Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What is the AR (Accelerated Reader) program?

"I keep hearing about AR or Accelerated Reader. What exactly is it?"

Accelerated Reader is a computer program that allows children to take quizzes (short tests) on books they have read. Each child takes his/her own quiz, using his/her user name and password (student ID number).

Mrs. Rausch, our school's librarian, maintains our Accelerated Reader program. She labels all of the library books that correspond with the AR program and also has computers in the library that can be used to access the AR quizzes.

How does it work?
A child selects a book with an AR label within their Reading Zone (see below). After the book has been read, the corresponding quiz can be taken on the computer. The child types in his/her user name and password into the AR program. Next, he/she types in the book title and author's name in order to take the correct quiz. The quiz is in a multiple-choice format, requiring the child to read through each answer. When the quiz is completed, instant feedback is received in the form of a percentage, including an opportunity to see which questions were answered incorrectly. Points are awarded for passing a quiz.

Why is the AR a good program?
Research studies show that one of the best ways to increase reading ability, fluency, and comprehension is to read! When a child reads within his/her own reading level/zone, then improvement is most noticeable when reading books within that particular zone. Instant feedback is a high motivator for children.

What is my child's "Reading Zone?"

The "Zone of Proximal Development" (ZPD) refers to the ideal reading level range within which your child should select books. In Kindergarten, your child may be reading books up through the 1.8 levels. (0.3, 0.6, 1.2, etc.).

Traditionally, Kindergartners do not participate in the Accelerated Reader program here at Thorpe. Once we begin working on our reading skills in Room 28 (January–February), and have learned quite a few High Frequency Sight Words, the children will be able to read the books at the beginning AR levels. I will request that the children in my class be permitted to participate in AR so as to be able to become familiar with using the program. Points earned as a Kindergartner will be counted in the 1st grade year. It's all a big PLUS!

How is my child's reading level determined?
In 1st grade your child will take a test to determine a specific grade-level equivalent. For example, a level of 2.6 means that on the test, your child read and answered questions at the level of an average student in the sixth month of 2nd grade.

How can I determine if a book falls within my child's Reading Zone?
Most of the books from our school library are marked with the reading level and point value on the book spine as well as on the front cover. Not all books are AR-You may also visit the AR website to search for any book level on-line.

Click here ARBookFind
to browse all AR titles. Just type in the title (or author) of the book and click Go! to see if the book is an AR book. If it is, information will show up. You can click on the book's title and LOTS of information, including the AR level will show up. If the book is NOT an AR book, a message stating No matches found, please try again will come up. Remember, for Kindergarten, your child should be reading books with levels up to 1.8 (1st grade, 8th month).

I hear there are 'points.' What are they and what do you do with them?
Points are assigned to each AR book based on its length and level of difficulty. Children earn points based on their percentage correct on each quiz. Beginning in 1st grade, some teachers may even assign point goals for their students, however, most teachers focus on whether children are passing at 80% or above.

In Kindergarten, the goal is simply to read and enjoy reading!

(Special note: The points earned in Kindergarten do carry on to 1st grade! This means any points your child accrues in Kindergarten will be carried over to 1st grade and added to the points earned in 1st grade. Woo-hoo!)

Why would my child fail an AR quiz?

Uh oh...Perhaps he/she read the book too quickly or was not concentrating while reading. Maybe the book was near the high-end of his/her reading zone. It may be necessary to encourage your child to find a book closer to his/her reading zone.

Can students take quizzes on books above his/her reading zone?
AR quizzes are designed to test children on details found in books. When a child is reading a book with a level that is above his/her ability level, he/she may be concentrating more on decoding words and sentences and may lose the underlying meaning of what's being read.

Can my child take quizzes on books that are below his/her reading zone?
Yes! We all love to read books that are at our interest level. Some of these books are easy for us to read, and that is okay. To grow as a reader, however, children should challenge themselves with books that contain more difficult text. Children may take tests that are below their reading level, but parents should be concerned if children are reading a lot of "easy" books. The ultimate goal of AR is to motivate children to become good readers.

Are there AR quizzes for picture books?
Absolutely! There are quizzes for many picture books, many with reading levels as high as 5th or 6th grade.

Encourage your child to read. Set aside time every single day to read a book or to read from a book. Getting into the habit of reading daily now will help your child's educational success.

Can I find out what my child has done in the AR program?
Sure! If you want to see just how many points your child has accrued, what his/her latest 'grade' is, what book he/she recently took a quiz on, etc. then you can do this quite easily. The Renaissance Place Home Connect web-page provides all sorts of cool information; you can even print out a record of the books your child has read (the 'bookshelf').

All you need to know is your child's user name and password (user names will be sent home for homework). The password will be your child's student ID number.

To access AR Home Connect, click on ARHomeConnect

If your child cannot remember his/her AR user name or password (student ID), please email Mrs.S-S

Reading Fluency: What is it?

As your Kindergartner begins learning the High Frequency Words, the exciting thing is that a whole new world suddenly 'opens up'—that of reading! A variety of books written by authors such as Dr. Seuss, make reading exciting for beginning readers. All of that work in learning those High Frequency Sight Words is now beginning to pay off and have a purpose. Ahhh…

The next step is to develop what is called Reading Fluency. What is reading fluency? In a nutshell, it is three things:

  1. Accuracy & Automaticity: reading words like the High Frequency Words automatically while reading text
  2. Rate: reading at a smooth and steady speed
  3. Prosody: reading with 'feeling' (using appropriate intonation, pauses, etc. when reading aloud)
Beginning readers are forced to read slowly because they have to decode words they don't know. Listening to a beginning reader and that choppy oral reading can make parents clench their fists under the table and want to scream (don't do it! Look at all the effort that's taking place here!). It is difficult for a listener…there is no melodic tone, the rate is inconsistent, and later, when asked questions about what was read, guess what. The child often cannot answer any comprehension questions. Why? All that decoding took up so much energy that this is where the focus was.

So, children who have developed reading fluency gain reading comprehension! Fluent readers do not have to concentrate on decoding words and can focus on what the sentence means instead of the laborious task of figuring out each word. The reader can connect the ideas that are in the words! Wow!

Does reading fluency ensure comprehension? No, of course not. It can definitely help, though, because without fluency, comprehension is going to become difficult (think of it this way: if you can't read a passage, will you be able to figure out what was in it?). Does knowing just the High Frequency Sight Words ensure comprehension? Absolutely not! How about being able to decode words? Nope. So, what can we do to help children develop reading fluency? Read on…

First, know that reading fluency takes T-I-M-E. It develops gradually and won't happen overnight. And, it requires PRACTICE…regular practice. Just like learning to walk or drive or anything else, regular practice is critical. And, there are many ways to go about the practice and no one way is going to be THE way either. The following are things that can be done at home. Your child's teacher can provide others and will also be using methods at school.

*IMPORTANT NOTE: Do NOT force your child nor expect your child to become a FAST reader. Speed is not the most important component of reading fluency! Reading fluency is not a contest!

Home Practice Activities for Reading Fluency
  • Word List Practice: Print out a copy of your child's High Frequency Sight Words. Using a timer or stopwatch, have your child read the words aloud for one minute. Say, "STOP" when the one-minute time is up. Count the number of words that were read correctly. Graph the number. Do this every day, graphing the number of words that were correctly read in one minute. Later, revise the list so the words are in a different order and do it again.
  • Word Phrase Practice: Just like with the Word List Practice, print out a copy of the Word Phrase List. Have your child read the phrases, timing the reading for one minute. Count up the number of words that were read correctly. Graph the number. Do this every day.
  • Read a Poem: Find a poem (some of my faves poems by: Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack Prelutsky, Mother Goose, …). First, the adult reads it aloud, demonstrating how a fluent reader sounds. Then, have the child read it. Read it together for the 3rd time. Read this same for every day for one week. Find a new poem the next week and repeat.
  • Read a Story: Find an easy-to-read story that is at your child's reading level. The adult reads the story first, demonstrating how a fluent reader sounds. Then, have the child read it. Each day for one week, repeat this activity. Switch to a new book.
  • Books on Tape/MP3 player/CD: Find a book and and read it, recording the reading onto a tape/MP3/CD. The child can now read along using the book and listening to the story being read by a fluent reader. As the child follows along, reading either aloud or silently, he/she is able to see and hear the words. The child should read with the book for one week. Record a new book for the next week.

Journal Writing: What it looks like

In Kindergarten there are many different teaching techniques and strategies when it comes to the writing process. There are also many differing views on how writing should be taught (and whether or not it should be taught!). For our purposes, we write almost daily in our journals in our class in what I term 'focused journal writing.

In the beginning of the school year the children start off by copying a sentence and corresponding illustration. As the year progresses, they copy the sentence but the illustration is their own. Towards the end of the year, both sentence(s) and illustration are all independently constructed.

There are several important 'components' within each journal writing. The date is written at the top of the page (although at the beginning of the school year a date stamp is used). The picture should contain a setting if a setting is possible for the sentence.

At this time of the year, each page of the journal should begin looking like this:

where the first name is clearly written along the left-hand side and the date is written along the right-hand side in the format shown. If possible, children should begin to write their first and last names.

The sentence would then begin directly under the name, like this:

Using Thinking Maps helps children to organize their thoughts prior to writing sentences. We will be using Circle Maps and Tree Maps to help write sentences. Some samples have been included on the website. For home practice, generating Thinking Maps will be helpful as children are familiar with this type of graphic organizer. They can also utilize their High Frequency Word flash cards or any other 'room' clues that are beneficial to them.

Regular writing opportunities demonstrates the importance and power of words. It also shows that words have meaning. Using journal writing paper, which is paper with space at the top for an illustration, incorporates the addition of a visual cue.

Kindergartners should also illustrate their sentences/work. Their illustrations are much like those found in picture books: they also help to 'tell the story.'

Regular focused journal writing can help children encourage and develops their spelling and creativity. If done at home, perhaps making a special binder of their work will show just how special the writing is!

Practice those words!

One of the daily tasks that should be included during 'homework time' is the practice of the High Frequency Sight Words (HFW for short). It doesn't take a long time to practice the words; in fact, spending about 2–3 minutes several times a day is MUCH better than sitting and practicing them straight for ten or twenty! Here are some simple ideas that will help your child learn his/her words.

  1. Make an extra set of flash cards. Download the template for the words your child needs and make that extra set.
  2. Test your child. Separate the cards into two piles: the ones that are known and those that are NOT known. Only have your child practice the words that are NOT known.
  3. Write the words on Post-it notes. Put the notes in the bathroom. Whenever it is bath time, go over the words.
  4. Make a set of the cards of the NOT known words and put them on the car seat back in front of your child. As you are driving, the words are staring at your child's face! You can ask him/her to read them to you.
  5. Carry a set in your purse (if you carry a purse). When you have to wait in line at the grocery store/bank/restaurant/etc. take the cards out and review.
  6. Buy some soap crayons and write the words in the bathtub. Have your child read them to you during bath time.
It doesn't take much!

High Frequency Sight Words

During each trimester of Kindergarten the children are introduced to new High Frequency Sight Words (HFW). The California content standards call for the children to be able to read (identify) at least 30 words by the end of the school year. Special 'Word Wizard' awards are given at each trimester awards presentation to those children who can read above and beyond the expected quantity of words!

In the 1st trimester, the minimum number of words to read is ten (10) but Word Wizard awards are given to those who read 15. In our class, 35 words were introduced the 1st trimester.

In the 2nd trimester the minimum number of words to read is 20 but the award is only given those who can read 35 words. For the 2nd trimester, 80 words can be found on the front of the new homework folder. Slowly, the new word flash cards will be coming home (and can also be downloaded on the website).

The 3rd trimester is the most challenging–although the minimum required for achieving the standard is being able to identify 30 words, the award is given to those who can read 50 words!

High Frequency Sight Words are those words that are commonly used in written work and encountered when reading. There are several 'lists' available but the one we are using in our classroom incorporates the words from the Open Court Reading program as well as the approved list of words for Kindergarten.

Replacing Sounds

Rhyming is a phonemic awareness skill we will be working on throughout the school year. This is when we replace the onset (first or initial sound) and keep the rime (ending). For example, if the rime is -un, we could add the onset /s/ to -un and get the word sun. If we change the /s/ to /f/, the new word is fun. This is called 'replacing the initial (or beginning) sound.'

Practicing this skill is an important one for children who are learning to read. In fact, Dr. Seuss was well-known for making up silly, nonsensical words that rhyme simply by using this particular technique when writing his children's books (do you remember how the 'Gink likes to drink pink ink?' or that 'Mr. Wump has a Gump with a hump?'). At the end of the year and into 1st grade, children learn what is called 'Word Families' which are basically words that have have the same rime (ending).

The following would be in the same 'family' of words: sun, bun, gun, run, fun, nun

We practice replacing the initial sound in an almost game-like way for a few minutes each day. Similar to the way we practice blending compound words together, the same format is used. Both hands are placed palms up and separated by about 12-inches in front. The initial or beginning (first) sound goes in one hand (for the child, it goes in the left hand but for the teacher, who is in front of the child, it goes in the right hand) and the rime or ending sound goes in the other hand. Bring both hands together to blend the sounds together. /s/ -un = sun

To replace the /s/ we 'throw the /s/ away by tossing it over the shoulder (miming this motion) and place a new sound in the palm of the hand and repeat.
/f/ -un = fun.

The same technique is used to replace ending sounds but the key here is to over-enunciate the sounds. Why? MOST people do not speak very clearly and in particular, tend to slur and not clearly pronounce the endings of words. For children who are learning English, this can make learning ending sounds extremely difficult as they don't 'hear' the sounds! This means that when practicing this particular activity, it is critical to not only be clear but to really over-emphasize the ending.

It isn't necessary to utilize rhyming words to practice replacing the final (or ending) sounds. In fact, it may just confuse the child if you do so use other words instead. Be careful to use words that end in consonants as if you use words that end in vowels you are more likely to have a child who will look quite muddled! Simple consonant-vowel-consonant (c-v-c) words are best. Words such as dog, hat, mud, pig, etc. are good to use in the beginning.

Try the following: pi- /g/ = pig pi- /t/ pi- /l/ pi- /p/

Note that in the beginning, children will often spout out rhyming words! This is natural because they are so familiar with trying to make up rhymes…it will take a bit of prompting to get the focus on the ending sounds.

Keep at it as this is such an important part in laying the foundation for phonemic awareness.