Parent Information

Hi Parents,

Many of you asked for more information on what we are doing in third grade so that you can effectively communicate with your children about what they are doing in the classroom. I am going to begin with a weekly newsletter written by them that will be put up on the blog each Friday. This will give you some talking points for the week. I will also be uploading information/questions to ask/etc. about each of our units in Reading/Writing/Math/Science/Social Studies periodically. I will begin with a letter letting you know what to expect in Reading Workshop this month:

December 2012

Dear Families,

We have rolled out the red carpet for a unit of study on nonfiction reading, and I am so excited to tell you a bit about this unit and about the ways you can support it at home.

First, this unit can offer kids who had a hard time becoming enthralled with fiction a new entrance ramp into reading. Research has shown that there are some children who are much more apt to love reading if they are able to pore over the sports pages of the newspaper or devour magazine articles about skateboarding or global warming than if they are reading tales of quest and struggle. This unit, then, provides a new beginning for those who need that.

Of course, the ability to read a variety of nonfiction texts well and to learn from those texts is critically important for everyone. This unit is not just about motivating readers. It is also about teaching the skills that the twenty-first century learner needs.  Knowledge is escalating at a breathtaking pace, and the next generation needs not only to know a lot—they also need the tools to be active, engaged learners. They need to be able to pursue topics of interest, reading a wide variety of texts and synthesizing what they learn across texts.

Let me give you an overview of what will be happening in school as we help children grow into their capacities as nonfiction readers, and let me tell you what you can therefore expect at home.

First of all, in school, most of children’s reading time will now be channeled toward reading nonfiction texts. I will have talked up the importance of them continuing to read fiction on the side, and there may be a few days when I explicitly support their efforts to maintain an involvement with fiction reading, but most of my efforts will now go to supporting kids as they read self-chosen, high-interest nonfiction texts of all sorts. Please help children to maintain their fiction reading on the side, if you can! (I have told them that they may read fiction and/or non-fiction at home for their nightly reading.)

This unit of study is designed to teach kids how to read expository nonfiction texts, starting with texts that have headings and subheadings and tables of contents if those are warranted. During this early portion of the unit, we’ll be helping children to read for the main idea (thinking of that as like a heading) and for the supports that the text provides for that main idea. We start the text and quickly think, “Oh, this is about kinds of trees.” We read on, and think, “Now it is suggesting trees are different in two main ways. It’s talking about each of those ways.” Children will learn to read in such a way that they can come from a text and make an extremely informal sort of outline of what they have just learned. Children will also learn to teach each other (and you, too) what they are learning using “an explaining voice,” gestures, intonations, and references to the text.

Throughout this work, I will have tried to be sure that readers can monitor for sense as they read, which means that they notice when a text is confusing and respond with either some fix-up strategies or by choosing a different text. As part of this, I’ll encourage the children to make sure they are not stumbling over more than one word in twenty. Lots of nonfiction texts have enticing pictures that lure kids to think the books are easier than they actually are. Of course, nonfiction texts always teach readers some new vocabulary as well as some new concepts, so we’ll also help them have a toolkit of skills for tackling the tricky words they do encounter.

Of course, the texts that your children bring home during this unit will be different than those you will have seen earlier, but in other ways, your support will not be all that different. It is still important for you to engage kids in conversations about the texts they are reading, and this time, make sure that if the child has several books on a topic, you help the child look and think across those texts. Help readers to talk about the main things the text has taught them, the ideas they are growing from reading the text. Instead of focusing on recording tiny factoids, try to encourage children to learn the ideas that a text aims to convey. The facts will be embedded in the ideas, and seeing how the facts relate to something bigger will enable readers to recall the information they learn.

Meanwhile, you are in a far better position than we are, in school, to help your child realize that life interests are invitations to read nonfiction. If your child wants a new pet, definitely don’t get one without hauling a stack of books from the library and poring over them together! If the youngster loves a certain sport, there are magazines and web sites that support that interest. If you are planning a trip to the movies, encourage the child to read the reviews first.

Once again, thanks for your help.

All my best,

Beth Zawatski


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