Hi friends! This blog is for teachers and families- all for the sheer joy of literacy. When we are enthusiastic about reading and writing our students and our own kids become excited to read and write. I hope that we all can be models for those in our care- how did you show your passion for reading, writing, learning, language, or words today?? It's in those small, daily moments that we teach kids to love literacy.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Reconnecting to Community Literacy

Before I became a teacher, I worked as a youth program director for a local non-profit here in Oakland. I loved so many things about it: having flexibility on how you get to work with kids (socially, emotionally, academically, spiritually, etc...), the more casual nature of the programs, ability to create unique relationships with kids/community/families, and gaining creative control with curriculum and programs. Having the ability to work with the WHOLE child- their hearts, their souls AND their brains- was quite wondrous. And it's very different than working with kids in a classroom. It just is. No matter how wonderful of a teacher you are you'll always be an authority figure in an institution. For some reason, being at a non-profit breaks downs walls, and allows parents and kids to be less on guard and to feel more at home. Sometimes you have to put academic excellence and rigor aside and deal with a child's personal issues. This can most certainly be done in a school setting, but it's a lot trickier. Of course, there were also downsides to working at a non-profit: inconsistency with students (you can't force them to come daily), my lack of professional training, lack of money and support, etc...

Kids playing hockey at Harbor House in Oakland
I left Harbor House, the non-profit where I worked, so that I could learn how to teach reading. I had so many program participants (grades K-12) that didn't know how to read. I tried my darnedest to help them, but I knew my knowledge of teaching kids how to read was limited. I tried Hooked on Phonics and other efforts, but I knew I wasn't giving the students the reading support they really needed to become successful.

All that to say...after 5 years in the professional world- teaching middle school, going to grad school, and become a literacy specialist (and becoming a mom), I've recently become reacquainted with Harbor House and their new Director. She encouraged me to come in weekly and read a book aloud to the K-1 students. The school year is almost through, but for the last month, I'm going to go each week and share a book or two with them.

For the next month, I'll share here the books that I read to the kids from Harbor House's after school program. It's fun for me to talk about books and authors, so I thought it may be fun for you too. I took a trip to the library and picked out a few good read alouds.

Last Thursday I shared two books by Mem Fox, a beloved Australian author, with about 15 K-1 kids at Harbor House. The two books I shared were silly, repetitious, and filled with word play and rhyme-all excellent things for the listening ears of K-1 students. Reading books aloud with rhyme and repetition is excellent for beginning readers- it builds phonemic awareness (awareness of sound), builds a motivation to read early on, and encourages kids to become engaged with the book (they can't help themselves but to join in as the book is read). Mem Fox is very well known. If you haven't picked up any of her books for your kids/students- I encourage you to do so!

Boo To a Goose is such a fun book to read. The students soon join in with the refrain. They commented that they liked the silly pictures too. This was perfect for K-1 students.

I read this book second. I think students may have lost steam after the first read. But I wanted to show them a couple of Fox's books. This was a little more complex than Boo to Goose, and it seems to end more abruptly (it could have been that the kids were getting squirmy). I love the illustrations in this book. I also love her rhyming patterns in this book; a keen reader can guess what will be coming next- which makes a book fun to read, especially for little ones.

Hopefully my relationship with Harbor House will continue next year. It's fun to be surrounded by a gaggle of enthusiastic kids- where you can connect on a personal level, and when you don't have to constantly redirect them to focus on their work, book, etc... Don't get me wrong, I love teaching. But sometimes us teachers get so busy, and pour so much of ourselves into our classroom, that we don't get a chance to invest in our local communities as much- I am guilty of it myself. It's taken me 5 years to volunteer outside of my classroom, that's much too long of time for something so enjoyable and beneficial to the community. 

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