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!


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!!!