Sunday, January 29, 2012

Is it tomorrow yet?

Last Monday I was at my desk writing a report when one of my students peeked around the door and asked me, “Do I have speech today?”

 “No,” I answered, “You have speech tomorrow.”

“But it’s already tomorrow!”  

Most likely, the day before his parents had told him he’d go to school “tomorrow” and he was at school so he jumped to the logical conclusion. He stood looking confused (and in need of attention) so I invited him in, took out my calendar and gave him a quick lesson on, “yesterday”, “today” and “tomorrow” then sent him back out to recess.

Later, I looked for a picture book to help teach the concept but I didn’t find one. I did, however, find an excellent book on yesteryear, several of them. One of my favorite discoveries was, Verla Kay’s, Hornbooks and Inkwells.  It is beautifully illustrated and when read aloud its perfect rhythms and rhymes are an auditory delight.

I imagine many of you are familiar with state content standards for education; there are now numerous common core standards that have been adopted across the country. One of them is for students to identify and create rhyming words – what better way to teach rhymes than in an appealing story written in verse?

Another activity that is right out of the common core standards is to retell stories and to sequence the events. After listening to Hornbooks and Inkwells, my students had no trouble retelling many of the details. They loved hearing about the two brothers Peter and John Paul and the mischief they made. They were appalled by the neck yokes and they rooted for John Paul in his struggle to learn to read. And when . . . well I’d better stop there. I don’t want to spoil the story for you.

Speaking of stories, if anyone out there can recommend one to teach the concepts of “yesterday,” “today,” and “tomorrow,” I’d love to hear about it.

I’ve got to run now; I have a birthday party to attend. I’ll look over this note tomorrow, before posting it. But if you are reading this, I guess it already is tomorrow.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Twenty Thousand . . . What??

On Friday, during a speech session with a group of seven-year-olds, we had an interesting discussion about books. Our discussion of one book in particular I found VERY interesting (if somewhat hard to decipher). But let me back-track a moment.

Just so you don’t think we waste time in speech, I’d like to explain that, to begin with, when a child is learning how to pronounce a certain sound, I teach them how that sound is made. Here is a child demonstrating how to make the “ l” sound – at least she is heading there.

(Photos of children on this blog are used with parent permission.)

Once they can produce the sound with their own mouth, they practice it in words, phrases and then sentences. Finally, they need to carry this new skill into conversations, and what better conversation to have than one of books? Book discussions are full of language-enriching possibilities. And they have an added benefit for me - I write stories for children so I love finding out what is currently popular with the younger crowd.

And that brings me back to the group of seven-year-olds in my speech room on Friday. They were at the conversation level in working on their "L" sound so I asked them to tell me about their favorite books. One child told me his was, “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”. (At least I thought that’s what he said.)

“Isn’t that kind of hard to read?” I asked.


Before he could say more, another seven-year-old interrupted. “I love that book!”

“You’re reading it too?” I know the educational standards are getting fairly rigorous but this seemed a bit excessive. I was amazed but doubtful, so I asked, “What is ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea’ about?”

One child told me it was about an octopus with LOTS and LOTS of legs but the first student looked a bit confused and asked, “What’s a League?”

“A measurement,” I told him, “a large one”.

“Not League, - legs! You know. Twenty Thousand LEGS Under the Sea.” Then he walked his fingers across the table to make sure I got the point. (This is a speech group after-all and we are used to using alternative forms of communication when necessary.)

I have since searched the Internet trying to locate this book and have found a children’s version of Jules Verne’s original but I have not located, “Twenty Thousand Legs Under the Sea”. Does anyone out there know if it exists? If not, I know a couple of young authors with great imaginations who would be willing to work on it.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Rules Rule!

Last week I introduced you to our cat, Solomon. Looking back at the photos, I realize you can’t see his adorable face so I’ve added another:

Of course he didn’t belong in the cupboard. In fact he didn’t belong on the kitchen counter, which he used as a launching pad to reach the cupboard. But we were in the middle of a remodel and he seemed to think the rules no longer applied.

Speaking of rules and adorable faces, take a look at one of my students:  

He wasn’t supposed to put on my reading glasses either but then again, I hadn’t created that rule yet. I must admit, I hadn’t even thought of it until he was wearing them.

But there are rules I had thought of and those are rules of conversation such as: respond to greetings, answer questions when someone asks them, take turns speaking, introduce topics so the listener can follow along, stay on topic instead of continually shifting to one of your favorites.

These rules may sound extremely basic but they can be challenging for some of my students. And those children who have the most difficulty with this area of communication often respond most favorably when they are given explicit instruction. They like to know the appropriate parameters of conversation. They may not always follow the rules but they often do with a few reminders.

And once again that brings me back to Solomon. He doesn’t always follow rules either, even with reminders. Then again, maybe I hadn’t communicated clearly that I didn’t want him in the bathroom sink!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Cat Communication

I had to sneak out of the house today. I slipped on my rubber boots, and trudged through our long grass on the back side of our fence to avoid our cat, Solomon. Well, I didn’t actually have to sneak out but Solomon has developed the habit of following us on our walks to the headlands. I’ve seen enough signs of missing cats in our neighborhood to know I’d rather have him stay safely within our fenced yard. He started this new habit over the holidays when our family took a long walk near the ocean. At the time, he was enjoying all the togetherness and didn’t want to miss out. At first he followed some distance behind but soon he was leading the way. Take a look:

And here he is stopping to enjoy the view:

Our cat is approaching 15 years, so he’s rather old for a cat. He’s never been too excited about exercise and he was panting like a dog before we got home. (We tried to carry him back but he would have none of that.) This made me think of how important relationships are to all creatures. Solomon was making a sacrifice to keep the family together. He can’t communicate using words, but he communicated through his actions. And when you think of it, we humans also communicate volumes to the people around us through our actions. Research has long shown that the majority of our communication is nonverbal. That includes body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, eye contact, posture, and proximity to others. Some children, especially those on the autism spectrum, need help with this area of communication so they can develop and grow in their relationships with others. Many adults, as well, need reminders about to use nonverbal cues effectively.

And that brings me back to my excursions through the long grass behind our home.  I wonder what my body language was communicating to the neighbors when they saw me sneaking around the back fence?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

Stories. I love them! I’ve always believed stories are a good teaching tool. Picture books and the more wordy books not only entertain but through them, children learn new vocabulary, sequencing skills, cause and effect and many other concepts. Besides, they are fun for parents, teachers and children. I recently read an article that gives even more support for using stories with young ones.

A psychologist at New York University, Jerome Bruner, says children have a difficult time organizing their world and so they turn their experiences and thoughts into stories. He states, “If they don’t catch something in a narrative structure, it doesn’t get remembered very well . . . ”  (from, "The Narrative Construction of Reality" (1991). Critical Inquiry, 18:1, 1-21).

So bring on the books and share some stories. I have one I’d like to share with you. The student in the video below, Nathan Yanez, is a volunteer who allowed me to record him reading a story for my speech students and for you. It’s less than three minutes long. I hope you enjoy Mama’s Needle.


May your New Year begin well and your life-story grow richer each day.