Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Print with a Purpose

As you set up your centers/stations and add to and rearrange/refresh them during the year (please tell me you do that), I want to encourage you to step back and look at the print you have in your children's environment. Although exposure to print is a great tool, it can become just visual "white noise" unless you plan carefully.

When you post ANY print, make sure you have a specific, scientifically-based purpose behind it. I'd rather see 10 things labeled purposefully in your classroom than 20 things labeled just for the sake of having a label. Here's an example:

If we label every piece of furniture and fixture in home living but we never call our children's attention to the print and talk about it (the number of letters in the word, that it is a "word", recognizing letters the child may have mastered or is at least familiar with, talking about the meaning of the word), then we are being wasteful and missing incredible opportunity. A few children might learn conventionally to read that word but all can identify that the word on the thing you sit in, with four legs, is a "chair" and talk about what chairs are used for. Don't let your focus be on decoding; let it be on seeing that print has a purpose and celebrate icing on the cake for your most advanced children if they can decode the word conventionally. It is all about meeting children where they are in their spectrum of development and not skipping over important milestones in the "rush to read".

Use print to show children how print is used in the real world (making lists, charts, comparisons, writing letters home to family, taking dictation from children to caption their artwork or record a retelling or original story).

Also post chilidren's artwork with captions dictated by the children to celebrate their already-present literacy.

You can find out more about environmental print and purposeful print in preschool classrooms through these great resources:

Play in the Preschool Classroom

What Works

An excerpt from Pat Kuby, et al's book on Environmental Print (preschool and early elementary)

The Impact of Environmental Print

How do you purposefully place print in your classroom? Stay tuned next time for how reading aloud adds to print awareness.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Promoting Listening Skills

"If the person you are talking to doesn't appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear." - Winnie the Pooh

Teaching children how to listen isn't just about making them sit quietly when you want them to.It is much more.It is about helping children attend to sounds in our language, translated those sounds into meaning, respecting the speaker, learning in internalize self-monitoring (just a little when they are preschoolers), focusing.

One of my favorite ways to get children to quiet down is with a good, quiet book. I love Bedtime in the Jungle by John Butler or Quiet by Paul Bright, just for this purpose. Think soothing, rhythmic language when you selecting books for this purpose.

Games are also the best way to teach young children to listen. Take a listening walk in your school or outside. Draw children's attention to sounds - "We must be quiet and use our ears if we want to hear anything. What do you hear? Whisper."

When you are talking with your children and you want to talk louder because they are not listening, try talking softer, even to a whisper. Do something to draw their attention. A friend of mine, Sharon MacDonald, tells a hilarious story that shows the power behind engagement. One day in her classroom, the noise level was growing too high, even for her. She liked hearing conversation because she knew learning was often happening when children were talking with one another. However, it was nearly a roar.

Suddenly, she had a bright idea: she took a simple tape measure she had in her desk (one of those stiff that has a metal measuring "tape" that extends and contracts into a square container - like they use on construction sites). She slowly starting pulling out the tape, very intently looking at it all the while. It grew longer and longer. She didn't look over at the children; she looked at the tape.

Soon, several of her children came over to see what was up. She just kept looking at the tape as it grew longer and longer. A few more children came."What are you doing, Ms. MacDonald?", one inquisitive child asked. "Shhhh." was her only reply.

When the majority (or maybe it was even the entire class) was surrounding her, all staring up at her and the growing tape, she finally stopped. The tape was about 2 or 3 feet out by that time. Again, a child asked, "what are you doing?" She replied simply, "I was just measuring how loud we were. Look at this!" Then she slid the tape back into its container. "Now we are this loud, very quiet," she said in a small voice.

For the first time, her students had an opportunity to see a visual representation of their noise level. It was more meaningful than just "be quiet now".

Isn't that a great story? It shows us as educators that the key to getting children to listen is not scolding but is creative engagement. If we are involving children in exciting, intriguing, interesting activities (and changing activities when we recognize that children need that change - in other words - responding to their limited attention spans), we will have less correcting and directing to do.

Attending to sounds is also important, as most of our children will learn to read through a method called "phonics". This method connects sounds in our language to the graphic representations of letters, teaches children how to blend those sounds into words, and connect to the words the child knows in their oral vocabulary (or grows new vocabulary).

Stay tuned! In coming weeks you'll be hearing about my new book for preschool and kindergarten teachers: Before They Read: Teaching Language and Literacy Development Through Conversations, Interactive Read Alouds, and Listening Games.

I'd love to hear how you create engaging situations in your classroom. How to you creatively get children to listen?& Do you have a listening center? Do you have a theme on listening?