a number of sheets for students to record their lists of words in different word families.  I decided that I would give them one sheet a week and ask them to write down any words in the word family that they could come up with.  Last week I gave them the ‘ug’ sheet.  Today we first made a class list of all the words everyone came up with.


I then wanted to do a fun craft to reinforce the word family.  I found another cool activity (this time through pinterest) on using butteflies to practice word families.  Butterflies are bugs so we tried it out.  I printed and cut out 3 copies of the templates and Kaitlyn made us a template before school started.  I gave them free range with their colour choices with the only requirement that they use ‘ug’ words off the list we made.  They added some much needed colour to my teacher cupboard doors.