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!
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!
“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!
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!
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!
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!
Incentives and Reading Levels
When I began teaching, parents were all about the level their child was reading on according to the Accelerated Reading (AR) program. Students were all about reading to get points, too. There were school wide reward parties for the “top readers” in each grade level. Funny thing is, I usually did not let my students participate in AR. The program itself has many benefits. The problem was how it was implemented.
This post will not be about nixing all reading incentives or disregarding tested reading levels altogether. The points I want to drive home in this post are that you may need to reexamine your incentive practices and not rely solely on a one-time computer generated reading level for your students.
First, there were the issues with the parents. Why didn’t their child get picked for the AR party? “That’s not fair!” they would whine. The truth was, it wasn’t fair. Some students were reading at levels far above the others and therefore better able to earn points and rewards. When I was in middle school I would read the first and last page of lengthy chapter books, take the book’s quiz, and rack up some major points even if I did not score well on the test overall. I think I missed the point of reading! The above examples are what you want to avoid if you choose to use reading incentives in your classroom. Students should not feel behind others or judged by their reading levels any more than they already do. Some incentives promote excitement in reluctant readers who enjoy games and contests. Some incentives make those readers who are behind become even more hopeless and they give up. If you do offer incentives, make sure there are not ways students can cheat the system, too!
If I have your student in my class, I am going to find out his or her reading level from a computer generated test that we administer to all students at the beginning of the year. This score is conveniently accessible and gives me a good place to start my further investigation of your child’s reading abilities. I never stop at just the one score. Sometimes students test far below or above their actual abilities (blame test anxiety or lucky computer clicking). Students’ reading abilities may progress slowly or quickly and many times another computer test is not available to be administered in a timely manner. There are many factors that contribute to skilled reading and one test score is not going to give you the whole picture of the readers in your classroom. Please do not leave your students on the same book level all year just because there has not been a time for another reading test on the computer.
My biggest take away from using AR in the classroom was discovering the root cause of why parents and students liked it so much. Parents like to be informed about their child’s progress. If they see a simple test score that says “reading at grade level 2.2” parents can easily think about that number in terms of their child’s grade level. As educators, we know it’s not as simple as a single number and we also know these scores are sometimes inaccurate. Please take the time to explain to your parents exactly how their students are performing. What are the student’s strengths and weaknesses? This may take longer than placing a score in front of them, but it is well worth it! Students like reading incentives because they like to have fun. Make the enjoyment of reading the incentive! Take the time to truly find out what your students are interested in reading and reward them with great literature. Continue to use incentives and reading levels if they suite your needs, just proceed with caution to avoid the pitfalls!
Is goal setting really worth all the hype? I think so! Dr. Hattie says so, too. His collective research on preexisting educational studies (he conducts meta-analyses) led him to conclude many things about effective teaching practices. When it comes to goal setting Hattie defines learning intentions as “describing what it is we want students to learn in terms of the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and values within any particular unit or lesson.”
One can have long or short terms goals. Not only do your students need to know the expectations for their daily lessons, but they should know about appropriate long term goals as well. The experts suggest that goal making be led by the student or at least have some student input. We do not always follow this recommendation as educators, but we should! Consider how you would feel if all your goals were set by someone else. Not very motivating, huh?!
Why don’t you put yourself in your students’ shoes and set a teacher goal for yourself first? Just like you would with the students, you can start small. What is something you can do to improve your literacy teaching practices this school year? Maybe you could join an online professional book club and gain teaching ideas from peers. Perhaps you decide to set aside one day a month to sit down and analyze your students’ reading progress, scores, classwork, etc. Make a small goal that you are interested in and stick to it!
Now on to your students. It would be great to explain to your students some appropriate goals for their grade level or to even work individually with students on options for areas to focus on. Maybe stick to one area at a time, for example, have your students set a writing goal for themselves. Make sure it is measurable! Have students share their goals with their peers and their plan for making progress. You will surely not be disappointed with how far your students will grow when they have goals they are determined to succeed in. Go for the goal, kiddos!
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!
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.
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!
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!