Just Read This – March 2020 #COVID-19 edition

monthly literacy reading newsletterMarch was quite the month! Our worlds – and our kids universes – were (and continue to be) topsy-turvy.

With schools closed, parents and caregivers have been pushed to step into shoes that don’t feel comfortable: being an educator.

It may help to remember this: we have always been our kids first teacher. We may not stand in front of a classroom, but we know how our children learn, what excites them, and what takes a little extra encouragement to get the job done. You got this!

Welcome new readers to Just Read This, our monthly roundup of literacy-related news and tips. We’ve retooled this edition to connect and support you during these days of the School of Mom and Dad. This month, instead of reading and book suggestions, we’ve built a bookmark-worthy collection learning-at-home resources.

Our goal is to help you tap into the knowledge and expertise you have, and complement that not just with educational material for the kids, but encouragement and support for you, too!

What is Book Leveling?

With the pandemic, you’ve become your child’s personal librarian. But how to pick the right book? Odds are that you have heard – either from your teacher or your child – what “level” reader she is. As a conscientious parent, you want to make sure you pick books that are on the right level. But what does that mean?

The purpose for a book level is to help teachers look analytically at the materials they use with their students. It is a tool that can help them organize students into small groups with readers who have similar skill levels. These  systems (or frameworks) use different methods for evaluating text and representing its readability. The Fountas and Pinnell Guided Reading Level System, for example, use an alphabet gradient from A to Z; The Lexile® Framework for Reading uses a numeric system; and then there is a Grade Level Equivalent system used by Scholastic.

Unfortunately, book level systems have gotten “personal.” Reading levels are being misused as badges of success or failure, as well as a determinant factor on what a child should or should not read. Labeling a reader in this way not only impacts their learning, but also their self-esteem. Reading was never intended to be a competitive sport.

Choosing a book by the level is not an authentic way of choosing books in the real world. Libraries don’t level books. Book stores don’t level books … It doesn’t serve our purpose of creating strong, lifelong readers who love to read. ~ Katie Keier, Catching Readers Before They Fall

There are some simple ways that you can better understand your child’s skill level and support them as they grow as readers. Our go-to is one you’ve probably heard of: the 5-finger rule [link to Reading Rockets]. If your child struggles to read 5 words on a page, it may be too difficult for them to read on their own.

Not being able to read it independently doesn’t mean the book is too hard, though. We grow our vocabulary through words we hear, so maybe this is a book you partner read, or maybe you read, so they can listen, and they follow the words with their fingers.

This just in: Jackie Mader speaks to the perils of relying on leveling in this article for the Hechinger Report: What Parents Need to Know about the Research on How Kids Learn to Read (March 30, 2020).

News to Use

Headline: How to Home School During Coronavirus by Katherine Hill, New York Times

Parents who are pros at packing lunches and juggling sports practices may feel overwhelmed at the thought of managing students’ school days at home … As families step into teaching roles, it’s crucial to treat inevitable missteps as learning opportunities. 

Impact: Sudden, drastic changes are hard for everyone. The emotional impact will show itself in different ways, at different times, maybe when you least expect it. I chose this article over myriad others because Ms. Hill shares the trials and errors within her own family, offers some tips for filling a different teaching role, and (most importantly) reminds you to be kind to yourself, too!

coronavirus NPR educationHeadline: How to Turn Your Home Into a School Without Losing Your Sanity (COMIC) by Anya Kamenetz and illustrated by LA Johnson, NPR

Find a couple of resources that work and build from there. Prioritize your kid’s greatest need and then their biggest interest or passion. Look for resources that will keep them connected to their real-life community … friends are volunteering to lead activities like story time and craft sessions.

Impact: This graphic is a visual illustration of an article on NPR’s Life Kit. What I love about the piece is that it reminds us that it takes a village, no matter what the circumstances may be. Like the NYT article above, it reinforces the importance of being ourselves and being flexible.

Read On …

Brick-and-mortar bookstores and libraries are closed, and you want to keep your kids reading. But how? Here are three sources for new books for your “students.”

  • Check your library’s online catalog. Many libraries have book collections that can be borrowed digitally.
  • Bookstores are filling online orders and shipping to your home.
  • Try audiobooks. Audible has free streaming of audiobooks for children. Books are available in 6 languages.

One of the most amazing things to come out of the pandemic is the effort authors, illustrators, and publishers are putting into ensuring that kids have access to learning opportunities. Every day there are more streaming videos of authors reading aloud (yes, YA novels, too); illustrators hosting learn-to-draw classes or asking young readers for ideas; and authors hosting virtual author visits.

These are just a few of the amazing resources that I’ve been bookmarking. If you have a fave, please add it in the comments.

As new opportunities arise, I share them via Twitter: @TheReadingTub

The times they are a changing, and there are very real reasons to worry. But, there are also reasons for joy. Let today be the day when we seize the opportunity to do what we always say we don’t have time for: slowing down and connecting with our family.