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Assessments and Data Motivation Reading

What’s It All About?

September 18, 2017

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!

Reading Levels

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!

Assessments and Data Back to School Motivation Reading

Go for the Goal

September 6, 2017

Goal Setting

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!

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!




Assessments and Data Creativity Reading Writing

Reading Comprehension Craftivities

July 21, 2017

How many times have you found a great seasonal craftivity, but don’t have the book to go with it? Or it’s adorable and fitting for the time of year but its not covering a skill you’re currently working on? I hope that with my new Fiction Reading Comprehension Craftivities, this will no longer be an issue for you!

What’s Included?

In each seasonal pack, you will find 8 craftivities. Each craftivity covers its own reading comprehension skill. For example, in my Summer themed pack you’ll find a basket labeled “Character Traits” and lemons on which students list character traits of someone in the story they read.

The 8 reading comprehension skills included are:

– story elements

– retelling

– sensory details

– inferencing

– character traits

– summary

– author’s purpose

– theme

How Are They Used?

My favorite thing about these seasonal craftivities is that you can truly use them however you want! All you need to do is grab your favorite picture book that teaches your current skill, and choose the craftivity that fits! In order to avoid having a craftivity with the correct skill in the wrong season, each seasonal pack includes the same 8 skills.

In addition to their versatility throughout the seasons, these cuties are also perfect for differentiating within the classroom without changing up the activities! Each craftivity includes versions with writing lines and versions with blank spaces. Not only does this make the packs usable across multiple grades, it also allows teachers to choose whether students illustrate or write their answers based on their individual levels. Regardless of which version you choose for your students, they will all be able to participate in the same activity without feeling left out!

Whether you want to put together an adorable bulletin board, assess your students in a more creative way, or just review these important skills, my Fiction Reading Comprehension Craftivities are perfect for your classroom!

Click on the image below to check out my year-long bundle at a discounted price!

Assessments and Data Integration Language Reading Writing

Goodbye is Only the Beginning

July 19, 2017

The Final Step in the Text Set Process

If you have been following Tenspire’s Text Set building tips since the beginning, you may be a little sad to learn that we have finally come to the end of our journey. This post marks the last step in building your own text set that will inspire your students to build vocabulary and knowledge about their world. But, good news awaits you after all! Goodbye is only the beginning. Let me explain.

You have labored over meticulously putting together a set of books, short passages, poems, digital media, and/or songs, etc. You know the anchor text you will use, the vocabulary you will explicitly teach, and the follow up assessment activities you will have students complete. The text set process, however, is an on-going one. Nothing is set in stone. You will always be refining what your text set looks like during classroom implementation. Here are some ideas to help tweak your text set to perfection.

  • Have a colleague at your school check it out. Let them give you some ideas. These folks are easily accessible and familiar with your school’s population of students.
  • Have a colleague from another school critique your text set. Perhaps they can offer insight that is beyond your school colleague’s expertise.
  • Post your text set online. Internet folks are always willing to weigh in. Just remember some comments may be more helpful than others, so try not to take negative comments personally.
  • Lastly, the best thing you can do is implement the text set with your students. This will give you the best gauge of if it is right for your crew or what modifications can be made here and there to make it even better next time.

Building text sets is an organic process. Just take it one step at a time and enjoy the journey!

Thematic Text Set Guide


Organization Reading

Keeping Up with the Chaos

July 13, 2017

Keeping Your Classroom Library Books Organized

You finally have your classroom library organized to perfection (if not, you can read last month’s Tenspire post for ideas). Next goal: Keep it that way. Maintaining a classroom library’s organization can be tricky. I mean, you could forbid the students from reading the books. Then the books on the shelves would stay pristine. However, this defeats the purpose of a classroom library, huh? What to do? Follow these easy tips to help keep your book nook in tip top shape.

Don’t simply place the books on the shelves. That is a recipe for disaster. You must have bins, baskets, or crates. The containers you choose should be durable and have enough room for the books to move around a bit on the shelves. If books are getting crammed in the bins the covers will get ripped and the students cannot access them easily.

The containers should be labeled– not just with names of the genre of books, but perhaps even color coded. Garage sale circle stickers come in handy here or you could order multi-colored dot stickers and professional grade book spine tape from a library supply store. Just think of the awesomeness! To label books by Lexile level easily, use an awesome app that will inventory all of your books for you! You can also use a coordinating app to have students check out your classroom’s books digitally, too. Now you are closer to a real live library in your classroom!

Another useful method for helping students place books back in the correct locations is to give each student their own personal placeholder. Use students’ classroom numbers to label the placeholders so you can use them year after year. Students can also decorate their own placeholders, too. I have seen paint stirrer sticks work well for placeholders or even something as simple as clothespins. When a student takes a book out of a bin, his or her personal place holder goes on the bin. Once students are finished with a book, they locate their book placeholder and switch the book for the placeholder. This method helps the teacher see what types of books each student is reading, too.

An option for students not finished with classroom books when reading time is over is to have them store them somewhere besides their desks. I’ve used a mailbox system also labeled with students’ classroom numbers or chair covers bags. Having students place books in their desks leads to beat up books and sometimes missing ones.

The last tip is one I have mentioned before, but make sure to assign a classroom librarian to help you straighten up the books at least weekly or even daily. Also, make certain that you teach all students the proper methods for getting books in and out of your library. Don’t go crazy reorganizing your books all year. Following these tips will have your books looking as organized on the last day of the school year as they looked on day one.

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!


Summer Reading List – Teacher Edition

July 1, 2017

Like many teachers, I can never seem to find time to read during the school year! I am dedicating some time this summer to read some books for professional development. I have heard awesome things about all of these and can’t wait to start reading them…poolside!

The Writing Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Writers By Jennifer Serralello

I received Jennifer’s first book “The Reading Strategies Book” as a part of a professional development series in my old school district so when I saw the new writing book I immediately wanted to add it to my Amazon cart. Writing is by far my least favorite subject to teach so I am hoping to learn some new strategies to make teaching writing a little less painful.

The Daily 5: Fostering Literacy in the Elementary Grades by Gail Boushey

I was nervous to implement Daily 5 in my third-grade classroom last year but I am SO excited to start it up with my kindergarten students in September. I hope by actually sitting down and reading the whole book this summer I will be able to start the year up with my kindergarten students ready to use Daily 5 to its fullest potential!

The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading by Jan Richardson

Guided Reading was the most intimidating thing I experienced as a third-grade teacher and I by no means feel like I am an expert leaving my first year of teaching. I am hoping to spend a lot of time revamping my guided reading instructional strategies and coming up with new creative ways to teach my kindergarten students in the fall.

What books are you planning to read this summer?