Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Teaching Vocabulary

When my kids were younger, I sat down to put together a curriculum plan.  When I came to Language Arts, I found that it was easier to break down the subject for me.  I didn't gravitate towards all in one curriculums like Sonlight or Abeka.  So, I identified the components I needed for my children:  Reading, Reading Comprehension, Spelling, Writing, and Vocabulary.  As my kids have grown, this breakdown has remained the same with a few minor tweaks.  For my fifth grader, reading instruction now focuses on reading strategies and fluency.  Vocabulary in younger grades came in the form of Explode the Code--connecting words with their spellings and meanings through sentences and pictures.  My kids finish Explode the Code at the end of 4th grade.  I have them complete both the whole numbered and half numbered books.  This year, I knew it was time for me to tweak Autumn's vocabulary component of her curriculum as she started 5th grade.  So, I started my search for a good solution.

I had always assumed that when they were done with Explode the Code, I would transition to using EPS' series Wordly Wise.  But, as I considered it this year, I wasn't sure I was ready to take on the cost of another workbook to purchase every year for all three of my kids.  So, I started looking for less expensive, but effective ways to teach my children vocabulary.

Two of the ways classroom teachers teach vocabulary are by teaching it in context within the literature component of language arts and by having children write down words they don't know from their silent sustained reading in a journal that they then look up afterwards in a dictionary.  But, I knew that both of these approaches weren't going to be enough for my voraciously reading kids.  So, I started comtemplating vocabulary instruction and how I could do it in a way that was doable for me and for my kids.  

What I needed to consider first was what approach I wanted to take to vocabulary instruction.  I could either focus on whole words the way Wordly Wise does.  Or, I could start by teaching prefixes/suffixes and then moving on to base roots.  Basically words are made up of multiple roots.  There are prefixes, roots a the beginning of words; core or base roots in the middle; and suffixes, roots that end words.  I have chosen the second.  I am choosing this approach for a couple of reasons.  First, I wanted to help my children work on the skill of breaking apart words and developing their word attack skills.  Second, I felt it would help with their spelling and my second daughter's need for explicit instruction when she reaches fifth grade.  After making this decision, I needed to decide what I needed the format of the curriculum to be.

I want to spend time instructing them, but I have found that curriculum that is entirely teacher led doesn't work for me since my children are all working at different grade levels.  My kids like workbooks.  They like them for a couple of reasons.  #1 When Mommy is working with another child, they can go to the next page the read the directions and start to work.  Most workbooks give good directions and they scaffold little step by little step.  They don't typically make huge jumps that are hard for kids to grasp on their own.  #2  They like our system of working on a subject and then checking it off their assignment planner.  They feel like they are getting a lot done.  They have found that workbooks where they need to complete 2 pages per day are very doable and not overwhelming.  Even the writing workbooks I use vary the amount of writing each day, so it isn't overwhelming every day.  

I know that when I was a classroom teacher, the workbooks I now use would have been considered the worst thing ever.  Fill in the blank worksheets?  Oh, no!  It was considered busy work and mindless repetition.  

But, like many other ideas that I had when I taught public school, that belief has changed for me.  Now, I see workbooks very differently.  They are wonderful tools that help my children be independent learners.  They help guide my teaching so that I don't have to constantly use teacher's guides (which I have very few of in my house).  Teacher's guides take a lot of time to read.  And right now I don't have that time.  I make that time when I need to, but when I can teach from a workbook and later review with my children, it is easier.  

So, I knew I wanted to find an affordable, reproducible workbook that I could use to teach prefixes and suffixes.  I found two resources that I like.  One is entirely a workbook without a teaching guide.  The second is a set of two books that does give pointers and lesson plans.  

Teacher Created Resources has three books in their Practice Makes Perfect Series on Prefixes and Suffixes.  After looking around a lot, I decided to start with the third grade book even though my oldest daughter is in fifth grade.  It starts with the most basic of suffixes and prefixes and I didn't find some of these in any other workbooks.  I wanted her to have practice spelling and identifying even the simplest of these word roots.  The books are extremely affordable at a price of about $5.50 per workbook.  And they're reproducible!  She is going to also complete the second 4th grade book this year.  I am going to have her complete the 5th grade book next year in 6th grade.  There isn't a lot of instruction to these books, but it does familiarize my daughter with a group of words with the same prefix or suffix.  She likes these workbooks and I have since ordered the map skills books and dictionary skills book to supplement our curriculum as we finish out this school year.  

The other resource I found is also a solid teaching curriculum.  It costs more, but it has a lot more meat to it.  Shell Education has published two books--Starting with Prefixes and Suffixes and Practice with Prefixes.  When I looked online, there were no reviews or a preview on Amazon, so I went to the
company's website and found some sample pages there.  I liked what I saw then, and still do.  The lessons are clustered for each prefix or suffix.  The first book begins by explaining (in great simple language) what to point out to your students about word roots.  They start with identifying two and three syllable compound words, breaking them apart.  There are quick teaching tips that quickly summarize what you need to know.  If your child is auditory, there are quick teaching discussion ideas.  The pages are very well formatted and not filled with extra gobbildy gook that you have to sift out in order to get to the meat as many teacher's guides are.  Then after two teaching pages, there are four worksheets that you can use with your student.  I like the worksheets a lot.  You can either copy from the book or use the cd-rom at the back of the book.  The cd-rom is the only thing I'm not crazy about with this curriculum and it is the reason this book makes it harder for me to use.  They have put the files on the disk separately in alphabetical order.  At the back of the book, there is an index that tells you the file name correlating to what page it is in the book.  I would suggest if you want to use this book to a) copy all the worksheets from the book first and assemble before you start using it or b) open and print all the files first.  Then, the worksheets would be ready to use when you're ready to teach them, instead of you having to go find them when you need them on the fly.  This was my mistake.  Because I didn't have it ready for my daughter, she got tired of waiting and frustrated with this book.  She recognized that she had to wait every day for me to copy her vocabulary.  

This second curriculum is more expensive (at about $22 per book), but that is understandable.  The book is several times thicker, includes a cd-rom, and most importantly gives instruction on "how" to teach prefixes and suffixes.  It is reproducible and most reproducible resources like this one cost about $20.  I like these books and will look at more curriculum from Shell Education in the future.

For my older daughter, a lot of the instruction in the practice makes perfect sense because much of the teaching is implicit.  She gets it by completing the worksheets and seeing the patterns in the words.  My second daughter needs a great deal of explicit teaching though.  So, I am sure the second series will be a better fit for her.  She needs me to interact and discuss with the material with her.    When she is spelling, I orally help her connect words to other words when learning to spell a new word.  I love how easy the teacher pages are to navigate in Starting with Prefixes and Suffixes.  BUT, I will be sure to copy all of the worksheets prior to embarking on use of this curriculum with her.  It will make her life easier--and mine.  

I am thankful to have found these resources.  They are good, solid learning tools that will lay a foundation to help my children begin building their knowledge of word roots!  

Please note that I did receive complimentary copies of Starting with Prefixes and Suffixes and Practice with Prefixes from Shell Education for review.  

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Good, Solid Fiction Read

A few years ago, I read a book I really enjoyed by Ann Gabhart.  It was titled Angel Sister.  It had some unexpected twists and it wasn't just another romance.  Recently, I read a new book by Gabhart titled Summer of Joy.  I liked it.

Summer of Joy centers around the Brooke family--Jocie, her Aunt Love, her father David, and her sister, Tabitha, and Tabitha's 3 month old son.  The story is also about the people connected to them.  David's wife left him years ago and he is in a new relationship.  Jocie is a teen, growing up and trying cope with the challenges of being in high school.  Tabitha returned home pregnant after living with her mother.  Aunt Love is the glue that keeps the home front together while David runs a newspaper office and pastors a local church.  Real people.  Real struggles.  Living and learning to show grace to one another.  

There are of course some twists and turns to the story.  But, it's pretty straight forward.  I was never quite as surprised as I was as I read Angel Sister, but it isn't as predictable as typical Christian fiction, either.  

I enjoyed the characters of this story and the story line.  At different times, the story is told from each person's perspective.  Sometimes this can result in a very choppy story, but I didn't find that in this book.  It did flow well.  The characters were very human.  

If you're looking for a good Christian fiction read, I'd pick this one up or read another of Gabhart's books!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Revell Books. 

Waking Up

Over the past few weeks, I've been reading an interesting book.  It's titled The Long Awakening by Lindsey O'Connor.  I was curious about this book.  I love to read books that help me step into someone else's shoes and understand his or her life.  I want to know about how they've dealt with struggles and suffering, how it felt, and how other people in their lives responded (for better or for worse) and the impact of those responses.  I want to know because I want to love people better.  I don't want to say the wrong thing.  I find that I am able to be more sensitive in my words and actions when I am aware of what hurts and what doesn't.

The Long Awakening is the the story of a woman who enters a coma for 47 days on the day she gives birth to her fifth child.  The story talks briefly about her life before her family, her pregnancy and birth of her fifth child, her time in a coma, and her recovery from that coma.  From the beginning, Ms. O'Connor explains that a family's living through a coma and the recovery from one is not like the movie "While You Were Sleeping". I had no idea.  In fact, it is a very long process.

I would say that this book was very eye opening for me.  Ms. O'Connor is a skilled writer and is very descriptive in how she explains what she has lived through.  Her descriptions helped me see things through her glasses.  Multiple times in the book, my heart hurt for her and her family.  Compassion and sympathy is something I believe we have to cultivate in our hearts.  I think that if we know more about other people's lives we are less likely to judge one another.

I think we are also more likely to have a balanced perspective about life--to understand that there is suffering in all of our lives.  Someone else's life might look perfect or they might look like they have it all together, but we all have struggles.

I think what struck me most about this book was how gradual Ms. O'Connor's recovery from the coma was and how it came step by step--little step by little step.  Her friends gathered around and stepped in to help her family.  They offered and followed through.  They loved, but didn't push.  And when they did push, it was gently.  They brought meals, their presence, cards, gifts for her children, listened to the promptings of the Lord about how to help (while Ms. O'Connor was asleep, one friend gave her daughter a bracelet on her birthday--just what she always had given her older children on that special day).  A few years ago, I read a book for widows and for people seeking to understand and love them well.  It was helpful to me at the time.  This book is helpful to me in the same way.  It helped me to realize that everyone's experience in a coma is different.  It helped me better understand the gravity of what a coma means--and the recovery from one.  She addresses many topics over the course of the book.  One was an interesting discussion about the miracle of her waking up in the middle of the book.  She doesn't come to a conclusion, but I appreciated her thoughts about whether she was a miracle or what happened was a miracle.  It was very well-written and thought provoking.  

I do have to admit that as I headed in to have Lasik surgery on my eyes last week, I did have to put this book down.  Fears about the outpatient operation were something I needed to keep at bay and not feed by thinking about suffering that came unexpectedly from a medical procedure...  

Would I recommend this book?  Yes, I definitely would.  Her book is a very frank memoir about not only her experience and what she felt emotionally, but also her faith.  

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Revell Books.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Turn of Events

We're not moving.  We're staying put in our home where we are.  For the past five weeks, our house has been on the market.  We've looked and asked so many people questions about commutes and where they live.  It's always interesting to watch God help us put the pieces of a puzzle together.  It's hard to see the picture sometimes until the last piece is in place.

My husband has a long commute.  We were considering moving closer to his work.  We looked all over, but found that we liked most where we are now.   He also learned how long his co-workers' commutes were over the course of many conversations.

Often, I find perspective changes things.  Someone expressed concern that I might be afraid of change.  I understood this concern.  It's a valid concern and in the past I was afraid of moving.  But, this time I wasn't.  God had worked on my heart and taught me a lot of lessons.  In the past five weeks, he's impressed upon me several things.

1)  I am me.  Some people will like me and some people won't.  It's okay.

Being a people pleaser who grew up with very few friends, I want everyone to like me.  But, God reminded me, with love, that not everyone will like me. But, that doesn't make me "unlikeable" or less of a person.  I am me.  I love watching people I know and seeing them with people they are good friends with.  I see the gift that God has given them in those friendships and it brings me joy.  I also am so blessed every time I think of my good friends and the gift God has given me.

But, we all have different personalities.  And some of those personalities clash and rub each other the wrong way.  This is okay.

It is also okay to continually put myself out on a limb.

Two things made me cry yesterday.

First, I went to the pharmacist.  I was frustrated because they missed one of our monthly prescriptions again and the request hadn't been received by my doctor.  It's for my son and it matters a lot to me.  I went to talk to the manager and learned that he keeps the prescription on hand that I need.  It will always be there.  I was so struck by this kindness and thought for my family.  He knew it was a big deal to me.  I had gotten upset with the pharmacy because of the error, but had apologized for my words at the same time.  I received a lot of grace from this pharmacist and I was blessed by how the Lord used him to care for my family.

Then, I told the mail lady we were staying.  She beamed at me.  She explained that she had prayed for our move, but also asked the Lord if we could stay if there was any way for that to happen.  She didn't want us to move.  My mail lady didn't want us to move.  

2)  When someone doesn't want to be cared about, let go and move on.  

A few weeks ago when I was out, I saw someone who I had wanted to befriend for a long time.  But, she never let me.  I approached her and asked how she was...how her family was... life...   But, I knew as I asked her these questions that she didn't want me to care about her.  And I knew I should walk on and let go.  I care so much about people.  But, the Lord helped me see that I need to care about people that want to be cared about--and that will let me.  Sometimes people don't want me to and I need to be okay with that.  

I think about how Jesus told the disciples to shake the dust off their feet and walk on when the people don't want to hear about Him.  That was what I thought about that day.  

There's more lesson too, but that's the start of my list.   I'm afraid that my day is getting started now so I better scoot.  I'm still processing and learning from all this move we considered making.