Textbook Previewing With Your Kids (Reprint)

                      Back to School January 2013–Helping Your Kids With the New Semester

With a new semester of school upon us, I want to rerun some study skills posts that I did a year or so ago. Many students change classes mid-year, so here are some tips to help you help your kids get accustomed to their new books: textbook previewing.

I recommend that you go through their text books with them and help them look for these things. This will be time well spent as your student learns how to learn. This will carry over to research–when he is looking for books to use for report writing, etc., he will know what to look for in a book, how to find easy-to-use sources, etc., simply from the small amount of time that you walked him through his text books.

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






Try these specific strategies for previewing textbooks with your student to help him or her get the most out of his or her texts this year:


1. Graphs and charts—Remind your student that charts and graphs usually restate (in another form) what is indicated in the text. He can use these for quick overviews, as well as for reviewing before tests.


2. Enumerations—If his text uses a lot of enumeration, it could be that this subject has a significant number of lists to be learned. Point him to these lists and show him that often what is listed in the margins or sidebars is also expounded upon within the text.


3. Section headings—The more headings a book contains, the easier it is to learn from. The student is constantly reminded, by the headings and subheadings, of what the section is about. Show him how helpful these headings can be as he uses the book during his reading and for test preparation.


4. Pictorial aids—Maps are always in included in history textbooks. If his textbook contains a large assortment of maps, show him how they can help him see the big picture. Maps usually show where something that is discussed in the text occurred.


5. Glossary—Books that contain glossaries give the student an easy way to find definitions that may be more obscure within the text. Teach him to use this for quick finds, but encourage him to use the text itself for most studying since students who learn vocabulary in context retain it better.


6. Tables of Contents—The Table of Contents can be used somewhat like an index to find where information is in a particular chapter. It is especially good for getting a big picture about a whole chapter.


7. Prefaces, introductions, and summaries—If a text has any of these three, some of the work is already done for the student. Show him how advantageous these are for quick previewing of a chapter.


8. Footnotes—If a student is in a class that requires research papers, footnotes can be a real plus. We teach our research paper students to use lengthy works’ footnotes to find other credible sources that they might use in their papers.


9. Appendixes—Appendixes are the “extra credit” of the book. I always like to thin of myself as a prized pupil, so I tend to gravitate to these right at first, since they’re usually for those who want additional information—and I always want to know more! Tell your students that sometimes the appendixes aren’t even used in the actual course, but they are good for learning more, for research-based reports, and for cementing what is found in the text.


10. Indexes—If a book doesn’t have an index, I say send it back and get a new one! Show your student how quickly he can find information with the index. The more specific the index, the better it is for the student.


11. Bibliography—The bibliography gives lists of books, articles, and documents relating to the subjects in the textbook. Like footnotes, we direct our research paper students to these.


12. Pronunciation guides—These guides give the phonetic markings to aid in reading unfamiliar words. Many texts do not have these guides, but they are helpful in a class where a student will be giving presentations so the can pronounce unknown words correctly.




Any signaling or sign posting that a book contains is that much more opportunity for the visual learner, especially, to learn and retain. If you have an auditory learner, you might have to record his vital info on cd or cassette! Smile…More study skills coming soon!!!

Homeschool Tips–VII: Teach Children How to Learn

 Tip VII: Teach Your Children How to Learn

Homeschooling affords us the amazing opportunity to teach our kids how to learn (among a myriad of opportunities to teach many things!). 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. An awareness that it is our responsibility, and we can do it gradually all the time, goes a long way.

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

For Those Going to School–Tip VI: Starting Homework Out Right

Tip VI of XII: Starting Homework Out Right

Once school starts and the textbooks have been previewed, you can help your students get into good homework habits by doing their homework with them for a few weeks.

Here are some tips along those lines:

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)

Back to School for Those Who Go to School (and homeschoolers!)–Tip V: Preview Textbooks

Tip V of XII: Preview Kids’ Textbooks With Them at the Beginning of School

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

For all types of schoolers—a post on previewing textbooks with our children. I am going to post this for those attending school, but hope that those who homeschool will utilize it as well. (Note: This was posted in three parts a year ago for back-to-school tips in a different series—with some changes.)



Comprehension and study skills are not necessarily as much remembering all of the details that were read as much as knowing how to read for meaning, remembering the most important parts, and being able to locate information as needed. Students’ textbooks in the content areas (science, history, government, health, geography, etc.) lend themselves greatly to comprehending the information they contain.

I recommend that you have your kids bring their textbooks home, one at a time, and follow some of the tips below previewing their books with them. This will help them (and you) determine the signaling systems, layout, study tools, etc. that each book includes.

A student needs to now quickly how to find information in his book, whether there’s a glossary or index for quick vocabulary help, how each section is summarized, and many other tips that can be discovered right when he begins using that text (with some help from Mom or Dad). By previewing his whole text at first, he will know how user friendly it is, how to set up his notes, and even which study strategies will and will not work for that particular text.

Sitting down with your student and his textbooks (maybe one per evening) during the first week will go a long way towards his comprehension and ease of use of those books throughout the school year. Try these specific strategies for previewing textbooks with your student to help him or her get the most out of his or her texts this year:

1. Graphs and charts—Remind your student that charts and graphs usually restate (in another form) what is indicated in the text. He can use these for quick overviews, as well as for reviewing before tests.

2. Enumerations—If his text uses a lot of enumeration, it could be that this subject has a significant number of lists to be learned. Point him to these lists and show him that often what is listed in the margins or sidebars is also expounded upon within the text.

3. Section headings—The more headings a book contains, the easier it is to learn from. The student is constantly reminded, by the headings and subheadings, of what the section is about. Show him how helpful these headings can be as he uses the book during his reading and for test preparation.

4. Pictorial aids—Maps are always in included in history textbooks. If his textbook contains a large assortment of maps, show him how they can help him see the big picture. Maps usually show where something that is discussed in the text occurred.

5. Glossary—Books that contain glossaries give the student an easy way to find definitions that may be more obscure within the text. Teach him to use this for quick finds, but encourage him to use the text itself for most studying since students who learn vocabulary in context retain it better.

6. Tables of Contents—The Table of Contents can be used somewhat like an index to find where information is in a particular chapter. It is especially good for getting a big picture about a whole chapter.

7. Prefaces, introductions, and summaries—If a text has any of these three, some of the work is already done for the student. Show him how advantageous these are for quick previewing of a chapter.

8. Footnotes—If a student is in a class that requires research papers, footnotes can be a real plus. We teach our research paper students to use lengthy works’ footnotes to find other credible sources that they might use in their papers.

9. Appendixes—Appendixes are the “extra credit” of the book. I always like to thin of myself as a prized pupil, so I tend to gravitate to these right at first, since they’re usually for those who want additional information—and I always want to know more! Tell your students that sometimes the appendixes aren’t even used in the actual course, but they are good for learning more, for research-based reports, and for cementing what is found in the text.

10. Indexes—If a book doesn’t have an index, I say send it back and get a new one! Show your student how quickly he can find information with the index. The more specific the index, the better it is for the student.

11. Bibliography—The bibliography gives lists of books, articles, and documents relating to the subjects in the textbook. Like footnotes, we direct our research paper students to these.

12. Pronunciation guides—These guides give the phonetic markings to aid in reading unfamiliar words. Many texts do not have these guides, but they are helpful in a class where a student will be giving presentations so the can pronounce unknown words correctly.

Any signaling or sign posting that a book contains is that much more opportunity for the visual learner, especially, to learn and retain. If you have an auditory learner, you might have to record his vital info on cd or cassette! Smile…

Back to School Tip III of XII: Create Reading Environment

Twelve Tips for Back to School–Those Attending (or Homeschooling!)–Tip III of XII: Create an Environment Conducive to Learning to Read

“I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.” ~Anna Quindlen, “Enough Bookshelves”



During my graduate studies (in Reading Specialist) at Ball State University, I did a master’s thesis about children who learn to read without any reading instruction. That is, the kids just suddenly started reading books without ever having phonics lessons, basal readers, or other “formal instruction.” It was a challenging thesis simply because there is so little data about it because of our “early school attendance age.” Seldom does a child learn to read “naturally” before age six or seven, and with kids going to school at age five (and often beginning reading instruction in kindergarten), the research was sparse concerning these “instructionless” readers.

I did find enough, however, and I was also blessed to find a family who had a natural reader to compare the printed data with. My observations, coupled with the studies in teaching journals, etc., led me to find what I called the “environment” in which natural readers are raised. This led me to other lines of thinking—if a child can learn to read with absolutely no instruction in a literary-saturated environment, wouldn’t this environment be conducive to helping those who DO receive instruction learn to read better, more easily, and more naturally?

The answer, of course, was yes. Study after study shows the type of environment that causes kids to learn better. Duplicating the “natural reader’s” environment can only help our kids learn better. Maybe our creating this “literary atmosphere” will not automatically make our six year old pick up a book and begin reading, but if it makes the learning process (actually any/all learning processes) easier, more enjoyable, and less stressful, why wouldn’t we want to duplicate it in our homes for all of our kids?

So what were the commonalities I found in studying the environment of “natural readers”?

Common Characteristics of Natural Reader

1. Interaction with adults—these kids were with adults a lot—and definitely not around peers more than adults. They had adults on hand to discuss things with, to answer their questions, and to provide examples of proper speech patterns, etc.

2. Much book handling by the child—these children were surrounded with books that they were permitted to interact with. They were often found at very young ages with stacks of books around them, just looking at the pictures, making stories in their minds from the pictures, etc.

3. Print abounds and interest in print is evident by itself—not only did the homes of natural readers contain books themselves, but they also contained all type of print. The parents of these children read magazines, journals, newspapers, etc. I think the “interest in print” part probably began with something like a parent saying, “Honey, look at this whale they found beached on the coast of Florida,” as he or she brought the little one up on to her lap to see the picture that was provided with the article in today’s newspaper, etc. This type of activity causes a child to become interested in print.

4. Tapes and books are used—nowadays, of course, this would say “cd’s and books are used”; however, this is the reason why I began using book and tape sets a few times a week for my preschoolers and elementary children—and why we have used audios (talking books, radio dramas, etc.) every week of our lives since our oldest was one year old. “Tapes” and books show our children the benefits and “fun” that reading provides.

5. Memorization takes place—these natural readers often followed a certain pattern—they memorized a picture book (usually many), then through the memorization, they began making print-sound-word connections. That is, when they turned the page and recited, “If you give a mouse a cookie,” they began to understand that i-f says if and y-o-u says you. Natural readers were experts at memorizing large portions of text.

6. Interest in writing words and “language experience” activities—many years ago, there was a movement in education to replace phonics instruction with “language experience” activities (also called a “whole language approach”). Phonics proponents everywhere were up in arms at the thought of “activities” of writing what the child said (dictation) for him, making little homemade books, etc. taking the place of phonics instruction. While I am a strong phonics proponent, I believe that these “language experiences” and “whole language” activities augment the reading instruction greatly. And, of course, the natural readers in the research were exposed to these types of activities early and often. These kids were the ones who dictated thank-you notes to Mom to go to grandparents and colored a picture to send along with it; they were the ones who had a chalk board in the kitchen in which Mom or Dad wrote the day of the week each morning; they were those who “said” stories aloud and parents copied it in little “journal” books for the child. And on and on. Why wouldn’t these types of experiences and activities increase a child’s relationship with print and love for learning?

7. Experiences related to literacy and books—these obviously include the types of activities listed in number six, but these kids knew from birth that books and reading were important. They were the ones in a double stroller at the library lawn sale as toddlers—child in front seat with back seat full of picture books. They were the ones who had their own “book basket” in the corner of the nursery almost from birth. In other words, they were immersed in literacy and books from an early age.

8. Self-regulated behavior and risk taking—This characteristic related to how they “organize” their little lives. These kids would pull all of the Curious George books off the shelf and stack them up to look at after lunch. They often had little learning systems in place at ages four and five. And they were not afraid to be wrong. This, of course, stems from not being talked down to or made fun of when they did ask questions. These kids were risk takers because taking risks in learning (“Mommy, is this word (dapper) ‘Daddy’?”) yielded information that helped them in their quest to learn. The questions did not yield put downs or “you should already know this.”

9. Read to often—Obviously, a link has to be made from the squiggles on the page to the sounds that those squiggles make in order for a young child to teach himself to read. Thus, a child must be read to (or follow along with books and tapes) in order to learn to read without formal instruction. Now, this is not to say that a child who is read to will automatically learn to read early and on his own. I read aloud to our first three kids three to five hours everyday for years and years—and not one of the three was a natural, or early, reader! But it certainly created a love for print and learning in my children!

Children who learn to read naturally, without reading instruction, are raised in an environment that is conducive to learning to read naturally—an environment that creates a love for learning and a very perceived need to learn.

While I have never had a natural reader myself, I tried all throughout my children’s learning days to create this type of environment. It has created outstanding learners and avid readers in the Reish home.

One of the “rules” that Ray and I had for our children’s early education was that if something could be taught informally (and painlessly), we would teach it that way (as opposed to using workbooks or “curriculum” for something that can just as easily be learned while driving down the road or snuggling on the sofa).

That is one thing that I truly loved about the “natural reader learning environment.” Why get a workbook to teach capital letters when you can teach it while you are running errands (from all of the store signs)? Why get a program for rhyming words when nursery rhymes, silly songs, and I spy games on the road can do the job without the stress? The “natural reader learning environment” fit how we thought young children should be taught—regardless of whether our kids truly became natural readers or not.

The environment described in the last couple of days’ posts is extremely conducive to teaching a myriad of things that kindergarten and first grade curricula often use workbooks, worksheets, and other “formal” approaches. And kids do not even know they are doing “school” with Mom and Dad while running to the hardware store or cuddling during an extensive story time!

Here are just a few of the skills that the research on natural readers indicated are learned/enjoyed by kids in this environment:

1. Contact with print

2. Thinking skills

3. Comprehension (especially when a wide variety of materials is presented and discussion follows)

4. Expanded vocabulary

5. Enunciation and pronunciation

6. Love of and need for reading

7. Sentence patterns

8. Relationship between parent and child—the most important one of all, of course!

Create a “natural reader learning environment” in your home—regardless of your kids’ ages….and watch the interaction with print increase; the love for learning grow; and the positive relationships bloom.

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