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Viewing Blog: Reading Rockets : Sound It Out, Most Recent at Top
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Along with her background as a researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.
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1. Take note of chronic absences

This September marks the first-ever Attendance Awareness Month in schools and communities. Attendance Works, one sponsor of the month, is a national and state initiative that promotes awareness of the important role that school attendance plays in achieving academic success starting with school entry. According to their site, absences of as little as 10% can have a real impact on a child's achievement in elementary school. As kids get older, missing that much school (about 18 days a year, or 2-3 days per month) is strongly linked to course failure and even eventually dropping out of high school. The attendance issue is particularly important for kids at risk. Students and families with health issues, transportation issues and unstable housing are particularly vulnerable to missing school. And, as teachers, we know how hard it is to help kids catch up once they've missed. Sustained, repeated absences make it even more difficult. Homework packets can help, but they cannot replace the real-time instruction teachers provide. Attendance Works offers a helpful resource that includes some key attendance concepts and messages, as well as tips for talking to parents and what to say to students. They also offers a Parent Engagement toolkit designed to support parent engagement at the school and community level. Within the toolkit you'll find materials to share with parents about attendance, and an interesting set of interactive exercises designed for working with groups of parents. This first month of school is a great time to establish good attendance habits and to communicate the importance of making school a priority for families.

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2. Resources for parents of kids with special needs: Back-to-school edition

Parents of kids with special needs, whether a child has learning or physical differences, often have additional considerations and worries to contend with during back to school time. I've gathered a few resources that may smooth over a bump or two and get you started on your advocacy efforts for the year. NCLD's IEP Headquarters is a great place to start for all things related to your child's IEP. There are several very handy resources, including information about the Fundamentals of IEPs, a video for understanding how involved a parent should be in the IEP process (answer: very!), and understanding how a 504 is different from an IEP. 12 Ways to Help Children Say Goodbye has helpful advice that can apply to many ages and settings. Whether it's heading off to the school bus or preschool, these tips can make for a smoother transition. From Reading Rockets, some tips for parents of children with special needs &mdash; and tips for teachers too! Parents often find it helpful to write a letter to their child's new teacher. A letter is something that can be read over and over again, rather than a hallway conversation that may be rushed. A letter gives a parent a chance to write down important information about their child, as well as any signs, symptoms, or things to look out for. Obviously much of this will be covered during a parent-teacher conference, but doing something for the first few days of school can be helpful. Here are some tips for writing this type of letter and two sample letters: this one from a Mom with a child with Asperger's and dyslexia and this example about a child with ADHD. I don't think of these as templates, but ideas for thought. And, because everyone needs some outside time, NPR's Playgrounds for Everyone, a community-edited guide to accessible playgrounds. Hopefully there's at least one in your community. And if not, hopefully the new federal requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act will be supporting one soon.

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3. Back to school with small gestures

It's the time of year where parents buy lunchbox snacks, kids stuff blank composition books into stiff backpacks, and teachers stand at their classroom door waiting to greet their new class. Happy back to school! Regardless of the grade or school, the transition back to school is one filled with emotions: excitement, fear, nerves, laughter, tears and a lot of trusting that it will all turn out okay. During this emotional time, small gestures can mean so much. Here are a few ideas for simple gestures that will go a long way to developing the happy vibe about school that we all hope for. Please chime in with your own ideas! Parents:Write a short lunch-box or backpack note with words of encouragement and comfort. Share some books about first days of school. Make their favorite meal for dinner. Around my house that means chicken pot pie! Help them start their school day with a healthy breakfast. Share your own stories of back-to-school nerves. It may comfort your child to know that you have felt the same way! Teachers:Send a Happy Gram home with each child sometime during the first 10 days of school. Laugh with your class about something silly. Share some books about first days of school. Rejoice! If you're like most primary-grade teachers I know and love, you've secretly been dying to meet your new class for weeks. Enjoy your new year! In the spirit of keeping it simple, what small gestures have you made?

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4. Educational technology near and far

Do you feel like you just got caught up with the iPod Touch and the iPad? You probably have accounts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and can find your way around the App Store with ease. You're good, right? Well, not so much, if you take a look at the 2013 Horizon Report K-12 Edition. For the fifth year in a row, the New Media Consortium collaborated with others to identify technologies that have "potential impact on teaching, learning and creative inquiry." So, what educational technologies are coming? In a 1-3 year time-to-adoption phase, there's (1) BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) where students bring their own laptops, tablets or mobile devices to class; (2) Cloud Computing &mdash; maybe your district already relies on this for backups and such; (3) mobile learning, which relies more on cellular networks and wireless power; and (4) online learning, with movement towards those huge MOOC classes you've heard about. Looking into the distance (2-3 years), the Horizon Report predicts we'll be engaged in electronic publishing, using learning analytics, relying on open content and engaging in personalized learning. And in the "that's not how I went to school" category of 4-5 years to adoption comes technologies such as 3D printing, augmented reality, virtual labs and wearable technology. It's all very exciting, and well-explained in the Horizon report. For each technology, the authors identified the technology's relevance for teaching, learning, research or creative inquiry, provide some examples in practice, and links for further reading. Access the Full Report Access the Shortlist Report Access the Trends and Challenges PDF

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5. Your kids are watching you watch TV

A study from the journal Pediatrics published online July 15, 2013, reports an important &mdash; but perhaps not surprising &mdash; relationship between parents' and children's television viewing. The study set out to determine whether the amount of TV parents watch has an effect on the amount children watch. Using an online survey, more than 1,500 parents and 620 adolescents provided information about their media access and typical weekday and weekend viewing habits (viewing included TV and computer screens). Parents in this study reported almost 4 hours of daily TV viewing, and 70% had a bedroom television. The average number of TVs in the house was 3. The findings were statistically significant: Parents who watch more TV have kids who watch more TV. "Heavy viewing" parents are modeling their media behaviors, and their kids are picking up and adopting those behaviors. This has implications for those who work with kids and families, including those who work with families with struggling readers. Less TV time may mean more time for reading and literacy-based activities. As parents work to become "media mentors," our own habits may be a good place to start. Read the full study here. See related article Children and Digital Media: Rethinking Parent Roles

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6. Poverty and planning skills

A recent study in the journal Child Development suggests a link between students living in poverty and poor planning skills that extends into several academic areas, including math and reading. Using scores from a strategic puzzle-based task that requires advance planning and tactical moves, researchers found that scores on the planning task in Grade 3 predicted children's reading and math outcomes at Grade 5, even while controlling for IQ. Study authors Crook and Evans from Cornell University cite previous research that documents the lack of development of early planning skills among children living in poverty. Possible causes of poorer planning can be identified: greater chaos in their daily lives including more family moves and school changes, greater family turmoil and turnover, more crowded and noisy households, higher levels of stress among low-income parents, and fewer structured routines and rituals. Classroom teachers can do little to ameliorate all the stressors facing children coming from low-income households. However, these findings may provide encouragement for teachers to include more strategy-based, planning-based activities within the classroom. You can access a PDF of the full study, The Role of Planning Skills in the Income-Achievement Gap, here.

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7. Saccharine or interesting? Thinking about children's books

I heard an entertaining interview with Daniel Handler (who writes as Lemony Snicket of the Series of Unfortunate Events) this week on NPR. Snicket was talking about his newest book, The Dark. When asked why so many children's picture books are so "vanilla," (and his are NOT), Handler responded that he believes new parents are nervous, and seek out comforting &mdash; and saccharine &mdash; children's literature rather than literature that is "more interesting" and includes something terrible. In Snicket's new book, The Dark, he writes about Laszlo and his fear of the dark, and beautifully describes the dark as hiding "in the closet, sometimes it sat behind the shower curtain, but mostly it spent its time in the basement, all day long." As with all Snicket's books, this one is beautifully written and utterly captivating. Certainly a fear of the dark is one many young children are familiar with! As always, it was really fun to listen to an author describe his craft and his writing process. Toward the end of the interview, Snicket describes the challenges of writing for children. He acknowledges that, as with most writing, words end up needing to be cut. Snicket likens that process to being on a life raft and having to "throw some words overboard." Looking back, I think we were pretty saccharine around here. How about you?

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8. Talking with kids about cancer

It's never easy to talk with young kids about tough subjects, like illness and death. Sometimes a children's book can open the door to conversations that need to happen. Books can also help teach new and scary vocabulary words in a gentle way. Last, a book can bring some comfort by helping a child feel less alone. It may help to learn that other kids have a Mom or Dad who is also fighting cancer or another disease. The American Cancer Society has suggestions for books to help children deal with cancer. The list includes an activity book, books about hair loss, specific titles for Moms and Dads with cancer, and a few available in Spanish and English. There are lists of books on Amazon (examples here and here) about children with cancer or kids with loved ones who have been diagnosed. The titles range from simple picture books to adult titles. The Children's Cancer Research Fund also has a list of books for helping kids deal with cancer. With just a few titles, their book suggestions include stories about children with cancer full of hope. My advice is to read book descriptions closely before buying or checking out. Several seem to have the Mom as the cancer patient. For children whose Dad or grandparents have been diagnosed, I think that might be confusing and scary. I hope you never need to use these resources, but if you do, these links may provide some help.

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9. Goodbye preschool. Hello kindergarten!

How many of you are in your very last days of preschool dropoff? It's hard to believe that those years are behind you and that your little one will be heading off to kindergarten in the fall! This is an exciting time for all, but it can also be a scary one, too. NAEYC for families has some good advice for helping with end-of-the-year feelings. This includes ways to ease the transition to kindergarten, including writing special notes to friends or teachers and revisiting special events through pictures. Here on Reading Rockets we have a wealth of other resources that can help ease the preschool-to-kindergarten transition. For example, if you're still trying to figure out whether to stay at preschool another year or head to kindergarten, you might want to read the comments and weigh in on past blog posts such as Kindergarten "red-shirting:" What about summer birthdays?, Should she stay or should she go? (to kindergarten) and The wheels on the bus went round and round. Starting Kindergarten? Help Make It a Good Experience! (available in English and Spanish) offers tips to help you start your child off right, and Kindergarten Accomplishments will help you understand what's ahead in terms of your child's literacy development. For parents of children with special learning needs, the PreK to K transition can be especially worrisome. Make sure to explore Successful Transition to Kindergarten for Learners Who May Be at Risk for Learning Disabilities and Paving the Way to Kindergarten for Young Children with Disabilities for some guidance about best practices for transitioning children with special needs. Regardless of your situation, savor these last few days of preschool. It's a special time in your child's life!

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10. Inspiring words for Teacher Appreciation Week

Happy National Teacher Appreciation Week! I hope every teacher out there feels the love they deserve during this week of national celebration. Big or small, I know each gesture is appreciated. Rita Pierson, a 40-year teaching veteran, shares her teaching philosophy in a very touching TED talk, Every kid needs a champion. Watching her talk is a great way to spend 8 minutes this week. You'll laugh along with her as she astutely observes "You know your toughest kids are never absent. Never." And, if you're like me, you'll hope you touched the life of at least one student the way Ms. Pierson must reach hers. "We can do this. We're educators. We're born to make a difference." Thank you, Ms. Pierson. And thank you to every teacher reading this post. Related posts: Roundup of teacher appreciation ideas 5 ways to appreciate a teacher AND build literacy skills Thanks, Mom. Teacher appreciation a few months early Teaching this teacher

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11. Some words about words

You're probably familiar with TED talks, the 6-18 minute talks gathered under the tagline of "Ideas worth spreading." All TED talks are free to view, and are searchable by topic. There are many thought-provoking talks on a wide variety of topics. TED playlists were a new concept to me. As the name suggests, talks on similar topics are gathered together to form a playlist. One playlist is called Words, Words, Words, and it contains talks on several topics related to words. Perfect for Sound It Out readers! For me, one highlight on Words, Words, Words is a talk given by linguist John McWhorter called "Txting is killing language. JK." In his talk, McWhorter encourages us to think about email and text messaging not as the "scourge" of the English language, but rather a new form of language between writing and talking. In describing speech in relation to writing, he says this: If humanity existed for 24 hours, then writing only came along at about 11:09 PM. Interesting way to think about our writing development! Want to learn about dictionaries while laughing and learning a few new words (like erinaceous)? Check out another highlight, lexicographer Erin McKean. Ms. McKean encourages us to use words we love, and to remember that words are tools to build something bigger and more beautiful. And, if you need just a little more about words, did you read the excitement about 'slash' last week? It's big news! Slash is a new-ish slang word that is different from many other types of slang words. "The emergence of a new conjunction/conjunctive adverb (let alone one stemming from a punctuation mark) is like a rare-bird sighting in the world of linguistics: an innovation in the slang of young people embedding itself as a function word in the language." Slash is clearly a word to watch.

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12. The buzz about the Spelling Bee

There are just 40 days until the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee. Our elementary school holds a local event, and classroom-winning third through fifth graders wring their hands on stage working to spell some tough words! This year, a middle schooler from our school district won our regional competition by correctly spelling "Bolshevik." He will be among the competitors at the national level in Oxon Hill, MD. The big news this year is that Scripps has added a vocabulary component to the Bee. According to Paige Kimble, the director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the vocabulary addition reflects a commitment to helping develop not only spelling skills, but also "increase vocabularies, learn concepts, and develop correct English usage. Spelling and vocabulary are, in essence, two sides of the same coin," said Kimble. "As a child studies the spelling of a word and its etymology, he will discover its meaning. As a child learns the meaning of a word, it becomes easier to spell. And all of this enhances the child's knowledge of the English language." Scores from a computer-based vocabulary test will count toward a speller's overall score and will help determine which spellers advance to the semifinals. Sample vocabulary questions are available. Personally, I like the vocabulary addition, and applaud any effort to develop vocabulary growth in children. My guess is that the kids who qualify for the national Bee already have fairly developed vocabularies, so I wonder how much unique information the Bee officials will gather from the new vocabulary test. I'm sure we'll find out soon!

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13. Travel journals AKA more dead guys in boxes

We're back from our big family trip to Germany, and it was everything we hoped it would be. One of my favorite aspects of the trip was how carefully Anna kept up with her travel journal. She's a writer at heart, so it feels very natural to her to capture her experiences on paper. She's been using the same travel journal for years, and it's really fun to look back at her first entries and appreciate how her writing has changed over the years (see below for entries from 2009, 2011 and 2013). Travel journals are also great for capturing a child's experience in their own words. "More dead guys in boxes,"" was part of Anna's entry about the crypts in the 3rd or 4th cathedral we toured. (I think she may have been getting a bit bored by then.) And sadly, her story about my needing a cup of coffee from 2009 is true. We were late, the lady did yell at us. Amazon has lots of travel journals for kids, and people make their own (some good suggestions here). The ones my girls use are little more than bound books of lined paper. We often tape in bits of maps, subway tokens, favorite pictures and other small artifacts that remind us of the trip. How do you document your family times? With summer coming up, now's a great time to think about how you'll record your summer fun. Please share your ideas in the comments below! < > < > < >

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14. Preparing for a big family trip

We're heading off to Germany for some apple strudel, German soccer, apple strudel, and tours of castles and salt mines (and apple strudel). This is a big adventure for our family, and we've been prepping for weeks! It's been so fun for the girls to be involved in the planning and the excitement. I thought I'd share a few of the things we've done to get ready &mdash; most of these ideas could be adapted for a trip anywhere. We posted a big map on the kitchen wall. We've got push pins for our destinations, and the girls have measured the distance in kilometers and then converted that to miles. We've developed Questions & Answers. As questions have come up, we write them down on strips of paper. When someone has time, they research the answer and "present" their findings. The girls have compiled some of their answers into a very flashy PowerPoint presentation. We've tracked reservations and events on a handmade calendar we keep in the kitchen. It's fun to look at the days ahead with such anticipation. We've learned a bit of German! Besides taking a language and culture class here in our community, we watched some Girls4Teaching German lessons. My girls liked that the "instructor" was a young girl. The overall session length was just about right for them. We've tried every German restaurant in our area. This wasn't hard &mdash; there's just three. But we learned that the girls love pumpernickel bread and hate boiled cabbage. We checked out a lot of books on Germany from the library. This has helped build a lot of background knowledge about the castles we'll be touring and the history of the salt mines in Salzburg. We've added some apps and podcasts to our i-products. Earworms helped us learned numbers, days and time using music-based training. Currency+ helps us track the Euro-to-dollar conversion. Free podcasts from Rick Steves will help us with a walking tour. There's still packing and to-do lists a mile long, but hopefully at least one of the ideas I shared sounds like something you'd like to try with your family. Auf Wiedersehen! (goodbye for now!)

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15. What does your child do before bedtime?

Parents know the value of a good bedtime routine. Dinner, bath, books and bed was the routine around here for years and years, and for the most part, our girls went to bed and fell right to sleep. But as kids get older, electronics and television seem to find their way into kids' hands closer and closer to bedtime. These habits, unfortunately, can make it harder for kids to fall asleep, resulting in less sleep overall. Inadequate sleep is associated with several school issues, including poor concentration, hyperactivity and obesity. An interesting study in the journal Pediatrics examined the relationship between pre-sleep activities and the length of time it takes to fall asleep. More than 2,000 individuals in New Zealand, ages 5-18, reported their pre-sleep activities for the 90 minutes prior to going to bed. Television watching was the most commonly reported activity, followed by usual bedtime activities including changing clothes, brushing teeth and washing hands. Reading lying down was 9th, reading sitting up was 15th. Researchers compared pre-sleep activities to the time of sleep onset. Not surprisingly, those with fewer screen-based activities fell asleep more quickly. It took more time for those with screen-based activities to fall asleep. For me, this study falls into the realm of "common sense that I sometimes ignore." But no more! I'll be monitoring our before-bed activities a little more closely, including my own! Read the full study here.

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16. Using primary sources in the classroom

Primary sources are finding their way into elementary classrooms. This is so exciting &mdash; students usually love to work with primary sources because they provide such an inside view into a time period or event. "Mom! It was a REAL picture of a REAL bank robber!" Primary sources, or original materials, are often artifacts such as pottery and clothing, or documents such as diaries, speeches, letters and photographs. The Library of Congress has an enormous digital collection that provides access to print, pictorial and audio-visual collections. Besides housing a huge collection of primary sources, the LOC also provides helpful advice for teachers looking to use primary sources with students through their Teaching With the Library of Congress blog. It was within that section of the LOC website that I recently came across Teacher's Guides and Analysis Tools for working with primary sources. The Primary Source Analysis tool provides an online place (or print it as a PDF) where students can record observations, reflections and questions about primary sources. If a student isn't sure what to do within an area, sample questions provide some help. For example, within the Observe section, students benefit from online prompts which include Describe what you see, What do you notice first?, What people and objects are shown? and others. There are several other helpful Teacher's Guides that provide frameworks for analyzing other types of primary sources, including photographs and prints, oral histories, maps and more. Hopefully something within these guides and documents will be helpful to you!

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17. A few words about wordless picture books

Wordless picture books are books are told entirely through their illustrations &mdash; they are books without words, or sometimes just a few words. Sharing wordless books at home or at school gives us a chance to develop so many important literacy skills: listening, speaking, storytelling, vocabulary, comprehension, story structure, inference, cause and effect &hellip; the list goes on and on! When my girls were young, we shared many happy bedtimes with Peggy Rathmann's Goodnight Gorilla and 10 Minutes to Bedtime. My girls just could not get enough of those pictures and that silliness! They loved using different voices for the characters, and each one told the stories with their own special plot twists. That's really the beauty of wordless books, I think. No story is right or wrong, and stories can be as simple or as complex as the situation dictates. I know wordless books are often used in ELL classrooms, with adult learners, and with learners with hearing impairments. Not surprisingly, several wordless books have won the Caldecott Award or been Honor books over the years, including A Ball for Daisy (2012 Winner), The Lion and the Mouse (2010 Winner), Flotsam (2007 Winner) and Tuesday (1992 Winner). I apologize to the children's literature experts reading this! I am sure I've missed some from my list but these are among our favorites. These and several other favorite wordless books are on our Pinterest page. Enjoy! And if you've got a wordless book recommendation for me, please leave the title below!

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18. Expanding word knowledge: two strategies

Words are so cool! I was reminded of that last night as I helped my daughter study for her word study test. Her word study for the week involved three Latin roots (pater, mater, dicta) and, for each one, related words used in our everyday lives (for example: patriarch, matrimony, contradiction). Anna doesn't really appreciate how much she's learning about words through this study, but I sure do! I recently came across another fun way to expand what students know about words. Over on the Teaching Channel, I watched a high school teacher talk about a strategy she uses called Vocabulary Paint Chips. The strategy involves using large paint strips or chips from the hardware store. Teachers write a vocabulary word on one color of the strip, then write different "versions" of the word on the other colors, and finally, put synonyms on one of the colors. For example, one paint chip may include illuminate, illumination, illuminating, and the synonyms enlighten and brighten. In this teacher's class, every time a student uses one of the paint chip words in their writing, they can add a sticker to a chart. (Who knew high schoolers were still motivated by stickers?!) A related vocabulary strategy I had the joy to watch in action is called Semantic Gradients. Semantic gradients are a way to broaden and deepen students' understanding of related words. When engaged with the strategy, students consider a continuum of words by order of degree or by shades of meaning. Semantic gradients often begin with antonyms (or opposites) at each end of the continuum, and students work to fit a group of related words into their place on the continuum. During the lesson I observed, Cathy Doyle had students work with a list of words all related to the word "large." The students worked in pairs to arrange their words, ranging from microscopic to average to gigantic, into a meaningful continuum. If you'd like to try the Semantic Gradient strategy, we've got a helpful handout on the site to get you started with lists of related words. Have fun with words!

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19. Flipping the elementary classroom

Flipped classrooms are a hot topic right now. In case it's a new term for you, here's a brief description. A flipped classroom flips, or reverses, traditional teaching methods. Traditionally, the teacher talks about a topic at school and assigns homework that reinforces that day’s material. In a flipped classroom, the instruction is delivered online, outside of class. Video lectures may be online or may be provided on a DVD or a thumb drive. Some flipped models include communicating with classmates and the teacher via online discussions. The recorded lecture can be paused, rewound, re-watched and forwarded through as needed. Then, class time is spent doing what ordinarily may have been assigned as homework. Class time may also be spent doing exercises, projects, discussions, or other interactive activities that illustrate the concept. At the heart of the flipped classroom model is the desire to have classrooms be more active and engaging, and to give teachers more time to interact directly with students in small group or individual settings. At this point, most flipped classrooms are in high schools and colleges. This makes sense when you consider the amount of lecture that takes place in upper-level classrooms. However, the concept is finding its way into elementary classrooms too. In my opinion, at the elementary level, the "flip" has less to do with replacing lecture material and more to do with providing background knowledge on a topic before it's taught. For example, when I taught second grade, we always did a big unit on Explorers. If I were using a flipped classroom model, I could have assigned homework that included watching one or more of the explorers videos from National Geographic Kids or some of the famous explorers videos from Biography.com. The kids could come in that first day with some understanding of their explorer and we could start our classwork from there &mdash; jumping right in with our information-gathering matrix or more reading about an individual. If you'd like to know more about this topic, here are some resources to get you started: Flipped Learning Network, elementary grades Flipping the Elementary Classroom A good blog post on the topic by Jon Bergmann, one of the pioneers in the Flipped Classroom Movement Pros and Cons of the Flipped Classroom from Edutopia A popular infographic on the topic

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20. A reader's confession (AKA the need to read widely)

As I think about the Common Core State Standards and the recommendations for increased nonfiction reading, I must confess that my own reading choices (for pleasure reading) are quite narrow. I read fiction, and that's pretty much it. Sometimes an occasional piece of historical fiction creeps in, but by and large, my Kindle is full of regular 'ol fiction. It's a different story during the day. Then, my reading is almost exclusively nonfiction. Newspaper articles, journal studies, press releases, and reports fill my screen. I know how to read each one with skill, and do so strategically. (Thank goodness for the grad school prof that taught me to read research studies from end to beginning to charts and then middle!) It's important for kids to read widely &mdash; from lots of different genre &mdash; in order for them to gain experience and practice reading different types of text. Think about your students or your children. If given the choice, would they read the same type of book over and over and over again? If your answer is yes, maybe some sort of genre tracking chart would be helpful to encourage more variation in what they're reading. Something quick and easy to use, on which a child keeps track of the different types of books he's read that month. I gathered a few examples on our Genre Pinterest Board. Check it out, and please comment in if you use one we should add!

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21. A simple tradition to bring some comfort

Our hearts are heavy during this time for our neighbors in Connecticut. During tough times, I find comfort in returning to simple pleasures and traditions. This is our third year for "a book on every bed," and it's a tradition that I love, and one part of my shopping that I actually look forward to! Two years ago, the Family Reading Partnership and Ask Amy from the Chicago Tribune launched a homegrown, grassroots literacy campaign with a goal to raise a generation of readers. The idea was inspired by the author David McCullough, who says he woke to a wrapped book at the foot of his bed every Christmas morning during his childhood. Here's how it works: Take a book. Wrap it. Place it on a child's bed so it's the first thing the child sees on Christmas morning (or the morning of the holiday you celebrate). That's it. "A Book on Every Bed" is an appeal to spread the love of reading from parents to children. It also encourages families to share books by reading aloud. As I wrote last year, one of my favorite parts of this tradition is that the book can be new, or it can be a beloved copy of a childhood favorite. In the past, we've given our girls copies of The Giving Tree, and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. Those were familiar stories, but now they are the proud owners of their own worn and loved copies. I hope one morning they'll be wrapping up those books for their own growing readers. While those choices were highly sentimental for me, last year's were just for fun: Are You "Normal"?: More Than 100 Questions That Will Test Your Weirdness (National Geographic Kids) and The Encyclopedia of Immaturity: Volume 2. This year, Molly will open Thirteen Gifts by Wendy Mass (her favorite author) and Anna will get a Garfield Fat Cat 3-Pack. Anna's taken to reading some heavy historical novels lately, and often needs a light diversion before bed. Garfield never lets us down! Every year I hope the book on the bed will keep them in bed Christmas morning! So far it hasn't worked, but it's been nice to have a book to curl up with once the bustle of Christmas morning has passed. Happy holidays to you and your family. I'll see you again in 2013!

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22. Matching media to the curriculum

I came across a great website, Mapping Media to the Curriculum, that could help teachers and students demonstrate what they have learned using digital media. By asking the simple question, "What do you want to CREATE today?" teachers can choose from a graphic menu of options, including Interactive Writing, Puppet Video, Simulation, Geo-Map, and others. Within each choice, teachers can read a definition, get a sense of the workflow required to create the product, and a list of tools (both free and for purchase) that can be used. Finally, and perhaps most helpfully to teachers new to a technology, finished examples of projects real kids have done. Mapping Media to the Curriculum could be of great help to teachers working within the Common Core State Standards, especially the standards related to developing students who "use technology and digital media strategically and capably."

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23. Making writing fun

Sometimes a new twist on an old assignment can change everything! Take a look at a birthday card for Copernicus, the mathematician and astronomer, written by a 10 year old. The assignment: Research three facts about a historical figure. Incorporate those facts into a birthday card written by someone they knew. The result: Searching for sources of information. Reading and discerning good facts to use. Choosing the "voice" for the speaker. Integrating facts in a meaningful way into a birthday card message. Verdict? Tons of fun! Kids asking if they could do more! More reading and writing, you say? Of course! < >

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24. Using technology to support parents

We recently wrapped up our 5-webinar series on Parent Engagement. We developed the series to support charter members of the Grade-Level Reading Communities Network, a key community-based effort of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. We've archived the entire Parent Engagement Webinar Series so now it's a free, permanent resource for all. The final webinar focused on using technology to support parents. We had three terrific presenters: Lisa Guernsey from the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation, Richard Byrne from Free Technology for Teachers, and Ana Blagojevic, Migrant Education Coordinator and Advocate at at Mano en Mano | Hand in Hand and director of the Comienza en Casa Program. Each presenter shared their thoughts and experiences with using technology to support parents. The webinar was full of good information, and I want to highlight two of the tech resources that Lisa Guernsey shared. Hopefully at least one will be new to you! Ele, from the Fred Rogers Center Early Learning Environment. Ele is a site full of activities designed to build skills in several important areas: listening and talking, reading, writing, arts, and more. Activities can be sorted by media type (books, videos, games, interactive tools, songs, and mobile) and age (from birth to 5 years), making it easy to find just what you're looking for. Wonderopolis is created by the National Center for Family Literacy. Every day brings a new "wonder" on the site. Today's was all about puzzles, yesterday's sought to answer the question, "Why are brick houses so strong?" For each wonder, more information is provided through Did you know? Try it out! Wonder Words, Still Wondering? Wonder What's Next? And Photos/Videos. I've seen it used in classrooms where kids come in to see the day's wonder on the Smart Board. What a great way to stimulate morning conversation!

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25. Questions and answers about the Common Core

There are lots of questions out there about implementing the Common Core State Standards. Over at Shanahan on Literacy, Professor Tim Shanahan has posted the questions and answers from a recent webinar he did on the Common Core. I recommend hopping over there to scroll through the whole post &mdash; I suspect many of you are asking the same questions as these webinar participants! Among the topics covered: How can teachers scaffold difficult text for second language learners? (More vocab and grammar support, with a recommendation to visit Understanding Language from Stanford) Does reading harder text mean reading less text? (Maybe. But still read hard and easy texts.) Is there a set accuracy level for frustration level reading with more difficult text? (No set level, but maybe mid-80's). Should all kids &mdash; even K-1 kids receiving intervention services &mdash; be reading more difficult text? No! Thankfully Shanahan and colleagues recognize that young readers, especially those who struggle, have a lot to work on, so the recommendation here is to give those kids the time they need to develop the skills they'll need in later grades. Professor Shanahan provides more thorough information within his answers, and there are other topics discussed as well, so I encourage you to take a look!

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