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Showing posts from 2017

I'm Headed Back to the Classroom

A little over a year ago, I accepted a position as a reading specialist having finished up a four year stint as a fourth grade teacher. During year 18 of my teaching career, my primary task was "to equip  teachers with knowledge and skills necessary to help third grade students achieve grade-level reading or above." This task also came with various other caveats like requiring that I spend 80% of my time in third grade and that third graders' state reading assessment scores increase by at least 10% in one year. Long story short...the educators with whom I worked and I achieved what we had been tasked to do, by the state's standards. (More important than those standards, I witnessed first hand how knowledge and literacy can and does change the course for a grade level and a group of hard-working teachers and third graders.)

Day in and day out, I analyzed data, conducted intervention, coached teachers, modeled interactive lessons and guided reading groups, gathered res…

Rethinking Accelerated Reader

I                                         never thought the day would come when I would rethink my use of a  popular reading program in which students read a book from their independent reading range, take a computerized quiz and collect points to try to reach an independent reading goal. After much thought, reflection and chats with educators across the country, the day has come.

Don't get me wrong. I've used the program and I feel I've had wonderful results with it. After all, it gave me exactly what I always said I needed from it. It gave me a gauge as to whether my students were real reading or fake reading. It also, in my opinion, helped reluctant readers to become engaged readers. Wait...well, those sound like reasons to keep using the program. Definitely, they are. However...

Many former students whom I have kept contact grew up and didn't learn to love to read. They read to please the teacher. They read because they wanted the good grades. They read because the…


Winston Churchill once said, "To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often."

Last year, I made a change from fourth grade teacher to the role of reading specialist. Every single day was a change in shifting from teaching/facilitating to coaching/facilitating. I made many fumbles and stumbles along the way. I reflected. Nothing killed me, so I got up, day after day, and confronted my new role head on. I was not the same educator at the end of the year that I was in the previous August. I changed...pedagogically, personally, and professionally. As I look back, I improved. I didn't become perfect, but I reflected and tried in earnest to learn from my mistakes. I changed.

Over the summer break, I researched, planned, wrote, prepared supplies, and presented two workshops. I read professional books about how students learn to read and how reading instruction "should" look in the 21st century classroom. I've spent hours reading fellow educators' b…

Random Thoughts about Students and Teaching

Monday, August 7, I begin my 21st year as a school system employee (19th as a certified educator) and just like in all the years past, I am extremely excited. Education, while taken for granted by many, is a treasured gift. Empowering citizens with literacy is a life changer. Education is a poverty breaker. It's hope given to the hopeless. It's a way out for the trapped. It's sort of a big deal!

Here are some of my random thoughts about teaching:

1. We should always, always make decisions that are best for our students. Always! Identify what is best for students and make it happen...selflessly.

2. If a student doesn't have a pencil, give him one. If he loses it, give him another one. (Stock up on pencils to the nth degree!)

3. Refer to students and groups of students by name. Don't call them the blue group or the green group or the Bluebirds or Level K group or .... Just use their names! (Levels and groupings are for the teacher's knowledge.)

4. Don't make …

Tier II Explicit Vocabulary Lesson

Explicit Vocabulary Lesson
T: (Holding up the word "elegant" that has been written in bold, dark print on a sentence strip)
     Students the word is elegant.

What is the word?

S:  elegant

T:  say the word.

S:  elegant

T:  Elegant means beautiful.  (Hold up picture of swans from Mem Fox's Feathers and Fools.)

S: beautiful

T:  What does elegant mean?

S:  Beautiful

T: What is another word for beautiful, everybody?<- flipping it

S:  Elegant

T:  In the book, it says, "Nearby, in the rushes and reeds of a clear blue lake dwelt/lived a flock of     elegant swans." (Holding up picture again) Elegant or beautiful swans

T: I can think of something else that is elegant. My sister wore an elegant gown when she went to the military ball with her husband.  Her gown was elegant or beautiful.

T:  Think of something elegant that you have seen. I'm going to give you think time...

S: Thinking...

T:  Now, be ready to complete this sentence:  "I saw an elegant ____ whe…

Closing the Achievement Gap...One Word at a Time

In 1995, Hart and Risley conducted a study of children from families of three socioeconomic levels:
professional families (college-educated parents), working class families, and welfare families.

The study focused on the number of spoken words children 0 months - 48 months heard.

The study produced these findings:

Children from professional families heard 45 million words by the age of 4.

Children from middle class families heard 26 million words during the study.

Children from low income families heard only 13 million words during their first 48 months of life leaving about a 30 million word gap between them and children from professional families.
Researchers  found this word gap equates to an achievement gap when students entered a formal school setting.

Does this mean that students from lower income families are destined to remain in an achievement gap that places constrains in every area of their lives?  Profound question. The answer is contingent on many var…

Brush Up on Feedback

"You're so smart!" "You're a wonderful writer!" "I've seen no other Mathematician Magician as magical as you!"  We've all done it. Hopefully, we've all said it as educators. If you're like me, I was taught to build a child up. The power of positivity goes a long way, after all. We still need to build up our students. However, in the name of feedback, we can do better.

According to John Hattie's meta-analyses studies, feedback has a very strong affect on student achievement. In fact, feedback had a 0.73 effect size from his studies. When done correctly, his studies have shown that feedback is crucial to student achievement.

When giving student feedback, you must know your students. Some are fragile and you'll have to be very gentle when giving feedback at first. Other students may seek more feedback than they need at the moment. Choose your words wisely. Do it one on one. Make it level specific as all learners are not the sa…

Thinking About Changing...

These things should never go out of style:

Teacher Read-Alouds
Students reading with other students
Students collaborating with other students
Partners working (Reciprocal teaching) or Partner Work
Cooperative Learning Groups
Self-Selected Independent Reading Time at School and time to discuss Books!
Writing, writing, writing, and writing (Meaningful writing!)
Smiling Students
Respect/community among teacher and his students
Meta-Comprehension Strategies

Hands-on Science
Real-Life Science Connections

Manipulatives in Math/Modeling
Real-Life Math Problems

Character Lessons and Modeled by Everyone in the Building
Citizenship Lessons and Meaningful Social Studies

Meaningful Experiences rather than rote assignments

Some Changes That You Should Try If You Haven't Already Done So:

Flexible Seating
Student Reflection Process
Student Goal Setting in many areas
Student Monitoring of Progress
More Intentional Feedback
Start small with Technology and find an app or website or two or three tha…