Introducing My New Guest Post Series, "The Professionals"

When I first met my friend, Christine, 29, we were both scrawny, skinny kids in a big giant pool learning how to do a ballet leg and master moves upside down with our legs in the air that looked graceful and not like we were drowning.

In fact, I can thank synchronized swimming for introducing me to an entire group of lifelong friends that I’ve held close for many years now (you can read about our team's 30 year reunion here!). Christine and I met in 1997 when I was 12 and she was 11. It’s been so special for us to have grown up together and continued our friendship as we parted ways post-synchro to pursue educations, careers and, ultimately, family and children.

christine and her family
When it came time for Christine to begin her college adventure, she chose the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio—where our former synchro head coach now oversees the team there—to pursue synchro collegiately in tandem with her degree in psychology. “I followed through with that dream for the first year of college, then decided that it wasn’t for me and pursued other ventures for the remainder of my three years,” says Christine. “Following my college graduation in 2009 (magna cum laude), I was accepted into the New York City Teaching Fellows and immediately moved to New York City to follow my two passions: becoming a teacher, and my then-boyfriend of six years.”

Out of 700 applicants accepted into the NYCTF program, Christine was one of only 24 that were bilingual and was placed in a bilingual special education program. For the next two years, she taught full-time while simultaneously earning her Masters of Science in Bilingual Special Education, where she graduated suma cum laude from the City College of New York in 2011.

Christine married her highschool sweetheart, Juan, four years ago and they now have an adorable little boy and live in Chicago. She currently substitute teaches when she’s not busy toting around little Juan Jr. or working on combining her love of education with that of nutrition as she is also an independent educator for the New York-based biz, Veggiecation. “It’s a culinary, nutrition, education program that teaches kids the importance of eating their vegetables in a fun, engaging, and interactive way,” she explains. “In the fall, I will begin working with schools and teaching kids of all ages the importance of eating their vegetables and creating new and exciting recipes with them that they can taste.”

But being a mother has and will always be the highlight of her life. “Having a child of my own has been the greatest joy I could ever as for, both as a parent and educator,” says Christine. “It has been fascinating for me to see the different developmental milestones and how he has approached them and watch his personality and curiosity for the world develop.”

When I asked Christine if she’d be interested in guest posting on my blog about education, she couldn’t have said yes more quickly! This is a very passionate topic—and lifelong endeavor—for Christine and I’m thrilled to share her story with you as well as her tips and information on teaching literacy to children. This will be a two-part post, so don’t miss it!
My Passion for Education and Teaching Children Literacy
By Christine Muldoon

My first teaching job was at PS146 in East Harlem. I was originally hired as a Bilingual Special Education teacher and aside from teaching in a class room, my job was to work with another bilingual educator (another teaching fellow in my small group of bilingual educators) to develop the transitional bilingual program at PS146.

At the time we had no idea what that meant and neither did our principal, so we flew by the seat of our pants the first year and tried our best to create a functional program, interact and translate with Spanish-speaking parents (70% of the school population was Hispanic and only three teachers spoke Spanish fluently). And, of course, be the best teachers we could be to a group of disadvantaged kids in East Harlem.

My first year I taught Kindergarten, followed by teaching first grade for the next three years. I was in a co-teaching classroom for three years as well—which means there are two teachers in a classroom. One is a general education teacher, and the other a special education teacher. Legally, in a co-teaching classroom, 60% of the students are general education and 40% special education, and the classroom caps at 28 students. Unfortunately, in a D-rated school in East Harlem, this is hardly the case and many general education students should be special education and vice versa.

In my fourth year of teaching I was moved to a self-contained classroom. There are 12 special education students, one special education teacher, and one to three para-professionals. For my fifth year I switched to a private school, also in East Harlem, and a school just for special education students where I taught 1st grade again. Currently I am substitute teaching for two private schools in Chicago, and I work with mostly pre-K through 2nd grade.

There are many different theories on how to teach literacy and each school or daycare uses a different curriculum or method. It is very easy to get swept up in the waves of information the Internet can provide. I do not consider myself a literacy expert by any means; however, I have six years of teaching experience, four in a New York City public school and two in private schools. I’ll offer my point of view and hope you find it useful.

I believe that although some methods differ, there are many basic steps parents can take to adequately prepare their little ones for school and get them started on a successful path to literacy. In order to fully understand the purpose behind these educational activities, it is important to comprehend the building blocks to literacy.

Literacy begins at a young age, it can even begin as early as infancy. The concept of literacy looks different at each developmental stage of a child and differs from child to child. The following are a few basic characteristics of literacy:

1. Print Awareness: this is the understanding that the squiggly lines on a page represent spoken language.

2. Sounds of Speech: In order to understand a spoken language, a child must be able to hear the sounds and words that make up the language.

3. Phonemic Awareness: the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) into spoken words. Before a child can read print, he/she must know how the sounds in words work.

4. Fluency: the ability to read a text quickly, accurately, and with expression. Fluency is the key to connecting word recognition with comprehension.

5. Phonics: the idea that letters and letter patterns represent the sounds of spoken language

6. Vocabulary: Beginning readers must use the words they hear orally to make sense of the words they see in print. Vocabulary also refers to high frequency sight words, which are the most commonly used words that children are encouraged to memorize as a whole by sight so they can automatically recognize these words in print without having to use any strategies to decode.

7. Comprehension: Comprehension is the reason for reading. Good readers think actively as they read. They use their experiences and knowledge of the world, vocabulary, language structure, and reading strategies to make sense of the text.

8. Spelling: the understanding that words are made up of separate speech sounds (phonemes) and that letters represent those sounds.

9. Writing: writing is a complex task that balances purpose, audience, ideas and organization with the mechanics of writing (sentence structure, word choice, spelling).

Now, as parents, how can we apply these characteristics in a practical manner on a daily basis? For many of these characteristics, the application can be as simple as conversations with your little one (no matter how young) or reinforcement of activities you probably already do during the day. Below are a few examples of how you can apply the literacy characteristics on a daily basis and what it would look like.

1. Print Awareness: this is the understanding that the squiggly lines on a page represent spoken language.

  • pointing to the words on a page as you read to your child
  • asking your child where are the pictures, where are the words on a page
  • asking your child where is the title of the book
  • having your child point to (or show your child) words in a magazine, newspaper, signs at the grocery store, signs on doors, etc.

2. Sounds of Speech: In order to understand a spoken language, a child must be able to hear the sounds and words that make up the language.

  • modeling appropriate conversation for your child, speaking in full sentences (even to babies)
  • peaking with intonation, expression, and using adult words; even if you think your child will not understand them, they are getting exposure to those words at an early age.

*Most teachers would agree that phonemic awareness is extremely important in regards to literacy. Most kids will come into Kindergarten knowing their letters but not knowing that letters make sounds and the sounds are what we use to create words.

3. Phonemic Awareness: the ability to hear, indentify, and manipulate, individual sounds (phonemes) into spoken words. Before a child can read print, he/she must know how the sounds in words work.

  • teach your child that a letter has a name AND a sound. ie: “Yes, that is the letter “T” it makes the /t/ sound.
  • ask your child what SOUND do the letters make
  • model the correct way to sound out the letters. ie: the letter P makes the /p/ sound, not /pu/
  • look for other objects that begin with the same sound as the letter you are studying. ie: “What else starts with the ‘s’ sound? Snake, soup, sad, etc
  • for older students have them underline, color, or circle words that begin with the same letter sound
  • start with your child’s name. ie: Harrison starts with the “h” sound, what else starts with that sound?
  • begin teaching sounds with basic consonants and short vowel soundsthe first. Most kids don’t move onto diagraphs, blends, or long vowel sounds until the end of 1st grade

4. Fluency: the ability to read a text quickly, accurately, and with expression. Fluency is the key to connecting word recognition with comprehension.

  • once a child is beginning to read, fluency is taught by encouraging the child to use his/her finger to follow the words as they read. This is called: tracking
  • as a child becomes a better reader, the finger is removed and the child is taught to track the words with his/her eyes.
  • you can model fluency by tracking the words as you read to your child. Fluency also includes reading with expression and intonation. ie: use expression when reading a sentence that ends with an exclamation mark or question mark.
  • for young readers you can use popsicle sticks as a “pointer”
  • if you have access to a big book, use a pointer stick and have the child come up to the book and point as you read.

5. Phonics: the idea that letters and letter patterns represent the sounds of spoken language

  • the goal of phonics is to teach kids to decode words (sound words out, or blend sounds together to read a word).
  • similar to phonemic awareness, ask your child to identify the sounds the letters make in simple words such as: cat, hat, pat, etc.
  • use Dr. Seuss books to begin teaching sounding out words
  • use fingers to “tap out” sounds in words. ie: when sounding out the word “cat” hold together thumb and forefinger and clearly say the sound /c/, then hold together thumb and middle finger and say the sound /a/, then hold together thumb and ring finger and say the sound /t/. c-a-t. This is a full sensory (visual, auditory, kinesthetic) approach because it helps kids break words down into each individual sound using their hands (kinesthetic), saying the sounds (auditory), seeing the separation of sounds with the tapping of each finger (visual).
  • for more information on “tapping” words you can go to www.fundations.com It is an entire literacy curriculum based on decoding words using the tapping method.

-----stay tuned for part 2!

I hope you enjoyed this post and thanks to Christine for sharing such insightful information and tips! I'll be back soon with part two, the completion of this post, and also have a few other guest posts lined up for my "The Professionals" series that I hope to continue into this fall!

Thanks for reading :)
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  1. This is awesome and SO interesting! Impressive guest post by a most impressive young lady!

  2. As someone who has two little ones going into Pre-K this year, this is awesome information. Some of it I was doing (without knowing the why behind it) and some I wasn't. It is very interesting to me to see how my two learn and process things in such different ways, and the tips and info in this post will definitely help me to help them each in their unique styles.

  3. These are good tips from a great teacher! Early literacy is critical for later academic success. I see so many kids who come to kindergarten vocabulary poor because they do not have exposure to spoken language let alone words in print. I always tell parents who are not English speakers to please speak to and read to their children in their native language. Language is language and it's difficult to help close gaps when the critical periods have passed.


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