Enhancing Student’s Listening Skills

School is out but we all know that if your students don’t “use it” they will “lose it” – their reading skills – that is.  As parents, we also are familiar with those “I don’t know what to do with myself” summer blues.  Listening to audio books may just be the answer.  If you student is looking for a relaxing way to spend some time this summer, have him or her check out www.audiobooksync.com.  This website holds a multitude of books  for students and families to listen to in audio mode.  This is great for the student who needs to enhance their vocabulary, English skills or who just want to build their background knowledge of classic books to better prepare themselves for College.  During the summer months from May 5th to August 17th, SYNC will be giving away 2 audiobook downloads a week based on weekly themes.  There is also a section for teachers with additional resources on the site.  This is a great way to help students enjoy reading, learn new vocabulary and keep those reading and comprehension skills razor sharp.

Interested in Learning More About How to Teach Reading?

Several people have asked me about where they can learn more about effective reading practices.  I highly recommend enrolling in the courses provided by my friends at TKL – Teach ‘N Kids Learn. TKL has courses open for everyone in every state however, it also has partnerships with several state school districts in Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, California, New York and Ohio to name just a few.  To name just a few, you can find courses here such as:  Building Academic Vocabulary and Deep Comprehension, Challenging Gifted Students in the Regular Classroom, and Helping the Struggling reader to name just a few of the ELA courses offered here for a very reasonable fee.  You can also find high quality courses that will help you improve your skills in writing, math instruction, and creating classrooms that meet the needs of 21st Century learners.  To learn more go to:  http://teachnkidslearn.com/

Who are the Students of the 21st Century?

The students of today are often called the “Millennial” generation. They are well entrenched into the “digital age” and are comfortable with cell phones, iPods, i Pads, texting, downloading music, digital pictures, social networking and instant messaging. According to Howe and Strauss (2000), members of the millennial generation are optimistic, team players. They follow the rules and accept authority more easily than did their parents. Researchers say that millennials have 7 distinguishing characteristics: special, sheltered, confident, team oriented, achieving, pressured and conventional.

According to Diane Oblinger in a report called, “Boomers, Gen-Xers and Millennials: Understanding the New Student” Millennials, students who were born after 1982, share 7 important characteristics that make them different from previous generations. These characteristics are:

1) They gravitate toward group activity.

2) They identify with their parents’ values and feel close to their parents.

3) They spend more time doing homework and housework and less time watching tv.

4) They believe it is “cool” to be smart.

5) They are fascinated by new technologies and use them regularly.

6) They are racially and ethnically diverse.

7) At least 1 in 5 have at least one immigrant parent.

Oblinger states that Millennials learning preferences tend toward teamwork, experiential activities, structure, and the use of technology. Their strengths are: mufti-tasking, goal orientation, positive attitude and using a collaborative style.

Based on this information, classrooms need to change to capitalize on the strengths and interests of the students we serve. We can help students set focused and reasonable learning goals and encourage them to work in teams. We can help them develop social groups that support learning and help them connect their experiences in problem-solving and experimentation to the world of learning. We must also use technology to help them direct their learning such as through the use of smart-boards, iPods, i Pads, blogs and interactive technology. Text must include not just the textbook but also trade books, internet research, song lyrics, electronic simulations and “online field trips,” movies, newspapers (print and online), print from everyday life, manuals, and other types of technical print.

According to Vogt and McLaughlin (2004), people today are bombarded with large amounts of text in our daily lives. This requires us as readers to not only read, but to analyze, synthesize and respond – often with a sense of urgency and immediacy to the information with which we are presented. The jobs most of our students will do in the future most likely have not even been created yet. As a result, our teaching must leave behind the obsolete “factory model” and capture the realities of life in the 21st century and beyond. We must prepare our students to be not only strong readers, but also thinkers, questioners, and managers of text and information. Education must prepare students to meet the demands of a world as yet undefined. Like it or not – that is what being a teacher in the 21st century requires of all of us.

What Does Reading to Learn: Strategies for Grades 4-8

It is during this period of our educational life that students are now expected to use reading as a tool for learning rather than spending most of their energy on mastering the skills of how to read. If students have been prepared well in the primary grades and have mastered their basic phonics skills they will not need to spend as much cognitive energy on decoding. the two greatest needs of students in grades 4-8 are building fluency skills, continuing to develop and build vocabulary and enhancing comprehension.

Reading is a participation sport. Just like a golfer has to practice hitting the golf ball on the golf course or the tennis player has to practice playing against a worthy opponent to improve their skills, students need to practice their reading to become more fluent and powerful readers. Practices like “Drop Everything and Read” time or DEAR or other sustained independent reading times are helpful to get children reading more. Students need to actively READ – not talk about it or do worksheets about reading – but actually practice their reading skills on authentic text in which they are interested and motivated to read. The more time children spend reading, the better readers they become.

Another good way to build student’s fluency skills is by re-reading a specific text to practice and refine it. Many of us figured this out as children in teacher’s classrooms where “round-robin” reading was commonly used. To avoid embarrassment, most competent readers counted ahead to see which passage they would be reading in front of their peers. They then practiced these passages several times to ensure that when they were called upon, they could be smooth and competent readers. While round-robin reading caused both competent and struggling readers emotional stress and we know today that it is an ineffective way to encourage good reading habits, the concept of re-reading and practicing a passage was the right way to improve reading. A great way to encourage children to practice re-reading and building fluent reading is by using fun techniques like plays and Reader’s Theater in the classroom. Children also can create podcasts of the material and actually put them on the internet for others to enjoy. Kids love it and fluency soars!

Once children can read with good phrasing, expression and intonation, the next step is helping children increase their reading speed. Research tells us that slow readers often lose interest in reading because it is a laborious task while readers who can read at a rapid pace, enjoy their reading and have more cognitive energy to devote to making meaning out of the words they are reading. Timed reading passages where children practice fluency can be good for increasing reading speed as can just simply increasing practice with material at an independent reading level. Practice with appropriate material also increases reading speed as children become more comfortable and well practiced readers. Again, as fluency increases and effort decreases, comprehension also increases and the brain has time to process the meaning of the text being read.

When reading is effortless and enjoyable, children can truly lose themselves in the plight of the characters or in learning about content in which they have an intense interest. Good readers often report “getting lost” in an engrossing novel or while reading about topics in which they have a deep interest. This is when reading takes on a special significance for our students. They are now reading to learn rather than learning to read.