All posts by Lisa Fink

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About Lisa Fink

Lisa Storm Fink is the Project Manager for ReadWriteThink at NCTE. After teaching grades K-4 for almost 9 years, she brought her varied experiences (multi-age classrooms, looping, cooperating teacher for preservice teachers, plus a specialization in Remedial Reading) fulltime to the ReadWriteThink site. Lisa feels lucky to have worked on all parts of the ReadWriteThink site as a writer and reviewer, curriculum developer, and now as Project Manager. She enjoys sharing the site with others during professional development opportunities as well as with her preservice students at the University of Illinois.

Celebrate the first day of summer with summer reading.

SummerReadingSummer reading is an important component of an overall reading program. Research shows that summer vacation often has a significant negative effect on student learning. Providing opportunities for students to read regularly during the summer can prevent documented reading achievement losses. The bottom line is that students who read during the summer do better in the fall.

A June literacy fair for students and their families is the perfect way to end the school year and get students off on the right track for the summer. In addition to standard carnival fare (face painting, games of chance, etc.), offer a variety of fun literacy-based activities!

  • The cost of entrance? Ask students to bring a lightly used book as an entrance pass, to be collected on a table or display. As students leave, each person can select a book to keep from the donations.
  • Hold a literary trivia contest, with new, donated books for prizes.
  • Invite an author to your school for a book reading/signing event. If the author can’t attend in person, have the author Skype in to talk with the students.
  • Don’t forget to invite families to your event and to include informational material.

How will you kick off the summer with reading?

Anne Frank’s Diary

anne-frank-diary-openOn June 12, 1942, Anne Frank received a small red and white diary as a present for her 13th birthday. The diary, which she named Kitty, was her companion for just over two years. Frank’s last entry in the diary was dated August 1, 1944. Her family’s secret hiding place was raided three days later, on August 4. She died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in February or March of 1945.

Explore the ways that eyewitness reports shape our understanding of events we can’t see first-hand. Introduce students to this topic using a lesson (adapted to your grade level), such as Through the Eyes of a Refugee, which examines the first-hand reports of a Syrian refugee, or Evaluating Eyewitness Reports, which examines first-hand accounts of the Great Chicago Fire.

Then have students break into small groups for an end-of-the-year research project. First, provide an outline or list of the main topics you’ve studied during the year. Or, have students use their textbook as a reference. Have each group select an event to research, taking care that topics are not too broad, such as “World War II.” Using primary source documents, have students research the event using eyewitness accounts. A good source of primary documents can be found at the American Slave Narratives website. Finally, have each group present their research to the class, for an end-of-the-year review session.

How else can a diary be used in the classroom?

Summer Learning

summerlearningonlineSince we are past Memorial Day, now seems like a good time to plan for summer learning for students. Summertime is a great time for growing minds! Here are a few ideas that can be passed on to families so the learning can continue even when school isn’t in session:

  • Ask for help with shopping.

Work together to make a shopping list. Younger children can help brainstorm items to add to the list. Older children can create the list for you. A step further? Have children and teens work within a budget, use problem-solving skills to create lists, and buy their favorite treats at the store. See more in this lesson plan.

  • Use a map.

It used to be that when people wanted to know where someplace was or how to get there, they’d buy a paper map. And even though many people now use GPS systems or websites that provide directions, basic map-reading skills are still important for times when these resources are not available. This activity will help kids develop these skills by having them analyze the features found on a state map; locate—and estimate distances between—familiar landmarks on a local map; and research statistical information using an online atlas.

  • Go for a ride!

In the car or while on a bike, notice surrounding things: weather, people or traffic signs. These activities for younger children will have children reading signs, logos, brand names, and other words all over their home and community. While driving around town or surfing the Internet, teens are sure to see “Pass It On” billboards brought to them by The Foundation for a Better Life that are meant to inspire and motivate people to do good.  In this activity, teens will study examples of these billboards and create their own original billboard and inspirational phrase for a person of their choosing.

While it’s important that children see you choosing, checking out and enjoying books, also let children see you using the library as part of an inquiry. Work with a media specialist to find answers. Visit an online library to see what resources are available there. Have the child or teens select some books to check out. Then, ask the child to tell you about one of the texts, why it was picked, and predict what it might be about.

  • Find time to read together every day.

Book clubs have come back as a popular way to allow readers to discuss books in an informal setting. Children can enjoy the same kind of community-building experience by meeting with friends to choose, read, and discuss books together. Their meetings can come to life with discussions, arts and crafts, and activities.  Different book clubs will need different amounts of adult supervision, so provide guidance but don’t be afraid to step back and let them run the show!

  • Play games!

Playing board games or card games can be a fun activity, so why not make your own? Working together, the players will decide what the game will look like, how it will be played, and what kinds of materials are needed. When the game and directions are complete, have fun playing it!

Research tells us that children and teens who don’t read and write outside of school, especially during long breaks such as summer vacation, face a big loss in their literacy growth compared to those who do continue learning all year long. This means the summer months and other breaks from school offer wonderful opportunities for families, caregivers, and out-of-school educators to help improve reading and writing.

Reading, Writing, and Spelling

The National Spelling Bee Finals are held this week! Hundreds of student spelling champions, ranging from 9 to 15 years old, will travel to Washington, DC to compete in the National Spelling Bee.

Most students won’t win the National Spelling Bee, but most students can learn to spell. They need to see words in print through lots of reading and lots of writing, and they need strategic help from their teachers. The sixth standard of the NCTE/IRA Standards for the English Language Arts states that “students [should] apply [their] knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation)” in their speaking and writing.

In this article in Primary Voices, Sandra Wilde suggested the following:

The Speller’s Bill of Rights

  1. The right to express yourself in first-draft writing regardless of what words you do and don’t know how to spell.
  2. The right to do a lot of reading, which is probably the greatest single factor in spelling acquisition.
  3. The right to actively construct knowledge about the spelling system.
  4. The right to developmentally appropriate education in spelling.
  5. The right to learn that spelling does matter.
  6. The right to know about and have available a lot of ways to come up with spellings (including just knowing how to spell the word).
  7. The right to learn to proofread.
  8. The right to have spelling placed in its proper context as a small piece of the writing and language-learning process.
  9. The right to be valued as a human being regardless of your spelling.

Will you tune into the Spelling Bee?

Connecting Families to What Is Happening in Schools

literacyAs educators, we understand the shifts we are making in our own practices. It’s important to think about how these changes are being communicated to families. What is essential to share? It seems best to keep it simple. Better yet, our challenge is to show not tell as we involve families in the literacy learning happenings within our schools on an ongoing basis.

Here’s a group of educators that didn’t need to tell families about the importance of reading and writing more complex texts across the disciplines because they are showing it:

  • Meet third-grade teacher, Bev Gallagher. She made notebooking a regular part of her instructional practices. These notebooks will become a treasured part of each child’s school career long after third grade.
  • Julie Wollman, a ReadWriteThink.org and NCTE author, shows us how to get started with family message journals as a means for students to write to an authentic audience about their learning.
  • Because the ways we teach writing are often quite different from the ways most of our students’ parents learned to write, it is important to think about productive ways to get families involved as strong allies for excellent writing instruction. The authors of “Inviting Parents In: Expanding Our Community Base to Support Writing” describe workshops and other methods for getting parents productively involved in their children’s literacy development.
  • Watch as a parent who is in a Community of Practice with teachers shares what it means to learn, talk, and design activities as a full CoP member with teachers.

Join us over at ReadWriteThink.org on the Parent & Afterschool Resources site for engaging ways to introduce children to reading or to encourage teens to write. Need some age-appropriate book suggestions or rainy day activities? These materials are your answer—all of them created by experts to be fun, educational, and easy to use outside of school.

What role do parents and families play in your school?