Guiding Reading: 3 Things I Did Wrong

Summer is in full force for me but the lines between summer vacation and school are very blurred.  Anyone else find this to be true?  My brain is filled with reflection, summer reading, and preparations for the upcoming year.  I am currently reading Creating Cultures of Thinking, Reading Reflex, Summer Reading, and Small Group Reading Instruction (by Beverly Tyner).   All of these books are bringing about some new learning for me and helping me to reflect on old and current practices.
As I read Beverly Tyner's book on a differentiated teaching model for small group, I started thinking how different my current reading groups are to the ones I conducted when I first started teaching.  This reflection led me to realize that there were quite a number of things I did THEN that I would not do NOW.

1. Timing
I remember my small group phonics lessons lasted FOREVER! The efficient, quick, systematic lesson would be all planned out.  Materials would be ready.  And the kids just did not master the skill to the level I thought they should.  So what would I do?  Spend more time on it.  And where did this time come?  It would get stolen from the actual reading of book.  This was not time well spent.  They needed to be reading.
My solution: I started setting a timer for myself.  The phonics lesson would end when the timer went off and we would just revisit the skill the next day.

2. Book levels
There have been a few years in my career where I was very unclear about the books that I needed to use in my guided reading groups.  We have had some basal reader books and I have had some intervention program books.  But looking back, I know these books did not always match the reading level of the student. I now know that these are tools within my toolbox but the need of my student must come before the resources in front of me. 
My solution: I search for the instructional level text that will continue to push that group of learners.  Sometimes this is a book from the leveled book room, a basal guided reading book, a decodable reader, a passage, or a poem.

3. Sight Words
The districts that I have worked in have never had a set group of sight words that need to be mastered by each grade level; therefore, I used the words from the basal program or intervention program that were recommended.  This did not work out well for me.  The gaps were clear and students were at such varying levels of sight word mastery.
My solution:  My building created a document combining many sight words lists.  We can pre-assess our students and support them on a more individual basis.  No more gaps (hopefully).

As I have come to understand reading, learning to read, and the little young brains that I work with, my practices have changed and evolved.  I like the routine that I have right now.  But Ron Ritchhart explains that, "...some might argue that understanding can never be fully complete and absolute."  I know for certain that my routine and practices will change as my understanding continues to grow.


Teaching Split Digraphs

Hello everyone! 

It's Pixie Anne from Growing Little Learners here today to share a short post with you on my favourite activity when teaching split digraphs in the classroom.

It's a short post because we still have 17 more teaching days left over here in the UK and I know you can all appreciate that overwhelming feeling of wondering how on earth you are going to fit in all that learning that still needs to be done; squeeze in all the other crazy one off activities that seem to crop up at this time of year; trying to prepare the class for the new school year and pack up your classroom at the same time!

While there doesn't seem to be enough time left for all of those things, time is strangely going oh so slowly too... I've enjoyed my class a lot this year but I am ready for the term to end!

My little learners have done so well with their reading this year. I have seen HUGE improvements from every single child and am so proud of them all. I can honestly say that (apart from the several new arrivals I have had in the last month) my whole class have a pretty solid understanding of their letters and sounds which is very different from previous years!

One of our favourite activities in class this year when teaching split digraphs (or magic/silent 'e' if you prefer) has been this one:

Build the Word!

I hand out letter cards to at least half the class then ask them to come up to the front to build a word such as 'tie'. I make sure the children I have given the 'i' and 'e' too are friends so they won't mind holding hands to show that we know that those 2 letters together make the long vowel sound. 

I then ask for a different word such as 'tide' to be made. Chances are, if it our first encounter, the child holding the 'd' will place themselves at the end of the word. We discuss this and I thank the child for making such a brilliant mistake which we can all learn from and we move them to the correct position.

 It is really powerful for those two children holding the 'i' and 'e' to still hold hands as they make space for the 'd' so we can see that while they are apart now, they still make the same sound!

I ask other children if they are able to come up and make new words or call out specific words I would like built. We repeat with a different starting word such as lie, die or pie.

It's great to get the kids up and to use them as a resource rather than just using the interactive whiteboard or magnetic letters. It is a lot more engaging and memorable for them. It's easy to prep (handwritten on paper works just as well as fancy cards) and generates a lot of discussion and peer assessment - are they in the correct place? Thumbs up or down!

I have made a freebie for you based on the split digraph i-e so you can try it out (if you haven't used this idea before) in your classroom.

I'd love to hear how you teach split digraphs in your classroom so do please leave a comment below.

Thank for stopping by today!


Crafting Sentences Video and Freebie

 One year I was working with a group of first graders who were struggling with writing a complete sentence.  They were very good at using a capital letter at the beginning of the sentence and ending punctuation at the end of the sentence.  However, the middle part of the sentence was a little fuzzy for them.  The question I asked myself was, "How do I teach writing a complete thought to first graders?"

Instead of typing everything I did, I created a screen cast showing you the Smart Board Notebook I created to go with this lesson.  Click the video below for the lesson.  I also put up my Notebook file on SMART Exchange, and you can check out the file by clicking HERE.  Disclaimer:  I know that this doesn't work for every type of sentence, but it was great beginning for us to start writing complete thoughts.

To get the sentence graphic organizer and lesson plan I used with the lesson, click the image below.

crafting sentences

I hope everyone is having a fabulous summer!

 photo thinkingoutloudtitle.png

Ways to Teach Phonemic Awarenss

Aloha from Hawaii Virginia, or should I say, "Howdy Partners?"  It is Carla from Comprehension Connection here again to get the Summer Blog Party Linky up and going on Lit Land. Since we had two topics basically this week, it seemed fitting to blog about one here and the other over on my blog.
If phonics fits your students' needs more, you can read all about Word Study tips [here] and if phonemic awareness hits your level of students, then let's get this round up rollin'.

Developing phonemic awareness in preschool and kindergarten is important. Read this post for phonemic awareness activities you might try out.

Here at Literacy Land, we have had a few posts focused on phonemic awareness that are rootin' and tootin and ready for you. The first was [THIS POST] by Wendy at Read with Me ABC.  She explained what phonemic awareness was and how it differs from phonics. She explained how it's developed with children and shared a few resources that could be used. It was an excellent post.

Tara from Looney's Lit Blog wrote up a second to share how she addresses phonological awareness with her students who begin a little bit behind. You can check out her post [HERE] to see a few activity types in action.

Post number three came on Monday with Jennifer's Move! Groove! Read! post. If you missed it, be sure to head back and check it out. It brought back memories of childhood for me with all the little jingles she shared. Who knew that chants and jump rope jingles could lead to beginning reading skills. 

So what else can we do to make phonemic awareness learning fun? After all, it is our very youngest learners who need these lessons, so it should show them how all learning is fun. The answer...word play, music, poetry, and rhymes. Phonemic awareness includes rhyming, identifying orally beginning sounds, endings, and syllables, and blending/segmenting sounds.  Phonemic awareness activities often include pictures or other manipulatives.

Oh what fun, rhyming is, and there are many great ways to work on it. First of all, reading to your students is a great way to model rhyme and so many other skills for that matter.  Below, you'll find great books to use throughout the year.
In addition to these great books, you might also give these websites a try.

There are so many options for teaching ideas in the classroom too.  You might consider rhyming baskets with objects that rhyme (.plastic bats, cats, and mini hats say) that your students can sort. Matching pictures of rhyming words in a pocket chart or better yet, lay the pictures on the floor and have students play Twister with them (small # of students and controlled of course) or "Hop on the Word that Rhymes with ??" Children also love playing "Odd One Out" with pictures or orally.  

Young students need to recognize that sounds come together to form words, and the best way to help develop that recognition is with adding and subtracting sounds orally through word play. For blending, you might try the following.

Guess the Word

Place a poster of a playground slide in front of the students and run your finger down the slide as you stretch the sounds of words our orally. Have your students copy you, and then, have them say the word ssssstttttaaaaammmmppppp. Together:  Stamp!

Push and Say

I love push and say because the strategy can be used later with phonics when we add letters. For Push and Say, students use poker chips or counters as sounds are made to put them together and segment them. Teachers can use the idea above with the chips or have students place chips in Elkonin boxes for segmenting. With both, I emphasize what is happening in the mouth.  

Songs and Movement

Using common tunes such as Ring Around the Rosie or London Bridges makes phoneme blending light and fun. Here's an example to London Bridges...
Do you know the word I make?
Word I make?
Word I make?
Do you know the word I make?
Share it now.

Book Choices You Might Explore

Developing phonemic awareness in preschool and kindergarten is important. Read this post for phonemic awareness activities you might try out.

For more ideas on phonemic awareness development, check out all of the great PA posts from this week's linky, and come back next week to hear about new books to Fire Up Your Readers!  


Learn Like a PIRATE: A Must-Read!

Last summer I was immersed in Dave Burgess'  Teach Like a PIRATE. What a refreshing and motivational read!  This is one book that sticks with you, and the innovative ideas linger in your mind, are just best practice, and involve risk-taking from the both the teacher and the students.  So, I was beyond thrilled when I saw that Learn Like a PIRATE had been published and knew that it would be at the top of my summer professional reading!  This easy to read, thought-provoking book written by teacher Paul Solarz, takes the pirate analogy and acronym to the next level: that of our students. 

More specifically, Solarz's focus of the book is student empowerment through the creation of a student-led classroom.  How can our students learn like a PIRATE?  Solarz uses the PIRATE acronym to emphasize strategies for an active and engaged classroom.

Paul Solarz's infectious enthusiasm for teaching is invigorating and just what a weary teacher needs to regroup after a long school year. If you are looking for new and innovative teaching strategies to re-energize your teaching and your classroom, then this book is for you!  Written in an easy to read format, the book is entertaining, practical, and grows you as an educator as Solarz shares teaching techniques and strategies that you can implement to transform your students into collaborative, risk-taking, and creative pirates!

Throughout the majority of the book, the author discusses each component of the PIRATE acronym in depth.  He offers the research and his own experiences of how to structure, implement, and maintain a PIRATE classroom.  Topics include: teacher evaluations, classroom management, discipline, grades, literature circles, twenty-first century skills, and so much more!  Sprinkled throughout the book are QR codes which link to graphics and to websites such as the author's own personal classroom blog for even more ideas and authentic examples of how to implement the theory into practice.

This must-read will appeal to teachers of all grade levels. The PIRATE activities and strategies have to be modified depending on the age of your students, but many of the suggestions in the book can be implemented into a K-2 classroom!  In fact, my own personal goal as I read and reflect on Learn Like a PIRATE is to take the strategies and look for ways that they will work in a primary classroom.  As a literacy coach and reading specialist, I may not be able to apply all of the strategies into an intervention setting, but I am excited to share these ideas with classroom teachers!

On my own blog, I have just started to write about my reflections from my reading.  Join me on Sundays, as I present the important "nuggets" from my reading and my thinking of ways to adapt these strategies into a primary classroom.  You can read the first post here and the latest post here.

If you have read the book or are in the middle of reading it, I would love for you to share your ideas of how to create a student-led classroom!


Move! Groove! Read!

Greetings Royal Readers!

It's Jennifer here from Stories and Songs in Second to share some ideas on how to incorporate literacy learning into outdoor activities during the summer!

While my current summer days are slow-paced and slightly sedentary,  I often find myself thinking back to my childhood summers when hours were spent outdoors riding bikes, roller skating, playing Kick the Can, jumping rope, and running through the sprinkler.  Chasing after the music of the ice cream truck was the highlight of our afternoons, and running in pursuit of lightning bugs was the highlight of our evenings.

I also remember the alliterative, rhymed poems my friends and I used to call out while we jumped rope or hopped over our Skip-Its.  I remember the rhythm sticks we tapped together at Girl Scout camp while we sang songs around the bonfire or marched along the trail.  

Raise your hand if you remember twirling your jump rope as you chanted....

Strawberry shortcake!
Huckleberry Finn!
When I call your birthday,
please jump in!

Smile if you criss-crossed, hand-clapped, and knee-slapped with a partner to.....

Miss Mary Mack-Mack-Mack!
All dressed in black-black-black!
She jumped so high-high-high!
She reached the sky-sky-sky!
She never came back-back-back!
'Til the 4th of July-ly-ly!

Nod knowingly if you drove your day camp bus driver crazy with countless renditions of.....

John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt!
That's my name too!
Whenever I go out!
People always shout!
There goes John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt!

Sigh happily if you remember reading Bruce Degen's Jamberry  over, and over, and over to your toddler--like I did.  It was one of my daughter's favorite books.  I read it aloud to her so many times that I know it by heart.  We used to do a simple "patty cake"-like clap to set the beat or cadence....

One berry
Two berry
Pick me a blueberry

In my canoeberry

Under the bridge
And over the dam
Looking for berries
Berries for jam

In her book entitled, Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites, Marcia L. Tate recommends incorporating physical movement activities, along with chants like these and a variety of alphabet books, in lessons designed to reinforce initial consonant sounds and familiar rhyming patterns. She cites research by Marzano (2007), saying that physical movement increases student energy, and therefore enhances their engagement.  She reminds us that according to Markowitz and Jensen (2007), movement also triggers memory.

She recommends having students jump rope while reciting verses from  A, My Name is Alice written by Jane Bayer and illustrated by Stephen Kellogg, to reinforce initial consonant sounds and rhyming patterns. A mini-trampoline would work as well!  She suggests having students write their own original rhymes to jump along to as well.

She cites this example:

B, My name is Barbara.
And my husband's name is Bob. 
We come from Brazil.
And we sell balloons.
Barbara is a bear.
Bob is a baboon!

You can see and hear this delightful book {HERE}!

My challenge to you--if you are a parent--is to  pull out  or go buy these "old-fashioned" toys and share them with your young children.  Then read or teach the favorite chants, stories, or poems you remember--or that I've shared here--to go along with them....and  SHA-ZAM!  You have an outdoor summer literacy lesson that is more fun than work!

My challenge to you--if you are an educator--is to keep these "old-fashioned" toys handy in your classroom and invest in the books I've recommended here.  Use them often to help reach those readers who are kinesthetic and benefit from the sensory input that jumping, gesturing, twirling, and tapping provides.

Be sure to stop back this Wednesday, June 24th, for the second installment of  The Reading Crew's SUMMER BLOG PARTY.  Our topic will be phonics fun, and I hope to have an animal-themed alphabet book activity to share with you then.  I'm in the process of creating some writing templates that students can use to compose their own tongue twisters like those in A is for Alice.  

Just think what a wonderful reader's theater presentation or puppet show performance could evolve from their original compositions!  Imagine the possibilities!

Until next time, thanks so much for sharing my story!  May your summer be full of good books, good times, good stories, and good rhymes!


Book Talks on the Menu

Are you looking for a way to get your students to read more? Book Talks are a great tool to use to build enthusiasm for reading. This post includes ideas you might enjoy trying.

Pause for a moment to consider what you do to get your students reading?  Maybe you help them find books that match their interests, or perhaps you use read alouds daily to show your students new authors. Do you talk with them about what they're reading? That sure can give you a window into their thinking and interests. Well, on today's menu is the topic of book talks. Today, I'd like to share with you some simple ways you can make this time purposeful, fun, and motivating.
Students need to talk to demonstrate their thinking.  If students are sharing about their reading, they will be more likely to pay attention to the important points of the text which provides accountability for them. By talking through their reading, we are able to observe comprehension skills/strategies, and by listening to students discuss their reading, students are exposed to new reading options they may select in the future. 
Book talks can be as simple or complex as you want to make them. Students can have a scheduled time for sharing and even have a limited time for their presentation, but teachers can also make an event out of the book talk day. Look at the image to the right.  Most kids would love the opportunity to dine in a "Paris Cafe" and have cookies and milk during their sharing time. Check out this image and post from Second Grade Smarty Arties.  This would be so much fun.

Another great option that may be easier to do is a graffiti  wall.  You can give your students time to record important quotes or have them share a brief introduction. The key with whatever you choose as the book talk format is to allow time for conversation and make it a positive experience for the kids.  Book talks can also be brief and worked into the daily routine for much of the time.

With struggling readers, you might have a parent volunteer come in for a lunch bunch book club. Last year, we had an enthusiastic parent come, and all she did was chat with the kids about what they were reading and just daily routines. It really encouraged the group and made a huge difference for them (and they loved the lunchtime attention).
More important than anything else is to keep your kids enthusiastic and eager to read.  Help them to make plans for what they want to read next, and let them keep a stash of books on hand at all times. They can't stay motivated if a routine is not established.  If it helps for your students to keep a running list of books they've completed, then do it, but have them keep a list of book recommendations too. (ones their friends have enjoyed) When students get to recommend to each other, it also gives them something to talk about.  

If you're interested in seeing a few other ideas, you might check out these products to get started.
Book Talks - Presenting and Writing Book Talks   Book Talks
If you'd like a set of directions, rubric, and form for peer reviews, [this freebie] offers all three.

I hope you'll get this plan into practice and spark reading motivation this year.


10 Ways Teachers Kill a Love of Reading

We used to do our reading block in the morning, every day, but our library time was scheduled on Thursday afternoons.

So, in the morning, I worked so hard to foster a love of reading. And then on Thursday afternoons, we came back from library and I told my kids to put their new books away because it was math time.

The books they had just searched through the library to pick.

The books they were so excited to read.

And I made them immediately put it inside their desks or backpacks.

What was I thinking???

It wasn’t until I read The Book Whisperer that I realized exactly what I was doing. I was taking a moment full of book excitement, and I squashed it like a bug.

So instead, I started building in ten minutes in our schedule. We still had to fit math in- but I could lose ten minutes once a week if it meant giving my kids a moment to dive into their new books.

To make this time even more special? I brought in a book I was reading (or snagged one from the library I’d been meaning to read) and settled into a comfy spot on the floor to read with my kids.

You should’ve seen the looks on my students’ faces!

They were shocked. They were so used to me using our reading time to pull guided reading groups or confer with individuals, so for me to sit down and read with them was really surprising. But I instantly had kids gather around me, wanting to see what I was reading, or even just read “with” me (especially when I taught 2nd graders!)

It was a great time to not just tell them I’m a reader- but to show it and model it!

Ten minutes a week is a small price to pay for building excitement about reading.

Other ways I see teachers kill a love of reading?

kill a love of reading

  • Limiting kids to a certain reading level
    Oh, you’re interested in this? I don’t care. It’s not the right level.
  • Not letting kids choose their own books
    Imagine going to the library and someone picking your books for you.
  • Turning reading into worksheets about reading
    No matter how great a worksheet is, it can’t compare to real reading.
  • Not getting new and interesting books in the classroom library
    You need books your kids want to read. And if you “have enough books,” you probably don’t have the latest books. Bringing in new ones through the year builds more excitement, too!
  • Telling kids they can’t read ahead
    I always tell them they can- because, really, do I want them to stop reading a book when they’re dying to go on? They just aren’t allowed to give spoilers.
  • Requiring a reading log of homework minutes
    You never want to have kids looking at the clock, counting the seconds until they can stop reading.
  • Limiting reading to “real” books
    Graphic novels, websites, magazines, etc. are just as valuable as a book with a spine… and sometimes more. Reading is worthwhile- period.
  • Skipping the read aloud as kids get older
    Reading aloud is important for so many academic reasons, but it’s also one of the biggest ways to let kids just fall in love with books… and we can’t take that away! Make sure read alouds aren’t just for explicit lessons, but also just for the joy of reading (and introducing kids to wonderful books and series!)
  • Test Prep
    Need I say more?

If you’re not sure how you’re killing the kids’ love of reading, just listen for the moans and groans, and look for the times your kids are excited about their books. How can you build on those moments, and how can you create more?

Over at my blog today, I’m sharing some ways foster a love of reading. I’d love for you to come over to Luckeyfrog Learning and share your ideas!



A Shift in Intervention: 3 Ways To Get Your Students Working Harder Than You

Hey guys! Tara here from Looney's Literacy just popping in to share how my summer school program is going so far! We're working hard and having a blast!

I used to stress over my lesson plans to the point of almost having a script that I could read from directly.  I thought I had to have every moment planned and ready to go before my students walked in the door. I laugh at myself now because even back then I never followed the "script" I had planned.

I'm sure it's no different in the classroom but with my experience in an intervention setting I learned very quickly that flexibility is key to a successful classroom. For many years I thought I was being flexible and allowing my students to guide the lessons. I was able to go with the flow and could analyze thought patterns on the go. I was mastering pulling materials and teaching "in the moment." But there was still that part of me that was working harder then the kids. I was looking at teaching backwards. I was guiding the thinking and only using "closed questions," or questions that imply that there is a predetermined "correct" answer. It was driving me nuts because my kids weren't thinking critically and I couldn't understand why.

So I started studying Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding  by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. (It's a must read if your ready for your students to start working  harder then you). I'm not going to bore you with the logistics of my planning (You can find that post here later ;)) But I do want to share with you how this study has transformed my intervention program.

Ask Essential Questions

Just like I've always done, I began planning for my summer intervention program by collecting year end data,  analyzing each student's scores and determining appropriate standards. With this info in mind I decided to practice what I had been studying about asking essential questions.  Essential questions are open ended questions that cause conversations, encourage critical thinking and problem solving. 

I began by asking myself what was my goal for my students at the end of this three week program. I decided I wanted them to understand why we read and write, why it's important to understand words and how they work and how we can become better readers and writers. 

I created notebooks for them so that they could brainstorm and have graphic organizers to take notes during discussion.

Click here for your FREEBIE!

And most importantly, I created questions that would have them thinking critically while addressing my goals for them! 

The first day was hard! I figured out how often they rely on me to ask literal questions so I that I'd guide them to the "correct" answer. I got a lot of "I'm confused" and "This makes my head hurt." I knew immediately I was doing the right thing by answering them with "I don't know." or "What do you think?"

Have  Students Guide Their Lessons

This was tricky for me. Like I mentioned previously, I want to have everything planned. Now don't get me wrong. It is our job to build the structure  of our lessons. But that's not what makes a house a home. The floor plan, the walls, the nooks & crannies; that is what makes a home. So build your structure and let your students add the finishing touches. They take ownership and they gain critical thinking and problem solving skills. It's a win-win! 

My  goal for one of my older students this week was to understand the main character and his role in the theme of the story we read.  His interpretation of the theme was very literal as was his description of the character. So I asked him to decide how he could think more deeply about the main character and the theme. 

Have Students Self-Reflect and Assess Growth

This goes hand in hand with  students guiding their lessons. This is the step needed before they decide how they need to proceed to reach their goal. Student self-reflection can and should be a formative tool used to aid in offering effective feedback that will promote deeper thinking and problem solving skills. 

This can easily be done before a lesson or as an "exit ticket." I've given prompts to guide students in a particular direction and I've left it wide open to the students perspective of how they are doing, what they did well and what they need to work on. Both ways serve their own purpose and both can be beneficial. 

On that note, I'm going to sign off. I hope this finds you in a place that you might find some tips to help you in your classroom.