Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Cross-Curriculum Approach to Improving Reading

A Cross-Curriculum Approach to Improving Reading
By Jill Jenkins
            Students who find reading difficult are not the sole-responsibility of the English or Language Arts Department; they are the entire schools responsibility.  At the request of one of my readers, I am going to outline some proven methods to improve reading in your school, but to really have an impact on the students in your school all departments must be part of the solution.
Building a Strong Vocabulary

            Many students who struggle with reading have a limited vocabulary.  Teaching phonics helps students sound out words if they happen to speak “the King’s English;” however, if they happen to speak a different dialect, it is only somewhat useful.  Since being a dialectical snob is not very useful, I would suggest some other approaches might be more useful. However, one of my readers who teaches in India tells me that since many of his students are totally illiterate and come from families who are illiterate, he finds giving extensive phonics training useful.  To be perfectly honest, my experience is with older students from 12 to 18 years old and by that time it is not as effective. Nevertheless, I once had an ELL student, a refuge from the Congo, who spoke a little used dialect and no English at all. He was part of class of 35 students, not an ideal teaching circumstance.  Furthermore, since he was a refuge and a ward of state, the group home in which he resided did not complete the paperwork correctly and did not identify him as a student who required ELL services, even though he knew about three words of English.  I resorted to using I-Pad Apps that not only used pictures, words and sound, but taught phonics.  He worked alone until I got the class busy on an assignment, then I could work with him one-on-one.
          Word Attack Skills that include understanding the etymology of root words, prefixes and suffixes improves students’ ability to decipher some words that are not familiar to them.  One of the best methods that I have used was borrowed from Janet Allen’s webpage.  The variation of her idea that my school found useful looks like this:

Another visual organizer that helps student understand the meaning of words when you are using a whole-word approach is:

Practice Makes Perfect
     Students need a variety of opportunities to practice reading under a variety of different circumstances.
·       Read Along: Students whose parents have read aloud to them while they follow along in the book arrive at school better prepared than those who have had limited access to books.  Likewise, the positive feelings associated with their parents reading to them in a warm, bed makes reading a more desirable behavior.  As a teacher you can play that role by reading aloud to your students or providing them with a stimulating recording.  It is extremely important to read in an expressive manner and stop frequently and involve the students in short discussions to keep them involved, so they don’t fall asleep. 
·       Independent Reading:  Students should be given ten to twenty minutes every day to read quietly alone.  They should be reading a book that is both age-appropriate and appropriate for their individual reading level.  As a teacher you could choose to divide this reading into ten minutes in class and ten minutes at home or you could do it all in class.  Although most students have short attention spans, so ten minutes is about as long as most of them can stay focused on a reading activity, so dividing into two separate ten minute intervals is much more productive.
·       Group Reading: In the old days elementary teachers placed students in reading groups based on their ability and secondary teachers didn’t worry about students’ ability to read.  As a result, the bright students became better readers, the average students stayed average and the poor readers’ parents sued the school, because Johnny couldn’t read.  Obviously, that wasn’t the answer.  Some schools today have turned to pull out programs that ignore the bright students and the average students and focus on the struggling students.  Some of the more affluent schools are even trying to tutor these students one-on-one, but that isn’t the answer either.  Just like the dogs that The Dog Whisperer works with, students learn faster when they are competing with more competent students.  Placing students into groups of three with one bright student, one average student and one struggling student will improve the average student and the struggling student’s ability greatly.  The bright student is staying up all night with a flashlight reading books voraciously, and this little reading group isn’t going to stop him.  His parents can’t and neither can a teacher.  Let students teach each other.  It is easier on the teacher and because students are social beings, it is much more effective.


     Before you begin reading, engage the students’ prior knowledge to enhance the learner’s understanding of the concept you are trying to teach.

  • For example, you are teaching about Geysers in a science class, so you ask, “Has anyone ever been to Yellowstone Park and watched Old Faithful?”   After the students express some memories from their trips to the park, the teacher asks, “Did you ever wonder what makes that hot water fly up into the air? Let’s read about it.”

  • In a history class, you are teaching about the Sahara Desert, so you ask your class, “Has anyone in the class visited the Sand Dunes in Utah?”  After the class shares some memories, the teacher can compares the student’s experience to the expanse of sand in northern Africa and asks the class to read the description of the desert in the book.    

  • Perhaps you are teaching percentages in math, the teacher could ask “How many of you have ever shared a meal at a restaurant, and had difficulty determining how much to leave for a tip?”  After the students share their experience, the teacher asks the class to read the directions for finding percentages from the textbook. 

The advantage of engaging prior knowledge is the student can connect the knowledge to something that they already know so they are likely to remember it better.  Advertise executives use this techniques all of the time.

Furthermore, it makes the learning more personal and thus more meaningful for the student.

Making Connections

Students better understand a new concept if it is connected to a previous experience: another book they have read, or a movie that they watched.   Help students make that connection by stopping and asking questions that will help them relate the idea to something familiar to them or by relating what connections you make to it.  Modeling is a good way to engage the reluctant reader.
  • For example, you are reading a book about the elevation Himalayan Mountains in your geography textbook.  You stop and reflect, “I once climbed the tallest mountain in Utah, King’s Peak.  I was up so high that I got a nosebleed.  How tall is that highest mountain in Utah?  That is only half as tall as Mount Everest.”  The students can discuss when they have been to high elevation and what happened to them when they were there.
  • Another instance, you are reading about how to determine area in a math class.  The teacher notes, “I once confused the formula to determine area with the formula to determine volume and nearly bought enough paint to fill my living room. Has anyone in here ever had an experience where they had to determine the area of a space?”  Let them reflect on a time they made a doghouse or a dress and how they might have used the formula in real life.
Helping students connect what they read to their own lives, makes it relevant.

Stop reading before you finish a section and ask the students to predict what might happen next or what might happen if.
  • In a health class, the class is reading a section on treating burns, but before reading the appropriate procedure for caring for burns, the teacher stops and asks, “John, what do you think would happen if I put baby oil on the burn?”  After John answers, the teacher inquires, “Why do you think that would happen?”   “Helen, what do you think we should put on a burn?” 
  •  In a math class the teacher is reading a story problem with the class, “Harold bought three dozen balloons at $1.75 a piece.”  The teacher asks an unsuspecting student, “What math procedure do you think this problem is going to require us to do, George?” 
Making predictions keeps the students actively involved in reading.  It helps students begin to look for patterns in writing that make them more effective at making better predictions. 

Identifying the Organization Pattern
Some students do not understand how a textbook or a reading selection is organized.  If they get a little help identifying where things are organized, they can become more successful.

Explain how the textbook is organized:

  •   Where is the Table of Contents?

  •   Where is the Glossary?

  •   Where is the Index and how do I use it?

  •   What are subtopics and how can they help me on an open book test?
  • Why are these words in bold face?

  •  Are these guide questions of any value?

Make students aware of internal organization:
  • Main Idea and Support
  • Solving the Mystery
  • Comparison and Contrast
  • Question and Answer
  • Step by Step
  • Chronological Recounting of Evens
  • Most Important to Least Important
  • Visual Patterns
  • Point and Counterpoint
  • Main Events
If you help the student find the structure, their comprehension will improve dramatically.  What seems obvious to you, may not be to your student, so don’t assume they already know it.


Many students can read words correctly, but when you ask them what they have read, they don’t know.  They don’t know because they have not connected the words together to create ideas.  Unless you complete each reading activity with a thinking activity, they won’t comprehend what they have read.  To determine if students have understood what they have read, ask them to write a summary.
Students sometimes are unable to select what information in a reading selection is important and what is supportive.  By asking students to write a summary, the teacher can easily see if the student is just reading words without decoding them into meaningful ideas or if the student understands the issues.

  • For example, in a math class, the students have just read a chapter about how to determine the angles of triangles.  The teacher asks them to write these instructions as though they were teaching a six-year-old sibling.  Make sure it is clear and concise.

  • In a history class, the class has just read a chapter about what difficulties pioneers faced crossing the plains, so the teacher asks the students to write a list of five major problems these pioneers faced.  Help the students focus on what is important by asking them to summarize.

The Journal Questions
            The learning journal is an effective way to increase students’ comprehension, but the questions have to be carefully constructed to require the student to reread portions of the text, select specific examples, and use the examples to support a larger idea presented in the text.  Questions like:

  • ·         What did you think of the book?

  • ·         How did the story make you feel?

Are usually answered in trite meaningless patter, because they hold no real meaning and require no real thought on the part of the student.  If you asked questions like:

  • ·         Noah Claypole has been described as a bully.  Describe at least three specific incidences in the book where he behaved like a bully and explain what affect it had on Oliver.

  • ·         Using the description of a volcanic explosion, explain how and why they occur and predict what long-term outcomes could result to people, plants and animals when one occurs.

  • ·         Is Friar Lawrence culpable for Romeo and Juliet’s death?  Describe what actions he did that could lead to a conviction.

  • ·         Does Mr. McGregor over-react to Peter Rabbits’ trespassing in his garden? You are the prosecutor, so support your answer with  Peter Rabbit’s specific behavior and Mr. McGregor’s behavior.

Most importantly stay enthusiastic about books they are reading and books you are reading.  Talk to them individually about books.  Make suggestions about books they could read to learn more about a subject they are excited about.  Reading is an addiction and as a teacher you need to sell them on the product.  Make your classroom a rich environment filled with books, magazines, pictures and articles.  Allow student time to explore a variety of sources beyond your textbook.  By varying the reading material, you can increase students’ stimulation and reading  comprehension skills.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Colonization: Teaching Ideas and Resources

Colonization: Teaching Ideas and Resources
By Jill Jenkins
            One of my readers has requested some ideas for teaching about colonialism.  Since I primarily was a Language Arts teacher, but was also certified and taught speech, theater, computers, reading and alternative education, I think I am just the right person to research this.  I am joking of course, but since I believe we teach children, not just subjects, I thought I would take a stab at it.  One thing I can tell if you can incorporate reading, writing, and critical thinking, the language arts teachers in your building will be your friend forever.  One of the most difficult and important skills that students can develop is to synthesize examples, data and ideas from several sources into one coherent paper.  The study of history is the perfect platform to teach the skills found in the Common Core Language Arts Test.  Help us, history teachers, please.  

Step One:  Read about It
            Since many students are unaware of a world outside their own existence, teaching history is particularly challenging.  On resource that I have found valuable are a set of book written in Great Britain: Horrible Histories by  Terry Deary.   The particularly useful book is entitled, The Barmy British Empire.  These graphic non-fiction writing presents histories in texts, cartoons and creations.  On particularly excellent piece describes the plight of the aborigines living on Tasmania who were hunted by the more civilized British colonist.  I use this particular selection after my class reads the short story, “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell to demonstrate that the short story is more a reflection of reality than just pure fantasy.  However, if you were introducing how the colonization of varies land negatively impacted them, this would be a great resource. 
            Another resource might be to have students research why countries created colonies. Two different methods might’s be to have students read Karl Marx ‘s “The Modern Theory of Colonisation” and discuss what reasons Europeans had for colonizing the world or you could compare the behavior of the Europeans to those of America and their view of Manifest Destiny.  Other articles that might be useful for students to read include:
·         “The Long Term Consequences of the Colonization of Africa” by Stanley Courage Duoghah
·         “Positive Effects of Colonialism” by Byerris

Step Two: Talk about It
            After the students have read a couple of articles, put them into partners and have one student argue for colonization and one against.  They must support their position from the evidence that they find in the articles. On great article is a web site describing the massacre of the Northwest Shoshone tribe at Bear River in 1863. Click here

Step Three: View a Video
            By adding videos to the educational blend, teachers can make this particular unit unforgettable.  I will warn you that you need to preview these videos before you use them with your class, because many of them show women somewhat lacking in clothing and grisly scenes of violence.  Nevertheless, they will leave a mark.  The best video is the most graphic, but the most informative comes from the BBC.   The video demonstrates the devastating effects of colonialism on Africa, the South Pacific, America, and South America.  The illustrations are graphic, but the information is powerfully presented.   Another almost equally powerful video describes the affects colonialism had on the even modern day Africa:

A third, video describes the psychological effects of colonialism on Africa, but how the introduction of technology has a positive effect.  The film is not interesting as it is only a professor talking: however, his analysis is interesting. 

Other videos that will be useful of connecting the past to the present:

     One of my readers, James Huie, a high school social studies teacher, recommended three longer movies:
  • Rabbit Proof Fences:  This film depicts the negative impact on colonialism in Australia describing the journey of three aboriginal girls. The film is based on a true story.  I have seen this film and can attest that it is a powerful film.
  • The Mission:  This film starring Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons examines the impact of "The Treaty of Madrid" in 1750 on Jesuit Missions as the land was being transferred to the Portuguese. The remote tribe of Native Americans were in danger of falling into slavery. I haven't seen this film but James recommends it strongly.
  • Guns, Germs and Steel is both a book published in 1997 and a National Geographic Movie. The  premise of both is Professor Jared Diamond searches world and comes to the conclusion that the fate of all mankind depends largely on their contact with guns, germs and steel.  Using  anthropology, historical reenactments and science to support his conclusion, the film depicts the effects of colonialism on different cultures and locations.  Again, this is a film that I have not seen, but James Huie strongly recommends.

Step Four: Write and Create a Project
            To help students assimilate all of the information, you may want them to create a Power point Presentation or better yet a Google Presentation where they research a part of the world impacted by colonialism and present how it impacted that area of the world both in negatively and positively. 
Another assignment would be to write a diary entry as colonist and their view of what they are doing in that country and a diary entry of an individual is who the victim of colonization.
 This might be a good time to discuss Mahatma Gandhi and present his struggle to end colonialism in India. Perhaps, the students could compose and present a song: “The struggle against the Imperialists” or “Gifts from the Colonies.” 

Step Five: Reflect on What You Have Learned
            The final step is for students to reflect on what they have learned about colonialism.  One method is simply a discussion where small groups of students identify what are the most important events and consequences of colonialism. A second method is for students to write about the most important events and consequences of colonialism. A third method is to have each student write a letter to a country that was colonized and sympathizing for the atrocities and explaining what motivated those who did them. 
            Varying the methods and the mode of instruction will make the message more meaningful and memorable for your students.  The advantage of using short reading and the short videos found on You Tube is it allows the class to discuss and digests small pieces of knowledge. If the teacher ties these small strings together with projects, it should increase student learning.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Publishing Student Writing: Do More Than Hang It on the Refrigerator

Publishing Student Writing: Do More Than Hang It on the Refrigerator
By Jill Jenkins
            Students often grimace and sneer, “Yuk!” when confronted with a writing assignment. To alleviate this response, students need to be given a writing experience that is positive and rewarding.  Four letter grades a year are not enough to motivate most students.  Most people like recognition for a job well done.  I learned this from an alternative education student who by ninth grade had a school record three inches thick.  If there was a rule, he had broken it repeatedly.  What he wanted to succeed in my class was a letter grade on each assignment and to be able to display his papers on the bulletin board in the school’s main office for everyone to see.  What he wanted was recognition for a job well done.  He wasn’t all that different from all of us.  We all want to see our work hanging on the virtual refrigerator door enhanced with golden star or a smiley face. How do provide positive feedback to our students?

            One way to provide students with recognition for writing is to have each student create a book to publish his/ her work in.  With a couple of pieces of cardboard, several pieces of 11X17 inch paper, a piece of colored paper, a roll of Duck-Tape, a roll of dental floss, a few scraps of wrapping paper, an awl and a darning needle, your student can create a nifty little book to store his poems, essays and art work.  He/she will have a creation to be proud of for years to come.

My Little Book
Things That You Need
  • Seven papers
  • One piece of Construction Paper
  • Two pieces of poster board
  • Three feet of dental floss
  • Wrapping paper
  • Glue stick
  • Color pencils and/or markers

  • Stack seven pieces of white printing paper together and on the back of them place one piece of construction paper.
  • Fold them Hamburger.
  • With your awl pierce four holes on the fold line.
  • Thread your needle with three feet of dental floss.
  • Begin sewing through one of the two inside-holes, then go the outside hole closest to it and back through the hole you began with.
  • Sew through the second inside hole, go through that hole and through the outside hole near it, and back through the center hole again.
  • Finally run the thread through the hole you started with and tie the string.
  • Cut off any excess thread.
  • Glue wrapping paper to the two pieces of cardboard.
  • Glue the outside of the construction paper to the inside of the two pieces of cardboard to form a book.
  • Use a piece of duct tape to form the back binding of the book, tucking the ends inside the book.

This is a wonderful book with foldout book, pop-up books and a variety of creative fun projects for students to make writing more meaningful.
Another simple book is found on , it’s called The Stapleless Book or Foldables .  The basic directions are:
1.       Give each student a piece of butcher paper about 3 feet by 2 feet.
2.       Ask each student to fold his/her paper in half vertically. (That’s hotdog for those of us who teach lower grades or Landscape for those who teach in the upper grades.)
3.       Ask each student to fold his/her paper in half vertically again. (That’s hotdog for those of us who teach lower grades or Landscape for those who teach in the upper grades.)
4.       Ask each student to hold his/her paper horizontally. (That’s hamburger for those of us who teach lower grades and Portrait for those who teacher upper grades.)
5.       Open up the Hamburger fold and fold it in half.
6.       Beginning on the fold, cut along the center fold toward the outside edge, but stop when you reach the crease.
7.       Open the book like a large mouth and pulling the open refold the book.
8.       Click on this Link to see a directions with visuals:
I find having students create their own anthology of poetry or essays that they can share with their friends and family makes writing more meaningful.
The Electronic Literary Magazine
            A third method is to create an electronic Literary Magazine.  The National Writing Gallery  provides a place for teachers to create your own literary magazine.  You need to be a member of NCTE to do this, but it provides every student in your class an opportunity to be a published writer.  When I first set mine up, I considered only publishing a few students’ best work. I have to admit that I was a product of my past where students submitted work and hoped that they might be selected among the elite who had a published poem in the school’s literary magazine, but after discussing this with other teachers, we decided the best route was to allow each student an opportunity to select his/her best work to be published.  This gives every student a sense of pride and will make better writers and a more enjoyable experience.
There are a variety of other on-line electronic sites for publishing student work. Including:
·        Flipsnap:  Is on on-line application that allows you to turn pictures into books.
·         Wordfaire:  Is a free on-line blogging site
· Is another free on-line blogging site.
·         ePubBud: is an on-line site that allows students to create e-books
·         Storybird: is on-line site that allows students to create story books out of text.

Slide Shows and Videos

        If you are interested in having students create digital story books, there are a variety of free slide show and video programs that you might consider:

            A fourth method is to encourage students to send their writing to contests.  Participating in a contest improves students’ ability to win scholarships to further their education.  Wining contests improves students’ self-confidence and self-esteem.  Although some contests are challenging to win, others are primarily concerned with publishing students’ work in anthologies that they sell to the parents.  This is not a huge economic problem for most middle class families; however, if you are teaching economically challenged students, don’t disregard these contests.  If you have enough students submit entries, they will the teacher a free copy of the anthology.  Simply donate that book to the school’s library so the students can show their masterpieces to their friends and parents when they visit the school. I have compiled a list of some contests that you might consider.  If the contest is primarily concerned with selling anthologies to students’ parents, I have placed an asterisk next to it:
There are endless opportunities for students to write and perhaps learn something about a culture, a social problem or just express themselves. 

            Empowering students by giving them opportunities to shine will improve their writing and instill in them a love for writing.   Publishing work will empower struggling students to achieve more because they will find writing more interesting.  When students find writing fun and exciting, they will write more.  Like all skills, the more they practice, the better they get.  Everyone loves gold stars.  Give your students opportunities to earn them.  We all need to see our work hanging on a virtual refrigerator,