Why Can’t Johnny Read? Because it’s English!

Here is a fascinating article about how difficult the English language really is to read compared to other languages. A few highlights:

“…the Spelling Society speculates that English may just be the world’s most irregularly spelled language.”


“Mastering such a language takes a long time and requires abilities that most children don’t develop until the middle or latter part of elementary school.”

The article goes on to explain some of the reasons that spelling the English language became so unpredictable. One reason: it was cast in stone by non-native-language-users.

“The first English printing press, in the 15th century, was operated by Belgians who didn’t know the language and made numerous spelling errors (such as ‘busy’ in place of ‘bisy’).”

And of course there was the influence of money…

“…because they were paid by the line, they sometimes padded words with extra letters; ‘frend,’ for example, became ‘friend.'”

My takeaway is this: When we compare the literacy levels of our children to children in other countries around the world, the difficulty of the language needs to be considered. Somehow, this had not occurred to me before.

The Importance of Movement in Learning

Great blog post from Monisha Karnani at the Center for Inspired Teaching discusses the importance of physical movement to aid student learning. She states:

“Movement is a powerful teaching tool, and when we as teachers thoughtfully incorporate physical elements into instruction, we elevate the learning experience.”

Sadly, there are plenty of classrooms where quiet, still environments are demanded.

“Yet despite research proving the lasting benefits of serious play, too many of our classrooms remain still, silent places, lacking any element of physical movement.”

I appreciate the discussion of this important topic. Years ago, a parent confided in me the struggle one of her sons was having in school. He had trouble sitting quietly and attending. Sure, we have medications that help some kids with this, but she wasn’t sure there was anything wrong with her son, and suspected that he just wasn’t built for the traditional classroom.

“A hundred and fifty years ago,” she said, “he would have been an apprentice somewhere.”

Wow. An apprentice. That really hit me.  Not a child who spent his time sitting at a desk. A child who was doing to learn. It also made me wonder, are the majority of our kids built for the traditional classroom? Sometimes it seems to me that we are struggling to fit them into a very unnatural mold. Of course, there are, and always have been, teachers who are comfortable a classroom where active, sometimes noisy learning is the norm. These men and women are my heroes. Now, as we gain more and more knowledge about young people’s need to move, I hope it will inspired more teachers to incorporate more movement (and of course the noise level that often goes with that) into their classroom teaching.

Technology and Literacy

Love this article about students tweeting to authors about the books they love!

Children’s authors can be found on Twitter, providing students with a chance to share their love of a favorite book, pose a question, or give an opinion in 140 characters or less. They won’t be guaranteed a response, but students can practice a range of skills as they write concise tweets around a particular topic.



ADHA/Creativity Connection

I love brain science! This article makes a lot of interesting points – a worthy read.

…researchers identified 22 recurring personality traits in creative people. Of these 22 personality traits, 16 are considered positive, such as independent, energetic, curious, risk-taking, emotional, and artistic. The remaining six traits are considered negative, and include such terms as impulsive, hyperactive, and argumentative.
Honestly, something I’ve come to wonder is this: Could it be that attention spans are just a normal variable in humans–no more a disability than someone who is short rather than someone who is tall? Or someone who is fair-skinned rather than someone with more pigment in their skin? It’s obvious that a child with a short attention span and the need to move more than others is a difficult child for a teacher in a traditional classroom, but I don’t believe that that necessarily makes it a disability. Just my thoughts on that, but it does lead me to this part of the article:
“In the school setting, the challenge becomes how to create an environment in which creativity is emphasized as a pathway to learning as well as an outcome of learning.”
Read more at:

Picture Books to Aid Upper Elementary Writing

PBS has a terrific PDF here about the validity of using picture books in the upper elementary classroom. 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders sometimes have a tough time connecting what they do as writers to “real world” writing. While their writing projects may span a handful of pages, they are reading full length novels–thus the disconnect. Picture books are a similar length to what students are writing. They contain that all-important beginning, middle and end, and they are well edited for conventions. Isn’t that what we are asking our students to do everyday?

In the publishing industry, picture books are sometimes referred to as “lap books.” In other words, they are meant to be read to a child, not by a child. Because of this, the language used in them can be at a much higher reading level than the child’s. While these books are short, they are not necessarily “easy reads,” so teachers needn’t worry that their students are reading too far “below” them. And even if students were reading “below” them, these kids are learning about story structure, conventions, and that short pieces really are real-world writing–it validates the students’ own work.

Sidebars, which I personally love, have become increasingly common in publishing. Often seen as a small box at the side of the page, these snippets of information are there for readers when they are ready for them. The reader can choose to interrupt the story to gain further knowledge, or s/he can wait until the story is done and then go back to read them.

Have you tried sidebars with your writers? This could be a great way to have students work on narrative writing while incorporating nonfiction writing in it as well. Check out April Pulley Sayre’s book, Here Come the Humpbacks. It tells the story of humpback whales as they journey through the sea, and sidebars, cleverly formatted in the Jamie Hogan’s gorgeous illustrations rather than in boxes, give interesting facts about these great creatures.

I can see a bulletin board now–pages of narrative nonfiction, beautifully illustrated by the students with sidebars incorporated into the illustration. What fun! For even more fun, have the kids cover the sidebars with an illustration piece that flips over to reveal the information. Perhaps a piece of construction paper that depicts coral flips up and beneath it is an interesting fact about coral.

Picture books really are a valuable aid to the writers in upper elementary school. And if you implement any of these ideas in your classroom, I’d love to hear about it!