If you have the time to read this article, The Six Ts of Effective Literacy Instruction.
If you don't, this is my quick summary of the six Ts. We are so interested in research-based educational research nowadays, and this is research based stuff. Proven. And so very obvious.
We ought to know if these six Ts our happening in our childrens' classrooms, and if they aren't, we should at least make them happen at home, if not try to help them happen at school.
In a typical elementary school classroom the balance of reading/writing children do versus "stuff," meaning anything that is not reading and writing is 10/90. That ten percent includes all reading for every subject. And don't be fooled by those 90 minute "literacy blocks"—
"In many classrooms, a 90 minute "reading block" produces only 10–15 minutes of actual reading, or less than 20 percent of the allocated reading time is spent reading. Worse, in many classrooms, 20 minutes of actual reading across the school day (Knapp, 1995) is a common event, which includes reading in science, social studies, math, and other subjects. Thus, less than ten percent of the day is actually spent reading and 90 percent or more of the time is spent doing stuff."
They've proven now that the best teachers have classrooms that are balanced 50/50. And writing must be a part of this. Being a good writer is essential to being able to coherently express yourself, and writing is not something people are just "good" at. It is not a gift. Writing is like a muscle—if it is exercised it becomes strong. If it isn't, it becomes flabby and useless.
For homeschool, Calvin spends one hour just reading literature, forty-five minutes reading and writing about science, thirty minutes reading a social studies/history book (at the end of which he writes about in a variety of different forms), one hour "mimic writing" where he reads an article from a magazine or newspaper, chooses a different topic and writes a similar article about that topic, and fifteen minutes reading and studying and writing poetry. I can honestly say this time is almost completely spent reading/writing. No stuff. That's three and a half hours of reading and writing, and holy cow, it makes a huge difference. This kid can focus, he can absorb information, and he can write.
This is not a gift he has, it's because of the sheer amount of time he spends doing these things each day. And then, on top of that, this kid reads at least three hours a day whatever he wants just for fun. (He's without question, my most voracious reader.)
Time makes a huge difference—never doubt that.
This is what I talked about in my last post about Christmas books and buying books for kids that they want to read. Children need books that give them successful reading experiences, but here is a quote from the article about what is happening in classrooms:
The exemplary teachers we studied too often had to teach against the organizational grain. They rejected district plans that "required" all children be placed in the same textbook or tradebook (and do the same worksheets on the same day). They recognized such schemes for what they are: Truly anti-scientific, non-research-based fads designed more, it seems, as an attempt to exert administrative power than to produce high levels of student achievement.
What are your children reading in school? The same thing as everyone else? What are they reading at home? Are they being given enough chances to read books each day that are easy for them, where they float away in the pleasure of reading, letting their "reading brains" grow and grow and grow?
Much of the teaching that happens today is "assign and assess." A teacher gives an assignment then tests the children on how much they learned from that assignment. Not enough "modeling" is happening—often because teachers don't have time because of all these assessments.
Regardless of the reasons, no one is showing these kids how to read or write.
My mom is currently teaching a master's level education class on language arts class. My mom teaches teachers how to teach kids to read and write, and she is currently working on the writing part of the class.
My mom is a reading guru, but she's not as comfortable with writing, so she's been sharing the curriculum for me and asking for a bit of help and advice. As I've looked over the curriculum she's been given, I've been astonished at how few examples have been provided to these teachers. The person structuring this class has given the teachers almost no examples of great writing to work from and learn from. For example, in their poetry unit, this administrator (it's an administrator developing the curriculum) only gave one poem as an example of poetry, and it was a poem she wrote herself. It wasn't a poem written by a professional poet. It was a poem written by a curriculum specialist with a degree in education. I don't mean that she can't or shouldn't share her own work—she can and should—but only alongside published poems by amazing poets.
If teachers aren't being modeled to when they are in their education classes, they aren't going to model great writing for their students.
So what can we do about this at home?
Model. We can read out loud to our kids. We can read on our own and share great passages. If our kids struggle with reading, we can read a difficult passage aloud to them and show them what we would do if we didn't understand it. And we can write. First of all, we can introduce our children to great passages of writing (see, Ursula LeGuin's Steering the Craft for great passages of amazing writing). Then we can write with our kids our own passages, our own essays, our own poetry. We can write in our journals and share them with our children. We can model the process of studying great writing and then attempting to copy it ourselves.
I know this may sound daunting, but it needn't be. It's simply a matter of reading a book to ourselves, finding a paragraph we love, love, love, and sharing it with our kids. Then, just for fun, the whole family could write a paragraph just like it, but about something special that matters to you.
Many will say you shouldn't learn to write by mimicking others, but I SERIOUSLY disagree. Studying and mimicking great writing is the best way to learn how to write.
"These exemplary teachers encouraged, modeled, and supported lots of talk across the school day. This talk was purposeful talk though, not simply chatter. This talk was problem-posing, problem-solving talk related to curricular topics."
Boy, this one sounds easy, but is maybe the most difficult, because it requires intention. Talk with your children about everything. Their lives, the world, reading, books, news events, and pay attention as you are doing it. Talk with a purpose.
I just discovered that you can subscribe to the New York Times Monday through Friday for fifteen dollars a year. We've been getting the paper for a few weeks now, and I've been leaving it around the house for the kids to read. They've glanced at snippets of articles and begun asking me questions. We've all discovered how little we truly know about what's going on in the world, and this is a good thing. A very good thing. The first step to acquiring knowledge is to recognize that you lack it!
I'd also like to suggest playing games with your kids that lead to great conversations, while cutting out activities that prevent conversation. Television, movies, video games—all difficult to get a great conversation going, but board games, they are a different story.
Some of our favorite board games right now:
Ten Days in Asia (there are other versions of this great game—Rummikub with geography)
Through the Ages
Ticket to Ride
and of course, Settlers. We've had some great conversations during Settlers, and often these conversations lead back to books.
"Another characteristic of these exemplary teacher classrooms was the greater use of longer assignments and reduced emphasis on filling the day with multiple, shorter tasks. In these classrooms, students often worked on a writing task for ten days or more. They read whole books, completed individual and small group research projects, and worked on tasks that integrated several content areas (reading, writing, and social studies)."
In my kids' classrooms, they are reading fewer and fewer whole novels each year. They are spending much more time on short assignments that cater to the End of Grade tests.
So what can we do about this problem?
Well, first of all, encourage our children to read entire novels. Ask them how they like the beginning, middle, end. Even better, read the same book at the same time. Make sure they finish the thing! Kids have less sustained focus nowadays, because it isn't required of them. They often want instant gratification, because we give it to them. They rarely get to experience the pleasure of a slow-moving novel that picks up and picks up until you can't put it down and by the end of the book, you've lived another life. They want action now or they give up. At least that's what we think they want, so that's what we try to give them.
Encourage your kids to write in a journal for an entire year. Encourage them to write and illustrate an entire picture book, then take it to Kinko's and bind it for a buck. I did this with Lucy and Calvin, and they love their bound, published books. Love them, and they both are writing something new. They're next book.
Anything you can do to encourage long, thought-out, sustained projects at home and at school will help your child succeed.
It's difficult to know what to do about this. Teachers themselves often have little power here, but I think we can safely say parental praise for effort, for work put in, is huge. (Please read, The Talent Code. I'll have to post about this later.)
Occasionally we have ice cream book-dates in our family.
When a child finishes a particular book I've been encouraging them to try, we go on a mommy-date to chat about the book and to chat about what book they—or we—might want to read next.
I've long believed the best elementary school classrooms would include a weekly book conference between the teacher and the student where they discussed a special book the teacher selected just for them, knowing their abilities and their interests. At the end of the conference, the teacher would then give the child another book especially selected just for them.
Calvin had a teacher in first grade who would regularly send home articles and books she found just for him. Not because there was an assignment involved, but because she truly was interested in him and thought of him when she stumbled upon something. He loved it, the attention and the books.
I'll probably never be satisfied with a teacher again—this so rarely happens—but we can fill in the gaps! We can find articles and books for our kids. We can tell them enthusiastically why we thought they would love the book, pay attention to their progress, and take them for a special talk when they're finished to go over the book and give them a new one.
This may sound too time-consuming, but think how many birds this kills with one stone. Quality time alone with your child, positive interactions, talking about books!, talking about life, helping them discover their interests, showing them you are interested in them and the things that are important to them.
We need to think about what is and is not happening in the classroom and do our best to make them happen at home. We can't assume these things are happening, and nothing but good will come of our efforts.