Entering a new reading environment…

This week was my first week in the field at Munroe Elementary in Tallmadge, Ohio.  Going into the week, I was a little apprehensive about entering a third grade classroom because it was an unfamiliar setting to me.  The majority of my teaching experiences have involved working with younger children at the preschool and kindergarten levels; however, I was excited to explore this new territory of teaching and learning and to engage in a completely new experience.  As I have learned time and time again, new experiences, although challenging, teach you more about yourself as a person and I am constantly eager to improve my teaching and myself.

Upon entering the classroom, I immediately recognized various elements of an organized, productive classroom in regards to promoting reading and writing development.  Two areas containing wooden selves filled with leveled and non-leveled book pots were located near an open carpeted area in the back of the classroom with a comfortable-looking couch facing the door.  The area also contained two wooden benches, plants, colorful posters, and an easel for writing.  Sharon Taberski, in On Solid Ground: Strategies for Teaching Reading K-3 (2000), describes the importance of a well-organized meeting and reading area.  As she explains, “…children sit on the sofa, on the carpet, and on low tables along the edge of the carpet; I sit on the rocking chair alongside the easel, which is the focal point of the meeting area” (pg. 21).  There is a purpose behind this arrangement.  The sofa, the carpet, low tables, rocking chair, and book selves create a comfortable, home-like atmosphere where students can relax and participate in read alouds and shared readings.  The rocking chair and easel are reserved for the teacher, unless the students are called to use the easel, and are positioned in such a way as to encourage participation; the students sit with their backs to the door so guests do not disturb the reading lessons.  In my mentor teacher’s classroom, the comfortable-looking couch, wooden benches, book selves, easel, and various other decorations invite students to participate in the same way.  Cathy Fuller, my mentor teacher, has an established seating schedule for the two benches and the couch, which Cathy shares with one student each week as she reads children’s literature and chapter books.  I love the fact that the students have the opportunity to sit beside the teacher because this promotes the intimate nature of shared and guided reading.  Based on the calmness observed both days, the children understand that the area is a place to relax and think about words and stories.

On Thursday, my mentor teacher read The Iguana Brothers by Tony Johnston, focusing on the main characters, their roles, and the problems the characters solved in the story.  The term “role” was unfamiliar to many of the students so Cathy encouraged someone to give their best definition of the term.  One of the students explained that a character’s role is what the character does in the story.  Instead of instantly giving the students a definition of the word, Cathy encouraged one of the students to provide a child-friendly definition that made sense.  Throughout the reading, Cathy used this term in context of the story (e.g., asking “So based off of what we just read, what is Tom’s role in the story?”) and the children answered questions about the characters’ roles as the story progressed.  These repeated discussions of the word led the children to develop a deeper understanding, or comprehension, of the story’s characters and plot.  According to Sharon Taberski (2000), when teachers want to demonstrate story mapping, which involves distinguishing between the different elements (characters, setting, plot) in a story and how the characters react to and solve a problem, they should use stories with a conflict and resolution format and that have discernible story elements (pg. 84).  This book met the criteria for teaching children how to story map and the children were introduced to new literature terminology.  The story also featured a variety of Spanish words that could be understood when read in the context of the neighboring sentences.  Using context to understand the definition of an unfamiliar word is a powerful strategy children, and adults, can use on their own when reading independently.  As teachers, we want to provide the scaffolding needed to support the development of such strategies so our students can become independent, fluent readers.

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Teaching Children How to Fish…I Mean Read…

“I used to think I taught a class of students. Now I know I am teaching twenty-six individual children to read. This lesson was a long time coming, but one well worth learning.” Sharon Taberski in On Solid Ground: Strategies for Teaching Reading K-3, 2000, pg. 7

This quote highlights just how important it is for any educator in the early childhood education field to understand that each student is an individual who has a unique style of learning, communicating, and ability to contribute something totally new and different to the learning community. Teaching a child how to read is an enormous task; however, the possibilities are endless once students learn to genuinely love reading.  Because the teaching of reading is such a complex task, it is impossible to reach the needs of all your students if you choose to implement just one form of reading instruction. I love that Sharon admits that the lesson “was a long time coming, but one well worth learning” (pg. 7) because this communicates that she has committed herself to understanding that her students are individual learners.  Any great, life-changing lesson takes time and experience to learn and Sharon chose to use previous experiences to improve her teaching and views on education; I strive to capture that same determination and open-mindedness in my own learning and teaching.

Especially in an age where Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences has been so welcomingly embraced, and supported by volumes of research, it is more important than ever to tailor our instruction to meet the needs of all our students. (For a brief overview of Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, visit http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/education/ed_mi_overview.html)

Taberski emphasized the importance of giving children the strategies needed to solve problems involving reading by themselves. In Taberski’s classroom, students are encouraged to become independentself-sufficient readers who have the ability to teach their peers the reading strategies they use. Just think how empowering it must be for the children to know that their teacher trusts them with such an important responsibility. Sharon Taberski’s colleague, Lorraine Shapiro, a first grade teacher at Manhattan New School, also supported giving students this same responsibility when she explained that she had been working diligently to help her students understand the importance of giving their peers the opportunity to solve their own problems instead of just giving them the answer (pg. 11).  Lorraine approached this issue creatively by explaining to her students that it is more valuable to learn how to fish, or to learn how to read, instead of just been given the fish, or given the word without figuring it out. When children are encouraged to become self-sufficient learners, they except nothing less and take control of their own learning. When students take control of their own learning, they feel a greater sense of ownership over their own learning. As teachers, we strive to encourage children to take control over their own learning and invest themselves in the act of improving themselves; modeling the strategies children can use when confronted with an issue is just one way to encourage this important concept of ownership.  Often, teachers forget just how capable young children can be at solving their own problems – they just need the right tools, or strategies, and time to learn how to use those tools effectively.

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Hello world!

Hello everyone! I have created this blog primary for the Developmental Reading and Writing: Early Years course at Kent State University; however, this blog may also be used to document the many random thoughts in my head each day related to teaching young children. We shall see!

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