Sunday, May 24, 2015

How Children's Reading Habits Are Changing & Six Ways to Support them

The National Literacy Trust in the United Kingdom has just published its annual report on children's literacy and there are some encouraging signs. The trust is the only national charity dedicated to raising literacy levels in the UK.

1. The report highlights

The 2014 report (released in 2015) of 32,026 children in grades 3 to 11 suggests some interesting trends:
  • Levels of enjoyment have risen with 54.5% enjoying reading quite a lot.
  • Daily reading rates have increased substantially with a 28.6% increase in children who read outside the class on a daily basis.
  • Twice as many children read outside the class for fun each day (now 29.6%).
  • Except for magazines all forms of reading increased, with musical lyrics (50.3%), text messages (72.6%), websites (60.2%) and social networking being the highest (53.6%). Interestingly, 46.7% of all children read fiction at least once a month outside class.
  • The majority of children said they have a favourite book (61.0%).
  • Girls continue to be the most devoted readers
  • Girls and boys read different material outside school - more girls than boys read computer-based formats.
  • Children who enjoyed reading are three times more likely to read above their appropriate level than children who do not enjoy reading (34.9% compared to 10.7%).
2. Six Tips to Help Children to Grow in Enjoyment for Reading

Once again, results of this kind show why it is important for parents and teachers to work hard to increase children's enjoyment of reading. Here are six tips that will help to make a difference:

#1 Work hard to connect children with books that they will enjoy - try to supply books that match interests, that are at an appropriate level, and provide time and space in their lives to read.
#2 Help children to manage their time so that they have time to read - this might require us to restrict screen time for activities those activities that offer only limited reading opportunities.
#3 Provide opportunities for children to experience many forms of reading - books, careful use of social media for class, group and exchange with students in other places. Create varied opportunities for reading magazines, graphic novels, books, music, non-fiction, poetry, cultural texts (e.g. advertising, news, political posters).
#4 Show interest in the things children read - talk to them about their reading, ask them to share what they are reading and why, engage with them concerning the content of their reading and their interests.
#5 Encourage opportunities for children to share their reading interests - try discussion groups on specific texts or genres, one-on-one reading conferences, 'dining room table' discussions with small groups of students (as developed by Nancie Atwell).
#6 Help children to become writers as well - reading feeds writing and writing feeds reading. Get children excited about both by allowing them to take greater control and by supporting them at every step. Encourage them to write for real readers and try to establish ways for others to read their writing as well.

Other related posts on giving children READING SUPPORT

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sketching and imagination as tools for close reading and comprehension

*This is a revised version of a post I wrote a couple of years ago.

Every teacher wants to help children to read deeply, to grasp the richness of characterisation, the devices the author uses to create mood and tension, the intent and purpose of the writer and the language devices employed. We also want them to be moved by the text and able to reflect and respond critically to it. I've written lots of posts about comprehension, but in this one I want to revisit a previously discussed strategy that I've used with children aged 3 to 12 years and which I continue to see as one of the most powerful comprehension strategies I have used.

‘Sketch to Stretch’ is essentially a strategy that involves asking children to sketch in response to reading, hearing or even viewing a story. It requires them to use drawing to 'stretch' or enhance the meaning as they are reading. You can do it during and after reading and there is even a place for drawing as an ‘advance organizer’ before reading, but that’s another post. It can involve varied directions including:

Sketch what just happened.
Sketch what he/she [insert character name] did, lost, saw, heard etc.
Sketch how this [insert and event] makes you feel.
Sketch a picture that shows what might happen next.
Sketch a picture of [insert character].

The sketches on the left are from my book 'Teaching Reading Comprehension', and show just some of the responses from a group of 10 year-old children I had been teaching as part of a research project. I had interrupted a reading of the graphic novel ‘The Wedding Ghost’ (1985) written by Leon Garfield and illustrated by Charles Keeping.

Garfield's book is set in the late 19th century, in a small village in Hertfordshire in England. Like all of Garfield’s books it is rich in historical detail and a depth of language and mastery of storytelling that few children’s authors have ever achieved. The book tells the story of a young couple (Gillian and Jack) who are about to be married. It follows the normal sequence of events for a wedding in the 19th century, beginning with the invitation, preparations, then the rehearsal, present opening, more preparations and eventually the wedding.

Much of the story centres on a journey taken by Jack after he opens an unusual gift addressed only to him. This is the first moment of intrigue. Jack sets off armed with an old map sent by an unknown person, and the events and discoveries that lead ultimately to the dramatic events of the wedding and the outcome.

On the occasion that sketches above were drawn I had introduced the book by sharing the title, showing the cover and then explaining a little about the author. I told the class that Leon Garfield usually wrote what is known as historical fiction, and that this is the writing of fictional stories that are inspired by real events, setting and characters.

I interrupted my oral reading after a few minutes at a point where Jack is to open the mysterious present. This is just a few from the start of the story and the guests are gathered around watching the groom to be. People are making jokes and speculating about the gift and why it might just have his name on it.

I asked my students to quickly sketch what the gift might be. As you can see from the sample of the sketches, the responses varied greatly and included a ghost, map (an uncanny prediction), book, hourglass (suggesting time), a genie’s lamp letter and so. The sketches offer an insight into the level and depth of children’s comprehension of this complex picture book up to this point. As well, they illustrate that they are trying to make sense of what’s going on, where the story might go next and the extent to which they are picking up on the themes in Garfield’s book. As well, they show something of their literary history and the background knowledge that they bring to the reading and the sketching.

Even when children drew the same object there was great diversity. For example, a number of students drew ghosts probably basing their prediction upon the book's title (there had been nothing explicit in the text to suggest this); and yet, the drawings showed a diverse range of ghosts. One student drew a genie type 'ghost' emerging from lamps, several drew 'Casper like' ghosts and others drew ghosts more human in form. Each reflected different literary histories and background knowledge. Where they were at the point of the sketch involved each in a different literary journey and experience of this book.

Summing up

'Sketch to Stretch' as its name implies, stretches children’s understanding, and their knowledge of and appreciation of literature. It is enhanced of course by discussion and skilful teaching, as sketches are shared and responded to by students as well as the teacher. It isn't really an easy strategy; in fact it is a very sophisticated multimodal strategy that requires reading, discussion, response, drawing and sometimes writing in association with it. It can also be used with film in a similar way to the way I used it with the 'Wedding Ghost'.

One of the strengths of Sketch to Stretch and in fact drawing generally, is that it offers an alternative to word-based strategies for heightening engagement. Each response whether it is written, spoken, drawn or displayed in any form, helps children to read more ‘deeply’. The sketches also help us to understand how our children are empathizing with characters, evaluating the text, what they are predicting will come next, how they are reflecting upon earlier events, how they are connecting with life situations and so on. This offers us greater insight into our children’s comprehension as they read and it helps us to enrich the mental journey children are making as they read a book.

Related Resources

Previous posts on 'Comprehension' (here)

'Pathways to Literacy', Trevor H. Cairney (1995). This is a book I wrote and which has more material on reading comprehension and 'Sketch to Stretch'. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Six reasons we sometimes need to say no to our children

It seems in this age that parents struggle increasingly to say no to their children. "No you can't have another biscuit". "No you can't have a mobile phone because Ralph has one". "No you can't stay over at Annette's place when I don't know the family". "No we aren't going to McDonalds tonight".  "No you can't play that online game any longer tonight". Parents vary in terms of their parenting styles along a continuum from permissive to more authoritarian, and I've seen fine young people emerge from families with quite different styles. But it seems to me that irrespective of whether your style is permissive or towards the more authoritarian end, all children do need to hear the word "No" at times.

Why? Here are my top 6 reasons we need sometimes to say 'no'.

#1  Failing to get something that you want, helps to make you more grateful when you do.

#2  We learn from failures, and by not always getting our way or the things that we want.

#3  Being told 'no' is arguably the greatest contributor to understanding the failures of others and developing empathy.

#4  Learning to accept a 'no' helps you to learn how to say no to others; an important key to self-control and preservation.

#5 Having people who love you saying 'no' teaches you a great deal about what true love is.

#6  Being told 'no' helps to develop endurance and determination.

Of course teachers can also have the same problems with saying no. Being able to say 'no' is a great gift from a parent or teacher to a child. But when you do say no it is important to remember a few basics:

  • First, always try to explain why you are saying no. This will help children to grasp that you actually want what is best for them and that you value them.
  • Second, be consistent! There is no point saying 'no' once and then giving in to the same thing an hour later.
  • Third, never say 'no' simply in anger. Yes, at times kids make us angry, but your delivery of a 'no' should be delivered while under control and focused on their good not just punishment.
  • Fourth, don't allow your children - when faced with a no - to engage in a debate; they need to respect your authority as a parent and your right to say no.
  • Fifth, don't allow your children to work one parent against the other. In my family a no to one parent was enough. You need to shut down this type of manipulation by not allowing the child to split parent opinion down the middle.

Good luck saying no.