Friday, July 4, 2008

Developing Literacy

The first three days of the summer institute on literacy at Fordham University have been geek heaven. If you are thrilled by discussions of effective practices that inspire students towards becoming life long readers and empowering teachers with the skills necessary to make that dream a reality, then Pope Auditorium at Fordham's Lincoln Center campus is the place to be.

The opening speaker was Dr. Marilyn Jager Adams from Brown University. Due to the fact that I am teaching at the institute I had the opportunity to speak briefly with her and when I said who I was she said he had heard of me (cue to geek smile).

During her talk she discussed her involvement with the PBS show Between the Lions and how it supports emerging literacy development in young children. (The title of the show refers to the two lions that adorn the entrance to the main branch of the NYC public library.) Among the shows many features is a decodable text short called "Fun with Chicken Jane" which of course is a twist on the old decodable "Fun with Dick and Jane" texts. You gotta appreciate this wacky sense of humor. At least I do as it is right up my alley ladies and germs.

In 1967 Jeanne Chall wrote of The Great Debate in this country about the controversy surrounding reading instruction. She wrote "Do children learn better with a beginning method that stresses meaning (which became a whole language approach) or with one that stresses learning the code? (a phonics based approach). We are finally realizing that there is no need to choose one or the other - children need both to become successful readers. And successful means comprehending what is read. For without meaning, reading is just stringing together a bunch of sounds. I may be able to do that when I 'read' Spanish but I have no idea of the meaning behind what I am saying.

Dr. Adams also stressed the importance of children learning their ABCs as early as possible. The foundation must be in place before it can be built upon. I am not 'sold' on everything that she advised but she was certainly inspiring.

I had planned to write about the first three speakers in this post but am sensing that they deserve their own posts. I am also sensing that you, gentle reader, are probably letting out a sigh of relief.

See, I told you - I am a geek when it comes to researching literacy.


Pam said...

the video reminds me of when i was developing my reading skills in kindergarten. you know those books...paper covers, yellow, 'I see Sam.' 'Sam is a lion.' 'See Sam run.' my teacher had a hs student who came down and helped each student. i've always wondered whatever happened to him.

i think any way that teaches a child to read is useful. i'm lucky that i have two out of three readers among my children. my youngest likes to read on occasion, but she's not like my two older ones. the 21 yr old has read books long ago that college students are just getting into. my 11 yr old loves history, but she is getting into other types of books as well. she is almost 10th grade level of reading and she just finished 5th grade. i think she's going to be smarter than me! lol :)

Pauline said...

Just spent a delightful half hour reading here and comparing your notes with my own experiences working with second graders. The growth in second grade is equally as impressive which makes working with that age group so much fun.

I clearly remember the day I understood that letters made words and words filled books and that I could read every one in my parents' bookcase and then in the public library. That excitement is still with me, even more so as a writer.

I love Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

Gary said...

Ciara - As a teacher I am familiar with those decodable texts but I do not recollect them as a learner. I was always a 'reader' but I do remember having quite a bit of difficulty doing the worksheets that were given to me as a child. The ones that required you to circle the word with the short /a/ sound or the long /e/, etc. And the thing I learned from this is that (as you point out) anything that teaches a child to read is useful. That was not useful so it should not have been forced on me. Different strokes and all that. Thankfully the drills are a thing of the past and work in phonological awareness has moved into more kid-friendly territory. Congratulations on raising a bunch of readers and thanks for reading.

Pauline - Wow, a half hour! I'm pleased and impressed. Thanks. It is also impressive that you remember the moment when print meant something other than a jumble of unconnected symbols. I can't say the same for myself.

Little Pea is such fun. Simple text, cute and just 'odd' enough to be interesting.

Reya Mellicker said...

Chicken Jane? Wow!! That's deeply strange, and fabulous, I might add.

Love your geekiness. Oh yeah!!

Bobby D. said...

I enjoyed chicken jane! my kids are great readers, my parents were readaholics too. my son loved the PBS shows and probably learned a lot from them. I'd read the first chapters of a novel to him when he was in grade school, and then have him read a few chapters aloud to me, well, that hooked him on the book-- he read a lot of Dicken's in middle school, and all sorts of sci fi on his own, going through several books a week when the homework wasn't too heavy. Summer reading is intense at our house, but the kids also are distracted by computer stuff now and games, watching youtube, etc... it all takes time.

Bobby D. said...

i want to read the pea book too!

Steve Reed said...

I learned with those Dick & Jane books...except I think the kids' names were something else. John & Mary? I remember they had a dog named Pepper. But same idea.

Working Mum said...

Nothing wrong with being a geek! I'm agree that meaning and phonics go together; what's the point of reading if you don't know what the words mean and how can you grasp the meaning if you can't read the words? Not rocket science! Actually, I like rocket science, but then I'm a different type of geek! :)

Gary said...

Reya - "Deeply strange and fabulous" indeed. I think that is a winning combination in so many things, or it can be at least.

Ched - What a wonderful way to get a child hooked on a story (reading aloud the beginning). I have found that children, and adults too for that matter, love having someone read to them. Listening comprehension is a skill that children need to develop in order for reading comprehension to prosper. So, you were hitting both of those with your subtle technique. Well done!

Steve - John and Mary sound familiar. No matter what the name they all serve the same purpose, which is to give children practice decoding. Decodable texts were never really meant as great literature or to be read for deep meaning. I am a huge fan of knowing what the purpose is behind everything you teach and I run into teachers who do things because someone told them to rather than having an understanding behind what they are doing. Makes me crazy. But that is another rant (post) that I'll probably never write. :)

Gary said...

Working Mum - You posted your comment just as I was responding to some other comments...

About rocket science - I LOVE that everyone uses that phrase to mean such heightened difficulty and the pinnacle of learning (along with "It ain't brain surgery"). But my favorite response to that came from a rocket scientist who said "Even rocket science isn't rocket science". I took it to mean that nothing is really that complicated if you can break it down and understand it. Which of course with rocket science I can't. But still. Boy, I took that off on a tangent didn't I? One last shout out "Geeks of the world, unite!" (I know so many of them.)

Aileen said...

I'm glad to hear that we're finally realizing that each child is unique and one method may not apply to all!

I've met many kids who fell through the reading crack because of a focus on whole language without any phonemic awareness. It's heartbreaking to see what it does to a child when they struggle (sometimes for many years) to read.

And how cool that the speaker knew who you are! I didn't realize you were famous!

Barbara said...

I never stopped to think about the difficulties in teaching something that is so essential to the success of any person in this world as reading is. I can imagine that the real key is adapting your teaching method to the individual child, with some of them (like my son) being way out of the norm. Kudos to you and the other educators who keep coming up with new approaches to this old challenge!

I love it that you and Pauline have connected. I would love to be a fly on the wall in either of your classrooms!

WAT said...

Hey geek!

I grew up watching PBS with Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow! OMG! How old am I?! Both shows were great in encouraging me to read and be curious about the world.

Speaking of Spanish, I thank my parents for teaching me their native language at home. It actually enriched and made my English better, believe it or not.

la bellina mammina said...

Thanks for sharing this - watched the clip with LP, and we watched the rest of the different clips for half an hour - he especially likes Chicken Jane and tried singing along!

Gary said...

Aileen - You are right, it is heartbreaking when a child has difficulty learning to read. This is especially true for the older kids who see their friends reading and blame themselves ("I'm stupid!) for what probably boils down to a brain processing issue.

And thanks for building me up with the famous bit.

Barbara - I was wondering how Pauline found me but after a bit of investigative work I saw that it was through your blog. I am sure that I will gain some great insights from her. You are surrounded by good people ( I feel like a fortune cookie).

Wat - PBS rocks!!

I am not at all surprised that one language helped develop another. I am a supporter of certain forms of bilingual education. Too bad it is against the law in California.

Bellina - What better praise for 'Chicken Jane' than a thumbs up from Little Prince. Poor Chicken Jane is always getting knocked about which is good for a chuckle (or should I say cackle).

la bellina mammina said...

For some reason, he thinks that's funny though, Chicken Jane being knocked down!! I had to promise that we'll watch this clip again after his nap - he wouldn't budge from the chair, glued to the screen - and saying "I want chicken again"!!

J. David Zacko-Smith said...

Geeks rule!

Trust me - I get excited about pedagogy as well - and about a bunch of other things that make me a geek too! ;-)

LadrĂ³n de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Poor Chicken Jane. She's clearly the most intelligent of the three, saved the poor kids from the ram and was injured in the line of duty.


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