School strives for family involvement in reading

Sochi isn’t the only place to find exciting Olympic competition right now.

Through Feb. 16, Fruitvale Elementary School is hosting its own brain-boosting version of the Olympics — the Literacy Olympics.

Since Feb. 3, students have been participating in three reading and writing events: opinion writing, vocabulary and reading endurance. For the reading endurance event, the school has set a goal of 150,000 reading minutes, whether that’s time students read themselves or time they’re being read to.

“Parent involvement plays a key role in the Literacy Olympics and in developing successful readers and writers,” said Stacey Morton-Cohen, an instructional coach with School District 51 and an organizer of the Literacy Olympics.

“We want families reading together at home. We want students to know their parents are readers and writers just as they are readers and writers and that learning through literacy is a life-long gift.”

Olympic athletes of all stripes don’t achieve their goals without coaching and training. Toward that end, guest speakers were scheduled to work with Fruitvale students all last week.

Tanya Ivie, a published poet and school staff member, talked with third-graders about the origin of poems.

Colorado Mesa University instructor Mark Schmalz spoke to second-graders about the value of journaling.

DJ Ryan Griz read to kindergartners and explained how he used reading and writing in his work.

Local authors Patti Hill and Sherry Ficklin met with intermediate students to share where story ideas come from and how to develop them.

Morton-Cohen gave a presentation on prolific children’s books author and illustrator Mo Willems of “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” fame.

I was invited to talk to fifth-graders about opinion writing on Monday. This being the day after the Super Bowl, there were a lot of opinions about the game, and it was a natural launching-off point about the differences in a straight-forward retelling of facts in news, opinion writing and persuasive writing.

We quickly went through Monday’s Daily Sentinel, and they were engaged critics.

One student liked the play on words in the headline “Rocky Mountain Low.”

Another questioned the news value of the Sentinel’s Super Bowl coverage because, “Don’t you think people know all about it?” So we talked about advancing a story by providing additional analysis and detail.

Several of the students already had some familiarity with the Sentinel by seeing their parents read it at home, by having their own photo published in the paper, or by having toured the Sentinel offices and printing plant.

One was even familiar with end rolls, the leftover ends of giant spools of newsprint.

“My brother and me were writing all over the walls and mom got giant rolls of paper from you for us to draw on,” he explained.

We talked about their writing. One student is working on a murder mystery. Another is writing an adventure story in which the protagonist’s brother is sinking in sand and she must find a way to rescue him.

Then there was an explanatory piece about Minecraft and biographies of sports figures.

I was there to talk about opinion writing, but our conversation took interesting turns. There were four things I tried to get across:

1. If you’re going to be persuasive, you can’t make things up to be more exciting. You have to know the facts (do your research), then make those facts as interesting as you can for your reader.

2. If you want people to believe you, you have to be believable, so use correct spelling and grammar.

3. Write the way you talk. You’re all great storytellers when you’re talking to your friends (and to me, that day). Keep that same enthusiasm in your writing. Don’t let typing become writing. Writing is in your head. Typing is how you get it down to share.

4. Fuzzy writing comes from fuzzy thinking. If you’re struggling with your writing, you probably haven’t thought it through enough. Maybe you need to read more about your topic. Maybe you need to say it out loud to a friend. Maybe you need to take a walk or eat a snack. Regroup and get your thinking straight.

Good luck, Fruitvale Elementary Panthers! Now go for the gold!

Have news about local authors, bookstores, book clubs or writing groups? Email Laurena Mayne Davis at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Davis is the director of marketing and product development for The Daily Sentinel.


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