June Teaching Tip: Forget the 100-Word Rule!

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Last week, the principal of our local school asked me what I thought about the district’s mandate that kindergartners learn a list of 100 words. Did I think it was appropriate? The short answer? No!

I see how confused educators are about how to reach that goal. Many teachers try to divide the word list over the course of the school year. Each week, students go home with a section of the list and practice the words diligently with their families. Would you be surprised to discover that students forget the words from the previous week as they try to learn a new set?

So what is appropriate to teach kindergartners? Young children need to learn that reading is fun, engaging, and something they are successful at. Nothing is worse than discouraging children and making them feel like they are failing. We cannot have a one-size-fits-all curriculum. Literacy learning needs to be meaningful and appropriate. Children who have a limited background with texts need to experience the power and joy of real books.


Learning a core of sight words is important, but the words need to be selected carefully and taught responsively. Marie Clay tells us that “New words will be acquired through reading books and others will come from daily writing” (Literacy Lessons: Part 2, page 40). The words you teach should be ones kindergartners see frequently in books and want to use in their writing. For some students, learning the first few words may come quite slowly. They need to develop a system for remembering. If you try to teach too many words at once, you will just create a huge muddle.

How about this? Instead of a kindergarten goal of learning 100 specific words, give them a goal of reading 100 books? Maybe even 180 books? One for each day! That’s a goal that all kindergartners can achieve, whether they’re at the beginning of their journey as readers or well on their way to proficiency.

For more teaching tips delivered right to your inbox each month, sign up for our Pioneer Valley Books newsletter!

Michele Dufresne

A Free Calendar for You!

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Wow, June is already breezing past us! It seems like it just began. How is it already the 13th? If you’re as shocked to hear about today’s date as I am, then maybe you need this free calendar we’ve made for you!


Every month, our talented production team creates free, downloadable Bella & Rosie calendars. They’re always available on our Teachers Pay Teachers store!

You can download this calendar, and more fun stuff on our Teachers Pay Teachers store today!

Pre-K, Kindergarten, First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Not Grade Specific - TeachersPayTeachers.com

It’s Summer, and We’ve Got Free Books for You!

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Every month, we create two free, printable books and make them downloadable via our BookBuilder Online. For June,  both of our stories are about summer fun!

Our first story is “I Love the Beach.” (Level 5/D) Kids can insert their own names into these stories to personalize them. In this story, a boy and a girl go to the beach for a day of adventures!

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The second free story is, “In the Summer.” (Level 2/B) In this story, two boys and two girls talk about the things they love to do in the summer, like hiking or jumping on a trampoline.

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Kids love seeing their own names in stories, and parents and teachers alike love how easy these books are to print out and assemble!

You can download these free books, and more, at BookBuilder Online.

The Thirty Million Word Gap

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I recently read this interesting study, and thought I’d share my thoughts here. In the study, University of Kansas researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley got to know 42 families from various socio-economic backgrounds. After four years, Hart and Risley were able to assess the ways in which daily exchanges and conversations between parents and children shape a child’s language and vocabulary development.

From the study:

The results of the study were more severe than the researchers anticipated. Observers found that 86 percent to 98 percent of the words used by each child by the age of three were derived from their parents’ vocabularies. Furthermore, not only were the words they used nearly identical, but also the average number of words utilized, the duration of their conversations, and the speech patterns were all strikingly similar to those of their caregivers.

After establishing these patterns of learning through imitation, the researchers next analyzed the content of each conversation to garner a better understanding of each child’s experience. They found that the sheer number of words heard varied greatly along socio-economic lines. On average, children from families on welfare were provided half as much experience as children from working class families, and less than a third of the experience given to children from high-income families. In other words, children from families on welfare heard about 616 words per hour, while those from working class families heard around 1,251 words per hour, and those from professional families heard roughly 2,153 words per hour. Thus, children being raised in middle to high income class homes had far more language exposure to draw from.

This study highlights an enormous challenge we face as educators. Children enter our classrooms with significant discrepancies in not only knowledge, but also their skills and experience.

Follow-up studies showed that these differences in language and interaction experience can have lasting effects on a child’s performance later in life, as well. If children from high-income families are being exposed to 30 million more words than children from families on welfare, educators must adapt and find a way to best serve each individual child.

You can read the entire study here.


Fan Mail of the Month: Thanks, Milo!

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One of the best parts of my job is hearing from the children who read and love the books we make. Knowing teachers all over the world are using our books to improve literacy in their classrooms is a great feeling, and one that continually motivates our whole team here at Pioneer Valley Books.

Every day, kids send letters to us here at PVB HQ. We get letters for Bella, Rosie, Jack, Daisy and all our other beloved characters, and of course, those animals respond personally when they can!

Sometimes, kids write letters just to me, and it always brings a smile to my face. One of my favorite letters I’ve received recently was from a first grader named Milo. Here’s what Milo had to say:

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Dear Michele Dufresne and Pioneer Valley Books, 

I loved your books. They were the best books I ever read. I loved the ones that were about animals. 

  1. I like that they are nonfiction. They really pull me in the book. 
  2. You stick with four specific topics. 
  3. There is a lot of awesome titles. 
  4. You have specific science words in your books. 

So please make more. I am a big fan of your books. You inspired me to like reading workshop. You are the best book creator in the world!

From, Milo

Well, thank YOU Milo! I am so glad to hear Milo loves our nonfiction books. We take a lot of pride in our nonfiction collections here at Pioneer Valley Books. Our Explore the World nonfiction collection actually just took home first prize in its category at the New England Book Show Awards!

Milo’s teacher wrote the following note to accompany his letter:

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Milo approached me during our writing workshop to tell me he couldn’t stop thinking about the books he read during our reading workshop. He wanted to let you know that your books transformed his reading experience. He no longer struggles to stay engaged in reading. He is devouring the Explore the World series! My first graders are trading them back and forth with enthusiastic recommendations! I am so appreciative of the rich language opportunities and authentic content. They are a fantastic addition to our classroom library. 


We love hearing from students and teachers alike. We’re so glad to bring these books to schools, and glad to hear when readers are enjoying them!

May Teaching Tip: Help Parents Keep Their Kids on Track with Summer Reading

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As the school year winds down and your students’ families make summer plans for vacation, camps, and other activities, remind their parents to keep reading at the forefront! Students who read over the summer are much more likely to hold the gains they’ve made during the school year and even increase their reading skills.

Here are some tips to make reading with this summer both fun and productive for students and their parents.

1. Tell parents to keep a record of what their child reads over the summer on a Summer Reading Log. Doing so is a great way to help children see their progress. The student can even bring their summer reading log in to show their new teacher in the fall!


2. Tell parents to increase the difficulty of the books selected for the child as they progress. While favorite books can be like best friends—reassuring and familiar—beginning readers need to be appropriately challenged to continually develop their skills.

3. Encourage the parent and child to create their own stories together. You can use our free Family Stories Activity to get you started.

4. Print and sign this letter and hand it to parents as it gets closer to the last day of school.


Whatever methods parents use with their kids, make sure they are encouraging reading to their kids all summer long. The rewards in the fall will be worth the effort!

Have a great summer!


Our May Stories on Teachers Pay Teachers

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A few months ago, Pioneer Valley Books opened a Teachers Pay Teachers store. We know thousands of teachers use TpT and its ample wealth of resources to better their classrooms every day. One of our missions here at Pioneer Valley Books has always been to help make teachers’ lives easier, so TpT seemed like a natural next step.

We’ve been updating our store regularly with plenty of free downloads, like calendars, poems, and more, as well as some downloadable, printable books available at a very low cost. When writing these books, I try to create stories at different levels each month so that teachers with students at every level can find something worthwhile on our page. Our TpT books feature some of our most beloved PVB characters, like Bella and Rosie.

For May, I wrote two stories: “Bella Can Go” and “Someone to Play With.”

“Bella Can Go,” a level 1/A book, features cute photos of our little Bella as she goes, goes, goes! Students will love the images of Bella on a scooter, on roller-skates, and more.

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“Someone to Play With,” a level 14/H book, is all about Daisy. Read along as Daisy tries to convince the other pups, Bella, Rosie, and Jack, to play with her. At first, she has no luck but Daisy always has a few tricks up her sleeves.

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You can download both of these books, and much more, at our Teachers Pay Teachers store here:
Pre-K, Kindergarten, First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Not Grade Specific - TeachersPayTeachers.com

I would love to hear more about what kinds of resources teachers would like to see on our TpT page. Please let me know, either in the comments below or on social media. Make sure you’re following Pioneer Valley Books on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

Have a great weekend!

Michele Dufresne


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Dear Readers,

Welcome to my blog on teaching reading. I began teaching reading for the first time 36 years ago when I started my first job as a grade 3 classroom teacher in a small town in Massachusetts. Like many new teachers, the challenge of teaching reading was immediate and overwhelming. There were three students who could not even read the pre-primer and then students that could read anything and everything. There were many wonderful resources for the children who could read, but there was nothing for the children who could not. I spent the year trying so hard to teach those three children how to read and failed miserably.

IMG_3924 I began taking courses in reading at the University of Massachusetts where I earned my Ed.D, but it wasn’t until I trained in Reading Recovery that I started to really understand how to teach struggling readers. I also discovered there were just not enough good books to teach beginning readers. Beginning readers need loads of quality text. Stories that would engage them but at the same time support their early literacy behaviors. I began writing a little and illustrating them with black and white pictures of family and friends. We printed them up and made them available to local teachers and to our surprise, from word of mouth, we soon had orders coming in from across the country. I often write about my dogs, Bella, Rosie, Jack and Daisy. I love getting letters from children who ask me the funniest questions about the dogs.

Most recently I have been working with Jan Richardson on a new system for guided reading based on her best selling book, The Next Step in Guided Reading. We have been writing lesson plans to go with Pioneer Valley books. The first kit for Kindergarten should be available in January 2016 with Grade 1 to follow in April and Grade 2 in the summer.

I hope my blog will help you in your teaching. I welcome comments, questions and suggestions.