Sunday, January 30, 2011

Great Educational Shows. Thank You PBS.

I just wanted to take a minute to tell you about 2 of my favorite educational shows for pre-readers and early readers.  Word World and Super Why on PBS.  I like the fact that both of these shows use phonics to teach kids how to segment and blend words, teach concepts of print, teach sentence structure, as well as teach cause and effect.  There are many other great aspects of these shows too, most importantly is the fact that my kids find them entertaining.  I hope that you and your family will enjoy them as well.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What Sound Does The Letter R Really Make?

This topic must be at the top of my list as personal pet peeves!  Over the years as a Reading Specialist, I have heard the letter R mispronounced multiple times within my classroom, as well as on tv shows (reading specific for kids), videos, and even online videos on teaching reading.

I think that one of the main reasons for this is that it is VERY difficult to pronounce correctly!
Think right now of the word rabbit. Say it out loud- "rabbit."  Now tell me does the sound the letter R says? Does it say /er/  (remember when you see // to say the SOUND of the letters inside)? No it does not.

Yet this is one of the most common errors people make when teaching this letter sound.

The letter R makes a sound more similar to /ruh/ or /rih/; however, it's sound is often associated with the vowel which comes afterwards.  For example, the R in run would say /ruh/, and the R in riff would say /rih/.; however, if you were really going to be accurate about which sound R correctly makes you would have to remove all the vowel sounds....can you do that?  Let's see.  Say the sound /ruh/, now take away the /uh/. Difficult isn't it, yet that is the correct sound for the letter R.

Now, I do not have a masters in Linguistics, so it is important for you to understand where my background for this information came from.  It originally started within my linguistics courses at SDSU where we focused extensively on letter-sound correspondence (ie-phonics), then in my coursework for my teaching credential at SDSU, also within coursework for my Masters (with an emphasis in Reading), and most recently within courses taught by Houghton Mifflin to support our Language Arts adoption.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My Favorite Reading Website for Kids

Starfall.com is the best website I have found for students who are learning to read, and early readers, and it is FREE! Yes, free.  I still can't believe that with all the work the creator put into it that they do not charge for it...but I will not look a gift horse in the mouth.

I have been using this website in my classroom for the past seven years and have seen marvelous results.  The best thing about it is how engrossed my students are in the content!

I could tell you all about the content on the pages; however, I feel that checking it out for yourself is much more effective.

Friday, January 21, 2011

My Kid Knows Phonics, But Is Not Reading! What's Going On?

I get this A LOT from parents, and occasionally even from a few teachers.  The first thing I do is some assessments (or talk to the parent) to see exactly where the problem lies, and almost every single time it is the same problem-there are pieces missing in their phonics knowledge.
Phonics is not just learning the sound that individual letters make, 
but also the sound that a combination of letters make.
Sometimes the students are not comfortable enough with all of their letter sounds, but more often than not they have not been taught all the sounds of the digraphs and blends (sh, ch, th, wh), vowel pairs (ea, ee, ie), r-controlled vowels (ar, er, ir, ur), silent-e rule, and most importantly which rule within a word takes the lead (yes, there is a hierarchy).
Now all of this must sound confusing, because I know when I re-learned it all within my credential program it didn't sink in until I was fully teaching it day after day.
The first thing I suggest to parents is start again at the beginning.  Start with one sound for each letter (see my teaching phonics article), then go on to digraphs and blends.  Once the child has these down well, go on to vowel pairs, r-controlled vowels, and the silent-e rule.  Once those are down, then fill in the holes with items such as the sounds for: /le/, /oo/ (2 sounds for this one), /ow/, etc.  When these sounds are down, then comes the craziness of the English language-all of those rule-breakers! It is so sad for me to go over all of the rules, have my students start to get it, then tell them that not all of our words follow these rules! So cruel.
It is best to remember that when teaching your child to read there will likely be many times when YOU have NO IDEA what sound something makes.  Don't get frustrated.  It is the nature of our language that not all of the rules apply to every word, just most words.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

All About The Letter Of The Day

The phonics lessons have officially started in our household, and one item from Lakeshore that I love is the letter of the day pocket chart:
This chart makes teaching phonics easy from the very beginning.  It comes with one set of cards for every letter, which include: a ryhme card, letter card, writing card, 4 photo cards, and a whiteboard space for writing.  My kids are really excited about their new 'learning wall' and especially like repeating the rhyme.  I like that it is a complete set, and ready to go for learning a new letter every week.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Why Every Child Should Own A Robert Sabuda Pop-Up Book



If you do not know who Robert Sabuda is, you are missing out on feeling that childhood awe and fascination once again.  Everytime I share one of his books with my students, and adults as well, I see their eyes get large and their mouths hang open.  To call his books 'pop-up books' is kind of like calling the Golden Gate Bridge just a bridge...yes it is one, but that hardly does it justice when you see it in person.

Robert Sabuda is considered a paper engineer, which seems to be fitting given that he designs very intricate pop-ups out of many different types of paper, and often lets others do the story and illustrations.  Of all of his pop-up books, I would have to say that Alice in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz are the two that I (as well as my students) find to be the most amazing.

I heard Mr. Sabuda speak once on the Today Show, and he told Katie Couric that the final page of this book took him one year to complete.  When I saw the book, I could understand why.  This page shows Alice standing underneath a rainbow of playing cards that extends about 10 inches out of the book! The cards are facing all different directions, and he even said that he made sure each card within the deck was represented.

Monday, January 17, 2011

When to start teaching phonics

I have had a lot of students who came to see me for reading support in kindergarten because they were having difficulty with their phonics skills (the sound written letters make). The main cause for their difficulty acquiring this new skill seemed to be that they were not ready to tackle learning phonics, hence we needed to back-track.

I thought that one item that might be helpful to my blog readers was a checklist of what skills a child should have BEFORE they begin phonics:

1. The child must have a good grasp of phonemic awareness (the concept that spoken words are made up of sounds).
One easy way to test this is through some oral games. Ask your child what sound starts the word cat? What sound is at the end sit? If they show that they are able to hear single sounds within a word, they have one of the skills they need.

2. The child should know the name of each letter in the alphabet, and be able to recognize and name them out of order.

3. The child should have a basic understanding that letters around them make up words, words mean something, and an interest to know what those words are.

If your child has mastered these skills, he/she is probably ready to start learning phonics. I suggest starting at the very beginning and teaching that each letter has a sound (no combos yet). Stick with individual letters and not words with combination sounds like "ea" or "sh."
If you are not sure what sound to associate with a letter (for example vowels), it is best to use the most common sound usage.  In this case it would be short vowel sounds (remember that long vowels "say their letter name.")

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Oh where, oh where, did the Nursery Rhymes go?

One day I brought in one of my favorite Robert Sabuda pop-up books to share with my students. I had planned to do a read-aloud in which I would read the nursery rhymes in the book to my students and have them participate by saying them with me, and by inserting missing words as I read aloud. I didn't think this would be a problem for my students, since the rhymes were very familiar and widely-known. Wow, was I wrong. As I read the story aloud, it became apparent to me that out of the 20 second graders, only 2 of them had ever heard any of the rhymes! I decided to change my strategy as I read and point to picture clues and have the students read the rhymes with me; however, as I read I was contemplating the connection between their unfamiliarity with these rhymes and their overall difficulty recognizing rhymes audibly.

Mother Goose and her nursery rhymes were so familiar to me as a kid, that even now when I hear certain words that rhyme, I recall some of the stories from my childhood. Not only did these stories entertain me, but also they helped build critical skills that aided in my learning to read. Rhymes of any type are important for children to hear because they help teach that words with the same sound endings have connections in speech, and often within our written language as well. Rhyming, as defined by dictionary.com is "a word agreeing with another in terminal sound..." This agreement helps children develop phonemic awareness (an awareness that letters, and combinations of letters make certain sounds) that is crucial in one learning to read.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why do preschoolers revert to improper past tense?

My husband asked me a great question the other night "why has our almost 4 year old all of a sudden reverted back to poor past-tense usage?"  I had noticed as well that our son, who has extremely good verbal skills for a boy his age, had started using odd word choices for past tense, such as: "like-ed" "good-ed", etc. 
The reason I have found after years of working with children as a Reading Specialist, is that at this age children tend to start analyzing the oral language and their usage of it.  Beforehand, they were merely recreating the speech patterns they heard around them, but now (around 3.5 or later depending upon the child) they are starting to think about the words they say and the patterns in which they say them.  It is very common at this age that they begin to say the "ed" sound at the end of words, or pause to rethink words with improper past tense, such as: flew (for fly), and went (for go). 
I find that when my son started to do this I was not concerned, but ecstatic!  It means that his brain is moving one step closer to understanding the complex English oral language, and in turn one step closer to beginning to understand that words on paper are connected just like the words we speak.