Monday, 28 October 2013

The Challenges That Our Children Need

I’ve just read a recent article – a brief interview – about the changes parents may expect to see in their child’s math homework next year with the new Common Core Standards.  While I did not think the article was particularly informative, I did learn from the comments (as is often the case).  Below is one of those comments (bold at the end is mine).

“(Common Core)… is definitely not dumbing down the math, it’s ramping it up. Someone who is (justifiably) concerned about US kids falling behind worldwide should be very glad to see changes like this one, because too many kids know *what* to do in math problems, but not *why* they’re doing those things or *how* those things work. A deeper understanding of numbers and their manipulation leads to smarter kids who can use math better, rather than just memorizing what steps to take for which math problems.

Kids absolutely DO need to be challenged in school. The more challenge the better! Facing educational challenges leads to more learning, more confidence, and more flexibility with knowledge. Remaining unchallenged leads to indifference, under-achievement, and less learning. “Learning what works” implies that only one thing works for a given situation, and that memorizing that thing is the answer. This leads to adults who can’t solve problems for themselves. Many different solutions may “work” to solve a particular problem; a child who can generate, evaluate, and apply a solution, then assess its efficacy, is more likely to succeed.

The challenge kids need, though, is not exposure to (and memorization of) a bunch of facts. Rather, kids need to be challenged to learn how to acquire the information they need, how to synthesize and apply information, how to predict and adapt to outcomes, how to generate and evaluate ideas, etc. If, in the midst of all that, they never learned fact X or fact Y, it will be a piece of cake for them to pick those facts up when they need them.

Friday, 11 October 2013

FLUENT READING – What is it and how to kids learn it?

Once students master the basics of reading (phonics, blends, whole words, full sentences),  they start developing fluency, or the ability to read easily and with expression. Fluency is what allows readers to read a sentence without stumbling over words, while still being able to understand what they're reading along the way. But reading fluency can be elusive for some young readers.

By the end of second grade, your child should be able to read with expression, pausing for periods, adding inflection in sentences that end in question marks or exclamation points, and reading voice and emotion into the characters in stories.

Into third grade and beyond, fluency is what helps children read and learn at the same time. But according to Dr. Marilyn Jager Adams, research professor at Brown University and author of Beginning to Read, “...the majority of fourth graders haven’t developed fluency and have to think about every word...,” so they’re not able to understand what they read.

Want to figure out if your child is a fluent reader? Ricki Linksman, director of the National Reading Diagnostics Institute and author of Solving Your Child’s Reading Problem, recommends doing a reading check-up. Ask your child to read aloud from a few books or magazines—a novel or chapter book, his class science or social studies textbook, or a favorite magazine. After he’s finished reading, ask him questions about what he read. If he struggles to read individual words, or isn’t able to understand what he read, help develop his fluency with these strategies:

Choose High-Success Books

"Kids should be reading with 99 percent accuracy," says Dr. Richard Allington, professor of education at the University of Tennessee, "or, they should only miss one word for every 100 they read." When you’re choosing a book with your child, have him read a page or two and hold up a finger for every word that he has trouble reading. If he’s holding up more than one finger, the book is too hard.

Take Turns: Shared Reading

Read books with lots of dialogue (for young readers, try The Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems), or take turns reading paragraphs or pages in books that are at your child’s reading level. "During shared reading," says Adams, "you’re helping your child understand the story and modeling fluent reading, while she is practicing recognizing words and spelling patterns."

Let Them Be the Librarian

Let your child choose what she reads—any print, including words on a web site or words on a recipe card, activates the reading centers in the brain and will strengthen her reading fluency. If your child wants to read a book that’s outside her comfort level, read it together, says Adams.

Practice “Deep Reading”

For some of your child’s reading practice, focus on what Dr. Timothy Rasinski, professor of reading at Kent State University and author of The Fluent Reader, calls deep reading, or reading the same material over and over. Make deep reading authentic by adding an audience. Bring poetry or play books home and have your child read his favorite poems or act out her favorite plays to you, her grandparents, and family friends.

Put Words to Music

Print song lyrics for your child to read along to their favorite songs, or encourage him to follow along with the songbook at your religious organization.

Add Audio

When your child chooses a book, get the audio recording as well. Have her read along with the audio recording until she can read the story independently. Or, make the audio yourself; Allington suggests recording your child reading a passage over and over so she can hear the improvement as she reads faster and with more expression.

Come Back to Correct

When you read with your child, don’t stop to correct words that he struggles with or misreads. If you interrupt every time he makes a mistake, he’ll listen for your correction, instead of listening for meaning. Write down any words he misses and return to them once he’s finished the chapter or story. Ask him if the word made sense when he read it and, if he can reread it correctly, great. If not, help him figure it out.

Pick a Topic

If you have an older child who’s struggling with fluency, she probably feels like she’s missed learning information because she can’t get it from books. So, let her choose a topic she’s interested in, then find books at different levels that are all about that topic. The difficult, technical terms (the names of the dinosaurs, or engineering terms) are the words she’ll pick up quickly, so as she reads she’ll be practicing word patterns and sentence structure.

Every time you read with your child it’s an opportunity to develop fluency, as well as a love of reading. So, when you sit down, no matter whose turn it is to read, make sure the book is one that your child won’t want to put down!

Consider Additional Help

Pinecone Active Learning provides an inviting and safe environment in which little readers can practice and master important reading concepts with careful guidance.  The reading program covers all the basics from beginning letter sounds for the pre-readers, through reading comprehension, vocabulary development and grammar for the continuing students.  The grammar and vocabulary portions have also been shown to greatly improve writing skills of Pinecone students.