Posted in professional development

Guest Post: Why is fluency important to comprehension?

Hi all! I’ve got a guest post today from Alesia, from PrimaryLearning.org, an online education resource for K-5 educators. There are some great, free lesson plans, worksheets, and activities to be found there; I’ll be trying some of these on for size as we increase our self-directed (passive) programming. Without further ado, here’s Alesia’s article on fluency and comprehension.

Why is fluency important to comprehension?

Developing fluency and comprehension significantly helps children become proficient readers. These two skills are connected, with fluency supporting children’s comprehension of the texts they read. When teaching children how to read, a focus on fluency should be part of the program. 

What is Fluency?

Fluency is the ability to read smoothly with automaticity. Fluency makes reading sound like talking. It consists of three components: accuracy, rate, and expression. 

Accuracy is the ability to read words correctly. The more accurate readers are, the fewer mistakes they make. 

Rate is the speed or pace that words are read. Fluent readers have a consistent flow to their reading. Their reading is not filled with stops and starts. 

Expression is related to how a reader’s voice sounds. Expressive readers vary their volume, pause at appropriate places, and attend to punctuation, adding excitement or intonation to their voice. Their reading does not sound robotic or monotone. 

What is Comprehension?

Comprehension is a key component of reading. Without it, children are merely reading words on a page, with no understanding of what they mean. Think of times when you have read a paragraph or page, then had to go back and read it again because you had little understanding of what you had just read. Comprehension was missing. 

Comprehension allows readers to understand, interpret, and interact with texts. It allows readers to understand the vocabulary in books. They also bring their own prior knowledge and experience to the text in order to make connections. They make predictions and confirm or revise them as they read. Children with well-developed comprehension skills can infer while they read. They also ask questions or have “wonderings” as they progress through a book. All of these skills allow children to understand the books they read.    

How Does Fluency Affect Comprehension?

If children are struggling to solve words, their efforts become focused on decoding. Their rate of reading slows down, often becoming word-by-word or robotic-like. Expression is lacking or even absent, as they concentrate almost primarily on word solving. 

When children read fluently, they recognize words more automatically and can shift their focus to what the words mean. They are able to concentrate on what the text is saying and can interact with it, using the comprehension skills described in the section above.      

How Do I Teach Fluency?

To teach fluency, make sure you are modeling what fluent reading sounds like. Demonstrate how you pause, change your voice, and group words together so your reading is not choppy. Provide children with opportunities to demonstrate their own fluency. Beginning readers can start with one sentence that they can read smoothly. Encourage them to make their reading sound like talking. It may be helpful to record their reading so they can hear what they sound like. 

To encourage fluency, it is important that children are reading books appropriate for their level. If a book is too difficult, children will struggle to solve the words and fluency will break down. Choose “just right” books or, if fluency is the main goal of the lesson, consider using a book that is even a bit easy to read. Without the need to tackle unknown words, children can focus all their efforts on reading the book fluently. Re-reading a familiar book is another way to shift the focus to fluency.  

To support fluency, preview books and identify vocabulary that you may need to pre-teach. Anticipating challenging words and reviewing them before children begin reading will help their fluency. Sometimes fluency is even hindered by characters’ names that kids are unfamiliar with. Spotting these problems ahead of time will prevent them from stumbling throughout the book. 

Fluency also improves when children have a well-developed sight word vocabulary. We want children to recognize high-frequency words like “the,” “and,” and “it” automatically. Without a bank of known sight words, children will struggle through texts.

As we teach children to read, it is easy to become focused on word-solving strategies. However, it is important that we don’t neglect fluency, which opens the door to a deeper comprehension of texts.   

 

Posted in picture books

We Are One: How the World Adds Up – Unity Counts!

We Are One: How the World Adds Up, by Susan Hood/Illustrated by Linda Yan, (Nov. 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536201147

Ages 3-7

Individually, we may be one – one person, one student, one kid – but together, we are so much more: a nation; a family; a society. That’s the underlying message delivered in rhyming concept story, We Are One: How the World Adds Up. The rhyming story here will attract younger readers, with easy-to-imagine concepts like “one sandwich requires two slices of bread / Two vows make one marriage when friends want to wed”, while informational panels run across the bottom of each page, with more meaty information for older kids: how the sandwich got its name, or Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s 2015 statement that “In forming a marital union, two people become something stronger than they once were”. The book goes from 1 to 10 – a relatively simple concept – and illustrates how those base 10 numbers contribute to greater and greater moments that make up our world. The message at the heart of the book is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that each of those parts are connected to one another. It’s a great book to explain the beginnings of early math concepts, and can be a book you can turn to as readers progress in their education to explain exponents, part/whole relationships, fractions, or more. All of these concepts come back to cooperation, kindness, and unity, making this a positive, upbeat read all around. Colorful digital artwork shows a wealth of illustrations, with an ever-present cast of diverse children and animals bringing the concepts to life. Back matter includes sources and resources, additional reading, and more stats on how the world adds up.

We Are One: How the World Adds Up has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Redlocks and the Three Bears flips fairy tales for fun

Redlocks and the Three Bears, by Claudia Rueda, (Nov. 2021, Chronicle Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781452170312

Ages 3-5

Claudia Rueda’s newest story is a sweet, humorous take on Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Bears, and that old trope of the Big Bad Wolf. Mama Bear is just about to get the porridge on the table when a knock sounds at the Bear Family’s door: it’s Little Red Riding Hood, and there’s a bear after her! Baby Bear convinces his parents to give Red some shelter; porridge is eaten, chairs get broken, a bed is too soft… but is the Big Bad Wolf really that bad? Redlocks takes a compassionate look at the maligned image of the Big Bad Wolf, who always finds himself in trouble throughout fairy tales, and offers readers some food for thought on how bad reputations can hurt.

The story offers a fun take on the Goldilocks story, with Little Red Riding Hood taking on some of Goldie’s actions in the story; narrated by Baby Bear, we get an empathetic storyteller who just wants to make others feel better. Colored pencil illustrations are soft and use warm colors with expressive characters and gentle movement moving the action forward. Mama’s porridge recipe is part of the back endpapers, and looks like it was written by Baby Bear himself.

A fun cameo from The Three Little Pigs and a twist ending will have readers chuckling, and the easy-to-read, unfussy storytelling is great for a readaloud. Grab your flannels for Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Bears, and The Three Little Pigs for this one!

Visit Claudia Rueda’s author website for more of her illustration work and information about her workshops.

Posted in picture books

Seasons Readings: The Robin & The Fir Tree

The Robin & The Fir Tree, by Hans Christian Andersen/retold & illustrated by Jason Jameson, (Nov. 2021, Templar), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536220025

Ages 4-8

Jason Jameson retells the classic Hans Christian Andersen story of The Fir Tree, spinning into a bittersweet tale of friendship, loss, and rebirth. A robin befriends a fir tree in a forest, but the fir tree has dreams of being freed from his roots and traveling, discovering a larger purpose in the world. When the tree is chosen to be the centerpiece in a town square’s Christmas festival, he is delighted, but Robin is scared: where will they take her friend? Jason Jameson deepens the friendship aspect of Andersen’s story by making the relationship between Robin and Fir Tree the heart of the story. He adds lyrical beauty to the story with phrases like, “He (the fir tree) yawned, stretched, and shook off his cobweb-lace pajamas”; and describes how the robin and fireflies decorate the tree with golden ribbon from the town fair; he touches on the disposability of the holiday season as he describes the rough treatment the tree receives when the town’s children mob for their gifts, and how callously he’s bound and tossed into a shed for disposal. The story reminds us that a tree is a living thing; a part of nature that houses forest creatures. The Robin & The Fir Tree is exquisitely illustrated with graphite pencil and digital illustration, with deep red, greens, golds, and browns and European-inspired folk art. A lovely retelling.

Posted in picture books

Julia’s House comes to the end of its journey with Julia’s House Goes Home

Julia’s House Goes Home, by Ben Hatke (Oct. 2021, First Second), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250769329

Ages 4-8

The third book in the Julia’s House series will tug at heartstrings. The last time readers saw Julia’s house, in last year’s Julia’s House Moves On,the house had sprouted wings and was flying; Julia’s plans in the literal air. Now, the house lands, but takes a terrible tumble and rolls away, leaving Julia holding only the sign from her door! As she tries to track down the house, she gathers her Lost Creature friends, who’ve all been tossed and tumbled as the house bounced away, but just when she thinks she’s found the house, she makes a distressing discovery. Can she and her friends make things right again? A touching close to the Julia’s House trilogy, Julia’s House Goes Home shows a maturing Julia; a main character who’s gone from always having a plan, to learning that it’s okay to throw your plans out the window and just live in the moment, to having your plans fall apart in front of you – and having your friends be there to catch you when you fall. Readers familiar with Ben Hatke’s books will delight in seeing familiar monster friends and a wink to his 2016 story, Nobody Likes a Goblin. Watercolor artwork gives a moving, wistful, yet comforting feel to the story, and the back endpapers offer a sweet epilogue to sharp-eyed readers. I really loved reading all three books together. It’s a very gentle story that unfolds and invites you in to spend some time with it.

You can follow Ben Hatke’s Instagram for more of his artwork.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

A Kind of Spark is an incredible must-read

A Kind of Spark, by Elle McNicoll, (Oct. 2021, Crown Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9780593374252

Ages 8-12

An award-winning debut middle grade novel that debuted in the UK last year, A Kind of Spark is the kind of book the educators, parents and caregivers, and kids need to read and discuss together.

Addie is an autistic girl with a teacher who loves reading and learning, but she’s stuck with a teacher who sees her neurodivergence as being rebellious and lazy. She’s verbally abusive to Addie, as she was to Addie’s older sister, Keedie. Addie is targeted by both Mrs. Murphy, her teacher, and by Emily, a fellow student; her fellow students, including her former friend, all look the other way during these painful bullying sessions, but new girl Audrey arrives and befriends Addie, enjoying her for who she is. When the class learns that their small Scottish town once tried and executed a number of young women as witches, it sparks a visceral reaction in Addie. What if these women were misunderstood? What if they were like her? The lesson becomes a personal crusade for Addie, who campaigns for the town to install a memorial to these misunderstood women, with Keedie and Audrey providing the support she needs.

There is so much in this book. At times painful and enraging, it remains a book that needs reading and discussing. Told from the point of view of a neurodivergent character, written by a neurodivergent author, A Kind of Spark encourages empathy and understanding by providing a first-person perspective. It addresses the bullying and abuse that neurodivergent people are susceptible to, but it also points the finger at bystanders who don’t speak out and takes on those who should be there to support and protect students – like caregivers and educators – who are lacking. The bond between Keedie and Addie is heart-warming, and their discussions on “masking” – acting neurotypical in order to fit in – are thought-provoking and a wake-up call. An incredible book that is a must-add, must-read, to all collections.

A Kind of Spark has a starred review from School Library Journal. There are a wealth of autism and neurodivergence resources available: the NEA has a guide for educators; the Organization for Autism Research has a Kit for Kids to help create allies rather than bullies and a Teacher’s Corner for educators; the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network has resources and an article on what makes an ally, and Autism Classroom News and Resources has a free resources library with materials and webinars. Author Elle McNicoll’s website has links to her blog and more information about her books.

The BBC is going to be bringing A Kind of Spark to the screen – now, we folx in the U.S., wait.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Blog Tour: A Christmas Too Big!

Thanksgiving arrives this week, and you know what that brings… the Christmas Blitz! Are you ready? Yes? No? Well, there’s a book for that:

A Christmas Too Big, by Colleen Madden, (Nov. 2021, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781542028004

Ages 4-8

A Christmas Too Big arrives with perfect timing. Our narrator, Kerry, is a young girl happily making a fall leaf craft when she realizes it: “The day after Thanksgiving, my family goes TOTALLY BERSERK with CHRISTMAS”. Comics panels reveal the frenetic excitement with which her family embraces Christmas: the holiday songs that start even before Thanksgiving, given full reign the day after; the TV shows on every single channel; the decorations, the commercials, it’s all too much – Christmas is just too big! Going out to clear her head, Kerry lends a helping hand to her Spanish-speaking neighbor, Mrs. Flores, who invites her in for some hot cocoa. The two spend the afternoon quietly making colorful paper flores de Navidad, and enjoying a quiet, handmade holiday afternoon. Kerry helps Mrs. Flores use her Christmas gift from her family, living in Mexico, and decides to introduce some of her happy holiday traditions at home, too.

The story is so perfect for this time of year, which can be stressful and overwhelming for everyone, especially kids who don’t feel like they get a chance to transition from one season or holiday to the next. The story also provides a welcome answer to the mass commercialization of the holiday, offering a quieter, more meaningful alternative to Kerry – and to families who may seek something less slick and shiny. The use of Spanish and English to tell Mrs. Flores’s story adds real meaning to our multicultural world and how kindness stretches across languages. Bilingual endpapers showing different objects we associate with Christmas, like fancy presents (regalos elegantes) and manoplas (mittens) introduce new vocabulary. A flores de Navidad craft at the end is perfect for a post-storytime craft (that I will absolutely be introducing in my library).

Colleen Madden grew up in a crazy Christmas house and, like Kerry, she found a break by spending time with her neighbor who was from another country. She has illustrated many children’s books, including the bestselling What If Everybody? series, written by Ellen Javernick, and the picture-book adaptation of All I Want for Christmas Is You, by Mariah Carey. She recently published Monkey Walk, her debut as both author and illustrator, and is currently working on her first graphic novel. She lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and two sons.

 

“An intergenerational friendship and a busy holiday made meaningful set this title apart.” Kirkus Reviews

“Madden’s bilingual tale strikes both humorous and poignant notes; the visual blend of comic-style panels, playful fonts, speech bubbles in both English and Spanish, and traditional spreads offers readers plenty to celebrate.” Publishers Weekly

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads

Life in the Muddle: Middle School, Muddle School

Muddle School, by Dave Whamond, (Sept. 2021, Kids Can Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781525304866

Ages 9-13

Based on author/illustrator Dave Whamond’s own middle school experiences (with photos as proof!), Muddle School is all about Dave, an artistic kid who starts Muddle School: middle school in a town called Muddle. Think that’s bad? He’s also the new kid. He’s also the kid whose mom has him wear a blue leisure suit on the first day. Poor Dave can’t catch a break: he’s beaten up by bullies on his first day; he blows an accidental snot bubble during class, and his secret crush is revealed, all in record time. As he helps his classmate, Chad, work on a science fair project – a time machine! – Dave starts thinking this is the ticket to retconning his entire middle school experience thus far; he could go back in time and fix everything before he becomes the bully target with a runny nose, right?

Cartoon drawings, narrated by a first-person character who’s lovably awkward and self-deprecating, this is another hilarious addition to middle grade and middle school kidlit. Kids are going to see themselves in Dave; they’ll cringe at his most cringey moments, and they’ll wonder about making their own time machines, and what they could undo. Muddle School sums up the muddle that is tween life for readers, complete with hopelessly out of touch parents (Hey!) and language teachers who pretend not to hear you if you’re not speaking the language they’re teaching: even if there’s a zombie right behind them. A hilarious look at self-preservation and perseverance.

Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

YA Crossover potential: Fan Club by Erin Mayer

Fan Club, by Erin Mayer, (Oct. 2021, Mira), $16.99, ISBN: 9780778311591

Ages 16+

A young woman falls into obsessive fandom in this novel with YA/new adult interests. Fan Club follows a first-person narrator who’s bored with her life working at a women’s lifestyle website until the night she hears a new song by pop star Adriana Argento. The song speaks to hear like nothing she’s heard before, and becomes obsessed with the star, ultimately falling into an online fandom where fans obsess over Argento’s every Instagram post, song lyrics, and appearances. A coworkers invites her to join her group of Adriana superfans who call themselves “The Ivies”; a group of young women who gather to listen to her music and talk about the star, her life and career, with eerie, almost cult-like devotion. As she becomes more mired in the group, the narrator discovers a horrible secret about the women – but is she too far gone to pull away?

Fan Club is so timely in its depiction of our celebrity-obsessed society and social media, toxic, and obsessive fandom culture. It’s not a character-driven book; readers may recognize character archetypes, but this read is purely about the big picture. Acerbic, dark humor takes aim at pop culture and makes this a read your teen and young adult/new adults will devour. Display and booktalk with Megan Angelo’s Followers and Goldy Moldavsky’s Kill the Boy Band.

 

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Big Issues for middle schoolers: Violets are Blue

Violets are Blue, by Barbara Dee, (Oct. 2021, Aladdin), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534469181

Ages 9-13

Wren is a 12-year-old going through a difficult time when her parents split at the same time as she’s going through a split of her own, with her frenemy at school. She loses herself in special effects makeup videos on YouTube, which provide an escape for her, and discovers that she’s pretty good at making new looks – and new personalities – to try on. When her mom decides to up and move to a new town for a fresh start for them both, she welcomes the chance to start over. She makes a new friend and finds herself chosen to be the makeup artist for her new school’s upcoming production of Wicked. And she discovers that she actually kind of likes her new stepmom – as long as she doesn’t let on to her mom, who makes her feel guilty. The thing is, Wren’s mom isn’t doing well at all. She’s sleeping a lot; she’s put a lock on her door, and she’s not always where she says she is – especially work – and her stories aren’t matching up. Wren knows something is going on with her mom, but she doesn’t know exactly what, only that her mom gets angry at her if she even tries to talk to her. It’s only during Wicked‘s opening performances that Wren realizes something is very wrong with her mom, and that the new life she’s been trying so hard to build is set on a very thin foundation.

Barbara Dee is an incredible middle grade writer who gets to the heart of social issues tweens are dealing with. In Maybe He Just Likes You (2019), she examined the sexual harassment of young girls that begins in middle school and earlier, and how girls’ voices are brushed off as being “dramatic” or “unable to take a joke”. My Life in the Fish Tank (2020) saw a middle school girl dealing with a sibling’s mental illness, and Halfway Normal (2017) is about a middle school girl returning to school after undergoing cancer treatment. But Ms. Dee realizes that the one Big Issue isn’t the Only Issue, so she creates layered, complex stories of the overwhelming crush of events and emotions that make up the life of a middle schooler: friends (or lack thereof); crushes, relationships with family members. Here, in Violets are Blue, Wren is navigating middle school relationships while being in the middle of her parents’ divorce, her mother’s depression and opioid addiction, and the complicated feelings she has about her father and his new family. What a phenomenal read – Barbara Dee is just amazing.