Wondering Wednesday Podcast: How Do I Prepare My Child to Learn to Read?

How Do I Prepare My Child to Learn to Read?Donna Reish, author of fifty language arts and writing curriculum books, answers a reader’s questions about preparing a preschooler to learn to read. Based on Donna’s graduate thesis about natural readers (children who learn to read with no instruction at all), this audio answers questions about what reading readiness is and what to do while waiting for it, what characteristics are common in homes of natural readers, the outcomes of creating a natural reader’s environment in your home, and more. Donna also gives twenty tips for teaching letters and sounds.
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“Readability Levels and Formulas for Homeschooling Parents”

“Readability Levels and Formulas for Homeschooling Parents”

                         “Readability Levels and Formulas for Homeschooling Parents”

                                  
                                                                                   Donna Reish





                                             An Introduction to Readability Levels

I began homeschooling over thirty years agol when Ray and I taught my younger sister (who was in eighth grade at the time) in our home. During my first several years of homeschooling, I used early readers when my children were first learning to read, but I did not care for “readers” for older children. I always felt that abridged or excerpted stories were inferior—and that children should read whole books.

This worked wonderfully for my first two (the ones who learned to read at age eight and nine). They didn’t like abridgements and excerpts very much anyway—and could easily read a couple of chapter books a week from ages ten and up. (I should note that they are both real literature buffs as adults, and our son teaches literary analysis of many novels to homeschooled students every semester. All of that reading really paid off!)

Then along came our third child, who begged for everything that I did not think was “best” for learning—workbooks (the more, the merrier, in her opinion); readers with excerpts and short stories; tons of what I had thought were useless pages of worksheets and coloring pages; and more. She was a different type of learner than Joshua and Kayla had been—and desired different learning tools.

So I began my hunt for “older” readers—readers for children beyond the phonetically-controlled ones that I had utilized to teach reading. I found many that I liked—and actually used some of them to read aloud to the kids since we found the stories and excerpts interesting and fun. They even caused my kids to go on and read entire books for themselves that they might have otherwise not known about or read (after reading an excerpted portion in their readers).

So…the moral of this story? Every child is different. Each child has his own learning style, likes, dislikes, etc. And we need to cater to those as much as possible in their learning. In order to choose reading materials for your children, a basic knowledge of readability levels will be a great help. I will detail readability levels and determinations in this month’s newsletter (March) and next month’s.  

                                          Readability Levels of Books

When a child is in school, he is likely in a “reading group,” that is a group of children from his class in which all of the students read at about the same reading level. The child’s teacher chooses readers/stories for each group of children based on that group’s (the children in that group’s) reading level.

To practice with your child at home, you will want to do the same thing—but in a one on one, rather than small group, situation. How do you know what level is appropriate for your child?

I will enumerate some tips for choosing books at your child’s reading level, primarily for word-calling purposes. First, though, a small peek at readability levels will help you in determining your child’s reading level.

Readability is based on many factors. Many readability scales use one of a few simple formulae in which the number of words in a passage or story is divided by the number of words—and a readability level is derived based on the number of words each sentence contains (on an average). Other formulae use the number of syllables, considering that a sentence that contains twenty “one-syllable” words is certainly easier to word call than a sentence that contains twenty “three-syllable” words.

In both of those cases, the readability level is based on word calling, which is an accurate portrayal of early readers since children do not focus much on comprehension at that level of reading. (And if a class does focus on comprehension, it is usually just literal comprehension—what happened, who the characters were, etc.)

As students progress in their reading, we want them to not only be able to sound out words in a passage or story, but we want them to derive meaning from those words. Formulae for readability of a text based on comprehension is much more difficult to assess (though definitely counting number of words with longer syllables demonstrates a higher comprehension level than just merely counting the number of words).

So many things come into play when considering readability of, say, a chapter book of 150 pages. A book might be short but extremely difficult to comprehend due to the vocabulary used (which some formulae do not consider). Likewise, a book can be very long but have extremely immature vocabulary and not be difficult to comprehend at all.

In our language arts and composition books, we give students passages to write from at least half of the time for factual writing in the early grades, lessening as students learn to find appropriate sources themselves, etc. In choosing these passages to write from, comprehension is extremely important. In order to write from source material, a much higher level of comprehension must be realized than merely that of sounding out the words. In choosing passages for students to read, take notes from, and write from, we consider readability in terms of word calling first, then we consider sentence structure. Sentence structure includes the length of the sentence, the type of sentence (i.e. what we learned as compound, compound-complex, etc.), the type of and length of sentence openers a sentence contains (prepositional phrase openers, adverb openers, etc.), and finally, the vocabulary of the passage.

How does this apply to your reading with your student? Consider the list of ascending skills below concerning readability and readers:

Readability and Readers

1. In the early grades, you will be concerned with readability in terms of decoding, phonics, sight words, etc. That is, can your student read the words?

2. If your child already reads well in terms of decoding (sounding out words), and can “pick up anything and ‘read’ it,” you will want to focus on content—comprehending what he reads, discussing it, etc.

3. As students progress in reading, homeschooling moms and teachers in school often forsake the practice of reading aloud with children, noting that the child can word call anything, so there is no need to check for word calling skills/application of phonics. However, we advocate reading aloud with your child for some years, at least a couple of times a week. No, you will not be checking for word calling anymore (though my older boys will still say something like, “How do you pronounce this word—m-y-r-i-a-d?” when they are reading something to themselves), but reading involves word calling AND comprehension. A child who can “read anything” but not comprehend it is like a child reading “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket.” To say that a child in fourth grade can read at a ninth grade level because he can decode all of the words in a passage that is rated at a ninth grade readability level is like saying he can read the “Wocket” tale by Dr. Seuss. He might be able to word call it, but is he “reading” if he cannot comprehend what he reads?

4. Oral reading together with Mom or Dad at upper elementary grades is for comprehension—you will not necessarily be checking on the application of his decoding skills, but you will be checking on his comprehension, vocabulary recognition, etc. You will hopefully be guiding him through his reading, discussing it, answering questions about vocabulary words (i.e. words he can easily sound out but does not know the meaning of), etc.

5. If your child is beyond the beginning phonics instruction, you may not need books that are “graded” in terms of readability. Perhaps he already enjoys reading a certain picture book series or early junior fiction series. These can then become his “readers” to read with you.

6. Consider the differences in “readability” in the materials he reads with you vs the materials he reads to himself:

a.    Be sure the material he reads aloud with you is somewhat challenging (i.e. he needs some help with words here and there but the books do not leave him in tears).

b.    Be sure that what he is reading to himself is not so difficult that he needs cueing or instruction as he reads it.

7.     Keep in mind that there are other things that affect readability besides syllable count, numbers of pages, sentence structure, and vocabulary. Interest is a strong factor in determining readability. (That is why I recommended the Saxon Bold Intervention+ for older students who need remedial reading on our Positive Parenting blog.The materials that they read from are high interest for older students—not childish or primary stories.) This is the reason that children who would not read their science or history book in fifth grade are picking up huge books of Harry Potter and these vampire books (not sure of their titles). Whether we like them or not, many children out there are reading these tomes simply because they are interested in them—despite the fact that those kids are not “at that reading level” and would never have picked up a book over two hundred pages prior to these books being released. (If you have an older student who is working on remedial reading, ask your librarian specifically for high interest/low readability materials for older students. Some of the adult literacy materials are extremely high interest with lower readability levels, as well.)

+Note: If you have an elementary child who is struggling with learning to read, visit Positive Parenting and click on “Reading Instruction” for helps and reviews of programs.

Teaching Children HOW to Learn

Teaching Children HOW to Learn


Speaking about “Building Study Skills and Comprehension” at a conference



There are many aspects of teaching a child how to learn, one of which is working to increase our children’s comprehension. When people have good comprehension, they can learn anything, anywhere, anytime.

There are three primary ways that we have worked to increase our children’s comprehension: (1) Discussion with parents and those more knowledgeable than the child; (2) Good questions following reading or discussions; and (3) Provide a rich background of experience.


The first two of those go hand-in-hand. Discussion of everything with our children from very young ages has given our kids experiences in areas that they would normally not have experiences in. It gives us the opportunity to teach all the time—and gives them learning hooks that they create with the discussion material to bring into other learning situations.
Good questions, not just rote questions, help the student think more deeply about subjects and allow you to observe his thought processes and help them along. Lastly, a rich background of experience gives your student the edge in learning any subject. Like discussion, it gives a child more knowledge, more background, more information to bring into future learning scenarios.


I am adding some information about teaching children how to learn, good materials, links to articles, etc., in the sidebar of this article for those who would like to study this further. Just being aware of always teaching our kids how to learn, how to study, how to research, how to further their understanding is a big step in teaching kids how to learn. 


SIDEBAR….


                        Tips and Links for Teaching Children How to Learn




~People often ask us what we would have done differently in our homeschool. One of the things I would have done differently is that every child, every year would have done a thinking skills book of some sort from the Critical Thinking Company: http://www.criticalthinking.com/index.jsp?code=c





~Dozens of articles on reading instruction, readability, creating an environment conducive to reading instruction, choosing readers, and much more!http://positiveparenting3-6-5.blogspot.com/search/label/reading%20instruction


Strengthlessnesses—Longest Word With One Vowel



Wordy Wednesday!

Welcome to Wordy Wednesday! Did you know that strengthlessnesses is the longest word containing only one (albeit very repeating) vowel? Neither did I. And I don’t really care for it. I mean, it is cumbersome to say–and that is a whole lot of e’s and s’s to remember to spell the crazy word.

But I love unique and unusual–and strengthlessnesses is definitely both of those! Here are some vitals about this “longest word containing only one (albeit very repeating) vowel”:

1. It is a noun–did you know that when a word ends in ness, it is almost always a noun? This helps with standardized testing greatly. Ness words are nearly always nouns, so in a “fill in the blank” type of assignment, if the word in question ends in ness, it has to go in a spot where a noun fits.

Tricky Trick to Help It Stick: We have students learn key words to remember things. For instance, to remember that ness words are nearly always nouns, memorize a key word or two that you know is a noun and that ends in ness.

Other ness nouns: happiness, hopefulness, craziness, gratefulness, joyfulness, smartness

2. It has to do with having strength–we teach our students to think about what you already know–anytime–but especially when approaching a new word. Is there anything about the word strengthlessnesses that you already know?
     a. You know what its base means. You already what strength means!
     b. You know that less means less or not having that quality. (We do a lot of root and affix studies here!)
 
Because of those two “things you already know,” you can know that strengthlessnesses has something to do with not having strength (i.e. less strength).

Note: You know more than you think you know! Repeat this over and over to yourself: “I know more than I think I know. I know more than I think I know.” Use what you know to learn more!

3. It can be spelled syllable-by-syllable (if you are a biphonic man or biphonic woman!): strength-less-ness-es.

4. You can also make up a trick to remember how to spell it, such as “It contains four e’s and six s’s. Or that it has four syllables–which tells you that it will have at least four vowels in it (or y’s acting like vowels)–because a syllable always contains at least one vowel. A vowel is what makes a syllable!

5. You can learn the variations of this word–because you can remember from your vocabulary studies with Language Lady that suffixes (affixes added to the ends of words) might change the SPELLING of the base word (pity is changed to piti in pitiful) but does not change the MEANING of the base word. Even with three suffixes added (less, ness, and es), the base word of strength still means strength.
             a.  stengthless–adjective meaning without strength (less words are often adjectives!)
             b. strengthlessly–adverb meaning without strength (ly words are often adverbs)
             c. strengthelessness–a noun describing someone or something that is without strength (ness words are often nouns)
            d. strengthlessnesses–a noun that means more than one someone or something that is without strength (es makes the word plural).


So there you have it–the longest word with only one repeating vowel. Did you know that you could learn so much from one word? You know a lot more than you think you know! Smile…

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Helping Kids Back to School–Homework and Textbooks (Reprint)

“The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.” Robert M Hutchins





I wanted to add some more thoughts to yesterday’s “study skills with textbook previewing.” These are in no certain order or age group—just some things that haven’t really fit in the last couple! (How’s that for organizing and study skills???)

1. Taking the textbook preview further


There are a number of ways that you can take the previewing of textbooks that I discussed yesterday even further with your children for more comprehension of the material:


a. Do his first few assignments out of the book with him, pointing out the things again that you observed in your first preview. This will help him see that those things are not just good things to know, but also helpful for completely homework quicker and more accurately.


b. Help him prepare for his first test with his textbook and you by his side. Show him how he can use the glossary, sidebars, table of contents, etc. to quickly fill in his study guide or quickly determine what the most important aspects of the chapter are in order to prepare for a test.


c. As you are previewing a text (for the first time or an additional time), use a large sticky note to record what you find. Write the title of the text at the top, then make notes about what it contains as far as study and homework helps. Stick this in the front of his textbook and help him refer to it when he is doing homework or test preparation. You could even record a plus and minus system, such as


+++ means something is going to be really helpful—a +++ beside the Table of Contents, for instance


+ beside a word he writes in the front of his book tells him that this might be somewhat helpful—Example: +Some graphs


– No study questions at end of chapter—again, he can make a list in the front of his book (on a large sticky note), etc.




d. Help him “label” different sections of his book with sticky notes along the edges. For example, you could put a yellow one at the beginning of each chapter and a pink one on the page that has definitions for that chapter, etc.








2. Prepare your younger student for textbooks by using user-friendly non-fiction books


Maybe you are not in the textbook stage with your kids; however, you can begin preparing them for those all important study skills that I described yesterday with quality non-fiction books. If kids at ages five, six, eight, and ten, learn to navigate around Dorling Kindersley, Eyewitness, and Usborne books (among many others), they will be heads and shoulders above other children who have only been exposed to fictional stories (more on the benefits of fiction later!).


These outstanding non-fiction books have literally hundreds of topics that interest kids, but they are so colorful and alluring, you do not feel like you are “teaching” at all. Additionally, they have many aspects that your child’s future textbooks will also have: glossaries, Tables of Contents, sidebars, graphs, pictures, inserts, definitions, bold font, italics, etc. Reading these to and with your children when they are younger will provide a natural step into textbooks later on.




Note: We teach our students (in our home, our cottage classes, and in our language arts books) a simple memory device for remembering fiction and non-fiction:




Fiction=fake (both begin with f)






Non-fiction=not fake (both begin with nf)

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