Saturday, June 26, 2010

day 176: summertime —beginning reading help—readability levels part i of iv

                                            Readability Levels of Books

If your child goes to 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. Your 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 peak 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 formulas available 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 formulas 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 the 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. Formulas 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 formulas 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 this summer? Join us in the next blog to learn more.

day 175: summertime —beginning reading help—readability levels introduction

                                    An Introduction to Readability Levels

I began homeschooling twenty-seven years ago this fall 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. (More on later readers and building a love for reading/maintaining skills, etc. for older kids next week.)

In order to choose reading materials for your children, a basic knowledge of readability levels will be a great help. I will detail that in the next few posts.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

day 174: summertime —beginning reading help—more graded readers after “Bob”—“Now I’m Reading” and “Brand New Readers” sets

Two reputable sites advocate two other vocabulary-controlled readers that I have not used. However, I wish I had found more to follow my “Hear Me Read” readers since it felt like such a big jump to a standard “first grade” or “primer” reader from the “Bob” books and the “Hear Me Read” ones.

Therefore, I will give these links here—they might fall before or after the “Hear Me Read” ones, but I know for sure of the success we have had with those, so I would recommend doing those (with their limited word lists) then these.

1. “Now I’m Reading” readers---available at Timberdoodle:

2. From a helpful reading site*:

Tomorrow I am going to start on a short series of posts concerning readability levels of books. This will pertain to all families—those helping their children in the summer, those who want to keep their kids reading year round, those homesschooling, and those who do not homeschool. It is a tad bit laborious, but I think it will help parents whose children are reading at second, third, and fourth grade levels and beyond to find materials that will help them continue moving along in the reading process.

**Site for more reading help: A reader wrote in about a blog that is completely dedicated to tutoring children in reading. This site is chock full of ideas and tips, so I wanted to share it with Positive Parenting moms and dads--

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

day 173: summertime —beginning reading help —tips for moving along with “early graded readers”

I have so much to share with you! Smile…I am trying to give bite-sized pieces as I truly want all parents (including non-homeschooling ones) to see the terrific impact you can have on your child academically in the summer (if your kid(s) need summer "tutoring"). My prayer is that all PP 365 readers’ children who attend school will go back to school with confidence and gained skills from having worked with Mom or Dad in the summer. (Of course, I want that for homeschoolers, too!)

I have given links for our favorite first two sets of “graded” readers for you to use as you help your struggling reader this summer. Today I would like to give some tips on moving your little reader from truly phonetically-controlled readers (such as the “Bob” books) into more vocabulary-controlled readers (those with limited number and difficulty of words but with words that do NOT only follow a certain phonetic rule).

1. If you have vocabulary-controlled readers with a word list given for that book (like many do—and specifically, like the “Hear Me Read” books do), just start with the book that has the fewest number of words listed. (I labeled mine with numbers with the book containing the fewest words first, then the next number of words follow that one, etc.—thus, the book that contained only twelve words became our “book one”; the one with fifteen words became our “book two,” etc.).

2. Keep in mind that reading OUT of context is more difficult than reading IN context. Thus, I usually began having my student read the BOOK to me (not the word list)—parents and teachers alike have a tendency to do just the opposite. (Or, if he needed extra help and confidence-boosting, I would read the word list TO him, pointing out any sounds he knew, commonalities, etc. before he read the book to me.) After he read the book, I had him read the word list. (Again, as parents and teachers, let’s keep as our focus the giving of the most tools that we can give to help our kids succeed!)

3. On the next day we met, I had him read the word list and the book from yesterday’s book for review, then we began another one. (I already detailed how he had “read with Mom,” “read with brother or Grandpa,” and “read silently” readers going in an earlier post.)

4. Keep in mind that “vocabulary-controlled” readers may be all over the map as far as phonetic components are concerned. If there are three words with short “a” families (last, gap, track), point these out and remind your student that these are families he learned in phonics and his “Bob” books. Again, give him every tool and opportunity for success. Some of the words will not have commonalities. You may need to point out how this word or that word is similar to words he already knows.

5. Do not be concerned with writing or spelling at this stage unless she (usually a girl!) wants to write the words. Decoding and encoding are similar to math much like addition and subtraction. Get a little addition under your belt, then you can do the inverse of addition—subtraction. Get a little reading (decoding) under your belt, then you can do the inverse (encoding—spelling of the words). Remember, you are trying to take your child from non-reader to reader—not teach him to spell, teach him to divide, teach him the state capitals, etc. Learning to read is hard work—let him focus on that hard work.

6. When he gets stuck on a word, it will be difficult to know what to do at times. I have always believed in giving a child the least amount of help he needs to succeed (in reading, editing reports, etc.)—but giving him as much as he needs, as well. Thus, you will likely need to help him, but how much each time can vary. Consider these ideas:

a. If it is an occasional mis-read, you can probably say something like, “Remember, this is a long e family…we learned this...I think you can get it--what is the family you see (eep)…yes, now put the “kuh” sound before it—can you sound it out now?”

b. If “a” above doesn’t work, go to rhyming words. “It is the eep family—remember this family—it rhymes with beep, sleep, creep, etc.?

c. If there are many, many mis-reads, you may need to go back to “Bob” for a little longer and be sure his early phonetic families are solidified.

d. If there are moderate mis-reads, consider reading every other sentence. He reads a sentence, you read a sentence—and stay with each reader longer than a day or two, until he has mastery of it himself.

e. Avoid saying, “This one is so easy—you should know this…” as much as possible.

f. Avoid exasperation at all costs. Read the entire reader to him. Tell him, “You have been reading to me so much lately, that I hardly get to read you anymore. Let me read this one today, and you can read it to me tomorrow”—or whatever it takes to let him off the hook gently. Remember—his not being able or ready to learn to read is not his fault. (Obviously, uncooperativeness and laziness are different than readiness—but we Moms know the difference, don’t we? Smile…)

Tomorrow—more “vocabulary-controlled” reader links and suggestions. Hope you’re having phonics-fun with your little ones this summer!

day 172: summertime —beginning reading help —graded readers after “Bob—“Hear Me Read” books

Once your child is reading short vowel words, long vowel words, two syllable words containing long and short vowels, compounds, and some sight words, he will be ready to move onto what we call “vocabulary-controlled readers” (not just phonetically-controlled readers).

Again, phonetically-controlled readers are those that contain specific phonics sounds that the child is learning (only short “a” words, for example). Vocabulary-controlled readers are those that contain only a certain short list of words. (The vocabulary is controlled in that each book only contains a small number of words—mostly easier words.)

At the point that our child had a large repertoire of short and long vowel words, we moved into the types of readers listed below. We personally moved from “Bob” books into the “Heart Me Read” books Set 1 and then Set 2 by Mary Manz Simon. However, any good, true vocabulary-controlled set of readers with a limited, say fifteen to thirty word list of words that each “reader” contains, will work. (More on readability in the coming few days. I want to get links of early graded readers listed first.)

1. Hear Me Read Bible: This Bible is a collection of the “Hear Me Read” Set 1 readers—twelve extremely vocabulary-controlled readers with a list of twelve to twenty words (given on the back of each reader) for each book. I like the idea of having them all in one “Bible” as it is in this book; however, we had the individual readers for Set 1, which were extremely portable, so that was nice. (The Bible was not available at that time—you are getting the exact same thing whether you purchase the “Hear Me Read Bible” or the “Hear Me Read Readers, Set 1.”) The illustrations are whimsical and irresistible. I can’t tell you how empowering it is for a new reader to know that he can read one of these little readers! I loved that each book listed the words contained in the story on the back. (See tomorrow’s tips for moving into this level of readers.) I highly recommend these—and they are available at many libraries-- 

2. Hear Me Read Level 2 Books: After your student is finished with the “Hear Me Read, Level 1” readers (or the “Hear Me Read Bible”), he is ready to move into the level two books. These books continue with the colorful, endearing illustrations, limited text, word list on the back, etc. from level one. They add many more words, more difficult words, and have more words in each book (thus, a longer word list on the back of each one).

Tomorrow—tips for taking your struggling reader from truly “phonetically-controlled” books to “vocabulary-controlled” ones—helping him move along the path to reading fluency.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

day 171: summertime —beginning reading help—graded readers: very first ones—“Bob” books

I am going to list our favorite early readers, in order of their use based on phonetic components and progression of early phonics skills, over the next few posts, along with their links for purchasing. Many of these are available at your local library as well.

                                                  “Bob” Books

First “week” of phonics instruction—we liked for our readers to start reading books the very first week of phonics instruction (i.e. instruction in short vowel sounds, which is the “beginning” of phonics instruction for reading, excluding learning consonant sounds, letter-sound correlation, etc.). Because of this, we heartily advocate the “Bob” books, which are little “booklets” with very little text, most of which is extremely phonetically-controlled (i.e. mostly contains phonics sounds that are listed on that particular book).

There are five sets of these. They are small, portable, black and white, simple-silly-cartoon character drawings. They have enough images to help students who are still relying somewhat on picture clues to read, but not so much that a student can rely too much on picture clues (without using his phonics training).

If your student is already reading short vowel words and long vowel words, move further into the set. (You will not want the first “Mat sat on cat” books if he is reading two syllable words, for example.)

a. Set 1: Beginning Readers-- contains short vowel words—22 different words in the first eight page story, for example. Thus, as soon as your student can read short “a” words, he can read the first Bob book!

b. Set 2: Advancing Beginning Readers--still contains short vowel sounds, but more than twenty-two words are used in each book—and different words are added (more characters than Mat and Sam, for example):

c. Set 3: Word Families—introduces two syllable, though still mostly short vowel, words:

d. Set 4: Compound Words—continues with short vowel families, though introduces multi-syllable words (not just two syllable ones) and compound words:

e. Set 5: Long Vowel—has your student reading long vowel words of two and three syllables, while continuing with short vowel, compounds, etc.:

Again, keep in mind that if your child is already reading at mid-first grade level, Bob Books will be too easy. These are extremely phonetically-controlled, meaning they truly correlate with each sound. (As a child learns short “a,” he uses the first reader in Set 1; short “e,” the next one, etc.) Also, keep in mind that these are for word-calling purposes-helping your child learn to decode—not for building comprehension or other reading skills.

Tomorrow—Life After Bob Books—wowsie, sometimes I wondered if there really was life after Bob Books, but thankfully, I’m here to tell you that there is! Smile…

Monday, June 21, 2010

day 170: summertime—beginning reading help —using “graded readers” tips

Here are some early “graded reader” (a book for new readers to read from) tips to help you choose readers (links will be given over the next few posts):

1. If you are going back to square one with your struggling reader (i.e. short and long vowel one syllable words), you will need very, very primary readers. A child who is just learning to read short vowel words and long vowel words can get extremely discouraged if he is expected to read books that are way above his word-calling level. If you are starting at that point, check the readers you are getting very carefully to be sure that they are truly “phonetically-controlled.” (Follow link at the end of this post to read the difference between phonetically-controlled, vocabulary-controlled, and general picture books (like library books, such as Amelia Bedelia, Curious George, Berenstein Bears, etc.).) I will give lists of readers I like with links for purchasing in a day or two, so if you are unsure of where to begin in securing graded readers, don’t worry.

2. Do not be misled by the “grade” level equivalency stamped in the upper right hand corner of “readers” available in most teaching supply stores, department stores, etc. For example, you might choose a “young reader” from one of these places that is part of a “new reader” series that says “Pre K” level. Why would a Pre K student even need a reader? What level is a reader that is written for Pre K exactly? I mean, if Pre K kids are non-readers, then a Pre K reader contains what?? Is it a wordless book?? Then, if you get a reader that says Level 1 in the upper right hand corner, what would you expect it to contain? I would think that it would have one syllable words, mostly those with short vowels, long vowels, digraphs, and blends. So why would a Level 1 reader contain words like disagreeable and tremendous? The levels posted for many readers are simply not accurate.

3. If a reader is simple for your child, you do not want to use it to have him read with you. The time that you read with your child (at this stage) serves a couple of purposes: (a) for you to check his word calling/decoding skills; (b) for him to practice newly-learned skills. If he knows all of the words in a reader by heart (or if the words are just simple for him to sound out because he knows, for example, all of his short vowel sounds well), then (b) is not really taking place. He is not practicing newly-learned skills. In that case, a book such as that could become a “silent reader.” He does not need you right there cuing him and instructing him.

4. Carry readers with you everywhere. We always carried readers in our vehicles for our new readers to practice when we had any down time. (Likewise, we always carried our family read aloud book…never know when you might get a chance to read a chapter or two!) Take advantage of any downtime and use any opportunity you can find for your struggling reader to practice reading to you.

5. Make reading to you the “low-no option plan.” I have said this before about toddlers, but the same is true of any age—your child likely puts on a seatbelt every time he gets in a vehicle. Why? Because you do not give him the choice of not putting on a seatbelt. While you want to try to make your summer instruction as fun and interesting as you can, the bottom line is that your child must do this. He has to read to you once or twice a day, possibly do phonics lessons with you or the tutor, and maybe even more. When kids go to school, they get in line for the bus, they sit down in the cafeteria at meal time, they read their books during silent reading time, they do math drill during math drill time, and they raise their hands to ask to go to the bathroom. Why should it be any different for you? If your son or daughter knows from the beginning that he or she must do this every day (just like buckling the seat belt), it will be a lot better than your asking him, begging him, or making deals. (Personally, I feel that reading is so important that if I were doing summer reading instruction to catch my son up, I would have some sort of “no playing (or computer or video games or whatever) until you read to me once” every day rule. In our house, our son does not get “free time” in the afternoon (after his school work is done) until all of the laundry is done and put away. Once a child knows the expectation, it is amazing how well he can rise to the occasion.)

day 169: summertime—beginning reading help—using graded readers and real reading

         Using Graded Readers, Phonics, and Real Reading

Regardless of whether you are tutoring your new reader with or without a phonics program, you will need to use readers (“graded” readers for younger kids and various types of readers for olders) with him or her—everyday.

I once tutored a little boy after school in phonics and reading. Every time he came to tutoring, I would ask him what he did in “reading” that day in school. One day he told me that they did not have time to do “reading” that day because of an assembly. When I questioned him further about this, he finally agreed that, yes, he had done phonics worksheets and fill in the blank “reading comprehension” worksheets—but he hadn’t done “reading.” My concern in this was that this little guy saw no correlation at all between his phonics and his reading! He did not understand (upon further questioning) that the phonics is being used to teach him to read. That reading is the unlocking of words using some sort of system (in this case, the school used a word family phonics system, thankfully). Phonics and reading should go hand in hand as you work on your struggling reader’s reading skills.*

We used a two-pronged approach each day to teach our children to read:

1. Phonics instruction to learn to unlock words**

2. “Graded” readers to practice the phonics skills being taught***

If you are tutoring your child without a phonics system (or with one that does not contain books to read from), you will want to choose readers that he will use to practice his phonetic skills. (Some phonics programs come with readers that correlate with each phonics lesson; these are usually good programs.) You will want him to, at the very least, read aloud to you every day from his reader.

Personally, we had three “sets” of readers always going for our new phonetic kids. (Our phonics programs did not have readers, so we added them to it, being careful to select readers that are truly “phonetically-controlled” at first, then “vocabulary-controlled” later as he learned more and more words. I will explain this in detail, so don’t worry if you don’t know what that means.)

Our three reader sets consisted of the following types:

1. Reading with Mom following each phonics lesson: A reader that is somewhat difficult—that contains the sounds he is currently learning—that he reads aloud with Mom each day—this reader can be a bit more challenging since he will have you there to cue him on difficult words and remind him of his phonics lesson.

2. Reading with Dad and/or older siblings, grandparents, etc.: A reader that is not as difficult that contains previously learned sounds and words to read aloud to Dad or older brother or sister, hopefully every day or at least every other day. (The first thing my dad used to say to the kids when they would get to his house as they were learning to read was, “Did you bring your book to read to me?” SO cute!!)

3. Reading silently: A reader that he has already mastered with Mom (#1) that he uses for his “silent reading—this level of reading is not achieved in the first couple of weeks, but once he has some readers he has read perfectly with Mom (of which he knows all the words and sounds), he is ready to have a silent reading time each day with these former “read aloud” ones.

*Struggling reader: If your child can already read at his grade level, you will not want to go back and do phonics, more than likely. Stay with us—I will give advice on helping to build this student’s comprehension level, choosing books for him to read this summer, and more after this “beginning reader” series.

**Phonics instruction: I have just reviewed my three favorite phonics programs in the previous days to this post. Some are extremely well laid out and “mom friendly”—you just put in the cd and go. I feel that you would actually save a lot of money by purchasing a pricey phonics program on cd over hiring a tutor—and you can always re-sell the phonics program or use with younger siblings—or perhaps use it for becoming a private tutor yourself!

***Readers: Tomorrow and the following day I will give a suggested order of readers, how to choose graded readers for your child’s level, what not to get for readers, and more.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

day 168: three A’s of an A+ father—a father’s day message from Ray and Donna

The statistics of children without fathers playing active roles in their lives are gloom ones. According to “The Father Connection,” by Josh McDowell:

1. …the absence of a father is a stronger factor than poverty in contributing to juvenile delinquency…according the National Institute of Mental Health’s analysis of US census figures.

2. ..crime rates are highest among adults who as children had been raised solely by women…according to a group of Yale behavior scientists’ study of delinquency in forty-eight cultures around the world.

3. …the father’s presence and conversation (especially at dinnertime) stimulate a child to perform better in school according to Dr. Martin Deutsch in an article for “Time” magazine.

4. …the lack of a close relationship with their fathers has been linked to anorexia nervosa eating disorder in a study of teenage girls suffering from it.

5. “young, white teenage girls living in fatherless families were 60 percent more likely to have premarital intercourse than those living in two-parent homes..” according to Johns Hopkins University researchers.

6. ..a child’s (1) low motivation for achievement; (2) inability to defer immediate gratification for later rewards; (3) low self esteem; and (4) susceptibility to group influence and to juvenile delinquency.. have all been found to be significantly contributed to by an absent father, according to Dr. Armand Nicoli’s research for a White House paper.

If you are a Christian mom raising children alone, you will need (and will receive) extra grace to do what you are doing, for sure. However, if you are a Christian father reading this and simply not doing what you need to do to raise your children in a godly home, I pray that you will turn that around, seek out help and accountability, and be what your children need in a father.

There are three A’s that I have found in raising seven children ages 11 through 27 over the past two decades—three A’s that can lead to being an A+ dad for your children. (Pardon the “schoolish” expression; I’m not kidding when I say that everything becomes school around the Reishes!)

1. Available—so many of the statistics above point to this factor. Dads, we just need to be available. We need to say no to the good in order to do the best. We need to look at our children’s at home years for what they are—eighteen years or so in which other things must be put on the back burner (if needed) in order to be available for our kids. Here are some ways that I have found to make myself more available for my wife and kids:

a. For little ones—large amounts of time are not needed here—just short snatches and a lot of them—a few minutes after work; stories and kisses at bedtime; start traditions with your children that cause them to realize that you are available for them.

b. Middlers—you be the driver whenever possible and talk, talk, talk. Let them know that you are driving them to their event because the few minutes that you would have in the car with them is worth more to you than something else. (If you started talking when they were “little ones,” talking with you will become second nature to them.)

c. Olders—shooting hoops in the driveway most nights when my son was sixteen to eighteen gave us an opportunity to talk that might otherwise have not been found; make time for these older kids. When my older kids were little, I had a few minutes with each one before bed that we called our “Malachi time”---based on Malachi 4:6 in which the hearts of the father are turned to the children and vice versa. Establishing “Malachi time” twenty years ago has given me relationships with my young adult daughters that I quite possibly would not have had if I hadn’t sought them out when they were toddlers—and continued to be available to them throughout their growing up years.

2. Aware—we fathers need to be much more aware of what is going on in our children’s lives than we do. My wife can read our children like a book. She will often say, “We need to talk to ____ about how he is feeling about ___. I can tell something is a little bit off there and I think he is hurting.” How does she know these things? I have purposed to become a student of my children, so to speak. To be aware of their feelings, their friends, their interests, their influences, their needs, their spiritual condition, and much more. Awareness begins with questions. Asking questions about those areas in which you need to be more aware can lead to many insights that you might otherwise miss. (Also, ask your wife—she’ll know for sure!)

3. Activity—our kids make choices everyday to hang with peers, go to certain events, etc. or spend time with their families. Oftentimes, we have not made ourselves available, so our kids pick friends and outsiders by default. However, we have found that if we want our kids to want to be with us and want to stay home more (thus, affording us more opportunities to influence them in godly ways), we need to provide activities for them that are fun, healthy, family-oriented, and more. In the past ten years, when our older children and middlers were teens, we have purposely spent more money on “activity” with them than we did on other things that many of our peers enjoy. We might not have the nicest vehicles in the neighborhood, and we have a small, extremely modest home; however, our kids know that being with us is the “happening” place. That we will “do” things with them—go to movies, play basketball, swim, attend plays, visit museums, go out for dinner, take walks, and more. As we partake of activities with our children, we have more and more opportunities to see into their hearts and influence it for good.

Obviously, there are many more factors that bring about the A+ father—but some of those do not start with A! And this is a “short,” daily blog (at least that is what I keep telling my wife, the primary author of it!). However, if we would get up tomorrow and purpose to apply these three A’s to our fatherhood, I think we would all reap a harvest of closeness, opportunities for spiritual training, mentoring, and more.