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Word by Word

The Important Thing about Picture Books

Recently, an article in the New York Times (see link on sidebar)
stated that picture books seem to be on the wane, as parents and teachers push children into reading “harder” books in order to make gains on reading tests. This is such a mistaken notion.
Picture books far are more than easy books with pictures as a crutch. Like learning to crawl before learning to walk, picture books serve an important function in a child’s language development.
I hope we as a culture haven’t forgotten that picture books:
• Develop vocabulary. Because picture books are meant to be read by an adult to a child (and not the other way around) the author is free to use any words at all—including made up words and words in other languages. There are no restrictions. The level of vocabulary in a picture book is much higher than in a leveled chapter book.
• Teach an appreciation for language. Picture books sound best when read aloud. They use playful, tongue-tickling language. Picture books teach an appreciation for all the fun of English, including alliteration, onomatopoeia, puns, and word play. No where else, aside from poetry, will you find such joy in words.
• Visual interpretation. The pictures in a picture book often tell a companion story to the text, so the reader learns to interpret visual clues—like facial expressions and body language. In our graphics-heavy culture, the ability to “read” visuals is a key skill.
• Shared experience. A picture book, shared by an adult with a child, is an interactive experience. It gives the child a chance to ask questions, and make comments. It gives the adult a chance to listen, guide, and direct. The interaction leads to increased receptive and expressive language.
• Brain development. A picture book read by an adult to a child engages more centers of the brain than a video. (see link on sidebar)

I remember hearing about a grandmother who was concerned when her grandson entered school, and was labeled as language delayed. She promptly put him on a “diet” of fourteen picture books a day. Imagine—she read fourteen picture books every day (not in a row) to her grandson! Within months, he had caught up to the rest of the children in his class.
So snuggle up with a child today and share a picture book. You won’t regret it.  Read More 
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Carmen Learns English

Carmen Learns English
A lot of people ask me if I get my story ideas from my experiences as a teacher. Mostly, my answer is no. Most often, my ideas come from my own childhood, recalled to mind by observing and listening to my students.

But in CARMEN LEARNS ENGLISH, I used some of my teaching experiences in a more direct way. Because this book springs from my personal experience, it's particularly dear to my heart.

In 2003, I got a job teaching kindergarten at a school that served a migrant farm-worker population. I was hired two days before school started, with no time to prepare. My class consisted of nineteen kindergartners. Fourteen of my students didn't speak English, and my Spanish (like Ms. Coski's) is muy terrible! Somehow, we muddled through.

To teach my students, I used puppets and stories and songs. I tried to build on familiar knowledge--like colors and numbers and the alphabet. But the single most powerful thing I did was to use my terrible Spanish. It made the kids laugh to hear my horrible accent, my mispronunciations, my wrong words. My students realized that it was okay to make mistakes--okay to try--when I was learning, too.

One day Maria held my hand as we walked to the bus to go home. We'd been singing "The Wheels on the Bus" and she was still singing the song when she caught sight of the school bus. Suddenly, I could tell something clicked for her. "Amarillo!" she shouted. "Chellow!"

I was so impressed with the patience, determination, and persistence of these children as they made their way through the school year, in a foreign country, in a foreign language. I dedicate this book to them.  Read More 
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