Monthly Archives: September 2011

Making Connections

I have begun to formally give my first graders their first reading test.  I am preparing to make class reading groups and am testing on many different skills.  Not only, do they have to read a text to pass to the next level they must also be able to make a connection.  Parents often ask, what exactly does that mean? When a child is finished reading a story or a book, we will ask what did this book make you think of.  What Connection were you able to make?  We want the children to be able to say “This text makes me think about….” We want to activate prior knowledge and to have the child become more of an active reader, not just have the ability to call out words.  In first grade and in years to come your child will be learning about 3 types of connections.

  1. Text to Text: This is when the book that has just been read reminds your child about another book that he/she has read, or that you have read to him/her.
  2. Text to Self: This is when the book that has just been read reminds your child about a personal experience that relates to the book.
  3. Text to World: This is when the book that has just been read reminds your child about an experience that he/she has heard about, talked about or perhaps seen on TV or in a movie or text in relationship to the world.

Here is a list of picture books that can be used for modeling Making Connections that I found online and hope that it can be helpful to you when you practice Making Connections with your child.


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Learning to Decode Words

When reading, children are going to face words that they don’t know.  Many children will just stop and look to you for help, or make up a word, or just skip it all together.  My school system has come up with a list of strategies for a reader to use to try and decode the word.  They are:

  1. Look at the pictures and think about what makes sense.
  2. Go back, reread, and think about what makes sense.
  3. Think! Do I know this word? Do I know how to write this word?
  4. Look at the beginning letter or letters.
  5. Get my mouth ready to say the beginning sound or sounds.
  6. Look at the beginning letter or letters and then look for the parts I know.
  7. Check the beginning and then look at the last letter or letters in the word.
  8. Try a word and think:  Does it make sense? Does it look right? Does it sound like the English language?
  9. Skip it and go on.

Please notice that the number one strategy is to look at the pictures.  Please don’t cover the pictures when your child is decoding, they are a very useful tool.

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Writing in First Grade

I taught Kindergarten for over 25 years.  I KNOW what and how much Kindergartners are capable of writing in June of Kindergarten.  I have seen it with my own eyes.  But, something happens to these young, enthusiastic writers during the summer between Kindergarten and First Grade.  That something is not a good thing…it is called regression! I have a new group of first graders and I have seen their writing samples from just 3 months ago when they were in Kindergarten! Wow, the quality was great for their age. They were using capital letters, spaces, inventive spelling and correct spelling of some sight words.  Now these same writers are in first grade and when we talk about writing, they act as if they have never heard about it. What has happened is that they didn’t write every day during the summer and most of the writing skills that they acquired in Kindergarten are gone. I am back at the beginning of the process.  What I have to do it build up the desire to write, get back that enthusiasm and work on stamina…I am talking about writing more than one sentence at a time.  In June, some of these writers were writing 5, 6, 7 or more sentences.  Parents, please listen! Writing is a skill, just as reading and math are skills, and it cannot be ignored for a day, let alone a weekend, or an entire summer. By writing I don’t mean, that you the parent writes and your child copies perfect letters and words. How are they learning from that?  By writing, I mean, your child does the work:

  • He/she thinks of a topic
  • He/she sounds out and stretches out all of the sounds that he/she is developmentally able to hear at this moment
  • He/she starts each sentence with a capital/upper case letter
  • He/she places a period (.) or question mark (?) at the end of every sentence

Parents take a look at your child’s first grade writing and be realistic.  Does it look worse than his/her Kindergarten writing? If it does it is time to start practicing that writing skill……now! so that he/she will get back that love of writing that will last a lifetime.


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Talking About Books At Home

I did not write this letter to parents, it came across my desk today, but I like what it says so I want to share it…I don’t know the author so I can’t give credit.

Dear Parent,

One of the best things you can do to assist your children with reading is to engage them in talking about the books they read.  Talking stimulates language development and helps children improve their comprehension.

As you get ready to share a book with your child, you might ask your child to:

  • Talk about the cover
  • Talk about the title
  • Talk about a few of the pictures in the book

This “before-reading” conversation will help your child to build the expectation that stories make sense. This is also a good time to help your child ‘connect’ personal experiences to the reading.  If there is a picture showing a picnic, for example, this would be a perfect time to talk with your child about a picnic you enjoyed together.

You can also invite your child into conversation during the reading by stopping now and then to ask, “What might happen next?”

As you know, children love to share their opinions.  After reading, you might get your child started with questions such as:

  • What did you notice?
  • What did you like?
  • How did it make you feel?
  • Did this remind you of any experiences that you have had?
  • What parts of the story were your favorites?

Just choose one or two questions so that it feels like a conversation instead of a test.  Happy Reading!

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Parent Teacher Conferences

Teachers request parent teacher conferences for many reasons.  It could be anything from academic concerns, to your child’s behavior, or your child’s ability to make new friends. One thing for certain is that if a teacher calls for a conference, he/she feels strongly that there is just cause for the meeting.  I tell parents that I don’t like to deliver surprises during our required parent teacher conference in November, so I often will meet with parents before this conference to discuss concerns that cannot wait. As a parent you should go to any and all parent teacher conferences.  Listen to what is being said at the conference and then together with the teacher discuss goals for the child that involves both school and home. Then make a commitment to being an active participant in your child’s education.  Your child’s teacher cannot do it all alone.  He/she needs your support to help make this a successful year as possible.


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Name Writing

I taught Kindergarten for several years and worked very hard to teach children to write their name using correct letter formation.  By the end of Kindergarten  children should be able to write their own name using capital letters ONLY for the first letter of their first name and ONLY for the first letter of their last name.  Something happens during the summer after Kindergarten because when these same children arrive in first grade, they have gone back to writing capital letters all throughout their name.  Now in first grade we are working once again on teaching children to use capital letters only where they belong.  If your child is in Preschool, Kindergarten or First Grade and working on writing his/her name, please watch how he/she forms his/her letters and step in to help if you see the letters are being used incorrectly.  Practice, practice, practice.  A child named Justin Smith, should never write their name like this JuSTin  Smith…it is just wrong.  The name should always look like this:  Justin Smith, using capitals only where they belong.  Check your child the next time he/she writes his/her name.  You might be surprised at what you see.


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Homework.  Who is it for anyhow?  My first graders will begin getting homework next week.  On Mondays, we send homework home for the week home and expect it all back on Friday.  This method allows the child to do the homework when he/she has time during the week and when he/she is not busy with other extracurricular activities. The purpose of the homework is to review already taught and learned skills.  We are not expecting perfection; however we do expect an honest attempt at giving it your best.  Some parents never look at this homework while other parents write out all of the correct answers and have their child copy the answers into their homework notebook. I tell parents to remember that they have already gone to first grade and that this homework is for their child to complete.  Of course, as a parent:

ü  You may provide the supplies with which to work

ü  You may provide a quiet workspace

ü  You may provide a snack

ü  You could even be close by to help with directions or to answer questions

But your involvement should stop there. I work with your child 7 plus hours a day.  I know what his/her work looks like and what to expect from work that I send home.  When perfect papers come back all of the time and this is not what I see at school, something is going on.  Today’s parents of first graders are so anxious about getting their child into the right college, which means getting their child into the right advanced high school program, which means getting their child into a GT (Gifted and Talented) program as soon as possible in early elementary school.  In order to do this, many parents think that perfect homework papers will help.  They won’t. Let your child breathe. Let him/her make some mistakes on that homework, he/she will learn from those mistakes and hopefully won’t make them again.  Be realistic parents, offer support but please don’t do the work as this helps no one, especially your child.

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