Saturday, August 27, 2016

Homework: The Great Debate

As I'm sure you've all seen, homework has been in the news. The teacher from Texas sent a letter home to her parents, someone posted it, and it went viral.  There has been more publicity with homework because of this, but I have struggled with it for a while. As the RtI coordinator in our building, had a teacher refer a student for academic difficulties, but blamed the issue entirely on incomplete homework. Really? Should homework hold that much power?
Homework is a hot topic.  Here are two options that allow for independent practice AND student choice.  It's just one idea for homework.

Parents are in a time crunch, like never before. Most homes have two parents who are working.  They pick up the kids from day care, run to a sporting practice (that is a much needed outlet for kids), get dinner, get them in the bath, and get them in bed...and sometimes homework just doesn't get done.  I'm not making excuses, just talking reality.  Here's another reality, sometimes parents can't help with homework, because they don't know how to help.

The Catch 22 of Homework

  • Homework shouldn't take too much time...they need practice, but they need to breathe after a long day at school.

  • Homework should be independent practice.  Parents aren't in the classroom, so can't expect them to know our routines or classroom procedures.

  • Homework shouldn't be punishment.

  • Homework should reflect the weekly lessons.

  • Homework shouldn't take more time to plan than it takes to complete.

  • Homework should have some student choice.
Homework is a hot topic.  Here are two options that allow for independent practice AND student choice.  It's just one idea for homework.

Students need to use word wall words...every day, every night, every lesson, every book.  These words should be seen in their leveled books, in their writing, and in their homework.  Research shows word wall words or high frequency words are key to creating fluent, emergent readers.  We introduced 2 new words a week.  Students can choose which additional words they would like to practice.  Using one of the two open-ended options for homework each week, helps the students practice their words in a variety of ways.  The word wall word homework is divided by learning styles:  verbal/linguistic, verbal/spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, and musical.  Students are asked to complete 2 word wall word activities each week.

One option has the choice board posted on-line or filed in a clear sleeve in the homework folder. Students follow the directions and choose the number of required homework assignments.  They use a separate sheet of paper or a homework notebook to create their homework.  If they choose an activity with no required written response, a parent must initial the choice.  There are options for each semester.

The second option is a copied paper sent home each week.  Homework options can be completed on the back of the paper and parents can initial choices on the front.  If you'd like this Free Download, CLICK HERE or click the picture below.
Homework is a hot topic.  Here are two options that allow for independent practice AND student choice.  It's just one idea for homework.In kindergarten, we use a poem of the week for daily activities.  This poem is practiced daily in a whole group setting.  We pay attention to one-to-one pointing, rhyming words, word wall words, beginning or ending sounds, and the list goes on.  In addition to the poem being read daily for a week, the same poem is sent home the next week for homework.  The poem is copied on a half sheet of paper.  The student can use paper for their choices.  Once again their are two options.

One option is left in the homework folder and used as a guide.  The activities are done on the poem paper. Another option is copied each week and the parents sign the choice on the paper and the use the poem paper for the activities.

Our Poem of the Week homework choices were based on (The NEW) Bloom's Taxonomy.  Students can choose homework based on the complexity of the task.  At the beginning of the year, they can choose from any of the assignments.  As the year goes on, they must choose at least one higher level thinking activity.  If you would like this Free Download, CLICK HERE or the picture below.
Homework is a hot topic.  Here are two options that allow for independent practice AND student choice.  It's just one idea for homework.
Sending homework assignments home nightly and getting them back every day, seems to be a lot of work for everyone.  I think weekly homework is so much easier...no debate.  Life is crazy.  I don't have time to check homework each morning and I don't want to punish students when their life is crazy and they can't do homework one night.  I understand holding students responsible for homework, but the bottom line is this:  they are 5 or 6 and their parents tell them what to do.  I keep the choice boards in the homework folder.  We send home the packet (word wall word choices, poem of the week choices, and 1 math worksheet or activity) on Monday.  We ask them to be returned on Friday.  However, if they don't have time during the week, they can take the weekend and turn it in on Monday.  Homework can enhance the learning, but it can't replace it.

What is your plan for homework?  How do you handle it?  I'm sure we won't come up with one standard answer or plan, but the debate is necessary.



Monday, August 15, 2016

Repurposing OLD Literacy Materials

If you are a new teacher, you might walk into your new classroom and find the closets and cabinets full of literacy curriculum materials from the last twenty years (literally).  And if you are an experienced teacher, you might be the one filling those closets!  Or maybe you just inherited some piles when moving classrooms.  Either way, we all know the sight of the hallway just full of books and workbooks lined up next to the doors waiting to be picked up by the janitorial staff.
Have you inherited a mess of old curriculum materials and workbooks?  Here are some useful ways to repurpose old basals, workbooks, and readers in your literacy classroom.
Have you ever thought about how you could repurpose SOME (not all!) of these materials?  Here are a few suggestions.  

Partner Reading


Keep two copies of old basal readers or intervention readers (I've seen a lot of these that are basically like paperback basals only the text is easier) and put them in bins for partner reading.  The kids love them not only because it is something different, but because there are so many choices inside to choose from.  Plus they can practice using text features like the table of contents while exploring the texts.

Books for Small Group


Scour the materials for any sets of leveled or decodable books!  I've even kept a set of 6 old basal readers for small group.  Sometimes there are classic stories buried inside that you can use when you find the right occasion.  Granted, if you have a huge library of leveled books in your school you probably don't need to do this.  But if you are lacking in sets of books, take what you can get your hands on!

Give Away the Workbooks


Give away the old workbooks to your students no matter how old or useless they look!  Especially if you work in a lower income area where students don't have as many resources at home.  Even if just one kid pulls out that workbook at home and pretends to play school or does some extra phonics or comprehension work, it will have been worth not sending them straight to the trash.  I typically don't use even the current workbooks provided to me, so this is something I always do at the end of the year anyway.  That way if a parent wants something for their child to practice with over the summer, it's there.

Take Home Readers


I've found bins and bins of little decodable readers or leveled readers that were missing their sets in curriculum closets.  I like to use these to send home with my struggling readers, either for the summer or just to read at night during the school year.  Typically, I never get the books back and this way it doesn't bother me at all because they were just headed for the trash anyway!

Throw the Rest Away


Now what do I do with old teacher manuals and all the rest?  Throw them away.  I am by no means a pack rat, I've just worked in places where you have to be resourceful!

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Have you inherited a mess of old curriculum materials and workbooks?  Here are some useful ways to repurpose old basals, workbooks, and readers in your literacy classroom.




Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Let Me Finish!

At about 4 years old, my daughter started to ask me if we were in a book.  What an interesting question.  At almost 8 years old, she continues to get lost in books, is constantly connecting personal experiences to events in books, and must be reminded often to close the book and brush her teeth!  This love for books is something that we wish for all of our students.

At Nerd Camp this year I met Minh Lê, the author of Let Me Finish.  I realized this book was written for my daughter and all of the other children that we want to get "sucked" into books. This is Minh Lê's breakout book and my, oh, my...there is a lot that we (as teachers) can do with it!



In this book, a young boy is so excited to settle into a quiet spot to read but is quickly interrupted by some loud and rude animals.  Then he gets a brand new book in the mail and is determined to not let any animals ruin the book for him this time!  He runs around trying to ensure that the book is not spoiled!


I absolutely love the enthusiasm for reading that this young character has!  He desperately wants to read and needs a quiet place to do so.  I will not SPOIL the ending for you because this is a book that you will want to pick up!

This is a great book to kick off some conversations about quiet places to read at home or in other places around the community.  One image I found on Pinterest this week, illustrates this idea so well!


Original Source
After brainstorming and discussing some of their favorite spots to read, students can illustrate or write about some of these places.


https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/0B3eyEJCd5J5kN1V2UU8ybmJiWG8

Another conversation to have after this book can start with the question: "What book have you been "sucked" into?" or "What book would you like to jump into?"  This could be a great way to find out what books students are interested in.  Here is a sheet for students to record their thinking.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3eyEJCd5J5kQ2U5N1JENFRqc0k/view?usp=sharing

This sheet could also be used for students to recommend books to each other!  Please click on the image above to use it in your classroom.

Back to school books are a wonderful way to engage, get to know, and enjoy our students!  I hope you have a great start to your year!









Friday, July 29, 2016

Finding Joy in Everything We Read!

In the final chapter of Reading Wellness, we learn that joy must be a part of the reading experience for it to be meaningful to our students.

As a mother of two children, I know the struggle of helping my children as they learn to read. When my son was in kindergarten and first grade, he would bring home the most mundane and boring books that were meant to be easy to read. Sure he could read them, but there was little to no excitement in those milestones. It was the reading we did each night before bed. We would read together some of his favorite books, and the joy on his face as he read the words brought joy to my heart as well. In the final chapter of Reading Wellness, the authors remind us that progress is not always a result of hard work, but that sometimes if we "work less", we all enjoy reading more!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Strength: Productive Effort and Building Reading Muscle



Reading Wellness Book Study:  Read about how Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris explain the 4 different “weights of texts” and how these texts grow us as readers.

At the beginning of the chapter, a story is shared about a mom who pushes her son.  She left him home alone for the first time feeling that he was ready while she attended a workshop and her husband was teaching.  At one point he contacts her upset and says there is an emergency.  After her initial panic, she finds that the “emergency” is that he spilled the gallon of milk and now has a mess and no breakfast.  She tells him where the towels are and pushes him to clean up his mess and find himself breakfast.  He protests but she tells him she’s going to have to do it and says goodbye.  He is proud of himself 30 minutes later when he texts her that he did it!

Life with our students can be much like this; if we don’t push them to try it on their own, they will rely on our support more than necessary.

Teaching Students How to Select Texts

This chapter was about building our muscles as readers.  Your brain gets stronger as you try things that are more difficult for you.  The authors discouraged against some of the “just right” book strategies many of us use such as the “five finger test”.  If students don’t even try those 5 words, are they really exercising their brains for growth?

Different books are “just right” for different purposes.  While a book may be high-interest and easy to comprehend, it isn’t great for stretching our muscles.  It is great, however, for making us love reading and increase fluency.  This was a new way of looking at “just right” for me.  I have been guilty of encouraging a child to try a “harder book” to grow them as a reader, when, in reality, that “easy” book may be helping them grow a love a reading.  Growing a love of reading should be our ultimate goal, so from this point forward, “go for it kiddo!”.  

The authors talked about 4 different “weights of texts” and how these texts grow us as readers.

Reading Wellness Book Study:  Read about how Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris explain the 4 different “weights of texts” and how these texts grow us as readers.

Reading Wellness Intentions

As you have seen in the previous posts, it always comes back to the Reading Wellness Intentions.  Here is how Strength fits into that model. 
Reading Wellness Book Study:  Read about how Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris explain the 4 different “weights of texts” and how these texts grow us as readers.

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Reading Wellness Book Study:  Read about how Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris explain the 4 different “weights of texts” and how these texts grow us as readers.





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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Practicing Mindfulness while Reading

Do your students practice mindfulness while reading?  Chapter 4 of Reading Wellness provides a fun, concrete lesson to teach your students how to slow down and think deeply about their reading.  Great for making inferences.
This is Jessica from Literacy Spark here today to share with you Chapter 4: Mindfulness from Reading Wellness by Jan Miller and Kim Yaris.  Be sure to check out all the posts from this week if you are just joining us (I posted about each chapter on my blog as well) and don't forget you can access the book online (currently for free!) from Stenhouse Publishers.
Do your students practice mindfulness while reading?  Chapter 4 of Reading Wellness provides a fun, concrete lesson to teach your students how to slow down and think deeply about their reading.  Great for making inferences.

What is Mindfulness?

According to Merriam-Webster, mindfulness is defined as "the practice of maintaining...complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment to moment basis."

Do you practice mindfulness while reading?  Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't.  And to be completely truthful, when I read for pleasure, I do not.  I like books that are fast paced, quick reads with lots of conversation.  I'll skip entirely or skim through long detailed paragraphs just to get to the action.  I've been like this since I was a child.  I could whip through a Baby-Sitter's Club book in a couple of hours.  Sure, I knew what happened (which was all I cared about) but I certainly wasn't practicing mindfulness or thinking deeply about the text.

Now as an adult, I realize there are times that I have to force myself to focus more, to read the text slowly, and truly think about what I am reading (like when I read a professional book).  I literally have to read out loud sometimes to make myself read every word.

What about your students?  Are they like me?  Do they just want to know what happened and get to the end of the book?  Or are they truly engaged and aware of their thoughts while reading?  Are they able to switch from one mode to the other depending on the situation?


Breathing Deeply

Burkins and Yaris suggest that the key to mindfulness while reading is simply slowing down and focusing on the text.  How?  By taking deep breaths.  As you breathe, your lungs expand.  Students can feel this by placing their hands on their chests.  The deeper the breath, the more the lungs are used.  The same occurs while reading.  Full comprehension is not achieved unless the text is read deeply.  I love, love, love how this book uses concrete examples  to help students understand difficult concepts!  The lessons are described step by step as well making them so easy to implement.  


Close Reading with Photographs

I bet you have used photographs to help your students understand the concept of making inferences.  But what about close reading?  Burkins and Yaris provide sample lessons in which students are asked to "read" photographs closely.  Students "reread" by looking at the photographs three times.  Upon a quick look, students typically just make a simple observation (There is a girl).  But as students look at the photograph again and for a longer period of time, they should be able to make deeper inferences.  The same occurs while reading texts.  Examples of lessons for both primary and upper elementary students are included in Reading Wellness as well as picture books that can be used in the same manner with three reads.  


Reading Wellness Intentions

As will every chapter, the authors end with an explanation as to how the shared activities reading their reading wellness intentions.
Do your students practice mindfulness while reading?  Chapter 4 of Reading Wellness provides a fun, concrete lesson to teach your students how to slow down and think deeply about their reading.  Great for making inferences.
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Do your students practice mindfulness while reading?  Chapter 4 of Reading Wellness provides a fun, concrete lesson to teach your students how to slow down and think deeply about their reading.  Great for making inferences.





Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Reading Wellness: Alignment

Reading Wellness...Wow!!  Sarah from Simply Literacy and Em from Curious Firsties here today to discuss Chapter 3: Alignment.  We hope that you are enjoying this book as much as we are.  It has led us to some great conversations about our own students and what we can do a bit differently this year.  Below you will see a conversation that Sarah and Em had about the alignment chapter.

Alignment...
What does this mean to us?  Well in our own lives it means aligning our values with our day to day constraints.

I feel like alignment in my life is coinciding my school life and my home life.  My day starts and ends with my home life, all while my school life is intertwined. Aligning those two lives is an ongoing learning process and essentially a balancing act that I am still trying to figure out.

I know for me, alignment in my life is integrating and balancing my love for reading, blogging, teaching, and parenting.  It is easy for one to overpower another but I am always working to find that balance.

The authors, Burkins and Yaris, explain that the same alignment must occur for readers but through print and meaning.  Both must be attended to and in alignment.

I teach third grade and I tend to focus my teaching on meaning.  Of course with some students, I need to focus on both print and meaning.  When a student struggles with print, I tend to focus mostly on certain skills and leave meaning on the back burner.  I love how this chapter reminded me the importance of aligning print to meaning and meaning to print.  They go hand-in-hand, not separate.

Since I teach first grade, I find that I do tend to focus my teaching on the print.  Meaning is talked about and I always ask "does it make sense?" but I would not say that my teaching of print and meaning is in perfect alignment and harmony.  I could use some work on that.

The importance of print and meaning is comparable to a puzzle: the pieces versus the puzzle.  Which one is more important.  Both.  They are essential and important to the activity of putting a puzzle together.

I love this analogy.  You can't have one without the other.  And it makes me wonder if this would be a good analogy to help the kids understand the essential connection between print and meaning.

Whenever I read, I tend to comprehend better when I make connections to the text.  I love the puzzle and learning to dance example (pg71). These analogies immediately made me think of when I teach young girls how to fastpitch.  For years, I have taught several girls how to pitch and every time, girls immediately want to jump into full motion pitching before learning the basic drills.  This reminds me of aligning print with meaning.  Girls are not going to be able to throw strikes or throw with speed and accuracy if they don't align it with the proper techniques.  

The authors go on to explain that even the best readers make errors or misunderstand text but they have the alignment of print and meaning to resolve and cross check these errors.

True...I cross check constantly as I'm reading professional and personal books.  But this doesn't happen naturally and the kids cannot see exactly what is going on in my head.  It would be helpful if I did more think aloud modeling to help them see the connection and alignment.

I agree 100%, Emily.  I feel like with most things in life, modeling is an essential.  Integrating the language and ideas from this chapter during think-alouds will help readers to align print with meaning.

Burkins and Yaris say that by offering explicit strategies such as "get your mouth ready" or "look for a small word inside the big word," we are not allowing students to be decision makers or problem solvers.  They state that we are "...telling them how to solve a problem rather than supporting them in solving the problem themselves." (p71)

Typically I use specific prompts to help them use strategies:


Yikes!  I have been doing it all wrong!!!! When print and meaning aren't aligned, my teacher instinct has always been to prompt and help the reader to solve the problem.  My prompts, such as "look back at that word carefully", basically tells the student how to solve the problem rather than supporting them in solving the problem themselves. This part of the chapter was so informative and eye opening.  

Also, while reading this part of the chapter, a past student popped into my head.  I wish I would have read this chapter three years ago.  This past student's reading process was out of alignment.  He was constantly inserting a or the in front of words in a text, and other print cues. The miscues made sense on a sentence level, but his insertions were changing the meaning.  I was always saying "does that make sense?" which led  me to telling him how to solve the problem rather than supporting him in solving the problem himself.  

Oh geez!  This is totally me!  Being a first grade teacher I prompt a lot during guided reading.  But I noticed that later in the chapter the authors do say that some students still need this specific strategy prompts.  I want to reread and explore this.

In the lesson "Does It Match," the authors offer a lesson and extensions to support the alignment of print and meaning.

I love the way the lesson does really help the students to have more independence in their reading.

I particularly like the vocabulary and prompts that are suggested for guided reading, shared guided, and independent reading.

Agree completely!!  But it is stated that some traditional prompting may still be key for some students.  I can see this for a new reader--but overall I want to foster more independence.

Yes, my students spend a lot of time reading independently.  The chapter gave an easy example of what to say to your students during that crucial reading time.  As the students settle to read, simply say, "Raise your hand when you solve a problem.  I want to hear about how you solved it!" (pg. 85)  So easy and so powerful!

When checking for meaning, I like to use "S-T-P" with my students.  This is from Jan Richardson's The Next Step in Guided Reading.  My students hear "S-T-P" (which means Stop-Think-Paraphrase) a lot throughout the year.  While students are either reading during guided reading groups, with a partner, or independently reading, students will read a page, Stop and cover the text with their hand, Think about what was read, and Paraphrase by softly telling themselves what was read.  If students cannot retell the page that was read, then a reread must be done. I think when using S-T-P, students are practicing the constant back and forth of checking and cross checking which will hopefully help readers move along the continuum of proficiency in reading.

I can't wait to try out the lesson and discover the impact that it has on my students.  When reading this chapter, what stands out to you and your readers?