It's almost that time of year again when parents and teachers everywhere are all waiting for the same thing- THE HIGHLY ANTICIPATED CLASS LIST!! After 25 years of teaching and 27 years of child-raising, I can safely say that I have been a member of both groups and remember keeping my fingers crossed for a good outcome! I've spent time in both camps. Each group has high hopes for the other party and a wish list of "secrets" that they wished the others knew. From many years of listening in the faculty room and the bus stop... here is a short list of secrets from both groups:
What Parents are Hoping for this Fall
A teacher who will:
Parents who will:
Here's hoping for a wonderful 2019-2020 school year for parents and teachers everywhere!
Additional resource on parent -teacher conferences:
Teaching is one of the few professions that can boast of having 2 New Years. For most teachers, September is the official and first "Happy New Year" of the season. Teachers return to school in the fall- rested and hopeful that this will be the year that their new behavior and organizational systems will work like magic and that somehow they will keep that summer feeling for more than a week. By November, after Open House and Parent Teacher conferences have done their damage... most of us are ready for a reboot...again!
And this is where teachers get really lucky...January is our official second "Happy New Year" of the season! How fortunate that we can stop, catch our breath and tackle the second half of the year with renewed optimism and energy. This January, I have written just a few simple resolutions that I hope to keep in 2019. Maybe... these are on your list, too!
1. I will reread my job description. Twenty years ago, it was pretty obvious. Teachers help children to learn. These days, my to-do list ranges from in-house clown/entertainer to professional room decorator to counselor of character/kindness/morals. All of these roles are fun, interesting and important, but I find that they pull me away from my intended purpose... helping individual students to learn!
I promise to help kids learn.
2. I will make real connections with my students. How busy are we when we haven't even looked up to notice that someone got a new haircut, lost a tooth or is wearing a new team jersey? I hope to look every child in the eye- everyday and have a conversation that goes beyond- "Where is your homework?" 10 minutes talking with your kids in the morning goes a long way to motivating them to work hard for you the other 6 hours and twenty minutes of the day.
I promise to build a connection with every child in my room.
3. I will make memories. I received a letter right before the holiday break from a former student that is now a middle schooler. She described some of the activities that we did in our classroom that had an impact on her-i.e. celebrating our favorite read alouds with the "Bookie Awards", singing Hippo Birdie on someone's special day and she asked about my dogs- Chip and Ollie. All of these were little things... but that is how the best memories in life are made.
I promise to remember that memories are made from the little things we do everyday!
Happy Second New Year- teacher-friends! Hope the second half is even better than the first!
Question: What is highly interesting to elementary kids, but highly feared by teachers because of the rigor and many moving parts??
Answer: Nonfiction Texts, of course!
Almost every child in my third grade class has a favorite nonfiction topic in which he/she is an expert. They have read about the topic, watched videos on it and would love to talk to you for hours about it... if you let them!
Teachers understand the challenge of reading nonfiction texts - the domain-specific vocabulary, the text features, and that pesky main idea concept. But if you can capitalize on a child's interest and break down the parts into small instructional bites, nonfiction texts can be a powerful addition to your reading program.
Here are some nonfiction strategies and ideas that I have used in my classroom:
Traffic Light Reading -the use of Traffic Light Reading can help students to monitor comprehension of informational text systematically and eventually independently. I usually introduce this method by describing the difference between driving in a familiar place (reading fiction) vs driving somewhere at night, in the rain- in a place that I've never been to before (reading nonfiction). I continue with this analogy, describing how I will need to review the route before starting out(preview the text), going slower than normal (slow down your reading pace) and looking for all of the road signs along the way( use text features). I may also need to go back and retrace my path if I get lost (rereading). Then, I distribute the traffic light signal cards. These are great for elementary kids to physically move the traffic light to the red, yellow and green lights as they move the stages of reading informational text. Each color corresponds to a step of reading informational text.
RED-Stop- Before Reading:
What do I already know about this topic?
Did I look at the pictures and bold-face words?
Get your post-it notes ready!
YELLOW- Slow Down- During Reading:
Can I tell myself the important facts so far?
Do I need anything clarified?
GREEN- GO- After Reading:
What did I learn?
What was the BIG idea?
What do I need to remember?
Record these ideas on your post it notes.
2. Find the WHAT and the So What? This is a strategy from Jennifer Serravallo's book Reading Strategies. She explains that most children are pretty good at naming the "what" of the main idea. They find this in the title... and usually go no further. The next step is the critical one- prompting kids to describe the "so what". This causes them to look deeper into the text to see what the "what" is mainly about. This takes a lot of practice, but I have my kids do it with an informational text that is always at their instructional level with little text on each page.
See photo below taken from The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo.
3. Include a nonfiction text with each library checkout each week: This is a new practice that I have started this year. My students are allowed to checkout a maximum of 4 books/week from our school library. I ask them to make one of their choices a nonfiction book from several leveled collections that we have in our library. ( I love the leveled DK Readers) They keep these at school in their book bins, which is helpful so that I can work in small groups on all kinds of nonfiction skills at any time. And... they are practicing reading informational texts at their instructional level.
These are just a few practical suggestions for making informational texts a standard part of your reading plans each week. Read more about these strategies from the experts below:
prezi.com/rvdjgxvctvtv/traffic-light-reading/ Traffic Light Reading Strategy
www.orange.k12.nj.us/cms/lib7/NJ01000601/Centricity/Domain/1297/Main%20idea%20Strategies%20Gr.%205.pdf- Main Idea Strategies by Jennifer Serravallo
I sometimes joke with my class that I wish their noses would light up like Rudolph when they are struggling with a passage! We all laugh, but I sort of mean it.... The problem with reading comprehension is that we often do not realize that a child hasn't understood what he/she has read until we are grading the tests or asking questions after we've finished a story. We are left wondering- when and where did the comprehension break down and was the child even aware that they weren't comprehending the text?
Awareness and recognition of a problem is the first step to solving it. With reading comprehension, getting kids to see that they aren't thinking about their reading is key. I usually spend the first few months of school helping to get kids to that point. Once they realize that reading is thinking, they are on their way!
Here are some strategies and tricks that I use to help make reading comprehension more visible to the child and the teacher:
1. Real and Fake Reading Charts: These are charts that we make at the start of the school year. We list the visible behaviors that are indicators that someone is really reading. The students help brainstorm this list with the teacher. Behaviors may include: reading at a reasonable pace, being able to tell someone what you've read, liking or not liking a story for real reasons, being focused on the text, etc. Fake reading also has behavioral clues. These include: reading too fast, reading too slow, looking around while reading, not being able to summarize the story, not liking reading, being unable to answer questions about reading. I hang these charts in the reading center and refer to them all year. My students are very familiar with my question..."Are you "fake reading" or "real reading". That phrase has help them to understand that reading is thinking!
1. Click and Clunk Cards- These are simple red and green cue cards that kids use to signal their understanding or confusion about the text they are reading. The goal is to help students to self monitor their comprehension ..... to think about their thinking. Depending on the comprehension level of the student, he/she might need to stop and check comprehension after each page, paragraph or maybe after every sentence. I use these simple cards with whole group instruction while they are reading silently, I walk around looking for students that are displaying their red card. I will quietly sit next to them to help clarify the confusion until they are back on track...clicking away! This is a great strategy for small groups, as well. Also helpful is this Reader's Check Sheet to help students identify why they are clunking.
This CheckSheet is from www.intervention.org. I have used it with students as young as second grade. We keep these in our Reading Notebooks and refer to them every time we read.
Check out this resource from the expert on making reading comprehension more visible!
bit.ly/2PElK79 Click and Clunk Strategy
Twenty minutes. That's the amount of time that teachers usually have... to gain insights from parents about their children, share important information with them and hopefully build a relationship while making a good impression. Parent-Teacher conferences can be both challenging and rewarding when done right. Here are some tricks that I have picked up along the way from fellow teachers and have discovered from many years of hosting parent conferences.
Before the Conference:
1. Prepare like you are cramming for a midterm exam! Start early and create a cheat sheet of notes for each of your students. I review data points from all of these areas: Current grades, DIBELS scores, Lexile reading levels, notes on what students are currently reading, #of library books checked out that year, #of missed homework assignments, and observations made during small group conferences. Once you collect and review this information - a profile of a child's current progress starts to emerge.
2. Pre-Conference Parent Surveys- I have created q simple, 2 question survey for parents to complete before coming to the conference. Asking parents to list their most pressing concerns before arriving at the conference helps to ensure that important topics are discussed and resolved. This year, I used a survey monkey form to help facilitate a speedier return of data.
3. Student Feedback Forms- I have a colleague (Colleen from teachingheart.net)that has her kids fill out questionnaires about their work habits and current progress before conference day.
She shares these forms with parents on conference day to facilitate better discussion.
4. Gather materials to share with parents. Ex. writing portfolios, work samples and hand outs to help parents support children from home.
5. Prepare the conference area: I like to set up a table so that my chair faces a clock to help keep us on track. And make sure that the chairs used for parents are the same size as the one you are using. I have seen teachers sit in their own chairs while putting parents in larger student chairs. I feel that this sends an authoritarian message that doesn't foster collaboration. I also like to put out Kleenex, paper and pencil for note taking and a bowl of mints or candy.
6. Hang a note on the door:
Parents, please knock at the door when you arrive to help keep me on schedule.
7. Send a reminder note a few days before the conference day.
During the Conference:
1. Start by asking this question: "Is there anything that you would like to ask or make sure that we talk about during this 20 minute session?" A lot of times, teachers are so quick to jump right in and share information with parents that they forget to make it a conversation. Additionally, parents might then wait till the last 5 minutes to bring up a topic that might take 15 minutes to explore. When it is your turn to share information, remember to start and end the conference with a positive comment about the child. There is nothing in the whole world more important to me than my 3 daughters, and I try to remember that every parent sitting across the table from me feels the same way about their child.
2. Take notes during the conference. Often during the meeting, as I am addressing parents' concerns, I will make a promise to find out information or to provide support in some way for a child. After 24 conferences, trust me... you will not remember specific details unless you have written them down.
After the Conference:
1. Follow through with your promises. Make a list of things that need to be done or followed up on for each child and try to complete that list within a week of the conference date.
2. Send an email thank you to every parent. This is a great way to summarize what was discussed and it also helps to build relationships.
3. Set a date for a follow up conference for those children that are at- risk for academic and/or social issues. It helps parents to know that you will be touching base again with them in the near future.
Although, this might seem like an exhausting list of things to do for a short parent meeting, those 20 minutes can really reap great rewards for successful conferences!
Researchers in this area predict that student-led conferences are the future. Click here for more information on this interesting trend.
And... comment below and share your opinion and/tips on how to make conferences better!
Sometimes it seems like there's nothing scarier in October than..... Open House!!
The endless room preparations, counting and recounting everyone's projects to make sure they're all there and the anticipation of making small talk for a couple hours is enough to make the bravest teacher begin to shake! Over the past few years, I have found that providing activities for my families to do while visiting- is a great way to take the scary out of Open House!
Here are a few easy ideas to help make your families feel welcome in your room:
Whole Class Journal Station: I use these journals at our writing center on a weekly basis. Students choose one, write an entry and draw a picture about the topic. I have used these journals for several years, so students enjoy reading what past classmates have written. On Open House night, I invite families to write in a journal of their choice. These are always some of our favorite entries to read later in the year!
Readers' Choice Board: We use this board to vote on our recent read alouds. Students move their tee-shirt magnets to indicate whether or not they liked the book. On Open House night, I put out copies of the poem What I Like About Autumn. Families read the poem aloud and then vote with the magnets to show if they liked the poem.
Pennsylvania Young Readers' Choice Awards: We have spent the last few weeks reading the K-3 PA Young Reader's Choice Award nominees. My kids have loved all of the titles shown on the board above. On Open House night, families will vote on their favorite title and results will be shared in our next newsletter!
Hope these ideas will help to make your Open House more engaging for you and your families!
Most teachers love crafts....I am NOT one of them! So when I see a DIY project that I'd like for my classroom - I usually head to Amazon to see if it can be purchased! But in the case of these Demonstration Notebooks and Microprogression Charts, I am ALL IN for this DIY project. Here's how I make them and use them with my small groups:
Demonstration Notebooks are a collection of strategy sheets that a teacher can use when working with a small group of kids that are struggling with a specific skill. They are concise "talking points" for teachers. Demonstration Notebooks are like having cheat sheets at your fingertips for all of the critical reading comprehension skills. I share these with my students, too. I will often have them read the notes before we even begin to discuss them and to practice the skill.
I am in the process of creating these strategy sheets for all of the important comprehension skills. This is a DIY project in the making...
Micro-Progression Charts are a great way to help kids to see the steps they need to take to get to mastery. All reading and writing skills can be broken down into progressive steps from start to finish. My kids love to check out the charts to see at which level their work falls. These are concrete examples of what we are hoping for them to achieve.
Pictured above is a micro-progression chart for summary writing that we used for the book- How To Eat Fried Worms.
Want to learn more about these DIY projects? Check out this DIY LIteracy video by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts.
Have you ever experienced that feeling of loving a book so much that the characters become your friends and you are swept into their lives every time you turn a page? That is the feeling that I strive to create for my students whenever we read a class novel. I want them to have a "conversation" with the characters as though they were sitting across the table from them. Some kids have never made that kind of connection with a book, but I believe that we can teach kids to notice the important "sign posts" that help them to connect to the story.
Last week, my friend and colleague, Kristi shared information with our third grade team regarding a close reading strategy known as Notice and Note. Notice and Note by authors Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst teaches kids to watch for 6 signposts that alert them to significant moments in the text and to question these moments through rereading and discussion. I love that these "signposts" can be used as a universal strategy with any text that you read. Here's how I use them in my classroom:
https://bit.ly/2fk3b7z - Watch Beers and Probst explain Notice and Note
https://bit.ly/2RgAp5R - Posters and other resources to use Notice and Note in your classroom
.At the start of every school year, I am faced with the same challenge..... some of my kiddos can read fluently, but they aren't comprehending the text! One of the best techniques that I have employed in my classroom is Reciprocal Teaching... aka The Fabulous Four! Reciprocal teaching is hardly new. It has been around since 1984 - first named by Palincsar & Brown. Since then, countless researchers have demonstrated its effectiveness in the classroom. In fact, Dr. John Hattie's studies boast a 2 year reading increase in just 1 year of instruction by using Reciprocal Teaching. I love the way author- Lori Oczkus has renamed the technique, The Fab Four because it teaches kids four powerful strategies that good readers use when they read. They are predicting, questioning, summarizing and clarifying. Oczkus emphasizes the two key points of Reciprocal Teaching:
1. Kids are using all four strategies while reading vs practicing just one strategy during a lesson.
2. Kids are actively discussing and using these 4 powerful strategies.
In my classroom, I have found that if I make it fun.... kids will beg to do the technique that I know is good for them... sort of like sneaking veggies in the brownie mix! Here's how I use Reciprocal Teaching:
1. Small group instruction- Kids sit in a circle with each child holding one of the Reciprocal Teaching cards. After reading a chapter together, each child takes a turn leading the group with their card. After each student is done, the group may share their thoughts and add to the step.
2. Use props to accompany the cards. This definitely ups the "fun factor". Here are some props that I use:
Predict- Small snow globe- to resemble a fortune teller's crystal ball
Question- Microphone- to resemble a reporter asking a question
Summarize- A Glove- to remind them to use a 5 finger summary strategy
Clarify - A magnifying glass - to help us look closer at a challenging word or phrase
I use Reciprocal Teaching for class novels, close reading, basal stories and almost any passage that my students are reading. It is research based and highly engaging. Give it a try this week and let me know how it worked for your class!
As always .... check out what the experts have to say about Reciprocal Teaching:
https://bit.ly/2NBU3Lt - Dr. John Hattie, Visible Learning
https://bit.ly/2ptD538 - Lori Oczkus, author of Reciprocal Teaching at Work
This week, we finished our read aloud, How To Eat Fried Worms, by Thomas Rockwell.
But instead of just talking about it... I surprised my kids with cups of dirt filled with worms! After the screaming subsided and everyone calmed down, I pulled out the chart paper and pencils- and the Shared Writing began! Shared Writing is a a great way to model the essential steps of the writing process -while you are writing about a common experience that you have had together. The ideas for a shared experience are limited only by your imagination. In the past, my kids have written about everything from Building a Life-Size Scarecrow to The Perfect April Fool Surprise, which involved playing a trick on our friends across the hall!
Top 3 things that I love about Shared Writing are:
a. You can focus on any writing skill that you are currently practicing.
b. It provides support and scaffolding for your struggling writers.
c. Best reason of all- IT IS FUN!!
Follow these easy steps to try it in your classroom this week!
STEPS of SHARED WRITING
The first step of shared writing is to create a common experience for the class. This is an event in which everyone participates or observes and can later generate thoughts and feelings about and eventually write a common story. Elementary school classrooms are full of opportunities to generate common experiences for kids. It is something that elementary school teachers do naturally. They look for ways to make the learning memorable and lasting for students. Common experiences are what children remember when they look back on the year they spent in a classroom. Lessons are easily forgotten but a shared experience is still being talked about long after the year has ended These might include a science experiment, a walk to the school garden, a visit from a speaker, a school assembly, a class party, etc. Ideas for shared experiences are limitless! The teacher can take pictures of the event to help preserve the memory.
And check out another source of writing that I use in my classroom:
Jeff Anderson- Write Guy