Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Five Ways to Keep Your Guided Reading Groups Moving and Grooving

Who is ready to move and groove with their guided reading groups this year?  Moving and grooving is really not an understatement with guided reading. As we meet with our students, sticking to the allotted time and keeping all on task means we keep our groups progressing, and progress is the purpose. So, how do we make sure we get progress as our final "product"? Well, here are five tips I have for you based on The Book Whisperer, Reading in the Wild, and the book I'm currently reading, Summer Reading.  These books are not directly geared to guided reading, but these are a few of the takeaways I've learned from them.
Spend most of your guided reading time with your group doing the thinking and talking. According to Allington, teachers need to limit the amount of teacher talk and put the work load on the student. Students need to practice building stamina with and in books to build fluency, apply decoding strategies, and practice comprehension skills. With students in the upper elementary grades (and up), there is a desire to be social all the time, so use that in groups by pairing students. As you work with students in small group, remember that Round Robin reading is a thing of the past. Instead, use whisper phones or silent reading to keep all engaged and doing the work. 
Notice kids doing work and teacher guiding.
Be sure to keep materials close by and ready for use. I put each group's materials in a color coded basket. Included in the basket are the books or articles we're using, the students' interactive notebooks, word study notebooks, and work folders. I keep a basket of post-it notes, highlighters, pencils, markers, and index cards on my table with dry erase boards and other "craft" supplies in a small shelf nearby.  [This Post] shows the organization set up I've used, but here are a few of the pictures.
Vary how skills are presented.  Using mentor texts, anchor charts, task cards, and interactive notebooks keeps learning skills fresh and fun. I shared a set of books a while back called Chart Sense that I enjoyed using a lot this year.  I have also enjoyed using interactive materials from several great sellers on TPT.  Using mentor texts (even in middle school) is another great way to model, but also to celebrate old favorites or share great new literature. We often forget that high level picture books include fabulous vocabulary, figurative language, and text structures. [Here] is a great listing of books for starters, and Think Aloud is a wildly recommended teaching technique. Remember...
Assessment is not always a taboo word.  Assessment does not need to be a multiple choice test, and in fact, I'd encourage teachers to use more observation of oral reading (miscue analysis), work samples, and observation of strategy usage as your students' measure of success than a multiple choice test for your day to day planning.  Keeping an on-going checklist of what you want to see from your students helps you know if you're on the right track. Plus, checklists work well for parent conferences too. 

With guided reading, I love interactive notebooks for assessment too. We collect work samples for them all the time, and students can easily see their progress and refer to them later for instructional reminders. 

Running records can almost be taken daily, but that's really not necessary. If you can do 2-3 per quarter, then you'll have a good gauge of where your students are in order to accurately match them to text and give them appropriate book recommendations. Speaking of book recommendations, try very hard to know books.  Know what's popular with kids, hot new titles, and "book alikes". Good Reads is a great site for teachers (and for older readers).  

Another value of frequent running records is that you see and hear the errors your students are making. Using these errors to help you in future lessons helps the reader correct the errors versus repeating them as bad habits.  

The last tip I have is on scheduling. With a classroom of twenty four students, you will most likely have four reading groups of six students each, and obviously, you do not have two hours you can devote to guided reading when you need to teach word study and writing.  This means you will need to make choices on which groups to see when. Your most needy students should meet with the teacher daily or the most frequent amount possible followed by the next group up (4 times). The top two groups can alternate days and replace a guided reading block with literature circles. I love Daily Five for structuring the time, but I also like the Readers and Writers Workshop format.  Jennifer Myers has a wonderful blog post outlining her plan [here].

For more guided reading tips and ideas, check out the other posts my Reading Crew buddies have posted, and certainly, share your organization and teaching tips in the comments too.  
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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Back to School with Mrs. Spitzer's Garden (and a Freebie)

It's hard to believe we're already talking about and thinking about Back to School, but alas, some of our colleagues are back in full swing already. Here in Virginia, return dates vary some. There are districts in our state that are required to wait until after Labor Day, but in my community, teachers return in two weeks.  Eesh!  Summer went quickly!

So, by now, you may have visited a few blogs who are linking up, and you've added a few resources for those first few weeks of school. I just love all of the great book choices, and hopefully, you'll find the resources very useful for establishing routines and building rapport.  That is why I chose Mrs. Spitzer's Garden.  I feel like it sends such a positive message, and I hope that it will help you begin to explore using mentor texts to demonstrate literary elements and skills.

Mrs. Spitzer's Garden is this inspirational book by Edith Pattou. If you are not familiar with it, you'll enjoy the metaphorical language used to express just how important your job is this year. Most definitely, you'll be pruning and fertilizing, watering and caring for those sweet "flowers" you'll be growing this year. Some will sprout and reach toward the sky, while others may take a little extra care. The most important task we have is to find the special tools and materials to reach and grow each one.

Below is a preview of the mini unit I am sharing with you today. You can discuss character development, overcoming challenges, and theme. I also included a writing prompt you might use after reading to plan how your students will sprout and grow to their potential.

As you inspire your little people, be sure to fill them with positive messages and lots of great skill modeling. Recently, I came across this sweet inspirational poster(linked to the TED talk).  I just love Rita Pierson's TED talk, and if you have a minute, be sure to check that out. This poster hits the highlights.

Before you go, I thought I'd share my motivational posters too. Our school division expects us to post effort based messages in our rooms as part of our room decor, so I created these.  Here are a few of the color options you could choose from.  There are 28 posters in each set for $4.00 total.  


Enjoy the rest of your summer (but come back tomorrow for another Summer Blog Party Linky focused on Guided Reading).

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Five Ways to Rev Up the Rigor with Writing

Nothing like being a day late for the party, but alas, I am here!  I am glad you are too. Ready for writing tips? Rigor sure has been the buzzword recently, and if we're talking math and reading, many ideas come to mind to take learning to the next level. How do you raise rigor in writing though? Well, teaching writing is a love of mine, and there is nothing more satisfying to me than pulling a work of art out from my students. I have worked for years with kids who struggle with reading, but yet, imagination can be found in any child. I admit that the majority of our pieces take revision, but I think with revisions, students learn stamina and gain pride in the final product.

Writing can be relaxing and like reading, it allows the writer to explore places he or she may only know through books and pictures. In fact, one technique you might try for growing writing vocabulary is using pictures. You can scaffold writing with students by giving them a word bank created by the group. Imagine this was the picture you started with. Brainstorming descriptive words with second graders on a topic that they can understand helps them develop ideas, a "juicy" word list, and gets rid of the issue of spelling.  In fact, keeping a running list of words related to each writing topic in a composition book may become a wonderful reference book for future work too.

Of course, students learn to become great writers also by reading great examples. Picture books may seem like they are best for young readers, but I promise you that upper elementary and middle school students can learn descriptive writing from Chris VanAllsburg and Patricia Polacco too. There are many terrific listings of mentor texts out on the web, but here are a few places you can visit to get started. I have written about [The Writing Fix] before, but certainly stop there first. [Always Write] is another place for writing ideas I just discovered recently as well as [Storybird]. Here are a few books you might check out and use for developing ideas this fall. 

So we've talked about using pictures, mentor texts, and a few websites, but what about organization? For my students, Four Square Writing was helpful because prior to using it, they really had no system. Once they learned to use it, we were much more efficient with composing and revising. Several years ago, I came across this slideshow. It worked very well for showing my students how planning leads to easy to follow writing. I always used the analogy of a road map. That plan is the reader's road map through your piece. It helps them follow where you're taking them. Below, you'll find a link to a slide show that explains the process. 
There is debate about which planning system is best and whether you should teach multiple frameworks, but I wanted my kids to master this prior to moving on to others. Certainly, for advanced readers, the classroom teacher would want to explore outlining, various organizers, indepth research projects, and opportunities with Genius Hour or Project Based Learning. Afterall, weaving writing across the curriculum with formal and informal writing assignments helps students' skills develop too.

The final place where I see raising the rigor is in the revising stage. I nearly fell over one day two years ago when a student in the first two weeks of school asked me what I meant by revising. She was new to our school, but one would think by fifth grade, she would have been familiar with the term. Well, we really worked on revising that year, so it didn't take long. One way I found to keep students from getting frustrated with revising is to make use of technology. We used the Google apps exclusively, and with Google Docs, we were able to collaborate on papers and easily share pieces with each other. 

Another key ingredient to making the most of the revising process is to help students learn to look at their writing from different lenses. [Readwritethink] said it well with this quote, and if you can get students to do it, they will not feel like they're reworking their piece over and over, but rather tackling a new skill.

Well, I believe I gave you five ideas.  Whether they are new or revised ideas of old, I hope you gained something for your time. I know I got new ideas from Michelle at Big Time Literacy and new resource ideas from Bridget at Literacy without Worksheets, but be sure to visit each post this week. They are all so different, and that's what I love about this summer's linky. We each had the same topic, but no two posts were even close to similar.  

Next week, we'll be creating a Voracious Vocabulary with you.  What are you waiting for?? Let's link up.  Share your amazing vocabulary building ideas with us!
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Monday, July 13, 2015

10 Airplane Etiquette Tips to Remember

Well, readers, apparently there is more to learn at a Teachers Pay Teachers Conference than curriculum design, business marketing, and collaboration planning. It hit me on my trip out that I needed to write about airplane etiquette. My husband travels quite a bit for work, and he has had a few stories on his adventures. When I experienced two *situations* in a matter of fifteen minutes, I knew this post *must* be written. It was just too amusing not to share, but before I begin sharing, I do have a few important points I need to add.
Important Notes
  1. This post is not meant to offend. When you fly these days, you have to have a sense of humor right...even if you're paying $20 for that coke and bag of peanuts.  Please do not flame me, but rather, sit back and chuckle.
  2. I want to credit a few people for sharing their stories with me-Jamie at Play to Learn Preschool, Karen at Mrs. Stamp's Kindergarten, Kimberly at KG Fonts, Kim at KinderGals, Brandi at A Peach for a Teach, Chrissy at Buzzing with Ms. B, Janiel from Literacy Matters, Tiffani at A Time for Kindergarten, Bridget from Literacy Without Worksheets, Christina A, and Alysson from Going Strong in Second Grade.
  3. Next time you fly, keep these stories in mind.  You might come back with a few of your own, but hopefully, you will avoid these!!
The first two on my list are flossing teeth and clipping fingernails. One of my bloggy friends was sitting next to a fella who decided to pull out the dental floss after eating his pretzels, and even had some of the goo fly.  Ewww!  

Another friend had nail clippings land on her as the woman beside her decided to give herself a mani on the plane, and guess what??  This same incident happened to my husband not long ago except the lady decided to redo her nail polish. She took the old off (imagine the smell of the polish remover) and then painted.  How she got nail polish remover through security is amazing. That stuff is toxic! Flossing, clipping nails, and other bathroom functions should happen in a bathroom...on the ground!

Number three comes from me, but I bet my readers will relate to the plop, plop, plop of your neighbors cell phone keypad or the poomp, poomp, skree of the Star Wars game my neighbor was playing...on full volume *without* headphones with everyone turning and watching. After 30 minutes, she realized this and turned it down. 

Guess what?  Headphones should be worn for music too, but here is the other piece of advice. When wearing headphones, go a step further and refrain from singing, especially if it's Jon Bonjovi!  I can not make this stuff up, people! Honest!

Wow, I am already to number five!  That went quickly. Too bad my next experience didn't! As you can see in the picture, some food just should not be allowed on an airplane...ever!  Fried foods, especially crab cakes, should not be opened and eaten in a tight space for everyone to smell. My neighbor looked at me and asked where the smell was coming from, and I said, "Not me! I think it's from the person in front of you." (and it was). 

While we're on the topic of smells, leave your shoes on if you've been wearing them for a while.  People do not want to smell your stinky feet much less have them placed on their armrest! Again...truth! These things really did happen this weekend.

On to number seven I think. This story is all about love. I love my husband...a bunch. In fact, we celebrate our 25th in three weeks (awwww!), but there are boundaries in public people. Please remember that others are on the plane with you, and passing pretzels from your mouth to your spouse's mouth is crossing them. We also do not care to hear about or see public displays of affection. Keep some things private.  

With all of the security rules and procedures in place now, many are on edge with traveling, especially when traveling alone. One bloggy friend experienced a very uncomfortable airplane discussion involving airplane crashes. When flying, people do not care to hear about crashes. Nor do they wish to search for the worst casualties on record. Use your wifi services for watching movies or surfing the net, not scaring your neighbors.  

Have you ever sat next to someone who seemed very well educated? Well, one bloggy friend did and that someone wanted to make sure she knew it. He decided to provide answers and even correct hers as she played sudoku...multiple times! When you sit by someone, intruding into their activities is not polite. Never read someone's computer or phone as they're texting/typing. It may be private business.  

I could go on with another five or six, but alas, I am at number 10. Shoot!  I was on a roll. I guess I have to either pick one good one or do some combining.  Sadly, I just can not limit to one, so playing and shuffling cards on a red-eye overseas flight...not a good idea as it keeps everyone awake!  It's also not a good idea to use your essential oils to "freshen up".  They may be worse than "too much day". If you haven't showered in a bit, please don't put your arms above your head to sway to the music or fall asleep against your neighbor. That is just too cozy for strangers, and last but not least, drinking vodka at 6:00 AM is much too early, especially if you spill it on those around you. If you choose to drink lots of vodka, by all means, do not ask your neighbor out for a date either. They will not appreciate it or the smelly vodka clothes.  

The conference in Vegas was fantastic, and I can't wait til next year. 365 days is just too many! I truly enjoyed meeting all of my blogging friends and making new ones, learning tips from very knowledgeable teacher authors, and making plans for the coming year.  Thanks to all who made the conference so wonderful and to those who shared their airplane "adventures". 
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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Summer Blog Party Week 3: Creating Critical Thinkers

Who thinks critical thinking is easy peasy?  You don't? Why not?  Well, I completely agree with you, and not only that, I think it is the toughest skills to teach. Some students just automatically think deeply, but the vast majority struggle in this area. However, there are strategies we can put in place to help students get there.
The number one way teachers can help their students think deeply is to model it. Think Aloud is the method that is recommended for modeling how and what we want our students to think about as they read. We can use carefully selected mentor texts to demonstrate our thinking or online resources that allow us to project and record our thoughts. It's important to make our thoughts visible to students with anchor charts, selective highlighting, and annotating (in the margins or with sticky notes). A wonderful online resource to use for this is Reading A-Z's projectable books. [This post] includes tips on how to use the projectable feature of Reading A-Z, but you may be able to use the same tips with your own articles in Smartnotebook as well.
QAR Poster & Bookmark {FREEBIE}When I think about questioning, several strategies come to mind.  The first is QAR-Question Answer Relationship. Having students analyze question types is a high level thinking skill.  Students will begin to recognize question stems and better yet, be able to look for the evidence they need to support their thinking. All year, I worked with my students on explaining why they think X??  How do you know X?? If we push our kids to explain, they will learn to think that way on their own.  

Reciprocal Teaching Comprehension Strategy Cue Card/PosterAnother technique that works well is Reciprocal Teaching which includes predicting, questions, clarifying, and summarizing. Reciprocal Teaching is student led process where students discuss A LOT. Keep in mind that the more we get our kids talking about their reading and thinking, the deeper they will comprehend.  The freebie to the left may be helpful as you teach your students their role in Reciprocal Teaching. Students take on the teacher role as they are put in charge of these four steps.  
Determining Importance Anchor Chart HandoutIn addition to modeling and questioning (teacher's role mainly), I think it's important to teach kids to use strategies such as Close Reading and Determining Importance. These processes help our students categorize the information drawn from the text in order of importance. With my students, we read by paragraph and talk about which information is important and which information is interesting. Once students can see the difference, they are better able to use Close Reading steps.  I made the "anchor chart" to the right for my students' interactive notebooks, and we use the organizer to the left with a few articles to practice.

There are many Close Reading freebies on TPT to help you get started in helping your students as well as indepth blog posts. I am sharing my Close Reading pinterest board to help readers find them. The key is to walk your students through the process (Think Aloud) and gradually release the responsibility to them.  When we do a Close Read in my classroom, we read three times for different purposes ending with writing in response to reading which is deep. I honestly think that this strategy helped my students more than any other this year.  

How do you get deep thinking in your classroom?  Please share.  As I mentioned at the start, this is *the* toughest skill for struggling readers and yet, our curriculum demands it.

Have a great week, and come back next week for week #4, Revving Up Writing.  I know I can't wait!
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Monday, July 6, 2015

10 Literacy Websites You Can Not Miss

Appy Monday everyone. I thought I'd repost the websites post from Classroom Tested Resources here on my own blog for those who may not have seen it. There are so many sites for reading, but these ten are the best for teacher instruction in my opinion. However, I do have a linky open at the bottom for adding additional literacy sites and did include a few more. :-)  

The first site I want you to know about was one shared with me during my reading program.  It's perfect for small group lessons and tutoring.  If you visit the section for educators and navigate to your grade level you will find many lessons and manipulatives to print and take to your students for *free*.

The number two website is perfect for articles to match your content areas as well as other literacy skills.  It includes paired text, novel studies, and a large number of leveled articles with comprehension questions. Sometimes students need a second or third "dose" of content information, so check it out for informational text tied to your content.

Do you need help with building vocabulary?  This past year, I was looking for Greek and Latin Roots, and this site popped up as I searched.  I love the options it has.  It's great for modeling, but I can see student using it at home or during independent work time.

If you use reading/writing workshop for your students, you'll just love this fourth website. It is truly one of the best on the web. It has lessons focused on the Six Traits, but many of the lessons also reinforce comprehension as they encourage making predictions, visualizing, character traits, and certainly story structures.

Whether your students are beginning readers, transitional readers, or instructional readers, you will love being able to use this site for modeling. Reading A-Z is most definitely worth the annual membership fee for the wealth of information and materials available. It costs about $90 for a year's membership which provides projectable books you can use with Smartboard tools for Close Reading and to model decoding and word building.  I wrote up a blog post about the ways I use Reading A-Z for Adventures in Literacy Land. If you want more information on that, you can check [here].

The next site I am sharing has apps for students and many lesson ideas for teachers. I could spend hours searching through what all is on this site. I especially love the student apps for word building, the project options, and written response apps.  

Having a wide repertoire of instructional strategies helps teachers keep things fresh and discussion deep. Reading Quest was started by Raymond Jones at the University of Virginia for content area instruction, but there are great strategies that work for nonfiction and fiction listed.  Each strategy is explained and  a plain-jane version of the organizer is shared.  

Many teachers enjoy using nonfiction text that is current and directly related to what students are learning in class. Newsela is a new site that features nonfiction current event printable and online articles that are free for educational use. Students can take quizzes on the articles, and teachers can observe their progress.

This next site is a great one for use at school or at home.  Oxford Owl has wonderful parent videos, interactive educational games, and 250+ stories for students.  It's even set up for tablets.  

The last website I'm sharing has been around for the past 10-15 years, but it may be unknown to teachers who are just beginning. I like it for introducing and modeling specific skills such as dictionary usage, sequencing information, or synonyms and antonyms. Teachers can select a grade level and skill needed and find mini lessons to project for use with small group or whole group. If laptops are available, the activities could be used for review as well.

Well, that wraps it up, but there are more we can still add.  If you have a favorite literacy website teachers need to visit, could you please add it with the linky code below? 

Have a great day, and don't forget to come back Wednesday for our Summer Blog Party posts on Creating Critical Thinkers.
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