To Raise a Reader

(I wrote this post last week for our families on my school blog.)

If parents want to raise a reader, someone who engages in reading regularly and voluntarily, they should read aloud to their children. Put away the flashcards and take down the sticker charts for number of books read. Make reading aloud every day a priority.

As a parent myself, I realize that this task can be sometimes difficult. There have been evenings when reading aloud didn’t happen in our home due to work or other obligations. However, we have made it a ritual, as regular as brushing our teeth.

The science that supports reading aloud to children, both at home and in school, is clear. Next are some of the biggest benefits, although this list is not exhaustive.

Reading aloud to children:

  • Increases vocabulary acquisition
  • Improves reading comprehension and fluency
  • Increases engagement in reading
  • Broadens their imaginations
  • Improves student writing
  • Fosters relationships between the adult and child
  • Develops listening and speaking skills
  • Facilitates meaningful conversations

Two books reference much of the research on reading aloud: In Defense of Read-Aloud by Dr. Steven L. Layne and The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. Trelease’s resource is in its 7th edition now and should be in the home of every family. Some hospitals will send The Read-Aloud Handbook home with new parents. It was a book I relied on when I taught elementary school.


This feeling is called “retroactive guilt.” Educators feel the same way when we discover a new strategy or method and then think about all of the students we had in the past who did not have access to this better practice. The best thing to do is to start reading aloud now and make it a habit. For a list of titles that will engage kids at every age level, go to Scholastic’s list of 100 Best Read-Aloud Books.


Yes. Tweens and teens may not admit it, as adolescents seem hard-wired to resist any and all direction from the adults in their lives. But they will enjoy it as long as they find it interesting and they have some say in the book. The best read-aloud books are typically plot-driven. They can’t wait to see what will happen next. Consider these lists of possible titles from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Older students also enjoy pictures books; they can even read them aloud to their younger siblings. Audiobooks to listen to on smartphones and in the car is another option.


Two words: Public library. Mineral Point has an excellent public library with helpful and knowledgeable staff. There is an entire floor dedicated to children’s literature. Library staff offers a storytime for little ones every Monday morning at 10 A.M. If transportation is an issue, consider utilizing Overdrive, a digital library of eBooks and audiobooks. Patrons can check out titles and download them on their smartphones, tablets, and computers. Overdrive also has dedicated pages for kids and teens.

Reading aloud is an easy and enjoyable activity for any family hoping to raise a reader. At the Wisconsin State Reading Association Convention, some Mineral Point Elementary School faculty heard children’s author Mem Fox speak about the importance of reading aloud. Her ten commandments for reading aloud are applicable to parents and educators.

Top Seven Takeaways from the Wisconsin State Reading Association Convention #WSRA16

1. Finnish Lessons 2.0: What Can the U.S.Learn About Educational Change from Others?
The speaker was Pasi Sahlberg, a native educator from Finland. His country regularly scores at the top in terms of student achievement and teacher satisfaction. He offered five ideas to improve American education:

  • Invest in equity, not just excellence
  • Invest in teams, not just individuals
  • Let the children play!
  • Make school ready for kids vs. kids ready for school
  • Celebrate failure, not just success (A national day of failure is celebrated every year in Finland on October 13.)

2. Examining Acts of Literacy Processing in Grade 2

The speaker was Dr. Elizabeth Kaye. She is a professor in the Department of Reading at Texas Women’s University. Here is a summary of findings from Text Reading analysis of 2nd graders reading at grade level.


  • always attempt words.
  • always work left to right.
  • use a variety of word parts on the run.
  • never sound letter by letter.
  • never appeal before attempting.
  • never stop and wait for a work to be told.
  • never skip a difficult word and read on.
  • have a large and varied repertoire of solving actions at the word level.

Implications for struggling readers: Teach for flexibility and expect them to take initiative.

3. Author Jacqueline Woodson is a prolific author. She has written 30+ books from picture books to young adult novels. Her latest book, Brown Girl Dreaming, is on the Battle of the Books list. Check out this author’s website at: Multicultural themes that would make excellent read-alouds for your classroom.

4. Speakers and authors Lynne Dorfman and Diane Dougherty discussed their book Grammar Matters: Embedding Instruction Into Daily Classroom Practice (Stenhouse, 2014). They share ideas and strategies for including grammar instruction in teachers’ units of study for narrative, informational, and persuasive writing. If you click on the link, you can preview the entire text online. Here is one example:Deconstruct for students to reconstruct:

Take a portion Saturday and Teacakes (which we would have already read) and break up some of Lester Laminack’s great text into a simplistic rendering:

She opened the oven door.

The kitchen filled with a smell.

It was a sweet smell.

It was sweeter than summer gardenias.

It was the smell of teacakes.

Tell students to rewrite them by combining thoughts that naturally seem to go together. Try it out two or three different ways. Think about these things:

  • Do I need to add words?
  • Could I eliminate some words?
  • How many sentences did you write?
  • What punctuation did you decide to use to make your message clear?

After examining the way the author chose to write these thoughts, compare his craft to your craft. What is the same? What is different?Have the kids try their ways first and then show them what the author actually did. Remind them there is no right way. The author’s way is just one way. They may like their own way better and that is ok too (as long as it’s still grammatically correct :-).

5. The Power of a Project-Based Approach

Nell Duke is the Professor of Literacy, Language, and Culture, and the Faculty Affiliate in Education and Psychology at the University of Michigan, and a member of the International Literacy Association Research Panel. This presentation was based on her new book Inside Information: Developing Powerful Readers and Writers of Informational Text Through Project-Based Instruction (Scholastic, 2014).

She appeased a teacher’s need for a sense of direction when learning. This session provided a framework for project-based learning that reaffirmed the best practices and beliefs of our school.

  • This framework balanced engaging students through choice, addressing standards across curriculums, and providing a connection or purpose outside of school. Planning guide:
  • Structure was provided for the project through five phases: project launch, reading and research, writing and research, revision and editing, presentation and celebration.
  • Whole class lessons; small group, partner, or individual work; and whole class wrap-up were promoted.
  • Mentor texts were used as models.

6. We Teach Thinking! Curiosity Powered by Pedagogy in the Workshop Classroom

Kristin Ziemke is an author, first grade teacher and innovation specialist for the Chicago Public Schools. This presenter made the audience want to be a learner in her classroom. The top five takeaways from this session were:

  • Children are naturally curious. Keep that curiosity alive with an “I Wonder….” chart.
  • Use iPads during interactive read-aloud to blog or post on Padlet ( Those students who do not have a device can use a clipboard and paper. The iPads rotated among students.
  • Teach students to “read” images from,, and (PREVIEW FOR APPROPRIATE CONTENT)
  • Launch a unit by creating an image file where students view the images, think and wonder. After picking three images, students create three points of wonder and verbally record these wonders. At the end of the unit, students rewatch their points of wonder to see if their research answered their questions.
  • When students ask a question, wait 6-7 seconds and they think of it themselves, or respond to them with “Say more about that.” or “Think that through.”

7. Expanding Understanding: Engaging Dialogically with Multiple Perspectives

Maria Nichols, the author of Comprehension through Conversation (Heinemann, 2006), offered specific ideas for how to structure classroom conversations that helps students develop a deeper understanding of the text(s) they are reading.

One example was to teach the importance of perspective (click here for the slides):

  • Show a picture of a lion. Kids turn and talk about what the picture makes them think. Share and listen to lots of different ideas.
  • Add heading “Cecill the Lion” to the picture. Now turn and talk again and share. Again, lots of different points of view are observed.
  • Show a cartoon with definite point of view against the dentist. Turn and talk and share. This shows a definite point of view whether you agree with the point of view or not.
  • Introduce the New York Times article from a person from Zimbabwe. Read it, turn and talk, share, and develop different points of view based on a unique perspective.
Several of our teachers attended the Wisconsin State Reading Association Convention. I asked them to summarize their learning for our faculty in my most recent staff newsletter. What they shared was very helpful. I was unable to attend, so I thought I would throw their thoughts up on the ol’ blog.

#WhyNCTE15: Because we all need to know literacy

This will be a short post, because the answer to this question/hashtag is simple: All educators need to know literacy. This goes for math teachers, science teachers, social studies teachers, specials teachers, administrators, and all other professionals working in education. It all comes back to literacy.

As an elementary principal, I cannot remember the last time I attended a conference for administrators. The topics for keynotes and sessions are worthy, such as school budgeting, thoughtful scheduling, and professional evaluations. I just cannot seem to rationalize going to one of these over a literacy-focused experience.

NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) is not my first literacy conference. For the last three years, I have attended the Wisconsin State Reading Association convention in Milwaukee. Both are worth losing a couple of days in school.

Why? Of all the disciplines, literacy experiences the most change. The influx of digital tools in our world alone have altered how we teach reading, writing, speaking and listening. Literacy integrates into every other discipline. It also binds the different subjects.

“But I am a principal. I don’t have time to spend learning literacy. That is the job of my instructional coach.” Really? Consider:

  • How can you budget your building dollars to best meet students’ needs, when you aren’t aware that having a broad selection of authentic, high-interest literature in classrooms is essential?
  • How can you properly schedule your building without the knowledge that students need lots of uninterrupted time to read, and teachers need this same time to confer with his or her readers?
  • How can you evaluate your teachers if you don’t know the difference between indicators of reading engagement, such as students selecting books based on interest, and reading compliance, for example being assigned books to read only based on level?

We all need to know literacy. My original background was not in this area. I had to read up on the topic, ask our teachers questions about reading and writing, and acknowledge that I have a lot to learn. I still do. So do you.

A Takeaway from the Wisconsin State Reading Association Convention

This is part of a post I shared with my teachers this week on our staff blog. It is a summary of what I took away from the excellent WSRA Convention in Milwaukee on February 7-9, 2013.


The Wisconsin State Reading Association conference was an excellent experience. I attended very informative sessions and had great conversations with other educators. You can read all of the tweets associated with five of the keynotes and sessions on my Storify page. I plan to share more both formally and informally.

One of the common threads during the conference was the Common Core. But not in the way I expected. Instead of hearing how schools should be addressing these standards in everything we do, the presenters encouraged us to take it slow. Focus on the students. Consider what engages them. If we can continue to make school a place of joy and allow students to achieve their personal learning goals, the Common Core will take care of itself.

Not to say that the CCSS should be relegated to the sidelines. Many well known educators and researchers such as Jeff Wilhelm and Regie Routman encouraged everyone to use what is laid out in the Common Core, but as a resource instead of a focus. These standards are not what students come to school for every day. They attend to our instruction and their learning because they want to become better readers and writers, and they believe you can help them along the way. Let’s stay the course and not get too excited about what is coming. What we know to be best practices will carry us through.