Saturday, August 29, 2015

Why do I have to read 20 minutes every night?

 It’s that time of night. You know, when your child has finished all of her homework assignments and you remind her that she hasn't done her twenty minutes of reading.

A serious whining session may begin. “Why do I have to read twenty minutes every night? Do I really have to do twenty minutes? Can I do ten tonight and then thirty tomorrow?”

If your child enjoys reading, this is something that is not very familiar to you. In fact, some of you may have to convince your child to put his book down to do his other assignments.

I have always been a reader. In fact, I call myself an escapist reader. When I want to check out of reality and all of the stresses, I love to pick up a book and escape to another time and place.

Until I became a teacher, I had no idea that not everyone did this. Part of me is saddened that some children and adults alike find reading to be unpleasant if not torturous. 

Reading is one of those skills, though, that is critical no matter what you plan to do in life. Even if you have no desire to escape into a book, it is something we do every day.

Teachers have known it for years, and research has shown, that the more you read, the better you read. There is also a connection between reading and academic achievement.

Students who read at least twenty minutes a night have some obvious academic advantages, but I know that is not a compelling argument for a child who would "rather be doing a zillion other things," or who is just ready for bed.

Here are a few tips to help your reluctant reader and hopefully, make reading time more peaceful and productive:

  1. Help your child find just right books. There are no benefits to staring at a page or two for twenty minutes. If a book is too hard, your child will not comprehend the text. Her vocabulary will not grow because there are too many unknown words to use context clues, and there will be little to enjoy if she doesn't know what is happening. There are some benefits to reading and rereading books that are easy, but at least some of the time should be spent with books that will expand her comprehension and develop new vocabulary.
  2. Just "chunk it." If your child really dislikes reading, divide the twenty minutes into smaller chunks. Read part of the time right after his afternoon snack, some of it between other homework assignments, and the rest right before bed. While there are definite benefits to increasing the amount of reading your child does, it is not necessary to do it all at one time.
  3. What are her interests? We all like to find out more about things that we are interested in. Who would voluntarily go to a movie about something they hate? Go with her to the library and help her find books on things she is interested in. While teachers and librarians try really hard at school to help students find books they'll enjoy, you know her better. You may be able to look into topics you know she likes but has not mentioned at school.
  4. Read with your child. It is very important that your child knows that his reading is important to you. Read the book with your child and share interesting parts of the story with him. Talking about books adds to your child's engagement with the book. It will also help you and him monitor his comprehension.
  5. Model reading. It is very powerful for your child to see you read. So you don't like fiction? Read the newspaper or a book about your hobby. Many of us have reading associated with our work. Let your child see you read a technical manual or a report.
Is your child an eager reader or a reluctant reader? Leave a comment below about some of your child's reading struggles and/or successes.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

To test, or not to test?

          “To test, or not to test?” 
                                 That is a relevant question.

It’s the beginning of another school year, and I am sure you parents have many conflicting emotions.

Some of you may be thinking, “I am so glad my children have something to do without planning every minute of their day.”

Others may be thinking, “We need another week to get ourselves ready for another school year.”

For some of you, this year will have milestones for your children like the first day of kindergarten, the beginning of middle school, or even graduation from high school.

Regardless of the grade in which your child is entering, there is one constant that we have all come to expect with schooling: testing.

For some of you, testing was just another part of life. For others, you recall the anxiety you felt and worry about how it will affect your child.

One of the biggest reasons for test anxiety in students, which may transfer to parents and entire households, is that the reasons for testing are not understood.

In this week's blog, I will explain the types of tests that elementary students will encounter this year, I will give you the names of specific tests that your child can expect to take this year, and I will tell you how the test results are used to improve your child’s education.

The first type of assessment your child will encounter is formative assessment. Formative assessments are given to collect information so that teachers can create an instructional plan for your child. 

Formative assessments are not graded. The information collected can be used to develop curriculum, indicate appropriate instructional methods, and to create assessments to show student growth (Brisson and Slater, “Assessment Primer”).

The majority of your child’s literacy assessments will be formative.

·      Kindergarten
o   For the first time this year, students will take the Developmental Reading Assessment, 2nd Edition (DRA2+).  

This assessment will be given at the beginning of the year to collect information about reading readiness and at the end of the year to know how much progress students have made. 

The results of the second test will help first grade teachers plan for students at the beginning of the next year.

o   Teachers will administer Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System (F&P) readiness assessment at the start of the school year. 

Students will take the Literacy Readiness assessment at the beginning of the year so that teachers can know if children know their letters, letter sounds, simple sight words and other early literacy skills. 

o   In November, teachers will assess students with what is called a running record

For this assessment, students are given a book to read and the teachers follows along making note of any errors students make and documenting reasons they believe that students may have made those errors. 

This gives teachers the best information for how well a student reads, and they can then give students reading materials and specialized instruction that will help them grow in their reading abilities.

·      Grades 1 - 5
o   Students will take NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) two to three times a year. MAP assesses student skills in math, language and reading.

This test adapts or adjusts to a student’s ability as they take the test. Students who are strong in certain areas, get questions that are increasingly more difficult.

Conversely, students who are weaker in an area would e given less challenging questions.

The results of MAP give specific and detailed information about students’ knowledge of certain skills and how they apply them. 

MAP is given two to three times a year: at the beginning of the year, in the winter, and at the end of the school year if deemed appropriate by the principal.

o   As in kindergarten, classroom teachers will assess students with a Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System (F&P) running record

For this assessment, students are given a book to read and the teachers follows along making note of any errors students make and documenting reasons they believe that students may have made those errors. 

This gives teachers the best information for how well a student reads, and they can then give students reading materials and specialized instruction that will help them grow in their reading abilities. 

Students in grades 1-5 will take this assessment three times a year. The first time will be at the beginning of the year, the second in December or January and the final one will be at the end of the school year.

A summative assessment is the second type of assessment that your child will have during a school year.

Summative assessments are used to figure out how much someone learned after instruction as compared to a benchmark or standard.

The most common summative assessments are the graded quizzes and tests given by classroom teachers.

Summative assessments are a “one shot deal” and the results of these tests are used to determine if a student has made acceptable knowledge gains.

Because summative assessments make an evaluative statement about what a student has or has not learned, they are the assessments associated with test anxiety. (Click here for tips on helping your child deal with test anxiety.)

·      Grade 2
This is the first time your child will encounter a summative assessment given by the district. All second graders take a Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT)

This is generally the test people are referring to when they talk about an IQ test. 

We know now that IQ is not static and can change over a person’s life for many reasons, so this score is not intended to determine a child’s long term educational abilities. 

This test is given at the beginning of second grade to help determine if a student qualifies for Gifted and Talented instruction. There is nothing that your child needs to do to prepare for this test.

·      Grades 3 – 5
o   All students in grades 3-5 will take the ACT Aspire

This state assessment in reading, writing and math is given at the end of the academic year to determine if a student is proficient in the standards taught during the school year.

o   Students will also take the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards (PASS) at the end of the year. Currently, this test is given to determine proficiency in science and social studies for the school year.

Navigating the world of assessments can be tough for students and parents, alike. 

The majority of the literacy assessments given to students in elementary school are for instructional purposes. They are designed to help teachers create instructional plans for your child.

Sometimes, it is difficult to understand why your child is being tested on something, or it can be hard to understand what tests results mean.

You should always contact your child’s teacher if you do not understand something about a test your child has to take.

Use the link at the bottom of the screen for a complete list of assessments for all the grade levels. Click on the highlighted links in the narrative  for more information about the topics.