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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Literacy Teacher's Playbook - Chapter 4 Part 3

Welcome back to another post about The Literacy Teacher's Playbook. This book study is being hosted by A Teacher Mom.

As we finish up chapter 4, I'll be talking about involving others, planning for multiple students and how to know when a student has met the goal.

Involving Others
"When a student receives mixed messages about what to be focusing on, the end result is often that the child focuses on none of it." (p. 141)
This totally is one of my teacher pet peeves. I find it so annoying when I have students who are pulled out for special education services and there is no coordination of teaching strategies, methodology, or even curriculum. It makes me crazy because I know we could be doing better. We should be supporting each other. I know this is wrong, but sometimes I just throw up my hands in the air and figure that I can't control what others are teaching. This past year I had my best ever experience with coordinating services for a child and it's sad, but true, that it only happened because of the most pro-active, supportive parents you've ever met. They insisted that their daughter stay within the classroom for services and for the first time ever I was able to observe what was going on during special education services. Not that I always agreed with the methods and I still think there needs to be more coordination, but it was just wonderful.  Why can't we do this with every student? Why do they always pull students out when it's so much better to bring the services in? Back to the book...the author gives a few suggestions to help us communicate efficiently with those working with our students. The first is a notebook by the door where specialists could read what you are working on with a particular student, they can continue to support your goal and write down notes to let you know what they worked on with the student. I love this idea because it helps everyone be more accountable about working together.

How about parents? They really should be partners with us in helping their children be successful in school. Often parents don't know what to do. It is even harder for parents who are not involved with helping in the classroom. Parents who come in and can observe what we do in reading or writing workshops understand why there are no textbooks or worksheets. But many parents have no idea what these formats look like, what their children are doing, or how they can support the instruction their child is receiving. I have always thought that communication with parents is really what makes the difference in how a parent feels about you as a teacher and the education their child is receiving. I love the way the author makes it more personal with this type of an individual note going home:
As a parent, I would love to know the goals that my child is working on so that I could support it at home. But even better is how she gives examples of what to do. What a great way to help parents know what they can do to support your teaching. Often parents are unclear of what they should or could be doing. I'm wondering if I would do this with everyone or just the students who need more support? I already send home a weekly newsletter that tells what we've done during the week, as well as what's coming up. Sometimes I include ways to help your child, but I think after reading this chapter I need to be more specific and more regular about giving ideas.

Planning for Multiple Students
At first I thought from the title of the section that the author was going to talk about planning for your 4 or 5 students who needed more support. Nope. She talks about planning your whole-class, small-group and individual instruction based on your goals for each and every student. Here are a few questions that can guided the process:
  1. Which students have similar goals and reading/writing levels?
  2. Which students' goals lend themselves to work during partnership/conversation time?
  3. Which student goals are unique and will need attended to with individual instruction?
  4. Who will I need to check in with more than once?
As you answer these questions, you can plan for the appropriate instruction for each and every student. 

But here is the idea that probably struck me the most:
"When a student gets it the very first time I teach it, I usually feel that the teaching might not have reached far enough." (p. 144)
I have never thought of it that way. I definitely will keep that in mind as we head into a new school year. 

How will I know when the goal has been met?
Since ideally you will go through this cycle of assessment, goal setting and teaching many times throughout the year, it's going to be important to know when you have met a goal. The best way to know is to have an idea of what a strong example of this kind of work would look like.  Some resources that may help include:
  • The Continuum of Literacy Learning (Fountas and Pinnell)
  • Units of Study in Opinion, Information and Narrative Writing (Calkins)
  • Independent Reading Assessment: Fiction and Independent Reading Assessment: Nonfiction (Serravallo)
"A student's strengths and needs will evolve....One of the teacher's responsibilities is to constantly have his eyes open, looking for progress, and to know when it's time to reestablish a goal." (p. 148)

Thanks for stopping by today. I will be joining in this conversation one more time to give some final thoughts about this book. I hope you'll come back for it next week.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Diggin' Into Next Year - Technology Instruction

Welcome to week 9 of the Diggin' Into Next Year linky party. It's been a few weeks since I participated and let me just say the 3 weeks I spent lying on the beach was nothing short of heaven. Give me a stack of books and I hardly needed to move the entire three weeks. When your biggest worry is where to go for dinner each night, you know you have arrived at the perfect vacation. But it's time to dig into next year and talk about technology instruction. No more sad reminiscing because I'm actually going to talk about integrating iPad technology into the primary classroom.

This past year I have been lucky enough to have four iPads for student use in my classroom. One was loaned to us by a parent, one was purchased by the principal for each classroom, one was from a Donors Choose project and the last was made possible when Santa brought my daughter a new iPad for Christmas. Her old iPad is the original first generation so it doesn't have all the capabilities but my students were able to quickly learn which iPads could do certain activities.

How do I use the iPad with my students?
Anyone used Patricia Cunningham's Guess the Covered Word activity? I've been using it for  years off and on. But this year I had a group of emerging readers who were having a difficult time using letter/sounds and meaning simultaneously to decode difficult words. They were either giving words that would make sense in the sentence but wouldn't match the sounds or they would use the letter/sounds but come up with words that didn't work in the context of the sentence. So I knew Guess the Covered Word might be just the thing for this little group of readers. Unfortunately, all the good intentions in the world don't add up to early preparation before guided reading for me. I have a format I follow, but I still just wing it a lot. Let's be honest the books in first grade aren't too difficult to read while the kids are moving toward the reading table. So the dilemma keeps presenting itself in that I want to use Guess the Covered Word as an intervention for this group, but I never have it ready. As I'm listening to my students read, I am constantly trying to write a sentence, tear up post-its and cover the word letter by letter. If I do get it ready in time to use, I still have the difficulty of a bunch of torn up sticky notes and pulling them off one by one. After a week of cursing my lack of preparation as well as the unreliability of my sticky notes, I finally came up with a grand idea. Why not create pre-made sentences? Now I don't want a bunch of sentence strips to organize that have even more sticky notes falling off. So I set off to find a way to do this on the iPad. It took a week of testing ideas, but I finally found a format that worked exactly as I wanted.

Each sentence is in a separate slide show. Each one starts out with a missing word.

A tap in the corner advances the slide one at a time. Each advance shows one new letter.

I didn't put in all the slides, I think you get the idea.
If you hold your finger down, you get the pencil toolbar and can write directly on the slide.

You can easily make these slide shows in PowerPoint. They can be shown on the computer or you can use Keynote on the iPad (which is what I use).

How do my students use the iPad by themselves?
This was my first year putting iPads into the hands of my students. I'm sure you would have guessed this, but I was surprised at how much easier it was for them to learn to put in a password on the iPad than to open the file cabinet drawer.

My first use was math games. There is a great website called Best Apps and Websites for Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd that I used to help me find math apps to use. Some of the ones I like best for my first graders are:
  • Deep Sea Duel - It's you against Okta the Octopus, complexity goes from nice to nasty and you can choose the skill level of Okta from easy to hard. Your goal is to use 3 or 4 cards to add up to a designated sum. (Developed by National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM))
  • Operation Math Code Squad - This game can have up to four player actively playing at the same time. It has addition, subtraction, multiplication and division to choose from, plus you can play with mixed facts. You also choose the difficulty level from easy, medium and hard. Difficult includes multiplying up to the twelves. For first grade we stay on addition and subtraction, but it could be played easily in fourth or fifth for a quick facts practice. It's all about speed. (Developed by Spinlight Studio)
  • Line 'em Up - Working with number lines you have to put the numbers in the correct places. You can choose the difficulty of the numbers from 1-10 to in the 100's. (Developed by Classroom Focused Software)
  • Sums Stacker - I love this game because you have to use a collection of dice to make three different sums which means that there may be multiple ways to make a sum but you have to consider how you can make all three with the collection given to you. Instead of dice, you can use ten frames, tally marks, fingers, and more. You can also race against the clock or do it at your own speed. So many possibilities! (Developed by Carstens Studios Inc.)
  • Dominoes Addition - There are five different ways to play this game. You are given a sum and have to choose all the dominoes that equal the given number or you can find the missing number to equal a given sum or sort dominoes according to their sums. All focus on adding. (Developed by Aleesha Kondys)
  • Apples in Hour Hands - This game has your choice of grade level (K, 1 or 2) for determining difficulty. Students must match a traditional clock with a digital clock and then move the iPad to make the correct digital time fall into the basket. (Developed by GAMeS Lab at Radford University)
  • 10 Frame Fill - This game shows a ten frame with blue chips. Then the player must tell how many more chips are needed to make ten. For your students who can see this quickly, they only need to choose their answer. But for others who are still building their sense of ten, they can drag chips into the frame and count them as they put them in. (Developed by Classroom Focused Software)

My students have one day each week during math workshop where their assigned center is math games. They have their choice of a variety of math games as well as any games on the iPad. The great thing about these apps is that for at the most a few dollars, the games are able to sync on all my iPads. 

My second use is for listening centers. The iPads make great listening centers even without headphones. I have my students who are using iPads find a quiet place away from any other iPads to listen to the stories. I found stories for my students in a few different ways;
  • Storia - I downloaded Scholastic's Storia app and got a few free books from them. I also used any bonus points this year to purchase a few more books, but to be honest they are a little too expensive. If I'm paying that much, I want the physical book in our hands. However, by logging into the app on each iPad, they were all able to have the same books.
  • Storyline Online - This is a great website done by the Screen Actors Guild. The readers do a fabulous job. It took some time to do this, but with each iPad I went to each story they have online and placed an icon for the story on the the home screen. Then I put all of the icons into one folder that I labeled Storyline Online. All the students have to do is click on one and the webpage pulls up and they press play. Simple, free and the students hear some well done readings of some great books. 
  • QR Codes - This is an inexpensive way to get a lot of electronic books for your students to listen to. The readings aren't professionally done, but to be honest you can get a lot of them for oh so cheap. Plus the students love scanning in the codes. You need to install a QR reader app to your iPad. I just use a free one and have had no problems. My team all pitched in and we purchased several of Sue Lynch's QR book products. Her big listening center has 60 books for $30 at regular price. But we waited for a big TpT sale, and then purchased the first at full price and then added additional licenses at 50% off and got the TpT discount.  We got all of Mo Williams, David Shannon, Eric Carle and more. I think we ended up with close to 100 books. We printed off the codes, put them in sheet protectors and in a three-ring binder. They are a real  hit with our students.

Storage and charging has been a little bit of a problem. I am going to purchase a plastic coated dish drainer to stand the iPads up in and then it can also serve as a charging station if I put it by a plug. Once I saw it on Pinterest I knew it would work better than what I've been doing. Also, I need to make sure and go back into the games and change their settings to more difficult levels as the year progresses. Another thing I would like to do better with is finding ways to use them as learning tools rather than just math practice and listening centers.  We have just finished up an ocean animal unit where we wrote an ocean animal alphabet book. National Geographic Kids has some great information that would have been easy to bookmark for them to read and research from. I would also like to infuse more electronic math manipulatives into their problem solving tools. Number Rack is a free electronic Rekenrek that is easy to use. I just barely started using it with my students on the iPad this past year. And probably my biggest dream for use is reading fluency. I would love to have my student video themselves reading aloud. They can use a rubric to "grade" their reading, work on ways to improve and video themselves again.  I think this would be such a great tool for them. I know there are so many ways to make iPads into educational tools not toys. I would love to hear any ways you use them as tools. Please leave me a comment.

I am definitely going to keep using the iPads for listening centers and math games. I doubt you could talk me into adding to my CD collection when the iPad makes such a great listening center without having to store more stuff. My classroom is bursting at the seams!
I have just one for you today. If you are at all like me and show up to your small reading group without the sentence ready or just plain old hate fiddling with the sticky notes, then you might be interested in my pre-made Guess the Missing Word. You can store the file of 150 different presentations in a cloud storage that you can access on your iPad such as Dropbox. Simply click "open in," choose Keynote and in a few seconds you are ready to go. After opening each presentation once in Keynote, it does save directly in Keynote which makes it even faster the next time. For a list of the words used, go to my TpT store and the thumbnails will show all 150 words and if you download the preview you get a sample presentation with the word cocoa.

Each time you advance a slide, a new letter appears for the missing word and the blank line gets shorter.
There are 150 different missing word presentations included in this product.

Thanks for stopping by for this post. For more posts about technology instruction, link up with other bloggers at:
Where the Magic Happens
I will be participating one more time this summer in the Diggin' Into Next Year summer linky party. Come by next week for my last post in this series. It will be a blogger's choice week and I will be talking about daily calendar math.  Hope you are enjoying these sunny summer days!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Christmas in July Sale

I'm trying not to think about going back to school, we're not even using those words at my house yet. But if you are thinking about it, or maybe you are already back, then this sale is for you! Everything in my TpT store will be 20% off on Thursday, July 24 and Friday, July 25 for a Christmas in July sale hosted by My Fabulous Class.

Lots of other great teacher authors are also having a Christmas in July sale too!

The Literacy Teacher's Playbook - Chapter 4 Part 2

Welcome to week 6 of our discussion about The Literacy Teacher's Playbook. This book study is being hosted by A Teacher Mom.

This week we are looking into the second part of chapter 4 from pages 123 - 141, which looks at how to plan for practice over time.
"For a student to accomplish a goal, she needs repeated practice with skills and strategies and a decreased level of support over time." (p. 124)
There are so many different instructional formats that will be useful in helping students get repeated practiced. As we plan to meet the needs for repeated practice we need to be aware of the amount of support a student needs. Jennifer Serravallo categorizes many of the most common practices according to the degrees of support they offer. The chart can be found on page 125.  Practicing through mini-lessons, interactive read-alouds and close readings would be giving high levels of support. These are probably the activities that will be useful in teaching a strategy or practicing a skill for the first time. For some repeated practice with a moderate level of support the author suggests using instructional strategies such as shared reading, conferring, guided reading, interactive writing and shared writing.  Interactive writing feels like it tends more toward the high degree of support in my opinion, but I think that would ultimately depend on the goal the student is working on. Activities that give a very low degree of support would include independent reading, partnerships and peer editing.  I think it's really helpful to look at your instructional formats and think about the level of support each gives to a student as you plan to not only for repeated practice, but also for decreasing the level of support.

I know this is probably instinctual for most seasoned teachers, but sometimes the obvious is missing from today's bag of tricks. This past school year I had a small group of students who I felt were struggling with using meaning while trying to figure out a word. I spent about a week trying to come up with how to help them before I thought of using Patricia Cunningham's Guess the Covered Word method. This instructional format wasn't a new idea, just something that I hadn't used in a year or two. I think situations like this illustrate to me the importance of bringing our data, struggles and celebrations to the table with other colleagues. It probably wouldn't have taken a week to come up with a good idea or maybe one of them would have given me other ideas to supplement this strategy.

Now what we really want the most is for the child to move closer to independence with whatever goal we have in mind. This chart from page 126 will help you put this into perspective as you reevaluate instruction and student achievement within a goal.
The biggest takeaway from this portion of chapter 4 is that at the beginning we want to give more support, but as a student comes closer to meeting their goal, we will be gradually releasing more responsibility to the student by decreasing the level of support we give. Next week we will be talking about involving others, planning for multiple students and how to know when a goal has been met as we finish up chapter 4. Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Literacy Teacher's Playbook - Chapter 4 Part 1

Welcome to week 5 of our study of The Literacy Teacher's Playbook hosted by A Teacher Mom.

We've talked about collecting data and I want to emphasize that we should be looking for the data we already have - the work our students are doing.  There's no need to create more assessments. We've talked about analyzing their work, looking for common inconsistencies to find what our students really need and to develop goals for support within their areas of strength. And finally, last week we talked about conferencing and setting goals with our students on an individual basis.  Now it's time to create an action plan that answers a few critical questions:
  1. How will I plan for repeated practice?
  2. How will the teaching look over time? Who will be involved? How long will it take?
  3. How will I know when the goal has been met?
Some of you are already thinking SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) goals. This book fits right into what you already know about SMART goals. The goal you set should be something that is large, overarching and will take weeks to accomplish. Within that goal there are skills that students need to be able to handle. The author defines skills as behaviors, habits and processes that differ from strategies because strategies are procedural how-tos that help you accomplish a skill. Take a look at this chart from page 118 for an example of a goal with the skills and strategies the student will need to accomplish the goal. 

I think it's interesting to note that several skills are included in the goal. I usually set goals that would fall into skills and strategies according to this chart. That's definitely something I will need to rethink. It's comforting to see that the goals are larger and they take more time to accomplish in this model, which means it will be a while before you get back into this collect, analyze, interpret cycle. Obviously you will still be monitoring and assessing progress toward the goal, but that feels doable.

How do you select the exact strategies a student will need to learn? This entire model relies on your expertise as a teacher and selecting the strategies to teach is no different. Every child has different strengths, skills, and weaknesses and there is no list of skills that a child must be able to do to read. Thanks goodness because this is what makes teaching fun and challenging. So the author suggests looking at each goal and child to figure out what they need to learn in order to achieve the goal. But that doesn't mean that she leaves you on your own, oh no, she includes a list of great resources that can help you better understand ways to help your students. 

So now the real task at hand is finding ways and time for a student to have repeated practice using the strategies and skills they need to master, but I'll save that part of the chapter for next week. Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Diggin' Into Next Year - Writing Instruction

Welcome to week 7 of the Diggin' Into Next Year series hosted by Laura from Where the Magic Happens. This week we are talking about writing instruction.

Today I'll be diggin' into some guided writing instruction with interactive writing. There are so many great things that can be taught with interactive writing.

Interactive Writing vs. Shared Writing
So what's the difference between shared writing and interactive writing? Shared writing is where everyone is participating with decisions about what to write, but the teacher is the only one doing the actual writing. It is a great instructional strategy for many things. It makes the task of writing fall only on the teacher which does make it go faster. Interactive writing has everyone participate in the decisions, but it also has everyone participate in the writing which makes it slower. So you actually write a lot less each day. Usually I finish a shared writing task in one sitting, but with interactive writing we will add to the text each day for a week or maybe even two.

Integrating Subjects
One of my favorite things about interactive writing is that it is so easy to teach an integrated lesson. To truly integrate a lesson you need to be teaching more than one thing at a time. So if you write a poem about bugs it may fit fabulously into your thematic unit about insects, but unless you are teaching about insects it's not necessarily an integrated lesson. A great example of integrating your study of insects with writing would be drawing an insect, labeling the parts and writing captions about how an insect uses each part of its body. Your students can learn the parts of an insect while simultaneously learning some of the conventions of writing. Teaching two things at once is just plain smart in these days of too much to teach and too little time to do it.

Creating a Shared Text
A shared text gives me the chance for some very explicit writing instruction. It also gives us a shared reading text. There are so many things that you can teach from this text. Here is an excerpt from my Interactive Writing for Grades K-2 with a list of things that can be taught during interactive writing:

Guided Practice
Interactive writing provides a great opportunity for students to try out something they are struggling with or something new with lots of support. As students write on our shared chart paper, they have everyone's support to help them. As they are writing on their own papers, they still have the support of the entire class. They can see how it should look on the class chart and then try it on their own. We are talking through everything we do as a class. Talk about scaffolding for your emerging writers! There is plenty of time for independent practice when they get to writer's workshop because everything I teach in interactive writing applies to their independent writing.

Examples from First Grade

So, what will I be changing? More integration, more integration, more integration.  I need to make sure that the writing assignment is integrating another subject. I also want to focus more on the teaching of writing conventions. In the past I have used interactive writing to teach lots of conventions, but it's been more of a whatever comes up approach. This coming year I want to be more systematic about it. I can plan what to cover by needs I observe during their independent writing time. By using my data from writer's workshop, I can make interactive writing focus on what they specifically need. Then interactive writing will be either reinforcing my mini-lessons from writer's workshop or allowing me more craft mini-lessons because I am already teaching the conventions during interactive writing. But it will all be based on actual needs. I also want to look for the transfer of skills I teach in interactive writing into their independent writing. I need to hold them more responsible when I conference with them. These aren't really big changes, they're really more about refinement.

Gathering at the carpet to write a collective piece with the students writing on their own paper has worked really well for me. I'm definitely going to continue this way. I prefer them writing on paper because I hate the smell of all those dry erase markers, plus I like them to be able to reread their own writing from the beginning each day. You lose that when they erase each day's work and they have nothing to take home to read with their family.

My Interactive Writing for Grades K-2 gives the where, when, who, what, how and why of teaching interactive writing. Plus it has over 75 writing ideas and 17 photo examples from first grade to keep you writing together throughout the year.

Thanks for stopping by.  If you head on over to Where the Magic Is you can find links to other posts about writing instruction.  I'll be back in two weeks for a post about technology integration during week 9 of the Diggin' Into Next Year series.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Literacy Teacher's Playbook - Chapter 3

Welcome to week #4 of our study of The Literacy Teacher's Playbook Grades K-2 hosted by A Teacher Mom. This week everyone will be talking about chapter 3, "Interpreting Data and Establishing a Goal."

My feelings have been like a yo-yo as I've been reading this book.  From "Oh, no! I need more assessment pieces!" to "I have this, it's just using what I have" and from "My instruction isn't assessment driven enough" to "Ok...there's room for improvement but you already instruct students based on needs." Well, once again, Jennifer Serravallo has me in the palm of her hand because this chapter starts off with some reassuring words:
"...the most time-consuming part of this process is behind you: analyzing each of data separately...." (p. 94)
Thank goodness, because time is always a teacher's enemy! Now we just have to take what we know and use it to establish goals. We may see something that contradicts our previous thinking about a student, but the author suggests that as we follow her four-step protocol, we will illuminate our own habitual missteps. 
  • Collect data
  • Analyze data
  • Interpret data and establish a goal
  • Create an action plan
Why set goals? We are teachers, hasn't the goal always been to help students become better readers?

"When goals come from an accurate assessment of what's really going on with a  reader, when they are decided upon in conversation with the student and supported over time, readers will accomplish more and succeed more." (p. 96)

At this point in the process, I might have a full array of assessments from one student that I find particularly puzzling or I may have just a few assessments from multiple students. In either case I need to come up with a few possible goals. The author suggests that by looking for only one goal we are more likely to choose something we are already preconditioned to look for, something we are comfortable with, or even something that's not as important. Push yourself to come up with 4 or 5 goals and then think about which one will make the biggest difference. You may even be able to combine two goals into one. But pick the goal that will make the largest difference. Look for a goal that will have a larger impact in more than one area. This is just smart teaching. 

Now it's time to get the student on board. You choose the goal, but it's still important to get the student onboard. "...the more a person takes ownership of her own goal, the more likely it is that the goal will be accomplished. The more we can lead students towards the articulation of their own goals, the more investment  they will have in working to accomplish that goal." (p. 103) Lead the student to the goal? It reminds me of the saying, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." I have all of the data, I know the goal that I believe will most help the student, but how do I get the student on board? In my experience most students will choose a goal that's something like this: "I want to read chapter books" or "I want to read hard books." The author suggests a few things that may help:
  1. Show only work that will help the student notice what you notice. 
  2. Be mindful of the language you use. "Let's look for some ideas for other things you can do."
  3. Remember that if the student knew what he needed to be doing, he would be doing it. You will need to guide the conversation.
  4. Write the goal down to make it official. The author gives an example of a great visual artifact that will support a student:

This reminds me a lot of The CAFE Book and how The Sisters advocate conferencing with every student and developing a goal for each student. I love the focus on what an individual student needs, but I worry about the impact of high class sizes on our ability to do this in the best possible way for all students. I feel my yo-yo string tugging on me right can I do this? As Jennifer Serravallo puts it, "Synthesis is so challenging. Putting together many parts, seeing the overlap and the inconsistencies, and arriving at an interpretation: It is serious brain work....there isn't always one 'right' answer." (p. 113) It might not be easy, but it should be worth it.  Thanks for stopping by.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Literacy Teacher's Playbook - Chapter 2, Part 2

Welcome back to week 3 of talking about The Literacy Teacher's Playbook by Jennifer Serravallo. This book study is being hosted by A Teacher Mom.

This post is part 2 of chapter 2, "Analyzing Data: Making Discoveries from Student Work." I'm going to be talking about using running records for miscue analysis, using conversations, and analyzing writing samples. Part 1 of this chapter talked about other assessments such as engagement inventories, book logs, reading interest inventories, writing about reading and fluency assessments. Click here to read my post about the first half of chapter 2.

Running Records
As I've mentioned in previous posts, this is an assessment that I use all the time. Normally I look for miscues as an insight into what students need to learn to move ahead, but Jennifer Seravallo says we want to find our teaching points by what students already know. By teaching them skills that are connected to what they already know we are sure to be in their zone of proximal development. So I need to reconsider how I use the data I have. The author suggests that running records are essential for readers at levels A through J, however beyond that running records may be useful but shouldn't be our only tool. (Whew...justification for the low number of running records I have at the end of the year with my highest first grade readers. No more guilt for me!)

The most helpful running record to analyze is one at an instructional level - we need miscues to analyze. So what should your look for?
  • Look at all 3 cueing systems - meaning, structure and visual. Ask yourself which of the cueing systems did your student use?
    • Did the error make sense?
    • Did the error sound right?
    • Did the error look right?
  • Which cueing systems does the reader rely on most often and which do they use inconsistently?
The system the reader uses inconsistently might provide the teaching point for improvement. Take something the student can do, even if they only do it inconsistently, and support that skill rather than teach to something they can't or don't use at all. This will definitely be a new way of looking at data for me. I am just so engrained with looking for gaps and trying to fill them regardless of the strengths of the reader. 

UGH...unless I notice something glaring right at me in a conversation with a student, I never analyze conversations. The author suggests that we think about two things while analyzing conversations: a student's ability to articulate his/her thinking about the text and the child's speaking and listening skills. Ok, I have to take that back. I do analyze conversations to assess comprehension in whole class, small group and one-on-one settings. But I never have more than a post-it note record of it that eventually loses its stickiness and gets lost. So when the author suggests listening to a recording or reading a transcript of a conversation I think who has time? I know recording or transcribing a conversation will be too much for me. So I need to think about how I can make more use of the data all around me in conversations to inform instruction. Maybe some notes during guided reading discussions or whole class discussions about books. I could possibly tape my post-its into my binder of running records. I need to keep thinking about this, but I love the way the author analyzes a conversations and pulls out possibilities for growth. This is something that would be really beneficial to my students.
This picture shows how the author categorizes the strengths she notices from a conversation and then the possibilities for  more growth within those strengths. I love how she does this.

Narrative Writing
Now this is something I have lots of samples of - I love writing workshop. Here are some questions the author gives for us to ask about a student's writing:
  • Is the student able to focus on a moment that is most important?
  • Does the student maintain the focus?
  • How well are details used to support the focus?
  • Is there a sequence of events that make it easy to follow and understand?
  • How strong is the story's beginning? Does it have good closure?
  • Does the writer use the following: setting, character description or development, action, narration, internal thinking?
  • Does the writer use temporal words to signal the passage of time?
  • What does the student understand about spelling? sentence structure? punctuation?
And let's not forget about writing engagement...
  • How would you describe the student's volume of writing?
  • Does the student have a process?
I can see where analyzing my student's writing more often would be helpful in preparing whole class mini-lessons or small group lessons to really help students progress. Right now I use whole class mini-lessons and one-on-one conferencing to address teaching points. When I conference with an author, I really tend to focus on what they are lacking. Does this seem like a common theme about my teaching? This would be the first time I have ever considered that I might have a reoccurring problem across the spectrum of reading and writing. Time for some more self introspection here! 

Informational Writing
In the last few years, I have made informational writing more and more a part of my writing workshop. One of my favorite projects is a spider question and answer book. I incorporate it with a unit that teaches non-fiction text features, a genre study of informational texts and research. (You can find my spider unit on TpT.) Here are some questions that you can use to help in analyzing your students' informational writing:
  • Is focus established early in the piece?
  • Does the conclusion match the initial focus?
  • Is the piece organized?
  • Is there structure within each part?
  • What types of information is included? (You will be looking for both facts and details.)
  • How concrete are the details? (Look for specific, rather than vague details.)
  • How precise is the vocabulary? (Look for content specific vocabulary.)
Opinion Writing
For most of my teaching career I have used opinion writing in conjunction with literature or topics of interest depending on grade level. Adding it to my writing workshop was something new for me last year. I used Lucy Calkin's Units of Study for first grade where the students write reviews. As I started planning the unit out, I wasn't sure if I would like it. But I have to say it was so fun. You can check out my previous post about this. Here is a sample review written by a first grade student about me:

Let's look at the questions for examining opinion writing.
  • Is the writer's opinion clear?
  • Does the writer maintain support for his opinion throughout the piece?
  • Does the piece have a logical organization?
  • Does the author provide reasons that match the opinion?
  • Does the author elaborate with examples?
When at looking at this example from my class, I think my little student has done a great job of stating his opinion and providing reasons. Expectations of providing examples, especially more detailed examples, would increase in later grades. I think this student is lacking mostly in his use of the conventions of writing. Maybe some clarification in regards to his closing statement would be appropriate but truth be told I was trying so hard to not laugh that we didn't even talk about it.

I hope you aren't feeling overwhelmed. For some reason assessment usually feels overwhelming to me. I don't know why because I firmly believe in being able to show academic improvement and data. But this book is about so much more. The author is not asking us to show improvement or learning. She is asking us to take our student's work and use it to inform our teaching. That is much more important than just assessing. Should we do all of these assessments with all of our students? Maybe once a year, but definitely not more than that. These assessments should be used for those students that are the most puzzling. Students who you can't figure out how to best help them whether they are high achieving or low achieving. And remember you don't need to do them all at once. They should be in your little bag of tricks for when they are needed all through the year. One last thought from the author is that we need to remember that the more we use these various assessments and questions, the easier they will be for us. As teachers, we will learn to quickly find what we need and obvious answers will jump out at us.

Next week we will dip into the next chapter which is all about synthesizing the data and setting goals. Thanks for stopping by.

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