All Posts By

Rachel Cornett

Culture Motivation Reading

Best Friend Books

February 15, 2018

The Beauty of Repeated Readings

I recently had the opportunity to hear one of my favorite literacy experts, Lester Laminack, speak on the topic of reading stories multiple times.  Repeated reading is a subject that I have touched upon previously during our discussion of interactive read alouds.  However, Dr. Laminack reminded the us that repeated readings of books are so much more than just another instructional tool in our teacher toolboxes.

He stated that we have “best friend books.”  These books, like best friends, are the ones you turn to time and time again.  These books can bring us comfort in times of turmoil due to their dependability.  We feel confident reading them, because we already know the conclusion by heart.  Students naturally uncover the more complex themes and meanings in books they adore over time since they spend so many hours in these texts!

Lester made an interesting point during his speech.  He said that schools and teachers are perhaps doing “something” unknowingly to discourage the re-readings of books.  How do we know this?  Simple fact: Parents send us students who LOVE to hear the same stories over and over.  Schools send back students who do not like to reread.

Think of any toddler you have ever met.  If you have read to a young child, you know they request the same books to be reread over and over again, sometimes until you are blue in the face.  Something happens when kids enter schools, though, claims Laminack.  Kids are suddenly bored by the same old books, or they refuse to reread a book on their own.  Are we as educators discouraging repeated readings?  Do libraries let students renew the same book multiple times?  Do teachers encourage students to “pick a different book on their level” or choose a variety of books to take book tests over?  Do we bore students to death with repeated fluency probes?  Is the education system subliminally sending the message to our kids that rereading is bad?

This is all food for thought.  Make sure you encourage your students to read what they are interested in reading, and advertise Best Friend Books in your classroom, too!  You know we all need our BFFs!

Reading

Renewed Focus

January 22, 2018

Introducing Shared Reading

Happy New Year!  Ahead of us lies an entire year’s worth of learning potential, for both ourselves and our students.  However, we cannot forget about previous goals not yet achieved.  Tennessee’s Read to be Ready campaign launched a few years ago with the goal of improving the literacy skills of students across our state.  Specifically, the Read to be Ready campaign unites stakeholders across Tennessee in the pursuit of one common, critical goal – by 2025, 75% of Tennessee third graders will read on grade level.  The campaign is driven by five key beliefs: early literacy matters, but it’s never too late, reading is more than sounding out words, teachers are critical, and it takes a community.  Maybe your school or district has already been involved in this campaign in some form.  You can find out more by visiting the resources on the Read to be Ready page.

One of the strategies that Read to be Ready coaches have been trained in to bring back to their schools is the practice of shared reading.  Reading Rockets lists some of the benefits of employing a shared read in the classroom:

  • Allows students to enjoy materials that they may not be able to read on their own
  • Ensures that all students feel successful by providing support to the entire group
  • Students can act as though they are reading if they cannot yet
  • Helps novice readers learn about the relationship between oral language and printed language.\
  • Assists students in learning where to look and/or focus their attention
  • Supports students as they gain awareness of symbols and print conventions, while constructing meaning from text read
  • Assists students in making connections between background knowledge and new information
  • Focuses on and helps develop concepts about print and phonemic connections
  • Helps in teaching frequently used vocabulary
  • Encourages prediction in reading
  • Helps students develop a sense of story and increases comprehension

2018 has arrived, and this leaves Tennessee educators with just seven short years to boost our students’ reading proficiency statewide.  Is your classroom on the right track? This year we will continue to explore shared reading ideas to help boost your students’ literacy learning. See ya next post and cheers to the new year!

Language Reading Writing

V is for Vocabulary

December 19, 2017

Learning New Words

What individual component of reading instruction is most highly correlated to comprehension?  Vocabulary! The more words you know, the more knowledge you possess.  For every word that you can access the meaning to, you can apply that word to your background knowledge and even your speaking or writing.  Give your students the gift of gab this holiday season and by working towards building up their vocabulary!

The top researchers argue about the number of exposures to a word it takes to truly know the word.  There is a discrepancy in the research is since the amount of practice needed with a new word varies greatly among individuals.  Since there is no conclusive evidence on this matter, teachers should think about what vocabulary instruction will best meet your students’ needs.

Even though we are not certain how many times a student needs to practice with a new word to fully “own it,” you might have guessed that a one-time worksheet exposure to the word is simply not going to cut it.  Students need multiple exposures to a word in text and in real life contexts.  I always go for a goal of about 20 exposure to a new vocabulary word with my students.  Yes, some needed more time and some needed less- but 20 exposures is always a good starting point.  Besides introducing the words and having the students use the words in sentences, think of some other ways students will be held accountable for using their newly acquired vocabulary words.  I had students keep a “word bank” of weekly words in their desks that they cut out during small group time on Mondays.  Each day we used the words in some way. Some days I gave a definition and they had to see how quickly they could pick up the word I was describing.  Sometimes we put the words in alphabetical order.  Other days we looked at lexical features such as the number of syllables or phonemes a word had.  Websites like Wordle or WordItOut create word art or word clouds for your viewing enjoyment, too.  A vocabulary journal works well for students to illustrate new words and refer back to ones they have learned over the school year.

If your students already know a meaningful part of the word, or morpheme, they will be able to better pick up on the new word’s meaning.  Therefore, we teach affixes such as prefixes or suffixes.  Students can study roots, too.  The English language is made up of many Greek and Latin roots, so having a base knowledge of the more common roots will help your students immensely.  Refer to this chart to help you out and good luck with your lexicon learning!

Featured Writing

Cashing In – Writing Grants For Your Classroom

November 20, 2017

Grants: How to Get One for Your Classroom

As an educator, it seems you can never have enough classroom funds! The money goes quickly when you are trying to fund a large project or obtain new instructional materials to help make learning come alive! I have even been able to use grant funding to attend an expensive week-long literacy training. Here are some tips for getting a grant no matter your desired need. I will make this information literacy oriented, of course, but there are plenty of aspects to grant writing in this post that apply to all subject areas.

Step One: Decide what you need. Seems obvious, but you need to wrap your head around what supplies you are needing or what project you would like to complete with your students first. Once you have a clear vision, you will help your donors or the grant committee understand the purpose of your requests. As tempting as it may be, you cannot just say “give us all the things.” You may have many items you would like to purchase for your classroom, but remember to streamline your needs into a cohesive, attainable project. Bonus points if the materials are reusable or the project can be sustained for consecutive years and/or with multiple classrooms.

Step Two: Find the right funding source. You will never be awarded a grant or extra classroom funding if you do not do your research and apply to the correct foundation, etc. Grants usually have specific guidelines about what types of materials they will fund and what they will not. For example, if I am wanting to purchase some more books for my classroom library, I probably do not need to apply for a STEAM based grant. Unless, of course, I am wanting to purchase STEAM related literature. There are loopholes like that in some grants, but I encourage you to read the fine print so you do not waste your or the foundation’s time in applying. For literacy grants I like to look locally, such as my local library system, my county’s reading coalition, or local businesses that support literacy. I highly recommend the Dollar General Foundation’s literacy grants for obtaining literacy based help for your school. Through funding Dollar General gave our state I helped a school win a $12,000 grant for a summer reading program. I also recently received $3000 for my own classroom to put towards intervention instruction. Ca-CHING! Thanks, Dollar General! My students and I are SO excited!

Step Three: Professionally submit your requests. No text talk here! Spend some time looking over the specifications of your grant application. Have others double check it to make sure your vision and story are clear. The better others understand the use of the materials you are requesting, the better your chances are of receiving a grant. Answer all questions fully and look for examples of winning requests. Remember, originality and creative ideas are a must to stand out from the crowd! Check with your school bookkeeper to learn if there are any stipulations on the school’s end for receiving grant funding. I know some school systems have phased out Donor’s Choose applications due to issues with final ownership over the teaching materials should the educator change schools. Also, by all means, if you are awarded a grant, be certain to thank the donors and to follow up with any necessary evidence or paperwork in a timely manner. You can bet you will not be selected again in the future if you fail to submit the proper documentation.

Step Four: Don’t give up. I can tell you that I have certainly written more grants than I have received. As disappointing as it is to put so much time into something and not receive anything from it, trying and failing is still an important step in the learning process. Maybe you can revise the grant and use it again next year? Try proposing the same idea with a different donor. Work on a team to write the grant. Did a deadline slip up on you? It happens all the time. Make a note far in advance to try for that grant next year. Usually, the first time I learn about a grant it is too late to apply for that year. I just put that grant down several months before it is due on my next year’s calendar and I think about ways to tackle the application in the meantime. I hope some grant funding falls your way in the future. It is so exciting to receive that “Congratulations” email or letter. However, this can never happen if you do not apply. I encourage you to take the first step today!

Organization Reading

Organizing Home Reading Practice

November 9, 2017

Reading Folders

Just like one can use Little Red Writing Folders to organize classroom writing assignments, you can also designate folders for reading practice.  We utilized these folders for take-home purposes. I realize many schools do not assign “homework” anymore, but it seems the majority of schools will allow for some guidance on reading practice at home. I found the folder method to be very helpful in organizing students’ reading responsibilities. This simple folder format allowed even the youngest students to take ownership over their nightly literacy practice and parents were thankful for the ease of nightly homework rituals.

Our folders were the sturdy plastic types and could hold a book in each pocket. In the front pocket, we typically placed the basal reader that students had been practicing in class. Our “assignments” followed the same trajectory every week, with the warm-up story needing to be practiced Monday nights, the main story on Tuesdays, the supplemental text was read on Wednesdays, and the main story was reviewed on Thursday nights. Since we needed the basal textbooks for both in class and at home practice, the folders helped my students keep up with where their books were at all times. To everything a place, and everything in its place! The back pocket of the folders could hold extra mini readers they were working on in small groups for extra fluency practice, too.  Library books are an option here, too, but sometimes those books did not fit our folders’ pockets.

Also like the writing folders, the resources in the middle of the folders were my favorite. One can pretty easily differentiate what is placed in the page protectors attached via prongs in the folder’s center. My students helped me switch out the pages, too. Some items I have used in the past include sight word practice pages, parent letter, decoding strategies, sight word phrases, fluency poems and songs, reading logs, reading contest forms, and my favorite- the Elkonin boxes page for spelling practice. Elkonin boxes or sound boxes were used in class to practice spelling words, then used at home, too. The students loved them and I saw an increase in true spelling understanding!

Overall it was just nice to have a folder that equated simply reading. When parents and students saw it, they knew they had a grip on their assignments and knew where everything they needed to practice was located. Even as an adult I believe that half the battle of completing tasks is having items you need to accomplish your goals organized and easy to access. Try out a reading folder with your class today!

Back to School Classroom Community Language Morale Reading Technology Writing

Cornett’s Book Corner

November 1, 2017

“Wonder”ful New Book Recommendation  

Welcome to November! Fall is in full swing and it is an awesome time of year to curl up with a good book! I hope you are modeling great reading practices for your students and perhaps even your own children. Keeping up the classroom reading is important, too. Here is this month’s review.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

     I have seen this novel utilized in so many fantastic ways with upper elementary and middle school students, and now there is a younger student version, too. In today’s day and age of selfie photo perfection and judging all that is “different” as wrong or bad, this book is a needed read for discussion of these issues with your students. The main character Auggie Pullman is about to begin 5th grade in a public school after being homeschooled for years. He has a significant facial deformity that causes others to look away in fear. Even though he looks different on the outside, he feels the same as everyone else on the inside. As one book reviewer from Kirkus Reviews put it, “Auggie may be finding his place in the world, but that world must find a way to make room for him, too. A memorable story of kindness, courage and wonder.” For instructional purposes, I love that it is written from various viewpoints! There are many digital resources available to accompany your study of this novel with your students. Check out the publisher’s website to see all of the related texts. This website has many downloadable Wonder teaching resources, too. The author’s page shares some helpful classroom discussion questions, too. There is even a Wonder app! Many teachers use this book at the beginning of the year to foster a classroom as a community environment and have their students take the #choosekind pledge. This month, on November 17, there is even a movie of the book coming out starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson. It will be all the buzz, I’m sure, so get a head start and read this novel with your students. If I were you and you were me- remember to keep the tissues nearby when reading this book aloud to your class. Just so you know, this book is based on a child with an actual rare genetic condition called treacher collins syndrome. I leave you with this quote: “You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.” I’m not crying- you’re crying! 

 

 

Organization Writing

Little Red Writing Folders

October 21, 2017

Organizing Your Students’ Writing

I needed to make writing a bigger priority in my classroom. There are as many ways to approach writing instruction as there are types of writing utensils! So, I started simply. I got myself and my students organized first. This began with red, plastic, pronged folders. Since writing was going into these folders, I naturally had to name them “Little Red Writing Folders.” Just like that, it stuck.

First, I numbered the folders on the outside with a permanent marker. Since they were plastic they usually lasted a few years and could be reused without student names written all over them.

Now, what goes into a little red writing folder?

Whatever you want, really. Of course, this does depend a bit on the grade level you are teaching. I think the only rule here is to not put TOO much into the folder. It is a “little” red writing folder after all. My folder for the first graders consisted of a few basics. First, you need writing paper in the folder. I placed this on the left-hand side of the folder. If your students are too messy with supplies, you may only distribute one page of writing paper at a time or have a designated tray in the classroom for fresh writing paper. On the right side of the folder, there was room for unfinished pieces or pieces ready for “publication.” I have seen writing workshop folders labeled “in progress” on the left and “finished” on the right side pocket, but again this depends on if you want to store fresh writing paper in their folders or not.

The center prongs of the folders are where I like to have resource pages. There are plenty of options here. I definitely recommend page protectors to keep those resource pages in place longer, and also to ease the transition of different pages over time. Place one or two page protectors in the folders and fill them with: writing prompt ideas the students generated, writing reminders/rules/checklists, sight words/vocabulary words, sequencing words (first, then next, last), model writing samples, or writing style ideas. The possibilities really depend on your writing focus and where your students might need some independent guidance. Here is the checklist I liked to use with my first graders. Since it was in a page protector, students could literally check off this list with their dry erase markers.

Happy hunting for resource pages for your own Little Red Writing Folders. Even older students will get a kick out of the organization of your writing folders. Tootles!

Motivation Reading

Growing Minds Think Alike?

October 13, 2017

Growth Mindset + Literacy

You know what I am hearing a great deal of discussion about in the education arena today? I keep hearing about growth mindset. I love it! You know what I do not hear a lot about in these conversations? For some reason I am not hearing much discussion about growth mindset in regards to literacy skills. And, as you might have guessed, I don’t love it. It seems to me that the growth mindset concept, which has been evolving over the years, leans towards mathematics. While there have been a few attempts at adding literacy into the conversation, I think we as educators can do a better job. Here’s a start to an ongoing conversation we will be having about this topic.

What is Growth Mindset?

Just in case you are out of the loop, let’s get you into the loop. Growth mindset’s main constructs were developed by Dr. Carol Dweck’s research. When investigating mindset we learn that one can have either a fixed mindset: believing that you can never grow or improve in an area, or a growth mindset: believing intelligence or ability is malleably and can be cultivated to grow over time with work, patience, and practice. Actually, one’s personal philosophy can go from one end of the mindset spectrum to the other and it can always change over the years. Your mindset can also change depending on the task at hand. As a teacher, maybe you have a growth mindset about the potential of your new class of students this year, but you have a fixed mindset on your ability to ever be caught up with all that grading.

As Dr. Dweck says in a more recent talk, you do not really ever achieve a complete growth mindset, it is something to always be striving towards. Some folks, with good intentions, skewed her original message and thought that growth mindset it something you achieve in a day. In actuality, growth mindset might not be fully achieved over a lifetime and it can be applied to all aspects of your life. I will leave you with this TED Talk featuring Dweck as she discusses some of the ins and outs of her mindset concept. Hopefully you will be thinking about ways to better incorporate this philosophy into your teaching and we will specifically be discussing its use in literacy instruction next time we get together. Bye for now!

Motivation Reading Technology Writing

Cornett’s Book Corner

October 4, 2017

Monthly Book Reviews

In the spirit of keeping up with a few new pieces of rich literature for read aloud or to add to your classroom library, I began featuring two new books for you to check out last month. This month we have two additional finds you may or may not have seen before, but I suggest considering them for your classroom needs.

TEK: The Modern Cave Boy by Patrick McDonnell

Is it a phone? Is it a tablet? Is it an iPod? No, look closer. It’s an actual book! This story’s illustrations make it look like one of your favorite handheld technological devices. Maybe this feature alone will draw in some of your reluctant readers during our technology driven times.

The beauty of this story is that it weaves the ideology that technology may not always be all that it’s cracked up to be. In fact, Tek’s obsession with high tech devices leads him to be very disconnected from reality. Think cave man life here. As a lady that still rocks a flip phone, I can really relate to this story’s message. We need to make sure that our students understand both the advantages and disadvantages to being “plugged in” all the time. Use this fun story to help set the notion into motion that everything has it’s time and place, but moderation is key. Hmm. I’m sensing this would be a great text to use with author’s purpose and theme. To avoid irony, I hesitate to mention that this book does have a YouTube video, but it might be an option for your student’s viewing pleasure as well. Just promise me you won’t forgo all actual text for videos, ok?

 

10 Things I Can Do to Help my World by Melanie Walsh

Not a new book, but new to me. This book was introduced to me this summer as a selection one of the Read to be Ready summer camps had used in their programming. Being the tree hugger that I am- I LOVE it! I loved it so much that the teacher sharing the book with the group gave it to me to keep. One of the best features about this book are the pages- many of them have cut-outs, flaps, and creative ways of displaying the text. It is just an awesome book with an even more awesome message. I think it would be a wonderful option for building fluency since the students will hardly be able to put it down because it is simple in nature and they’ll want to play with the pages. It would also be a great text to use with a follow up writing prompt concerning other ideas students generate about helping our world. Help your world and help your classroom library by checking out this book!

 

Creativity Reading Writing

Book Corner

September 27, 2017

Cozy Up with New Literature Picks

A topic that we need to talk about more in our literacy blog is: BOOKS! What are you and your students reading? Any new favorites? Here are a couple I was recently introduced to that you may find a use for in your classroom, too.

Ordinary People Change the World Series by Brad Meltzer

We had the chance to hear from Brad Meltzer, the author of this amazing series, at Scholastic’s “My Favorite Teacher” Breakfast at the ILA conference in Orlando this summer. Brad is definitely an inspiring individual himself, but his books bring to life heroes from history in a kid friendly format. In fact, many teachers are already familiar with his work, but I had no clue how vast his series had grown. I read the Jane Goodall story and enjoyed the fact that it started describing her life as a child and showed the steps she took along the way to achieve her goals. What an awesome concept for students to see how they can become role models and great achievers, too. There are plenty of titles to choose from and the collection is expanding all the time. These would be great for read aloud in most classrooms (yes, even high school students like to be read aloud to!) and awesome additions to your classroom library as well.

 

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Teacher preference showing here- I LOVE cats. Even if you are not crazy about the furry felines yourself, there are a lot of wonderful opportunities for using this book with your students. We were introduced to this text during Tennessee’s Read to Be Ready summer reading program because of its originality and implications for instruction. First- it is just a neat text. It features simplistic writing with repetition for our youngest learner’s engagement. I would not limit this book to early childhood, though. Each page’s beautiful illustrations (it is a Caldecott Honor recipient) show the cat from a different animal’s perspective. There are plenty of speaking and listening opportunities with this text if you discuss why each animal views the cat differently. There are art and science connections when you consider the illustrations or the scientific reasons a particular animal views the cat the way he does. Lastly, I think it would be a great model text to inspire creative student writing, too. Have your students think of another animal or object and then write about others’ perspectives of it. My cats give this book two paws up and I am sure your students will enjoy it, too!