Sunday, October 24, 2010

Boys Reading

As students get to the upper elementary and middle school grades, it’s hard to find good books that they really take a liking to. It seems that so many of today’s books are geared towards young girls and their interests, that it’s hard to find quality literature for boys. Some quality books that I’ve found that feature strong young male characters and hold the interest of many male students today include:

Holes by Louis Sachar

All the Broken Pieces by Ann Burg

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan

Eragon by Christopher Paolini

Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

The Artemis Fowl Series by Eoin Colfer

The 39 Clues Series by Various Authors

Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

It used to be that there wasn’t always quality literature for young adults that were interesting to both boys and girls in the upper grades. However, in recent years there has been a drastic increase in literature for upper elementary to middle school boys that are sure to interest a wide range of readers with a diverse area of interests including adventure, mystery, historical fiction as well as general fiction. Some of these great novels have also been made into major motion pictures, which can make them more appealing for young readers that want to see the movie when they’re finished reading the book. If you have any other suggestions please let me know, hopefully these titles help give some people ideas.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Vowel Circle

As our reading tutor training continues, we’ve learned a lot of great new ideas about how to teach the basics of reading and phonics to students of all ages, especially students that are English language learners (ELL). One of the things that we’ve done some extensive work with is the vowel circle. The vowel circle is composed of five categories designed to help students recognize vowels patterns in their spelling and in their every day speech.

It starts out with the first group that is the smilers. Smilers are vowels or vowel patterns that, when said, have your mouth form a smile-like shape, such as the “ee” in cheese or the “ay” in play. Next come the open vowels. When open vowels or vowel patterns are used the mouth usually ends in an open position, such as the “aw” in saw. The round vowels are ones that usually leave your mouth in a rounded position with your lips slightly puckered, such as the “o-e” in tune or the “oa” in coat. The crazy r’s are there to remind students that r’s make vowels do crazy things that they wouldn’t do around other consonants and that –er, -ir and –ur all sound the same in a word. The sliders are an interesting category because they make your mouth slide from one position (either open, round or smiler) to another, such as the “ou” in out when your mouth slides from open to smiler.

The vowel circle is a great tool to use in many elementary grade levels. It really helps students to make associations with vowels and create connections in their brains where they might not have had them before. The vowel circle enables the students to connect vowel sounds to a visual (the pictures in the circle and the actual text of the vowel pattern) to a sound, to a feel in their mouths. Students that use the vowel circle correctly and constantly in class and small group have shown a marked improvement in both their spelling and their decoding skills.

If you’re working in an elementary school or simply want to work on pronunciation at home, looking at the vowel circle is a good place to start.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

It's a Book!

No matter what people say, there’s nothing like a good book. With the electronic craze of today, kids look on in awe at the latest kindle, ipad, television, smart phone or social networking site. In this wonderful new children’s book, Monkey reminds his friend that sometimes there’s nothing quite like a good book. Books don’t have wi-fi or tweet but they can take you on wonderful adventures. A great way to get kids involved in a discussion about the importance of books and literature “It’s a Book” is bound to cause a stir.

With wonderful illustrations and catchy phrases, this book is sure to be a hit, especially with it’s controversial closing line. With cunning play on words, Lane Smith has created a colorful ending to his highly entertaining book. Whether or not you plan on reading it to your youngster or not, it’s worth flipping through one the next time you go to a Borders or Barnes & Noble.

Also, check out some other great books by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith such as “Math Curse” and “Time Warp Trio”, these books are sure to delight!

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Love of Literature

Recently, I have acquired a job as a reading tutor in an elementary school that draws from a population of a lower socio-economic background. It’s the lowest performing elementary school in its district and it is one of the lower ones in the state. As a reading tutor, I’m going to be working with students in the third and fourth grades that are on the cusp of being proficient on the standardized tests and only missed being proficient by a few questions last year. In this way, the school is hoping to boost its scores in order to make AYP and hopefully gain some more funding and credibility in the eyes of the community.

As I looked at the materials that the students in the third and fourth grade have to work with, I couldn’t help but think that there was a reason that students from lower urban schools like this one don’t share a love for literature and learning. After a long day in a building with no air-conditioning, being drilled with phonic, boring anthologies and low level guided reading the students are ready to escape to the fresh air and engage in fun play with their friends. It seems to me that some schools don’t realize that reading can be made fun and interesting by still working on skills such as phonic and comprehension strategies but with great literature. Why not teach students how to summarize, predict and form vocabulary but use great books such as “Matilda” by Roald Dahl or “The Giver” by Lois Lowry? There is a plethora of award winning literature that is accessible to students and can be used to teach many of the traits and skills necessary to pass standardized tests.

One of the greatest gifts that we can give our students is an unconditional love of literature that will be sure to turn them into life-long learners. I hope that this year in my reading groups I will be able to reach out to some students and foster this love of literature while also teaching them useful skills to use in their mandatory testing.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Book Review: All The Broken Pieces

This past week I finished a great piece of children’s literature titled, “All the Broken Pieces”. As I’m a reading tutor for an elementary school, I was checking this book out to see how well my students might do with it. Not only is the reading elegant, but it also covers a wide variety of topics and points that many young readers can connect to.

The main character, Matt, is a 12 year-old boy who was adopted from Vietnam. He was born in the middle of the Vietnam War to a poverty stricken mother and an American soldier father. By the time he is brought to the United States by American soldiers, he has seen more than terror than anyone he knows. At school in the United States with his new adoptive family, Matt faces bullying from his classmates. Amidst all his school troubles, he also plays baseball, where he faces constant pressure as well as animosity from his teammates. In order to come to terms with his fears and troubles facing him in his new American life he must first come to terms with what happened to him in Vietnam. This is a wonderful story told through verse poetry making it accessible to many levels of readers.

For parents and educators: If you do decide to read this book with your children/students it’s important to build significant background knowledge. There is a lot of talk about the stigma and animosity against soldiers who fought in Vietnam but there’s not a lot of historical information to back it up. In order for children to get the most of this book I would recommend helping them look up a few things about the Vietnam War, what it meant for the people of Vietnam, where Vietnam is and how the American people reacted to it.

Questions to keep in mind while reading this novel:

1. How does Matt feel about his real father? How would you feel if you were in Matt’s shoes?

2. It seems that everyone Matt meets is affected by the war. How are his American parents affected? How about his teammates?

3. Why does Matt enjoy going to the Vietnam Veteran meetings even though he never says anything?

4. How do Matt and Rob finally connect at the end? Do you think they have a new respect for each other?

5. How does Matt come to terms with his past?

Happy Reading!