Monday, September 1, 2014

Reaching Reluctant Teen Readers

Reaching Reluctant Teen Readers
by David Riley

‘What’s the name of the book we’ve been reading all term, Jonah?’
Empty stare.
‘How about I give you a clue? It starts with the letter “T”.’
‘How about you just give me any word that starts with the letter “T”? Can you do that, Jonah?’
‘Do you even know what the letter “T” looks like?’
‘Don’t mess with me Miss, you’ll regret it.’
‘Oh regret it, will I! Get out of my class, Jonah, I don’t want to see you in here. Get out, now!’ 
from TV series, Summer Heights High
I’m a high school Drama and English teacher here in South Auckland and I’ve worked with Polynesian students for 17 years. I love working with them!

But I have a lot of teacher friends, in NZ and in Australia, who find working with Polynesian young people to be a real challenge. Jonah Takalua to them is not a fictional creation – he’s a real kid in the back row!

One of the biggest challenges is finding ways to connect learning in class with these young people’s lives. As a teacher of literature, that includes finding stunning reading material.

Have you had this experience?

You show your students an inspirational film about reading by Dr. Ben Carson. Then you read them an article that explains how New Zealand Warriors league players read as part of their everyday lives.

You take them to the library to choose a book and watch as many of them wander around aimlessly. At the end of the library session they quickly grab anything from the shelf. In your heart you know the young person is not going to read that book.

It’s so important for us to remember that students with low literacy levels or little history of personal reading, need help to navigate most libraries. Years of failed reading comprehension tests have helped wire them to think that they can’t read.

Sadly, library experiences have often reinforced those feelings.

This book has an awesome cover!
Sure … but after reading the first paragraph, the glazed look on this student’s eyes show the language has defeated him.

Famous subject?
Definitely … but 500 pages of text?!

We have the biographies of Tana Umaga, Valerie Adams, Ruben Wiki, Jonah Lomu and other national sporting heroes in our school library. Our kids are keen to read about their heroes, and the books contain some incredible stories of achievement.

But mostly, those books stay on the library shelves.

Why? Because they’re written for adults.

Boys especially are often told they should read more. But where are the books written especially for them, about things they love and in language they can relate to?

I know that reluctant teen readers will read if they’re encouraged to believe they can be good readers, supported in their reading and if they can find captivating reading material that they can understand.

That’s what I’ve set out to do in a series of teaching resources and books written especially for them. For you. Parents, librarians and teachers - you can download free reading comprehension skills workbooks based on the All Blacks and the New Zealand Warriors from my website.

I have also begun writing a series of biographies of achievers in popular culture, beginning with Benji Marshall and Sonny Bill Williams. You can find out more about those books at my website too.

Two Year 11 boys visited my office recently, waving a copy of the Benji Marshall book. ‘This is the first book I’ve ever read right through!’ one said proudly.

A mum told me the Sonny Bill Williams book was the first book her son had voluntarily read by himself. Not only that, but he was giving his dad daily updates and having to hide it from Dad so he could finish it!

When young people experience success as readers we help them come to see reading as an amazing hobby, power and skill to have.

It’s a special feeling when you connect a book with a ‘reluctant’ reader. It’s almost as if you’re contributing to something life-changing for that young person.

As the late Maya Angelou said, “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”

Bio: David Riley is a respected New Zealand high school Drama and English teacher. His innovative teaching has been frequently referred to in research on educational theory and practice. David’s specialty is working with Polynesian students. He is also a published author who writes reading resources for teachers, parents and young people.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Using Comics for Information Reports

Using Comics for Information Reports
by Susan Stephenson,

When is a comic not a comic? When it’s an information report!

Comics have had bad press, little of it deserved in my opinion. If you’re a long-time reader of The Book Chook, you’re probably aware of the fact I think comics are a great way to lure reluctant readers and writers into trying reading and writing. Here are some ideas on how to use that comic style (images and captions/speech bubbles) to present information.

*Children for whom writing is a chore may find telling a story with captions or speech bubbles much more achievable. Kids who love drawing will readily embrace drawing their own illustrations. For others, a camera makes a great alternative. Children can set up scenes and photograph them for later adding to a template via software. The addition of captions and speech bubbles complements the message the images give. Narrative like this flows on into something more factual - an information report. In some respects, it’s still a story, but it’s a fact-based one. Kids can research information about a topic like Australian animals, then choose the most important information to present in comic format.

*When you’re looking for a way to give feedback to your local or school community on a special day or an excursion, the comic format is a succinct way to communicate with images and words. Kids love to take candid snaps and add captions and speech bubbles to photos too.

*With younger children, a collaborative creation of a report works well. Once images have been sourced, class members can suggest what captions and speech bubbles should say.

*Kids are motivated to report on books they’ve read when they use a combination of images and words in the comic format.

*The comic template is a format that scaffolds students who need help. It nudges them towards thinking about WHAT they want to communicate and HOW they will do that. Having a template of restricted panels, e.g. 4, means kids perceive their task as far more achievable than an essay or traditional information report. Please note: I’m not saying here that children don’t need to learn to write in paragraphs. I’m saying that for some kids, and many kids at some times, a comic can be a great way to present information. Comics really help children hone in on what is essential to communicate, a “tight writing” skill that is very handy to have.

*Because comics rely heavily on images, they can be an excellent choice in Science to explain a process or show a change e.g. a seed growing over time. Children can set up experiments and record their observations in words and images, then condense that information to relay it quickly to an audience.

*CC licensed images or ones in the public domain can be utilised by kids to report on history and geography topics. Otherwise they can draw/paint, and those illustrations can be scanned and added to software.

One of my favourite ways for kids to create comics is via software called Comic Life. I’ve used it recently in Children’s Book Review and Activities, Jeremy, plus in the model of a comic-style information report I'm sharing today. Comic Life is available for Mac and Windows, and it’s super easy to add and edit all sorts of images - perhaps ones the kids have drawn themselves, free CC licensed clipart, photos the kids have found online that are CC licensed, or photos the children have taken with a camera of some kind.

Kids can create comics with apps, too. Apps that you might like to try are Photo Comic, (iTunes, Google) Pic Collage (my review), Strip Designer (my review). Have kids get that comic “look” with apps/filters like Paper Camera, and ToonPaint. Add a multimedia dimension by using apps like Shadow Puppet, or 30 Hands to stitch images together to make a video, and add audio too. You might also like to read Telling Stories with iPad Apps ToonPaint and StripDesigner.

In conjunction with this post, I’m sharing a sample information report I made via Comic Life which you can see pictured below. I wanted an example of a process and decided on the lifestyle of the frog. Luckily, a friend had taken some wonderful photos of the mating of two white-lipped green tree frogs, and subsequent tadpoles and froglets. He gave me permission to share them with you. This is only an image of the PDF below, but you get to the free PDF download via my website.)

Kids can start with the actual PDF.  I’ve written text for the first panel. Children can add their own text to the blank boxes to explain the life cycle changes in the other pictures. Have them add numbers to show the progression - it’s pretty much left to right and top to bottom, but some kids might not realise this.

Better still, set up a camera if you are near a frog pond and take your own snaps. This is a great project for Springtime - and it’s almost Spring in Australia - YAY! If you have a small aquarium or pond, be sure to keep water clean. For these tadpoles, their favourite food was boiled bok choy. Get more information at Frog Safe.

+Deb Arcaro has some picture book suggestions for a froggy theme, and a neat craft activity. She has heaps more great ideas on her Pinterest board.

While engaging in all these activities, kids are collaborating with others, thinking both critically and creatively, and publishing their work to a wider audience. The bonus is, they’re having fun!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Children’s Book Review, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

Children's Book Review by Susan Stephenson,

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is a children’s picture book, written by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, and published by Walker Books, 1993.

From the publisher:
Go on a bear hunt and do the actions with this award-winning picture book classic.

Follow and join in the family's excitement as they wade through the grass, splash through the river and squelch through the mud in search of a bear. What a surprise awaits them in the cave on the other side of the dark forest.
Long before Rosen wrote this book, kids in schools were chanting and echoing “Let’s Go on a Bear Hunt”. Rosen has given it a new slant, adding some characters who think they’re brave, lots of lovely sound words, tension and a great rhythm.

Oxenbury has given real variety to the illustrations, with some in sketchy black and white and others in mellow colour. The format of the illustrations changes on the family’s run from the bear - instead of full page spreads, we get multiple long panels helping us read really fast!

Children will love We’re Going on a Bear Hunt; to read, to share with an adult, and to perform. Cumulative stories like this are excellent for helping children memorise text, that all-important step on the journey to real reading. I have three-year-olds in my Storytime at the Library sessions who are practically word perfect when reciting the text - and wow, can they recite it with passion, panache and

Do watch the video below to see Michael Rosen himself performing the book on YouTube.

See Helen and Michael discuss the book and its creation.

Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Finding Great Australian Children’s Books

Finding Great Australian Children’s Books
by Susan Stephenson,

Here are some websites I use to find new and exciting Australian children’s books. Most are either book review blogs or publisher websites. They’re in the format of a Listly list, which I used in my post, April - June 2014 Children’s App Reviews and Articles at The Book Chook. Don’t forget you can share lists, interact with them by voting up etc, and also embed a list on your own blog, and be sure to click through to the second page. I’m sure I must have forgotten, or not know, some great places to find book suggestions for under 12s in Australia. Please do add them in comments. (I'm including publishers but not book stores.)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Put a Poem in your Pocket for National Literacy and Numeracy Week

Put a Poem in your Pocket for National Literacy and Numeracy Week
by Susan Stephenson

There’s something so appealing about popping a poem into a pocket. Aside from the alliteration, and that surely makes an impact, I think it’s the lure of the surprise, the fact that something as powerful as a poem can be hidden away in a pocket, ready to be produced to applause!

Special weeks like Literacy and Numeracy Week, or Children’s Book Week, and special days too, are a great way to make sure you have a special focus on celebrating something as hugely important as literature and literacy. Yes, of course we spend time with our kids engaged with literacy and literature each day, but I believe there’s a definite place for special days and weeks. It gives us a chance to show solidarity with other readers and literature-lovers, and raises the profile of reading in our communities.

When is National Literacy and Numeracy Week in Australia? August 25 - 31, 2014, plenty of time to prepare to pocket a poem!

Poem in a Pocket Suggestions:

Young children can learn a lot not only by listening to poetry read aloud, but by the process of actually writing a shortish one out by hand.

Have kids think about pockets. Does a pocket need to be attached to clothing? Could they perhaps create a special, standalone, pocket for holding a special poem? What could the design be? How will they make it?

What fun to browse books of poems, revisit loved poems, ask relatives for favourites, and choose one special poem for The Day!

Although it’s lovely to write out and decorate a special poem on a sheet of paper, why not go high-tech and have children record themselves reading a poem? Using audio software. that can be copied onto a thumb drive, just the right size for a pocket too!

Here are some more ideas from the National Literacy and Numeracy Website:
*Set up a poetry walk at the school—so students can read their poems at certain points along the walk to other students. Poems could also be displayed along the walk or written in chalk on the path.
*Hold a poet’s picnic event, which the whole school and parents are invited to. If this is held over lunch you could enjoy some food and get everyone to share a poem they’ve written.
*Select ‘reporters’ to interview students about their poem, what form of poetry they used and what their poem means to them.
*Hold a poetry recital—get students to read their poems during reading time.
*Offer a poetry prize—you could ask students to submit their poems and either the teachers or the student representative council could evaluate and judge the poems and pick a winner.
*Plant poems in your school garden so students, teachers and parents can read them as they walk past.
If you’re looking for poetry activities that might encourage your children to write their own poems for Poem in Your Pocket, check out some posts here at The Book Chook:
and one I’ve written for the Australian Children’s Poetry website, called Using Technology for Poetry Creation and Presentation.
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