Reading Rockets

Reading Rockets's Blog

Joanne Meier, Ph.D. provides research guidance for Reading Rockets. Dr. Meier has more than 15 years of experience in the field of early childhood education. Dr. Meier served on the faculty at the University of Virginia for six years where she trained reading specialists and future classroom teachers. In addition to her teaching, Dr. Meier co-authored three Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS) instruments, used today by over 14,000 PreK-grade 3 teachers in Virginia. Dr. Meier has conducted research and published in several professional journals. Her research has been published in journals as diverse as Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, Reading Writing Quarterly, Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, and Teaching and Change. Dr. Meier is a co-author of the Phonics Friends series, published by Child's World. Before pursuing her Ph.D., she taught elementary school in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Recent posts

I Do, We Do, You Do

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009 by

Susan Hall, co-author of Straight Talk About Reading and more recently the editor for Implementing Response to Intervention: A Principal’s Guide gave a workshop at the Center for Development and Learning’s conference. The topic was on teaching the tough phonological awareness skills, and in it she referred to an instructional procedure she called “I Do, We Do, You Do.”

As teachers, we’re all familiar with this notion; we model, we work through it with our kids and then we release the responsibility to the students. As a variation of scaffolding, this model represents what we know about good teaching: teachers explicitly teach a new skill, teacher and students practice the skill together, and then student demonstrates the skill through practice activities. Corrective feedback and pacing vary by group and by student.

I like the language of I Do, We Do, You Do; it’s simple, short, and clear. I can see the practicality of using it with young students as a guide for work throughout the week. I am sure someone has turned this into a poster or has created a neat graphic for their classroom. If you have something like that, please share!

What’s good for ELLs is good for all

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009 by

If you follow us on Twitter, you know that I was in Chicago at a conference sponsored by the Center for Development and Learning. I’ve got lots to share from the conference; there were several great speakers and exhibitors. Many attendees came by the Reading Rockets booth to tell me that they use the site all the time, especially our Parent Tips.

One presentation I went to was “Vocabulary Instruction and Language Development for English Language Learners,” presented by Maria Elena Arguelles. She’s a dynamic speaker whose anecdotes had us laughing all the way through. As she talked about effective instruction for ELLs, I was reminded that what’s good for ELLs is really good for all young learners. That’s a good thing for teachers! We definitely don’t need more work.

One aspect of language development she talked about was reducing the language load when you’re introducing a new topic or content to kids (again, she was talking about ELLs, but this is something that I think generalizes to all kids). She recommends that teachers be aware and work to “carry the language load on your shoulders.”

To demonstrate, Arguelles used the vocabulary words “typical” and “atypical.” Assuming some instruction had already taken place, Arguelles demonstrated a simple method for ascertaining whether we knew the vocabulary. She posed several scenarios (“A cow with two heads, yawning when you’re tired”). We gave a thumbs up if it was typical, thumbs down if it was atypical. Simple, right?

In “deconstructing her teaching actions” (conference-speak…) her method (1) required no oral language on our part, but a scan of thumbs helped her know who had it right or wrong, (2) involved all learners, (3) enabled her to provide wait time, (4) incorporated consistent prompts and cues (she used “Show me”) and (5) provided immediate feedback. This makes for an opportunity to focus on the vocabulary (typical, atypical) rather than a language load.

Simple, but powerful. Would this work for you? More to come!

For Anna, it’s all about the page count

Friday, March 20th, 2009 by

Motivation is a huge topic in reading. So many parents and teachers deal with motivation issues every day. I saw this quote recently; I think it applies nicely to reading: Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going. (Jim Ryun, author and runner)

Yesterday’s trip to the library was an interesting lesson for me about Anna’s motivation to read. After Anna slipped 3 or 4 really thick books into our bag, I had to ask her about it.

Me: You sure are getting some big books this time!
Anna: I know! Look! This one has 261 pages. And 18 chapters!
Me: Really! Wow. What’s it about? And what IS THAT on the cover?!

Anna is motivated these days only by books that make her feel older and more like a “real reader.” I remember her going through a similar phase when she wanted to make the jump to chapter books a little before her reading skills were ready (thank goodness for Amanda Pig and Henry and Mudge!)

What motivates a reader to read? For parents, it may mean gathering books about a vacation spot or one that matches your child’s current hobby, keeping the reading climate at home fun and engaging all the way from A-Z.

For teachers, motivating a reader might mean hooking them in through high interest-low vocabulary books or through some outstanding non-fiction picture books, or by getting the family involved through family literacy bags.

Whether you’re a parent or a teacher (or both!), I hope you’re able to find an extra minute or two today to figure out what’s going to create a habit for a special reader in your life.

Kindergarten “red-shirting:” What about summer birthdays?

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009 by

It’s that time of year when parents are facing a tough decision: another year of preschool for their child with a summer birthday? Or send them to kindergarten as one of the youngest in the class?

We faced this very decision in our family. Twice. Molly’s birthday is August 13; Anna’s is July 2. Two summer babies, two very different children. I’ve blogged about this before, actually twice!, and those posts have generated many comments. Clearly we weren’t alone in our worrying.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review recently carried a story Kindergartners “Redshirted” to Gain Edge, in which Harvard researchers suggest that red shirting (1) increases the potential for high school drop outs and (2) threatens depressed lifetime earnings because the student’s entry into the labor market is reduced by a year. Pretty grim stuff!

Are you facing this decision? I wish I had an easy answer for you. We waited with one, and sent the other. In both cases, I’m pretty sure we made the right decision. But our decisions weren’t based on my background as a teacher or reading specialist, a Harvard study or any other panel report. It really came down to our parental instincts about each girl.

As an educator and as a mother, I would recommend waiting if you’ve got a child who isn’t ready academically, socially, or emotionally. It’s a fast-paced world, and I don’t see the need to rush into it. Kindergarten is a much different place than it was 10 years ago.

I’m going to talk about this our school’s principal and some of the kindergarten teachers soon, and I’ll let you know their opinions too. But for those facing this decision now, what are your thoughts?