Helping children get better at reading by building vocabulary.

“Think of reading as a two-lock box, requiring two keys to open. The first key is decoding skills. The second key is vocabulary sufficient to understand what is being decoded.”

E.D. Hirsch, Jr. and Robert Pondiscio in “There’s No Such Thing as a Reading Test” in

American Educator, Winter 2010-2011 (Vol. 34, #4, p. 3-11, 53)

Ask your child and they will tell you… if you don’t understand the words you are not reading.

Decoding = using sounds to help you (phonics), breaking words down to pieces you can read.

Understanding = getting meaning from the words.

So what do you do at school to develop vocabulary and understanding?

We read lots of high quality literature with very challenging vocabulary.  We may spend days rereading books, finding the parts we love the most. We have conversations about what the author means. It is like having a long lovely bath in books.

On the walls you will have seen photocopies of the pages of books the children loved the most. They picked out their favorite words that help you see the story in your mind.

Here is an example ‘a child’s garden, a story of hope’ Michael Foreman.

You can get many of these books from the library. The sakura nominated books for 2011 are all wonderful.

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Can you show an example of my child using descriptive language?

Here is a voicethread the children made. They picked some of their favorite illustrations and described the pictures. Listen to their words.

How is my child doing with their writing?

Celebration of learning Publishing Party- party planning.

Unit of inquiry- How we organise ourselves.

Here is a video of the children writing their lists for the celebration of learning, publishing party. Observe the great discussion. See their list of ideas outside the classroom. The video shows the children working together to make a list of food and items they would like.

NOTE: Great collaboration, cooperation and respecting others.

Applying taught skills: list making, phonics and editing work.

Now remember this was only about ten minutes of their day!

Developing confident writers in Kindergarten.

How are you teaching my child to write?

I believe children and adults learn best when they have a reason for doing something or can see the purpose for learning. Learning to write was one of the major goals children choose for themselves this year. We began our writing programme by reading lots of books and discussing who writes them. We carried out an author study of Donald Crews and watched a video that showed him explaining his creative process. We will publish our own books. We have a reason to write.

How do you get children to write? My child says they can’t write.

I instill an ‘I can do it’ attitude in children. I help children realise writing is: marks on a page, a drawing or some letters. If you can do any of these things you are a writer.  If your work conveys an idea, it is writing. There are stages of writing development, just as there are stages for learning to talk. Here are examples of the stages I have observed in the class this year. Please look at your child’s portfolio, it shows samples and explanations of how their writing has developed.

Stages of Writing Development-scribd

My child wants me to read their writing and it is just scribble or letters that don’t say anything?

This happens a lot when children begin to write. Or maybe to you as an adult trying to read someone’s quickly written note! If it is their work they should know what they wanted it to say (tell you about the idea). To begin with children often do not remember what there letters were representing. This is a normal stage for a developing writer. A good statement would be:

Child: Read my writing.

Grown up: What did you want it to say? or It’s your writing you read what you want it to say.

Child: I don’t know… I can’t remember… I can’t read it now

Grown up: That’s Ok,  tell me what you were thinking about.

It is better explained by children. This is conversation from my class that I overheard.

Molly: Why haven’t we heard from Mr. Neary? [children wrote and asked for money for stamps]

Mai and Taiki: Yeah… he’s not told us.

Anton; But want to know now.

Jolie: Yeah but he can’t read our writing. It is not proper writing.

Several children: I am a writer.

Jolie: Yes we are writers but we do sound it out writing.  It takes along along time to read sound it out writing. So it will take him along time to  read our letters. There are other things you need to do for proper writing to read it quick.



KP beyond the classroom, beyond the world and into space.

How clever is my child?

Can they apply what they have learned?

I know the highest level of thinking is now considered to be creativity, so is my child thinking at this level?

KP have had a passion for space.  This was started by Matthew and Hashu but everyone has joined in at some time during the year. The loft area in the classroom has many functions, construction area, book area, home,  paper areoplane launching area (their knowledge of design and aerodynamics is very impressive), but mostly it is a space ship. One afternoon during free inquiry time the whole class engaged in a scenario where the children were getting ready to launch into space. It was decided that a  flight manifest of everyone who was going on board would be needed. They cooperated and helped each other write down names.  Some children found the names on the wall and read and copied them, some tried to sound them out and some asked for potential passengers to write their own names. This process was sustained for over 45 minutes before the launch commenced. It was a highly creative process which showed problem solving, collaboration and application of taught skills.

Great, but are they learning anything?

  • Meta-cognition (Having the ability to express ideas verbally, explaining thought processes. Remember many of the children are doing this in two languages).
  • Problem-solving (Coming across an issue, being able to work through many stages and use different strategies to find a solution).
  • Cooperation (Work with others to find solutions for using resources. Listening to others and respecting different ways of achieving the same end).
  • Writing (Understanding that we use writing as a way to communicate and help us organise ideas. Knows about letters and that they have a corresponding sound.)
  • Phonemic awareness/sight words/reading words (We are not automatically readers and writers, the way we are walkers and talkers. Try and remember how hard it is to learn these skills. The children used many strategies to help them write the words they wanted).
  • Lists (Picking the write kind of writing for the job. Showing an understanding that we write in different ways for different reasons, for example lists, cards and emails).

p La Spaceship Lists use

Now do you see why we have a class of rocket scientists!

Who will go on the space ship? on PhotoPeach

How technology helped us.

We used the digital camera and Iphone to take pictures and recorded the children’s work with a photostory. This time I took the pictures but it is usually hard to get the camera out of the children’s hands. It is important to teach them about respecting the technology. Mostly it is just a case of practise makes perfect with taking the pictures.

photopeachPhotopeach (free) Is simple to use. If you make a file of pictures that children can access they can upload them  by themselves and add music from the site. Photopeach honours children’s work by presenting it in a professional manner.  In this case I typed down what each child said and this is a record of their thinking, so I could assess their level of understanding about writing shown through this free inquiry.

Yoyoutubeu Tube (free) We searched You Tube for videoes that showed launches and reentries to earth.  You can also use teacher tube, which may give you more educational chooses. The children were able to see inside the space shuttle. This is very easy to do but it is a good idea to preview video if possible. There has seldom been a topic I can’t find a video on. It is fantastic for maths and Language Arts. I am still a big fan of Sesame Street.