Titanic A to Z is still top winner

My Kindle book for young readers, “Titanic A to Z; the Story of the World’s Most Famous Shipwreck”, continues to be popular with kids, parents, home school students, and even “grown-up kids” who like the authentic old photos and unusual facts. I’ve had so many requests for a printed book so that will be forthcoming for those who, like me, still love a printed book. I’m also working on 3 more Titanic books for kids of all ages. Hopefully one will be ready for publication this summer.

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Titanic A to Z is a top-rated Kindle books for kids

Learn about the history of the Titanic by reading my Amazon Kindle book, “Titanic A to Z; the History of the World’s Most Famous Shipwreck.” Although the book is written in an A to Z format, it’s not a simple alphabet book. Authentic photos from 1912 are combined with interesting and often little-known facts about the sinking of the Titanic.

This is a popular resource for students as they learn about the Titanic without dwelling on the gloomy aspects. The book has 17 five-star ratings to date and many reviews that note it’s value as a teaching tool. Although it’s aimed at ages 5-9, older students and even adults enjoy it.

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Why We Still Need Cursive Writing in K-12 Education

Recently a young mother told me that her daughter, who is in middle school, has never been taught to cursive write in the public school. “Oh, they don’t even teach cursive writing anymore,” she said. “All the kids print.”

Most schools still have cursive writing as part of the curriculum in second, third, and even fourth grade, yet they give little time to it. Why? Testing, testing, testing. Everything is based on test scores-the teachers’ jobs, funding for education, school grades, promotions, etc. It’ s absurd how little time is spent on basic skills. Does anyone care if students acquire a well-rounded education? Teachers and parents do but the politicians don’t listen. Our schools have been turned into giant test centers where test scores are the only thing that really matters.

Some of my high school students have said, “I can’t read cursive writing. Would you please print on the board?”  Furthermore, lots of high school students still print instead of using cursive writing.  So why is it important to learn to cursive write?

Because you have to legally sign papers all your life with a SIGNATURE! That means you have to write your name in cursive or joined-up handwriting, not manuscript writing, because signatures in cursive are unique.

Cursive writing is faster because the letters are joined. The writer does not have to lift the pen as much as when forming block letters. Very few students can print as fast as someone can write in cursive. There are some exceptions but most students who still print in upper grades require more time to write down what they want to say. By then it’s hard to correct bad writing habits or teach them to write in cursive.

Many students were not encouraged to practice cursive writing when it was taught (or wasn’t taught), so they just keep printing and printing and printing. And taking tests and more tests and more tests.

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Why You don’t want Your Kid Reading at the Frustration Level

Is your kid reading at the frustration level? This is one of the three levels of reading competence. It is crucial to know these three levels to see a student make satisfactory progress. Many teachers who are teaching reading are not even aware of these three levels. Yet it can make a huge difference in a student’s progress in reading if you have this information.

The three levels that can be determined for a student’s reading ability are:

  • Frustration level
  • Instructional level
  • Independent level

The frustration level is when a student knows so few words that they are constantly frustrated and struggling to understand the information. If a student is forced to read at the frustration level, they get discouraged, have a difficult time achieving success, and can develop low self-esteem. Many times they decide that they are just “dumb” and can’t learn when this is not the case.

The level at which a student should be reading most of the time is the instructional level. Then they will know enough words to understand what they read and achieve success.

The independent level is the ideal level, the level at which a student knows almost all the words and can read independently with understanding.

In my Do It Yourself Reading Coach plan for assessing and improving reading skills, I give you the formula for determining these three levels. Even if a student’s frustration level is at their present grade level, it is best to have them practice reading and read for pleasure at their instructional or independent level. Then you will see progress and a much better attitude toward reading.

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Dyslexia: Five Things You Need to Know for K-12 Readers

Dyslexia: Five Things You Need To Know for K-12 Readers

Dyslexia is defined as a specific reading disability. A person with dyslexia has difficulty connecting the sounds of letters and words with meaningful language. The disability can vary from slight to severe and runs in families. Research has shown that people with dyslexia have under active circuits in the language centers of the left brain. Persons with dyslexia often have trouble with left and right.

Here are five things you should know if you have a child or teen with dyslexia.

  1. There is no one test for dyslexia. Poor school performance, written work, and behavior in school must also be considered in determining if a student has dyslexia.
  2. Students who have dyslexia are often delayed in learning to read and talk. They may read slowly yet they often have average or above-average intelligence.
  3. A regular classroom teacher does not usually have the knowledge to diagnose dyslexia even though they will be aware of the student’s problems. The student may be referred to the school psychologist for a battery of tests and placed in a learning disability class. If a parent can afford the expense, they can have a child tested by a neurologist or psychologist.
  4. A student with dyslexia benefits from one-to-one tutoring. It helps if they read aloud when they practice reading.
  5. A student with dyslexia needs to be taught with a multi-sensory, hands-on approach that has structure.

Even though a student with dyslexia may read slowly and struggle with reading into their adult lives, it’s best to get help and special tutoring when possible. You can find out if there are any tutors in your area that are qualified to teach dyslexic students at http://www.interdys.org, the website of the International Dyslexia Association.

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Five Clues That Your Child May Have Dyslexia

Does your child have problems with reading? Have your been told that they have dyslexia and you aren’t sure what it is?

Dyslexia is a general term defined as a learning disability that causes problems with the ability to connect letters and their sounds, thus causing a problem with reading. The disability can vary from slight to severe. There may also be problems with writing, spelling, and Math.

Here are five clues that may indicate that your child has some degree of dyslexia:

  1. Student may have problems recognizing words or recalling words that were just learned. They may leave out half of a word or substitute a different word when they are reading aloud.
  2. Student may not be able to understand the main idea of a simple sentence or understand what they have read in a story or textbook.
  3. Student reverses letters and numbers after grade 3. It is common for young children to reverse letters and numbers when they are learning to read and write, but if the problem continues, this is a sign of dyslexia.
  4. Student has difficulty with the sequence and may not be able to remember the correct sequence of events in a story.
  5. Student may have problems with copying words from the board or from a book. Their written work may be disorganized.

These are only five of the symptoms of dyslexia. It tends to run in families and is more common with boys. If you think your child has dyslexia, the sooner you get help, the better. One of the best resources for dyslexia information is the The International Dyslexia Association at http://www.interdys.org.

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Should Dictionaries Be Banned in the Classroom Because of “Bad” Words?

Recently a school district made the news by removing all the dictionaries from classrooms because someone found an inappropriate word. Did the media exaggerate this or is it really true? Was this the real reason for the removal of the dictionaries? I taught in public schools for many years so I find this unbelievable.

Do adults actually think that taking an important learning tool like a dictionary away from students will dampen their curiosity? In my experience, young people have many resources available, especially via the internet, and taking dictionaries away will not keep them from finding inappropriate words. Dictionaries need to be in every classroom and available to every home school student as an essential resource for information about words.

Why? Because the extent of one’s vocabulary is directly related to the level at which a person can read proficiently. Yet only 50% of Americans can read at 8th grade level. In a recent study, about 20% of seniors who graduate from high school in our public and private schools are illiterate when they graduate. This means that they can not read and write well at a basic level, which is 5th grade.

In an increasingly complex world, reading skills are important for career success, survival skills, and everyday life. We need to do more in our schools to develop vocabulary so that students can become more proficient at reading.

As a reading specialist, my last few years of teaching I taught freshman and sophomores in high school. I gave them vocabulary words weekly that were selected from books that we were reading. They were required to look up the definitions in the dictionary.Occasionally they snickered over a “bad’ word someone found and then kept working on the assignment.

I was surprised to find out that many of my students did not understand a pronunciation key, the etymology of words, and idioms. These were skills I had taught in a fourth grade classroom 25 years earlier! This is an example of how the skills of our students have not improved over time. I did not discourage the use of a computer dictionary but told my students that a computer is not always available.

Furthermore, at the end of every week I gave my students a vocabulary test. They were allowed to quiz a partner verbally to practice for the test, which is good exercise in memory recall. My students definitely increased their vocabulary and their reading levels during the school year. Yet I was ridiculed by an administrator in charge of curriculum for using such an “old-fashioned” technique as having my students look up definitions and learn the meaning of words. I was told that if I insisted on teaching vocabulary, the only way to do it was to give the students all the definitions on an overhead.

If I had bowed to the pressure of the administrator who knew very little about the teaching of reading, my students would not have learned how to use the pronunciation key, which helped them sound out unknown words. They also would not have learned about the derivation of words, idioms, and all the different definitions that a word may have.

Too many times I have seen a “teaching fad” come into use. Unwise administrators often jump on the bandwagon and insist that teachers quit using methods that they have always found successful & start using a “new” one. I am glad I refused to be intimidated because my students profited from regular practice in using the dictionary and learning vocabulary, which had a positive impact on their reading skills. Certainly they don’t need dictionaries removed because there might be a few “obscene” words inside the pages.

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Why the “Race to the Top” Grants will Not Solve the Low Reading Test Scores in K-12 Schools

The competition among states for Race to the Top federal grants of almost 5 billion dollars totally misses the real problem of why one in four students drop out and about 20% of high school graduates in the U.S. read at 5th grade level or below. By requiring states who participate to do performance-based merit pay and link reading test scores to teacher performance, the federal government is not addressing the real problem.

The reason that so many of our students have poor reading skills and can’t read at grade level is due to popular use of the “whole word” language approach which teaches readers to memorize words instead of learning how to sound them out. Most textbooks used for reading instruction in public schools today use this method and do not teach students to read using the phonetic code and phonemes, the sounds that go with the letters. Some students figure out the code on their own but many do not. Research on phonics instruction has proven repeatedly to result in better readers than teaching by the whole word language approach.

I have taught dozens of middle school and high school students in public schools who couldn’t sound out unknown words of three or more syllables because they learned to read by the whole word method. It is hard to have good comprehension of reading material if you can’t read the words in the first place. Imagine what it is like to read a foreign language like Russian when you don’t know all the symbols and sounds. This is what reading is like for students who are reading at their frustration level and are unable to sound out unknown words.

Beginning in fourth grade, when students begin to read silently, a certain percentage of students fall through the cracks. They start reading below grade level because they can’t sound out unknown words and can’t understand the material. They read at the frustration level, get poor grades, and often get placed in a remedial reading class. This starts to effect their self-esteem and causes them to give up or misbehave.

It is totally wrong to give merit pay to teachers based on performance when that performance is tied to test scores. That is a requirement of the Race to the Top grants. Some students have more than one teacher. Others skip school, don’t try, take drugs, or speak another language at home. Why should this be blamed on the teacher? Is it fair to compare test scores of teachers with honor classes with a teacher that has a remedial reading class full of problem kids? Even if the merit pay is based on improvement in scores, it can be difficult to make problem students care enough to try. I’ve seen high school students make a Xmas-tree pattern down the answer sheet and refuse to read the test. Why should this be the teacher’s fault?

There are certainly other factors besides the method used to teach reading that impact reading skills. Early language development, parenting styles, and exposure to books are just a few. But it would benefit the schools if more publishers revised their textbooks and emphasized phonics instruction for beginning readers. We would not have so many students below grade level in reading or placed in an ineffective remedial or intensive reading class where students don’t behave because they don’t care and plan to drop out.

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Focusing on Main Idea can Improve Reading Comprehension

Teaching students to determine the main idea of reading materials can improve their reading comprehension and raise test scores. Main idea questions are common on reading tests and in textbooks. Once students become proficient in determining the main idea, they also begin to understand better what they are reading.

First familiarize students with the questions below that are most often used to determine main idea.

1.  What would be a good title for this story?

2.  What is the main idea?

3.  What is the main topic in this article or story?

4.  What is the central theme?

5.  What is the best summary sentence for this article or story?

Learning to determine main idea is not difficult but takes practice. One way to help students acquire the skill of choosing the correct main idea is to teach them the 80/20 rule. This rule says that about 80 per cent of the time in a story or article, the main idea will be in the first or last paragraph, specifically in the topic sentence. If you are choosing the main idea from one paragraph, the main idea will be in the first or last sentence about 80% of the time.

Another technique for determining main idea is to have students write a summary sentence. Also alert students to look for a summary sentence or a summary paragraph at the beginning or end of a story that may provide the main idea.

One simple method for teaching students to discern the main idea is to continually ask, “What’s it about?” Every time they are perplexed about what the main idea is, they focus on “What’s it mainly about?” rather than supporting details.

Students should also be taught that sometimes they must read between the lines or infer the main idea. They may have to use background knowledge or evaluate based on their own life experience to infer the main idea. This involves higher level thinking skills and requires more practice.

Put these strategies to work and your students from elementary grades through college will improve their ability to answer main idea questions and acquire better reading comprehension.

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7 Tips on How to Help a Child Develop Good Reading Comprehension

The way you communicate is the secret to helping your child develop good reading comprehension and superb reading skills. Recent studies have proven that the quality of the parent’s communication with the child, especially during the early years, is a crucial factor in a child’s development of good reading comprehension and other reading skills. Based on these research studies, here are some tips that can help you to prepare your child to be a better reader.

1.  Talk to your child in positive ways. Answer their questions in more detail, adding new words that will increase their vocabulary.

2.  Give your child the freedom to explore and play in a positive environment. Don’t constantly tell them no and be negative with them.

3.  Respect your child and be aware of their needs and wants.

4.  Read stories aloud to your child on a frequent basis. Share all kinds of books with them, including poetry, fiction stories, fairy tales and folk tales, and non-fiction.

5.  Be sensitive to your child’s feelings and encourage them to share how they feel with you.  Be a good listener and strive to understand them.

6.  Give your child positive feedback. Emphasize their good qualities instead of criticizing them. Talk to them in an intelligent, informative way.

7.  Allow your child to develop naturally. Each child is unique and should not be pressured to be like a sibling or a peer.

When you communicate with your child in a positive, respectful manner, you not only help them to be emotionally healthy, you help them to a better future by preparing them to become superb readers and have good reading comprehension.

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