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Common Core & Early Reading

As states around the country are implementing legislation surrounding improving third grade reading proficiency, the Common Core State Standards will be changing the way P-3 teachers approach reading instruction. States such as Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin have drafted or passed bills recently aimed at getting more third graders reading on grade level. Included in the Common Core is an emphasis on text, and building background knowledge. Additionally, all students will be expected to master the same texts, necessitating strong scaffolding abilities from teachers who must help children build the skills they need to reach Common Core benchmarks. Aligning early education with the early grades is increasingly important as well, as children must not simply be Kindergarten-ready, but Common Core Kindergarten-ready.

Discourse surrounding implementation of the Common Core has emphasized helping teachers understand the new standards and what to teach. However, after a discussion with Susan B. Neuman, a Professor in Educational Studies from the University of Michigan specializing in early literacy development, it became clear that, especially with regards to early reading skills, we must also help teachers reconfigure how they teach in addition to what they teach. Mrs. Neuman asserted that in the early grades, teachers must provide content-rich instruction in order to prepare children for the rigorous K-12 Common Core curriculum. Additionally, she pointed out that we must train K-3 teachers to pinpoint the critical features of information text, how to teach it, and the critical questions to ask of students. Especially relevant in the early years is the issue of how to engage students in developmentally appropriate ways in order to build content knowledge “without them knowing it.”

Luckily, there are educators and policymakers out there who recognize the need for teacher training around Common Core early reading standards, such as Neuman herself, who is authoring a book on the topic. The University of Michigan, together with the Albert Shanker Institute, is offering a Summer Institute for early childhood educators and administrators to help them understand how best to teach in a Common Core environment, and how to train other teachers to do so as well. The workshop will focus on areas such as: building content knowledge, accelerating oral vocabulary building, and teaching students to be independent learners. The workshop will also include a discussion of how to translate kindergarten readiness into a set of observational tests: what to look for in a classroom, and how to take guidelines from the Common Core to make an environmental checklist for the early years.

Another pressing issue surrounding Common Core and the early years is Kindergarten attendance. While common Standards will be implemented nationwide, states vary widely in the number of hours of Kindergarten they fund (i.e. half- vs. full-day programs) as well as if Kindergarten attendance is optional or mandatory. The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) has taken on this issue, as mastery of Kindergarten standards is likely to be more difficult for children who are offered 2.5 hours of instruction per day (approximately 450 hours/year) than for those receiving 6 hours per day, or about 1,080 hours annually. As illustrated on CDF’s national map, 10 states and the District of Columbia currently provide Full-day Kindergarten at no charge to all children per state statute and funding (AL, AR, DE, LA, MD, MS, NC, NM, SC, WV). Of these, attendance is mandatory in six states and DC. Additionally, some states charge tuition for the second half of full-day Kindergarten programs, and others are cutting back hours or even eliminating programs.

As the nation is preparing to implement the Common Core, and focusing on third grade reading initiatives, early education advocates must begin to think about the way reading is taught, as well as providing adequate time and resources to children to meet new Common Core benchmarks.

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  1. I would have to agree with the read, read, read, read (!!!!) idea. Next, I’d point out that just because sontheimg worked for my kid doesn’t mean it’ll work for yours. We utilize a ton of PBS stuff for kids in the K age range, I think WordWorld is a great place to start. Super Why drives me batty, but some people like it. Starfall.com is also good. We did lots of Between the Lions, too. The earlier shows are the best; it’s like someone stepped in and demanded more edutainment out of the program, and it started to disintegrate into poor parodies of rock concerts. Sigh. We did a trial of Headsprout.com and my daughter loved it. Sadly, they wanted $200 for the program, so we went so further with that one at all! (Eeek!) We started out with the phonics program from K12.com. After that started falling apart, we had our eldest tested, and it turned out that he’s dyslexic. So we started working with Barton Reading. That went only so far and we really started to clash on reading and especially writing. So before I could make him hate the idea of the printed word entirely, I backed off. I let him play a lot of Club Penguin and PopTropica, both of which require reading to be able to advance in the game. He learned early on I wasn’t going to help him with it, and his reading picked up speed fairly quickly even his relatives were saying how much he’s progressed and, gee, what new program had I been working with to get such great advancement? Um how DO you say, I left him alone for once, without sounding callous or negligent? Maybe it was me not being there and pointing out every little mistake. Or maybe it was letting him get a little more maturity before moving forward. I have no idea. But after that he discovered Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes, and I got him the Wimpy Kid book series at the recommendation of a couple of kids from Boy Scouts. He ate those up with no issues. His dad bought him a book light and we allow him to stay up in bed and read. Somehow staying up late and reading is so very much more rewarding and attractive than reading during daylight hours. (???)With his little sister (who is so NOT dyslexic!), I picked up Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. She hated it. Despised it. In fact, she can read small words now and I’m not clear if I actually taught her how to do that, or if she simply picked it up along the way. At the moment we’re using Sonlight (warning: it’s a religious program!) don’t know how well it works, as we’ve only been doing it for a week now. It will probably help a lot if you know your kiddo’s learning style. You can look that up online along with tons of suggested approaches geared towards those learning types. It’s not that a kinesthetic kid CAN’T learn from a visual program, but it’s like taking the longest and most difficult path to get there.

  2. When I was a special ed tcehaer, I had a group of boys who all read on or below a 1st grade level. Considering they were all 14, this presented a LOT of problems! I didn’t have the heart to do to them what had been done in years past give them a 1st grade reader and keep drilling them with dolch word flash cards and phonic pages. Their records indicated they’d done that for years. Instead I bought each of them a copy of the same book and I read to them. My rule was that I’d keep reading as long as I saw them following along. If they didn’t, THEY’d have to read. No non-reading 14 year old wants to read aloud so the threat worked. We read good books too! I avoided all the textbooks with partial stories out of context. They were boring and non-productive. We read literature. At the end of the year all were reading at or above 4th grade level. Their self esteem was high and they were beginning to take pleasure in reading. Considering where we started, this was extraordinary. READ TO YOUR CHILD. Write notes to him/her. Help them write notes back. Make word cards and stick them around the house, words like DOOR, WINDOW, BEDROOM, STAIRS, TOOTHBRUSH. Make chore charts, calendars, bulletin boards, and art with words. BUT don’t resort to only worksheets, flashcards and readers or you’ll kill the love of reading. My oldest has severe dyslexia. He didn’t learn to read until he was 11. Thanks to BASSMASTER magazine, he was reading on college level by age 12 and while he still has dyslexia he also has a degree from a college that gave him a huge scholarship ($80,000). My next two sons both learned to read fluently by the age of 3 and 4. My daughter isn’t fluent yet due to some visual problems but she’s getting there! Read fun stuff. Read exciting stuff. Find a bunch of Dorling Kindersly books and pour over them together. My third son is 15 and has read grad student level history books for years now. He loves to learn (and play ball and play music). I tried very hard to not kill that love of reading. Books are the MAIN Christmas presents requested by my children. Oh, one last point. We keep the video games to about 1/2 hour once a week. We keep the TV off unless its PBS or an old movie. We spend a lot of time outdoors exploring, hiking, gardening, playing in the creek. Outdoors play grows brains! Games, computers and TV makes for quiet children maybe but doesn’t grow their brains much.

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