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Monday, April 24, 2017

Forgotten Phonics: Basic Building Blocks For Structured Reading Programs



One of the things I (Christina at Glimmercat Education) love about the website "TeachersPayTeachers", is the opportunity to meet and mingle with other professionals in my field.  One of these professionals is the owner of "Speech 2 Teach", who had such interesting insights on phonics in reading instruction (which she finds a need for in her speech therapy practice), that I asked her to share more here on my blog.  Although "Speech 2 Teach" is sharing about Phonics across a broad scale, with links to many phonics program options, you will notice shameless plugs for Glimmercat Education's phonics packets and phonics based Letter of the Week Packets, throughout. 
Please join me in welcoming, "Speech 2 Teach":


       Thank you, Christina!  I am so glad I came across your blog.  I think what drew me to it (Besides that cute cat and your beautiful children) is that you are teaching phonics in a way many of my students would benefit from.  The concept that structure and creativity can coexist is unique in the public school system where I work.  When I think of the public school students I work with, especially those in special education classrooms, I know the combination of creative ideas in a structured reading program would really help them thrive.  In the past few years I have seen more students struggle to acquire phonics than ever before.  I have seen more administrators scramble to create safety nets such as reading recovery programs, RTI, resource room groups, even referring students for speech therapy.  Why is that?  And what can we do about it?  The answer, I believe, partially involves adding more phonics into our curricula. Here are my thoughts: 

Using supplemental phonics sheets for the Distar Reading Program, "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons".
    If you've worked in an elementary school for as long as I have (hint: I started way before Google existed, but after my big 80's hair phase), you've probably witnessed change - lots of change. Change in policy, change in curriculum, change in administrative expectations, and change in teaching methodologies.  You've experienced roll outs of new initiatives and, if you've hung around long enough, you've seen old initiatives rolled out again as new. It's safe to say that in the education business the only constant is change.  

    My role as a speech therapist has certainly changed. Those of us who had seen these changes (and who probably had big 80s hair), will recall speech therapists were there to help students pronounce "s" or "r".  There was a time when, as therapists in a school, our toughest challenge was to help a student with a lisp.  That is no longer the case.  Speech therapists in most school districts are expected to align their practice with student academic needs.  Most speech therapists look more at receptive and expressive language than at speech production.  We work to build learning foundations rather than correct speech impediments.  This shift in focus has forced me to examine how my students learn and what elements of the curriculum are most difficult for them to access.  For the students on my caseload, that element is reading (and as a consequence writing).  At times it seems, the curriculum has all but forgotten to teach basic phonics. 

Available in Glimmercat Education's "After Five" Phonics Packet

       Here's the sad fact:  most students who qualify for speech therapy in school struggle to read. In my speech room I am witnessing students wrestle with reading deficits from decoding and letter-sound recognition, to reading comprehension.  And as academic standards increase so does the number of students who are referred for support services.  For our students to become better readers, it may be time for yet another change.

This Little Book is available in Glimmercat Education's "After 25" Phonics Packet
     Now here's where my waters get murky.  I am not a reading specialist.  Although I have been attending more workshops on dyslexia and literacy, I am not a certified expert.  Yet, I cannot ignore an obstacle so many of my students are struggling to overcome.  How can I help them? The first step is to realize I cannot do it alone.  Neither can the classroom teacher nor any other single person within the school building.  A student who has not naturally "cracked the code" needs an army of supporters.  It truly takes a village to empower a struggling reader.  

Children ages 3 to 5 can begin learning phonetic instruction when presented in creative ways.
 And no, I do not have all the answers but I certainly have plenty of questions. And here they are: 

    1. How many of our early elementary school students would benefit from phonics instruction?  In the classrooms I visit today, the concept of phonics isn't a focus unless a student is identified as struggling. This is reactive and far from proactive.


    2. What if we spent more time utilizing structured phonics programs? While there are many, very few programs incorporate fun and multi-sensory learning. Is there a program that wouldn't just instruct our students how to read but would motivate and excite them as well? 
Available in Glimmercat Education's "After 20" Phonics packet

 Here are a few that students may find highly engaging.  Please note, I am not endorsing any particular company or author, but the programs listed below have evidence-based success and more importantly feature elements that keep children engaged. 


    3. What if we dedicated more time to phonemic awareness in early childhood? In this domain, I can apply my experience as a speech pathologist.  Pre-literacy skills such as rhyming, segmenting, blending, identifying syllables, even singing, are all vital to a child's ability to read and write.  And yet, if they are addressed in the classroom it is only for fleeting moments.  Phonemic awareness isn't an integral part of the school day. This is curious to me since there is vast neurological and educational research proving phonemic awareness is a precursor to reading development.  Adding phonemic awareness activities to our early elementary grades is a change that is simple (and may even be fun) to make. 

Using a Story and Song to Introduce Letter A

    4. Is having one professional work with a small group of students really the most effective way of reaching all who are in need?  Or are there changes we could make to our methods of instruction that would allow students to improve reading skills without being pulled out from the classroom?  Since so many students are being pulled out for "specials" such as resource room or RTI, perhaps we need to examine what and how we are teaching while the students are in the room. 


5.  What if we spent more time allowing students to enjoy multi-sensory experiences with letters and sounds?  That is the concept that drew me to Glimmercat's blog because she so effectively hones in on this idea.  In my experience, teaching through various modalities has always yielded better results.  And while many teachers already understand the value in it, I find that they incorporate mult-modalities at their own intiative and often as means to support a student who is falling behind.   


Another modality:  Making the Capital "A" with our bodies which is both fun and physical.
But perhaps it isn't enough and perhaps we could find a way to formally include multi-sensory, individualized experiences within the structure of a reading curriculum.  We would reach more children, increase experiences within the structure of a reading curriculum.  We would reach more children, increase engagement, and watch our students become stronger readers. 


   6.  How much time do we truly spend on self-advocacy?  Not only teaching students various strategies, but teaching in a way that ensures they utilize the strategies when they need them most.  As a speech therapist, that is probably what I focus on the most.  Since my time with each student is limited (typically 30 minutes twice per week), I find the most effective way to utilize that time is to teach various strategies that the student will be able to use anywhere outside my room.  I have been blessed with colleagues who collaborate with me and ensure follow-through.  You can find some of my favorite strategies in my store where these are some of the options available: 


I am certain the answers to my questions vary from school to school and from classroom to classroom.  But if we carefully consider our honest responses, perhaps we could all see a welcomed change.  

Thank you, Glimmercat Education, for inspiring me to ask all these questions, and thank you for providing the forum for me to ask them.  And most importantly, thank you for remembering those forgotten phonics.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Ox-Cart Man Reading Literacy Activity


  There is no better way to introduce simple economics to Kindergarten than by using the wonderful story, "Ox-Cart Man" by Donald Hall. 

     It never ceases to amaze me how fascinated children become by this simple story, where a New England farmer from the early 1800's, travels to market with the various items he and his family have created or grown throughout the year, sells them, and then purchases items to take back home. 


  I really wanted to make some activities that would help my kids to play-act this story, because I consistently find that allowing them to play out what they have heard is allowing their learning to sink in at a whole new level. 


And I am pretty excited by the final results, because these activities were fun, applicable and perfect for Reading Literacy Circles or a homeschooling lesson. 

First, let's look at the "Buying Like the Ox-Cart Man" Activity


   I decided to have my son and daughter work as a pair for this one, and gave each of them four Shillings to cut out from the bottom half of the Activity Sheet.

Then, I walked them both through the items that they could purchase on the top half of the Activity Sheet.  I explained they would get to make purchases with eight shillings each.  Since we just read Ox-Cart Man, they listened intently and carefully considered their options. 


My daughter chose to buy a baby ox for her first purchase.  My son chose a chicken and bucket and tap for his. 


They had so much fun taking turns to be the buyer and the seller of these items and even my young Kinder could easily do the math of counting out her shillings. 

They weren't even ready to end their play-fun and move on to the craft!  Until they saw what it was...


Once again, I decided to let them share the work because this is a LOT of cutting for small kids, and children unfamiliar with using scissors are going to need some help. 


The finished craft page creates an ox-cart, an ox, a sack of potatoes, a sack of wool, a broom and a pair of mittens. 

If you are homeschooling, I'd recommend taking it a step further and asking children what other items they can come up with to take to market in their cart to sell.  My daughter found a blanket and a duck in her toy box and brought these down to add to her wares.


My son took the initiative to cut up some Q-tips to make "candles", just like the Ox-Cart Man had in the story.


The final activity in the packet is the Beginning Sentences Worksheet, really excellent for taking it to another level with your older kids.  I encouraged my son to consider the differences between "Needs" and "Wants" and then he drew a picture (again, from the items displayed) of each in the indicated boxes.


Final step was finishing the sentence by writing down the items he chose.  I find this step excellent when discussing beginning economics with kids, because differentiating between "needs" and "wants" is an important facet of economics which we, as a wealthier nation, often have the luxury of
ignoring.  But in third world nations or in the 1800's, this was a step that definitely had to be considered.


To purchase this Reading Packet for "Ox-Cart Man", head over to my store.   But in the comments, I'd love to hear additional ideas for this story or additional ideas for teaching economics in the Kindergarten class.  Thanks for reading!



Friday, April 14, 2017

When Studying Ancient South American Civilizations


We have reached Chapter 26 in Story of the World.  For all the history of the Americas before Europeans arrived, one chapter seems a small section to spend on the Western Hemisphere, so we decided to create an additional supplemental activity.  Enter, our Mayan Paper People


Whenever I create one of these Paper People Packets, I usually end up doing quite a bit of research to learn enough to create the clothing.


It's a fascinating study.  For instance, I did not know that the Mayans embellished their teeth with jewelry.  Or that feathers were for royalty only, and if a commoner wore a feather, they could be killed for their presumption.  Learning about the clothing helps us learn about the civilization.


I recommend using card-stock for printing our Paper People.  The clothing can be printed on standard white paper, both the color and the black and white sheets that are intended for being colored.


Smaller children will need help cutting out these detailed images.  And we always pull out either our colored pencils or our gel pens to do this kind of intricate coloring work.


But using these kind of artist tools often instills more of a respect for the work for children.  My kids go extra careful and really spend the time on these small pieces of art, when we do this. 


For the props and backgrounds for our paper people, I discovered that there is a peculiar hairless dog that is considered a Mayan animal.  We also learned that dog was considered a perfectly reasonable meal and was consumed regularly.  That was a shocking piece of information for my kids, actually.


So we included a dog, and a few pieces of Mayan artifacts, just to give our happy Mayan couple a feeling of home. 


It's a happy meeting of fun activity, historical facts and multi-cultural discovery. 

What are your favorite additional supplemental activities when teaching more about the Ancient World?  I'd love for you to share in the comments!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Reading Literacy Activity for The Quiltmaker's Gift


We all have our favorites:  you know the ones:  those picture books that are so heart-rendingly beautiful that you almost have to read it with a tissue tucked into a hand because you know you're going to cry at that one page.

"Guess How Much I love You" by Sam McBratney...


"Love You Forever" by Robert Munsch...


"Knuffle Bunny Free" by Mo Willems...



Did I hit one of your favorites there?

Well, I want to introduce you to another tear-jerker children's book that has an incredible message, unforgettable pictures and...I ugly-cried through the entire last half of it the first (and maybe second) time I read it.

"The Quilt-maker's Gift" by Jeff Brumbeau.


I stumbled upon this book when I was trying to find "Q" books to read to my oldest when we were going through Letter of the Week curriculum.  And I fell in love with it.


And now it is one of our family classics, and one of my son's favorite children's books.  So, what's the story about?


The story introduces us to a mysterious Quilt-maker who lives on a mountain top and makes incredibly beautiful quilts.  So lovely are the quilts that many come from far and near to buy them but she will not sell one.  Rather, she slips into the city at night and finds the poor and homeless and wraps them up in one of her lovely quilts.


Finally, the wealthy king hears about the Quilt-maker and is offended that she has never given him one of her priceless quilts so although he has almost everything already, he comes with a thousand soldiers to take one for himself.  The Quilt-maker announces she will only give him a quilt if he gives away everything he owns.  Angered, the King attempts to take a quilt anyway, but magically, it whisks out of the window and away.


The King attempts to punish the Quilt-maker, yet every time he feels remorse and goes to intervene, only to find each time that she has already been saved through her own kindnesses to others.


Finally, the king agrees to give everything he owns away, for the sake of a quilt, and this is where I usually start bawling my eyes out.  But why don't you just listen in for yourself to this read aloud of the Quilt-maker's Gift:



  Now, having fallen in love with this story, I wanted to create some sort of literacy activity for my children to do.  We know that quilt-making can be an incredible classroom project, for one thing.  Just take a peek at this lovely group of ideas on a blog from Rainbows within Reach.

But I also decided to create a few activities for kids to do individually at literacy centers or for young home-schooled children to do, after reading the story.

First, I read up on easy quilt patterns and found one called "The Friendship Star".


Children choose two colors to fill in their patterns with, and then simply color in the quilt pieces.


The end result is a beautiful example of how simple geometric shapes that are repeated over and over can create the beautiful finished quilt design.


Our craft project involves creating a paper quilt from a printout and it is a simple cut and paste project.  The fabric swatch images are reproductions of material designs from the 1800's when quilts were having their hey-day, but you can also print them out as black and white images for children to color themselves in brighter cheery colors.


We also tried this craft, by using actual fabric swatches that we mod-podged (Elmer's glue would work fine, too) to the paper.


This was another great way to recreate a quilt, but I would recommend cutting the fabric swatches ahead of time in advance and not attempting to have children do the cutting.  Fabric can be so... squirrely... to cut!

You can check out our Reading Literacy activity for The Quiltmaker's Gift in our store, or look over our preview for the packet, in more detail right here:


"The Quiltmaker's Gift" is such a beautiful story of generosity and kindness, that there are many additional ideas that could be implemented for students to practice giving on their own.

What are some ideas that you could see yourself doing in a classroom setting or one on one?  I'd love for you to share additional ideas in the comments below!