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Why multisensory learning is awesomesauce


In the past two weeks, Jenna has made mind-blowing progress in her RUN, BUG, RUN! reader. I need to buy more star stickers!


Most of these stories are at a Guided Reading level of A or B, but a few of them, like “Get the Moth, Meg” and “The Sad Hog,” are at level C or perhaps D.

I apologize for sounding like I’ve drunk the All About Learning Kool-aid, (full disclosure: I am an affiliate), but committing to our All About Spelling materials twenty minutes a day has really made a difference.

As a former K-4 teacher, I’m still scratching my head about what’s going on. I’ve taught Jenna phonics since she was two years old. We’ve done multisensory lessons up the wazoo. (For a list of everything I’ve tried, click here.) All of my methods worked with Jenna…up to a point. Then she got glasses, which made a big difference.

Now, my daughter is presenting me with the opportunity of becoming a better teacher.

With my son Bruce, I could teach him a spelling pattern like “th,” “sh,” or “ch” and he could generalize that out to basically every word in existence. We could practice with 10 words, and he would be able to read 100.

With Jenna, I’ve discovered I need to explicitly teach all 10o words. Not only that, but it makes a big difference how I teach the words.


Flashcards are the least effective way for Jenna to learn new words.


Multisensory activities are a lot better.


Dictation helps too. She has exceptionally strong auditory skills, and can almost always sound out words properly–even though her handwriting is the subject of another post. In this picture, we are using raised lined paper and that helps a bit.

Too many words doesn’t help. Jenna does better when she can learn words one at a time. Then, if you present her with text where she knows almost all the words, she will be successful.


By the time Jenna has spelled out a word with tiles, and then written it down on paper, she does fine with the flash card version. When she encounters this word in text, she can sound it out.


Another thing that is really helping is the reading focus cards. I’m not sure if reduces eye-strain, improves tracking or what. But for Jenna, they were really worth purchasing and a lot better than the homemade versions I had used with her previously.

Reading windows make Bob Books pop.

My homemade reading windows didn’t have colored film, plus the scalloped edges were probably distracting. For Jenna, they didn’t work very well, although I’ve had them work beautifully for other students.

As a mom, I have 900 kid commitments I’m responsible for right now. As a writer I have a book coming out next year and a sequel following. As a newspaper columnist, I have a deadline every week. So unfortunately, tinkering with my blog is low on the list of my priorities.

Ideally however, I should go back through all my old posts and tag them as “visual,” “auditory,” or “kinesthetic.” I would also go through my main list of ideas and organize them differently. I think Jenna would have had more success earlier if I could have pinpointed her best-practices-learning-path. “If your child is a visual learner, start here.” “If your child is an auditory learner, this page is for you.” etc.

In the meantime, here’s a very cool visual from All About Learning.


Spelling Can Be Easy When It's Multisensory

Every PTA in America should screen this film

Last night my husband and I watched The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia a documentary that digs deep into dyslexia. What is dyslexia? Does it go away? Are there advantages to having a dyslexic brain? How can teachers and parents help?

Unfortunately, like many teachers, I received very little training in how to help dyslexic children as part of my credentialing process. My first real encounter with dyslexia was when a beautiful third grader named Maricella grabbed my wrist and asked me to hold the flashcard steady because the words were moving. “Holy crap,” I remember thinking. “I have no idea what to do.”

Ever since that moment I’ve read everything I could about dyslexia, even now when I’m not longer a teacher. Many of the methods used to help dyslexic children are good ideas that can be used for all students. Be patient. Figure out what you are actually testing–reading speed or thinking? Teach kids how to take notes in a way that makes sense to each individual brain. Use technology to accentuate learning. Most importantly, empower kids to “own” their education.

What I loved about The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia is that it is inspiring. Big names like Charles Schwab and Sir Richard Branson share how the gifts of dyslexia have helped them in life. At the same time, all of the cast is upfront about the challenges they have had to overcome.

The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia is a movie all teachers should watch. Since 1 in 5 people have dyslexia, parents should absolutely see this film too.

It all comes back to good teaching. There are a million ways to learn and the move paths to success we offer children, the faster they will succeed.

Find a way to make words pop.

Find a way to make words pop.

Divide and conquer.

Divide and conquer.

Building words you can't sound out.

Build words you can’t sound out.

Use pictures and graphic organizers.

Use pictures and graphic organizers.

Find fun ways to isolate words.

Find fun ways to isolate words.

Hands on math whenever possible.

Do hands on math whenever possible.

Try to understand a child's state of mind and how that effects behavior.

Try to understand a child’s state of mind and how that effects behavior.

Find ways to learn to spell besides copying words down endlessly.

Find ways to learn to spell besides copying words down endlessly.

Bob Books with cookies.

Bob Books with cookies.

Encourage creativity.

Encourage creativity.

Learn from audio books.

Learn from audio books.

Seek out new tech like  the Bookboard library.

Seek out new tech like the Bookboard library.

Recognize that there are so many ways to learn besides reading.

Recognize that there are so many ways to learn besides reading.

Utilize special paper for dysgraphia.

Utilize special paper for dysgraphia.

Use math manipulatives.

Use math manipulatives.

An abacus is your friend!

An abacus is your friend!

Advocate for all learners.

Advocate for all learners.

Dream big!

Dream big!


Why I want everyone I know on the Internet to Read “Faking Faith” by Josie Bloss

Faking Faithby Josie Bloss is like the website Homeschoolers Anonymous in novel form. It tells the story of a teenage girl from Chicago named Dylan who faces high school hell after a sexting incident. In her despair, Dylan becomes obsessed with fundamentalist homeschooled bloggers, and most especially a blogger named Abigail. After starting her own blog using the pseudonym “Faith”, Dylan is eventually invited to Abigail’s farm for a two-week vacation where she gets a whole new type of education.

Faking Faith never mentions the Advanced Training Institute by name, but ATI is written all over Abigail’s life. At seventeen and a half, her formal education is complete and she prepares for life as a professional “stay-at-home-daughter”, or else must submit to whatever husband her father chooses for her, whether that be the boy next door, or a creepy twenty-eight year old molester.

In addition to showing all the negatives, Bloss does an awesome job depicting the seductive nature of the ATI lifestyle. To Dylan as the outsider, she’s a bit jealous of Abigail’s family dinners, well-behaved siblings, and the fact that Abigail’s parents are concerned about guarding Abigail’s heart and making sure she doesn’t fall in love with the wrong person.

I loved Faking Faith so much that I read it start to finish in one day. Half way through my mind started churning with all the people who should know about this book: R.L. Stollar at Overturning Tables, Jerry at Hersey in the Heartland–the entire Recovering Grace community. If I was Josie Bloss’s publicist I would mail out a case of copies to Homeschoolers Anonymous and let them distribute at will.

Every time I turn on my computer it seems I see another news article about how “cute” and wonderful the Duggars are. Nobody mentions the dark side. A while back I wrote an article on my blog called: “What ordinary moms should know about the Bill Gothard Scandal.” Josie Bloss has shared that same information in novel form. Faking Faith is brilliant.

Boys & Girls Learn Differently, Online Book Club: Chapter 2


Are you reading Boys and Girls Learn Differently! A Guide for Teachers and Parents by Michael Gurian? If so, I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts on Chapter two. Please leave a comment or question below.

First, a brief one-sentence synopsis of what this books is about:

Once parents and teachers understand how male and female brains develop differently, they are better able to educate children.

My notes from Chapter two:

What does the most current research say about brain differences in girls and boys?

  • On average, boys do better on fast, multiple-choice tests because they tend to have stronger deductive reasoning skills (start with big picture, then look at details).
  • On average, girls do better with open ended questions because they tend to have stronger inductive reasoning skills (start with details, build up to big picture).
  • In general, boys do better than girls with abstract thinking. Girls will often have an easier time learning math if they have access to concrete manipulatives.
  • Girls often use language as they learn, boys are more likely to be learn silently.
  • Girls listen better and can still learn when a teacher is overly verbose or wanders. Boys need clear examples.
  • Boys are more likely to get bored.
  • Boys use more physical space.
  • Girls don’t usually need to move as much while they are learning.
  • Movement helps boys learn, which is why silent fidget toys are often helpful.
  • Girls often master cooperative groups earlier than boys.
  • There’s a section on page 48 about pecking orders. Girls can be at the bottom of a pecking order and still often get better grades than boys at the bottom of pecking orders.
  • There’s a section on pages 50-52 about Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences.
  • An interesting thought on page 53. Teachers often try to calm down young boys who are taking up a lot of space and being overtly physical (managing the spatial part of the brain to encourage linguistics). Maybe teacher should also be doing the opposite–encouraging girls to be more physical (managing the linguistic to encourage the spatial).
  • Pages 54-57 offer interesting data about the advantages for boys and challenges for girls in our school systems, as well as the opposite.

What are your thoughts on Chapter two?


New ways to learn math (that have been around a long time)

Exploring rotational symmetry with cookie cutters

Exploring rotational symmetry with cookie cutters

Here’s my “I Brake for Moms” column about Common Core Math in today’s Daily Herald:


If you’re looking for ways to support your children’s math development at home, here are some of my favorite activities:

Rotational symmetry

How to simplify fractions

Hands-on Algebra for third grades

Fifth grade Algebra and candy

Part-Whole-Circle math

Marshmallow math

Helping kids understand place value

Square numbers with crackers

Math without worksheets

Math for two and three year olds

Reducing fractions with peanut butter

Multiplication Memory

Cookie cutter geometry

Using a math balance to develop number sense

Area of triangles with geoboards

Area of polygons on geoboards

Dreambox math review

For more of my thoughts on math, click here. If you are interested in learning more about my educational and professional background, click here to read the snobby stuff.


The Truth About Teacher Gifts

There are many ways to thank a teacher.

There are many ways to thank a teacher.

The truth about teacher gifts is that all of them are appreciated but some of them are better loved than others.

When I taught at an inner-city school families would bring me homemade tamales, small figurines from the dollar store and fresh flowers from their yards. Sometimes the 8-year-old girls would come back from recess with bunches of Oxalis, a pretty yellow weed from the playground. These inexpensive gestures made me feel well loved.

When I taught at a school in an upper-class neighborhood families would bring me chocolate, homemade dinners and beautifully arranged photo albums with children’s letters. At Christmas and the school year’s end I would also receive over $200 worth of gift cards. Once again, I felt very well loved.

My point is, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to say “Thank you,” but if you do, that’s nice too.

There are many ways to show appreciation, but here is a no-fail list:

  • homegrown flowers
  • notes of appreciation–consider sending a copy to the principal
  • student artwork
  • store-bought flowers
  • gift cards

Notice I didn’t mention food.

Personally, I loved the candy, home cooked meals, and other baked goods I received from families. But that was me. Your child’s teacher might be on a special diet or have food allergies you don’t know about. It’s simpler to give her a gift card to Starbucks.

So what does my family give to teachers each year? We start saving early so that we can buy gift cards to Nordstrom’s. I owe my kids’ teachers a debt that can never be repaid.

Boys & Girls Learn Differently, Online Book Club: Chapter 1


Are you reading Boys and Girls Learn Differently! A Guide for Teachers and Parents by Michael Gurian? If so, I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts on Chapter one. Please leave a comment or question below.

First, a brief one-sentence synopsis of what this books is about:

Once parents and teachers understand how male and female brains develop differently, they are better able to educate children.

Chapter one opens with a discussion of MRI and PET scan research. There is a big chart showing every last part of the brain and how it often develops and reacts differently in boys and girls. This has profound implications in real life.

For example, research shows that girls often process emotions quicker than boys. If you and your daughter get in a fight over breakfast, she will probably have processed her emotions by the time she is at school and supposed to learn.

But for your son it’s different. After an argument at the breakfast table, his brain might stay flooded with emotions that he’s unable to process for a few hours. When he gets to school, the limbic system is the middle of his brain might still have heavy blood flow. His emotions could literally shut down the top part of his brain used for higher order content thinking–like math.  (Summarized from pages 19 and 31)

Let’s take this a step further. What if something happens to your son at school or on the bus that causes him to have an emotional response that he can’t process? By the time he walks through the front door, he’s already emotionally fragile. You, the parent, have no idea. You ask him to clean out his lunch box and he flips out.

Is that a reaction to Mom asking a simple request or is it a response to something that happened an hour ago at recess?

Hmmmmm… This parenting thing is tricky business!

What are your thoughts on Chapter one?


Boys & Girls Learn Differently, Online Book Club


Ready for some Mommy-Ed?

Right now I’m reading Boys and Girls Learn Differently! A Guide for Teachers and Parents by Michael Gurian and it is so fabulous that I want to tell everyone I know about it.

Here’s a one-sentence synopsis:

Once parents and teachers understand how male and female brains develop differently, they are better able to educate children.

I’m so impressed by Boys and Girls Learn Differently that I’m starting an online book club. If you’re interested in reading along with me, check out the book from your local library and stay tuned for future blog posts where you can add your own comments.

I’ve ordered my own personal copy from Amazon, but it won’t be here for two days. In the meantime I need to hide my highlighter. The copy I’m reading is from the library and I cannot contain myself from marking up important passages with a golf pencil.

Happily, on May 24, 2014 I’m attending the Helping Boys Thrive Summit in Edmonds, WA where I’ll get to hear Michael Gurian speak. I’ll be sure to blog about that as well.


To Train up a Child, by Michael and Debi Pearl


Here is my “I Brake for Moms” column from yesterday’s Herald:

No child deserves parenting by the rod.

Luckily, I researched and wrote this article about Michael and Debi Pearl’s book “To Train up a Child” before I broke my wrist. One handed typing really slows me down. 😦

What I didn’t address in my column due to word count limitations, was homeschooling. I have carefully analyzed the copyright and decided not to share direct quotes. But page 101 is a crazed, bizarre manifesto, completely out of touch with reality.

There is a full-paragraph rant claiming that Planned Parenthood, the police, drug dealers, social workers and pharmaceutical companies are in league with the National Education Association to reap money by turning classroom education  into pits of despair.

The Pearls advise you to never put your children in private Christian or public school.They believe that leaving kids home to be corporally chastised is so much better.

To be clear, I support the right to homeschool your children. I understand that for many situations homeschooling is the best academic choice for children.

But I also believe that we as a society need to do something to protect homeschooled children who are in dangerous environments.

Now, I’m left with a conundrum. The intellectual in me would never consider burning a book. But I’m unclear about what to do with my copy of “To Train up a Child”. I truly believe that in the wrong hands, this book is dangerous.

So if you are a blogger who would like to review this book and help spread the word about the Pearls, I’ll send you my copy for free. It will be a relief to get it out of the house!


Why ordinary moms should know about the Bill Gothard Scandal

Have you ever heard of Bill Gothard? If you answer “No” to that question, don’t feel bad. I had never heard of him either, until recently. I’m just an ordinary SAHM, sending my kids to public school and taking them to my nice, friendly United Methodist church on Sunday.

But how about this… Have you heard of the Duggar family from TLC’s popular show “19 Kids and Counting”? You have? Good! Now we’re getting somewhere. You know all about Bill Gothard only you didn’t know it. Gothard is/was good friends with the Duggars.

What we’re really talking about is a group of fundamentalist Christians (some people would say cult), who have a huge impact in the American homeschooling movement today. The name of their organization is the Advanced Training Institute, or ATI, for short. Part of their message is that good Christians don’t send their children to public schools.

Right now ATI is going through a major scandal. Bill Gothard, the former leader, has been accused by over 34 women of sexual harassment of minors. The allegations include fetishes, grooming, and in one case, groping. These stories are being shared on a website called Recovering Grace. Here are some examples:

The trouble is, most public school families like mine haven’t heard about any of this. Why should we? Hmmm… Maybe because the Duggar girls are on a book tour right now, promoting their ATI lifestyle. We know all about the Duggars; we just don’t know the whole story.

Let’s start with something really horrible: Blanket Training.

Never heard of blanket training? Me neither! Apparently, it’s when you put a young infant on a blanket and then hit the baby every time she puts her hand off the blanket. You train the baby through physical discipline to stay on the blanket. More about blanket training.

If smacking babies isn’t enough, here’s something else to make your blood boil: Stay-at-home-daughters.

That’s when parents give their daughter such a horrible education (or no education), that she’s unprepared to get a GED, go to college, land a paying job, or even move out of the house. She’s stuck at home forever, doing housework and taking care of her siblings, until her father allows her to enter “courtship” with a man he selects. More about stay-at-home-daughters here.

FYI, some of these links are from a website called Homeschoolers Anonymous, where former homeschoolers are sharing their stories. A lot of the accounts come from growing up ATI, but not all of them. Also, some of the people share really positive views of growing up homeschooled, including one of the website founders, RL Stollar.

Homeschoolers Anonymous is also related to two other websites: Homeschooling’s Invisible Children and the Coalition for Responsible Home Education. Their goal is to make sure that America doesn’t forget about children like Hana Grace-Rose Williams, and to help create simple laws that would protect homeschooled children in the future.

The Coalition is suggesting regulations for homeschooling that include:

  • Parents homeschooling their children should have a GED or high school diploma.
  • Homeschooling parents should not be sex offenders.
  • Parents should teach the same subjects as public schools, but be free to use any materials they would like.
  • Children should not be forced to be at grade level.
  • Parents should be required to maintain academic records for the homeschooled children (so they could later go to college.)
  • Parents should be required to submit birth certificates to the state. (Btw, in the case of Hana Grace-Rose Williams, nobody was certain when she died how old she was, and her body had to be exhumed during her parents’ murder trial.)
  • Progress should be assessed each year with an exam of the parents choosing.
  • There should be a yearly portfolio review.

To me as a public school person, these ideas seem like no-brainers. But to the homeschooling community, this is a big deal. Check out this thread on The Well Trained Mind message board to read the vitriol.

My understanding is that some homeschoolers view any regulations as a potential threat to their rights to homeschool, and therefore are against any oversight whatsoever. There’s also a libertarian vibe running through all of this, that is hard for me (personally) to understand.

It’s really important to note that not all homeschoolers in America are religious. Also, many families who are religious, choose to homeschool for primarily academic reasons.

When it comes to schooling, I am Pro Choice. I’ve taught at a really horrible public school before. If my children were living in that district, I would want to be able to homeschool too. So I fully support the right to homeschool and want that option to be protected.

But whoa! How are we as a society to protect kids from people who are so brainwashed that they would hit young babies and burn their daughters’ birth certificates? How do we protect the next Hana Grace-Rose?

I think the people running Homeschoolers AnonymousHomeschooling’s Invisible Children and the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, are really brave for speaking out. That’s why I’m adding them to my blogroll.

So the next time you see the Duggars on television, pay close attention. Those smiles you are seeing? They might be forced.

P.S. Interested in finding out more? Check out Free Jinger.

Guest Post: I Taught My Baby to Read

I am so excited to share this guest post from Mrs. Warde of Sceleratus Classical Academy! Mrs. Warde is a wife, mother of three, and homeschooler. She’s also my co-pinner for our STORY OF THE WORLD board on Pinterest. 

Early Bird at 2 years, 10 months, building words.

Early Bird at 2 years, 10 months, building words.

A few years ago I taught my oldest child, then 4 years old, to read. Apparently my younger son was paying attention.  At 2 years 4 months old he surprised me with correctly identifying the name and sound of every letter.

I did not know  what to do with that until I thankfully stumbled across Teaching My Baby to Read. I looked at all Jen had written and decided to get the LeapFrog Word Builder Toy. It was a big hit with both my boys. I let my 2 year old play with it as much or as little as he wanted.

Sadly, Leap Frog no longer makes this toy, but you can still find it used on Amazon and Ebay.

Sadly, Leap Frog no longer makes this toy, but you can still find it used on Amazon and Ebay.

My two-year-old played with the toy for five months and then one day he said “I spelled the word ‘bed!’ B-buh, e-eh, d-duh, spells bed!” I looked at the toy and sure enough he had spelled the word “bed” on the level that tells you what you spelled. I praised him up and down and all through that day and the next he kept repeating how to spell bed and name the letters and sound they made. On the third day he said “I spelled the word ‘red’!” And the toy was off.

A week and a half later he read 40 CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) word flash cards that I showed him. I let him start playing MoreStarfall.com on his own. Some things he wanted help with, some he did not. He watched his big brother play, too.

By his 3rd birthday he could read almost any CVC word he came across. The ones he had difficulty with were the ones he did not hear in real life a lot (seriously, who says the word “sat” very much?) He also started memorizing some sight words, all on his own.

Next, based on recommendations from Teaching My Baby to Read I got the LeapFrog: Talking Words Factory video. By the time it arrived in the mail it was mostly review for him, but at the end it introduced the concept of consonant blends.

Most of the Leap Frog videos are "edutainment". These two actually work!

Most of the Leap Frog videos are “edutainment”. These two actually work!

I admit, I panicked. Typical three year olds are not “supposed” to be  reading at a first grade level! I contacted Jen since this was partially her fault and she was very helpful. 🙂 I found a group of parents at the  Well Trained Mind Forum, Accelerated Learner’s Board who had been there, done that and they were a huge help, too.

It’s been two years and some  days I’m used to it, sometimes I’m not. I’m thankful I’m homeschooling.  He’s working alongside his brother doing 2nd grade work (except in  math,) reading at an even higher level, but he wouldn’t be starting  kindergarten until the fall if I were to put him in public school. And I am very thankful for the advice I found on Jen’s blog that helped me  help my early learner.

Want to find out more about Mrs. Warde’s homeschooling adventures? Head on over to Sceleratus Classical Academy

Judy Blume Mocks Homeschoolers

First off, I looooove Judy Blume. She was one of my favorite authors growing up. But somehow (motherhood, perhaps?) I was unaware that there was a new Fudge book, until I picked up an audio copy of her 2007 book Double Fudge from the library.

Blume reads the book herself and does a fantastic job with character voices and expressions. Both the plot and her narration are very entertaining.

However… a huge part of the book revolves around mocking the Hatcher family’s homeschooled relatives. Blume doesn’t give the homeschooled characters guns or religion, but she gives them every other stereotype in the book, right down to matching lavender prairie dresses (in 7th grade!) Two of the girls break out into spontaneous song, the little brother bites and licks people, none of the family watches television, and the parents have never even heard of the Weather channel.

I’m not a homeschooling Mom, but if I was I would be livid.

As it was, I had a lot of guilty moments listening to this book in the car. By the time the homeschooling bash-fest began, my children were too invested in the book to turn off the CD.

If the story had been making fun of people from different religious, ethnic, or economic backgrounds, I of course would have turned off the book immediately. But since this was Judy Blume we are talking about, I kept thinking there would be a redeeming moment at the end where the main character felt guilty about judging homeschoolers so cruelly.

In retrospect, I’m not sure how a moment like that would have helped.


Taking our library from drab to fab!

Our chapter book set-up.

Our current chapter book set-up.

Over the years I’ve written several posts  about how parents can think like teachers and set up their home library to promote Guided Reading.

Books organized in boxes make them less overwhelming for young readers.

Books organized in boxes make them less overwhelming for young readers.

You don’t need a lot of money to do this. Shoeboxes would work fine. I use the drawer-organizer boxes from IKEA. They’re floppy, but that’s okay.

It’s been an evolution. Three years ago, that same spot looked like this:

Three years ago.

Three years ago.

From two years ago.

A small improvement two years ago.

Unfortunately our library was getting out of control. We simply had too many books!

So over Winter Break, we bought three shelves from IKEA. Here’s the result:


Picture books are now upstairs in the new and improved reading nook.

A $20 net from IKEA makes a big splash!

A $20 net from IKEA makes a big splash!

Inside the reading nest. The tub of popcorn serves as a table.

Inside the reading nest. The tub of popcorn serves as a table.

When I think about what I’d like to spend money on in my home, bookshelves aren’t top of the list. That’s why it’s taken so long to get here. But I want my kids to know they come from a family that celebrates reading.

Someday our playroom will turn into a library. I’ll have a snack cabinet in there, plus a big table for high-school projects. The reading nook will get a larger chair. The picture books will be packed away.

Right now though, we have room to grow and a quiet place to read. The only hitch is getting the toys put away!

What’s in the pumpkin?

What's in the pumpkin? Read to find out!

What’s in the pumpkin? Read to find out!

Reading requires stamina. I get reminded of that over and over again every time my daughter Jenna(4) reads a  Bob Book.

Jenna knows her letters, she knows her sounds, and she can sound out words. But her first time reading any new Bob Book is extremely laborious. Pages 1-2 are great. Then by page 5 she’s rolling around on the couch.

Some teachers would take the “Hold off! She’s not developmentally ready!” approach. My opinion is that 5-10 minutes a day of phonics isn’t going to hurt a four-year-old.

I also know that the second and third time Jenna reads a Bob Book (the next day, and the day after that), she breezes through it.  So I don’t think this is about developmental readiness as much as about developing stamina.

Day one of introducing a new book, I’ve got to bring my A-game.


Building words is a good start.


Incentives can work too.

What your seeing up above is what’s in the pumpkin! I went to Target and bought ten items from the dollar spot.

What's in the pumpkin? Read to find out!

Now, every time Jenna finishes a new book from Bob Books Set 2-Advancing Beginners, she gets to pick a new pumpkin surprise.

Amazingly, her reading stamina has improved over night. 😉

Yes, it’s important to use positive reinforcements with caution. Eventually I want Jenna to read because she loves reading, not because she wants a junky prize from China!

But right now, I want to her practice, practice, practice. I know from experience that by the time Jenna can get through Bob Books Set 3- Word Families, she’ll think reading is a lot of fun.

How parents can use the “C.I.A. Approach to Reading” at home


The jump from learning to read to reading to learn is one of the toughest educational challenges kids face. As teachers and parents, it’s our job to make that transition as painless as possible so that children become bibliophiles.


That’s why I was excited to read Raising the Standards: Through Chapter Books: The C.I.A. Approach, by Sarah Collinge. I first heard of C.I.A. at of my son’s school. Several teachers are going to Read Side By Side’s upcoming training in October, and are writing grants to pay for new materials.

My son’s third grade class is using the C.I.A. methods already.  This is Bruce’s assessment of what it’s all about: “Basically it’s teaching you to read something and regurgitate information.  Then you regurgitate it again.” Considering that description is coming from an eight-year-old, it’s not too bad.

At its very heart, the C.I.A. approach teaches kids to understand, synthesize, and write about key information.

C.I.A. stands for “collect, interpret, and apply”. It dovetails on the Guided Reading approach and the classic book by Fountas and PinnelI, Guiding Readers and Writers (Grades 3-6): Teaching, Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy.

Okay, so why should moms and dads care about any of this? Because, dear friends, after reading  Raising the Standards I’m really excited about ways that parents can incorporate many of Collinge’s ideas at home.

Turn bedtime read aloud into instructional read aloud

Turn bedtime read aloud into instructional read aloud

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

1) Divide your next chapter book read aloud into four quadrants using post-it notes.

This is going to make a big-old chapter book seem less scary and more approachable. The C.I.A. method is all about helping kids develop the stamina to get through challenging material.

2) Use a “turn to talk” framework to help kids identify places in a book that give readers important information.

  • “When the book said__________ I inferred/visualized/predicted/thought_______________.”

3) At the end of quadrant one, help your kids identify the four corners of a story that hold the whole thing together:

  • character
  • setting
  • problem
  • main events

Quadrant one is the most laborious. The first quarter of a chapter books is when kids need the most support to understand what’s going on.

4) In quadrant two, start looking for the hidden and ambiguous. Keep your eye out for the following:

  • vocabulary
  • repeated words
  • author’s style
  • themes

Don’t forget to summarize what you know. This is especially important in bedtime read aloud, when you might not have read for a few nights. “Okay. Where were we? What just happened? Help me remember because I’m old and forgetful.” 🙂

5) In quadrant three, help your child identify the turning point of the novel.

Were you able to predict the turning point? What evidence enabled your prediction? What is the author trying to say? The more you can point out specific passages in books to ground your answer, the better.

6) In quadrant four, read quickly and with enjoyment.

The last part of the book should be the easiest. Kids understand what’s going on, and are excited to reach the conclusion.


I am very glad that Collinge sent me a copy of her book for review so that I could brag a little bit about this exciting pedagogy coming from Washington State.

For more information about the C.I.A. approach to reading, please check out Read Side By Side.