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Struggling readers do not improve by “silent reading” in class

Jan HasbrouckI was recently sent an article by Jan Hasbrouck in which she discusses reading fluency and the pervasive use of Sustained Silent Reading and Round Robin Reading. These are strategies that teachers are using to develop fluency in struggling readers.

She says,

“Developing fluency among struggling readers takes more intensive, carefully guided practice than either of these strategies can deliver.”

Jan makes a very persuasive case that these instructional strategies take up significant amounts of classroom time with dubious benefit. She quotes Marilyn Adams as saying, “if we want to induce children to read lots, we must also teach them to read well.”

Classroom time will be better spent building decoding skills and providing one-on-one guided oral reading.

A good computer program for guided oral reading is “Soliloquy”, designed by Marilyn Adams, (then renamed “Reading Assistant”). Find the program online at The software actually listens to a child reading aloud and provides appropriate help.

Rhyming games to play with your children

Rhyming GamesSusan Maguire is a retired kindergarten teacher and blogs at “Together Time 4 Families“. This post titled “4 Sound Awareness Activities for Your Preschooler” has some good ideas for developing a young child’s awareness of the sounds in words.  Rhyming and listening for beginning sounds are fun, especially if you make them into a game.

Here’s an additional idea:  Make up your own endings to nursery rhymes as a game to play in the car or wandering around the grocery store.

Your child can fill in the blank! For example:

Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle

The cow jumped over the moon.

The little dog laughed to see such sport.

And the dish ran away with the ___(spoon).

Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle

The cow jumped over the house.

The little dog laughed to see such sport

And the cat ran away with the ___(mouse).

Hey diddle diddle the cat and the fiddle

The cow jumped over the man.

The little dog laughed to see such sport

And the pot ran away with the ____(pan).

Hey diddle diddle the cat and the fiddle

The cow jumped over the stork

The little dog laughed to see such sport

And the knife ran away with the ____(fork). Etc.

Learning (not memorizing) will make reading FUN

This blog post from Imagination Soup suggests as the first of 5 ideas for kids who hate to read:

“1. MODEL. Read the page or sentences first.  Have your child repeat.”

This strategy may help a child memorize the appearance of the words.  It does not give a child tools to decipher words on his own.

Research shows that children need to learn phoneme awareness (to identify each sound in a word) and phonics (to associate each of those 40 sounds with the letter(s) that stand for that sound).  Then they can sound-out words on their own.  The next paragraphs explain why I think it’s important for parents and teachers to understand this research:

kids readingIf a child hates reading, perhaps it is because the way he is being taught sets up inefficient pathways in the brain. Inefficient processing makes reading hard work, and not fun (no matter how interesting the subject matter). (more…)

A Story to Explain Brain Research About Reading

A Typical Day in a Brain Research Lab

The machine was familiar to her now, but it was still amazing to think that it could take a picture of her son’s brain while he was reading!  Johnny was lying down inside the machine, and she could hear him answering questions that the doctor was asking.

Ann sat down to wait and thought about all that had happened in the last couple of months. Her son had been having a hard time in second grade.  She knew she had to do something about it when he came home crying, saying that everyone else knew how to read, and he just didn’t get it.

“I’m just stupid”, he had sobbed.  “I’m never going to learn how to read!”

His teacher told her that Johnny was quite bright, but that he did have trouble reading.  She suggested that Ann might look into the reading research project that was going on in the neuroscience department at the nearby university.  At first Ann was skeptical that brain research would be of any help to Johnny, but she noticed that they were also providing special instruction.  Luckily, she came to a decision that would change Johnny’s life.


Free Educational Books from Talking Fingers

Read togetherWe want you to know that there are 18 highly entertaining decodable books available at our web site, FREE, on pdf files.  Just print them out and help your child sound-out the words and read them.  Please make sure he or she is sounding out the words, not memorizing how they look.

Let me know if you find these helpful and if you have any questions!

Message to Parents: Your kids only learn to read once!

Avery & Mom readingYour child will only learn to read and write once! Don’t miss it!

Sometimes it happens in the space of a few short months. You can play a vital role, and it may be one of the most significant things you and your child ever do together. Reading and writing are the most important skills children learn for success and happiness in school and beyond.

Learning to read and write is a staggering accomplishment, much more difficult than learning to speak and to understand speech. Becoming literate is one of the most essential major learning experiences of modern life. It is a valuable tool for personal expression, and a doorway to the written wisdom of the brightest and most interesting members of the human tribe since history began.

I believe that computers offer an extraordinary opportunity for parents to participate in this critical learning experience with their children. Educational software and learning materials provid a unique framework for short enjoyable day-to-day lessons. A few minutes each day is all that it takes. (more…)

Your First Grader Can Write!

Kasey writesFirst graders can write!  And what’s more they WANT to write!  The story below by Kasey, age 6, is a marvelous example, (produced in the Read, Write & Type lab at her school in Los Altos, California).

Writing is a way to learn how to think.  As E.M. Forester once said “How can I know what I think until I see what I say?” As children put their ideas on paper, they have to figure out what they know, what they believe, and what they feel. As they read what they write, the ideas are changed and perfected. The earlier they start learning this process, the earlier they will develop their ability to express ideas clearly and thoughtfully.

Writing came before reading when it was first invented.  Writing comes before reading as a natural way to begin to understand words on paper.  It is the writer who creates words for the reader to read.  It is the writer who initiates the action—who chooses the words, generates the ideas, and actively shapes the meaning of the message.  It is the writer who sees the “big picture” but who, at the same time, must assemble the whole message one piece at a time from individual sounds and letters.  Children can read without writing, but they cannot write without reading.

Children learn best by putting their ideas about the world into their own words and by telling (or writing) about them.  Getting feedback from an audience is a good way to learn whether or not their ideas make sense.

Writing makes ideas visible.  Once ideas are captured in print, children can read them over and over and think about them.  They can show their ideas to others.  As they revise their work, they become more confident about what they know, what they believe, and who they are.

“Plants grow from a seed and roots.

We grow from food and water and love.

Anamas grow from food and water.

Love grows from fathe.

Drowings grow from a pencel or cran or makr.

A brane grows from lrning.

A stoey grows from an idea.”

-Kasey, First Grade

An Extraordinary Man: A Dedicated School Volunteer

kids need YOUR helpI want to tell you about an extraordinary man. His name is Fred and he won’t tell me how old he is.  I know about him because he writes passionate emails to me every week about the children and schools he is helping.  This is the story of a superhero, an amazing school volunteer.

Fred is a retired Aerospace engineer and spent most of his life helping management decide what new business to go after, how to beat out competitors, and how to allocate research and development funds needed to create new products.

He had made no plans for retirement when Hughes Aircraft decided to downsize and laid off 10,000 employees in 1989.  As he was going through the termination process at Hughes, he found out that they had a K-12 Education Program already in place.  “At the time, “ Fred says, “I didn’t think much about it but a few months later I decided to attend one of their monthly luncheon meetings. I joined their program as a classroom partner with my daughter who was a middle school math teacher. I think it was about 1992 that I started helping schools.”


Technology Won’t Teach Without YOU!

sesame street

Pre-K Lessons Linked to TV Produce Gains in Literacy (but with a big caveat!)  This summary is from an article Education Week, Oct 21, 2009.

A new study has found that low-income pre-schoolers made significant gains in acquiring skills such as naming letters and knowing the sounds associated with these letters, and understanding concepts about stories and printed words.  These gains were found after children participated in a technology-supported literacy curriculum that used videos from “Super Why”, “Sesame Street”, and “Between the Lions” (PBS) as part of the Education Department’s “Ready to Learn Initiative”.

But the program used what they called ENGAGED VIEWING.


Federal Report Card Shows Failing Grades

Dept of EducationThe following statistics are taken from,  the federal department of education site.  I thought it might be eye-opening to see how far we till have to go in teaching reading and writing.  Although these statistics are depressing, it is necessary to keep a goal in mind.  Our educational system needs help big-time. You can use the statistics to apply for grants for school support from foundations and corporations.

“Too many U.S. students are not becoming proficient in basic academic knowledge and skills in reading, writing, mathematics, and science. For example, on the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 33 percent of fourth-graders and 26 percent of eighth-graders cannot read at the basic level; and on the 2005 NAEP 27 percent of twelfth-graders cannot read at the basic level. That is, when reading grade appropriate text these students cannot extract the general meaning or make obvious connections between the text and their own experiences or make simple inferences from the text. In other words, they cannot understand what they have read.

A similar picture emerges in the development of writing skills. According to the 2002 NAEP writing assessment 14 percent of fourth-graders cannot write at the basic level, 15 percent of eighth-graders cannot write at the basic level, and 26 percent of twelfth-graders cannot write at the basic level.

On the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 14 percent of adults demonstrated no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills. These adults are able to sign their names and can locate information in short prose texts, but are unable to read and understand material presented in pamphlets or newspaper articles. Another 29 percent of the adult population demonstrated basic prose literacy skills, but could not perform moderately challenging literacy activities, such as summarizing a text.

Given the increasing need for literacy in the workplace (Barton 2000), it is unsurprising that more than half of adults with below basic literacy levels are unemployed. In addition, adults with a basic mastery of prose literacy skills also confront challenges in the workplace. Approximately 38 percent of those individuals are currently unemployed.”

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