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Parenting Poll: Let’s talk about reading!


Reading Focus Cards


A month ago I purchased Reading Focus Cards to help support my daughter’s ability to track words. In the past, I’ve made homemade versions of the same idea for free (see how here), but I felt we were ready for an upgrade.

The benefit of reading focus cards is that they come with different colored films and your child gets to choose which color window is the best fit for his or her brain. After a lot of experimentation, Jenna chose yellow.

This is what the reading focus cards look like in action:





The big question: do they help?

Since I’m a fast reader–technically a “speed reader”, the cards slow me down considerably, although they do improve my comprehension. But I wasn’t purchasing the card for me; they are meant for my daughter.

Jenna is very neutral about them. Sometimes she wants to use the cards, sometimes she doesn’t. But as her mom, I’m glad I bought them and have the cards as an available resource.

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.

Making Bedtime Bearable

I bet every mom or dad out there could yammer on for about twenty minutes about various sleep issues their family had struggled with at one time or another. Usually the headline to all of these stories is: NOT ENOUGH SLEEP. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a parent worry that their child was sleeping too much.

Both of my kids sleep in the own beds all night long, but the problem is, bedtime is at 10 PM and they wake up at 6:45 AM. Jenna(2.5) will take a twenty minute nap in the car on the way to pick up Bruce from school, but that’s it. The real bugger is, that both Bruce and Jenna seem fine with this amount of sleep. My husband and I on the other hand, are ready to eat them.

We have always had a really good, regular bedtime ritual with both our kids. Bath, pajamas, teeth brushing, story-time, snuggle, lights out, etc. At seven, Bruce is really easy at bedtime.  Our two-year-old is the problem (big surprise). Somebody needs to lie down with Jenna until she falls asleep, and that can take anywhere from five minutes to an hour. Starting the bedtime ritual at 8 instead of 9 only means that you will be snuggling next to Jenna for two hours instead of one. She gets up to use the potty at least three times, and she worms around in bed so much that when she wakes up in the morning her hair looks like this:

Today I had an epiphany. The years between snuggling and “see’ya in the morning” are really short. I’m sure there are mothers all over the world who sadly, wish they could lie down in bed next to their healthy child with her head on their shoulder one more time. Instead of being frustrated as I look at the clock and Jenna ask for a drink of water one more time!, I should relax. I should focus on controlling the things that I can control.

So today I am going to buy nicer sheets for my daughter’s bed. The ones she has are really cute, but are polyester awful. They probably aren’t helping her hair situation either. The other thing I’m going to do is order a subscription to Click magazine. We already get Ladybug for Jenna and Cobblestone for Bruce. My husband and I have read every book in our home library about a million times. I don’t like bringing actual public library books into our kid’s bedrooms because I’m afraid they will get lost. Magazines are nice for bedtime because they are new material. And if I have to read Clifford Goes to Dog School one more time I think I am going to lose it, literally and figuratively.

March Madness

March is usually pea-planting time where we live, but this month I’ve been lazy.  It’s a good thing too, because today we woke up to snow!

Our composters were frozen shut.

Asparagus tips were poking up through ice.

Our artichokes and rhubarb got pounded.  I think I might wait until April to put my kids to work planting peas this year…

Historical Heroes, Wickedly Funny Profiles of Six Time-Honoured Megastars!

 Historical Heroes, Wickedly Funny Profiles of Six Time-Honuored Megastars!  by Mike Kelly Publishing is a really obscure (but wonderful) book that I happened to come across in a used book store.  It is so off the beaten path that it took me a while to hunt of up the Amazon link for it.  This is probably due to the book being of British publication, and intended for British audiences. Some of the humor is also very British, and a bit over Bruce’s head, but most if he thinks is hysterical. 

Bruce(6y) and I are are reading this book together at bedtime, and enjoying it quite a bit.   Each section is about 100 pages long, so this book is really an anthology of six biographies about Joan of Arc, Charles Darwin, King Tut, Napoleon, Shakespeare, and Julius Caesar.  There are lots of cartoon-like illustrations to grab Bruce’s attention, but not so many that this would qualify as a graphic novel.  Due to the nature of the book, you do not have to read the biographies in chronological order.  So far we have read the Napoleon and Charles Darwin section.

The only “hot-button” issue in this book would of course be the Charles Darwin section, which I found very well done.  It lays out the history and science behind Darwin’s classic book The Origin of the Species in a way that still leaves room for faith.  I’m including two pages from this section so you can see for yourself.  If you are okay with these two pages, then you would be very happy with this book as a resource to use to explain Evolution.

Update 11/20/11:  I should add that after reading all of the book, there is a certain section in the Joan of Arc section you should know about, when the ladies of the court check to see if Joan was “a maid” or not.  I just skipped over this part since I was reading the book out loud.

Abraham Lincoln and the Heart of America

Having just read Sherman the Ruthless Victor, I decided to get out one of our family’s all-time favorite Jim Weiss recordings: “Abraham Lincoln and the Heart of America” to listen to in the car this weekend.  Bruce has been listening to this CD since he was four years old and is the background for one of our family’s all time funniest stories about Bruce.

When Bruce was four years old he was spending the night at Grammy and Papa’s house.  Papa was watching a PBS documentary on Andrew Jackson, and Bruce had crept into the room and was watching with him.  Then Grammy came into the room and remarked, “Oh, you’re watching something on the Civil War.”  Papa said that this wasn’t the case, and they started arguing the point.  Finally, Bruce broke into the conversation to settle the issue.  “Grammy,” he said.  “You’re thinking of Stonewall Jackson.  This show is about Andrew Jackson.”

How did my preschooler know who Stonewall Jackson was?  “Abraham Lincoln and the Heart of America”!  We have listened to this CD about twenty times now, and unfortunately it is now scratched in places from overuse.  It keeps skipping in the middle of the Gettysburg Address, which is really annoying.  I might have to buy a new copy for Jenna when she turns four.  🙂

Fariytale Favorites in Story and Song

Normally our family loves anything Greathall Productions publishes, and anything Jim Weiss reads. But “Fairytale Favorites in Story and Song” is only so-so. If this was the first ever Jim Weiss CD you bought, you would probably think it was pretty good. But compared to the other Greathall CDs, it is just not very inspired. I would recommend not purchasing this CD, but perhaps checking it out from the library if available.

Here are the stories included on this CD:

  • Stone Soup
  • Puss in Boots
  • The Shoemaker and the Elves
  • Rapunzel

Fairytale Favorites is appropriate for all age levels, which is why I purchased it, but neither my 2 year old nor my 6 year old found it very engaging. And I (yawn), would much rather listen to something else.

What are the Three Types of Reading?

(This is a refresher, from an earlier post.)

Teachers know that there are three different types of reading: Independent Reading, Guided Reading, and Read Aloud.  Knowing the difference, helps teachers choose appropriate books for children that will continue to stretch their abilities and interests.  Teachers also know that it is important for children to be engaged in the three different types of reading every day.  This is contrary to the message popular culture keeps promoting “Read to your child!”  Reading to your child is of course essential, but that’s just hitting upon one type of reading.

Independent Reading, is when a child can sit down by himself and read a book.  For Jenna, this means sitting down by herself, paging through books, and looking at pictures.  For Bruce, it means staying up until 9:30 because he’s insisting on finishing Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger

Guided Reading is when you and your child are both engaged in reading a book together, and sharing your thinking and opinions as you go along.  Guided Reading may involve reading silently inside your head, or reading aloud.  When Bruce and I were reading the Little House on the Prairie series last summer, I’d often have him read the left hand pages, and I would read the right.  We’d talk about the story as it went along.  Jenna can’t really do Guided Reading yet, but she’s beginning to a little bit when I ask her to point out letters or pictures she can name in the books we read together.

Read Aloud is when the adult reads the book to the child.  This is what most parents do very well.  A few months ago my husband read The Hobbit to Bruce, and we read dozens of picture books to Jenna each day.  

When choosing books for your child you should remember Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  Read Aloud books should be too hard for your child to read on their own.  Independent Reading books should be too soft (meaning easy).  Guided Reading books should be just right.

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Artemis Fowl

Bruce read  J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit with my husband last month, and so it was my turn to do bedtime read aloud with Bruce.  Sometimes we let Bruce pick the book, but sometimes my husband or I choose as a way of introducing him to new material.  This time, I chose  Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl, a book I had in my collection but had never read.  http://www.artemisfowl.com/

We are about 100 pages into it, and it is right up Bruce’s alley.  There’s magic, blaster weapons, an evil kid-genius master mind, and lot’s of spying.  There are also a lot superfluous references to Disneyland, attributed to the fact the publisher is owned by Disney, I think.  So far, the book is pretty entertaining, but nowhere nearly as good as Harry Potter.

The first night we were reading Bruce tried his usual trick of reading ahead several chapters by himself after he was supposed to go to bed, but the next night he asked me to go back and read from where he left off.  He said he didn’t really understand what was going on in the pages he read.  So today I looked up what Guided Reading Level Artemis Fowl is, and it is level Y, which means 6th grade.  No wonder it was too hard for the little guy!

Kids Reading to Little Kids

Long ago when I taught third grade in a not-so-nice neighborhood, (actually it was the former murder capitol of America), I had a lot of success with a project I called “Read a book to a little kid.”  At the time, most of my third graders could not read, all of them were still learning English, and some of them had just immigrated from Mexico the prior week.  (And that was for real, I’m not making a terrible joke.) 

Reading aloud for these children was slow, difficult, and embarrassing.  But I found that when they read to their Kindergarten buddies, their fluency and confidence improved tremendously.  I created a graph, a chart, a token reward system and boom!  Some of the third graders even started reading to their buddies at recess and in their own free time.  It wasn’t a magic wand, but it did make a difference for the third graders, and probably for the Kindergartners too.

I’ve heard that reading to dogs, has a similar effect.  (And once again, that wasn’t a bad joke!)  Our public library even has a program where children read aloud to dogs.  Children appreciate reading to dogs, because there is no judgement, nobody harping at them to sound out that word, and nobody telling them to be louder or softer.  In some ways, it’s the ideal way to practice read aloud.

To be fair, younger children often have to been in the right mood to go along with this program, and some little listeners, will not be suitable at all.  “Read it louder!  Read it faster!  I want Mommy!”  But if you have multiple kids at home, or a family pet, this is definitely worth a try on a regular basis.

When it’s okay to point

Here’s an easy tip teachers know, that is easy to do during read aloud time.  Track the words with your finger!  It’s really simple, but sometimes hard to remember.  Tracking words with your finger is so important becauseit shows children that words on the page correspond to words that you read aloud.  It is critical towards teaching children to read.

When you hear (very real) stories about children teaching themselves to read without any parent input at extremely young ages like two or three, this is might be one of the explanations for why that happens.  Some parents just naturally track with their finger while they read, and some don’t.  I don’t track every single book I read to Jenna, because my hand would cramp up, but I do make sure to track at least a few books a day with her.