What is the “best” way to teach reading to children who are learning English.

Welcome to my next blog about reading with children who are learning English.

Recently I have been involved in some professional learning about reading and what impacts on it. As part of the professional learning, I read a Chapter titled “Building Bridges to text” in a book called “English Learners, Academic literacy and thinking” by Pauline Gibbons. Below is my summary of this text and my own opinion on how to ensure that children who are learning English are able to comprehend the texts that they are reading.

In multicultural nations, like Australia, many children begin school with a very limited understanding about English. These children usually speak another language at home or have been looked after by their grandparents (who do not speak English fluently) while their parents work. These children have not been exposed to the correct structure of spoken English and therefore need a lot of assistance when learning to read English texts.

Not only do they find the concepts about print (how a text works eg front cover, left to right, read left page first) difficult to understand, but their field knowledge is very limited as well. Field knowledge is the understanding about our world and making connections through experience. This is an area that many children struggle with, not just children who have English as a second or even third language. The texts that beginning readers are given cover a variety of topics. The text could be about a circus, playground, airport, another culture, swimming lessons, farm, making bread etc. If children are not familiar with these topics, they will need a lot of assistance to build their field knowledge to enable them to comprehend the text.

Remember the most important goal of learning to read is for a child to understand what they are reading. Reading fluently is important and does relate to comprehension but most of the time parents focus on this at the cost of a child not understanding the text.

Approaches to teaching reading for children learning English

1. Traditional or phonics based approach

This approach focuses on the child learning all their sounds to be able to work out written symbols. An educator would start with individual letters, then simple sight words, then the sounds that are made with two or more letters. After they have gained confidence with this, they would move onto simple sentences that focus on repetition. All early reader texts rely on repetition.

The disadvantage of this approach is that the child is able to make few links to what they already know from their own language. Reading can become a very abstract process for these children as the sounds do not match their first language.

2. Whole language approach

imgres-1This approach focuses on the child learning about the whole text by recognising what type of text it is, predicting what the text is about and using their own knowledge about the subject to bring meaning to the text. Good readers draw on three types of knowledge when reading a text; semanic knowledge (knowledge about the world), Syntactic knowledge (knowledge about the structure of the language) and graphophonic knowledge (letter-sound realtionships). This approach aims to combine all these types of knowledge when trying to read a text.

The disadvantage of this approach is that the child may not be familiar with the texts subject or familiar with the structure of the language that will help them predict what the sentences will be about.

3. Interactive approach

imagesThis approach is the combination of the traditional and the whole language approaches. A child learns about predictive and decoding (working out) skills depending on the type of text being read. What an educator does before reading a text with a child is very important to how successfully a child will be able to read it.

4. Critical approach

researchingThis approach focuses on a child being able to question and analyse a text in which they have been exposed to. They learn that no text is “neutral” as an author always has a particular context and the reader also has their own context. This means that we all see things differently depending on who we are. Words such as discovery, invasion and colonisation all have a particular context that refers to one event.

5. Social and cultural approach

reading 1This approach focuses on the understanding that reading is a cultural and social practice. Each society places a different value on it. Some children come from cultures that value oral story telling whereas some value  picture books or factual texts or religious texts such as the bible. This approach guides the educator in selecting particular texts for a child and the nature of the classroom discussion around reading.

Not one approach has all the answers. As educators and parents we need to use all of these approaches at different times depending on the needs of the child. I hope this has given you insight into the many factors that influence the skill of learning to read, especially for a child who is learning English.

Please share this article with all your staff and parents to ensure we all have access to information that will help our children reach their potential.

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

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Ensuring A Successful Transition Into Kindergarten - 11 Aspects To Consider To Ensure Your Child Is Ready

Welcome to my first blog since school holidays. I am well rested and ready to start my weekly blog again. This blog focuses on the issue of when to send children to school and how you know if your child is ready for Kindergarten.

Starting school can be a very stressful time for parents. There are so many unknowns, so many questions and so many decisions to make. Now is the time that parents are deciding whether to send their child on their formal educational journey or to hold them back another year.

We all want our children to have a successful transition into school. Below is a list of 11 aspects that parents need to consider to ensure that their child is going to have a successful transition.

  1. Independence

imgres-3Children who have a successful transition into Kindergarten are very independent. They are able to commence tasks on their own and are able to complete all self care tasks independently. These tasks can include taking a jumper on or off, opening their own lunch box and unpacking and packing their own school bag.

Parent ideas to develop this in your child

  • Child needs to dress and undress themselves everyday
  • Child needs to pack and unpack their preschool/daycare bag everyday
  • Child can make their own lunch and morning tea
  • Child could help younger siblings complete tasks
  • Child needs to do up and undo their own seatbelt
  • Child could help set up craft activities eg pour paint into containers
  1. Organisation

organise clothingMany children who struggle in the first few terms of Kindergarten lack organisational skills. They usually forget where they put things, cannot complete a task in the correct order and they do not get all the required resources to complete the task. Children need to have many opportunities prior to school to gain a sense of responsibility for their things and practice setting themselves up to complete a set task.

Parent ideas to develop this in your child

  • Child needs to get their own clothes out for the day
  • Child needs to put everything they need for the day in their bag
  • Child can clean up/pack up a game before starting a new one
  • Child could get all the equipment needed for a game and set it up
  1. Problem solver

Kindergarten is a new experience for a child and there will be many problems that the child will encounter. Children who have good problem solving skills will be able to cope with these challenges when they arise. Many children who find the transition period difficult will get quiet upset at the smallest difficulty and require an adult to solve their problem for them. Unfortunately there are usually only a couple of adults and a lot of children, so they may spend a lot of their time waiting for the teacher’s attention instead of being on task.

Parent ideas to develop this in your child

  • When your child experiences a difficulty do not tell them what to do but guide them in finding out a solution for themselves
  • Children need to build a lot of resilience so they need to be given many opportunities before school to do this.
  • Set up opportunities for your child to find solutions for themselves. Eg do not put a new toilet roll on, do not refill their drink, do not get the tomato sauce for their dinner etc
  1. Fine motor

using scissorsFine motor skills begin to develop before a baby can walk. By the age of 5 or 6, it is expected that most children have very developed fine motor skills. In the first few terms of kindergarten, most tasks require many fine motor skills such as drawing, writing, cutting and gluing. If a child has under developed fine motor skills they tend to have many incomplete tasks and get upset that they cannot do tasks that others in the class can do. If you have a concern about your child’s fine motor development ensure that you see an OT (occupational therapist) before starting kindergarten. They will be able to offer advice about specific tasks that your child should be doing to strengthen their small muscles in their hands.

Parent ideas to develop this in your child

  • Screwing and unscrewing lids
  • Doing up buttons and tying simple knots
  • Forming letters in their name
  • Drawing basic shapes E.G. square, rectangle, circle and triangle
  • Cutting on straight lines
  • Cutting around shapes
  1. Gross motor

imgresDeveloped gross motor skills are essential for good posture and muscle coordination. Children with poor gross motor skills find it difficult to keep up with their peers on the playground and tend to be more “clumsy” in the classroom. When a child turns 5 years old they should be able to complete the following:

  • Stands on one foot for at least 5 seconds
  • Able to hop on a foot at least 3 times
  • Jumps over an object with two feet
  • Runs around obstacles
  • Walks up and down stairs while holding something
  • Skips on alternate feet
  • Hangs from a bar for 5 seconds
  • Walk on a balance beam
  • Catches a small ball with hands only

If you have a concern about your child’s gross motor development ensure that you see a children’s physiotherapist before starting kindergarten. They will be able to offer advice about specific activities that your child should be doing to strengthen their large muscles and help their coordination and balance.

  1. Learning skills

children readingChildren need to be motivated learners in order to have a successful transition to kindergarten. They need to be able to listen while sitting still on the floor, spend at least 30 minutes concentrating on a task and have the ability to follow instructions.

  1. Speech and Language skills

Children need to be able to have highly developed speech and language skills to be successful in the transition period to formal school. They need to be able to participate in a conversation, explain their ideas, answer questions appropriately, retell a story and understand what someone is saying. Many children start kindergarten with underdeveloped speech and language skills and this significantly affects their writing and reading. If you have a concern about your child’s speech and language development ensure that you see a children’s speech pathologist before starting kindergarten. Early intervention is the key. The sooner your child starts therapy the less their speech and language will affect their success in their classroom.

  1. Letter sounds

Even though it is not essential, children who are familiar with the letter names and the corresponding sounds definitely have an advantage when they first start school. They will have a strong foundation to build their knowledge about writing and reading on which begins as soon as they start school.

Parent ideas to develop this in your child

  • Identifying the names and sounds of letters in their name (first and last name)
  • Identify the first sound of objects E.G.  “C is for cat”
  • Pointing out letters on signs, books you read and labels
  1. Numbers

jumponanswerChildren who can identify numbers 1 – 10, can count past 20 and count using one to one correspondence (pointing to a single object at a time) will have a solid foundation to begin formal learning about mathematics.

 

Parent ideas to develop this in your child

  • Count objects as often as you can
  • Identify numbers in the environment eg letter boxes, speed limit signs
  • Playing games with a dice
  1. Social development

CountingThis is an important element that contributes to a successful kindergarten transition. The child needs to be able to wait their turn, use manners, know when to talk and when to listen, cooperate with their peers and have empathy towards others. They will be going into an environment that has a high adult to child ratio and therefore their needs cannot be immediately met. They need to negotiate, compromise and be assertive when dealing with other children. The social development of a child is the main focus of all early childhood educators so if you have concerns about your child, speak to your child’s current teacher for some advice.

  1. Age

images-2This is a current educational debate that many parents find themselves involved in. Do you send your child to school if they turn 5 in January to July? I believe that this has the biggest impact on a child’s success in Kindergarten. Every child is different, however in most kindergarten classrooms today, there can be a difference of up to 18 months between children. Just think about a newborn compared to an 18month year old. The difference is substantial. My personal recommendation is if your child will be turning 5 in March or later you need to hold them back. They need to spend another year developing the above 10 aspects. It is harder to see the age difference of 18 months when they are 5 or 6 years old but as formal education begins it becomes very apparent, very quickly. However, there are the odd cases (mainly with girls) that are born later than March and show readiness. However, these are few and far between. I have never met a parent who has regretted holding their child back, but have met plenty who have regretted sending them.

We all want the best for our children. We want to set them up for success in life and the beginning of their educational journey is no different. Starting school is a big step and I hope these 11 areas have given you some insights to ensure the transition to formal school is a smooth and exciting one for your child.

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

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20 Ways To Help Your Child Learn Their Sounds

Sound Collage

Welcome to my third blog in the series “Literacy in the Primary Classroom”. In this blog I focus on how educators and parents can use games in their home and classroom to help children learn sounds successfully.

Learning the sounds that letters make in our alphabet are the building blocks to writing and reading. Children need to have a comprehensive understanding and knowledge of the relationship between the letter and the sound.  This will give them a solid foundation to learn to read and write efficiently.

Children begin learning sounds before they start primary school. They may know the sound of the letter that begins their name or the sound of a letter of their favourite toy. As you have probably already gathered from my previous blogs, I do not encourage parents and educators to only use flashcards to help a child learn a concept. Learning in context is the best way that children learn anything. It needs to mean something to the child in order for them to store the information in their brain.

Enabling your child to learn their sounds in a fun environment is pivotal to their success. There are so many quick games that the child could play independently, with a sibling or a parent which gives the child a meaningful learning environment to learn their sounds successfully.

It is important for your child to be exposed to lowercase and uppercase letters. Children need to learn that we mainly write in lower case letters and only use uppercase letters for the beginning of a sentence or beginning of a proper noun. So many children begin school writing their entire name using capital letters. Please discourage this as it is a very hard habit to break.

Once children have learnt most of the sounds of the alphabet, they need to be exposed to sounds that letters make when they are together. For example phonic blends like ch, sh, ar, ou, er and ing.

Below is a list of 20 sound games that can be played at home and at school. Not only do they give your child an opportunity to learn their sounds but they also are fun and engaging learning activities. All these games are versatile so you can use single sounds or more complicated sound patterns in the games depending of your child’s needs. 

1. Hammer sounds

HammerPut a sticker of a letter on each block of wood. Have a mystery bag that has objects that begin with each letter. Have the child put their hand into the bag without looking and pull out one object. The child needs to say the name of the object and say what letter it starts with. They can then hammer down the corresponding letter on the wood while making the letter’s sound.

2. Padlock sounds

PadlocksHave a variety of padlocks with matching keys. On each padlock, put a sticker of an object. Write the beginning letter of the object on the corresponding keys. Lock all the padlocks and put in a tub. Mix up all the keys as well. The child must look at each object, determine the starting sound and use the correct letter key to open it. Ensure that the child says the correct sound for the letter.

3. Musical sounds

musical soundsWrite all the sounds on different pieces of paper and spread around the outside of a large table. Get you child to use their finger or a toy to move around onto each letter while the music is on. When the music stops, the child must stop on that sound. They must say the name and sound of that letter (or letter pattern)

4. Plastic egg match

lettersoneggsUsing plastic eggs, write the lower case and upper case letter on each half of the egg. Take all the eggs apart and mix them up in a tub. The child can match all the correct halves back together while saying their name and sound. (There are many plastic eggs in the shops at the moment due to Easter)

5. Paper plate sounds

fb1cabdd2b26c35d78711e1baee6f9adUsing a paper plate, write all the upper case letters around the outside. Have the matching lower case letters on single pegs. The child must match all the letters/sounds together while saying the letter names and sounds.

6. Sound catch

WaterFill up a small container with water. Write the letter/sounds on ping pong balls. The child must use a net to catch a ping pong ball and say the name and sound before putting it into their fishing bucket.

7. Shaving cream tray

c563165f34fc9fc6d7b8f5431f6edbf6Fill a mini cupcake tray with shaving cream. Gently put a piece of paper on each with a letter/sound written on it. The child must say the letter sound and name before they can push the piece of paper down to the bottom of the cupcake tin. Children love squashing the shaving cream. This has always been a successful game for me.

8. Toy match

matchtoysWrite letters/sounds all over a large piece of paper. Have a collection of little toys that all begin with one of the letters/sounds on the paper. The child must put each little toy on the corresponding letter/sound while saying the name and sound of that letter.

9. Simple sound board game

17eb72ea5d54cc1397b0c5613fa95f40Make up a simple snake like board game that has all the sounds that your child is working on. Have a little toy to be the player’s piece. The child rolls the dice and moves that many spots. They must say the letter name, sound and a word that begins (or has it in if you prefer) with that sound before they can have another turn.

10. Sound Popcorn

soundpopcornWrite the letter/sound on outlines of popcorn and put them in a popcorn bag. The child needs to choose a piece of popcorn and put it on their popcorn paper template in the correct spot (or colour in or cross off) while saying the name and sound of the letter.

11. Sound water spray

waterspraysoundsUse chalk on a blackboard or pavement to write the letters/sounds that your child is working on. The child must say the correct name and sound of the letter before they can use the water spray to take it away.

12. Bulldozer sounds

bulldozersoundsMake a track for a bulldozer to go along. You can use tape, lines on a piece of paper or lines in the sand. Have the child use their bulldozer to pick up the letters/sounds along the way. They must say the letter name and sound.

13. Matching spoons

spoonsWrite all uppercase letters on the tip of coloured spoons. Write all lowercase letters on the base of clear spoons. Mix all the spoons up and the child must put the a clear spoon on top of the matching coloured spoon to make a pair. They must say the name and sound when they have formed a pair.

14. Scavenger hunt

scavenger huntHave all the letters/sounds written on separate pieces of paper. The child must search the home or classroom to find an object that starts with each letter/sound. They place the object on the letter and continue until the 10 minute time limit is up. Then they have to say all the sounds they were able to find and the ones they could not.

15. Treasure hunt

treasure huntHide letters/sounds in a sandpit or in the soil. The child must dig around to find all the hidden sound fossils. (you could write the letters on dinosaur bone shapes). The child would then say all the sounds they have found.

16. Alphabet toss

alphabettossWrite all the letters/sounds on balls or beanbags. The child picks up a ball or beanbag, says the name and sound and tries to throw it into one of the baskets in front of them.

17. Alphabet hide

alphabethideandseekWrite all the letters of the alphabet on different blocks of Duplo. Hide them around the house or classroom. The child must find them all and correctly order them in an alphabet tower. They must say the name and sound of each letter.

18. Feed the Monster

Feed-the-Alphabet-Monster-466x1000Make a monster out of an empty wipe container. Have all the letters/sounds written on pieces of paper. The child feeds the monster the letters (letters written on old bottle caps) and the monster makes the sound of the letter they are eating. The child can be the voice of the monster. Alternatively this can be a two player game. One child feeds the monster, the other is the monster who makes the sounds.

19. Dice game

dicegameMake a template similar to this image. The child rolls the dice and colours in the first sound in that row. They must say the letter name and sound. Before the game starts they need to guess which row they think will be coloured in first.

20. Sound I spy

Phonics-I-spy-discovery-bottle-game-680x915Put a variety of objects in a bottle. Write their corresponding letters on a sheet. Fill the rest of the bottle up with rice or sand. The child shakes the bottle around and when they find an object they must say the first sound of that object and cross the letter off on their sheet. They need to cross off all letters.

It is important that children engage in meaningful learning experiences in order to gain the knowledge and understanding about a subject matter. Have fun with your child as they begin to learn their sounds. Always try to point out letters in our environment to make connections for your child.

I hope this blog has given you some useful information about incorporating some interesting sound games at home and in the classroom. Playing these games will help your child learn their sounds in a fun and meaningful way, instead of just using flash cards.

Until next time…

Kelly Pisani

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