Tag Archives: Reading

Reading and Speaking really matter

Reading and Speaking really matter

In my post Yes Reading Matters I wrote that it was important for newborns to be read to as it helps their vocabulary and brain function.  I recently found a NYT article on the importance of reading to newborns for the same reason.  So if you haven’t read Proust and the Squid, this NYT article has almost a Reader’s Digest version of some of the research.



Proper Grammar

As a Language and Literacy student at Harvard, I learned that there was a such thing as African American Vernacular English (AAVE).  In a nutshell, the research stated that African Americans especially those who are from the south combine the Southern dialect and African dialect carried from slavery time that translates into everyday speech.  Growing up, my mother would call it speaking improper English (or ebonics) and academia would classify it as a colloquial language.  It is not language that you would use to write a formal letter or paper, in short this dialect should only be a dialect among peers and familiar friends.

My concern is that this research has given a pass to some educators to not correct this dialect because they dear that they are being insensitive to the African American culture.  By not requiring students to enunciate and use the correct verb tenses, they are being more sensitive to how students speak at home and respecting the student and their family.  Personally I think by not requiring students to speak with proper verb tenses and enunciation, we are actually doing them a disservice.  If at a young age  they do not hear the correct verb tenses and correct pronunciation of words, they run the risk of sounding uneducated as they get older because it is no longer cute to not know.

As a reading specialist it is a problem because this improper grammar ultimately affects a child’s ability to read  and comprehend.  The better the grammar or the knowledge of the correct way to speak, the better students are able to understand lectures and books way above their levels.

I do agree that students should be able to express themselves in anyway they choose when they are not in an academic setting, however we must draw the line during presentation and speaking to adults in school.  This is the same idea as using emoticons and texting abbreviations while writing a formal paper.

How do we draw the line between sensitivity and academia? Should grammar just be a lesson in code switching as Delpit asserts?

Leave your thoughts.



Candy is good sometimes…

Read all of it before you come with pitchforks!!!!

As a self proclaimed bibliophile, I have bookshelves upon bookshelves of books from my early childhood well into my various college and graduate courses.  My parents were amazing and even have the box of all of my papers from kindergarten and first grade.  Some may say it may border on being a hoarder, but it really pains me when I think of families who throw out outgrown books like old clothing.

Imagine that first book that you loved so much when you were a child.  It got you interested into reading. It is timeless, it was your gateway book.  For some people, you don’t know what book that is until you get much older.  You know what book that is because you have read it so much that you need tape and other mediums to keep it together.  During my presentation, one of my families stated that they would throw out the Junie B. Jones books that his daughter reads so much that she doesn’t read anything else.  The teacher in me says sure, “Go ahead put the book away,” but the bibliophile in me says “NO!!!! PLEASE DON’T!!!”

When a child finds the book that gets them into reading, it is always good to keep the book around.  It reminds students of where they came from as a reader and should be kept as a memento for when they are reading five million text books.  Books are a part of her childhood.  By throwing the book away instead of just putting it away you are forcing them to lose a piece of their innocence.

The early chapter books and comic books are like candy to reading children.  It may not be helpful to their reading levels, but it will help sustain their love of reading.  They revisit those books when times get hard or need a familiar adventure.

Should they be reading  these books every night?  Probably not.  It is okay for them to indulge in these books once in a while.  You would never feed your child McDonalds or Chick-fil-a for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but you could give it to them once in a while as a treat.  It is a reward.  Reading a comic book or other book is like candy or McDonalds (Chick-fil-a), they are a reward, however you don’t have to do away with them completely.


So please, don’t throw out books just because your child has outgrown them. Let them decide which books are timeless and make them excited to read.  Ultimately it will help them to keep their childhood.


Happy Reading


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Balanced Diet

This weekend I had the pleasure to present to families about the habits of great readers.  I love doing these developments because I am able to really talk in depth to a family about their child and their work especially as it relates to reading.  We started by talking about how we would eat properly and have a balanced diet of food.  I took the idea of the now defunct food pyramid and related it to reading.  Something told me that this would make this sticky for our families.  They loved it.  Here is the graphic.  This week I will unpack what this all means.  Let me know about your thoughts.

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Reluctant vs. Avid Readers

So imagine this, your students come to your class early, grab their reading discussion books and just start reading…to each other. No directions were on the board, in fact you aren’t even there yet, however no one would know because these children are reading and facilitating their own discussions without adult hand holding.
Any classroom teacher would say it has to do with the routines and procedures. They would say that I must set them up early on in the year and gave them the expectations. To be honest, I would say it had less to do with routines, and more to do with how much these children love literacy. They love to discuss it with each other. They love to read to each other and justify their answers. In order to be successful with their discussions, they had to read the night before to participate or they would be lost. They have such high investment because of the discussions. They get to to talk to each other not to me, their teacher and let me tell you it just overjoys my heart.
For most children it takes one book that gets them to read forever. For my children it was a series of books. The group of children I work with are what educators would classify as reluctant readers. There are a series of interventions, prescriptions, and plans for getting them to read on grade level. I think what made me successful with these amazing readers helping them to read and access books that they can fall in love with. They are excited to come to class to find out what happens next and now that they can take the book home they just want to ensure that they read some more, even beyond the requirement.
The difference between a reluctant reader and a avid reader is the keystone book or author. As educators, parents, or friends who have friends who have children, it is important to keep introducing children to keystone books. They make the most of difference.

Find the Fire–Motivation

So a friend of mine asked me about what motivates my students, and then another friend calls me to tell me that they aren’t sure why they are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in a graduate program–he is unmotivated.  So, actually, really nothing happens by coincidence.  In that spirit, I spent my waking moments wondering about motivation.  What motivates me to want to go to the gym even after I’ve missed my appointment, what motivates my students to want to read for pleasure and love learning, what made graduate school so frustrating for my high school friend that he is now unmotivated to actively pursue and finish his graduate degree? What is it about motivation that makes the most challenging tasks uncomplicated  and the most uncomplicated tasks challenging?  How does that relate to success: personal success, financial success, romantic success, just plain life success?

One my grad school professors introduced me to the 7 building blocks of reading comprehension, and though I only remember 5 of them on a given day (don’t say anything ot her, she would have my head) the one that made the most clout in my success this year is motivation.  So you are probably thinking, yes, you teach a child the letters, their sounds, word solving techniques, give them some background knowledge and they are just going to become these amazing readers. It’s as if you have all the ingredients to make the best meal in the world and you forget that you need a stove cook it all.  Motivation is the fire, literally and figuratively that makes your meal cohesive.  You may need a lot of motivation to do something, or not that much, but without it, you may just have really awesome potential.  Okay so maybe the analogy is all off, but I hope you get the point.

Motivation also works in the opposite direction also, if you have a pot of water to make your famous mashed potatoes, but you forget the knowledge the potatoes, you may burn all of your water away. Then you are left with a fire and a burned pot (which honestly so not fun to actually clean).  It really is a combination of tools, knowledge and motivation  that make people successful because if you have the motivation to find the knowledge then you’ll have the knowledge and therefore fuel your motivation.

So how does this relate back to my students?  SO today my student says to me that she doesn’t like to read because it takes too long and the words are a lot and she can’t find her place.  So she really likes the books but then looses motivation when it is time to read for a while.  Most teachers would tell her to try harder and give her a highlighter ruler (which i fully intend to give her) and then sort of send her on her way.  I actually think it has to do with the fact that the books themselves don’t interest her.  She wants to be chef, but hasn’t read many books about food.  So sitting at the dining room table today we chose three books that we will use to study food.  The chemistry of it, where they come from and the best ways to prepare them.  We sat and read only the reviews and the synopses online and I saw her eyes light up.  It was a spark and it was the best thing ever! Maybe we will have a project on all the knowledge she acquired.  The sky is the limit.

As far as my friend from high school, the jury is still out.  I think with adults the motivation actually comes from purpose.  When a person has purpose then motivation is a by product.  I am not saying by any means that this person lacks purpose, but i will say that they have to spend sometime rekindling the spark.  It is harder with adults because we get really set in our ways, and rekindling becomes harder and a little more difficult.

In his book Drive, Daniel Pink talks about what motivates people and it isn’t always monetary.  It is doing something that matters: something that matters to them, to others, to anyone.  Knowing that what you do matters helps to make that rekindling less challenging.  I think that that’s what it is for my student, so reading and knowing that what she is doing will help advance in her career long after the fourth grade will impact her the most.  I know that what motivated me to spend seven years in school in undergrad and both graduate degrees, was that the work I did in undergrad made me a better person and the work in grad school made me a better teacher, professional and has helped me to impact people like my students and my friends surprisingly enough.

When the going gets tough, I would say find what matters and play around with it.  And if you can’t find what matters soul search until you do.  Ask your kids what matters to them when you find that they don’t want to do what you want them to do (or they said they wanted to do yesterday, but then realized that they really don’t want that anymore).  Find out what really makes you tick intrinsically and the extrinsic reward will happen.  I think that is why we have so many awesome teachers running around.

I’ll leave with this talk from Daniel Pink where he talks about extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation.  It really made me think the first time I listened and I still find new insights each time.

Remember that there are no coincidences, just wonderful acts to make you amazing.

Don’t forget the stove on your next big meal.