Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Closing the Gap - Using Interventions Effectively - #3

Through The Eyes of a Struggling Reader
Teacher, help me…
I don’t know that word.
I don’t know what sound that says.
I don’t know what that word means.
I don’t know what the story said.
I don’t know how the character feels.
I don’t know what the story means.
I don’t know what I’m thinking….or how to tell you.
I don’t know how to be a good reader.
Teacher, help me.  I am counting on you. 

In this series of blogposts we have shared ideas for your students in Tier 1, (here) and in Tier 2, (here). In this final post of the series, we’d like to share ideas for Tier 3 students, those that are one or more years below grade level standards..  Tier 3 students struggle for many reasons, but the most prevalent are:  ELL newcomers, lack of literacy in the home, attending many schools over the years, and suspected learning disabilities.  No matter the reason, it is important for us to do all we can to catch these students up.  Their futures quite literally depend upon it.  So, what do we do? 

The 5 Necessities
To help Tier 3 students catch up as quickly as possible, these five things must be in place.  
     1.     Whole class instruction that is differentiated and scaffolded so Tier 3 students can    access the learning target.
     2.     Daily small group guided reading that is at the student’s instructional level.
     3.     Individualized instruction that is focused on the one thing that will move the      student forward as quickly as possible.
     4.     Hours and hours of independent level “high success” reading practice.
     5.     Any special needs met and addressed.

Let’s go through these one at a time. 
1. Whole class instruction that is differentiated and scaffolded, so that your Tier 3 students can access the learning target, is the first layer of teaching.  When we say differentiated, we specifically mean that the reading level of the materials being used in the lesson, must be at a student’s instructional level.  This includes not only texts, but anchor charts and other visual materials as well.  You can differentiate your texts by choosing those that are already leveled.  The one-size fits all text just doesn’t cut it for your Tier 2 and Tier 3 students, and if used means that much of the lesson will go over their heads.  That’s why it is essential to have instructional leveled texts for all of your students. 

The same is true for your anchor charts.  Anchor charts that are full of text only, are not easily accessible for your students that struggle.  Adding picture clues and icons to the text, will make them more accessible to your struggling students and will turn them into a useful resource tool for them.  Without the pictures, they will not be accessible to your struggling students, who really need the anchor charts more so than your non-struggling students.

Differentiating your instruction also means that you are teaching the vocabulary that you will use in your lesson.  A great way to teach vocabulary, is to act it out…or in ELL terms….TPR.  This means having students repeat the word and its meaning several times, while using an action at the same time. For example, at our school we do this for plot - We say: “Plot - All of the events in the story.” We do these actions while saying that….Make a fist and put up one finger after another as if counting on your fingers (this represents the first, second, third events and so on), then put palms together and open them as if opening a book (which represents the story).  TPR makes vocabulary accessible and memorable for all of your students…not just your ELL students, and is a great way to scaffold vocabulary learning.

2. Daily small group guided reading.  Most teachers are familiar with how to do guided reading, but there are some things to keep in mind with Tier 3 students. It is important for your Tier 3 students to receive guided reading every day.  It is also important that the strategies and lessons taught and reinforced in guided reading group, come directly from what your assessments have shown that each child needs. General learning targets are not as effective with Tier 3 students, as those that come directly from each child’s assessment.  That is why it is also important that your groups are formed around like needs.   

3. Individualized instruction for the one, “next big thing” that the child needs to move forward in his or her reading, is very important with Tier 3 readers.  This is in addition to whole class instruction and guided reading group.  The focus may be blending and decoding with a phonetic element that the student is having difficulty with.  Another focus of instruction may be the ability to recall and retell the story events in order.  Or it may be reading in phrases so that the story will make sense and so the child’s comprehension will increase.  One way to provide this is for you to teach the strategy to the student during your conferring conference (our school does this during independent reading time for example), then to have a paraeducator, parent volunteer, or older grade student helper provide coached practice with the student. 

4. Hours and hours of independent “high success” reading practice.  Richard Allington* describes “high success” reading materials as those that the student can read with 98% accuracy or higher.  He talks about how struggling students get far less practice than non-struggling students in class, because they simply cannot read most of the materials provided. Not only do struggling students need as much practice as non-struggling students…they need hours and hours more, if they are to catch up.  That reading, according to Allington, must be high success reading to be effective. Take a look around your room.  How much of what is available, is actually high success materials for your struggling students?  Don’t forget to check the anchor charts and displays.  Just something to reflect upon. 
*For more information see:
”What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing Research-Based Programs” and “What Really Matters in Response To Intervention: Research-Based Designs” by Richard L. Allington
5. Special needs must be addressed.  Some of your struggling students may be showing signs of other things that may be impacting their learning.  Attention and focus difficulties are common barriers for learning effectively.  So are memory storage and retrieval difficulties.  Students with this type of difficulty often learn something one day or even on one page, then forget it on the next.  Struggling with letters/sounds/words, how they are put together and taken apart and keeping the order of the sounds in a word straight, is also an indicator that something else is going on that is impacting learning.  If your students are showing any signs of these types of things, it is important to discuss them with the school psychologist, nurse, Special Ed. teachers, and any other pertinent staff member, to see what the best steps forward will be for that child.  Tier 3 students are sometimes students that would qualify for, and benefit from, Special Education services.  It is best to check it out with your specialists to be sure.
VERY IMPORTANT - Document ALL Tier 3 interventions and progress every week. You will need this to determine if interventions are working, and should further testing be needed for Special Education.

Tier 3 students are terribly in need of your help.  They are counting on you to help them move forward in their learning each day.  It is no less than a daunting task for us, especially if we have many Tier 3 students in our class, but we are their best hope for progress.  Let’s not let them down.

We would like to thank you for all of the care, concern, worry and work that you put in to help these students.  You may never see the results, but rest assured dear teacher, you are changing these students’ lives for the better.  THANK YOU!

In this series, we have tried to share some ideas for how to help your students who struggle with reading.  We hope we have done that or have sparked a new idea that you can use.  If there is anything we can help you with in this endeavor, please feel free to ask.  We are all in this together, and we are only too happy to help in any way that we can. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

5 Ways to Use Leveled Passages

Happy Sunday friends! I hope that you are having a very restful Thanksgiving break! Today I want to share with you 5 different ways that you can successfully use leveled passages in your classroom. I have found great student success by using these in my classroom. Hopefully you will find the same. :)

So let's get started! The first way I use leveled passages is to support the content we are learning in the classroom.

There are so many different topics that range throughout the year! Usually you can find a passage or two to support your content. I like to layer the students access to the content. We will have a shared read aloud, listen to books online and also read leveled passages. When students hear or read content in different ways it helps them to better retain the information. Scholastic News is also another way to layer the information.

If your classroom is like mine, it is full of a wide range of levels. Leveled passages are a great way to support your content but allow students to read text at their own level and intake the content that way.

The next way is to use leveled passages during partner work.

Students are able to work together, even at different levels, to learn about the topic. Leveled passages are designed to build in difficulty but contain similar information. This way, while students will have some variation in the words of their text, the facts and information will be the same. They will be able to work on answering the text dependent questions because the answers are in each level of text.

Leveled passages are also great for independent work or even homework.

Students have the ability to read and understand the content independently because it will be at their level. This is great for differentiated independent work in class. It is also helpful for homework. When you get the parent who is taking their kiddo on a vacation in the middle of the year and wants homework for the student, leveled passages are the way to go. This way you ensure the student is reading and working at a level they can access.

Guided reading is definitely one of the most common way to use leveled passages.

Leveled passages are a super simple way to add interest to guided reading. I love to have a mix of passages and books. Passages provide leveled reading as well as vocabulary and sight word practice. They allow students to use the text to answer questions and they get to take the passage home at the end of the week to share with their family. You can also choose a passage for the week that supports the content you are learning in the classroom as another way to layer the information.

Finally, leveled passages make giving reading assessments WAY easier!

 Leveled passages allow students to be assessed at a grade level expected level just by providing the assessment page. This also allows you to assess students ability to show that they know the concept even if they can't read at grade level. You can provide the same text at their independent level. For example, I have students who are reading at a level 2 independently. The current expectation is a level 16. Obviously, they will not be able to read and access a 16, but by giving them the same passage at a lower level, I am able to see if they can do the skill at an independent level. While they wouldn't be considered on grade level because they can't do it with a grade level text, they can still be successful with the skill.

There are so many different leveled passages available. We have a ton available HERE. My advice is to choose passages that are actually leveled to Fountas and Pinnell or DRA. A lot of passages will say leveled, however they are only leveled low, medium or high. This doesn't allow you to ensure your students are able to work at their actual level. A lot of times, passages leveled at low, medium and high have a range of levels within one text. Once you find leveled passages that work for you, use them and enjoy them! They are a great resource in the classroom!

I hope you all have a wonderful week!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Differentiated Literacy Centers

Happy Sunday friends!! I know that many of you have the week off for Thanksgiving, lucky ducks! We have to go through Wednesday, so we are patiently waiting to go into vacation mode :)

Today, I wanted to share with you how I differentiate my literacy centers and run them in my room. For a long time, literacy centers were not my friend! I hated prepping them and the kiddos would run through them so fast and be bored because the centers could really only be used once. Then, once the kiddos had done them, I would have to cycle another center through. Oh the prep! No thanks!! That all changed when I went to a professional development with Margo Southall. Her differentiated center ideas changed my whole classroom! I'm excited to share it with you!

I have three centers: comprehension, fluency and work work. I keep them in dishwashing tubs that I got at Walmart! I really like the size on the tubs. I can move them around to different spots in my room pretty easily and they fit in all the components of the center.

Let's take a look at each center.


Right now, I have two different options in my fluency tub. The first option is sight word phrases. I have the FRY sight word phrases, lists 100-500, on rings. The kiddos take a ring and a timer and they see how many phrases they can make it through in one minute. The timers they use are one minute sand timers from Amazon. I also tell the students what set of phrases to take, which I will show you a little later. 

The second activity I have right now are expression cards. I have three different levels of poems and songs. The kiddos pick a poem or song at their level, and a set of expression cards. Then they go through the poem or song and read it with the coordinating expression. They LOVE it! Many of the songs and poems I include are ones we have already done in class. 

I keep the poems and songs in plastic protectors and I level them A, B and C. These do not coordinate with guided reading levels, that's just how I mark the three different levels.

I have other options that I add throughout the year, such at fluency sticks and timed readings, but currently these two options are working great. The thing I love about them is that they keep them busy everyday! They love trying to read the phrases and beat their score and they LOVE the songs. In a few weeks, I will rotate the poems and the interest will build again. Easy Peasy!

Word Work

Every Monday, I give my students a spelling pre-test. The tests tiered. It starts with easier words that fit our pattern for the week and then get progressively difficult. I have three separate spelling lists, that increase in difficulty, and depending on how they do on the pretest determines which list they get. This station will stay the same the entire year and they will keep doing the same activities with their current lists. I have smelly markers, stamps, colored pencils and different spelling activity cards that I got from Amy Lemons (get them HERE) that they can choose from. They do all their work in their reading spiral and keep it in their folders so I can check them.


My last center is comprehension. Right now, I have two options but as the year goes on I will add more, depending on what we are learning. The first option I have are retell cubes. All the kiddos have to do is find a just right book, read it, and then roll the cube and answer the questions in their reading spiral. This is the best! It requires nothing from me except monitoring their work to make sure they are using different texts each time. It's easily differentiated because they are choosing the books that fit their level. The second option is quick reads. These I switch out with the season. We have had this Thanksgiving quick read set for the last two weeks. Each quick read comes with a student booklet that the students can complete. They choose one page a day to complete. The quick reads are leveled so the students can make sure they are working at their independent level. Get quick reads HERE.

As the year goes on I will add questioning stems and webs, which they complete with a just right book, as well as text feature hunts and connection stems. These are great because they take very little prep and the students control the level of text and choice of book.

Phew! That's a lot! But, I want to also show you how I manage it all! Each student receives a four pocket folder, two folders stapled back to back. I keep them separated into a boys basket and a girls basket, only to save time when they are going to get their folders. 


The students have a menu where they write their center for the day. They start at a center that I assign, and rotate daily. They complete the center and write what they did on this menu. Then if there is still time, they can move to a center of their choice.

We have an hour a day for our reading groups. I don't like having students trying to do their read to self time when there are other students on centers. I feel like it's too distracting. So, I break my hour into three chunks. Students are working on the same thing at the same time which helps to minimize distractions and off task behaviors.

This is what I put on the board while they are working. I have students names listed under each center. I rotate these each day so they they are at least completing one of each center a week, almost twice a week. But, for most of my students, they get done with at least two centers a day. I also have students who like to do all three centers in one day, so when we move onto partner reading, iPads and computers, they can choose to keep working on their center.

Finally, in each folder I put a sticky note. This tells the student what level of fluency phrases or poem they should be working on and what level of quick read. This helps to ensure that they are working at their independent level.

So there you have it! While it seems like a lot, once you have everything organized, they really run themselves. You also get a lot of engagement because the students aren't getting frustrated with work that is too hard or too easy. They have a little bit of choice at each center and that also helps to keep students engaged.

I hope that you find this helpful in your classroom as well! You will be amazed at the amount of learning, focus and engagement you will get from your students when you differentiate their centers!

I hope you all have a fabulous week and Thanksgiving break!!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Five For Friday

Happy Friday friends!  Can you believe it is the middle of November already?  Time flies!  Here is a little Five For Friday for your entertainment. Thanks to Doodle Bugs Teaching for hosting! 

G.L.A.D. makes me…..well….glad!  And this week we had a refresher training from our fabulous G.L.A.D. trainers.  If you know G.L.A.D., you’ll recognize this as a pictorial.  We have a new ELA curriculum this year, so our fabulous trainers gave us wonderful ideas for using pictorials about the comprehension units. That makes this teacher’s heart happy.  You know what doesn’t make me happy?  That they say this is for ELL students…NOPE!  It is GREAT teaching and GREAT teaching is for everybody!

And the groups keep marching on….In my reading intervention groups this week, we practiced a little cvc word blending with the firsties.  They are making great progress, and were going up and down these word ladders like nobody’s business….well…maybe like a snail’s business because it was a bit slow at first, but by the end of the week…they were zipping up and down these ladders I tell ya! These are part of our Guided Reading Sets which include stories and everything else you need for guided reading, making my teaching so much easier.  You can see them here, if you would like.

After zipping up and down the word ladders, we did some extra phonics reading practice with these great passages by The Kindergarten Connection.  Her stuff is fabulous for my firsties that are not quite to first grade level yet. 

A teacher is always a teacher, right?  While babysitting the grandbabies this week, we tried out some new, fun things that might find their way into school.  First we made some adorable owls, which would be a great addition to any owls theme you might be teaching. A few pinecones, some cotton balls, some googly eyes, and voila!  Adorable!

“Watch out big sister…I’ve got a cotton ball coming your way!” We also made these catapults.  They would make a great STEM activity.  In fact, in my fifth grade intervention groups, we are about to read a story about a trebuchet, and you can bet that we will be making these, too!  So much fun! You can find the directions on Pinterest. 

That was our week this week.  Hope your week went well, too!  Now I am off to read all of the other Five For Friday posts.  They always have such great ideas and laughs to share.  Have a great weekend everyone!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Closing the Gap - Using Interventions Effectively - #2

Closing the Gap - Using Interventions Effectively - #2

Through The Eyes of a Struggling Reader
Teacher, help me…
I don’t know that word.
I don’t know what sound that says.
I don’t know what that word means.
I don’t know what the story said.
I don’t know how the character feels.
I don’t know what the story means.
I don’t know what I’m thinking….or how to tell you.
I don’t know how to be a good reader.
Teacher, help me.  I am counting on you. 

In the news the other day, there was a factoid about the percentage of struggling readers in the classrooms all across America.  It was quite a surprise to hear that the average classroom has just over 50% of students reading below grade level standards.  Even though we two teachers behind this blog...2 Literacy Teachers...have worked at a school for a very long time that has a typical minimum average each year of 63% of students reading below grade level, we never expected to hear such a high percentage for the rest of the U.S.  We ALL have our work cut out for us in the area of reading, it would seem.  So lets get busy!  In this blogpost series, we hope to share some tips for providing effective interventions to students reading below grade level standards.  
In the first post, here, we talked about the basics of providing interventions, and how to get ready to do so.  In this second post, we will share some tips and ideas for providing effective interventions to your tier 2 students. 

Tier 2 students can really be thought of in two groups; those that are performing between just below grade level and up to 6 months below,  and 6 months below up to 1 year below.  In the first group, interventions are usually different than those in the second group.  Regardless of the group, we must start by carefully analyzing the difficulties that each student is having, so we can make a targeted plan.  An easy way to do this is to list the students, analyze their running records, DRAs, conference notes, and any other reading assessments you have to determine their most critical difficulties, then write them next to their names.  Are they struggling with phonics and decoding?  If so, with which sounds or word parts?  Is it fluency such as reading word by word instead of in phrases, to such a degree that it affects comprehension?  Is it comprehension and if so, is it one particular thing such as not being able to determine main idea? Being able to specifically name the difficulty, will help you to provide targeted instruction for it. We usually choose the top 1 to 3 difficulties the student is having...those that if improved, will have the biggest positive affect on the student's performance.  With this plan in hand, you can begin to specifically teach to those needs. 

Here are some examples of just some of the things Tier 2 students typically struggle with:

  • Shoring up letters and sounds
  • Blending cvc words
  • Reading sight words with mastery
  • Reading beyond repeated, patterned reading - Getting over the hump from guided reading level B to C  (DRA level 2 to DRA level 3)
First Grade:
  • Blending ccvc and cvce words
  • Using decoding strategies efficiently
  • Getting over the hump from reading guided reading level C to guided reading level D/E (DRA level 4 to DRA levels 6/8)
  • Remembering and retelling a story accurately and in order
Second and Third Grade:
  • Shoring up decoding strategy use 
  • Shoring up mastery of phonics patterns in words
  • Expanding sight word mastery
  • Being able to think about the text and respond to it verbally and in writing
Fourth and Fifth Grade:
  • Reading with fluency 
  • Thinking deeply about the text and responding to it verbally and in writing
  • Citing appropriate text evidence
Providing services:  
All interventions must be in addition to the core instruction that is provided to the whole class. Typical ways to provide services are:  
  • in a second small group that is formed based on instructional need and for which targeted instruction is provided during guided reading time  
  • Additional conferring in small groups that have like strategy needs - which is a good choice for students who just need a little bit of support or a little bit more practice with extra coaching by you
  • More frequent one-to-one conferring times
  • Having a paraeducator provide additional practice time for students who need it.
  • Additional practice with an older student buddy  
Upper Tier 2 students typically are struggling with just one or two things and tend to learn quickly with just a little bit of extra practice and coaching. They typically make progress and overcome difficulties within one or two intervention rounds of about six weeks each. This means you can rotate your groups and be more flexible in constructing groups with these Tier 2 students. 
Lower Tier 2 students typically have been struggling with reading for a while, may have other concerns such as ELL, and need more pinpointed direct instruction provided by you, with lots of extra practice time with the targeted need.. They may need many intervention rounds of about six weeks each. Think of adding layers of instruction and practice for these students which include differentiated whole-class instruction, small group guided reading or conferring, a possible extra small group, and as much extra practice time as you can provide. 


Here is an example of how several grade levels in our school provide interventions.
  • All students receive differentiated, whole class instruction
  • All students receive guided reading in a small group
  • All students receive regular conferring during independent reading
  • Tier 2 students receive an additional guided reading strategy group with a teacher or paraeducator

These grade levels schedule one hour daily to provide their guided reading groups. They divide the hour into 3 - twenty minute groups.  They see their high group one time per week, and their medium to low, and lowest groups every day.  A paraeducator is scheduled for all or part of this time as well. Students in small groups rotate between the teacher group and independent word work or reading work. Tier 2 students also receive an additional group with the paraeducator to receive targeted instruction in an area of need.  (In many schools, the teacher provides this extra group. However, it is rotated between the groups who need it, so they usually are seen every other day.) This means that Tier 2 students have two, twenty minute groups and then have an additional twenty minutes of independent word and/or reading work. 

As with all interventions, be sure to document them for each student by noting the focus of instruction and methods of teaching, the additional minutes of time spent in intervention, the dates of the intervention, and the beginning and ending data to show that it worked or didn't work.  Should a student not make the progress that you hoped for, this documentation will be crucial should a decision need to be made whether to do any special education testing in the future. 

There are as many ways to schedule and provide Tier 2 intervention services as there are schools in the U.S.  It just takes a little creativity and a bit of planning.  We hope this post has given you some ideas.  Next time, we will talk about Tier 3 interventions. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or would like some ideas for your particular situation.