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Text Time

September 15, 2018

Regarding the “Time in Text” Concept

This school year one of the big catch phrases regarding literacy instruction is “time in text.”  This concept is one of our district’s main focuses. We are finding in our observation data that students are not getting enough time during the day to encounter text and they are not being held responsible for wrestling with the features and ideas presented in the literature. These findings correlate with data gathered from around our state. With the latest NAEP data revealing that reading scores have remained relatively flat across our nation once again, students not spending enough quality time with quality text has been one of the hypothesized culprits.  My guess is the same could be true of literacy instruction in your district and even your own classroom, too. How do we approach time in text?

I still believe it comes down to integration of all literacy skills within worthwhile texts used in class. The more time students spend in books, the better readers they become. No, I’m not talking about kiddos becoming readers through osmosis! Students will not become better readers through simply holding books. However, making books an exciting part of your classroom is a great start. The texts you teach your concepts from need to be selected carefully and build knowledge sequentially. Don’t just think of a comprehension skill you need to teach and then find a book that will work. Look for quality literature and see what comprehension skills naturally lend themselves to be taught through the pages in the story. Graphic organizers can help students collect their thoughts, but don’t let filling out a graphic be the whole point of the literacy instruction. Graphic organizers are more about getting the students talking about the text constructively. Time in text does not mean just adding silent sustained reading times to your classroom schedule. It includes time for discussion and application of what was learned.

Yes! But…

Yes, I’m a huge supporter of all things foundational skills. However, more and more of these skills can be reinforced through the text. Yes, you should have decodable text at times in early literacy instruction, but you should not live there. Any application activities, such as incorporating grammar though writing, should explicitly tie back to the text used in class. Spend less time in the I DO part of the lesson and more time with students in the YOU DO part of the lesson. Yes, it is necessary to meet students where they are instructionally and find books on their level. When you are able, though, give students a say in what they are reading. Students will need to spend time in texts above their level, too, to help push them along. Ask authentic questions about the texts they are reading and give students time to really talk through what they are reading and thinking. A key word there is TIME. It won’t happen overnight, but giving students plenty of time in text is a worthwhile cause and not just a silly catchphrase in education that should quickly fade away. Time in text may be a simple concept, but when implemented properly, both teacher and students will surely reap the benefits!

Language Phonics Reading Writing

Catching Up with ILA

May 15, 2018

Resources from the International Literacy Association

If you are looking for a wonderful conference to attend this summer, I recommend the International Literacy Association’s (ILA’s) annual conference.  It is not just wonderful, it is the best! This summer the conference will take place in Austin, TX and is reasonably priced as far as conferences go.  Bonus points if you can attend with your fellow teacher friends as a mini getaway or if you have your school fund this fantastic PD opportunity for you.  Even if the price tag of attending is coming out of your own pocketbook, being allowed into the vendors area with all the free giveaways is worth it alone!  Last year I left the conference with over $500 in free books and resources for my classroom. On a related note- pack an extra suitcase for hauling all your literacy loot back home.  If you are an ILA member you will receive discounts, and, if you are a preservice educator- you can attend for FREE! I wish I had taken advantage of this offer before I began teaching.

Speaking about the ILA, each year they put out a survey to their members about what topics concerning literacy education are HOT.  For the second year in a row, the topic of early literacy took the number one spot on the survey.  Why wouldn’t it?  After all, a great foundation in early literacy paves the way for almost all future literacy success in students.  Check out this cheat sheet for a summary of the other major takeaways from the 2018 What’s Hot in Literacy? report.

I found the ILA’s new resource for explaining phonics to parents to be a nice document to have access to as well.  Phonics can be a mind-boggling topic for many, especially if one was not taught to read with phonics instruction themselves.  Last but certainly not least, I need to mention that the website is one of ILA’s greatest all around resources for educators.  Lesson plans, ideas, PD, encouragement and inspiration- it has it all!  Just when I assume everyone knows about this incredible literacy resource, I meet a teacher who does not know about its wonders.  So, there you go. You are welcome! Even if you did already know about ReadWriteThink, you may have forgotten about it.  I encourage you to take another peek at this website today!  ILA and its resources will always steer you in the direction of the best literacy practices, so be sure to keep up with what they are offering frequently.  You will not regret it!

Language Phonics Reading Writing

Shedding Light on Literacy Notebooks

August 25, 2017

Uses for Student Notebooks

It is the start of a new school year and there are plenty of new notebooks just waiting to be filled by eager students. Their parents purchased three spiral bound notebooks (per the supply list) and a local organization donated some extras to your classroom, too. Let’s see- you have your writer’s notebook, your math talk journal, and your science inquiry diary. Are there new ways you can use notebooks or journals in meaningful ways to teach literacy in your classroom? You bet!

Writer’s Notebook

A writer’s notebook, as referenced above, is a great place to begin. I am not talking about a writing notebook filled with answers to prompts, but rather one filled with writing driven by student interests. What do students want to write about? Let them! You may read the students work or you may not. It can be up to the students to share or “publish” their work, too. Just like students may have some free reading time built into the day, why not let them have free writing time, too? Inspire the love of writing and cut down on all the rigid requirements when you can.

Vocabulary Notebook

Next- consider a vocabulary notebook. You can begin with the basics and have students record new words they discover and their definitions. Students can create drawings that represent newly introduced words, too. However, if you really are looking to have students dig deep into the investigation of new words then you may have them do a word study notebook. You could use these journals in daily “word talks,” like math talks, but for new or complex vocabulary words. You can have students talk about the meaningful parts of words, known as morphemes. This can begin with something as simple as discussing the meaning changing when adding a prefix to a word in the early grades to discussing Latin roots in the older grades. Some educators turn to word work/spelling/phonics journals here as well. That is acceptable, too!

Reading Discovery Notebook

Reading discovery journals are the third and final idea for trying something new in your classroom this fall. Students can copy anchor charts for their reference into the notebooks. They can map out plots or rewrite their own endings to stories read in class. Maybe your students can record characters and their traits in the notebooks as they read and make predictions. The sky is really the limit here. You can make this journal more comprehension based to round out your classroom’s literacy journals trifecta.

Don’t forget you can maximize your students’ journal usage by cutting notebooks in half or tabbing one notebook with different sections. Have fun using literacy notebooks in your classroom!

Assessments and Data Back to School Classroom Community Phonics Reading Writing

New Crew

August 15, 2017

Getting to Know Your Students Academically

There is a bright, shiny, new school year ahead of us all! It is an exciting time where the possibilities are endless. You undoubtedly have plans to get to know your new students personally and create a positive classroom environment. There might be “all about me” pages or “what I did over the summer” journal entries. How will you get to know your students academically, though? When it comes to literacy skills, the more you know about your students’ abilities and the sooner you acquire that information- the better! Time to hit the road running. The following are ideas to help kick-start your journey.

  • If students attended your school last year, try to talk to their teachers. Even if a child did not attend your school, many times his or her records will contain previous teacher or school contact information. A quick email is all it takes to reach out. Try to focus on strengths and weaknesses in reading or ways to motivate and challenge the student. Do not let this turn into a gripe session. It is meant to give you some ideas of how to best meet the academic needs of a student.
  • Do not forget about support teachers, too. If your student receives any type of specialized service in the school such as speech or intervention classes chances are that teacher may have loads of insight into ways to help the student succeed, too.
  • Look at your students’ records. I cannot tell you how many times I was filling out the end of the year reports on my students’ permanent records and thought- this information would have been extremely helpful to know at the beginning of the year! Do not make the same mistake I did. I know it takes time during a very hectic part of the school year. However, just think about the time it could save you in the long run!
  • Speak to the parents about their child’s literacy skills. Get their opinion and a bit more of the child’s academic history here. Find out if they have any concerns going into the new grade level or if there are any ways their student needs to be supported to succeed. For example, parents may know their child has testing anxiety and may not perform as well as they should on beginning of the year placement assessments. Let parents know upfront your expectations for literacy work in the classroom and at home.
  • There will be the beginning of the school year diagnostic tests, too. Several are required now for every student in the school. Beyond universal screeners and waiting for that data to get back to me, I always have a few quick assessments I like to do with individual students to give me a better understanding of their performance levels. It would depend on the grade level, but this might include having them read a vocabulary list, a fluency probe, or perhaps participating in a phonemic awareness assessment. Assessing the students personally gives me a better idea of where they are academically. It is much more valuable than just seeing a score on a spreadsheet.
  • Last but not least, ask the students about themselves and where they see their own skills flourishing or lacking. Here is where you will get some very honest answers! If you need some guidance, I recommend giving the Garfield reading or writing surveys to your students. Get to know your new crew and help them succeed from the start!
Back to School Language Phonics Reading Writing

New School Year, New Standards

August 7, 2017

Tennessee Academic Standards

I know that Tenspire’s followers are from all over the globe, but I wanted to take the chance to highlight something awesome in the world of academics happening in our home state of Tennessee. We have new K-12 teaching standards in English Language Arts, y’all! We have new standards in mathematics, too, but you know I am your literacy gal so I am just going to stick to what I know best. Getting to this point of the adoption process was no easy task. We are proud of what our stakeholders have put into place for our students! Teachers, community members, leaders in education- everyone had a chance to chime in to help create what is uniquely Tennessee’s own set of standards. Our state is calling these changes revisions to the previously adopted standards. Therefore, there is no reason to worry that everything we liked about the old standards were thrown away. The revised ELA standards have some subtle but important aspects that I am excited to highlight with you now.

Vertical Progression

In viewing the layout of the revised standards, you will most likely first realize changes have been made. The standards pages list the cornerstone standard (formerly known as anchor standard) at the top of the page and show how that standard is achieved as it moves from the top tasks in 12th grade all the way down to the foundational skills in Kindergarten. This layout was intentional to help educators see exactly where their grade level standards fall in the big picture of preparing students. Additionally, this layout helps one see where students might have gaps in their learning from previous grade levels.

Embedded Language Skills

Integration is a common goal for many educators. Research tells us that students learn best in context, not in isolated pockets. It is too difficult to piece together the numerous components of literacy without the chance to apply what you are learning in a cohesive manner. It is also difficult to teach each aspect of the reading process without combining elements- there are simply not enough hours in a day! Do not have a meltdown when you cannot locate the language skills for grades K-5 because now you know that these standards are embedded in the foundational standards as they should be.

Greater Emphasis on Writing in Early Grades

Guess what? There is a greater importance placed on foundational writing skills in the early grades. This is a concept that we can all rejoice about since we know writing can be the glue that binds all those tricky early literacy skills together. The sooner we get our students writing, the better. Maybe we have all known this for some time now, but at least our standards now help support this wonderful revelation.

Besides the main categories mentioned above, there were some other changes, too. There is new nomenclature (a.k.a. coding- see the graphic below) and the reading standards have a side by side layout so one can compare the literary/informational text components easier. There is a great reference in the speaking and listening standards to other literacy standards to guide you in integrated instruction. A new appendix with supporting documents was a must. You simply have to check out the revised standards yourself to see all the nuanced but necessary changes in clarity and continuity that were made to your grade level’s standards. I hope you enjoy your new school year- here’s to the best class ever to go with the best teaching standards we have ever had in Tennessee!

P.S. Also check out this Chalkbeat article about the standards!




Language Organization Phonics Reading Writing

Divide and Conquer

July 5, 2017

Taking Control of your Reading Instructional Materials

The dictionary defines divide and conquer as: the policy of maintaining control over one’s subordinates or subjects by encouraging dissent between them. This is not exactly what you need to do with all that reading STUFF you have accumulated in your classroom, but dividing it out is a good start. The beginning of the school year is an excellent time to get everything you will use to teach literacy organized and easily accessible.

If your materials are not well organized, let’s face it, you will not use them. Many times a new school year comes with new materials. We all know by now that no new textbook adoption comes with as many components to sort through as a brand new reading series. Pop open those new boxes (or old ones that you have hidden on a classroom shelf somewhere). Be honest with yourself about the materials you think you will use initially. Save the rest for later. Some items you overlook at first glance may come in handy in the future. Some items you may be able to recycle later, but save them for now! You can cull unused items after a year or when your district lets you know you can toss (maybe donate) materials you cannot use. I recently made some money taking old materials to a used bookstore. Then I spent double that amount of money on new materials at the same store. We are teachers. That is how we do it!

You may organize your reading materials by skills, units, what weeks you will teach them, etc. Literacy materials do get a huge chunk of space in my filing cabinet. I resist the urge to organize immediately. I have found that it is better to see how I actually use items and give some thought about how to best access them. Sure, your vocabulary cards look great in ABC order, but you will use them easier divided up in folders with weekly materials. You can organize everything at once or make week by week folders as the year progresses.

Finally, check your basal series teacher manual. What items are needed for implementation of whole and small group instruction? Have those items handy! No basal is perfect, either. Take some time to see where there may be gaps that your students need filled. Then use materials you already have or create new. There are so many supplemental resources online these days that you may not have to search as hard as you think. I now find myself needing less and less filing cabinet space and more and more hard drive space!

The D&C method worked for rulers and it works for teachers. Divide up what you will use and conquer the reading series materials before they conquer you!

Phonics Reading

All Eyes and Ears on Deck

May 25, 2017

Using Phonogram Cards in the Classroom

In a recent Tenspire post titled Flashy Phonics, I listed some of my favorite resources for phonogram card use in the classroom. Although I may be working a bit backwards (what else is new?!), I want to share some appropriate ways to incorporate these cards and their additional online resources into your instruction.


Phonogram cards that have been previously taught to the students are great for a whole group warm-up at the beginning of a literacy block. I know teachers who incorporate motions, trace the letters, or sing the phonograms for multisensory use of the cards. Some teachers use these decks daily and some use them just once weekly to review depending on their students’ needs. Remember you don’t have to use the entire deck daily!

Study of Specific Sounds

Phonogram cards are a must have for introduction of new sounds. I must admit that these cards have taught me a thing or two over the years as to why we spell words the way we do. I was never taught any phonics rules in school, and even though I have always been an avid reader, I am a terrible speller to this day. Seeing that there are reliable methods to spelling certain sounds has been eye opening for both myself and my students. Having ownership over these rules is one of the keys to being a confident and independent reader, speller, and writer.  Make sure to display current instructional cards in a prominent location for student reference.

Vocabulary/Spelling Instruction for Later Speaking/Writing Application 

With advanced students or for a vital step towards application of the sounds you have studied, have students dissect their new spelling and/or vocabulary words in comparison to the phonogram cards. Once students have conducted this deeper analysis of the words, they will be more likely to embed them into future use and less likely to misspell them. After all, your end goal is not for students to just be able to READ the words. You want your kiddos to understand word meanings, acknowledge how to use those words in context, and you want them to feel comfortable with incorporating their newly acquired lexicon into their speech and writing.

Intense Review for Struggling Students

Most intervention programs for students who are behind in basic decoding incorporate use of some type of phonogram card set. These students usually benefit from small group review of the phonogram cards and their governing rules. I have been told by the experts to simplify the rules as to not overwhelm the students who may have trouble with retention. Tracing the letters (graphemes) in sand or air writing and incorporating movements can benefit struggling readers as it gives them one more place (neural pathway) of storage for the sounds/letters in their brains. Students who are behind may require extra practice with phonogram cards, but use your teacher expertise and assessment options to know when it is time to move on as not to bore the students with the monotony of the flashcards. Too much skill and drill can render this great tool of phonogram cards less effective in the long run if kids want to run and hide when they spot the card deck. Incorporate some of the online phonogram resources from the recent Tenspire post to mix up instruction as well.

The Flashy Phonics post ended with an important disclaimer: you should not only teach phonics in isolation. I need to reiterate that point here, because the research shows that isolation is NOT how students best acquire the rules that govern the English language. The point of using the phonogram cards is to introduce new sounds/spellings or to review previously learned rules. Students need direct, explicit instruction in the rules of their language to aid in their future decoding (reading) and encoding (spelling) experiences. Instead of being paralyzed when approaching a new word, students will be equipped with ideas for suitable word attack options. Approximately 80% of words follow typical phonics patterns. The remaining 20% can be memorized, although they often have patterns of their own depending on their etymology. One can assign those few exceptional words to “rule breaker jail” or record then into word discovery journals- more on this next month. In the meantime, have fun with your flashy phonics and watch your students’ literacy skills blossom right before your very eyes (and ears)!


Phonics Reading

ABC Order Freebie

May 4, 2017

As much as we love to browse through all the adorable stations and activities on TPT, sometimes we just need a really quick, useful, FREE product to help us out. So, every month I love to share a freebie with my fellow teachers in my TPT store! This ABC Order set is perfect for adding a little seasonal spunk to your routine and is so easy to use in multiple ways.

What’s Included?

In my ABC Order set you’ll find 10 cards in color and black/white. Each card has a seasonal word and picture to go along with it to help friends who can’t read the word. You’ll also find a placement template, recording sheet and cut-and-paste practice page.

 How Do I Use This?

This set has several different uses. Along with my staple monthly writing stations, I loved to use this as a staple in my ELA stations. My students could always use some extra practice with alphabetical order so these never got old to them. I also found they were great for getting students focused in the morning as morning work. Instead of printing on cardstock and laminating for stations use, I would print out a copy on regular paper for each group in my class. They would come in for the day and begin working on this with their group, discussing which order the words belonged in and then gluing them correctly on construction paper to turn in as a group assignment. Last, I liked to turn some of the sets into file folder activities for them to grab and work on at their desk when they finished their work early. Using Velcro or paperclips to secure their cards, students could turn the file folder in for me to check at a later time. The possibilities are endless!

Each month I post a new FREE ABC Order set, so you don’t want to miss them! Visit my TPT store to download all of the sets already added, and to follow for updates on new sets as they are listed!

Phonics Reading

Flashy Phonics

May 1, 2017

Resources for Phonics Flashcards

In the great debate of phonics or whole language, I typically cast my vote for team phonics. We will get into the pros and cons of either side of that heady debate at another time. For today’s post we will explore some fantastic resources for teaching the relationships between sounds (phonemes) and print (graphemes) in the English language. These cards and resources will help do just the trick and are not just for beginning readers anymore!


Johnny Can Spell

A longtime favorite of many of my colleagues, this set of 70 phonogram cards by Alice Nine are complete with governing rules and guide words on the back. A laminated set for $35 is not bad, and I know teachers who own several sets so they can use them in small and whole group lessons without splitting up their deck. I have the accompanying CD’s and incorporate them into handwriting instruction for my first graders, too. The FREE online phonogram page makes this an awesome resource for parents who want to try out the cards for extra practice with their students at home, but are weary of pronouncing the sounds incorrectly.



Often regarded as the crème de la crème of multisensory instruction, Orton-Gillingham offers a phoneme grapheme large card pack for $31.95 or a small sized deck for $19.95. These packs include blends which are very handy in emergent literacy or intervention instruction. The back of the cards list examples for each sound. The large cards serve as great visuals for later spelling instruction on a blending board and have room for added pictures. Don’t forget about the OG card deck app that you can download for further practice with letter names, sounds, keywords, and videos. It’s FREE!



 At $50 per set, the Tools4Reading sound/spelling cards by Dr. Mary Dahlgren are pricey, but worth the investment. I LOVE the pictures that give a great key word for properly executing each sound. Very detailed rules and example words are listed on the back of the teacher’s instructional set. These cards are color coded for consonants and vowels, etc. I use this set with the students in small groups, especially when introducing a new sound. Students are mesmerized by the fact that slightly smaller cards match the larger cards I have on display above my alphabet letters over my whiteboard. They enjoy matching the cards at the table to the ones on the wall. Just know that the large classroom wall set does NOT list the extras on the back. I had to order 2 sets of these cards because my first set “disappeared” once delivered to my school. I still to this day think another teacher got them by accident but never returned them to their proper owner because the cards are just that GOOD! 


Logic of English

The Logic of English company’s phonogram cards are newer contenders in the world of phonics, but I like their style! These 74 basic phonogram flashcards also have spelling rules and keywords listed on the back. They run $18 and are available in several formats, including a hard copy on coated cardstock or PDF versions for printing or tablet use as well. Additionally, this company offers a unique advanced set of phonogram flashcards for $10. (see example photo below). The Logic of English company has their own phonogram app for just $2.99 where students can see, hear, and touch the matching cards. Even if you don’t purchase any cards or app, you simply can’t miss the FREE phonograms list which gives you an interactive view using all the sounds and rules with pronunciation videos included!

In doing my research for this post, I found a few new card decks that I would like to have to myself! The world of phonics research is continually coming out with new resources for educators to use and these are just a few of my favs. Feel free to use the phonogram cards that come with your reading series or ones that your whole school adopts as to not confuse your students with different cards that essentially teach the same concept. I MUST include this disclaimer: teaching phonics in isolation is not the key to proper reading instruction (another topic for another day). However, hopefully you have gained some ideas and tools for presenting and reviewing English sounds and their corresponding spellings with your students in primary grades and beyond.

Language New Teacher Phonics Reading Writing

Who Me? Yes, You!

April 18, 2017

Time To Start Planning

Spring is officially in the air, and teachers, it is time to start planning. Time to start planning for your summer PD. You didn’t think I was going to say it is time to start planning for your summer break, did you? All of us at Tenspire know teachers don’t really get a break. Sure we rest up, clean out, and gather new tools for the new school year, but we don’t exactly get all that time away from thinking about school. We do, however, get some nice options for attending professional development that we may be personally interested in outside of what our own school districts offer. I encourage you to step out and explore what the teaching world outside your own classroom walls has to offer!

Attending Your First Literacy Conference

If you have ever wanted to attend an international educator’s conference, I recommend you start with ILA’s annual conference in July. ILA stands for the International Literacy Association. Its name recently changed from IRA with the ‘R’ standing for reading. The association’s leaders thought that the word ‘literacy’ better embodied all that they covered in their research, presentations, and advocacy. This year the conference is in Orlando, FL. This is a perfect location for a teacher’s summer get away!

All About the International Literacy Association

Last year was my first time attending ILA’s conference. I went solo and had a blast! There is a “first-timers” meet-up so newbies can get all the good to know info about the conference. There is an app so you can schedule which sessions you want to attend. I was basically running for three days straight between sessions in order to get a glimpse at many popular authors and researchers: Hattie, Shannahan, Fisher and Frey, Rasinski, Caulkins, Fountas and Pinnell, Allington, Bear, Duke, Diller, Ganske, Harvey, Hiebert, Polacco, and Schickedanz (just to name a FEW of my personal favorites). I met new favorite authors and researchers, too. The conference is a wonderful place to network! The names on your textbooks are no longer just names. You can actually meet with and exchange contact info with your favorite “big” names in the field of literacy! Teacher nerd geeking out! You will, too!

One of the best features of the conference that I was not anticipating was the exhibit hall. SO. MANY. FREEBIES. So many. Yes, the teachers were going nuts! You know we all love us some freebies. All I can say is that I suggest bringing an extra bag or suitcase if you are going to take full advantage of the giveaways. Another bag would be needed if you wanted to make any purchases (Note: Bring P.O. if able!). Sometimes prices on materials are at a conference discount and no shipping costs, so, bring those extra bags, literacy ladies and gents!

I think you will find the costs of the conference very affordable as conferences go, and you may even be able to ask your principal or district to cover the costs of attending. Regardless of who is footing the bill for your learning adventure, be sure to get pre-approval for PD hours. In our district, we just fill out a form for our principal and district curriculum leader to sign. Make sure to print out a certificate listing the sessions you attended to officially count your PD hours earned and turn it in to your district following the conference. Remember, not all sessions offer in-service credit.

Big News: If you are a preservice educator, you can go to ILA for FREE. That’s right. No charge. Wow! I only wish I would have known this before I graduated with my teaching degree. If it’s free then I don’t think you really have any excuse NOT to attend! Tell all your preservice teacher friends and make a fun field trip out of it!

That’s about all I can tell you in regards to attending an international conference in a blog post. You will have to see it to believe it. I am presenting a poster session with a group this year, so I’ll see you there! ILA. July. Orlando. Be there and be sure to stop by and say hello!