Showing posts in December 2010 Show all posts >
In my November blog post, I shared information about how speech and language develop and also spoke about the importance of nursery rhymes. This month, we are going to continue the discussion about the teaching tools of nursery rhymes for young children.
Sounds are one of the many teaching tools of nursery rhymes. They also teach word order, grammar, and rhythm. Each of the content words– Peter, Piper pickled, peppers, picked, and peck are repeated four times each. But to build an appreciation of the flexibility of word order, each repetition puts the words in a different position. The subject noun Peter Piper, is repeated four times in the subject noun position, but two of those times it comes early in a phrase and twice it comes later. Pickled peppers, an object noun phrase, occurs twice after the verb pick, which is what we would expect, and twice before the verb. These are all grammatical sentences, so the child is not being exposed to language that is incorrect or inappropriate. But what a joy for a child, who is trying desperately to learn how to order words into sentences, to realize that part of the joy of language is the variety and flexibility. Language is not just about meaning (how many two years olds care about what at “peck” is) but about sound, rhythm, rhyming, and variation.
Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet
Eating her curds and whey
Along came a spider
Who sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away
In this nursery rhyme different, but at the same time early sound patterns are emphasized. The phoneme /m/ is one of the easiest for a child to produce and in this rhyme is contrasted with the /s/ in spider and sat as well as the /t/.which ends sat and starts and ends tuffet. Never mind that the average two or three year old will have no idea what the words tuffet, curds, or whey actually mean. Nursery rhymes are not so much about vocabulary as they are about the rules of combining sounds into words, rhyming, and alliteration (all prerequisite to phonological awareness which is going to lead to the ability to phonically decode words in a few years.) That fact that our language contains words we do not understand does not limit our ability to enjoy language. And introducing your youngster to that knowledge will enhance her curiosity about words and the magic of language.
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Today, you are nine years old and in the third grade. You enjoy playing on the monkey bars at recess and drawing pictures of your dog and your fish. You also like watermelon hard candies, mac and cheese, and, to your friends’ bewilderment, you have an affinity for tuna fish sandwiches, especially when your mom has mixed crunchy celery in with the tuna.
But also unlike your friends, you have often felt that school seems harder than it should be. For some inexplicable reason, you tend to make more mistakes than your classmates. You have a hard time grasping math concepts that they seem to get easily. You don’t remember geography facts as well as they do. And because of those difficulties, you feel different and separate from those around you. You feel incapable. You feel like a failure. And because of it, you feel angry, sad and alone.
While this is a simplistic snapshot of the thoughts typical of children with learning difficulties, such an exercise reminds us of two things: the magic of being young, and the loneliness and frustration of a youngster who lives with these challenges.
According to the Child Development Institute, six to ten percent of school-aged kids in the US are learning disabled. The causes of learning disabilities vary from genetics to nutrition to pre-birth and early childhood injury, and the challenges that children with learning difficulties experience tend to fall into five different areas: spoken language, written language, math, reasoning and memory. They may simply work slowly. They may have disorganized thinking. They may have difficulty in sequencing tasks. They may have poor impulse control. They many experience these difficulties in any number of combinations and groupings.
All children have problems. They all experience challenges with school and in social relationships. But when these problems begin to appear in combinations and clusters, or if they persist for long periods, we as educators must take a close look and ask ourselves whether the student’s challenges fall within normal ranges, or whether they should be evaluated in more detail.
If an evaluation comes back with an indication that a student has a learning difficulty, it is absolutely essential for educators and parents to team up and support that student in every way possible. If an IEP (individualized education plan) is in order, everyone needs to be informed and on board to support the student’s new path.
What exactly can we do for these children to boost their self-esteem? Writing for the Learning Disabilities Association of Illinois, clinical psychologist Aoife Lyons offers a number of recommendations:
The good news is that, for the student who has experienced years of frustration and difficulty and loneliness, a positive diagnosis can be freeing. It gives them a clear explanation for why they have been experiencing all these feelings and difficulties. It allows them to once again be proud of who they are and see their differences in a new light. And, given the research, expertise and research based interventions available, it gives these students a clearer path forward to define--and achieve--their own success.
For further reading, check out:
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The holiday season is upon us once again! This is typically a busy time for a lot of people. The music, the enticing foods, gifts to buy and wrap, parties, family time – all of these things make the holidays both fun-filled times and times of high stress.
I seem to remember the more stressful times better than the fun times, especially when it comes to flying home from San Francisco to New England each year. There was the year that my luggage got lost; arriving just in time to fly back to the bay area after the holidays were over. That was the year that I learned to pack more in the bag that actually gets carried on the plane with me. Or the year I got everything packed and arrived at an airport jammed with other holiday travelers only to find out that my flight had been cancelled. Fortunately, it was re-scheduled to get me home just in the nick of time to get together with my family. These were definitely anxiety-producing times for me around the holidays!
I found a great article written by the staff at the Mayo Clinic that outlines 10 ways to help with the stress around the holidays and perhaps even help you make all of the challenges around the holidays fun and enjoyable. Some of the suggestions take a bit of thought and pre-planning but might be worth trying!
I will try idea # 6 when I head to airport just before the New Year to fly from New England back to San Francisco. By planning ahead, I will get the airport 2 hours early to make sure I have enough time to check in and be at the gate well before the plane takes off. I will also take a deep breath and be ready for anything that happens! I hope these tips are helpful in creating a wondrous, magical holiday season this year and for years to come. Happy Holidays!
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Categories: Family Focus
I often hear from customers and other Scientific Learning employees that our company is distinguished by the passion and commitment of those who work here. One reason for that palpable passion is that many have been personally and deeply touched by the life-changing experiences that their own family members, students, or customers have experienced with Fast ForWord® and Reading Assistant™ products. We have seen children’s lives be changed forever by these products. Students who may not have had opportunities in school now can succeed in ways that wouldn’t have been possible even 15 years ago.
I have my own story to tell—about my nephew—and I will tell it here soon, but today I want to share a personal story from Cory Armes, one of our Education Consultants, who was so impacted by her experience with the Fast ForWord products that she left her teaching job to work for Scientific Learning:
“ I began my experience with the Fast ForWord products, or in my case, product, several years ago. On a cloudy afternoon in February 1999, our Special Education Director gathered the diagnosticians (of which I was one) and speech pathologists to hear a presentation about a new product called Fast ForWord. After the presentation, my mind was spinning to think that there might be even a modicum of truth to the research that he had shared…
As a certified skeptic, I had some serious questions about the claims he made that day. After all, I knew as a teacher that if I made a year’s gain with my students in a year’s time, we were doing a good job. My problem was that many of the students I worked with throughout my career came to me two-to-three years below grade level. If we made a year’s progress in a year’s time, it was great but they still were two-to-three years behind. So to have someone tell me that there was a product available that could help students make one-to-two years gain in a few weeks time was questionable at best. I couldn’t imagine that brain fitness exercises actually could change a student’s ability to focus and retain information much less improve the way the brain processes. But we had a recent article from ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) that supported his claims along with other research information so decided to implement Fast ForWord as our summer school program.
After the meeting, I called the Special Education Director to ask if there was something that I could do, beyond the pre-and post-testing, to learn more about the program and how it worked. She very graciously said, “Of course.” and promptly put me in charge of the implementation for the district. Now, there were a few things to consider: first, I wasn’t convinced that this program would even work and, second, I’m a bit of a perfectionist. So, I decided that there was only one thing to do and that was to run the implementation exactly as the company suggested with a strict fidelity to the protocol and a good motivational system in place so if we didn’t get the results they advertised, it wouldn’t be my fault!
Our first implementation included 25 first to eighth graders who had been through multiple reading products with little improvement. I had a great team who loved kids and we had a blast for the six weeks that we ran the program. I learned a lot about running Fast ForWord (such as you don’t need to allow ten minutes between exercises for breaks because you can’t get them to stop working!) and at the end of the fourth week at 100 minutes a day; we had some students reach completion. In week five, we began post-testing those students and could not believe the results. By the end of the six-week session, our students averaged a 1.5 year gain in language (using the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals and Lindamood Auditory Conceptualization assessments) and 1.5 years in reading (Gray Oral Reading Test)!
The rest, as they say, is history. An eighth grader with an extremely high IQ but who, as a student with severe Dyslexia, had been reading on first grade level now tested at the fifth grade reading. One of the third graders who essentially was a non-reader, went to fourth grade with improved reading skills and, after completing the second Fast ForWord product the following summer, was reading on grade level in fifth grade and passed the state reading assessment. A fifth grader who was reading on first grade level became engaged in school the next year and after completing additional products over the next two school years, was on the A-Honor Roll, no longer required Resource assistance and, according to her mother, read everything she touched. Many stories, many changed lives and my sincere regret that I didn’t have Fast ForWord much sooner in my career.
After two years of supervising and implementing Fast ForWord for the district, I believed so strongly in the products that I joined Scientific Learning as a trainer. Over the last ten years, I’ve seen wonderful product additions, large numbers of students using the products and a worldwide impact in accelerating learning.
As my 4 -year-old granddaughter would say, “How cool is that”?
In March of 2000, nine year-old Verity Ward of Great Britain had been pushed to the limit. She had been physically and emotionally bullied by fellow students at her school. They had repeatedly kicked, slapped and otherwise abused her for over eighteen months.
At the time, after she and her family tried unsuccessfully to have the problem addressed by the school, she said, “"I just want them to stop. I can't take it anymore. I used to love coming to school, but now I hate it." (BBC News, 2000)
Sadly, Verity’s experience is somewhat common. In a 2001 survey funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, sixteen percent of U.S. school children reported being bullied sometime during the current term. (National Institute of Health, 2001) Bullying is something we tend to think of as taking place between individuals or small groups. The reality is that such destructive interactions not only affect the lives and learning of those directly involved, but those affects can ripple outward, negatively affecting the across classrooms and even the entire school.
While bullying can encompass any number of behaviors, the general definition involves one individual using an imbalance of power to dominate another. While this imbalance can be real or perceived and exist between individuals or groups, it manifests in a combination of three ways: physical, verbal and psychological abuse. Interestingly, males tend to be bullies and/or bullied more often than females. Between males, physical and verbal bullying is more prevalent. Among females, verbal and psychological forms tend to be more common. (U.S. Department of Justice, June 2001)
Bullying can create a stressful, anxiety-filled environment where it becomes difficult for individual victims, classrooms and even the whole of a school population to learn effectively. Studies have already shown that victims of bullying are more likely to have cognitive deficits than their peers and score lower on tests that measure executive function. Researchers suspect that the lower academic performance in such individuals may be a result of the chronic stress that can actually kill brain cells. (Seattle Times, March 2010)
So what can an institution do to remedy the problem? In the 1980s, researcher Dan Olweus of Norway implemented a multi-level intervention program to address bullying:
The results of Olweus’s work were more than promising. In just two years, reported incidents of bullying had dropped by half. What is more, students reported drops in truancy and vandalism and theft, and, maybe most importantly, they characterized their school environment as “more positive as a result of the program.” (Ibid.)
While bullying is an extremely serious and prevalent problem in schools across our nation, work such as that of Olweus gives us as educators a clear response. The fact is, we must respond. We cannot let bullying go un-addressed as it so often is. In taking actions that involve whole school populations as opposed to just the bullies and victims, we make the issue a public one. We give the victims a voice, and we give every member of the school community the tools to talk about and deal with the issue head-on.
In the end, we can relieve the victims of their pain, freeing them to take advantage of all the school has to offer. We can also help bullies build self-esteem and positive relationships. As educators, it is our responsibility to help every individual--bully as well as victim--to find their positive life path and achieve success.
For more information, check out these articles:
He gets results! Rescuing the good citizens of Metropolis and instilling hope and wonder in all citizens. Yes, it’s a comical notion but we love to believe in the Superheroes and their ability to get things done!
When it comes to education, we look to our school district leaders to get things done – improved student achievement, high quality schools and low cost education programs that get maximum results. Especially in light of recent reports that show the US lagging behind other countries in reading, math, science and social studies. But there is one district in Louisiana that is getting things done – their results are proof that good leadership, a supporting community and proven education programs can turn a district around, from failing to proficient in a short amount of time.
Once a low performing district, the St. Mary Parish Public School System has achieved significant gains to become a role model for schools looking to make dramatic changes in their performance. After using the Fast ForWord® and Reading Assistant™ family of educational software products to strengthen students’ brain processing and literacy skills, students have increased their reading proficiency, and improved their achievement on state tests. In addition, fourth grade promotion rates have increased and test scores for student subgroups have improved, with the district making significant progress toward closing the achievement gap.
During the 2006-07 school year, St. Mary Parish started school-wide use of the Fast ForWord software at eight elementary schools that were in Academic Assistance. During the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, the Fast ForWord program was extended to the rest of the district. Students in grades three through five work with the Fast ForWord products 30, 40 or 50 minutes a day, depending on the school. Since 2008, the district has implemented Reading Assistant software as well. Reading Assistant combines advanced speech-verification technology with the latest reading science to help students strengthen their fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary.
From 2006 to 2010 the percentage of fourth graders performing at or above the Basic level on the initial LEAP ELA test increased from 55 percent to 78 percent. In 2008, for the first time in a decade, the district exceeded the state average for the percentage of fourth graders reading at or above Basic on the initial ELA test. In addition, for the first time in years, the district had no schools labeled Academically Unacceptable.
Similarly, from 2006 to 2010, the percentage of fourth graders performing at or above Basic on the initial LEAP test rose from 59 to 79 percent in Math, from 53 to 69 percent in Science, and from 59 to 72 percent in Social Studies.
|Fourth Grade Initial LEAP Test|
*Net Change is measured from the year before Fast ForWord participation to 2010, i.e. 2006-2010 for 4th graders.
Fourth Grade Promotion Rates
In addition to improving LEAP scores, St. Mary Parish collected longitudinal data about the percentage of fourth grade students each year who were promoted to fifth grade. From 2006 to 2010, the district’s fourth grade promotion rate improved from 65 to 85 percent.
Both general education and special education students showed a positive trend in fourth grade promotion rates. Between 2006 and 2010, the fourth grade promotion rate improved from 67 to 88 percent for general education students, and from 33 to 59 percent for special education students.
“Over the past four years, our fourth grade students have made astounding gains, outpacing their state counterparts in English language arts as well as math and science,” said Superintendent Dr. Donald Aguillard. “Our fourth graders now rank 14th in the state, signifying a continuance of annual proficiency increases since 2006. As a result, the number of fourth graders who require summer remediation has declined significantly, and students’ self-confidence and motivation have soared. In reading and across the curriculum, our students are clearly benefitting from our ongoing efforts to provide effective, targeted instruction and interventions through the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs.”
St. Mary Parish Public School System is an example of a district that is getting results – making significant gains in reading, math, social studies and science. Providing the standard for making our education system No. 1 in the world again!
Superman is here… is more powerful than a locomotive and can leap tall buildings while raising district scores in a single bound, the Superhero the education world has been waiting for. Who is this Superman? It’s the School District leader who makes failure not an option; who sees opportunities and possibilities where others see roadblocks and status quo. The Superintendent who takes risks to make progress and the teacher who knows all students have dreams and unique learning capabilities. The Superheroes are among us – saving and enriching the lives of students every day.
Take one such Superhero, Dr. Donald Aguillard, Superintendent of Schools at St. Mary Parish Public School System. His story is like many great district leaders – he saw a need, he embraced the challenge and he took measures to take his schools from failing to proficient in just a few years.
In the mid-2000s, after years of struggling, St. Mary Parish Public School System knew powerful change was needed. The rural district’s high stakes test scores lagged behind the state average, and there were large disparities between the reading proficiency of student subgroups. The state of Louisiana had placed several of the district’s schools in Academic Assistance, a designation for schools that fail to grow sufficiently — and some had remained there for nearly 10 years.
Dr. Aguillard and his leadership team took charge – they invested in a program that builds brain fitness and accelerates learning for all students. During the 2006-07 school year, St. Mary Parish started school-wide use of Fast ForWord® software at eight elementary schools that were in Academic Assistance. “One of the things I was excited about was that the Fast ForWord program is based on the science of how the brain learns and retains information,” said Dr. Aguillard. “Our challenge wasn’t necessarily that our programs were ineffective. It was that we weren’t meeting the individual needs of students. We realized that to make the most of our programs, we needed to develop and strengthen the cognitive skills essential for learning and reading success.”
As a result of building students’ brain fitness, the district saw a marked increase in student performance in these eight schools and adopted the program district-wide. “This built tremendous momentum because there were so many more students reaching the proficiency bars set in high stakes testing,” said Aguillard. The results are evident across the district. In fact, from 2006 to 2010, the percentage of fourth graders performing at or above Basic on the initial LEAP test rose from 59 to 79 percent in Math, from 53 to 69 percent in Science, and from 59 to 72 percent in Social Studies.
Dr. Aguillard has a wonderfully supportive staff that enthusiastically promotes the Fast ForWord program and strives for excellence in education; a community that rallies behind his efforts and students who see the future as a world of open doors. Lead on Dr. A., the world loves a Superhero!
Why wait for Superman? Students across the country are making great academic gains with great teaching, rich content and outstanding educators.
Take a look at Patterson High School in St Mary Parish, Louisiana where Kenny Hilliard could barely read at the level of a second grader when he reached high school. After a few weeks of doing the Fast ForWord program at school, he reads at grade level and he understands what he reads. Once at risk of dropping out of high school, now Kenny is headed for Louisiana State University on a football scholarship. Kenny had great teachers, a rich curriculum and a community that supported his academic and athletic goals. Yet Kenny, like many other students across the country, needed an intervention to help build his cognitive skills of memory, attention, processing and sequencing – the skills necessary for reading and learning.
“What changed is that Kenny did a computer program called Fast ForWord,” said Patterson High School Principal, Rachael Wilson. “He is such a talented football player, and his talents can carry him far, but recruiters are looking for kids who have talent and good grades. The first two questions recruiters ask me are ‘What kind of kid is he?’ and ‘What kind of grades does he make?’ Thanks to the progress Kenny made in Fast ForWord, he does not need to rely on athletic talent alone.”
Kenny says he was a little nervous at first, but he decided to give Fast ForWord a try. It is a program that is proven to accelerate learning and increase reading proficiency in students from kindergarten through high school. The software consists of brain fitness exercises and actually improves how the brain learns.
“It worked,” said Wilson. “Within weeks, Kenny began to see a change in his ability to focus. Over time, his reading comprehension improved dramatically and that’s helped him in all subjects, and he has the GPA and ACT scores required for enrollment into a four-year university.”
Today, Kenny continues to break records playing football for St. Mary Parish School District and is planning for his college courses at LSU. To learn more about Kenny and his amazing story, watch this video.
As we've recently gone through the election process, a discussion of our nation's challenged economy might appear to be a tired topic. While adult generations look toward a strong recovery in the coming years, young children may potentially experience the negative consequences of these times for the rest of their lives.
Today, research has demonstrated a clear correlation between socio-economic status (SES) and cognitive ability. In a recent article by Amy Novoteny, The recession's toll on children, the author makes a clear point that while our nation as a whole will surely recover from this downturn, the current generation of disadvantaged children may not. She says children of lower SES experience "negative education and cognitive outcomes as a result of less mental stimulation and increased stress in their living situations." (An interesting note, the same lab that uncovered the phenomenon cited by Novoteny used Fast ForWord on both typically developing children and children with language delay; they observed behavioral improvements as well as physiological evidence for the basis for these improvements. See Stevens,C., Fanning, J., Coch, D., Sanders, L., Neville, H., 2008. This video blog post also discusses Stevens' research.)
As finances put stresses on home lives and force parents to spend more time worrying about work, these same parents are spending less time and energy on their children, playing with them less and reading to them more infrequently. These children's cognitive development is suffering as a result.
Novoteny's ideas are echoed by researchers Raizada and Kishiyama who quote findings that "children from low SES backgrounds perform below children from higher SES backgrounds on tests of intelligence and academic achievement." Additional supporting research showed that these children are "more likely to fail courses, be placed in special education, and drop out of high school compared to high SES children." (Raizada and Kishiyama, 2010)
Interestingly, the data demonstrating these conclusions have historically been based on behavioral studies. The path of research pursuing the neural component-the actual physiological effects upon the neuroplastic brain-is a relatively new one. An example of one such innovative study was performed recently at Berkeley where researchers studied the developmental differences between low- and high-income children through studying the differences in their EEG recordings. The study showed that the recordings of "nine- and ten-year olds from poorer homes showed less brain activity in the prefrontal cortex than the brains of children from more well-off families." (Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Vol. 21, No. 6) According to cognitive psychologist and study co-author Mark Kishiyama, "These kids have no neural damage, no prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol... Yet the prefrontal cortex is not functioning as efficiently as it should be. This difference may manifest itself in problem-solving and school performance."
Neural studies have helped us develop effective interventions for those with learning disabilities related to the brain's neurology, such as dyslexia and stroke. This shines great hope on the potential that research will be able to draw on existing interventions, as well as develop new and innovative techniques, to help level the playing field for these young students who have developed learning difficulties as a result of SES.
Part of my excitement around this subject stems from the fact that when it comes to interventions, psychologists say that the while the brain is vulnerable to the negative influences of poverty, it is likewise able to benefit from positive stimuli and nurturing relationships. Just as these students face the possibilities of negative results, they also have all the requisite abilities-with the right interventions-to turn them into successful outcomes. Those interventions might take any number of forms; Fast ForWord represents one of those interventions that is proven to work. Still, the best early intervention is available in each and every home. Nothing can compare to the positive impact of parents spending more time regularly reading with their children.
To learn more about the impact of a down economy on cognitive development in young children, read Novoteny's article, The recession's toll on children, published this past September by the American Psychological Association.
For a deeper look into previous research as well as a survey of potential interventions for low SES children, read Raizada and Kishiyama's 2010 article, Effects of socioeconomic status on brain development, and how cognitive neuroscience may contribute to leveling the playing field.
In Kindergarten, phonemic awareness skills acquisition is a focal point in language and reading development. Kindergarten phonemic awareness challenges include memorizing the consonant sounds that are associated with each letter of the alphabet and learning to detect the part of a word where a specific consonant sound is heard.
Your Kindergarteners can practice honing their phonemic awareness skills with some of these activities available via the Web:
Kindergarten Phonemic Awareness Activities from PBS Kids
PBS Kids offers several fun online games that even young children can play to develop phonemic awareness skills:
Elmo shows the child a selection of objects on the shelves of a closet. He names one of the objects and asks the child to select all of the items in the closet that rhyme with the named object. As the child mouses over an object, Elmo says the name of the object.
The child hears a short word spoken and is asked to look at three written words and click on the word that he heard. The child gets multiple chances to get it right, and after making a correct match, sees the written word next to a picture of the named object.
The child sees a picture and a word label for the picture. A letter is missing from the word. It is the child’s task to select the missing letter from three letters provided. The game also provides a little help: the child can mouse over several letters to hear the sound each one makes before selecting an answer.
Alphabet Chant from EFL Playhouse
While the website is geared toward teachers of English Language Learners, the Alphabet Chant is appropriate as a general classroom Kindergarten phonemic awareness activity. The chant is designed to be fun, can be incorporated into the classroom in just 5-10 minutes, and over time helps young learners associate letters with sounds.
Kindergarten Phonemic Awareness Activities from “Patti’s Classroom”
From Los Angeles County Office of Education, “Patti’s Electronic Classroom” (http://teams.lacoe.edu/documentation/classrooms/patti/k-1/activities/phonemic.html) provides many resources for teachers of students in grades K-3—including a selection of kindergarten phonemic awareness activities:
Kindergarten Phonemic Awareness Activities from SaskEd
Books and Language Play (link updated 04/02/2012)
These phonemic awareness activities from SaskEd encourage the use of books and songs that rhyme as well as tongue twisters, alliteration, and other types of language play. The end of the article features a list of books for young children that highlight language play.
Graphophonic Strategies and Activities (link updated 04/02/2012)
In addition to the book list and language play suggestions, SaskEd’s graphophonic strategies and activities are perfect for helping kindergarteners discover the alphabetic principle, the idea that each letter of the alphabet is associated with one or two sounds. Activities include making and reading one-letter books and a fun challenge to sing the alphabet backwards sometimes.
Have fun with these phonemic awareness activities and help your Kindergarteners begin to develop a lifelong enjoyment of language and reading and become a successful reader.