Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Determining Reading Level

One of the questions I am asked quite frequently is 

"How do I determine the reading level of the books we are reading?"

First it must be decided which reading ability is being determined. Generally, people are most interested in determining independent reading level, the level at which a child can read with confidence, without help. Independent reading level is the level at which a child could sit on a couch, read with ease independently, and remember what was read (comprehension).

There is also an instructional reading level. Material at this level is used for instructional methods, where help will be available from a parent or instructor when there is question in regards to pronunciation or meaning. This is the level where progress occurs as the child is building reading skills. New vocabulary will likely be introduced, but is not the greater percentage of what is read, less frustration set in.

The last level is the frustrational level. At the frustrational level, a child will become discouraged, often due to the large percentage of unknown words, setting the read aside. Children presented with a constant stream of materials (not just literature-based) with a high frustrational reading level will quickly  become disheartened about learning.

When considering reading level, it is important to determine the purpose of the reading. If the reading is for pleasure, independent reading or learning, an independent reading level would be best, since comprehension is greater at this level. Interestingly, if a child is motivated to learn content due to intrinsic interest, he or she will eagerly chunk through more difficult reads in search of the information being sought. The purpose of the reading (motivation) will be important when deciding which materials to make available.

There are many ways to determine reading level some more accurate than others, some more time-consuming. Here are a few to consider:
  • Fry Readability Formula is the most widely known method for determining reading level. It was developed by Edward Fry. The formula and readability graph can be found here. 
  • The Flesch Formula, which paved the way for the Dale-Chall, can be found here
  • Dale-Chall and Spache is another readability formula. An explanation can be found here
If you want to get a feel for whether or not your child could read a particular book independently, open the book being considered and have the child read aloud a page (or two paragraphs should it be a longer chapter book). If the child can read aloud the passage with less than five errors and can tell you what took place in that passage, the book is likely a good choice for an independent read.

Did you know you can check the readability of Word documents? Found out more here for Word 2003 and Word 2007

You Tube Word Readability Tutorial

Monday, August 18, 2014

BINGO, States Style

Learning geography can be fun!

Afternoons can drag on. Tired children. Weary mom. 

One particular afternoon we decided to break routine and play a game. 
A few months earlier we purchased a brand new states BINGO game at a used book sale. 
We decided it was a perfect time to give the game a try.

Four littles and I sat on the living room floor reading the instructions and punching out circle markers. Within minutes, excitement building, we piled draw cards and chose game boards. 

We played, enjoyed, and learned United States geography.

Afternoon doldrums were lifted.
 I am certain we can identify the states quicker and know a few more important state facts.

Learning geography wasn't so bad after all. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Cursive with Purpose

Eight weeks of summer home education evaluations leave me pondering. Methods and means. Current trends. Proven practices. Preparing our children for the future. What skills will they need? Thoughts today revolve around penmanship and cursive.

All those practice books. Oh yes, there is good reason to teach penmanship and cursive, teaching correct strokes and rotations. Strokes form letters correctly. Proper letter formation makes composition easier. However, once initial instruction is complete and letters are formed properly, practice begins. Purposeful cursive allows for greater retention, practically.

How can handwriting practice be practical to life? All those practice pages? Maybe. Progress can be seen from the first practice page to the last. However, after seeing pages and books full of practice, quite honestly the children who completed the work were less than excited about their accomplishments or about their ability to write with purpose, compose. Really, they were not all that interested in showing us that work.

I wondered how handwriting could be valued, a necessary tool. Something of purpose, useful.

We tried:
  • Paper checks are becoming more and more obsolete, however children are still fascinated with them. What are they? How do they work? Where is the money? Capitalize on the curiosity, find those old blank checks and get to work practicing handwriting. After explaining the function of checks, check cashing basics, and ethics of banking, my littles wanted to play store and write checks. I asked which stores they wanted to shop and write checks to, then made a list, in manuscript, on a white board. I added the words dollars, hundred, thousand to the board as well as some additional number words. My littles had the words needed to write their checks (spelling!), to play, practice, and enjoy! They used their best handwriting because it mattered to them. Their checks were something of value. The written checks became part of a portfolio of work samples. 
  • Grocery lists. Children love to dream about what they would like to buy at the grocery store. Let them dream in lists! Using a sale ad from a local store, I let my children make a grocery list, either in manuscript or cursive, their choice. The next day I made the project more applicable to life? Children worked together to make a list for a nutritionally sound family meal on a specific budget. Not only did we practice handwriting but we discussed lessons in health and math. The ideas were purposeful and practical. The list was added to the portfolio of work samples. 
Ideas to try later:
  • Find a map of your state. Have your child plan a vacation to 6 cities, 1 lake, and 1 river found in your state. Write the names of those places on a paper (remember proper nouns are capitalized)  in the order to be visited. Handwriting (and capitalization) is practiced while considering state geography. 
  • Plan a European (or other location) vacation. As above, have the child plan a vacation including 1 mountain, 2 rivers, 2 lakes, 5 cities, and 2 countries. 
  • Create a menu, complete with prices (writing decimal numbers), and play restaurant. Make sure the handwriting is the best it can be so customers can read and order. 
  • Create a recipe and write in best handwriting.
  • Write a poem. 
  • Create a list specific to the interest of the child, maybe car parts, tools, craft supplies, or color words. Write the list on a white board or write each word on a 3 x 5 card. Have the child write the words in manuscript or cursive.
  • Some families use poetry or verse for handwriting and copywork. This is profitable as well, though may not be as high on the personal interest scale. 
  • Use fancy charcoal pencils, felt pens, or quill pens to practice manuscript and cursive. 
There are many ways to make cursive purposeful and personal. Share one way you've made handwriting valuable in the comment box. We're in this together!