Thursday, January 14, 2010


Dear Friends,

Today I think I was the lone secondary educator in the Tech Atrium at Copper Hills High - until Carolyn arrived, anyway. I was SURROUNDED by elementary teachers, literacy facilitators, principals, and assistant principals.

Holding tight to a microphone, Dr. Tim Rasinski belted out, "You're a grand old flag; you're a high-flyin' flag ...". From the JumboScreen, the song's lyrics shone down upon the rows of educators, and by the 3rd line, many voices joined in singing - including mine. At the end of the song, the volume had increased, and I couldn't help but applaud and holler, "Whoot, WhOOt, WHOOT!"

Even in a room full of elementary folk, I was the only one thus inspired to cheer, and so I hastily slumped down into the plastic chair. As I thought about the incident, I realized it wasn't just the spontaneous community sing that stirred up my enthusiasm; it was interacting with a passionate, knowledgeable, AND entertaining educator/researcher! (A researcher ENTERTAINING? Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it?)

Dr. Rasinski is a literacy ROCK STAR who sings the REAL, REAL oldies, and who is BEST known for his work in fluency and word work. Because of the correlation between both areas to comprehension, I was especially interested to attend the meeting arranged by JSD's Kathy Wittke and Scholastic, Inc.

Peppering his presentation with the perfect balance of research information and great ideas, Dr. R. shared instructional tools that support students in building fluency AND vocabulary. Among these are singing, choral readings and poetry recitations, readers theater, word building, and word ladders.

Back in the day, teachers required students to memorize poetry . I always thought the purpose was to scare the heck out of kids, but it was probably meant to help us appreciate poetry. I don't know if another purpose was to build fluency, but it also achieves that goal!

When I taught The Outsiders, I assigned students to memorize and recite "Nothing Gold Can Stay." What I did NOT emphasize was reciting the poem with expression or prosody (a fancy "learning-to-read" word for "reading with expression.") I didn't stress that part of the assignment because I didn't realize how repeated/practiced reading and expressive recitation could help build fluency. AND I didn't know about the correlation between fluency and comprehension.

Another reason I didn't push reciting with expression is because of the students who would rather die than recite poetry in front of their peers. So what do you do?
  • Assign students to work and present in pairs to other pairs or small groups that include the teacher.
  • Turn the poem or even the TEXT BOOK PASSAGE into a CHORAL READING just by having all or groups of students recite the words in unison - either formally or informally. (Dr. Rasinksi recommends content area teachers do this, too. Primary documents, biographies of great scientists, etc. can turn into some dynamic oral presentations.)
  • Opt for readers theater instead or in addition. These are popular with students, BUT one cold read is the same as round robin reading. AND you know how heartily I DON'T recommend THAT! 
  • To review how Dr. R. develops these lessons, click HERE
Before the month is out, I will write about the word work ideas Dr. Rasinski shared. I CHEERED again when he plugged the importance of learning Greek and Latin roots, pre- and suffixes. Such study is REALLY a BARGAIN: students learn about 30 words for EACH root! So cool.

I don't want to leave without sharing a link to "From Phonics to Fluency: Effective and Engaging Instruction to Two Critical Areas of the Reading Curriculum." Please don't let the word PHONICS scare you away. Yes, there are pages that definitely target the elementary teacher audience, but Dr. Rasinski works with middle school teachers and students, too, so peruse the pages, and you will be rewarded with lots of very helpful and engaging ideas!

In the meantime, HAVE A TERRIFIC DAY today and EVERY day!

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