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Language Motivation Reading Writing

Word Collectors

March 15, 2018

Cornett’s Book Corner

“Some people collect stamps.

Some people collect coins.

Some people collect art.

And Jerome?

Jerome collected words . . .”

Teach your students to be word collectors through the introduction of this inspiring new text.  Words, like works of art, are meant to be collected!  It is fun to understand new words and procure them for your own use.   Single syllable nuanced words or longer multisyllabic words that sound sophisticated when they roll off your tongue can be collected in a variety of ways.  Peter H. Reynolds, the author of The Dot, weaves together an interesting tale about Jerome’s word collecting journey and what happens one day when his collection accidentally gets spilled out everywhere.  This is also a great tale to inspire a writer’s workshop lesson or poetry unit.

Teachers have learned the importance of letting students have a choice when it comes to the books they read.  We have discussed this topic on Tenspire before, and research backs the claim that students certainly have increased buy in to read more if they have some control over the literature they are reading.  Have we applied this idea to vocabulary, though?  I for one can admit that I have dropped the ball when it comes to letting students find and choose new vocabulary words to study on their own.  If self-selection is vital to successful student reading practices, why have educators been negligent in having students have some input about the new words they study?  Maybe we just have not thought of it before now.  Nevertheless, when we know better, we do better.  Think of the impact you can have on a student’s life if they are encouraged to “hunt” down new words wherever they go?!  A great starting place would be for students to create a mini journal to record their personal collection of words.  There are even free templates online. Now is the time to start letting students have a say about the vocabulary they acquire.  I encourage you to begin raising a classroom full of word collectors today without delay!

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!

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 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!

 

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!

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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!