Hello everyone! It's me Tara from over at Looney's Literacy and I'm going to share a very exciting discovery I've made this year.
This year I decided to study formative assessment plans  and the use of said plans to help students create and meet learning goals. Thus began my journey of studying and practicing formative assessment plans to help my students create and meet learning goals. The nature of the literacy interventionist is to adjust teaching to meet learners' needs. That's just what we do. However, I wasn't consciously using the information gained to share with my little learners. I was telling them my analysis, and showing them how to do it my way. I never really discussed their learning with them. Until now! I've seen the most growth with my ELL student who didn't want to speak English and told me daily "I know no how to speak English." Today he told me, "Verbs are things that you do. "  I have to admit I got a little teary eyed. He has absolutely blown me away with his progress!  He is now reading and showing his understanding by writing down the answers to the questions. We've progressed from answering orally in short phrases to answering orally in almost correct, complete sentences.  Last week he started writing down the answers in his ELA notebook!
So...How did he get here? It all started with The Formative Assessment Plan by Nancy Frey and Douglas Fischer. This book basically laid out the formative assessment process. This process that utilizes the gradual release of responsibility.  You can read more about my learning from this text  here.
I started by analyzing his summative data. Taking the fact that English is his second language, I wanted to break it down and start with our alphabetic code. By doing this I found while he knew all the letters of our alphabet he does have some visual  confusions, such as b/d. Plus it was a good review of individual sounds, digraphs, and consonant blends.   I also know that some letters don't have the same  sound in Spanish so I still scaffold when he encounters words with these letters. After I knew where he was I talked to him about the reading process.   I helped him find his strengths and weaknesses and then he was able to set goals. We create weekly checklists so he can revisit  goals any time he needs to. Here's some examples of some checklists we've created:
          I use formative information in all of his lessons with me so I can adjust my teaching to where he's at.When I'm creating lessons I like to pre-plan the process so I'm prepared for any direction it may go. Here is an example and FREEBIE of a lesson we like to do in the winter.


What is Wilson? An Overview by Reading and Writing Redhead

Hey everyone, it's Bex here from Reading and Writing Redhead! I'm stopping by to share some info with you about Wilson and the Wilson Language programs!

Have you heard of Wilson but are not sure what it is? Have you heard of other schools that have Wilson certified reading specialists, a school is hiring but wants someone with Wilson certification, or your child's school offers Wilson intervention but  you are not clear on what it is? Or do you just want a refresher on Wilson? Well, this update is for you! I know when I was a newer teacher I kept hearing that Wilson, OG (Orton-Gillingham), or LiPS would be possible interventions for some of my students who were struggling with reading, but I did not know what those were, so I figured a little summary of what I now know might help someone.

The Wilson Language Institute was found by Barbara Wilson, who was a  special education teacher and tutor. She developed it while she was working at Mass General Hospital's Language Disorder Unit in order to teach students the structure of words in a systematic and cumulative manner so that they can gain the confidence that they will be able to become skilled readers. After Wilson became successful, the focus turned to training educators so they could implement Wilson in their own schools.
Wilson offers several programs. The most intensive is the research-based Wilson Reading System (WRS), which is most often used to support students with learning disabilities, and it's recommended that educators spend 60-90 minutes working with students in small groups (6 or less) every day. It is based on the principles of Orton-Gillingham. WRS directly teaches the structure of the language for decoding and encoding and also addresses fluency and comprehension.  It also has multisensory aspects and has been used successfully to help both children and adults master English. WRS has 2 levels of vocabulary that makes it appropriate for younger students as well as older students and adults.

Wilson emphasizes that it is essential for schools to have trained and certified teachers to implement the system, and they offer training at their headquarters in Oxford, MA, as well as around the countries. Many school districts hire Wilson to come and train their entire staff or their reading teachers. Click here to see an overview of the multi-tiered system of support that the Wilson Reading System offers.

Wilson collected data for more than ten years from school districts that were experiencing success using WRS. This led to the creation of Fundations®, a research-based program that brings instruction to general education classrooms, so that the Wilson philosophy can be brought to all students K-3. Fundations® instruction is explicit, cumulative, systematic and multi-sensory.

Wilson also has a program for older students (grade 4 and up and adults) who do not need intensive intervention but have reading difficulties. The program is Just Words®, and it provides explicit decoding and spelling instruction. Just Words "accelerates the delivery of the Wilson Reading System®" in a way that is appropriate for older students and it is popular as a second tier intervention in schools or a program for adult learning centers. 

Finally, there is a program called Wilson Fluency/Basic® which provides supplemental explicit fluency instruction and reading practice. This allows students to practice applying skills with connected text. It is aligned with the other Wilson programs and provides practice with 200-250 word passages for students to improve their fluency.

I was lucky enough to be able to participate in the 3 day Wilson introductory training a few years ago and was hooked. It was introductory training for WRS. We went through sample lessons, acting as students, and learned how to set up our own lessons and plan (although most of the plans are pretty much done for you, there are ways to individualize it to your students' needs so you do have to do a small amount of prep). 

My  favorite aspect of WRS was the use of the magnetic letter boards. Daily practice making words and reviewing the sounds and phonics and spelling rules that have already been taught make perfect sense. Plus, one of the weaknesses of so many students is encoding. Some other informal or teacher made (like some I made myself) interventions are focused on decoding and don't offer practice with encoding.

Last summer and fall I also went to Fundations® training. I loved the Wilson training, but since I am a general education teacher with a second grade class, it did not make sense to continue to try to pursue that certification. Fundations® is for teachers like me and intervention specialists who work in the classroom. It especially fits in great with RTI and can be used for all three tiers, in whatever way is needed. Fundations® does a lot with the magnetic letter boards, but also we drill sounds at the beginning of each lesson (a sound drill is reading the letter, a key word, and then the sound it makes and showing a card to the students, having them repeat it back). It is great practice and I feel it really helps the kids get that knowledge of the sound/spelling combinations. PLUS they LOVE it because after the first few weeks, the children get to be the drill leaders themselves! I have a puppet named Echo (that comes with the program) and the children hold the puppet and lead the drill, and the other students "echo" what Echo and the drill leader have just said. Fundations® also has  specific spelling practice and writing practice and also has a somewhat informal handwriting piece. There is also fluency work as well.

Personally, I have not been able to fully implement Fundations® because my school is tied to the old Treasures program and I have to spend time each day on that, and I still need to teach all the grammar and mechanics that is required in second grade. Additionally I bought materials myself so I only have enough for groups of 5 students, so I ended up doing Fundations® lessons during RTI tier one with my reading groups. However, I feel like these students are really doing well with it and I am assessing them throughout the year and looking to compare our DIBELS data to data from last year before I implemented Fundations®.

What reading intervention programs are you familiar with? Which ones have you used and what do you think works best? 

Emily, The OG Tutor, has some great blog posts relating to Orton Gillingham. Check them out here:

You can find more topics under the heading "Intervention" on our Topics page. Click here to see that page.


Easy Prep Word Study Games

Hi! It's Jen from An Adventure in Literacy. I'm here today to share a few ideas for easy prep word study games you can use with any word cards or word features. Cathy wrote a great post a few weeks ago on making word study meaningful, so make sure you check out her post if you haven't already.

As a classroom teacher with a zillion things on my to do list I appreciate easy prep activities. I'm not talking about worksheets that are print and go, but truly engaging educational activities. If you are currently using Words Their Way, Word Journeys, or another word study program then your students already have word cards to use in these game ideas. The following games are automatically differentiated for each group when the students use their own word cards to play. 

An important part of word study is making sure that students are understanding the generalizations and features.  Traditional spelling activities like rainbow writing and stamping may be fun for the kids, but true word study games should help students focus on comparing and contrasting the word features, not just provide memorization practice. 

At the beginning of the year I teach my students the "generic" word study game rules. Once they understand the concept, this game can be slightly changed to add new novelty while still keeping the same rules and routines. Here are the basic word study game directions.

Now on to the fun part! Here are a few variations using the basic game directions and student word cards.

1. Gameboards
When students get a feature match they roll and move on the game board. I bet every teacher has a bunch of old game boards in your room that you can turn into word study games.

2. Erasers
Any Target dollar spot addicts out there? When students get a word feature match they take a fun themed eraser. Whoever has the most at the end wins. Don't these eraser hearts totally look like the real candies?

3. Math Manipulatives
What? Use math manipulatives for word study??? When students get a word feature match they add a unifix cube to try to see who can get the tallest stack. Or take a pattern block. Or take a link. You get the idea.

4. Dollar Tree Games
The Dollar Tree is great for having seasonal tic tac toe games or 2 player plastic race to the top games. When students get a word feature match they get to place an x or o or move their player forward 1 space.

5. Seasonal Cooperative Games
These take {a little} prep but they are a fun way to have students work together for a common goal. There is one large paper shape and students add something to it when they get a feature match. Examples include: a pumpkin with black triangles to make a jack-o-lantern, a turkey body with feathers, a Christmas tree with ornaments. If you are fortunate to have large die cuts, they work great for this.  If not, it takes about 5 minutes to cut out a shape. 

6. Drawing Games
Recently we played "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?". Until this year the game was just called "Draw a Snowman" but the excitement factor got bumped up thanks to Frozen! If students got a feature match they got to draw a part on their snowman. I just gave them a blank piece of paper {super low prep} and they got to choose what to add to their snowman {student choice for high engagement}. These were by no means works of art, but the kids had fun while practicing their words.

7. Dry Erase Games
Ok, I did make these to use in my class, but once they were made they became low prep. I just change out the seasonal boards each month. When students get a feature match they write the feature on the game board in the dry erase pocket (or page protector). The first player to get to the end or fill up their side of the board wins. You can grab a free copy of "Shadow Shuffle" because Groundhog Day will be here before you know it!

So there you have it. 7 low prep variations on the same game, all focusing on word features. I usually provide several of these games as options to give the students choice. I store them in a 10 drawer cart and change them out monthly. Students just pick a game, grab their words and play. Easy peasy.

A few closing remarks...
  • ·       Make sure the biggest focus is on word study, not the game. The game should be simple enough to compliment the feature practice.
  • ·         Continually change out the games to keep the students engaged. A lot of these games can be adapted for a holiday or month. Same rules, just a new look.
  • ·         You can add an accountability piece to the games by having students write the words they read on a recording sheet or word study notebook.  
I hope you got a few new word study ideas to work smarter not harder while kicking your word study games up a notch. What are your favorite word study games?  Leave us a comment- we love hearing new ideas!


Lucky 7: Vocabulary Ideas for Primary Students

Hi, This is Cathy from The W.I.S.E. Owl.

For those of you that know methis is my favorite vocabulary story. 

A parent who volunteered in my classroom came in to complain.  If you are going to teach our kids new words, you should at least warn the parents.  She explained.  Her son, Conner, was stepping out of his father’s jacked-up truck and missed the step.  When he fell his mom ran to him and asked if he was ok.  “I’m fine, Mom.  I was standing on a precipice and slipped.”  Ahhhhh, the power of vocabulary.

I love the Magic Tree House books.  I mean I really love the Magic Tree House books.  I can teach any skill using these books and I should write my first book about how to use thembut that’s another post.  This is about vocabulary.  So, Conner, the boy from the truck, had heard the word “precipice” when we were reading The Knight Before Dawn.  We discussed the word precipice.  We talked about a ledge or cliff and even walked to the playground to stand on the top of the playground equipment.  Each student stood at the edge and said, “I’m at the precipice.”  So when Jack was hanging from the precipice above the moat, my students were on the edge (or precipice, if you please) of their seat.

Vocabulary is a vital part of reading instruction.  I don’t usually throw around research, but in Bringing Words to Life, Beck, McKeown & Kucan (2002) it is the teacher’s role to “develop an interest and awareness in words beyond vocabulary school assignments in order to adequately build their vocabulary repertoires.”  One presenter stated the average child needs to hear a new word 14 times, but the struggling reader needs to hear it 44 times.  44TIMES. That means we have work to do.

Here are some ideas for sharing vocabulary.

 1.     Post-it© Vocabulary Posters

Students in the classroom or a group are given words on a Post-it©.  They are given a poster with categories.  Students can predict how the words are going to be used.  As the words are discovered in the text, the categories can be confirmed or moved.  Fancy charts can draw a student in and entice them to use a word in their writing. 
2.    Concept Muraling

Students are involved in the vocabulary from the beginning.  When introducing a unit on plants, students helped build a picture with cut-out handprints (it’s more fun to use their handprints, but that can take a lot of time from the lesson).  We made a flower with dirt first.  As we talked about what a flower needs to grow, we added the sun, the soil and the water.  The next week, when the focus was on the parts of a plant, we added the labels for seed, roots, stem, leaves, and flower. 
3.    Anchor Charts for Student Use

I have preached about anchor charts over and over and here’s a perfect time to add anchor charts for vocabulary.  Adding a picture of the book to the poster helps students make connections.  Students are encouraged to use these words in their independent writing and word hunts. 

4.     Text Gradients

I think text gradients are fun.  Most people think of text gradients for older students, but they can be used in kindergarten classrooms, as well.  Students can handle lessons on different gradients for "big" and "little."  We talk about how big and little are great words, but they can be overused.  Just like they wouldn’t want to eat the same food every night, they don’t want to use the same words. Using paint chips in pockets on a bulletin board or in a writing center can give students a colorful visual cue to use “exciting” words.
5.    Frayer Model

Years ago, we had a vocabulary initiative in our school.  Each week, every grade level had a focus word.  They did the Frayer Model during the literacy block daily.  This initiative guaranteed a constant curriculum for the entire grade level.  The Frayer model shows the definition and facts, as well as the examples and non-examples.  We posted the words on the poster for classroom display and the students also had a vocabulary notebook with empty Frayer Models to fill in the vocabulary center.
6.    List Group Label

Starting at the beginning of the year, teachers must teach students to sort by known factors.  Practice with sorting can easily evolve into the List-Group-Label activity.  This activity can develop categorizing skills, build background knowledge, activates critical thinking skills, and grow vocabulary skills in the process.  Students are asked to brainstorm a list of words on a topic.  Then, they group and label how they are grouped.  The picture illustrates how the same list can be labeled in several different ways.
7.    Brace Maps

Finally, I’ve talked about my love of thinking maps and a Brace Map is perfect for developing vocabulary.  Creating a brace map for a clock can help introduce “new” meanings for a face or hands.
As with any exercise, the proof is in the pudding or the lesson is in the writing.  When students are using the vocabulary words in their writing, then you know you made an impact.  My second favorite vocabulary example was used in a Squiggle Center (click here to read all about Squiggles).  While reading Thanksgiving on Thursday, we discussed the word “spit,” but in early December I knew they understood when a student used the word and illustration in their Squiggle Book.  “I see the fish kukg on the spit.  The fish is ovrr the for.” 

Ahh, that is the sweet satisfaction of success.

I hope you have an idea or two to add to your vocabulary instruction.


Fun and Engaging Ways to Build Reading Confidence

As a former Reading Recovery Teacher and Kindergarten teacher, I believe that building reading confidence starts at a very young age before our students come to school.  As a mother or father sings to a young baby, or reads a story before bedtime the love of reading and language itself begins. As we teach our students today, we realize that some of them have not engaged in the playfulness and wonder of language....and that is where our role begins.

  For K-2 students:

  •  Through Songs and Fingerplays--- As a Kindergarten Teacher, I sang songs with my students and did fingerplays to grab their attention. While we sing children learn color words, number words, prepositions, and rhyming words just as a start. Music is a wonderful way to reach those students who need to move and groove while learning language.
  • Simple Funny Stories with Easy Plots--- As I read an amusing story, children begin to notice the pictures, the rhythm of the language and how the story comes together. These skills greatly help them with the understanding that stories have a sequence and relate to the pictures.
  • Make Those Printables Kinesthetic --- By changing a worksheet into a kinesthetic activity or puzzle, children's interest changes so they become involved with a task and don't realize they are practicing a skill. I often pair Scentos Markers or Magnetic Letters with a worksheet to change the way of doing a skill. 
  • Games-- Games that repeat a skill or activity and can be played easily over and over again appeal to this age group: Bingo, Concentration, Memory, Tic-Tac-Toe, Games with pawns and an easy gameboard, writing on white boards and then showing the teacher are fun for this crowd !

For Intermediate students:

  •  Buddy read--- At this stage, if they are still struggling with reading, their desire to read the bigger chapter books and what their peers read is so great. At times, I will model read the beginning of the chapter for them. Next, they each read a part of a character or a narrator in the text. The task requires them to keep their focus on what their peers are reading but actively allows you to support their fluency, chunking of words, and understanding of the content in a supportive role. This is a favorite of my 5th graders !
  • Task cards-- Adding task cards to a reading session allows you to check in on a skill in an independent manner. They are constructed differently than worksheets and often give choices. This activity gives a student a chance to practice test-taking strategies and manipulate information in shorter chunks of texts so it is easier to focus and finish.
  • Reading books to siblings-- I allow my students to take extra books at lower levels to read aloud to their siblings. My ELL students love doing this. It is a bonus for the teachers too... as a sibling gets that early childhood experience from an older brother or sister. When the little brother/sister begins Kindergarten years later, he/she may find learning to read easier. ( I must admit all of my students enjoy this opportunity ! I often hear parents say how a child I taught was sitting with a younger brother or sister and teaching them to read.)
  • Art based activities-- when reading responses are combined with art, they often become detailed and focused because I am capitalizing on a student's strength.
  • Games--- my activities which include games often have a detailed paragraph for the student to read at this age range. Whether it is reading about character traits to determine which character those traits belong to or understanding the context of an unfamiliar vocabulary word within text, the students simply love it. As a teacher, I am able to see which reading strategies have been mastered, and which ones the group is still focusing on.


When to Say "So Long!" to Finger Pointing

Hello Literacy Land Readers!  I'm dropping in today to talk about...

Finger pointing, or having children point to each word as they read is a common practice for emergent readers.  Finger pointing helps the reader learn to look carefully at print.  It supports two early reading behaviors, directional movement and voice-print match.

However, there comes a time when readers should learn to rely on their eyes rather than their fingers.

When a reader points as he reads, he is forced to slow down, which limits fluency and often causes him to sound robotic.  Pointing can prevent students from growing into fluent, expressive readers.

Once students show evidence of correct directional movement and master one-to-one correspondence, it is time to say 'so long' to finger pointing.

When I sense that my students are ready to move to eye-tracking, (usually at a Fountas and Pinnell Level D), we have a little good bye ceremony for the pointer finger.  We literally "kiss" that finger good bye. While many students will outgrow the use of finger pointing on their own, others will need some guidance.

Try using the following strategies to move your students from finger pointing to eye-tracking:

Read in Phrases
Explain to students that when their mouth is saying a word, their eyes should be moving ahead to get ready for the next few words. Demonstrate the how it sounds to read word by word and how it sounds to read words grouped together in short phrases. Students need to hear the difference. Looking ahead to upcoming words also helps students prepare for upcoming punctuation.

Work Out Tricky Words
Teach students that it is okay to use their finger when they come to a difficult word. By using their finger, they can isolate parts of the word and tackle them one chunk at a time.  Remind students to remove their finger as soon as the word is decoded.  Then go back and reread the sentence smoothly to get the meaning.

Keep Your Place
It is common for some students to lose their place as they read.  As students progress through the reading levels, the font of the text decreases and the length of the text increases, often resulting in students skipping lines as they read.  When this happens, encourage students to ask themselves if what they are reading makes sense and sounds right.  Using this cuing will often solve the issue.

However, for students who consistently skip lines, you may want to try a sliding tool like a bookmark or index card.  The student can slide it down the page as they read.  The sliding tool allows them to keep their place in the text while still being able to read the line of text ahead.  Some teachers have students place the slider above the line the student is reading.  This allows students to train their eyes to make the return sweep to the next line (without the slide tool covering the words).  Other teachers prefer that students use a finger to point at the beginning of each line the child is reading.  As the student's visual tracking improves this strategy should be phased out.

The ultimate goal is to read without the use of finger pointing or sliders so that readers can focus on the meaning of the text.