Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Build Those Reading Muscles!

Reading is one of the most important and fundamental skills your child will ever learn. In my experience what you do to foster your child's reading habits can almost be more important than the work your child's teacher does to accomplish the same goal. Of course it is very important for your child to have a quality teacher teaching them reading skills using a high quality curriculum, but your support for your child's reading habit is essential. With that in mind, we now need to answer the question of how you can support your child's reading habits and help them to become proficient readers and lovers of literature. Below are ten of the best tips I have found. I have also included a list of useful blog posts, websites, and books.

1. Make reading a priority: Show your children that reading is important to you. This can be accomplished through the rest of the tips below, but it really starts with your mindset and your home environment. Do you encourage your child to read? Do you have books, magazines, or newspapers in your home for your child to explore and read? Do you set aside time for reading for your children and yourself? Do you talk about reading? When a child sees that reading is important they will be more motivated to work at it.

2. Model reading behavior: It's important for your child to practice reading daily, but it is also important for you to practice reading daily! Statistics show that those who read more make more money and are more successful! Reading nonfiction books can help you build and stretch your skills, while fiction books can help you to relax and exercise your imagination. When your child sees you reading they come to understand that reading is an enjoyable activity and part of regular daily life. It doesn't matter what you read, just read!

3. Read to your child: I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to read to your child. Reading to your child models fluency and emotion while reading. It also shows your child that reading is something important to you. When a child sees that their parent values reading, they will be more apt to value reading as well. Finally, reading to your child allows for a wonderful bonding time. Discussing what was read can lead to discussions of their ideas, imagination, and daily life.

4. Find books your child enjoys: If you don't enjoy something, you simply don't want to do it. While it's OK to encourage your child to read the books you loved as a kid, it's also important to understand that they may not love them as much as you did. As much as you might prefer your child to read classic literature, it is more important that they are reading, When children find books they enjoy and learn to enjoy reading, they are more likely to move on to more challenging books, but they have to enjoy reading first. Allowing children to choose books they like is even more important for the struggling reader. When it's already tough to read, reading a boring book makes you want to try even less. Maybe your child has to start reading with graphic novels about Legos, It might not seem wonderful to you, but reading is reading.

5. Have your child read to you: This one may take a little patience. It can be very enjoyable to hear your child read to you, but it can also be tempting to just take over and read for them when they begin to struggle with fluency. Be sure to allow your child to try sounding out the word, using context clues, and looking at pictures before telling them the word. Try not to correct their reading too thoroughly so as to not let them become discouraged. If your child does not like to read, a great way to motivate your child is to take turns reading from the book. You read one page and they read the next, or break it down into paragraphs, sentences, even alternating words. Just be sure to let your child know that you are proud of the reading skills they are building.

6.  Talk about what your child is reading: At some point your child ill probably be doing more independent reading than reading to you or with you. First, let me say that this should not discourage you from continuing to read aloud to your child. You should continue to read aloud to your kids as long as they will let you even if it's just a short passage from the newspaper! As your children read more and more independently, it's important to keep up with the books they are reading. It is a great idea to read the same books as them so that you can talk about the books more in depth, but even without reading the books you can have great conversations with your children about their reading. Ask them what they are reading. What is the book about? Do they like it? What's they're favorite/least favorite part so far? What are they going to read next? Having daily conversations about reading continues to show your child that reading is important.

7. Teach phonics and phonemic awareness (letter sounds):  As a reading tutor, one of the problems my struggling readers often had was the inability to slow down and sound out words. Although we want kids to become fluent and not have to sound out words forever, this is a beginning skill that they need until they begin to learn, recognize, and memorize more complex words. From the time your little ones start to recognize their letters, you can talk about the sounds each letter makes. In the past I've found that phonics flashcards are an easy and fun way to practice letter sounds and blends. As students begin to read, encourage them to sound out words before telling them what the word is. By teaching this basic skill, students are able to learn to read independently.

8. Set reading goals or challenges: As with any sport or skill, the best way to stretch is to challenge yourself! Work with your child to set a reading goal appropriate to their reading level. This could be as simple as reading for 30 minutes every day. Maybe your avid reader needs a bit bigger of a challenge like reading a different genre of book every month or reading a certain number of classic novels by the end of the year. Since our 3rd-5th grade students participate in the Maud Hart Lovelace Award program, perhaps you could challenge your child to read all 12 of the nominated books rather than just the three they need to read in order to vote. Get creative. Use the internet for ideas. And don't forget to set a reading goal for yourself as well!

9.  Visit the public library often: This goes along with allowing your child to find books that they enjoy. By visiting the public library, your child can search through a much wider variety of books than we have available at school or you have available at home. You can help your child to select books that fit their reading level and interests. The staff at the public library are available to make suggestions and help you to find just what you are looking for. On top of the numerous books that the public library has to offer, the public library also often offers a variety of activities for people of all ages. You can get your little ones excited about reading by stopping in for a family story time. Your teens can join a book club to talk to other teens about the books that interest them, and you can join a book club or find a helpful class as well.

10. Get outside help when needed: Finally, it's important to recognize when your child is truly struggling and you are no longer providing enough help for them. Sometimes working with your child on reading skills and school work can just become too overwhelming and stressful to the point of hurting your relationship with your child. If this seems to be the case, it may be time to think about finding a tutor to work with your child. The first step to take would be talking to the child's teacher for any suggestions. There may be an after school program that your child would be able to join for support, or the teacher may be able to suggest a tutor that would work well with your child. You can also find tutors on websites like or If your child needs a tutor, it's important to remember that neither you or your child is a failure. We can all use extra help from time to time.

Resources and Further Reading: 
Braxton, B. (n.d.). Dr. Booklove's 2016 reading challenges. Retrieved from

Braxton, B. (2016, June). Reading with your child. Retrieved from

Braxton, B. (n.d.). The art of reading aloud. Retrieved from 

Burns, M., Griffin, P., & Snow, C. (Eds.). (1999). Starting out right: A guide to promoting children's reading success. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.

Fox, M. (2005). Reading magic: How your child can learn to read before school and other read-aloud miracles. London: Pan Macmillan

French, J. (2004). Rocket your child into reading. Melbourne, Australia: Angus & Robertson.

Jenkins, J. (2016). 10 things parents need to know to help a struggling reader. Retrieved from

Jennings, P. (2008). The reading bug—and how you can help your child to catch it. London: Penguin UK.

Shanahan, T. (2015, September). 11 ways parents can help their children read. Retrieved from

Trelease, J. (2013). The read-aloud handbook. New York: Penguin.

Wilhelm, C. (2014, August). Your child has nightly reading homework. What should YOU be doing? Retrieved  from

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Teaching 5th Graders to Create Video Announcements

Last school year, I began my journey as the Media Specialist at Pinewood Elementary. One of the most challenging, but most enjoyable parts of this journey has been the creation of our daily student video announcements. I began last year winging things a bit. I had edited videos before. I had used an iPad to record. I had used YouTube and Google Drive. However, I had never done a daily broadcast or taught students how to be news anchors. This process was a learning opportunity for both myself and the students. You can read about the process a bit in two of my previous posts: "What Student News Has Taught Me and My Students" and "Green Shirt and Green Screen... Oops." With all that I learned from last year, I began this year with a new strategy to prepare our students to really take control of most of the production of the student news.

To begin the school year, I set aside my first three lessons to teach students how to be quality producers of the student news. The first thing that this new group of students needed to understand was the process for creating the announcements. It was really difficult to find a way to explain so that they understood the three day process. I needed to explain that on day one of production two students would write the script that the students who had Media the following day would be recording for the announcements that would be shown on the third day. This is a really hard concept for students to understand, and something that I am still working on explaining. One of the things that seemed to help with this explanation was creating a schedule of student jobs and posting the schedule outside our studio. This allowed the students to see when they would be performing the jobs of script writer, producer/director, and news anchor. Teaching students this process was part of our first lesson on the announcements.

The main objective of our first lesson on video announcements was how to write the script. This involved teaching the students how to open Google Drive, locate and access their Shared with Me Folder, and locate the two documents that would be necessary to write the script. The students work as partners on the student announcements, so one child opened the announcement bulletin and the other opened the announcement script. They then worked together to write a practice script.

The objective of our second lesson was to learn how to record the announcements. This meant teaching the students the basics of using the iPad to record a video and the exact process we used when recording. When recording the announcements, four students would be back in the studio. One pair would be the producers/directors and the other pair would be the news anchors. The director would hold out a whiteboard with the date of the announcements for the camera to see and pull it out of the way thus directing the news anchors to begin speaking. The producer would get the iPad zoomed in on the news anchors and press the record button to begin recording the announcements. The news anchors would then use their wireless mouse to control the teleprompter and begin reading the script that had been prepared for them by the previous day's class. I explained this whole process to the class and then had every student come back to the studio to practice a mini script so they had a better idea of the process.

The objective of the third lesson was to increase the students' confidence in being a news anchor and make them aware of the importance of projecting their voice and reading fluently. We talked about what reading too fast and too slow looked like and what that did to the feel of the announcements. We talked about what reading too loud or too quiet did for the announcement recording. We then practiced reading a script together as a class trying to keep to a good pace and good volume. After practicing the script a few times, we talked about ways to loosen up your body and mind so that there was less nervous energy when recording the announcements. We also talked about ways to warm up your voice for better sound. Finally, we talked about what it looked like to be a news anchor. News anchors smile and have fun, but still remain professional and do not act like clowns. This third lesson was in my opinion one of the most important and one of the most fun.

This year the announcements are being overseen and edited by a committee of teachers. I really appreciate this as I am currently out on maternity leave and will not return until mid-December. I feel that this committee and the lessons that have been taught to the students will allow announcement production to go smoothly in my absence. Next school year, or perhaps even towards the end of this school year, I would like to further place the production of the student news in the hands of students by creating a group of students interested in editing the announcement video. I have had a number of students ask about this possibility and I would love for this to be a truly student centered program. Whenever I decide to go ahead with this, I would create the group of students that would meet once for training on how to edit the videos and meet monthly afterwards for further training and feedback. These students would have a schedule for days on which they would come in during recess to edit the announcement video for the following day.

Our video announcements continue to be a daily learning opportunity. They are an area of growth for our staff committee, our students, and for myself. I look forward to seeing the ways in which this program will evolve.