Sunday, May 24, 2015

How Teaching Has Changed Since 1988

I began teaching first graders in 1988 and it's just incredible how the world has changed.  I had a desktop computer with floppy disks, shelves with dictionaries and encyclopedias, and there was no internet. Today that information is available in seconds with a quick search on a cell phone.

The immeasurable impact of technology on my profession is daunting. As a Reading Specialist of a primary school with students in grades pre-kindergarten,  kindergarten, first and second grade, how can we prepare students for such a rapidly changing world?

It's difficult to even imagine the jobs they will have when they are adults so I began reading everything I can find on how to best prepare my students for the future. Today's children are natives to this digital world and very comfortable with technology. Using technology will never be an issue for them. So what can teachers do to prepare children for the jobs of tomorrow?

From everything I've read and as an educator with almost 30 years of experience, I believe that the most important strategies children will need to be successful in the future is anaylzing, synthesizing, and metacognition.  Basically, they have to learn to think and solve problems.  Applying what they know to new learning will be an essential skill so educators and parents need to provide opportunities for these processes.

With that in mind,  I tried some new activities with my students that seem to have helped them analyze and synthesize during our lessons. Have they applied these "thinking skills" back in their classrooms? Initial testing seems to show they have. I will have the final results next week so stay tuned.

Until next time,

Monday, May 4, 2015

Improve Decoding and How to Correct b/d Reversals

The month of May is the final push to prepare students for the next grade and I’m noticing a trend- the first and second grade students I tutor and teach at school are not decoding left to right through words.  They will guess words based on the first and last letters which works in the early reading levels in first grade and is ok at that time. However, if children don’t begin to notice and decode the middle parts of words this can become a problem at the end of first grade and during second and third grade.
I created some activity cards to use with children who guess and go and have uploaded them to my Teachers Pay Teachers Store,  I entitled the activity Break It / Blend It because that’s what the children have to do: break the words apart and blend them back together.  The cards provide a step by step approach to decoding words left to right while blending the sounds together.  They can be used in small group instruction, with partners, for homework, one on one with a tutor, or placed in a center after teachers have taught the students how to use them.  If students aren’t decoding left to right through words on their own they MUST have explicit, precise directions to teach them how to do it.
Another activity to focus children's attention on looking carefully at words that are visually similar is  Read It Right.  Children often confuse words like was for saw or went for want and some students won't realize the difference without someone showing them.  I write the two words and ask the students to tell me how the words are the same and how they are different.  For example, was and saw have the same letters but they are in a different order.  Then I ask the children, "How are you going to remember this word is was and this word is saw? You have to know these words."  The Read it Right Cards are like a game and fun for children to do with a partner or in a center, as well as, with a parent or tutor.

Another concern that I have is children who have b/d reversals in primary school. It is common and does not mean that they have dyslexia but children who confuse b/d must be taught how to identify them correctly.  Explicit instruction must be used to correct the confusion as it interferes with decoding quickly while reading.  At the end of first and  throughout second grade students are beginning to use higher level comprehension strategies like drawing conclusions and if they have to spend time deciding if it’s a b or a d it interferes with comprehending the text on a higher level.

I have uploaded an activity entitled b/d Reversals to my Teachers Pay Teachers store that specifically teaches students one letter using the see, say, do method.  This method is similar to how students learn routines in Tae Kwon Do or karate. When you say the movements as you perform them you activate two parts of your brain which helps you master the task faster.

Classroom teachers have so many curriculums to teach and so much to do that it’s hard to know where to begin to help a student improve in reading.  That’s why I created these activities with detailed instructions and teaching notes which teachers, teachers’ assistants, tutors, and parents can follow to help students overcome obstacles on their way to success.