Sunday, January 21, 2018

#just one word

Did you know that there is JUST ONE WORD that will transform your teaching and cause you to have an even better year ahead?  There is!  Yes it’s that simple!

You see, as teachers we live a scattered life.  We are always scrambling to do the million things each day that must be done.  We juggle a thousand balls at once and try not to drop any of them, and we don’t look like that well-practiced ball juggler we see in a circus who does it so smoothly and effortlessly. Nope!  We look more like someone trying to snatch and catch those balls, and throw others up at the same time in a jerky, higgledy piggledy way.  It’s just a fact of teacher life that we all accept.

Through all of that though, we often become scattered and actually end up doing many things, but not very well…..just kind of mediocre….to get them done and checked off the “to do” list.  And if we are truthful, sometimes when the meetings happen almost every day, the reports are all due, the pile of papers to be taken care of is stacked high,  and the list of parents to contact goes on and on, well….we end up teaching by the seat of our pants or on autopilot. Needless to say, our lessons then become mediocre too.

But JUST ONE WORD can keep you on track, focus you and focus your lessons, and focus and center all that you do throughout the year, so that you and your teaching are purposeful instead of scattered. Even in the craziest, and most busy weeks of the year!

So get on with it then! Just tell me! What is THIS one word you ask?  I can’t tell you.  Nope.  Sorry.  It has to actually come from you!  YOU decide the one word.  If you do, that one word will focus and guide all that you do for the entire year!  IT REALLY WORKS!  There are even books written on the effectiveness of just one word, and a whole “movement” on social media!  There is even a whole line of wildly popular pottery that has just one word on it (think Rae Dunn). So, give it a try! Choose just one word and make it your word for the entire year ahead.  You may even want to choose one word for your teaching life and a different word for your personal life.  I tell you…it is transforming!

Don’t know what to choose?  Just be still and ponder for a moment….it will come to you like a lightning bolt, because there is one word that fits you!  You might try "engage" for your teaching life if you want your lessons and students to be more engaging and engaged. You might choose "grace" for your personal life if you want to give yourself and others more "grace" in the year ahead.  Or the word "balance" is great for both your teaching life and your personal life.  If you need some more inspiration, check out the list of possibilities below to get you thinking.  Then post that word everywhere!  Post it in your classroom, on your computer, in your plan book…and everywhere.  It will always be on your mind then and will tie all that you do together for the entire year.  

Another idea? You may want to have your students do this as well.  It works especially well with second graders and up.  In the words of Mikey from that vintage commercial…..”Try it!  You’ll like it!”  And be sure to watch for #justoneword on our Facebook and Instagram pages, too! You'll find us there at 2 Literacy Teachers. 

#just one word idea list for teaching


#just one word idea list for you


Happy Teaching!



Monday, January 1, 2018

FREE Index and Ideas for Using Our Leveled Passages and Leveled Quick Reads

Hey teacher friends!  We are just popping on the blog today to answer some questions we've received about how we use our leveled passages.  We've also included a freebie Index of all of our Leveled Reading Passages and Leveled Quick Read sets to make your planning easier.  The index will be updated each time we post a new set, and we have lots more on the way.  So here we go...

1. How do you use the leveled passages sets?

We use them in our guided reading groups.  We typically use the leveled passage sets for one week out of the month, but sometimes for other weeks, too.  We choose the topic that matches the season or holidays we are studying during that month.  The rest of the weeks, we use our school's reading curriculum materials and our own guided reading sets called "Ready, Set, Go - Guided Reading."

We also use them when teaching a theme.  For example, if we are learning about rocks in science, we teach the vocabulary to our students as a whole group with the provided materials, then they can each read and research about the topic at their own level with the passages. They can also answer the provided text dependent questions either alone or with a partner, after reading.  Before or after reading, we can then use a whole group activity to respond to or record our learning.  Several are included in the sets.

2.  How do you use the Leveled Quick Read Sets?

We use these in our reading centers.  We wanted a way to be able to provide even more reading practice for students, on the current learning topic or theme and at their own levels.  So we put them into our reading centers.  Each student gets a booklet of the passages at their independent level.  They read a passage each day and complete the text dependent questions that are included in the sets.  They also write about their learning at the end of the week.  Lower level readers and writers can use the included Picture Dictionary mini poster to assist with their writing.

3.  What are other uses for the leveled passages and the Quick Read Sets?

Thanks to all of your wonderful feedback and comments, we have learned that teachers LOVE these and are using them for many things in addition to guided reading and centers.  They have told us they use them for:

*Differentiated teaching to meet all of their students' needs.
*Teaching during their observations. Principals love differentiation because it is a highly effective teaching strategy.
*Pre and Post-tests for various CCSS, TEKS and reading strategies.
*Teaching NF reading strategies.
*Teaching how to close read.
*Teaching how to answer text dependent questions.
*Teaching topics and assessing their new learning.
*Partner reading and learning.
*Providing "just right" materials to "up" the minutes that students practice at their own level.
*Tutoring by parent volunteers.
*Buddy reading with older grade students - "cross age peers"
*Sub plans

Want to see them in action?  Check out our previous post here, or any of our leveled passage theme teaching posts on the blog as well.

And the FREEBIE!  Our index lists all of the Leveled Reading Passages sets and the Quick Read Sets that we currently offer, side by side.  This makes it easy to see how they go together and will make your planning easier.  We are working fast and furiously to make sure that all leveled passages sets have levels A - M and that there are Quick Read Sets to go with the topics of the Leveled Passages sets.  As we finish new sets, we will update the index, too, so check back often for the latest version. Click here if you would like a FREE copy.

Let us know if you have any questions!  We love connecting with you!

Happy Teaching!

Kristin and Lindsey

Sunday, October 15, 2017

When Your Reading Curriculum Isn't Working!

Have you ever been told to use a reading curriculum that isn't working for your students? Most of us have been in this predicament throughout our career.  You see, even the most stellar curriculum cannot and will not meet the needs of 100% of your students. If you are very lucky, a very good curriculum will meet the needs of 80% of your students, and more likely far less than that. Just watch your assessment scores and you will know within a few months if the curriculum is working or not. So, what do you do to make it work? We've got some tips for you.

First of all, grab all of your reading assessments and analyze them very carefully and deeply.  Most likely, something in the curriculum IS working for most of your students. That's great!  Keep doing it! Now, look at what is NOT working and for whom it is not working. What do your assessments show? Be exact. Is it your above grade level students that are not getting their needs met in more rigorous word work, specifically in how to break up the different kinds of syllables so they can decode large and unfamiliar words? Is it your below grade level students that are constantly being asked to read materials at their frustrational level?  Both of those are very common difficulties with reading curriculum materials, but your assessments might show something different depending on your demographics.  At our school for example, which has a very large ELL and low income student demographic, the three big curriculum difficulties are learning to explicitly decode very simple to very complex words, strategies for understanding exactly how to figure out the meaning of new vocabulary words, and a lack of enough reading materials at every student's instructional and independent levels.

Now that you have an idea of what isn't working, what can you do?  Here are some ideas to try.

1. Adjust the timing.
Are the units zipping by so quickly that your students aren't mastering the material?  Or are they dragging on forever to the point of wasting time? Then speed up or slow down..or even repeat. Sometimes students need many repetitions of a difficult lesson or new concept before it actually sticks and becomes useable for them.  Repeat with the whole class or repeat with those still needing it, in small groups. 

2. Break it down.
Often times, if students aren't getting something, it is because it is either not being taught very explicitly in step-by-step fashion, or because it is not broken down for them in small enough chunks. For example, intermediate students who have difficulty decoding large words, either because they miss letters/sound combos or endings, or because they can't seem to figure out where syllables break, is because they need to be explicitly taught the specific rules for these things.  Even better if you teach it in multi-modalities as well (seeing, hearing, speaking and movement). Dyslexic students (and statistics tell us that 20% of your class has some form of it) often need this.  So do most ELL students. 

3. Provide appropriately leveled reading materials...and much more of them.
This is the number one reason that students do not make enough progress with a reading curriculum.  Make sure there are enough reading materials at every student's instructional and independent reading level. As we mentioned above, most reading curricula do not include any or enough reading materials for each and every student's instructional and independent levels. Research is very clear and leaves no doubt...students become better readers by reading instructional level materials with coaching, and volumes and volumes of independent level materials. If your curriculum teaches in theme units, but the reading material is too hard, consider retyping the information at the student's reading level. Another idea is to find alternate reading materials on the topic at your students' reading levels. We are often told to scaffold the reading for students "so they can access it," but this usually indicates that the material is just too hard for some students. In that case, the students will not make the progress that they need to.
**A disclaimer...we DO believe that students should be allowed and encouraged to read what interests them, even if it is too difficult at times.  It will motivate them to read, may increase their vocabulary,  and teach them to not give up.  It's just that this will not make them better, more efficient readers, so it should be in addition to enormous amounts of reading at instructional and independent leveled materials.

4. Teach vocabulary so it sticks.
Some curriculum materials don't teach vocabulary at all, and many seem to teach it quickly and then move on.  Research is clear on this as well...having a large vocabulary helps comprehension, school success, and even future opportunities in life.  So teach it well, review it often, and play lots of games with it! They help the brain incorporate the new words quickly, and to be able to recall them on demand. Not sure how?  Start with a search for Marzano, or Beck and McKeown vocabulary strategies.  They are some of the best "gurus" for teaching vocabulary. 

5.  Make sure your standards are taught and taught well.
This goes without saying. However, it is very common for reading materials to be missing lessons for entire standards.  Most are missing at least some standards and others teach them very weakly, even though the publishers will tell you that they do teach all of the standards.  So whether you teach the CCSS, TEKS or some other standards, make sure that they are actually taught well in your materials.  Tweak or supplement as needed!  Go ahead...we give you permission!  After all, your students will be held to them on their testing, and the standards have been designed to make sure all students are highly successful readers. 

These are just a few ideas to think about and try when your reading curriculum isn't working for all of your students. We hope we have encouraged you to make some changes and not keep on with the same thing if all of your students are not highly successful with your current curriculum.  After all, we teach students...not the curriculum.  We aren't sure who originally said that, but we just love that saying, don't you?  After all, our students are counting on us to do whatever it takes to help them ALL be successful readers.

Happy Teaching!


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Small Group Reading - Intermediate

Are you an intermediate teacher that is not using small group reading instruction in your classroom yet?  It is one of The. Most. Powerful.  instructional strategies you can use to accelerate the progress and overall reading growth of all of your students.  It is so powerful in fact, that even middle and high school teachers are using it now with gusto!  Yet, not all intermediate teachers are using it and we would argue that they should be. Why?  How many times do teachers say…”If I only had more time to meet with my students to work on their individual needs, they’d make more progress.”  Or….”My students’ abilities range from a couple of years below grade level, to a year or more above level.  How am I supposed to teach that?” We hear these things all the time.  Yet there are still so many intermediate teachers teaching whole group, or whole group and conferring only.  Whole group and conferring are great starts, but if you really want to multiply the growth of students, they are not enough. If you really want to multiply your students’ growth, small groups are a must!  Whether you use strategy grouping or traditional small group guided reading, small groups are the way to go.  Not convinced yet?  Here are just a few of the countless reasons to support small group teaching.

Small group teaching enables you:

*To know your students’ exact strengths and weaknesses in reading

*To use flexible grouping to support responsive instruction

*To personalize instruction to the specific needs of each student on a frequent (several  times per week) basis

*To teach students how to work on and through complex texts

*To provide direct, explicit explanations of a strategy that students have not yet mastered

*To provide appropriate scaffolding for your students tailored to their needs

*To provide modeling of thinking strategies, especially tricky higher level critical thinking

*To stretch the thinking and take it deeper for students working beyond grade level  standards

*To teach and model appropriate, meaningful ways to have rich conversations about books  and texts students read

*To provide instruction and modeling of how to respond in written format to texts,  especially for students who have difficulty with written responses (ELL, impoverished  literacy background, etc.)

*To provide instructional level reading materials without embarrassing below grade level  readers

*To develop vocabulary knowledge more thoroughly for your ELL students and students of  impoverished literacy backgrounds

*To provide specific decoding and word work abilities  and other foundational skills for  students below grade level (And don’t forget the intermediate grades CCSS have word  work learning, too.)

*To provide specialized interventions for students who are significantly below grade level

Shall we go on?  There are so many more reasons to use small group instruction, but these are a good start.  Have we convinced you yet?  We hope so.  But just in case we haven’t, here is one more tidbit.  I teach reading interventions to students who are one or more years below grade level.  Every single year without fail, the students that make the MOST progress, are those that come from classrooms in which the teachers use small group teaching.  Plain and simple.  It works!  So won’t you give it a try? 
Don’t know where to begin?  Check out our favorite books for small group teaching.  All are available at Amazon (we are not an affiliate) or the publishers online.

Happy Teaching!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Kickstart Your Struggling Readers' Progress!

When you first get your class list, what do you think about?  How many students you have in your class?  Do any of them have behavior concerns?  Are there students with medical concerns?  We do those things to.  But very quickly, we grab the calculator and the students' reading scores from the end of the previous year, and start figuring out percentages.  What percentage of students are at or above grade level?  What percentage are six months or more below grade level?  Percentages are the way we measure the success of what and how we are teaching. We check them early and often and it is one of the first things we do.  You see, we have always taught at Title schools, and we typically have up to 75% of our students reading BELOW grade level coming into our classes at the beginning of the year. Yep, you read that correctly. But whether your percentages of below grade level students are high or low, these are the students that you need to get going quickly!  There is not a minute to waste!  So whether you are just starting the school year or have a student below grade level that has just moved in, here are some tips to get them off to the best...and quickest start.

1. Make these students a priority from day one.  If you knew that you could change a child's life by giving them a drink of water every day, would you do it? Of course you would!  More than any of your students, these students need you to provide what they need every single day, their drink of water so to speak,  so their reading life will be "saved."  So keep them at the front of your mind when you are doing everything...from teaching to arranging seating. Elevate your lowest readers to a high priority status. 

2. Know your students' needs right now.  Within the first week of school, we continue to prioritize these students by listening to them read something.  In just a few minutes, you can tell what they already know about reading, and what they need to work on.  Write these things down because they will give you teaching points until you get your "official" assessments completed.  Two of our favorite  experts in the field of helping struggling students once said, "For every child we must know by standard, who has mastered them and who hasn't." (Mike Mattos and Austin Buffum from Solution Tree). We live by that great advice, and by listening to your students right out of the gate, you will begin to know that too. 

3. Get easy books in their hands right away.  These students need to be reading high success texts every minute that they can and for far more minutes than your capable readers!  If need be, hand them a stack of books you know they can read for now.  You will teach them how and where to find books in your class on their own soon enough, but just get them reading for now.  Amid the chaos of the first few days, we always make it a priority to put out stacks of books and just let kids read for as long as possible...(or for kinders...."read.")  It provides an important kickstart to reading time after the long summer, and provides a peaceful lull in the chaos of those first few days. 

4. Teach them three things the first week.  Grab that list of things you wrote down when you listened to these students read, and pick three quick things that you can teach each child this week.  Whether it is knowing the letter name for the first letter of their name, reading a new sight word, decoding a complicated vowel combo you noticed the student needed (eigh?), or finding the root word in a long word to help decode it, teach them three quick little things. You will build their confidence by giving them quick successes and you will get them off to the fast start that they need. 

Now that they are off to a good start, what do you do? 

1. Continue to make them a priority in every way that you can.  After all, they need the most help and your best help all day every day. 

2. Finish your "official" assessments.  Most schools have the DRA, the Fountas & Pinnell BAS, or some other required reading assessments that will give you even more information about your students' needs. Analyze them and add to each student's list of needs as soon as you can.  These will provide laser focus for your differentiated teaching for the near future, and keep the momentum of learning going. 

3.  Work on those "stepping stones" in your small groups.  Never, ever would we teach without small groups, no matter the students' grade level!  It is one of the most important times of your whole reading block, because this is when you can guide and support your readers, whether low or high readers, at their level and on the individual skills that they need. This is the time to work on those "stepping stone" skills that you noticed when you first listened to the students read, and that you noticed when you did your assessments. So get out those lists, group your students, and get teaching.  There is not a minute to waste!

We wish you the very best of luck with your teaching.  We know it is a daunting task to meet the needs of all of your students.  After all, we face the marching orders of getting the 70 - 75% percentage of below grade level readers flipped around to 70  - 75% on grade level, each year.  If you ever have any questions or just need some new ideas on how to differentiate because your teacher "toolbox" has run out, please feel free to connect with us.  We've love to share practical strategies that really work for teaching every level of reader.  

And if you need something to get you started for the beginning of the year, we offer this Back to School set in our Teachers Pay Teachers store.  

Have a wonderful year and Happy Teaching!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Tuesday's Teaching Tip - A Fun Idea to Practice Inferring

Spring is here!  Birds are singing, the sun is shining.........and.....the kids are going crazy, we are stressed about testing and there are still too many weeks until the end of the year!  So it is the PERFECT time to bring on some fun ways to practice what we've already taught.  

By this time of year, most classes from kinder on up, have learned to infer.  We infer what the characters are feeling in kinder, and what the protagonist's motivation was in middle school and beyond, and many other kinds of inferences in between. But because we all need a break from the stress that is inevitable this time of year, why not practice inferring in a fun way for a few minutes each day?  Why not practice inferring with......jokes and riddles?  Jokes and riddles require a lot of inferring and thinking, and provide some fun at the same time.

Here are some ideas for ways to use them:

1. Use a joke or riddle for your morning meeting.  The littles can practice their reading, find phonics and sight words to circle, and can practice inferring while they think through the joke or riddle together.

2. Use a joke or riddle as an entry task for intermediate students.  They can think and infer together as partners or in groups to solve it, then each can write the solution or punch line that they inferred, and add why they think it makes sense. Each group can share their solution or punch line with the class. Great opportunity for cooperative work and speaking practice!

3. Have students look for jokes or riddles at home and bring them in to share.  One or two students can share theirs each day.  Just don't let them tell the solution or punch line until the rest of the class has had enough time to work on inferring the answer first.

4. Have intermediate students write their own riddles to exchange with a partner.  The partner has to infer the solution to the riddle.

Here are a few jokes and riddles to get you started:

  • I'm full of keys, but can't open any door.  What am I?   A piano.
  • I will always come, but never arrive today.  What am I?  Tomorrow.
  • I don't have wings, but I can fly.  I don't have eyes but I can cry.  What am I?  A cloud.
  • What Spring flowers can by found on people's faces?   Tulips!  (Two-lips)
  • What did the big flower say to the little one?  "You're really growing, bud!"
  • What do you call a rabbit with the sniffles?   A runny bunny!
  • How does a rabbit throw a tantrum?  He get's hopping mad!
  • What stories do bunnies like best?  The ones with hoppy endings!
  • Why was the Easter Bunny so upset?  He was having a bad hare day!
  • Why did the Easter Bunny hide?  Because he was a little chicken!
  • How does Easter end?  With an R.
So there you go.  A way to practice what you have already taught AND add fun to class at the same time! Happy Teaching!


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Tuesday's Teaching Tip - Re-focusing Amidst Spring Fever

Has Spring Fever hit your students?  Are they tuning out more often than you'd like?  Not paying attention?   How about you?  Has your attention...and energy level...wandered off? Has the gray and rainy...or white and got everyone down at your school? It happens every year in every school across our country.  Sometimes it even starts as early as February!  It has hit our school particularly hard this year....including the staff! You know how it goes...just when things really heat up....test prep.....testing... progress reports....conferences....Professional Development...and on and on. Wham-o!  It hits and hits hard.  Well today's Teaching Tip is more of a reminder of an oldie but goodie, and is giving you permission to take a refocusing break as often as you need to.  This week we are telling you to "take a hike!"  Literally! 

Go ahead!  Get out with your students and go for a 10 minute walk around your school to refocus.  (If you read our blog regularly, you know we say that for a lot of things. But there's a reason we were all sent outside by our mothers to play! It's GOOD for you in oh-so-many ways!) 

Don't just walk though....tell students to PAY ATTENTION to as many things as they can outside. What did you hear, see and feel?  Then, when you come back in, have them write down (or draw, for the youngers) as many things as they can that they noticed outside.  Count 'em up and have them write down the number of things that they noticed. Then, next time you all need to refocus, (like tomorrow :-), do it again.  Were they able to pay better attention and list more things this time?  Did they "beat their own score?" Each subsequent time that you go for a hike around school, have them check their own score and see how they did.  This is so great for rebuilding their stamina for paying attention to things.  And if you might be thinking this is only for the littles....nope!  The olders LOVE the challenge and actually need it just as much or more than the littles.  After all, they have state testing in the spring to boot! 

Trust me!  Going for a "hike" works to re-develop everyone's attention skills long term, AND the fresh air and movement will help them to be far more productive in the short term. And for you?'s a great break for you, too!  After all...teachers need a break this time of year just as often as the students, right?  Truth!

So even though it is easy to say..."I don't have time for that!"  As Nike says...Just Do IT!  It will make you and your students pay better attention to the tasks at hand, and make you all more productive than trying to slog through with fuzzy, inattentive brains.  Not to mention it will alleviate some of that springtime stress.  Good luck with Spring Fever this year!