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/

Why Students Struggle and What You Can Do About It

While our brains are hard-wired for language, they were never designed for reading or writing. Those are behaviors that we have added to the tasks that we ask the human brain to do in our society. As a result, there are many reasons one child make not make as much progress in learning to read as another child may make.

Learning to read begins at birth or according to some experts, even while the child is still in the womb. The background knowledge that a child brings to the schoolhouse door does make a difference  and has a direct correlation to how successful that child will be in school. Researchers say that the two strongest predictors of school success are a child’s proficiency in phonemic awareness and the size of the child’s vocabulary. We know that the gap between good readers and struggling readers develops as early as by the end of first grade. Without effective and timely intervention, this gap will continue to grow until there may be a gap of 4-5 years or more by the child’s high school years. Without help, struggling readers will most likely never catch up and they will either “tune out” or “act out” in classrooms all across the country.

All young readers must have a solid grasp of phonemic awareness to understand the “lilt” of the language and the sounds that various letters and letter combinations make. Secondly, they must be able to decode the words they encounter by understanding how to apply the English phonetic system to words. Beginning readers commonly learn to identify initial sounds first, final sounds second and then learn to distinguish how medial sounds change the meaning of the word. For example, the medial sounds in “book,” “back” and “beak” change the entire meaning of the word. Children must quickly recognize the meaning of the word and then be able to make sense of the context in which the word appears. Reading is about meaning out of the symbols on the page. If a child gets no meaning from the words, then reading has not taken place.

Much like math skills and understandings build, so too does reading skill. A child who has poor phonemic awareness skills will struggle with developing strong phonics skills. A child who has poor decoding skills, will find it difficult to become a fluent reader with good comprehension skills. The threads of reading must be solidly woven under each child if they are to become capable readers. Teachers must use good assessment techniques to find the “holes” in a reader’s tapestry and then work to fill those holes with appropriate and targeted instruction. Until the holes preventing the student from mastering the level where they are “stuck” are filled, little progress will be made moving to the next level of reading mastery.

Reading is a participation sport! Like the tennis player or the golfer, students only become better readers when they practice reading. We must take the time to model reading by reading orally to our students. We must find what interests our students and help them find text that is at the appropriate level of difficulty and motivating to read. Without meaning and joy in reading, students will continue to struggle and fight attempts to help them become better readers. We must help our students develop strong vocabularies and good background knowledge so they can relate to the material they read.

Reading must also be a social activity. As adult readers, we talk to our friends about books we have read or articles in our favorite magazines to reflect upon ideas or clarify meaning for ourselves. Our students must be given opportunities to talk about, think about and ask questions about the meaning of the text they read. Only when we act the ways I have outlined in this article will we succeed in helping our students become strong and informed readers who are ready for tomorrow.

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.

Motivating Reluctant Readers

Kids who struggle with reading often do everything they can to avoid reading. Unfortunately, this is counter-productive and only increased the problem. Reading is a “participation sport” that children have to DO to get better. The more a child uses his reading skills, the stronger they become. What to do to get kids reading more so they actually build reading skills is the question on many teacher’s and parent’s minds.

Children like books that make them laugh or that appeal to their special interests. One little girl I know loves any books that have to do jokes. She has also watched all of the Harry Potter movies several times and loves any books that have to do with dragons or magicians. she can’t wait for the day when she can read the Harry Potter books all on her own. A boy I know, loves to not only watch the Merlin TV show each week, but to also read the Magic Treehouse books featuring a wizard by the same name as the character he knows and enjoys on television. The extra reading practice builds both reading skill and background knowledge.

Another boy loves anything to do with motocross racing. Buying materials that appeal to these interests, keeps these children practicing their reading and enjoying every minute of it. Magazines on a topic of interest can be just as interesting and skill building as any other type of reading material. If a child likes movies that have books connected with them or books that feature the characters from a TV or movie show, then by all means, introduce the child to these special treasures. So, take the time to get to know what interests the reluctant readers that you know and you may just find that they will spend many hours practicing their reading when they might not have done so before.