Goldie Socks and the Three Libearians

My school year has taken off in whirlwind fashion once again, my Reading Lab groups are in full swing and I'm trying to re-organize my reading lessons in order to maximize student progress. I've also managed to get myself involved in a Special Education cohort focused on reading disabilities so that I can answer the new, popular reading question: Is my child dyslexic? Needless to say, although I've been on a quest for simplicity, relaxation, and finding more time for writing, I can never seem to get there. In order to fix this problem, my new mantra is "put writing first". So, even though I have laundry to fold, yard-work to do, lesson plans to write, and e-mails to respond to, I'm going to sit in this chair and not get up until this post is publishable.

Beginning of the year assessing is finally finished and last week I began working with my small groups of Kindergarten-3rd grade students. One of my goals this year is to provide my students with more targeted instruction based on their needs. This will be quite the tall order, since I work with close to 40 students each day, however, my job is reading intervention and I need to be doing more explicit teaching of strategies than students are getting with their regular classroom reading program. I also, want to provide them with strategies that they can take back to their classrooms and homes to apply to their reading.

Last week my lessons focused on classroom rules, getting to know the groups, and learning how to pick out "just right" books. If you have a reader in your house, you probably know that when your child reaches a certain age, usually by 2nd grade, he/she if very aware of his/her reading ability compared to others. He/she is also, usually very aware of what other children are reading. It only takes one student "reading" Harry Potter to make a whole class of 2nd graders think they should be "reading" Harry Potter too. While I see the value in a good healthy challenge and I would never discourage a child from reading, more reading growth will happen if students are consistently placed in books with just the right amount of challenge.

Earlier in the year, I observed in my school's 3rd grade classrooms and witnessed a series of lessons on choosing "good fit" books. They brought in a bag of shoes of different styles and sizes and showed students that although there are a variety of shoes, you have to think about size and purpose. What shoe fits one person, won't necessarily fit another. For example, you might love fancy heels, but you wouldn't want to wear them to go for a run. Also, all sneakers aren't the same size, so a size 10 running shoe probably isn't going to fit you if you're a size 7. So although your buddy might be reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid, that doesn't mean it would be a good fit book for you. Their lessons also focused on using the acronym I PICK (Puporse, Interest, Comprehension, Know-words), to help students learn to pick "good fit" books.

Although, these lessons are fantastic and I loved the way they used the shoes as an analogy to picking books, I didn't want to step on any toes (no pun intended), by using the same lesson with my 1st and 2nd graders. So I googled "picking just right books" and came across a variety of anchor chart images. Several of them used an analogy of riding a bike to choosing a "just right" book and I thought many of my students could relate to riding a bike. I drew a picture of a bike going down a hill on my classroom white board and asked my students to tell me about riding a bike down a hill and what happens, I wrote "too easy" beside the picture and we listed what happens when a book is too easy (you go fast, don't pay attention, know all the words, boring). Then I drew a picture of a bike going up a hill and wrote "too hard" beside it. We listed what happens when book is too hard (slow, hard work, 5 finger rule-miss more than 5 words on a page, don't understand). Lastly, I drew a picture of a bike on a straight road and I wrote "just right" beside it. We listed characteristics of books that are just right (know most of the words, not too fast or slow, understand the story).


The next day, I read the story Goldie Socks and the Three Libearians written by Jackie Mims Hopkins and illustrated by John Manders to my groups. Now, I did borrow this book from a 3rd grade teacher and I'm pretty sure she read it to her class, but as a teacher it's really hard to pick a book that no one in your class has ever heard or read before, so hopefully they'll forget by the time they're in 3rd grade. Plus I always tell my students that I read my favorites over and over again, which is the truth. In Goldie Socks and the Three Libearians, a little girl takes a shortcut through the forest on her way home from school and finds a house made of books belonging to the three "Libearians," (Papa bear, Mama bear and baby bear). In the house, she finds books that are too hard, too easy and just right. It was a great review for what we had talked about the day before with the bikes and books. Goldie Socks even used the 5 finger rule strategy to find good books for herself. After finding her books, she also found a nice cozy reading space, which is equally as important as what you are reading. You don't want to be too uncomfortable while reading, or too comfortable for that matter.

Goldie Socks and the Three Libearians
By Jackie Mims Hopkins

The day after my Goldie Socks reading, I showed my students an Anchor Chart that I made using our white board notes outlining How to Pick a Just Right Book. I plan on laminating this gem and hanging it in my classroom for reference.

Every night my students are invited to pick out a book from my leveled book baskets to take home. I know my students are taking home books from the library and possibly from their classrooms, but I just want to be sure that at least they have one book on their reading level that they can read. Each day after they choose their books, I have my students read me the first page of the book to ensure they are picking something they can read. If he/she knows all the words, I encourage him/her to choose something a little harder. If he/she misses several words on a page, then I make them choose from a different lower level basket. For now, many students are choosing easy books, but I'm hoping with a little guidance, they'll be choosing Just Right books all on their own.

I Broke My Trunk

One of the most rewarding experiences as a parent happens when your child begins to read. It's no secret that I read to my children every night before bed, something I've been doing since they were babies. But the last few weeks have been a mixture of the usual Mommy reading with a smattering of 6 year old reading. Tonight as we were reading Henry and Mudge Puddle Trouble, I felt such pride to hear that little guy reading. I listen to children reading all day long, but there is something magical about hearing my own son sound out, read and discuss books.

The ah-ha moment when I realized, wow, my son can read really well, came a few weeks ago when he brought home the book I Broke My Trunk by Mo Willems from the school library. I am a huge fan of Mo Willems! When I taught first grade we did an author study on Mr. Willems. One of my all time favorite children's books is Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale and you can't go wrong with Elephant and Piggie's silly stories. I was actually really excited that my son picked out an Elephant and Piggie story. As we pulled the book out to read before bed one night, probably the night before it was due, I told my son he should read the book to me. His initial reaction was, "No, I can't read this." (For some reason, early readers always seem to assume they can't read.) So, I actually talked him into trying it out and he read the entire book. Not only did he read the entire book, but he started cracking up about halfway through the book, when Gerald, the elephant is explaining to Piggie how he broke his trunk, which was fantastic because it told me that not only was he reading, but he was understanding what he was reading. Now don't worry, I'm not going to tell you what was so funny or how the elephant broke his trunk. You're going to have to check this one out yourself!

This book is also a great partner read. After my son read the story by himself, we chose parts. I was Piggie and my son was Gerald. The story is written through a series of speech bubbles, so I read the Piggie speech bubbles in my best Piggie voice and my son read the Gerald bubbles in his best elephant voice. The second reading brought just as many belly laughs as the first read and also helped with my son's fluency. I promise, you won't be disappointed. Another Elephant and Piggie book made it's way home this week and I can't wait to read it!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Yes, it's been a while. Almost 6 months to the day since my last post. Yikes! How do you start blogging again after such an absence? Well, I'm not sure. I've planned and actually started several posts, but they just came off sounding cheesy, so I'm just going to jump right back in with two feet and pick up where I left off, with a Monday night book review.

One of my missions as a parent, teacher of reading, and lover of books is to share great books with others. Often, when looking for books, we are on the hunt for something new; however, there are many fantastic books out there that are classics. I loved reading as a kid and constantly had a book in my hand. I literally read almost nonstop, but there are a handful of books that are ingrained in my head from my childhood: Charlotte's Web, Wait Til Helen Comes, The Little Princess, and The BFG are just a few that pop into my mind. Although we still read some picture books here and there, we've started expanding our bedtime reading to include more chapter books. 

Chapter books are fantastic read alouds even when your child cannot read them him/herself. They help build listening comprehension skills as well as ideas about story structure, plots, characterization, and vocabulary development. I will give one caveat, think about the content of the read aloud and the ages of the children your will be reading to, before reading. I have abandoned chapter books in the middle because I didn't like the direction they were heading for the age of the listeners. Ideally, you could read the book yourself prior to reading it aloud to check the content, but if you're anything like me, you probably don't have loads of spare free-time laying around to preview every book out there. Just be thinking of the overall content of the book and your audience. For example, my children are 3 and 6 so Wait Til Helen Comes (a ghost story) will probably have to wait a few years. As a side note, this book was my absolute favorite when I was in 5th grade, but it terrified me at the same time. However, that didn't stop me from reading it over and over and over again.

Anyway, back to reading chapter books aloud. We've read a smattering of chapter books recently ranging from Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne to E.B. White's Stuart Little to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. I initially thought of reading James and the Giant Peach (also by Roald Dahl) to my son, but then remembered that it's a little strange so I opted for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory instead.  As many young children do, my children love candy and I thought my son would get a kick out of all of the cool different kinds of candy and rooms described in the book. I mean honestly, who wouldn't want to go for a swim in a chocolate river? Making connections with books is fundamental to reading and comprehending text, so if for example, your child or audience is a group of rough and tumble 6 year old boys, you may not want to read them a book about Barbie Princesses. But that kind of goes back to what I said before about content and your audience.

I really chose this book for my son and being 3, I wasn't really sure what my daughter would get out of the book. Don't get me wrong, I could be reading a text book on teaching literacy strategies and my daughter would sit and listen to me read, but I wasn't sure if she would be able to understand and remember what was happening in the story. However, while we were reading the story she would actually talk about the characters in the story, Veruca Salt actually became one of her babies' names that week and she was very entertained by Augustus Gloop. So don't discount chapter book reading because your child is small.

I don't think my son or daughter really understood how poor Charlie and his family were in the beginning of the book or why they were only eating cabbage broth soup each day, although I'm always telling them how lucky they are and that they should eat all of their dinner because there are plenty of children who are starving in the world. But they loved that Charlie found the final golden ticket and were very entertained by the events in the Wonka Factory. I also loved the overall message of following directions and not being too greedy or whiny or spoiled. I did omit language from the book occasionally because I thought it was a touch too rude. But the beautiful thing about reading aloud from a chapter book is that you can edit a little as you read, and as long as you are smooth about it no one will know.

After we read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, over the course of several weeks, we went to the library and checked out the DVD Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). There is a more current version called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) with Johnny Depp, but it's a Tim Burton version and although I could be wrong, because I haven't actually watched it, I wasn't sure about how dark and potentially creepy the movie was. Although, it's pretty dated, I thought it would be neat to show my children the differences between the book and the movie. If you didn't already know, almost all great books are made into movies, which leads to great conversations about books and movies. Throughout the movie, my son kept saying, that didn't happen in the book showing me he had a strong understanding of the book and was able to make connections to the book. Showing the movie after reading a book also shows children that there can be a visual of the story. One of the best ways to connect with a story is to visualize what's happening like a movie is playing inside your head. You don' t need a movie to visualize, but for early readers it can help them begin to see visualizing and to help them create their own images. Picture books are awesome, but there is something very powerful about opening your mind to chapter books.

Independent Reading with Book Boxes

In teaching reading, providing children with time to explore texts on their own, is equally as important as teaching whole group Shared Reading lessons and small group Guided Reading lessons. When I began my teaching career in 1st grade, I thought a good classroom library was all you needed to provide for independent practice. Children would make great reading choices and pick books that they are interested in and can read on their own. A good classroom library is important and free choice in books should be incorporated into any classroom and home reading program. However, it's also a great idea to intentionally provide children with easy, familiar texts and materials so they can explore reading independently. Rereading books builds confidence and fluency as emergent and beginning readers develop their literacy skills.

Building confidence is so important to reading. I cannot tell you how many times as a teacher (and mother), I have heard students (and my son) say, "I can't read." Well there are a variety of ways to "read" beginning with the most basic form of reading, which is "pretend reading" or telling the story through pictures. My 3-year old daughter is a master storyteller simply by flipping through pictures books and telling what is happening in the story based on the illustrations. It also helps that she has particularly good listening comprehension skills and remembers certain events in the story after listening to me read it a few times.

After picture reading, emergent readers usually begin working short patterned texts to build Concept of Word. These would be books that tell a familiar song or rhyme such as Wheels on the Bus or a book with one sentence on the page. The only changing word on each page would be the last word with a clear picture of the last word above the text. For example, each page in the book pictured below says, "I like ____." The blank word changes on each page with a clear picture of item above.

After students develop Concept of Word, they realize that each printed word on the page matches with a spoken word when reading. Then students become beginning readers. Students stay in this stage of reading for a while. During beginning reading, children are learning sight words and are using their knowledge of letter sounds to sound out a.k.a. decode unknown words. As students progress through reading levels, picture support lessens and illustrations become more advanced.

My six year old son is smack dab in the middle of the beginning reading stage. He is very aware of words and wants to "memorize" them all instead of learning to decode them or taking the time to figure them out. My challenge this summer has been finding the perfect balance of hard versus easy. He likes easy, quick, straightforward so if I give him a book where he has to figure out a lot of words, he becomes frustrated almost immediately. For example, before school let out we tried Ten Apples Up on Top by Theo LeSieg (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss). Now, this text equates to an end of 1st grade reading level, when he typically reads on a mid-1st grade reading level. It contains many simple sight words, but like most books written by Dr. Seuss it is very, long. He did pretty well and since it was a harder book we shared the reading. He read the words that he knew and I jumped in with the words he didn't. A few weeks ago, I asked my son to go get a book to read to me. He went to his shelf and picked Ten Apples Up on Top and started to read. About halfway through the story he became very excited and said, "Hey, I know these words. I can read."

At that moment, I realized that although he has hundreds of books on his bookshelf, I could provide him with a more focused Book Box of comfort reading. Books to help build confidence. I also put one together for my daughter, because although she is still working on learning her alphabet and letters sounds, she desperately wants to read like her big brother.

Independent reading should be easy, so Book Boxes should be comprised of books and materials that children are familiar with or know how to read and use on their own. You can use any type of small shoe box or bin for Book Boxes. I've used plastic shoe boxes and old baby-wipe containers in the classroom, because buying 20 plus special Book Bins can get pricey. Since I only have two children at home, I bought a set of three organizers at Target for $1.99. (By the way, back-to-school is a perfect time to buy cubed bins and organizers). Here's what my daughter's Emergent Reader Book Box looks like.

And here is a close up of the materials.

She only has a few books in her box. One Sofia the First picture book to "pretend" read by looking at the illustrations and telling her story. A board book on baby animals with one animal and it's name printed underneath the picture. Simple label and picture books are a great Emergent reading tool because children are "reading" by saying picture names. She also has a board book on Colors because she knows her colors and can practice naming items that are on the pages. We have read Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed about a million times, so that is her familiar rhyme text. She could literally tell that rhyme with her eyes closed.

It's also important to include reading support materials. The wand and witches finger are great pointers. Emergent readers begin tracking and pointing to words on a page, which is much more exciting with a special pointer than a plain pointer finger. The star glasses are cheap sunglasses that I bought through Oriental Trading. I simply popped out the lenses and they are what I like to call "magic reading glasses". Many children love the idea of "magic reading glasses" that help them learn to read. Since she is learning her alphabet, I also put a set of flash cards in her box so that she can practice identifying and saying her letters.

My son's Beginning Reader Book Box is pretty similar, but his materials are geared toward his reading level as well.

And here is a close up of his materials.

His box contains more books, but they are all books that he has read with me at some point. There is also a lot of variety in the the reading level of the books in his box. There is a pretty good mixture of easy and harder books, as well as shorter and longer stories. I also try to mix in books that he has written or made at school. He loves to reread simple books that he has made, such as the 'did book'. His box also contains a variety of pointers (he is moving out of the tracking stage, but still likes to finger point to keep his place at times). He also has his very own set of "magic reading glasses" and some sight word rings that he used in Kindergarten for practice and review. Also, it's important to remember to keep the Book Box fresh. Changing out materials weekly, helps to keep it exciting and new.

So I know what you're thinking, okay great, I know what to put in my Book Box, but how do I use it? Book Boxes are great for quiet times. Sometimes I use them if I need to get something done or if I think my kids need some down time, but I don't want them playing with electronics or watching t.v. It's also great if you're running out of time in your day and you haven't had time to read a new book; you want to get in some reading time, but don't necessarily have time for a reading lesson. Also, my son loves to pick his own books to read, so "go pick a book to read from your book box," sounds much better than the mommy pick--at times. In the classroom, I used Book Boxes during literacy workshop time as a job students can do independently while I read with my Guided Reading Groups. I also used them for early finishers to help keep the classroom relatively quiet while other students finished their reading.

Whether you homeschool, teach in a classroom, or simply want to provide your child with extra reading support at home; Book Boxes are a great way to provide your child with structured but independent reading time. The more your child reads, the better reader he/she will become.