Sunday, July 31, 2016

Morning Meetings in the Classroom


     Have you been thinking about adding morning meetings to your classroom? I love doing morning meetings and have seen how effective they can be over the years in my 2nd - 5th grade classrooms. When other teachers sometimes ask me how I fit it all in, I try to explain that doing morning meetings has so many benefits that I feel like I gain time with better classroom behavior and community. 

So, what are the benefits of morning meetings?
  • Creates classroom community
  • Fosters individual feelings of significance and belonging
  • Sets the tone for a respectful class culture
  • Supports social and emotional learning
  • Increases academic achievement
The morning meeting began as part of the Responsive Classroom Movement, years ago. While I love their work, as with everything in the classroom, you kind of have to tweak things and make them your own. My version is NOT a Responsive Classroom traditional model but it works for me. I'll share what I do here but I don't believe by any means that it's the only way to do morning meetings. Teaching is kind of a smorgasbord... take what you like and what works and leave the rest!



1. Prepare a Morning Meeting Area
You'll want to have a place where the whole class can gather and sit comfortably. Some teachers use a rug, some teachers like to have the kids sit in a circle, but my meeting area has a futon, 2 chairs (mine is on the left here) and lots of carpet space. When I assign classroom jobs for the week, some of those jobs are tied to the futon privilege (that person is allowed to invite 2 - 3 kids to join him/her on the futon for the meetings) and the chair is another privilege too. The rest of the kids sit criss cross on the carpet facing the futon.

2. Teach Expectations (Rules)
Like everything else, having expectations set and reinforced is a must! If not, you're likely to end up with some sort of chaos and we know we don't want that! Here are a few of my morning meeting expectations:
  • Find your spot quickly and quietly (kids sit wherever they'd like unless it becomes a problem. It rarely is a problem).
  • Sit criss cross if you are on the floor.
  • Raise your hand to speak (some teachers like to toss a ball to the speaker)
  • Show respect to the speaker (fellow student or teacher)

3. Start With News of the Day (Share)
Classic Responsive Classroom Meetings start with a greeting, which I skip. You can sure add it in if you'd like. I start by having the kids share something that's going on in their lives. This is not mandatory sharing and we might not get to everyone who wants to share but one of the important tips about morning meetings is to keep things moving at a quick pace. Boredom is one thing you want to avoid. So, I call on maybe 3 - 4 students. They know that the rules for this are:
  • Must be about you or someone in your close family - no sister's cousin's boyfriend's mother.
  • Must be school appropriate (always have to put that one in for the few kids who try to push limits).
  • May not be about dreams - Sorry, just not interesting for other people. 
  • May not be about video games - If we're not playing, we don't want to know (I added the last two rules for myself because I can't take it any more, people!).



4. Character Education Read Aloud
Our morning meetings are character education driven. I have always believed in teaching to the whole child. One of the best things about being a teacher is that we can influence the world by helping to shape the lives of the students in our class. So, each month, we focus on a character trait and our read alouds for morning meetings revolve around that trait. After the read aloud, we briefly discuss the character trait examples or nonexamples we saw in the story. If you're looking for specific titles, I do have a great list in my Character Education Bundle Kit that I use for all of my morning meetings.

5. Activity
This part of the morning meeting can be so much fun! The trick is to keep it interesting by adding some variety in the kinds of activities you choose. Again, pace is important and the younger the child, the shorter the attention span (in general), so fast and fun is what we want. One of the things you could do related to character education is to have the kids take a self-reflective quiz, to see how they are doing on a particular trait (no one shares the results and they don't even tell me. They love these though!). Sometimes we do discussion task cards that go with each trait. We also do something completely unrelated to character education to practice social skills and simply to build community and to have fun together. We may play Would you Rather (ask a question with 2 possible answers and each child answers), or play a game we call Name Four. One child is it in the center of a class circle and I name a category (names of presidents, names of capitals, names of football teams...) and the child who is it tries to name 4 things before a bean bag/ball/small stuffed animal is quickly passed from one classmate to another and back to me. There are millions of things you can do. Google for lots more ideas!

I do have one resource that I use for morning meeting faithfully. It was a labor of love to create and while you can do morning meetings without it, this is a true time saver and something you may use year after year. It is an 11 unit (choose your favorites or use the extra for summer school) Character Education Kit for grades 2nd - 5th.



I also have a free Caring Unit that will take you through a month if you'd like to give it a try. I



Even in a high stakes testing era, relationships matter, classroom community matters and morning meetings are an effective way to have an impact on your students as individuals and as part of a classroom community.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Foster Growth Mindsets with Free Learning Centers!

Foster growth mindsets within your students this year with these four FREE learning centers!

Growth mindset… it’s one of my favorite movements to sweep across the education world in recent years. After reading Mindsets in the Classroom: Building a culture of Success and Student Achievement in Schools by Mary Cay Ricci, I decided to create a Growth MindsetPowerPoint and a set of partner plays. When I finished those items, I thought I was done creating for this concept. However, during a recent loooooong road trip, I was inspired to create some growth mindset stations, and make them available for free to our blog readers. 

Station #1

Because of my ESL background, I have a love for visuals. This station is based upon what researchers have discovered about how our brains operate. Researchers have discovered that when we learn a new skill or piece of information, pathways are created in our brain between neurons. These pathways are weak at first, but become stronger as we repeat and practice the skill. To show how these pathways become thicker and strong with repeated practice, I created the following visual. Students begin by using a colored pencil or marker to color the neurons shown in each brain. Students then glue (or tape) thread on the first image, ribbon on the second image, and then yarn and rope (or chord) on the last two images to connect the neurons.
1 of 4 FREE growth mindset learning centers! Students learn how pathways are created between brain neurons... and how practice makes these pathways stronger.

Station #2

Dealing with mistakes and failures in the most positive way possible is the focus of this second station. Students read the scenarios on the two cards. At the bottom of each card, students are instructed to write about the event from the perspective of a person with a fixed mindset in the first speech bubble on their worksheet, and to write about the event from the perspective of a person with a growth mindset in the second speech bubble.
1 of 4 FREE growth mindset learning centers! Students explore how to deal with mistakes and failures through a growth mindset.

Station #3

As we teachers know, positive self-talk is powerful. A few upper elementary students do this automatically… it’s simply how they think. Many students, however, need to train their brain regarding positive self-talk. Negative self-talk happens all too easily. Replacing that negative self-talk with positive self-talk is the focus of this station. Students simply replace the negative statements shown in the left column by writing positive statements in the right column. If there is enough time, I also allow my students to cut Xs out of construction paper and glue them on top of the negative self-talk thought bubbles.
1 of 4 FREE growth mindset learning centers! Students explore how to replace the negative self-talk associated with fixed mindsets with the positive self-talk associated with growth mindsets.

Station #4

Another thing we teachers know is that the ability of students to differentiate criticism from feedback is an ability that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. When students arrive at this station, they read the scenarios on the two cards. At the bottom of each card, students are instructed to pretend that they are talking to the classmate described in the scenario. They are to write what they would say to help that classmate view the teacher’s (or coach’s) remarks as feedback rather than criticism.
1 of 4 FREE growth mindset learning centers! Students explore how positive feedback can be perceived as criticism, and how that attitude can be changed using a growth mindset.


If you’d like to try using these stations in your classroom, click HERE to download! Also, be sure to check out Meg's post about growth mindset! Do you need another station? Visit my personal blog, Crafting Connections, for one additional free station!

Also, feel free to check out my PowerPoint and partner plays- just click on the images below. These stations would be an excellent follow-up activity after working through the PowerPoint with your students. The stations line up with the 5 main topics covered in the PowerPoint.

Growth Mindset PowerPoint and worksheets. This file includes directions on how to split this PowerPoint into a 5-day mini-unit... perfect for back-to-school time. Five growth mindset worksheets are also included!

Growth Mindset Partner Plays- 5 scripts students can read with a partner to improve fluency. This set focuses on growth mindset concepts and includes a free worksheet that students can complete after reading each script!


Thanks for visiting today! Don’t forget to hop over to my blog to grab one additional station! 



Sunday, July 24, 2016

Choosing the Perfect Novel to Start the School Year


Reading aloud to my students is such an important part of my classroom routine!! It's a practice that I like to start on the very first day!! There are so many wonderful benefits to reading aloud to students that there is no reason not to get started right away!! If you are not already reading aloud to your upper elementary students on a regular basis, keep in mind some of these amazing benefits:


  • Read-Alouds instill a love of reading in students and help them to build an appreciation for great books.
  • Read-Alouds introduce students to amazing new genres and authors that they might not necessarily be drawn to on their own.
  • Read-Alouds allow students to access texts that may be beyond their individual reading levels. 
  • Read-Alouds are perfect for teachers to model reading fluency.
  • Read-Alouds provide the perfect opportunities to teach, model, and practice reading strategies and skills!!

With novel read-alouds being such a meaningful part of language arts instruction, it's important to make sure that you select just the right books!! And I feel that it's even more important to make sure that you pick just the right book to start the year out on the right foot!!

Here is the criteria that I consider when selecting a book to start the year...


First, you want to select a book that is going to hook readers right from the start. At the beginning of the year you will be establishing a routine that you will want to last until the very last day. You want your students to enjoy every minute of their first read-aloud, so that you will have them begging for more, even after you finish your first novel!! Some things to consider when selecting an engaging book:

  • Does this book include characters that students can relate to?
  • Does this book cover topics or themes that may interesting or relatable to your student population?
  • Do the chapters end with cliffhangers or foreshadowing?
  • Is the story easy for students to follow as a read-aloud?

If your students are HOOKED on the first book you read, this will only help build and encourage the routine of reading aloud to your students. The goal is for students to be excited to come into class each day, ready to hear a good story. Each year after we finish our first novel, my students CAN'T WAIT to see what we will read next.


So much of what we do at the beginning of a school year, relates to setting behavior expectations and building a classroom community. The novel you choose to read in those first weeks shouldn't be any different. Think about what character traits you would like to see in your students and what types of relationships you would like to see them build. When choosing a novel, it's important to choose one with character traits and themes that are similar to those you would like to see in your students. You may want to choose books that fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • Encouraging kindness
  • Celebrating differences
  • Overcoming obstacles
  • Hard work and determination
  • Learning from mistakes

If you pick just the right book, with just the right themes, you will be able to use your read-aloud to discuss the types of behaviors and sense of community that you hope to build in your classroom during those first weeks.


In the upper elementary classroom, there is no reason that you should not start teaching from the very first day!! Reading novels aloud to your students is the perfect opportunity to start teaching reading strategies and skills. When choosing a novel to read aloud, you may want to plan ahead to see what skills and strategies you want to teach during those first weeks. Then choose a novel that will cover those skills. Whenever I read a novel aloud to my class, I like to use a planning guide to focus on certain strategies and skills, and to outline what I would like to focus on as we make our way through the novel. Of course, I do not always follow my plan, but it is still great to have one in place!! Here is a Novel Planning Guide that is perfect to use when aligning your skills, strategies, and standards to the novels you choose throughout the year.

The first weeks of school are also a great time to teach routines related to writing reading responses. In my classroom I like to use Reading Response Journals throughout the entire school year. Students use their journals to "respond" to the different novels we read all year long. I always use the first weeks of school to have students put together their journals for the year. Click the pic below to learn more about my Reading Response Journals.


So at this point, you are probably wondering "Which book is the PERFECT novel to start the year?!?!" Of course, I have my own personal opinion!! For the last three years, my FAVORITE read-aloud to start the year has been the novel Wonder by R.J. Palacio. For me, this book has a little bit of everything....

  • The first chapters have students laughing out loud and the final chapters bring them to tears.(happy tears, of course) This book is engaging to students from start to finish!!
  • It is told from multiple points of view, allowing students to connect with different characters. 
  • Important themes are covered (kindness, friendship, overcoming challenges, celebrating differences) allowing for great classroom discussion and community building.
  • A variety of reading strategies and skills can be applied (connections, questioning, predictions, character traits, theme, plus much more!!)

While this book has worked wonderfully for my 4th and 5th graders over the past few years, I know that there are so many other fabulous books out there. When choosing a book to start your year, please remember to consider the criteria above, the grade level you teach, and  your own student population!! Happy Reading!!

    

Sunday, July 17, 2016

How To Implement Positive Classroom Behavior- An Easy Classroom Management Plan

How to Implement Positive Classroom Behavior-  An Easy Classroom Management Plan

  

Have you ever had that child who pushed your buttons on a daily basis? Are you having a difficult time controlling your class? Do they tattle, make poor choices, argue, or complain?  This post will provide ideas to handle these types of situations in a positive manner.  Putting a positive spin on classroom management will reduce your stress and make your classroom a happier place!  Students will be more apt to help each other, open up to you, build relationships, and participate in class.  Try some of the following ideas in your classroom!

1. CLASS RULES:
Either create class rules together like a Class Constitution or provide Five Basic Classroom Rules.  Even if you create a class rules list, more than likely they will boil down to these 5 rules like the following and the class will still feel like they were part of the decision making.

1.  Follow directions the first time.
2.  Raise hand for permission to speak.
3.  Be prepared.
4.  Keep hands, feet, and objects to yourself.
5.  Be polite to others.

2. SPEAKING TO STUDENTS
Speak to students in a polite manner.  If you are frustrated. instead of yelling, “Line up quietly!”, say calmly, “We can line up when you are quiet. If we are late for lunch, I’m sorry.”  Many times standing at the door quietly pretending to look at your watch works well too.  Here is a list of other positive statements.
3. ISOLATED CHAIR
Instead of calling your isolated chair a “Time out” chair, why not call it something like, "Soar Chair" or "Reflections Chair"? Tell them, “I want to see you soar!” Place a form at the chair to fill out so they can reflect on how to make things better.  Keep the chair in your room, not in the hall, so they can still get something out of the lesson. Tell them that they can excuse themselves back to the class after they reflect on a positive solution. If it continues, send the student to a “soar” chair in another classroom.  Make prior arrangements with another teacher that when you need to use her soar chair, you will bring the child over.  Tell the student, "I really want you to be a part of the class, so write your thoughts down and we will discuss later!" The reflection form can be very simple.
Sample reflections:
What behavior do I need to change?
How can I change my behavior in a positive manner?
I am ready to go back to my seat.  Yes or No
Note to teacher:


4. KEEP TEACHING
Don’t interrupt your lesson to deal with tattling, complaining, or poor choices. Allow them to calm down, which also gives you time to think. Continue with your lesson. Say, “I’m sorry you are having this experience or I’m sorry you are not having a good day. I would like to help you, but not during a lesson. It isn’t fair to the other students. I can talk about it during recess or another time.”




5. AWARDS AND POSITIVE PRAISE
Offer awards throughout the year, not just at the end of the year. Students can collect them in their agendas or take them home to place on the fridge. It is never too much to hand them out monthly or even weekly!  Give awards for things as simple as, “I am proud of you for learning your multiplication facts this week!” or "Thank you for helping out a classmate."  Positive praise is also important.  Don't miss an opportunity to compliment or praise a student.  Encourage students to do the same in your classroom.   A simple praise will go a long way!  It is even nice to call home or email a parent to let them know something positive.  The students will love it!


6. REWARDS
Offer rewards and it doesn’t have to be candy!  You can just randomly give them a reward or have them keep track of their awards or positive behavior on a card., then give a reward when a goal is met. For example, get 5 stars to get a reward! Pick out of the basket or jar for the reward or have a treasure chest filled with items for rewards. Some reward ideas to place in a basket or jar:

  • Sit at the teacher’s desk.
  • Be first in line.
  • Take shoes off for the day.
  • Sit next to a friend.
  • Pick a free pencil.
  • Have lunch with your teacher.

7. WHOLE CLASS 
Implement whole class awards and rewards. It will help students to encourage each other to have positive behavior. Keep a goal chart or fill a marble jar for the class so they can see their progress!  When they reach a goal, then the class gets a reward!  It is a great idea to have rewards ready.  You can either tell them the reward they are working towards or put reward ideas in a basket and pick one once they reach the goal.  Some class reward ideas:

  • Everyone picks out of the treasure chest.
  • Extra recess
  • Sit by a friend
  • Ice Cream Party
  • Dance Party

8.  CHOICES
Give your students choices.  It is ok if you decide on the choice selection, but they will appreciate their voice.  Vote on choices as a whole group (Do we want to have extra recess or watch a movie?) and allow students to make choices on individual work. (You can handwrite or type the final product.)


9.  GET TO KNOW YOUR STUDENTS
Find out your students' interests.  This can be done through an Interest Survey.  Make small talk with each student individually.  "How was your soccer game?"  If one student in particular is making poor choices daily or you don't seem to connect with him or her, make arrangements for them to help in your class after school or go see them participate in an after school activity or sport.  Talk to the parents and let them know your intentions.  The child will see that you care and it will give more conversation ideas for in the classroom.  Although it may be difficult to fit in your busy schedule, it can make a huge difference and cause less stress for you the rest of the year.



10. MAILBOX
Have a mailbox on your desk for personal notes. This will open students up  to share things that may be bothering them, but are afraid to tell you. It will also allow you time to deal with the problem. Tell students that they can tell you anything and you will make time to listen or deal with the problem.  Student will appreciate you taking the time!

***I hope these ideas will be helpful to you in your classroom!   If you are interested in a classroom management plan with rules, awards, rewards,  goal cards, reflection forms, and more click on the picture below.  A printed version of these ideas are also included or click HERE.







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Sunday, July 10, 2016

5 Tips for Setting Up Your Math Centers

Math Centers can be a challenge, but they don't have to be! Here are 5 helpful tips and ideas for setting up your math centers for back to school! Grab the math game FREEBIES!!


Math centers can be a BEAST in the classroom!  There are a lot of working components and it can all easily blow up in your face.  Yes, I sound a bit dramatic, but if you've done math centers in your classroom, you understand.  Math centers are amazing and can be a highly effective way to conduct your math time, or they can be a complete disaster! Before you jump into math centers this year, here are a few steps you can take to get off on the right foot.

1. Get Organized!

Before the year even begins, I spend time finding math games, prepping them, and organizing them for the school year!  I like to make a list of all the topics I teach so I can be sure I am getting games to cover ALL standards.  You can choose to do a simple search on Google to find some games, or you may want to search "Math Games" on Teachers Pay Teachers to save some time.  Here are a few FREE math games I have in my shop that your students are sure to love!

Math Centers can be a challenge, but they don't have to be! Here are 5 helpful tips and ideas for setting up your math centers for back to school! Grab the math game FREEBIES!!


2. Come up with a Schedule

This is different for every teacher.  You need to consider how much time you have, how many rotations you will use per day, and how many groups you will split your students into.  I try my best to have about 4 groups (if class sizes allow).  I stretch my math time so that I can meet with all four groups each day, but that isn't typical.  If you can meet with at least two groups per day, you are on track.  Three groups per day is even better.  I like to give myself at least 20 minutes per rotation.  I've tried less and more, but 20 minutes seems to be the perfect amount of time.  Here is a sample schedule.

Math Centers can be a challenge, but they don't have to be! Here are 5 helpful tips and ideas for setting up your math centers for back to school! Grab the math game FREEBIES!!


3. Activities Galore!

There are a ton of possible centers you can use in your classroom.  This is the time to think about the types of centers you want to use.  Here is a list of centers I prefer.
  • Review Game - A review center gives students the opportunity to continue to practice concepts already taught. 
  • Math Game - This game focuses on the current skill we are working on.  
  • Calendar Math - I am a big fan of Calendar Math.  It offers a way to review LOTS of skills on a regular basis.  You can learn more about Calendar Math in the Classroom HERE.  
  • Problem Solving - Another great center is a Problem Solving center.  Students can never have too much experience with solving real-world problems in math.  
  • Technology Center - Use a set of laptops/tablets, or even your smart board, and have your students complete a task or game based on the math skill you are working on.  I've also used QR codes!! No matter how you use technology, your students are going to love it!
Math Centers can be a challenge, but they don't have to be! Here are 5 helpful tips and ideas for setting up your math centers for back to school! Grab the math game FREEBIES!!


4. Set-up Your Spaces

Imagine you are sitting at your small-group table working with a group of students. What is the rest of your class doing?  Where are they located?  It is important to think ahead and have a plan.  I like to choose spots around the room that are easy to see from where I am working, yet spread out enough so groups of students can work without interfering with each other.  You may want to have a little area set up in each location you choose with a specific activity and directions.  I like to keep things simple and consistent.

Math Centers can be a challenge, but they don't have to be! Here are 5 helpful tips and ideas for setting up your math centers for back to school! Grab the math game FREEBIES!!


5. Consider What COULD Go Wrong

Even though you've taken the time to prep games, set-up you schedule, plan out activities, and set-up your classroom, lots can still go wrong.  You need to consider how you will manage your classroom during this time.  Here are a few things you may want to think about...
  • How noisy do you want your classroom to be during centers?
  • Will student work in partners of 2, 3, 4, or independent?
  • Where will materials for each activity be?
  • What should a student do if they have a question?
  • Are students allowed to move freely around the room, or should they stay in their center?
  • Will students have work to turn in? If so, where?
  • How should students transition from one center to the next?
  • How will the students know when a center is over?
If you can answer and plan for each of these questions, you are ready to go!  Now all you have to do is spend the first few weeks of the school year teaching your students how to work in centers.  Be sure to make your expectations, rules, and procedures clear before officially starting math centers in your classroom.  You got this!
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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

How Teachers Can Stay Afloat As Summer Sinks By




July 4th marks the half-way point for many teachers across the U.S. In just a little over a month, most of us will be heading back to our classrooms. Yes, we have lost track of what day it is, and haven't had to set an alarm for weeks, but that six letter word that starts with an "S" is rapidly approaching.

We have come up with a list of our top 10 things teachers should do before another summer passes us by.

1. Binge watch your favorite shows! We have been watching Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and many others. Netflix probably wants to charge us more (even though they just raised the price again!)

2. Get to a pool. We don't care if it is a small kiddie pool that you can buy at Wal-Mart, or if you have a friend who has an above ground or in ground pool, water has a great calming effect. If you have a public pool nearby that works too, but be warned that you will probably see students you know there!

3. Take a vacation. Now, we know living off of a teacher's salary can be tough so don't think you have to go to Hawaii for a week. A vacation can be a short drive away or even in your backyard. You could go to a place that has great scenery, camp out with your family in your backyard, or just declare the next Saturday and Sunday "The Weekend of Fun" and each person in your family gets to decide on one fun thing they want to do. Vacations are necessary and a great way to create memories.

4. Don't set your alarm until you have to! We know that your kids may have classes/events during the summer, but if at all possible, get that much needed sleep that you will be praying for once school starts. Sleep is an amazing thing. It recharges your batteries, and clears your mind. Turn off that cell-phone or bedside alarm and catch more z's.

5. Get together with friends and/or colleagues. Summer is a great time to schedule some fun events with your closest friends. Just think of how many times during the school year you have thought about doing this. Now is the time to act and do something fun!

6. Keep up on the latest trends in education and any new curriculum adoptions that your district may have done. It is OK to do some teaching-related things over the summer. It may help reduce the stress when you return, if you are behind on new things that you have to do this school year.

7. Another thing you now have more time for is exercise. Take walks or do bike rides with your family, do those workout DVD's that have been collecting dust. Garden, or do yardwork. Exercise is just as good for the mind as it is for the body.

8. Complete projects around the home. Summer is the perfect time to cross off your "to-do" list. It can be small projects or even big remodel ones. But take advantage of the time now before it's too late.

9. Read. Now, we didn't say what to read. That is up to you. One of our preferred magazines is still Sports Illustrated, but now we actually have time to read novels that we may use with our students. We also have time to read adult novels too. Reading is a relaxing way to spend a rainy summer day.

10. Smile. You have worked your tail off during the school year. Summer is the time to get your smile back. Smile every day. Smile at your family. Heck, smile and say "Hi" to complete strangers. It makes you feel so much better!


We hope you will do some of these tips with the remainder of the summer. We would love to hear what you think teachers should do before summer is gone. Please add your comments!



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Sunday, July 3, 2016

3 Key Books About Best Practices in Teaching Reading

Hopefully this post is finding everyone relaxing and enjoying some time off school.  I know some of you have been on break for ages--and others just wrapped up your school years this past week.  If any of you are looking to "recharge" your reading instruction for the next school year, I thought I'd showcase three of my favorite professional books on the topic!

Closer Reading: Grades 3-6 by Nancy Boyles



Nancy was kind enough to grant me an interview last year where I shared with her some of the questions my own teammates and readers have had about "close reading"--what it IS, and what it is NOT.  It's a trendy term, for sure.  If you want to read more, check out the interview by CLICKING HERE.  This book really was a gift for my team.  We did parts of it as a book study, and it really helped us get on the same page about how we were going to define "close reading" and how we could see it helping both our whole class instruction (which it did) and our options for interventions with students struggling with comprehension (this is what we are working on now).  If you want to read more about this topic, I have found her book to be the easiest, most practical guide about how to get started making changes in your reading instruction.  The book is geared specifically for intermediate students, so it is a perfect match for what we do on a daily basis!

Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst


OK...this book was a total game changer for me.  Seriously.  I always thought I was a pretty decent reading teacher--especially with my "think alouds" that I would do with both picture books and chapter books.  What this book made me realize is that there are certain elements in good literature that a few readers notice naturally--but MOST students do not and need them explicitly taught!  Once I started doing so, I could not BELIEVE the shift in discussions in my classroom!  Honestly!  Students not only applied this during our read alouds--but during their book clubs and even independent reading!  I am absolutely positive that this book changed the quality of my instruction.

In a nutshell, Beers writes about six "signposts"--elements found in almost all novels (after a very in depth study of many books).  She talks about how identifying and studying these "features" can help unlock comprehension for many students.  For example, one such signpost is "Words of the Wiser"--my students LOVE to point this one out!  Have you noticed in many many books, there is a character that shows up occasionally (or maybe even only once) to prove some insight or important information to another character who is going through something?  Once students start to recognize this in the books they read, it helps them realize that this is a critical part of the story and they need to tune in.  I am making this far more simplistic than it really is--and the book does a WONDERFUL job discussion text complexity, close reading, and many other critical literacy concepts.  This is a "must have" book for anyone who teaches reading in grades 4-6, in my opinion!  Not going to lie...had to make some fun mobiles a few years ago to have hanging in my room to showcase them!

The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo

This is a very interesting book in that I look at it almost as a reading teacher "menu".  I found it extremely helpful last year when I was planning instruction for my intervention groups...I had found myself doing the same old thing over and over--and Serravallo's book was the perfect place to go to try to shake things up in my own mind.  The book is organized by reading skill cluster--"Supporting Pre-Emergent and Emergent Readers", "Supporting Comprehension in Fiction", "Teaching Fluency", and so on.  Once you know what you are working on with your class or small group, take some time to browse through the section and get inspired with lesson ideas, anchor charts, and more!  I love that she stresses what reading level "band" the lessons are appropriate for...I had one kiddo who was reading at a first grade level last year...so that is a nice feature as well.

The fact that the pages are so well organized is a bonus--and just leafing through it is like looking at a Pinterest board full of reading lessons!

I think it's really important as we plan for our next year, to be really thoughtful of  the amount of "real reading" our students do.  It is so easy to get caught up in standards, and high stakes tests and skills--and forget that research clearly says that the best way to learn to read and write---is to read and write!

I am fortunate that my district is supportive of a balanced literacy program that not only encourages, but requires chunks of independent reading.  In fact, to be considered "at grade level", our fourth graders are expected to be able to sustain independent reading at "just right level" books for a minimum of thirty minutes.  Explicitly teaching those behaviors around this are a critical part of starting my school year.  Skills such as...

*Picking "just right" books
*Learning to tune out distractions
*Rereading to make sense of books
*Knowing how to troubleshoot when meaning breaks down
*What genres of books are there--and which interest me the most

and other skills are an important part of my back to school reading instruction.  I want to make sure my students are actually READING when it's time to read!  I use a lot of the information in this resource to help guide me in case you feel this part of your school year could use a new twist.  Thanks for stopping by and have a fabulous and safe Fourth of July!


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