February 11, 2009

My new read-aloud class

A lot of us Lexile folks at MetaMetrics have been teachers at one time or another, and some of us still keep a foot in the classroom. This afternoon I started leading a weekly afterschool reading group for struggling kindergarteners and first graders at my daughter's elementary school.

My daughter is teaching it with me. We choose a couple of good picture books (I look for books with the AD, or adult-directed, code) that have some thematic relationship, and then we come up with a craft or writing project to go with the theme. Our table and floor are covered with kid books right now, as we try to winnow our selections down.

Today we read William Steig's "Sylvester and the Magic Pebble" (AD700L), and then "The Pebble in My Pocket" by Meredith Hooper (560L). I also brought along some of my childhood rock collection (yes, I am a pack rat) so our kids could see some strange crystals, and see pumice float in the classroom sink, and run their fingers along the sharpened edge of a chert, and so forth. And then we colored some landscaping stones with markers and glued plastic eyeballs on them.

My goal is to have a fun reading experience with kids, above any real instruction. We stopped at a couple spots in the Sylvester story to make predictions about how it would turn out. I want, also, to always have a nonfiction title so that I can make information books fun. My guys today complained about reading the Hooper book when I first showed it to them but then were pushing each other out of the way to see the pictures and interrupt with facts they knew about volcanoes and dinosaurs.

I like William Steig's books a lot (we brought "Doctor De Soto" but didn't get around to reading it) because the stories are not simplistic and also because he uses some good vocabulary. We did mini-lessons on the words "cease," "embrace," and "bud." The Lexile code AD is perfect for this -- none of my guys is reading anywhere near 700L. But they're hungry for good stories. An AD book well above their Lexile level will look like those story books that they want to read, and will hold their attention, but will also have some vocabulary and sentence structures that simply don't exist in the books they're reading for school at their ability levels.

It was a lot of fun, and I'm sorry that we're only meeting once a week. Every kid went home with a smile, a new pet rock (see below), and the meaning of the word "embrace" fresh in their heads.

-- posted by Chris Vitiello

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