Adventures in Literacy Land: Instructional Practices

Showing posts with label Instructional Practices. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Instructional Practices. Show all posts

Bringing Books to Life

November is a fun month because many of us help our students peer into the lives of people long ago.  And for our really little guys, this can be quite a challenge.  Time is so abstract.  I remember a day when everything that happened in my girls' lives was "yesterday."  Understanding the actual difference between a day, week, month, and year is challenging.  And then we start talking about 100 or more years ago. Phew!  That is hard thing for them to imagine.

Last year my teammate and I made the decision to use the Laura Ingalls Wilder books (My First Little House series) to support our informational writing unit.  Honestly, we were not sure how it would go.  Would they enjoy books that revolve around a family that lived in the late 1800s-early 1900s?  Would the boys connect to main characters that are primarily girls (but there are a few books that focus on Almanzo)?

What we found was that...YES...all our first graders absolutely loved the books.  They were able to pull information from these texts to learn about living long ago and used that learning to write informational pieces.  And we have found the same thing this year.  Students want to check these books out to take home and share with their families. 

Although the students were enjoying the texts, the objects and time period were still so abstract for them.  We wanted to help bring these books to life.  By doing so we felt that our students would have a deeper understanding for the text and a solid foundation to begin writing their informational pieces.

To bring the late 1800s to life, we needed some help.  I knew just the person.

My mom.

She has always had a "thing" for this particular time period.  I was raised in a house filled with objects from the late 1800s.  The sound of the "Little House on Prairie" tv show is burned into my memory.  So we packed up some of her things and headed to school.

There was such a buzz in the room when they saw all the objects.  As we discussed, explained, showed off each item, we connected it to what is used today.  My teammate and I also tied in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books.  Here were a few of the connections that we were able to make:

Throughout this presentation, so many great conversations occurred!  The kids learned new things, I learned new things, my teammates learned new things.  There was truly excitement in the air.

Books do that.  They make us curious.  They make us want to learn more.  They bring electricity into the air.  But for some kids, they do not do that naturally.  Bringing our books to "life" (when we can) can be helpful for some, especially when the concept is abstract to begin with.

This is just one way that we tried to bring long ago to today.  Video clips, songs, Little House Cookbook, making of paper dolls, are just some of the other ideas that we have for our students this year.  If you want to use this free powerpoint to bring long ago into your classroom, please try it out!!

How do you bring books to life in your classroom?


Word Callers Book Study - Chapters 7 & 8

I love the title of Chapter 7, "Connecting the Dots" because it is a great way to think about inferring, which is difficult for word callers.

Kelly Cartwright categorizes inferences into two types:  text-connecting and gap-filling.  Text-connecting inferences require a reader to connect two ideas from a text to construct an idea that is not explicitly stated in the text.  Gap-filling inferences require a reader to connect their background knowledge to a piece (or multiple pieces) of text information to construct meaning.  Word callers have trouble with inference because they have to connect MULTIPLE bits of information and talk/think about things that are not in the text.  What can we do to help them?  We need to "make students aware that there are hidden meanings in the text that must be discovered. (Cartwright, 2010, p. 98).

Working with students on an individual basis allows the teacher to provide more specific, feedback to that student.  Using the two-story clue hunt, helps students make text-connecting and gap-filling inferences by using clue words in the story to create those inferences.

How it works:
  • Explain to students that you will be solving a puzzle today as they read a story.  To solve the puzzle we are going to look for clue words.
  • Read the first story.  Identify the clue words and explain what the clue words reveal about the story.
  • Read the second story.  The student helps you identify the clue words and explains what they tell about the story.  For any clue words that the student doesn't identify, tell the clue words and work WITH them to develop an explanation.
Because word callers don't recognize reading as a meaning-making process, they need to be nudged in the right direction.

Three-step inference building is an intensive process that spans six to seven small-group lessons that result in students becoming active thinkers.

How it works:

  • Finding Clue Words (lessons 1, 2, & 3) - Students find clue words in sentences and discuss the meanings provided by the clue words.
  • Question Generating (lessons 4, 5, & 6) - Students become the teacher and ask questions using the clue words that will help their fellow students make inferences.
  • Making Predictions (lesson 7) - Use a story that has one sentence covered.  Have students use clues from the rest of the story to determine the meaning of the sentence covered.

Without explicit instruction in how to comprehend texts, we cannot expect word callers to become active readers.  We need to give these students a glimpse into the mind of a proficient reader by "actively engag[ing] students in a running conversation about texts' meanings and their own thoughts about those meaning while reading a text. (Cartwright, 2010, p. 113).  We can do these through a process called Transactional Strategies Instruction where strategies are blended into a meaning-making experience rather than taught and practiced in isolation.

How it works:
Gather a small group (this a conversational type strategy) and pick a common text to read.

  • Good Strategy Users - As you read the text, emphasize that good readers use strategies we can't see, highlight various strategies during the reading and explain the reasoning behind using that strategy
    • MEANING IS ALWAYS THE PRIMARY FOCUS not just using a particular strategy
  • Gradual Release of Responsibility - Provide a specific strategy for students to use.  Before asking them to use it, explain the reasoning behind using the strategy - How does it help a reader make meaning?
  • Collaborative Learning - This is a student-centered approach because the teacher releases responsibility to the students quickly.  Asking questions like "What makes you think that?" and having students explain their thinking to each other.
  • Interpretative Discussion - Teachers guide students' thinking by prompting them with strategy use questions instead of giving evaluative feedback.  Students contributions are valued and supported.
"TSI is about changing the way you teach, not just changing what you teach. (Cartwright, 2010, p. 114).

Questions to Consider (please use the comment section below to share your thoughts!)

Consider the difference between text-connecting and gap-filling inferences.  Have you noticed that your students find one ore the other more difficult?  Why do you think this is the cause?

How is TSI similar to your current comprehension instruction?  How is it different?

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10 Ways to Motivate Your Readers

Do your students love book projects? Check out this post for 10 ideas you can use to spark reading motivation!

What do you think of when you hear the word, "Project"? Maybe art supplies (or the lack of them), creativity, or perhaps, "There goes my relaxation time!" Well, I have students who are incredibly excited to share their enthusiasm for reading whenever it's time to make a project, and today, we'll explore ways to motivate, celebrate, and increase reading with your students through projects and other motivational techniques.


Reflecting on the year

Hello there!  It is great to be back with you, here at Adventures in Literacy Land. I have come to share with you some of my favorite reflections for the end of the school year!
It is the end of the year and a time of reflection.  For first grade teachers, especially, it is amazing to see the difference between beginning of the year firsties and end of the year firsties.  These kids have gone from non readers to fluent readers.  They have gone from exploring the pictures in books to discovering the words.  They have become lovers of stories.

This time of year I am simply amazed by the amount of growth my littles have made.  It makes me reflect on what we did to get to this point.  What are the things did we do to make such a difference?

I think that I could go on and on with the multitude of things that make a difference.  I think that we can all agree that it takes a little of everything.

Here are my top 3 things that I did differently this year to make a difference:

1. Fluency Folders - I did a previous post on fluency folders for the littles if you want to go back and check it out.  I think that this gave my students even more practice with reading aloud texts on their level and we all know that PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT!!

2. More concentration on phonemic awareness - This one really improved my students' writing as well as their reading.  We practiced daily but even more than that, we did extensive lessons on this.  I created phoneme segmentation packs that we worked on throughout the year.  We practiced segmenting sounds and syllables to spell out larger words.  We even played games to help us segment words!
We played head, shoulders, knees, and toes (one of our favorites).

We played hopscotch, where every hop was a new phoneme.

We even played a game in the hallway that I completely made up!  You can check it out here!

3. Decoding Strategies!  I have always done decoding strategies but this year I upped my game.  I created more centers to provide more opportunities for direct practice with these strategies.  Kids definitely need direct instruction in these strategies so that they can better understand them.

Here are the strategies that I teach: Chunky Monkey, Stretchy the Snake, Lips the Fish, Skippy the Frog, Flip the Dolphin, and Tryin Lion.  Last year, I added my Skippy the Frog, Flip the Dolphin, and a Chunky Monkey centers.  This year, I added Stretchy the Snake and some Chunky Monkey Flip Flaps.  These two new ones are my favorites!  Do you want to give them a try?  Here are some free samples! 

Chunky Monkey Flip Flaps Freebie

What did you do differently this year that worked?  What are your top 3?

Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter weekend!  I spent part of the long weekend reading Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst. I have a ton of thoughts running through my head now that I am finished.  I thought I would share two of them with you today to help me better understand what I have read.

Common Core Standards require students to closely read a variety of texts.  What does that mean exactly?  I have seen the posters everywhere on Pinterest and in the blogisphere that breaks close reading down to what you do each time you read the text (reading the text two to four times).  Many of those say that students should be annotating as they read.  My question has always been:  How are students supposed to know what they should be writing in the margins that is actually helpful in deeply understanding a text?  It seems too simple to just have them write a question mark next to a part where they have a question or an exclamation point next to something that was surprising.  If they are closely reading, there should be a transaction between the reader and the text.  Students should be thinking deeper about the questions they are having or why he or she finds the part surprising.  Beers and Probst give you six signposts that you can teach your students to help them dig deeper into the text and create meaning by transacting with the text at a deeper level.  What do you do to help your students dig deeper into a text without leading them to the meaning you derived from the text?

Another term that has risen to the top of discussion since the implementation of Common Core is 'text dependent questions."  In Notice & Note, the authors write, "We worry that a focus on text-dependent questions may create a nation of teacher-dependent kids...Text dependent questions usually suggest that a teacher has crafted the questions and the order of them to lead students to a predetermined meaning of a particular passage" (p. 43).   The authors suggest that teachers work with students to create their own text dependent questions.  They even provide a structure to help teachers do this with their students. (Clicking on the picture will bring you to Google Docs so you can download your own copy.)
I don't want my students to become dependent on me.  I want them to be independent readers.  Questions they create on their own are more engaging and authentic than any question I could ever write.  Students are trained that there is 'a right answer' when the teacher asks a question.  If I am the only one creating the questions, they will never fully engage in the text.

One sentence really stood out to me and I came back to it over and over again.

I would love to know:  What book has changed you?

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Are You Creating Wild Readers?

Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller is a game changer book. Check out this post to see how YOU can make your readers wild about reading.

Motivating readers can be a REAL challenge for teachers, so I'd like to chat about Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller. Several within our group of bloggers have read her books, and as you can probably guess, we loved them both of the books she's written! I will highlight what I've taken from the book, but by all means, if you haven't read it, please put it on your list of must reads after The Book Whisperer. If you'd like to check out the review of The Book Whisperer, you can access Lauren's blog post from February {here}.  

What does a wild reader look like in the classroom?  

Wild Readers Spend Time Reading

Donalyn introduces the book with discussion about how important it is to give students to time read during the school day.  Many teachers assign 20-30 minutes a day of nightly reading as part of homework, but she contends that we need to find time in the school day to hook the kids and help them recognize times when they can get their books out.  She uses a workshop approach to teaching reading and writing.  She offers mini lessons using mentor texts, anchor charts, graphic organizers, and materials common with most classroom reading instruction, and during the application of comprehension strategies, she pulls in independent reading and discussion.  It is through reader notebooks that her students reflect on their reading and practice using the skills taught.  She advises making use of time "on the fringes"  When might that be?  Here's a short list of times I came up with, and I'm sure you can add to the list.
  1. When kids are waiting for Library checkout, PE, or Music.
  2. During transition minutes between classes if you're departmentalized.
  3. After work is completed.
  4. While waiting for the bus at the end of the day 
  5. Before, during, and after lunch and recess.
  6. As students are arriving to school (This is a great way to de-stress and prepare for the day.)
  7. During guided reading rotations

Important point...

You must always be prepared for a reading emergency, and we need to help our students recognize the importance of carrying a book everywhere in order for them to open it and read.  To create wild readers, we each need to look at our day and find places where we can give 5-10 minutes blocks of time toward independent reading.

Wild Reader Self Select Reading Materials

Knowing your students' Lexile or guided reading levels has been ingrained in our heads over the past few years, and Donalyn advises that we not adhere exclusively to this.  Rather, we should consider interest and motivation when recommending books to students.  We need to be familiar with what our students are reading and know books well enough to offer options based on our students' interests. We need to remind our students that it's okay to abandon books when they aren't a good match and let book selection develop naturally.  When students make bad choices, they find the book doesn't hold their interest and eventually they'll abandon the book on their own, but if they are persistent in reading it because they are motivated, we certainly want to encourage them to push on. 

Donalyn urges teachers to read to their students high interest books that may lead to other reading options either by genre, theme, or by the same author.  Important point-To become familiar with what your students may enjoy, use websites such as, make lists of books recommended by your students, and consult your colleagues and librarian for ideas.

Wild Readers Share Books and Reading with Other Readers

One characteristic of young adult readers is that they enjoy talking about their reading, and through these conversations, comprehension improves.  In Donalyn's classroom, students keep (this star chart) and refer to it when they're giving book commercials or sharing with friends.  She also has her students read from all genre types in the 40 book challenge.  This form from Becca at Simply 2nd Resources would work well for students to track their reading genres. 

Another routine Donalyn has implements in her classroom is conferring with students.  She uses this time to take a running record, discuss the book with the students, assist them in planning for future reading, check reader notebooks, and to assess application of comprehension strategies.  At the reading conference I attended recently, Donalyn shared that she found herself feeling frustrated that she wasn't conferring weekly with her students. She advised starting with the top of your class list and working your way down before starting over.  She has been able to meet with each student three times per grading period this way.  She uses Evernote to keep her conference records which allow audio of the child reading, but I haven't had a chance to check that out yet. She mentioned the usefulness of being able to readily access the information for child study meetings or parent teacher conferences. This form (questions created by Regie Routman) can also be used to guide your conferring sessions as well., students need to time to talk about their reading with each other.  This builds excitement and can also be used by the teacher for grading purposes.  Donalyn has time set aside each Friday for reading commercials.  Students are asked to prepare reading commercials at the end of their reading and present them to the class. These are brief talks.  She discourages the use of lengthy book reports that bog students down and may keep them from reading.  One idea that Donalyn shared at the conference was to dedicate a bulletin board space to book recommendations.  In Andrea's post about motivating struggling readers, she shared this form you could use for students to recommend books to each other.  Donalyn used index frills, but when the same book pops up on the board multiple times, students infer that it's a must read.

Wild Readers Have Reading Plans

As previously mentioned, helping students plan for future reading is an important step in the conferring process.  Students should keep a list of what they've read to feel a sense of accomplishment, but they also need a list of what they plan to read in the future.  This expedites the book selection process at library checkout and helps avoid wandering from shelf to shelf the whole period too.  Students have their lists together and can quickly pull together what they're wanting to read and get on with reading.  These plans develop from conversations between students and from the teacher, and like the students, we need to have our list together too.  Donalyn keeps a list of books her students recommend to her, and she reads them.  In our busy lives, we may not read cover to cover, but it is meaningful to students to see that we listen to them and can talk to them about the books later. 

Reading Interest InventoryWhat about the dormant reader?  You know...the child who abandons book after book and often fake reads?  One way to entice him/her is through the sharing of a new book picked especially for him/her that matches his/her interests. Giving students a survey at the start of the year may help you in knowing your students' interests and reading tastes. Donalyn mentioned that she often uses part of the conferring time to visit her classroom library with the child to find a stack to pick from.  If you haven't done an interest inventory, you could use {Donalyn's}.  There are many inventories available online, or I also like this one from Joanne Miller at Head Over Heels for Teaching.

Finally, since I mentioned the classroom library, I'll take a minute to talk about them.  Even if your school has a well stocked library, it is very important that students have access to an attractive and well organized classroom library.  Even if your classroom is small, dedicating space for a cozy reading nook sends the message to your students that you see this as an important component in your instructional routine.  Make the reading area inviting and organize books in a way that students can see them easily.  If maintaining the library is a challenge, put a responsible student in charge of taking in and putting away the books.  You might put together baskets of your recommendations and put on display seasonal books, books that fit a theme your studying, or books from various genres.  

Wild Readers Show Reading Preferences

As the year progresses, you will see that your students have reading preferences.  Their star charts will contain more books from a certain genre for sure, and reader bonds will form between students who gravitate toward the same reading preferences. This is a sign that you've created wild readers. By showing students various genres, we are taking them to the reading buffet.  They may do a taste test only for some genres, or they may discover they have a new favorite food to devour.  The key is for us to show them the buffet and help them develop their tastes. 

Are You Reading in the Wild?

Finally, I'll end with this question.  Are you reading in the wild? We, as professionals, should keep up with our practice.  We need to read professional books in order to keep ourselves abreast of current research.  We also need to read for pleasure.  We, like our students, need to read on the fringes and keep a book on hand for those reading emergencies.  We need to talk about our reading with colleagues and friends.  Aside from these two books, I'd also recommend a few professional books that I have either read or plan to read. Several of us are participating in a book discussion through our blogs for Teach Like a Pirate this summer, and we'll share more details about that later.  Others I'd recommend...
  1. Comprehension Connections and Genre Connections by Tanny McGregor
  2. Teach Like a Pirate by David Burgess
  3. Falling in Love with Close Reading by Chris Lehman
  4. Strategies that Work! by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis
  5. Daily Five and The Cafe Book by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser
What professional books have inspired you?  In the comments below, please give your book recommendations. You may share a professional book, favorite novel, or books you enjoy sharing with your students. If you'd like to encourage your students to write their own book reviews or would like to contribute a review of your favorite books, Donalyn has begun The Nerdy Book Club as a place for book recommendations.  You can also read her blog at [this link].

Now...go out and find a great book!

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Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller is a game changer book. Check out this post to see how YOU can make your readers wild about reading.