Friday, October 17, 2014

Current Events Demonstrate the Consequences of Plagiarism

Montana Senator John Walsh's recent embarrassment is what we in education call a "teachable moment." It was determined that Walsh, who was appointed to serve as senator this past February, plagiarized nearly a quarter of the master's thesis he submitted to the Army War College to complete his coursework in 2007. In response, the College has recently rescinded Walsh's master's degree, and Walsh has announced that he will be dropping out of the state's upcoming election.
When stressing the importance of proper citation to students, this is an excellent anecdote to relate. The internet makes it easier than ever for schools to catch students when they don't give credit where it's due, and the consequences, as Walsh's case shows us, can be severe.

Citation can be tricky, however, and some students don't fully understand the difference between research and plagiarism. The issue isn't as cut and dried as some might think. For example, plagiarism doesn't have to be intentional; even unintentionally failing to credit someone else for their words or ideas counts as cheating.

To help students understand plagiarism, look no farther than Purdue's Online Writing Lab, one of our favorite writing resources. For teachers, there are several excellent ready-made lesson plans that should help clear up misunderstandings about academic honesty. And students should bookmark the excellent page of resources on topics like the difference between paraphrasing and quoting, how to format in-text citations, etc. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Learn with Homer: Reading App Review

Recommended Ages: 2 to 6

Content Areas: Early Reading

Price: Free (with in-app purchases). A web-based version has a 30 day free trial and then a monthly subscription fee.

Why We Love It:
Learn with Homer was created by Stephanie Dua, a Brooklyn mother and Harvard Public Policy graduate who spent her early career working in educational policy and reform in New York City. When Ms. Dua’s eldest daughter began searching for engaging at home reading resources, she realized there was a need for a high quality, research backed digital foundational literacy program.

The Homer Method infuses the best research on how children learn to read, with high quality, engaging art and storytelling to create a program that supports children in becoming successful readers. You don’t have to just take their word for it; the team behind Learn with Homer publishes all the research that underpins their program, so parents and teachers can assess it for themselves.

The program is designed to be a sequential, step-by-step learning process where the child progresses at his or her own personalized pace and each new skill builds upon those previously mastered. The program starts with the basics of sounds and letters before moving on to words, ideas and knowledge. The program includes original artwork from talented illustrators, songs, rhymes and game-based learning theories to truly make the reading experience enjoyable for a child. Each of the stories and activities are thoughtfully created or illustrated for the Read with Homer Program, making it an incredibly comprehensive and robust early reading application. It is easy to see why Learn with Homer has been the recipient of so many awards and acknowledgements.

For Parents
Beyond teaching your child the fundamentals of reading, Learn with Homer will also expose your child to music and rhymes from a variety of cultures to help them learn correct pronunciation and verbal timing. Science, history and art are also infused in the non-fiction reading resources to teach new vocabulary. Writing is also an element of the Learn with Homer App through their Pigeon Post which allows your child to compose, send and receive digital postcards from loved ones. Extensions beyond the digital space are also available through printed projects which include craft ideas, writing practice activities, coloring pages and puzzles. Through the parent dashboard, you can also keep track of the progress your child has made and see his or her growth over time.

For Teachers
Learn with Homer has a classroom dashboard which allows teachers to track the progress of their entire class in real time. As a former classroom teacher, I found this aspect valuable for my formative assessment, as it allowed me to identify the strengths and weaknesses in my individual students. This, in turn, helped inform any subsequent reading interventions and activities I employed. Furthermore, you can feel confident in utilizing this tool in your classroom, as the team behind Learn with Homer has done all the work of linking their program to the Common Core standards for you in a document published on their website.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Resources for Teachers: Sight Word Recognition Game

With this week's posts on The Yellin Center Blog, we welcome a new blogger to our Yellin Center team - Learning Specialist Renée Jordan, M.A. Ms. Jordan's blogs will include tools and techniques for teachers and parents that she developed as a classroom teacher, as well as reviews of apps, books, and other resources.

On a Roll
On a Roll is a game I developed as part of the language arts curriculum for my students in kindergarten and first grade. Sight words are a small group of words (approximately 300-500) that account for large portions of the common texts we read. For example, words such as: this, that, then, he, she, and etc are considered sight words. Due to their high frequency, it is critical that students cultivating early literacy skills develop their sight word recognition skills. 

Description of Game

On a Roll provides a fun, engaging way for students practice their sight word recognition. The game is fully customizable, thus allowing educators to alter the grid to include sight words that are specific to your students’ needs. Furthermore, peer collaboration is a great strategy for reinforcing learning. Therefore, having students work in pairs and use their peers as support when identifying sight words that challenge them will also be beneficial.

In my own classroom, I have used On a Roll as an independent, stand alone lesson, as an "early finisher" activity, and as one activity in my literacy centers. Furthermore, I found that my students really enjoyed and benefited from the activity and wanted to make permanent game boards for my classroom. As a result, I made multiple game boards with all the sight words I wanted my students to master by the end of the year and laminated them. My students were then able to use dry erase markers on the game boards, which were easily cleaned at the end of each lesson. 

Materials Needed
  • One handout per every two students. You can download the handouts here (for page 1) and here (page 2), or create your own.
  • 1 die per two students
  • Pair students with a partner and distribute materials.
  • Explain the rules of the game and highlight the text at the bottom of the game board where the students can refer to the rules in case they forget.
  • Each partner will take a turn rolling the die
  • They will then find the sight word that corresponds with the number rolled
  • Then the student will locate the sight word on the game board and color it in
  • The first student to color in an entire row is the winner

Allow the students time to play the game. If time is left, have the students find a new partner and play again. Alternately, you could make multiple game boards with a variety of sight words your students need to master. Therefore, when they have completed a round of play they could attempt a new word list.

How this game aligns with Common Core Standards:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Review: Storybird Web Based Writing Platform

Storybird - Artful Storytelling

Recommended Ages: Grade 1 and up

Content Areas: Reading and Writing

Price: Free

Why We Like It : Storybird is a beautifully crafted, aesthetically pleasing website based application for reading and writing. Students sometimes struggle with the motivation to write, and it is important to provide them with engaging, meaningful ways to practice their written skills; Storybird does just that. Storybird is especially valuable for students with strong visual and spatial skills and has a wealth of high quality, artist created images that children can use as inspiration for their writing. In addition, Storybird allows students to infuse the same images into their story in order to help them tell their tale. The image support could be beneficial for helping students who struggle with sequencing a story, as the pictures will serve as reinforcements and cues as they craft their narrative.

Beyond writing, Storybird can be an excellent method to increase the time a child spends reading. Children can read other children’s stories, or those of their friends. There are multiple genres available for children to choose from, which increases the likelihood that each student will discover something that interests them. Furthermore, professional authors use Storybird to connect with their fans, which allows children access to their stories as well.

For Parents
There are other games infused into Storybird that your child can play to further interest them in the reading and writing process. For example, there are puzzles hidden throughout the artworks that your child can solve which, as a reward, will unlock new stories and puzzles for them to enjoy. Exposure to reading and writing at home is important. This is one avenue where your child can gain more experience reading and writing outside of their classroom hours. In addition, you are able to read your child’s creations and provide them with positive reinforcement through the program. Furthermore, your child’s work can be shared with other family members and close friends who can also encourage your child. This will help grow your child’s confidence in their writing abilities. 

For Teachers
Storybird enables teachers to create robust libraries of student work. These are able to be shared with parents and administrators as examples of student written output. In addition, lesson creation and assigning grades are features of the Storybird application that are integrated right into the site.

Publishing books is an important final aspect of the stages of writing. Storybird provides a high quality avenue for students to self-publish their work. This will increase their engagement and sense of ownership over the writing process. Also, collaboration is a huge part of the Storybird program. As your students read and explore their peers' work they are able to comment and send positive reinforcement to their fellow students.

Good to Know
  • Users must be 13 years of age to become a member. If a child is younger than 13, he/she must provide a parent’s email address, and then the parent is immediately notified that their child has become a storybird.
  • Student privacy is protected. Social interactions are classroom-contained.

How Storybird Aligns with Common Core Standards

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Rhyme to Read App for Beginning Readers

Ask reading teachers what books they use to teach youngsters to decode and they’ll almost unanimously mention controlled texts. These simple books are excellent tools for helping young children gain fluency and automaticity with words. 

Controlled texts tell short, simple stories using a combination of patterned words and sight words. For example, a book that focuses on the “–et” letter pattern might feature a character named Bet and tell a story using words like “wet,” “pet,” “jet,” “get,” etc. alongside common sight words like “the,” “and,” etc. Rhyming words are easier to read because children don’t need to sound out each word in its entirety; they can read many words easily by simply adding a new beginning sound to /et/. The repetitive nature of the wording in the stories helps, too. By reading the same words over and over again throughout the book, developing readers learn to recognize the words by sight instead of having to sound them out each time.

For parents hoping to give their children confidence with decoding, controlled text series can be purchased from many bookstores and websites and even downloaded from the Internet. One of the best is the Bob Books series, and Starfall also offer some good options. One of our favorites, however, is called Rhyme to Read, which is available as an app.

It’s no wonder that Rhyme to Read is great; it was developed by two expert educators. Sara Hines, who has a Ph.D. in Special Education with a focus on learning disabilities, has over 25 years of experience teaching reading and has even spent time teaching at Hunter College. Lynn Laiman, the second author, has a Master’s Degree in reading and has worked in schools for 20 years as both a classroom teacher and reading specialist. Their brainchild gives families access to a wonderful set of digital, controlled texts with the touch of a button.

In the series, new words are introduced on the left page of each book, and children can read sentences containing the words on the right page. This format makes it easy for parents or teachers to preview new words with kids so that they’re more likely to feel successful when they encounter the words in the context of the story. A list of all the words introduced in each book is available on the last page, too, offering a chance for seamless review. The books increase in difficulty throughout the series, and kids will come across words they’ve already learned as they progress to more advanced books.

The first book in the series is free, and the remaining 19 books can be purchased for $9.99 from the iTunes store. As far as apps go, Rhyme to Read is on the pricier side, but this well-designed program is well worth it. It’s far less expensive to buy the digital “books” than it is to purchase a set of leveled readers, for one thing. And Rhyme to Read has capabilities paper books simply don’t. For example, children can tap words to hear them read aloud. Target words, the ones that follow the featured pattern, are read in one voice, and sight words are read in another. Even more ingenious, tapping on the word on the left page, where it is first introduced, plays the word in a segmented way (i.e. “c-at”). This helps them to understand how to attach the new beginning sound (/c/) to the familiar pattern (/-at/). On the right page, though, they can hear the word read fluently (“cat”).

Rhyme to Read has received rave reviews from users, and we are very impressed as well! We hope this thoughtful resource is helpful to you and the young children in your life.

Monday, September 29, 2014

New Study Looks at Social Difficulties in Children with ADHD

A new research study from Japan finds evidence of differences in the brains of children with ADHD which may be the basis of social difficulties which these children frequently encounter.

Children with ADHD often struggle with inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, behaviors which can impair their interaction with peers. As one student we know with ADHD described efforts to arrange a social activity with other students who had similar difficulties, "It wasn't pretty. One kid wasn't paying attention and didn't realize we were trying to get together. Another decided at the last minute to do something else. And still another guy wanted to come, but had to stay after school since he was acting out in class." But scientists have questioned whether there is more to the social difficulties that children with ADHD encounter, beyond these behaviors.

In the present study, researchers used  non-invasive near-infrared spectroscopy to measure changing blood flow in the brain to uncover the neural basis for the recognition of facial expressions. Being able to pick up on facial cues is an important skill that helps children get along with one another and understand social cues and expectations. The researchers found that while their typically developing control group had changes in blood flow to theirs brains when they saw either happy or angry facial expressions, the children with ADHD only showed changes in blood flow -- and thus response to -- happy expressions. They did not respond to angry expressions.

This was a small study (with only 13 subjects and 13 controls) and much more investigation remains to be done. Still, it gives some sense of the neural basis for the social struggles some children with ADHD experience; if you can't tell if your friend is angry with you, you won't be able to respond appropriately and social relations may suffer as a result.

photo and graphics provided under CC license

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Celebrate Banned Books Week

Happy Banned Books Week! From September 21st – 27th, libraries, authors, teachers, professors, and schools will honor works of literature that have been banned or challenged in a celebration of freedom of expression. Banned Books Week’s message of tolerance seems particularly poignant this year, given the conflicts currently raging in other parts of the world.

One of the best ways to celebrate Banned Books Week is to read the controversial books. There are plenty of picture books to read aloud to the youngest children, and numerous chapter books and young adult novels have been challenged as well. Visit the American Library Association’s page of Frequently Challenged Books for lists of titles.

Those who are really passionate about freedom of expression can take this a step further. Ask your local library or your child’s school if they’ll help you organize a banned book read-out. These events typically feature people from the community reading passages from literature deemed too controversial to be distributed. Too busy? Enjoy banned book read-outs from the comfort of your home by visiting YouTube’s Banned Books Week channel . There’s even a page of celebrity read-outs, where you can watch actors and authors read some of their favorite banned literature. One of our favorites is this video of Whoopi Goldberg reading Shel Silverstein.

And remember that nothing tantalizes like the forbidden, so lists of banned books may be just the thing to motivate reluctant readers! Talk to all young people, bookworms and bibliophobes alike, about the banned books they read. Ask them why they think the book was challenged and whether they agree with its critics. Ask them whether all books should be available to everyone or whether there should be restrictions. Challenge them to list the pros and cons of an unrestricted exchange of ideas. Don’t be afraid to pose questions without easy answers; these conversations are the kind of rich ones that stimulate young people’s critical thinking skills and give them practice structuring arguments.

Happy, free reading, everyone!