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!


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Five for Friday

Hey there and hello teacher friends!  It is Fri-Yay!  How about some Five For Friday action?  Thank you Doodle Bugs Teaching, for hosting this fun linky party each week!  Here's what's been going on in our little corner of the world.
I'm a reading specialist.  We have a teacher shortage.  That translates to a sub shortage.  And that's where we specialists come in. We often get pulled at THE. LAST. MOMENT! to sub for a sick teacher.  While I'm not a fan of the very last moment call...I do like being able to see my students in their own classrooms.  It's always fun to ask them to get their very favorite book to read to me during independent reading.  In my teacher dreamland, I imagine that they will bring me some high quality literature and we will spend some great time reading and deeply discussing said high quality literature. NOPE! Wrongo bongo! Lovely mental image shattered!  THIS is what third grade boys like to read to me. Then they giggle. This book seems to be in EVERY intermediate classroom.  It's everywhere, I tell ya! Do you know how many times that this has been their choice?  Ack!  Well, maybe some day my "high quality literature" dream will come true.

In my first grade groups, we have been working on those pesky d's and b's.  Those crazy letters are always tricky, and they seem to love to get mixed up in the littles' brains.  What do I use?  I LOVE this d and b set from An Adventure in Literacy.  It's so cute and the best thing I've come across for helping with those pesky reversals.  It has b/d sorts, and lots of other activities so that when you have finished with them, the students are well on their way to reading without b/d reversals!  You can check it out on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Don't you love it when the Amazon box arrives?  This week it brought this new book.  I'm an idea junky and am always looking for new things to use to get those all important breakthroughs happening for my intervention group students.  I can't wait to dive into this one.  It is from Tim Rasinski so it has to be good.  Have you read it?

Lookie!  Lookie!  This week, my sweet daughter surprised me with my very first Rae Dunn pottery. Isn't it cool?  I love the message, too!  It's a great reminder. Have you got on the Rae Dunn bandwagon yet?  I'm hooked now!

This week we had a rally for education at a local high school.  Our state has been sued for not fully funding education, which is the highest mandate in our state constitution.  So it's been a battle as you can imagine, and it has been going on for ten years now.  It is all coming to the end though, so our rally was held to keep the pressure on the legislature to do the right thing.  They sometimes try to sidestep the issue.  I are probably not surprised at all  shocked to hear that.  We brought these two cuties, (my grandbabies) to help sway the legislators that attended.  They really got into waving their signs!  I'm sure their cuteness alone swayed those legislators our way. Don't you agree?

That's what's been happening in our little world.  I'm going to go check out some more Five For Friday posts now to see what everyone else has been up to.  Happy weekend everybody!


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Tuesday's Teaching Tip - 5 Minute Vocabulary

Would you like an idea for teaching vocabulary in 5 minutes and practicing in less than 1 minute?  We've got it for you today.  On Tuesday’s Teaching Tips, we’ve been sharing ideas for teaching vocabulary for the past few weeks.  We shared an easy way to teach vocabulary through your readaloud, here, and some ideas for learning vocabulary through Naming Walks, here.  Both ideas were from Patricia Cunningham’s book What Really Works for Vocabulary

Today we are sharing a strategy that our school uses.  It is considered to be a G.L.A.D. language strategy, but it has been around for a long time under various names.  The strategy is called “The Signal Word” strategy and you can use it to teach vocabulary in 5 minutes, and to practice in 1 minute.  

Here’s how it works:

1. Choose the word you want your students to know.

2. Teach students the word and what it means. Then teach them an action for it that represents the word's meaning.  Students do the action while saying the word and its meaning. The first time you teach the word, have students say the word and do the action, several times.  (We also post the words that are currently being taught in class.) 
Here are examples of two words we use:

Main Idea – “The big idea of a text.”  Action:  Open hands to show big, then point to brain for idea, then point to left open palm for text.

Evidence – “Proof from the text.”   Action:  Show open book with two open, flat palms.  Then use right index finger and thumb to “pull out” the evidence from the center of the left palm.

3. Throughout the day, randomly say the word in "call and response" fashion.  Students respond by saying its meaning and doing the action for it.  You can also flip it by saying the meaning to them, and they respond by saying the word. It is called “The Signal Word” because we also use this as a signal word to set students off to do something.  For example, “On the signal word, line up.”  Then you say the meaning and the students say the word while doing the action.  As soon as they are done saying it, they move to line up.  Using the new word as a signal word throughout the day is a great way to get it to stick in students’ minds, and using previously taught words is a great way to review.  Quick and easy! 

Our school has compiled a list of Key Literacy Vocabulary to be taught by each grade level.  It has the action listed for each word so that teachers of all grades can teach/review the word the same way.  

There you go!  Another easy, and research proven strategy to really teach and get vocabulary to stick....all in 5 minutes!

Happy Teaching!  

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Five for Friday!

Happy Friday friends! Can you believe it's March already? This year is flying by and before we know it the year will be over! Let's kick this weekend off with a little Five for Friday thanks to Doodle Bugs Teaching


We were so lucky to have our Donor's Choose project funded! We got these amazing coding mice. The kiddos can build a maze and then they have to program the mouse to get through the maze to get to the cheese. They love it! It's so awesome to see them working together to get the mouse through. They are talking with each other and giving suggestions on how they can program it. It's awesome!

We've been working on double digit subtraction. This is one of my favorite lessons to do! The kiddos get to make their own bookstore. Then, they have to go to each others bookstores and "buy" books. Finally, they have to figure out how much change they should get. These second graders LOVE to play store!

One thing that stinks about working in a different district than your kiddos is your breaks don't match up. We only had one day during our mid-winter break this year. We made the most of it by heading to the Seattle Aquarium! They LOVE to look at the fish and it's a great thing to do on a rainy Seattle day!

My daughter has a class read-in this week for Dr. Seuss day. Here she is trying to pick out the books she would like to take. Boy, it's a tough choice! Can you tell what her favorite kind of book is???

            Click here for :  A - I       J - M                                   Click here for: A - I     J - M

We are so excited to share two of these great resources that we just finished! We have made extension passages for St. Patrick's Day and Life Cycles! Now your kiddos can read the same information at THEIR independent reading level, levels A all the way through M! These are great for guided reading, partner reading and whole group.

Here are my kiddos working on some passages together. No matter what level they are, they can still work through the text dependent questions together because the content is ALL THE SAME! Only the levels change!

We hope that you all have a wonderful weekend!!!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tuesday's Teaching Tip - Fun & Easy Idea to Increase Student Vocabulary

Would you teach more vocabulary if you had some fun and easy ideas to use?  We all know that vocabulary is so important for our students' success.  After all, the students with the largest vocabulary are the ones who comprehend and learn much more.  They are also the ones who have the most success in school and life. But teaching vocabulary can sometimes go by the wayside.  In this blogpost series, we hope to share some easy ideas for teaching vocabulary.  Last time, (here), we shared an easy 4-Step method for teaching vocabulary through your readaloud.  Pat Cunningham first shared this idea in her book, What Really Matters in Vocabulary: Research-Based Practices Across the Curriculum.

In this post, we'd like to share another of her great ideas, and an alternate version.  Pat Cunningham talks about how she used to teach the vocabulary for everything in her classroom.....even hinges!!! Then she would put up word cards to label things.  You have probably seen primary classrooms with labels all over the room, too.  Maybe you even have these in your room.  They are fantastic for your ELL students for learning the words, and of course they help all students to spell the words correctly. you actually teach the words or do you just label things?  That is the have to actually teach the words.  But, you say, hinges??  Really??  Well, think about it.  Every year my fourth grade groups read a mystery that says something like...."The hinges creaked loudly as she tried to sneak in the room."  That's a pretty common thing in intermediate mystery stories, and even in primary picture books...."The hinges on the treasure chest were stuck!"  Just think, if you don't know what a hinge is, you're left guessing when it comes to understanding that sentence.  And the experts in teaching vocabulary tell us that we should use realia as much as possible.  What better realia than that in your classroom. So, should primary be the only grades doing this?  Nope! Everyone needs vocabulary.  

How does she actually teach these words?  She names it for them, then has them say the word and describe it or use it in a sentence, to a partner. She explains that actually using the word orally, is what helps it to really stick. Easy right?

Another thing that Pat Cunningham did, was to take her kids to other places in the school to teach vocabulary.  She called these Naming Walks.  She taught all of the vocabulary of the library, the office, the lunch room, the playground....everywhere. (Great example....we have squirrels scampering in and around the trees by our playground.  So many children's books include squirrels...think Scaredy Squirrel.  ELL students and younger students often don't know exactly what a squirrel is.  That's realia right there, I tell you! ) Just think, if you did this, your students would easily be on their way to learning the 1000 - 3000 new words that experts say students need to learn each year! Bonus...this method helps it really stick in the students' brains, too. 

How about an alternate version?  You can do the same thing and call it a Vocabulary Hunt. Just give the students this freebie and a clipboard or hard surface to write on, and have them record "new to them" words on the sheet.  They can find new words in the books they read or anywhere!  It's also a fantastic thing to have kids do when they go on a field trip. Just think what they could learn at the zoo or science museum!  " many new words can you learn that you didn't know before?"  Give them that challenge and it now becomes a fun and easy game, that is great for both primary AND intermediate students!  Then do a share out with the class, so each student gets a chance to share their new, cool words with a partner.  Then some of them can share out with the whole class. Each time they share, they are using those words another time, which really helps to cement it in their brains!

So there you go!  A couple of fun, easy and super effective ways for teaching vocabulary. Why not give them a try?

Happy Teaching!