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Friday, June 27, 2014

Diggin' Into Next Year - Organization of the Literacy Block

Welcome to week 5 of the Diggin' Into Next Year linky party hosted by Laura from Where the Magic Happens. This week's topic is organizing the literacy block. I work in a district that is very committed to guided reading and balanced literacy. For the past 7 years I have organized my literacy block with the district's time guidelines in mind:
  • 60 minutes for shared reading/writing
  • 60 minutes for writers' workshop
  • 60 minutes for guided reading
If you do the math and add in everything else such as math, recess, lunch, PE, music, library, science, social studies, computers, etc., you quickly realize the day is not long enough for it all. Integration has been my get it all in method. That's worked pretty good for me. However this past year I started a professional book club among the teachers at my school. We voted on books to read and our first book was The CAFE Book by The Sisters. There were many things I liked about the book but as I already said my district is very committed to guided reading. Plus I am teaching first grade right now and guided reading is a great instructional strategy for emerging readers.

Today I'll be diggin' into what really hit me from The CAFE Book and how it changed my organization of the literacy block.
And that was how much they broke up the instructional time. Their students did a round of independent reading, then they did a group activity, another round of independent reading, more group work, and so on throughout the day. Yet here I am asking my first graders to independently work at their centers for 60 straight minutes. I started thinking about how much more productive they would be if they were only asked to work for 20 straight minutes at a time. So right then and there I made the change. Yes, it was January and I thought why not give it a go for the third term. It actually meant a lot of changes. Before this my centers were a little more loosey goosey. I figured I didn't care what activities my students were doing as long as they were reading and writing. I used a must do/can do approach. There were two things they had to do (independent book bag reading and one other activity of my choosing) and then they could pick from any literacy center activity. I realized that if I was going to break up my center times, I needed a more organized approach to centers. I quickly read The Daily Five by the same authors.
This is a new edition of the book. I need to order it and see the changes they've included
 because I've only read the original version.
Now in the past I have hated a timed center rotation with a passion. I have always thought it was difficult to have all the centers last the right amount of time, plus what if I needed extra time with a group or less time with another. Of course, this was in the old days of a different center activity for each center, each day. The Daily Five actually gave my loosey goosey approach more structure.  Almost all of the activities I already had established fit into one of their "daily five." 

Ok, so there's six here. Respond to Reading is an added one, but I rotated it with Word Work so that we only had 5 on any given day. I had my students pick the center they wanted to start with but then they had to rotate from there in a certain order. I put smaller versions of the cards for the daily five activities in my pocket chart. As students came in for the day, they put their name under the activity they wanted to begin with and then I rotated the cards as we switched throughout the day. Now I have to admit that this REALLY broke up my day. But you can't believe how fast the day went - we were just moving. Talk about improving my pacing! The day looked like this:
  1. Math Calendar
  2. Round 1 of guided reading
  3. Whole class time - 20 minutes
  4. Round 2 of guided reading
  5. Whole class read-aloud - 10 minutes
  6. Round 3 of guided reading
  7. Recess
  8. Math
  9. Lunch
  10. Round 4 of guided reading
  11. Whole class time - 25 minutes
  12. Writer's Workshop mini-lesson whole class
  13. Writer's Workshop
  14. Computers/PE/Music/Library/Art times
Now as you can see, there's not a lot of time for whole class lessons. That was hard for me. So I had to look for some things to cut out. First on the list was phonics and handwriting practice. I realized that phonics and handwriting practice was probably not as effective in a whole class situation. With a full 20 minutes per reading group, why not fit them in there? Think about it this way - If you are teaching students how to use a final -e to make a letter use it's long vowel sound to the whole class, you probably have a big chunk of students who already know this. Now they are either tuning you out or yelling out answers before others have time to think. You also have a group of students who are still struggling with their short vowel sounds. You are now teaching something they aren't ready for. They are either tuning you out or starting to feel frustrated. So what does this leave? THE group of kids who need this. They are the ones ready to learn this. But all around are kids that are tuned out, yelling out answers, misbehaving, etc. because they themselves aren't ready for this. So why not take a small focused group and teach them exactly what they need. A 20 minutes lesson to everyone can probably be condensed into only 5 minutes with a small group. Now what about handwriting practice. Yes, I want my students to learn to correctly form the letters. But with 26 kids, it's hardly a guided practice. For some it just became practice in the wrong formation of the letter because I couldn't catch their mistakes right away. Once I put this into a small group, the practice took a minute or two and I was right there to help everyone.

Now this past year, I was lucky, my overload technician was a credentialed teacher who is now going into the classroom as a teacher. She had also been working with me for 3 years, so I had her take over my calendar time and I actually got in a sixth group each day. That's 30 guided reading groups per week. I was meeting with every group, every day and the results were amazing growth. It's really made me more committed to making this work again. year I won't have someone to take over calendar. So there goes one group per day. I could still get 20 groups in per week and my class size should be a little smaller so maybe I could have 5 groups and still get everyone in. But the schedule just doesn't leave enough time for everything. So next year I need to work on integrating more into our daily center activities. When we are writing informational books about spiders, I'll have my students read spider books and record new information during read with someone. When I have writing activities outside of our writer's workshop, we can use our work on writing center. I don't need another whole class lesson time when I can integrate these activities into our daily centers. Also, I think I have to consider going to 4 days a week or maybe 4 groups per day at least for part of the year. Still working this out in my mind. I would love to hear how others are doing this. How do you get it all in and what do you feel like you can leave out? I would love to have you leave some comments.
I know I mentioned that I was trying it for the third term, well, I didn't go back. I kept it this way for the fourth term too. Why? Because in an hour of guided reading, I was talking to kids constantly after the first, maybe the second group. They just couldn't go for an entire hour independently. By breaking it up I found that my students were more focused, they were able to work independently in 20 minute blocks thus cutting down on behavior problems and they were more productive. They were using their time better. I will definitely break up my time next year too. You probably already noticed that I don't have just an hour of guided reading, with this new schedule I'm actually getting in an hour and 40 minutes. I definitely want to keep that the same.

You may like some of my free word work activities:

During my guided reading word work I use Guess the Missing Word on the iPad. It's so easy and already prepared.

My next post in the Diggin' Into Next Year series will be on July 13. We'll be talking about writing instruction that week. Hope you'll come back for it. In the meantime, you can head over to Where the Magic Happens to look for more link ups about organizing the literacy block.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Literacy Teacher's Playbook - Chapter 2

Welcome back to week #2 of The Literacy Teacher's Playbook Grades K-2 hosted by A Teacher Mom. If you read my post last week you will already know that my first thought was...really? More assessment? But this book is not about more assessment, it's about using the data we already have.  So plan on digging into your students' desks or chair pockets and let's find something to assess. 

This week's chapter is called "Analyzing Data: Making Discoveries from Student Work" and we'll be talking about the first half of the chapter (up to page 62).  The first thing that hit me as I read this chapter is that the author suggests we look for potential areas of growth that are linked to the students' strengths. This is a very different idea for me. I usually look for things that my students are missing, but I don't consider if it's linked to an area of strength. By finding potential growth in an area of strength, the author suggests that we are within the student's zone of proximal development. It makes sense that we build their strengths, but it still leaves me considering when we tackle the missing gaps in their understanding. Obviously a student's strengths change over time, but sometimes I feel like the missing gap is too important to wait. I'm just going to tuck this question away for a bit while I continue reading and hopefully some answers will come.

So let's get into analyzing the data. First I think it's more helpful to look at a student's work with other teachers. I like to bring work samples to our weekly PLC meeting so I can get input and insight from others. Usually my team will all bring a sample of the same type of work so we can look at them all together. Mostly we focus on running records from our lowest readers but I can see from this book that adding other types of assessments will be more beneficial. 

" anything, with practice, the process of analysis will become like second nature and you'll be able to move through it quickly and easily." (p. 37)
Engagement Inventory
This example is from page 39 in the book.

What can you learn from an engagement inventory?
  • A student's behaviors during independent reading time
  • A student's ability to read for a sustained amount of time
  • Recognition of a student's signs of engagement or distraction 
I've never done an engagement inventory with more than a single student before, but I think this would really help at the beginning of the year when I am trying to train students for our literacy centers. Often I get so worried about how low my new little students are and getting started on guided reading that I rush too quickly through training them for centers. I regret this every year when I begin to have too many interruptions. Maybe analyzing an engagement inventory would help me really focus on teaching them techniques and strategies that will help them to be more engaged. Here are some questions to look at:
  • Do the students settle into reading right away?
  • Which students are easily distracted?
  • What are the signs of a student's engagement or disengagement?
  • Do students have strategies for reengaging when needed?
  • How long can a student continue reading?
Book Logs
I think book logs will be more helpful for older students who are able to record information about their reading. Here are some of the questions a log can help you answer:
  • Does the student's page per minute fluctuate during the day?
  • Are certain books, genres, authors, etc. more successful for a student?
  • Does a student gravitate toward particular genres?
  • Does a student read books that are at an appropriate level?
In first grade I have used a simple tally log. The only information I can really glean from this is the number of books or chapters read by a student. But I have found it helpful in encouraging students to build their reading stamina and be a little more accountable.

Reading Interest Inventory
I think this would be really helpful when working with older students. At kindergarten or first grade this would need to be done orally. My district requires a beginning of the year benchmark assessment and therefore provides a substitute for us. I think it would be really easy to ask a few reading interest questions right before the benchmark. A few hints from the author on this include:
  • Remember what you get will depend on what you ask and how you ask it
  • Open-ended questions lead to more honest answers
  • Asking about a student's interests can help you make book recommendations
Questions for you to consider are:
  • Does the student have a positive or negative attitude toward reading?
  • Can the student name a genre, author, book that is a good fit for him/her?
  • Does the student have outside of school reading support?
  • What does the student say about their reading habits and stamina?
Writing About Reading
When students are writing about reading you want to be analyzing their comprehension skills or to say it in another way, focusing on their use of the comprehension strategies.
" aren't looking simply at evidence for or absence of skills. Instead, it's important to consider how deep a student's work reaches within a particular skill." (p. 48)
One way to do this is to have all of your students respond to a prompt you give during a read aloud. Sort the responses into three piles - basic, on-target and sophisticated. Right away you will have an idea of how a student's work could go deeper within that comprehension strategy. Another way to do this is the stop and jot during a read aloud. I also use reading response journals with whole class read alouds. Sometimes I have students respond in any way they choose and at other times I give them prompts. These will be perfect assessments for me to use and best of all....I already have them!

Fluency Assessment
Now I'm all about using running records - it's an assessment I always have plenty of. But often I spend my time with miscue analysis and fluency just becomes a quick check in a box of yes or no. To use a running record as a fluency assessment you will want to put a slash(/) at each pause the reader makes and then we need to ask some specific questions:
  • How many words are in a phrase?
  • Where does the reader pause?
  • Does the student attend to punctuation?
  • Is the reader using expression?
  • Does the reader read with automaticity?
Ok...truth is I'm feeling a little worn down still from the end of the year. Assessing their writing about reading and fluency will be easy since I always have current samples from each child. Even the engagement inventory feels like it will help me find ways to better train my students for our literacy centers. I can see where at the beginning of the year and even periodically throughout the year it will help me know how to help them improve their reading stamina. But I feel a little overwhelmed when I think about book logs and really using them to help guide my instruction and I haven't even gotten to miscue analysis, analyzing conversations, writing engagement, and looking at all the writing samples.  That's all for next week's post. Ok...breath deeply. Remember there are lots of great things going on in my classroom and yours and there's still plenty of summer left. Please leave a comment telling me how you assess one of these areas - I would love to hear some of your ideas. I hope you will come back next week as we look at analyzing miscues, conversations and writing. Thanks for stopping by!

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Diggin' Into Next Year - Reading Comprehension

Welcome to week 4 of the Diggin' Into Next Year linky party. This week we are talking about reading comprehension.

Today I'm diggin' into the way I teach reading comprehension. This is a huge topic, so I'm just going to focus on using children's literature to teach reading comprehension. A few years ago I was taking graduate classes toward a reading endorsement and one of the professors made the observation that when children are young we just read to them with no expectation other than pure enjoyment. The only thing the child needs is to understand the story. Everything is about comprehension. However, once they hit kindergarten and first grade everything becomes about them learning to read. We don't focus on comprehension, we focus on decoding words.  At the time, I wasn't sure I agreed with her but I put the idea in the back of my head. One day at lunch a fourth grade teacher was complaining about parent conferences and helping the parents see that reading all of the words correctly didn't make their child a great reader, they needed comprehension.  It's been a few years now and I have to admit to having my share of parents who are so excited about their child's reading ability and yet decoding is the only aspect they are aware of. Comprehension has taken a backseat to purely reading the correct words. So what does that mean to those of us teaching in the classroom? I think it means that we need to make comprehension a focus - an important part of our literacy block - because once everyone reads, those who have good comprehension and higher level thinking skills are the ones who are good readers. No one will care if they learned to read before they entered school or learned to read at the beginning of second grade. 

So let's talk about using good children's literature to build comprehension. Any book that gets students thinking and talking about books is great. But these are some of my favorites that I use for specific comprehension strategies.
Inferring is taking your background knowledge or schema plus the evidence in the text to figure something out or make an inference. A doctor does this all the time - he/she takes what they already know (their medical knowledge), the evidence they have such as temperature and symptoms and use it to figure out what is wrong with you.

When you get to the end and see two little boys picking up the game, get your students to think back about what the boys' mother said about them. Now put her words and the illustration together and make an inference about how the game will end differently the next time.

Fanny doesn't come right out and say it, so let your kids infer it. Why doesn't Fanny go with her fairy godmother? How has Fanny's dream changed?

Just figuring out who the stranger is makes for a great lesson on inference.

Synthesis is when you put everything together and it changes your thinking. An engineer has to know all about trains and how to run them, but he also has to know where he is supposed to go and how to get there. By putting all of this together he can actually arrive at a new destination. When we put everything together and change our thinking, we are in essence arriving at a new destination. "A mind stretched to a new idea never goes back to its original dimensions." Oliver Wendell Holmes, Supreme Court Justice

I hate cats - with a passion. But this is a great book for changing thinking. How do the characters in the book change their thinking about the kind of cat they have? How did your thinking about the cat's personality change?

What does your class think? Is Oliver Button a sissy? Did they change their opinion during the story?

Visualizing is getting a picture in your head. This is really important as you read chapter books aloud to your class. A gardener does a lot of visualizing before he/she even plants the first plant. For example, I have these rocks in my front yard and around the rocks is some cement curbing that makes a flower bed. I know I want the flower bed to be filled with colorful flowers all summer long. Once I have the picture of what I want it to look like, I can go down to the nursery, pick out the right flowers and plant them. 

Make a paper grocery bag book cover for this book before you read it aloud and don't show any pictures. Just let your students visualize what Emma Kate looks like. After the first reading, read it again and show the pictures. Did your students change their mind about what Emma Kate looks like? Now start the discussion and see if the discussion changes your students' ideas of Emma Kate.
Without seeing any pictures, students always think Emma Kate is a girl. After reading it with the pictures they always switch to thinking Emma Kate is an elephant, but it will take some class discussion for everyone to see that there's more going on at the end.

I love this book for Earth Day. What do you visualize the world looking like in the future?

Some questions matter more than others and helping students learn which questions help them understand is important. A scientist has to ask the right questions to help him/her discover new things.

This is one of my very favorite books. I love the illustrator - he's amazing! This book will lead to a lot of questions.

This book is also available on which is where the Screen Actor's Guild has actors reading some great children's books. This book lends itself to allowing you to delve deeper into your students' thinking by asking them some hard questions.

This book is fabulous for lots of comprehension strategies. Try letting your students ask and answer questions in a class discussion. Perfect for around MLK Day.

This book brought a lot of great discussion. Would you want to go to recess at 20 below? Why or why not? Also perfect for opinion writing. This book came with the Comprehension Toolkit (seen below).

Good readers have to learn to be metacognitive - they have to think about their thinking. I am constantly telling my students that the most important thing about reading is their thinking. The best way to introduce this concept is to simply stop and talk about their thinking throughout a story.

Just stop and talk about why it's a terrible day and whether Alexander is overreacting. 

Great conversation starter about what we do when we get mad.

This is a pretty simple text, but provides a lot of discussion about why things happen and how kindness can change things.

This book is also perfect for so many other comprehension strategies. It's a true story about a little girl who gets mailed to her Grandma's house in Idaho. It's one of my favorite stories.

Schema or Background Knowledge
Everyone has different experiences and those experiences help you comprehend the world around you and the books you read. Each of us has a suitcase full of experiences, but they are all different.  So our connections to stories will all be different. I like to start by using books that my students can make connections to.

Almost all of your students will have a connection with a visit from relatives or a time they visited relatives.

Difficulty making friends is a common problem for most kids, so lots of connections. But it also gives you a chance to talk about how the actions of each person affects others.

Depending on where you live collecting fireflies may be an easy connection. But regardless of whether you have fireflies in your area, what child hasn't tried to catch a bug?
Determining Importance
A student who graduates has learned to determine importance. They have taken classes in every subject and learned what is important in many subjects and now are going to have to make decisions about their life based on what is important to them. Click here for a post I previously wrote on my favorite way to introduce determining importance.

This is a great book for introducing determining importance in reading fiction plus it has a great message for the kids to discover.

This may be my newest favorite book. It has such a great message about accepting diversity. Perfect for determining importance.

And finally some of my favorite teacher resources for comprehension instruction:

The Comprehension Toolkit - Available in an upper and lower elementary version

And for some real tangible lessons to introduce the comprehension strategies:

The books I've already talked about are ones I use year after year. Those aren't going to be changing. Leaving time for good class discussions helps build comprehension. Students need time to discuss their thinking,  justify their ideas, disagree with others and listen to the ideas of their classmates. The real learning can and should take place through classroom discussion. So I am going to make sure to leave time everyday for good literature and discussion.
Anyone else feel crunched for time? I know that by the time I read, we discuss, kids respond to the literature and then we come back to share, I feel like I have wasted too much time. Wasted is the wrong word, because building comprehension and higher level thinking skills is never a waste of time but with so much to teach and so little time, I need to make the best use of time. Next year I want to give all of my time to the literature and discussions. I want to have the students respond to the reading and share their thinking in partners. I'll still have them turn it in to me, but I can read through everyone's response in 5 minutes after school. So I'll be working on helping them learn to meet and discuss their writing with a partner from the very start of the year.

Thanks for stopping by. I'll be back next week for week 5 of the Diggin' Into Next Year linky party with a post about the organization of the literacy block. I tried something different for the second half of the year and I'll be blogging about it. Hope you're having a great summer! You may want to head over to Where the Magic Happens to find some other blogs that have linked up to talk about reading comprehension.