Independent Reading–A Strong Reading Program: Part 4 of 4

This semester in READ 6309 students explored components of a strong reading program. As part of their work, they were asked to contribute to this blog.

By S. Garza

This is the final installment to a four part series that I have written from Janet Allen’s Yellow Brick Roads.  She began with the read-aloud as the foundation for a literacy program, followed by shared reading as the heart of reading instruction, then guided reading for comprehension, and we will now get to independent reading. This is where we want all of our students to get to but it is difficult to guide them there. 

There are many obstacles for teachers to get students to read independently; the classroom library isn’t well stocked, many students hate reading, they don’t know how to choose books, they would rather be doing anything else, and the list can go on and on.

Allen was able to find books for her classroom only to discover that her students still didn’t think that there was anything good to read.  This means that the number of books in your class library doesn’t matter if your students are not familiar with what is there.  Allen found an idea called book pass by Carter and Rashkis that she implemented in her class. The idea is to get the students to take a look at many books over a short period of time to see if they might be interested in reading them. The students write down the title, author, and level of interest they have in the book. They may look at five or six books in one day but if this is done once a week they get exposed to a larger number of books than they would under other circumstances.  Book passes might let your students know that you have books that do interest them in your classroom library and they might find more books that are at their reading level.

In one of the previous blogs I mentioned that Allen would allow her students to use recorded books during independent reading time. There are both pros and cons to having students use recorded books during independent reading time and each teacher would have to decide whether it is right for their classroom or not. Would you rather have your students read on their own or at a higher lever with support?

Offering the amount of independent reading that Allen is referring to would be difficult for many teachers because it would mean relinquishing a lot of control. The students would be in control of what they choose to read, the level of the book, the genre, and so on. They would also have the opportunity of picking up a book and deciding after the first few chapters that it isn’t really up to their standards and get a new book.   She recommends keeping track of the students’ progress through “kidwatching.” As the students are reading you are watching and taking anecdotal notes in a journal about the reactions that they are having.  Sometimes they may not be reading and other times they may be having strong physical reactions to the story. All of these notes will show you if the independent reading is going well or not.  These notes should guide your decisions for future independent reading sessions in order to make them more and more successful. 

Good luck in making all of your students readers!

Literary Sources for Independent Readers

This semester in READ 6309 students explored components of a strong reading program. As part of their work they wrote posts for our blog.

I. Martinez

 In an interview with Dr. Schall on the importance of independent reading, she stated that the practice of independent reading provides readers with the opportunity to practice all the skills that they have learned from the read-alouds, shared reading, and guided reading. In conjunction to this, Dr. Stephan Krashen states that in order to motivate students to read, we must provide them with easy access to different forms of literature.

 In previous blog posts, I have mentioned several apps that can help both the teacher and the students get free downloads of books, but in this blog post I would like to mention apps that make other forms of literature available to students who find it difficult to commit to reading literature in book form. After all, in independent reading, the student should have a choice in what he/she reads, instead of the teacher making that choice for him/her.

For young readers, apps such as Bear and Duck, or BrainPop provide reading material and the supporting audio. Of course, the audio can be muted. For middle school through high school students, the comic app Wormworld is an absolutely beautiful fit. Besides the comic storyline, the app’s developer is also the app’s graphic artist who reaches out to his audience by journaling about his ongoing creations in a very down-to-earth manner. His amazing artwork reflects 300+ hours of work per scene!  

Students interested in history and ancient artifacts may enjoy HistoryMaps, which has maps spanning from the 4th century to the 20th century. Your history buffs may also enjoy the apps Timeline Eons and World’s Fair (Biblion). Timeline Eons places important worldwide events into an easy to navigate timeline, and provides readers with the option to “tap” and read up on more of the highlighted event. For example, one interesting story that appears on this timeline is that of the recent assassination attempt of Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani female student who was shot by a Taliban gunman because she advocated female education. The Biblion World’s Fair app is from the New York Public Library and it has stunning black and white photos and articles from the years 1939-1941, before the United States joined the Second World War.

There are also apps that explore science topics from the stars to the ocean deep. The apps Star Walk, and NASA will thrill your stargazers. Both of these apps provide photos with corresponding text. The NASA app even tracks when certain stellar events will happen over the McAllen, Texas sky. For very young readers, the app National Geographic for Young Explorers has a couple of free magazine downloads to teach them about creepy, crawly land animals. The app Creatures of LIGHT from the American Museum of Natural Science has photos of bioluminescent organisms from both land and ocean along with short paragraphs that describe these creatures. Also worthy of mention is the app 3D Medical Images. The photos have little written about them; however, they may just spark the interest of students who are willing to explore a medical phenomenon. Teachers should preview the photos in this app to see if they are age appropriate for their grade level.

Students who are 17 years old may enjoy the app Comics Plus, which has both free and paid subscriptions available from several magazines. If your high school aged 17+ students find it more interesting to read their own creations, they may be interested in the app 99 words. In this app, the student has the choice of writing his/her own story alone or joining another writer in finishing a book. Apps that may appeal to the advanced reader are iTunes U, and JetPack by Purdue University. In these apps, the student can find a multitude of topics listed. A good companion to these apps is TED, which is not per se a reading app, but it presents talks by some of the world’s most interesting people. It is an app that can motivate readers to continue to learn and explore the world around them.

Guided Reading–A Strong Reading Program: Part 3 of 4

This semester in READ 6309 students explored components of a strong reading program. As part of their work, they were asked to contribute to our blog.

By S. Garza

Janet Allen chose to open the chapter in Yellow Brick Roads on guided reading well when she decided to show how it was different from shared reading.  When I began reading this book I needed the clarification that she provided on these two terms.  She had defined shared reading in the previous chapter as a teacher reading a text with the students following along with their own copy of the text and it is usually a relatively uninterrupted reading. A guided reading of the text, however, is done with the intent to stop to ask questions, to make connections, to think of strategies, and to make predictions.  There is also the difference that a shared reading is usually intended for the entire class and a guided reading is meant for a small group that needs help with a particular comprehension strategy.

Allen shows us one of her guided reading experiences with a group of students.  One of the parts that struck me the first time that I read the chapter and when I read it again is that the students do the reading on their own. Allen had to find a way to copy the story onto strips so that the students would not read ahead of her for this particular guided reading activity.  She was working on having them make and check predictions.  If she had students that could read much faster than the others then they would be able to find the answers out if they had all of the text.

Allen labeled a section in the chapter “New Role for Students” and I found it very fitting. I liked it because I agreed with the Allen that students need a different purpose for reading than just to see what happens at the end. We want our students to be able to make connections to what they read, to ask questions, and to have an experience with what they read.  There is also a “New Role for Teachers.” Just as students need to build new ways to become better readers we also need to become better teachers.  Many of us may already have some of this knowledge and some of us may not. It is ok as long as we are willing to learn and change to help ourselves and our students.  We need to make sure that we don’t start reading to them in order to save time during the guided reading and that we don’t turn the questions into comprehension questions either.  The focus of the guided reading should be on a particular comprehension strategy and not just the comprehension of the story.

Apps That Complement Guided Reading

This semester in READ 6309 students examined components of a strong reading program. As part of their work, they wrote about these components for this blog.

I. Martinez

 With guided reading, students develop predicting, questioning and the ability to consider what plausible events may transpire in a story. Instead of the usual quizzing of comprehension questions that usually have one correct answer and limit the imagination of readers, guided reading provides an opportunity for students to explore the possibilities contained in a story and its characters. Students learn to predict, test their predictions, and to infer and support their inferences with evidence from the text. This provides several opportunities for the student to become a reader who questions elements of the story, the characters, the author, etc. instead of being a reader who is only allowed to answer the teacher’s questions.

appsA good resource for text that can be used during guided reading is the app named Short Stories. Stories found with this app can be as brief as 2 or 4 pages in length. Likewise, the free apps: Kindle, iBooks, and nook all have free children’s books available for download. Kindle also offers a free sampling of kindle books, for example the book entitled “Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life” by James Patterson offers the first 20 chapters free. Also, Play Books, an app by Google provides free downloads, and like iBooks, it also gives the appearance of an open book with the indented crease in the middle and has the page turning ability. This visual feature is appealing to readers because it creates the illusion that they holding an actual hard copy printed book. These apps are all free resources that provide teachers with a variety of genres that they can use in the classroom.

 In cases where teachers already have a selected text that they would like to cut up into sections, the app QuickReader can be used. QuickReader has a fantastic option called Pasteboard. If you highlight and copy text from Pages (a word processor app) or the app GoodReader, you can immediately open QuickReader and select Pasteboard to find your previously copied text already pasted onto a page. This app also provides the option of Speed Reading. The teacher can set the pace for reading the sections of text from 10 words per minute, which is very, very slow, to a lightning 4000 words per minute. I think this app will help students who have difficultly with tracking words and students who are easily distracted because each word of the text is consecutively highlighted, making it almost impossible for the reader not to follow along. Although the words in this app are highlighted, there is no audio, which is in keeping with the objective of having the students read the text silently and in measured portions. By the way, this app also has the capability of downloading free books from Feedbooks, Baen Books, Project Gutenberg, Smashwords, and the Internet Archive.

Shared Reading–A Strong Reading Program: Part 2 of 4

This semester in READ 6309 students explored components of a strong reading program. As part of their work, they were asked to contribute to our blog.

By S. Garza

As I shared with you before, Janet Allen, in Yellow Brick Roads introduced us to read-alouds as the beginning of reading with students and now she brings us to shared reading which is the next component of a strong reading program.  Allen describes shared reading as a reading experience in which the teacher is reading and the students are following along in their own copy of the text.  She noted that shared reading could include times when the teacher may have a copy of the text on the “overhead transparencies or in Power Point presentations.” I quoted this because I wouldn’t have thought of them as being shared reading experiences before reading this book but I can see that they are.  I would have originally seen this as just a teaching time and not a shared reading.

The purpose of shared reading is for the students to listen to fluent reading. This is why Allen declares that it is important not to confuse shared reading with Round-Robin reading. In Round-Robin reading students take turns reading but it does not mean that the current reader is reading each part correctly or fluently and therefore the listener is not benefiting from the story as if it were a shared reading.  During a shared reading the students are able to focus their attention on listening instead of trying to figure out how to read the words so they can focus their attention more on making meaning, on creating visual images, and other comprehension strategies.

Allen brings up an idea that I think is good but will stir controversy. She allows some of her struggling students to listen to books on tape during independent reading time.  This would be considered shared reading because they are listening to a more capable reader. The problem that many could see in this would be that the student would not be getting the independent practice. I think that if the child is listening to a book that they could not read alone then they are still benefiting from it because they will be reading above their own level.  However, it probably would not be a good idea to always have the student listen to a recorded book on tape.  Allen found several companies that produce recorded books on tape and provides a list of them in the Appendixes A and D in her book.

 I like how Allen brings in the secondary students in this chapter as well.  She mentions that she feels that a teacher should read the first chapter of a book with the students even if the book is meant to be read independently.  The reading of the first chapter would allow the students to get a feel for the sound the characters’ names, location, the way the author describes feelings or actions.  The shared reading of the first chapter may make all the difference for some of the students.

Shared Reading for School and Home

This semester in READ 6309, students examined components of a strong reading program. As part of their work, they were required to contribute to this blog.

By I. Martinez

 Shared reading involves the teacher reading a text while the students read along silently. This reading practice supports students’ comprehension, reading fluency and language acquisition. While read-alouds and shared reading both give the students the freedom to activate their schema, imagination, and curiosity, shared reading adds text into the equation to help the students link the spoken word to the written word.

During the shared reading, the teacher’s reading enables the students to hear the natural cadence of a particular poem, or the accentuation of certain phrases of spoken language that carry deeper meaning. For example, the manner in which a person’s pitch rises when asking a question, or the way words are elongated when a character is sad or confessing a transgression, or the rapid rhythm of an apologetic character. The interaction between teacher, student and text creates a classroom atmosphere that is conducive to learning, and equally as important, nurtures the love of reading. As a teacher, I believe that shared reading is crucial for all students, especially second language learners and students with special needs. Shared reading should be done everyday and several times a day, but of course, this cannot always be accomplished. So, what about the time students have at home? After all, reading should not stop at 3:30 p.m. I believe the shared reading experience can be extended into the after-school hours with the help of technology.

photoIf your students are lucky enough to have an iPad or iPhone at home, they can continue to enjoy reading while hearing the text read to them by their teacher. The app Book Creator is a wonderful way to give students this experience. This app allows for text, graphics, video and recordings to be neatly bundled and presented in book form. The classroom teacher can produce multiple books with graphics and his/her recordings of the text being read and then email it to his/her students or the students’ parents to be read in iBooks. Better yet, several teachers can collaborate and create a multitude of texts to be shared universally within a grade level. And, it could also be used for adding additional information, graphics and video to a chapter from a content area text that has proven to be difficult for the students to understand. Additionally, the app can be used as a vehicle for writing a language experience story as a whole class activity, or the students themselves can write their own books and share them with their classmates. Using this iPad app might just do the trick to encourage the most reticent student into producing a masterpiece “What I Did During My Summer Vacation” story infused with rich language, photos, and video. I think this app would work well with elementary through middle school students.

For the upper middle school students and high school students who enjoy an even greater level of sophistication, the mac with OS X Lion Server offers classroom teachers with the ability to produce quality audio podcasts with PowerPoint slides or picture sharp video podcasts with the teacher or classmate as the “podcast movie star,” and background text. The teachers can use GarageBand for the audio portion, PowerPoint or Keynote for slides, iPhoto for graphics, and the iSight camera and iMovie ’11 for the video portion. This in turn can be uploaded to itunes and shared with everyone, or just one classroom. Imagine a deaf education teacher signing a story while the text appears beside him/her so deaf students can simultaneously see the signing and the text, or imagine how a second language, recent immigrant student may be able to finally conquer the English language because of that extra exposure and repetition a podcast can provide. During the school day, the teacher who practices shared reading creates the positive dynamics and enthusiasm necessary for successful reading, and then extends his/her “reach” into the home with the use of technology.

The Read Aloud–A Strong Reading Program: Part 1 of 4

This semester in READ 6309 students explored components of a strong reading program. As part of their work they were asked to contribute to this blog.

By S. Garza

yellow1I think most teachers are familiar with read alouds and associate them with a teacher reading a big book and all of the students sitting and listening at the carpet in the primary grade levels.  In Yellow Brick Roads, Janet Allen wants to move us away from this mentality.  One of the best reasons for reading aloud in any classroom is the fact that “read-aloud is risk free” as Allen says. The students that struggle to read do not have to worry about not being able to follow along or getting lost or not knowing how to read the words. These students can just sit there and enjoy the story like everyone else.  It would be good to keep in mind that there are struggling readers that will benefit from being able to enjoy a good story from beginning to end at every grade level.

I really like how Allen feels that read-aloud sets the stage for learning to read and reading to learn.  It makes sense that if students are familiar enough with literacy and literature then they can have a better chance with it later on. I feel that this also means that as teachers we should incorporate a much larger variety of genres into our read-alouds in order to better help our students with this endeavor.

Allen talks about preparation with read-alouds. This is something that I don’t think many people always think about.  Many times read-alouds are not taken as serious instructional time because there is not always a lot of time spent on planning for it. But some teachers, like Allen, do in fact, spend a great deal of time planning for a good read aloud.  Teachers need to learn how to pick appropriate books for a read-aloud.  The book may need to be chosen for the proper age group, topic that is currently being covered, or may be just a book for enjoyment.  It would be good to go through the book and see what vocabulary might be problematic for the students before the read-aloud. There may be some background information that maybe beneficial for the students to know before the reading. 

Allen recommends observing the students during the read-aloud to see the engagement during the reading. Give the students time to talk about the story and discuss what they think and feel. This will give the students the opportunity to make personal connections to the story and make it relevant to their own lives.