Helping Students See Their Progress

Hey everyone! It's Bex here from Reading and Writing Redhead. Another school year has passed and at the end of the year I do a lot of reflecting on how things have gone.

Sometimes I feel like my kiddos don't really understand how much they have progressed and at times I think I forget too. A bunch of years ago I came up with an idea to help! We always do a fairly simple comprehension activity in the fall. Our school uses the Treasures reading program and the first story is David's New Friends. We read the story together and I give out a fairly simple Beginning, Middle, End activity. We discuss together the story and I ask for student suggestions as to what happened in each part of the story. We also talk about what to do if you don't remember, and someone always suggests to go back and look through the story and get ideas from the pictures and text! Then the kiddos go ahead and complete the page without help (which is SO hard to do for me, I am dying to help!!). I collect them and correct them and file them away for parent conferences.( By the way, this year I showed them again to parents at the March conference as we looked at their child's current writing work. It was a great way for them to see growth.)

Then, about a week before school ends, I pass out the old Treasures books from the first half of the year again. The students are usually perplexed - "But we already read those stories!" I have them choose either to read the story again to themselves or with a buddy. I explain we are going to read David's New Friends and complete the SAME assignment they did in the fall and then I will give them the old one so they can compare.

A couple of my fellas rereading David's New Friends.


After everyone is done and before we pass back the papers from September I ask how they thought the story was to read- thumbs up for easy, thumbs in the middle for just right, thumbs down for hard. Most give a thumbs up! I  give a reminder that in the fall most of them thought it was just right or hard to read! Then the fun starts!

Here is someone's before and after paper (sorry I should have put the September paper on the left)!

Such an improvement in many areas- handwriting, spelling, sentence length, detail, even comprehension. In the fall she just copied a sentence from the story for each story part. Now she wrote her own response and fairly detailed responses at that!

This is another girl's before (on the left) and after papers. 

It is interesting to see changes like letter size, capital letters not being in the middle of the sentences any more, improved spelling, but also interesting because I think she could be doing better. With her skills she can write longer sentences than the ones on the paper in June. They are really almost the same length as the ones in September. When everyone raised their hands and commented about the comparison, many kids said things like, "Oh my paper in the fall had 4 word sentences and my paper today has a 13 word sentence",  "My sentences were so short in the fall! They are twice as long now" and "I wrote one short sentence in September but 3 sentences for each part today!" I hope by seeing other's pages and hearing how they improved she might be inspired to put a wee bit more effort into her work in the fall.

So in any case, I hope this gives you an idea or two on how to get your students to actually see their progress. A tip I have is be sure to store the September work in a VERY safe place so you don't lose it. Then a kid or 2 will be disappointed because they can't see their own work. I had someone who refused to do it in the fall and I forgot about it until it was time to do this one.

What do you do to help your students see their growth. Comment below and let me know!


Chapter Books for Reluctant Readers

Welcome, Readers ! Today and in July, I thought I would highlight a few chapter books that I found this year for older students who were reading significantly below grade level. The challenge is unique and complex at the same time as each student has a desire to be seen as an accomplished reader by their peers in 4th and 5th grade but may be still learning the English Language or have additional learning needs which require individualized instruction. Hopefully, I will shine a light on some new and notable books which fit this need.

Let's Get Started with Capstone Press !

 I love this publishing company for struggling readers. It has a wide variety of text fiction, nonfiction, and more.  There are several series that are particularly popular for students in 3rd-5th grade. I will highlight a few favorites...but there are many more series on their website posted below ! 

 Jake Maddox series-- a great fun paced series for sports and adventure lovers. They have a few black and white graphics throughout the book which ranges from 80-100+ pages. These books begin at Guided Reading Levels M (Magic Treehouse series) and Level N (The Chocolate Touch). At this time, they are also published in the Spanish Language as well. 

The Other Side of the Myth  series - Do you think you know myths ? Chances don't know both sides of the myth ! This new series will capture the attention of your students who love ancient civilizations ! Well, Pandora open up the box and all the everything went wrong ! However, this time...hear Pandora's side of the story in "Not the Curious Kind--Pandora Tells All !" This wonderful new series is by Capstone Press as well and begins at a Level N guided reading level.

Pony Tales series--  If you have girls who love horses or dream of riding one, this series may be for you. Follow Molly and her horse, Norton, through a 4-book series of adventures and misadventures that horse lovers and owners can really relate to ! At a Level K, the layout is still appealing to older students who may be reading at an early 2nd grade level ! 

These series are becoming available at Barnes and Noble and other big bookstores. If you would like to directly order, or want to see more series, please go to:

 Scholastic Books and let's take a peek at their new series of book sets, Branches !

These books are scaled for the avid early reader. However, their use of vocabulary,action, and all around kid appeal  to upper grade students who would be upset if I handed them something that looked really young.

Kung Pow Chicken ---- a wonderful new series which features Kung Pow Chicken and his sidekick, Ed Drop, are off to fight adventures and more ! This fast-paced moving series will keep the attention of even the most reluctant reader and help them building reading stamina and enjoyment ! The series books range from a Level M to a Level O. I gave this book to one of my 5th grade students and he really loved book # 1.

Lotus Lane series-- This series is perfect to help girls bridge from early readers to more complex chapter books. Each book features one unique character is a member of the Lotus Lane Girls Club. Each girl has interesting talents and abilities and each book around 90-100 pages revolves around a specific girl's story. At Levels M-O, this series will appeal to 2nd grade readers as well as older students. 

These books can be found at Barnes and Noble, Amazon and other retailers. If you would like to see more in this new series, go to:

My only issue with the Branches series is that they have a stamp on the back of the Branches books. It says: Interest Level:   "Appeals to 1st-3rd grade readers"    Reading Level:    "Perfect for 2nd grade"

I simply place a white address label over the top of it on the back cover. After, I would tape over it with clear packing tape. It seemed to help my issue of giving a 5th grader a book that was geared for an earlier reader. 

Please comment below... What are your favorite books for reluctant readers ? 



Using Reader's Notebooks

With most of us on summer vacation, I know many are rethinking the structure of their classroom and already planning for next year! Today, I would like to share how I use reader's notebooks with my students.

After searching through Pinterest and numerous teacher blogs, I decided to craft my own version of the reader's notebook. I combined a variety of ideas I had seen all over the internet, tweaking them, and making them my own. They have become my pride and joy over the course of the school year.

My first problem was how to get the notebooks. Since I am a Title 1 intervention teacher, I do not send out a supply list. Fortunately, I have a very good friend over at Mead. He was generous enough to get me plenty of free composition notebooks for all my students. They even came in fun designs. It was a dream come true!

Once I received the notebooks, I put a label on the front for each student's name. Then, I used small post-its to label four sections: Charts, Strategies, Skills, and Writing. 

On the first page of each section, we kept a running list of what could be found in that particular section. I found that keeping this running list forced students to stay organized and helped improve students' understanding of terms. For example, students were more likely to remember what the literary term "theme" meant because we had written it several times in our reader's notebooks. Repetition is key!

If you have ever read my blog before, you know that I love anchor charts. For this reason, the first section in our reader's notebooks was for charts. With each anchor chart I made, I took a picture and made copies for my students to glue into their notebooks. Sometimes the charts required my students to fill out information during the lesson, but other times they did not. I found this section to be extremely beneficial to my students. Instead of always asking me questions, my students began looking up the information themselves using their notebooks. They really took ownership of the material.

The second section in the reader's notebooks focused on reading strategies. I explained strategies to my students as things they should be doing in their heads whenever they are reading. These include making predictions, making connections, synthesizing, determining importance, etc. Many of my struggling readers do not use these strategies in their reading. As a result, I focus on teaching these strategies explicitly.

The third section of the notebooks is used to work on various reading skills. These skills can include character traits, cause and effect, compare and contrast, main idea/supporting details, etc. I explain skills to students as various ways students will need to analyze texts. They will not have to use these skills with every text, but should know how to use them.

Within the final section, students worked on written response in their reader's notebooks. I really wanted to reduce the amount of written questions I worked on with students - quality over quantity. For most articles and books, I would come up with 1-2 questions. Students would record the questions in their notebooks. Sometimes we would answer the questions together, and sometimes students would answer the questions independently. With these questions, we really worked on the wording of our responses and using evidence to support our answers. I believe I saw a great improvement in the quality of my students' written response as a result of this section of the notebooks.

I fully intend on using reader's notebooks again next year. Students responded very positively to the notebooks. They loved the fun designs, and definitely preferred them over any type of worksheets. The notebooks just seem much more open-ended. My students are all very excited to take the notebooks home over the summer.

Do any of you use reader's notebooks? If so, how do you structure your notebooks?


So Many Picture Books...So Little Time

Summer is one of my favorite times because I have more time to read than I do during the school year.  Also, (please don't throw things at me) I like attending professional development opportunities provided in my area by the local educational cooperative.  My FAVORITE professional development every year is "So Many Picture Books...So Little Time" presented by Wendy Ellis, Director of the Reading program at Harding University.  She shares over 50 picture books during the PD that are current (published in the previous year).  It is the best way to keep current on all the great books being published.  Today, I am going to share some of my favorites with you.  Sit back, relax, and be prepared to add some books to your Amazon wishlist.

Simpson's Sheep Won't go to Sleep by Bruce Arant

Farmer Simpson wants to sleep, needs to sleep, but isn't getting any sleep because the sheep keep coming up with reasons why they aren't ready to go to bed.  What will he do?  How will he get the sheep to sleep?  As I read this book, I immediately made a text-to-text connection between the sheep (and all of their excuses) and to the pigeon in Mo Willem's Don't Let the Pigeon Stay up Late who continually made excuses why he should be allowed to stay up.


The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

Duncan wants to color, but his crayons have other plans.  Each crayon writes him a letter with their grievances.  What will Duncan do?  Will he ever get to color again?

This book has a FABULOUS book trailer that gives you hints about how each crayon is feeling.


Charlie Goes to School by Ree Drummond, illustrated by Diane deGroat

You probably know Ree Drummond better as the Pioneer Woman.  She also write books.  Charlie is her basset hound that lives with her on the ranch. The book starts with Charlie seeing the kids going to school (home school) and he decides that he can have his own school.  Find out what happens by reading this adorable book.

You can read more about the book on her blog HERE.  The book also has a recipe at the end for Strawberry Oatmeal Bars that look delicious.

Book Trailer:


Llama, Llama, and the Bully Goat by Anna Dewdney

My little girl loves her Llama Llama board book that we read every night as part of our going-to-bed ritual.  This Llama Llama book is a great read to help students understand what bullying is.  Llama Llama is learning a lot of new things at school, but Gilroy Goat is teasing him.  What is Llama Llama going to do?  What will happen to Gilroy?

Kid President has a video that would be a wonderful accompaniment to this book:  Kid President Pep Talk.  One of my favorite lines from the video:  "If we are on the same team, then we need to start acting like it."  Read the Llama Llama book, watch the video, and have students discuss what connections the video has to bullying.


The Little "Read" Hen by Dianne Las Casas

This spin on the classic "Little Red Hen" is great for introducing young writers to the writing process.  Little "Read" Hen wants to write a story, but none of her friends will help.  What will she do?

This book has phrases that keep you laughing and engaged throughout the story, like "busted her tail feathers."  At the end of the story, there is a "recipe" for a story that would make a marvelous bulletin board to showcase student writing pieces.  The author has a page on her website that has activities to go with the book:  educator guide and theater script.

Thanks for sticking with me through these recommendations.  Dr. Ellis did share over fifty books with us, so be on the look out for more posts here and at my blog.  I LOVE a great picture book!

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Fresh Ideas For Summer Writing: Using an Observation Calendar


Hi everyone! Who's excited that summer has finally arrived? Let's not even think about that nasty winter for one minute! I'm Emily, from The Reading Tutor/OG. During the summer months, I work with children who struggle with writing. Over the years, I've searched for ways to make writing fun during the short time they are out of school, but still need practice. Today, I'll share one strategy you can try with your own students or children at home. You are welcome to join the conversation at the end and share your own ideas for using it too.

Observation Calendars

Keeping a summer journal is an easy and inexpensive way to keep writing skills sharp. I pass one out to each of my students that come to work with me over the summer. Coming up with ideas for summer journals can be fairly simple for teachers. We can print out a long list of prompts and assign away. But how do we help young writers brainstorm their own ideas for writing?

After searching and pinning ideas to my Pinterest boards a few years ago, I came up with a solution: an observation calendar. It's based on pins I saw when I was researching how to create a smash book. (which, by the way, are loads of fun and addictive!) When I ask children to keep a summer journal, we glue in an observation calendar with large boxes to write. I usually have lined boxes for kids that need help with organization. In the boxes, they write about something they have observed each day. It can just be a phrase or sentence, but they have to do it EVERY day.

What do you write in the calendar?
  • Things you observe or wonder about in your world.
  • Maybe jot down an observation about an interesting shell, a rock you found, a pet, something in the news, or a favorite meal. 
  • Use your senses to become more aware of your surroundings. This helps you become more observant. People, events and things will begin to stand out, and you'll WANT to add them into your observation calendar.
  • Be selective in what you add to it. It's only a small space!
  • Use it for burning questions.
  • Choose a certain time of day and place to fill in the box for the corresponding day and commit to it. Consider taking it with you on trips.
  • Use sentence starters like, "I wonder.." I notice...", "Why do...", "I just discovered..."

What Are The Benefits Of Using
An Observation Calendar?
  • This may not sound like a big deal in terms of length, but it seriously builds writing fluency. I tell my students writing should become second nature. It's a habit like brushing your teeth. Whether you do it a little or a lot each day, it becomes more comfortable.
  • Watch and see how a young writer's stamina begins to grow. Challenged writers need to build up stamina, and strength to sustain when having to write at longer stretches.
  • Because it is such a small space, young writers are training themselves to determine what's essential and what isn't when they write. The box is very small and you only get one a day!
  • Writing in short bursts with small activities like the observation calendar help build discipline for the exercise and process of writing 
  • These daily observations become seeds for journal entries, published stories, poems, blog entries, and even research projects!

This works very well during the school year as a quick warm-up, reflection or daily writing exercise too. Try it as a reader's response or a reading log instead. The key here, which I must point out, is to make this fun and engaging. A word of caution to the teacher that observes a calendar being rushed through just for the sake of being done. Take a few minutes each day or once a week to discuss the observations. Do not let wonderings just sit in the calendar. Guide children to lift an observation off the calendar and turn it into a journal entry, story, blog post, or research report.

Does this sound like something you will try with your budding writers? I'd love to hear about it! Feel free to comment below.
Thank you so much for visiting Literacy Land today!

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Linking Student Learning with Genre Connections

Comprehension Connections and Genre Connections by Tanny McGregor are two books every teacher needs to purchase, read, and keep for reference later.  Both of these books are filled with lesson ideas to help your students become active thinkers in the reading process. Many kids just scratch the surface as they read often missing the subtleties that authors weave into their texts.

Today's post by Carla at Comprehension Connection will explain how these books can be used and add spark to your teaching and your students' learning experience. Read on to get more information...

Connecting learning to real life experiences helps it stick. Check out this post for concrete ways to help your children with informational text.

When Adventures in Literacy Land kicked off, my co-bloggers, Emily at Curious Firsties and Andrea from Reading Toward the Stars, wrote up posts related to Tanny McGregor's book, Comprehension Connections.  They talked about lesson ideas they'd used from her book.  I loved them, and decided I had to have my own copy of the book.  I am really glad to have discovered it as Tanny's hands-on approach and higher level thinking skills help students who need just a little more in depth explanation of skills get what they need.  

The premise with Tanny's lessons is to take a big concept and introduce it with concrete objects. By using concrete objects, students have a visual image to attach to their learning. Simple things like a glass jar, a magnifying glass, or a broken necklace chain can inspire thinking as students try to figure out how they relate to the lesson.

Another important concept from Comprehension Connections is using a launching sequence similar to the gradual release model.  The added benefit of the launching sequence is that it includes the use of various sensory stimuli such as music, wordless picture books, and art to scaffold the important points of the lesson and to reach those learners who prefer a hands-on approach. I particularly love Tanny’s ideas because we need our students to think critically about their reading, and as the launching sequence is implemented, students analyze, question, and connect.  

In Comprehension Connections, the chapters each focus on a different comprehension skill. This is very helpful as teachers can quickly skim each chapter for a quick idea or to spark one of their own.  Certainly, all of the ideas can be applied to different books and learning levels, and in fact, we know multiple opportunities for students to practice a skill is essential for students to transfer that learning into independent practice. Therefore, multiple lessons are required for mastery.

Now, before I transition to Genre Connections, I have a question for our readers.  

Genre Connections: Lessons to Launch Literary and Nonfiction TextsI find that my students (who are typically below level) grab onto key words or bits of a concept and want to apply it to the wrong genre or every genre.  For example, I may work with my students on plot development, and several days later as new guided reading books of a different genre are introduced, they may not connect that different comprehension skills may be required to grasp the big ideas of the book well. This is why I think using the ideas shared in Genre Connections may provide my students with a firmer understanding of when to use comprehension skills we've learned.

Like the launching sequence in Comprehension Connections, students begin these lessons with a concrete object.  The concrete objects are chosen to help the student realize purpose for the learning and categorize information to more firmly differentiate genres. Tanny calls this process, “Noticing and Naming the Genre.” She uses simple objects that are readily available such as clothespins, prisms (in your science kits), mirrors, and one of my favorites, seed packets. 

In the section about informational text, she uses seed packets to get students to notice information we can learn from small bits of text if we're observant. Just look for a minute at this image and think about all the information you can gather...price, what vegetable will look like, name of the produce, how and when to plant it (notice the headings), who produced the seeds, and even the year the seeds were made for. We need our students to read informational text like a gardener reads seed packets.  We need them to realize that informational text includes certain features not found in other genres.  
The launching sequence then moves on to the sensory exercises.  With informational text, you might include a Schoolhouse Rocks video from Youtube like this one about electricity and discuss how informational text is organized.
Another option is to use artwork that explains such as the examples in this Prezi file.
Once students have explored various sensory media and inferred how we read informational text and what features we expect to find, then an anchor chart similar to this one would provide students with the opportunity to think how reading the seed packet relates to future reading of informational text. I also loved [this handout] from Dana Herzog which would be very helpful for interactive notebooks or future mini lessons.

Now, it's your turn.  What concrete objects would you choose to launch genre studies or improve reading comprehension?

Please share what's worked well for you.

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