Tuesday, May 15, 2018

How To Protect Your Classroom Library

It's that time of year that we start to picture our summer vacation. We might begin to make plans, schedule appointments and even book our vacation time. Summer can come up quickly, so I've made a list of a few things I try to do before summer creeps up on you! I try to tackle one project at a time. 


The first thing I do to prepare for summer is take a long hard look at my classroom library.  I've invested quite a bit and had a mentor that invested quite a bit. I want my library to stay nice for years to come. With these tips, I can proudly say after 11 years, I've barely had to get rid of ANY books. My kids know how I am about my library and they don't play around when it comes to taking care of books!



How To Clean Your Classroom Library



This is something I've always done as I've seen needed, but I don't recall ever pulling all of the books out and cleaning them until I met my new media specialist. I still remember it like it was yesterday. I walked in to the library, and all I could see was books standing open. The fresh lemon scent went through the air and made everything seem so clean! I asked her "What are you doing?", she replied "Cleaning books". She was almost puzzled like duh, what does it look like. So I watched her and quickly adapted this system. We have sure bonded over our love for books and how to teach students how to TREAT the books. 
Before I start to clean my books, I go through and pull out all of the major repairs. I determine if they can be salvaged or if they should be tossed. I use cleaning wipes and packing tape to do most of my repairs. 
The first step: Take you cleaning wipe out of the container and ring it out. This seems like another "duh" moment, but you have to do this step. If you use the cleaning wipe while it is dripping wet, you will ruin your books. I repeat, you will ruin your books! 







After I wipe them down very thoroughly, I let them air out for a good bit. I might only do a few categories a day or before I leave. The next day, I'll put them back in their basket. This way, they have plenty of time to dry before I stack them on top of each other.







Here's a little proof that with a little love, your old and dirty books, can look very good again!


Once I've cleaned my books, I want to make sure they are all in the right baskets, so I reorganize them in order to pack up. I will wrap each stack of books up with large construction paper to pack them up. I've moved a lot due to my husband's service, and this is the way that has worked best for me over the years!  I also check to make sure each book has the right label. You can read more about how I organize my classroom library here






I'll be back to share another tip for ending the school year smoothly later in the week! Thank you for following along! 


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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Job Interview Tips for Teachers

It's that time of year when new teachers start applying for  new positions. Veteran teachers that are wanting a change also start looking for positions. Job interviews can be a scary and challenging task. As an educator who moves a lot (my husband is in the military), I've found a few tips that helped me remain calm and have a great interview!




Interview Tip #1

The first tip I'd share with you is that know the grade level and standards of the grade level that you are applying for.  Do your homework to really learn the state standards and expectations of that grade level. It's very impressive when a candidate comes in and is aware of standards before being hired. This will show that you know how to prepare and understand the rigor of what you need to teach.


Interview Tip #2

 The next tip I'd like to share that might seem obvious, yet some often forget: Be on time and dress professionally. I often see candidates who arrive late and are not dressed appropriately. If you are a female, be sure your dress or skirt is knee length. Candidates who arrive on time and who are dressed professionally, assure the administrator that you value professionalism.


Interview Tip #3


Research the school that you are interviewing at thoroughly. Look up their data for the last three years and be prepared to discuss their strengths and weaknesses. You will want to show that you are knowledgeable about general facts about the school (is the school title one?  What are the demographics of the school? etc)  Be prepared to ask questions. Google the school you are applying to and switch over to news. Make sure that you are applying for a school that would be a good fit for YOU! 

Interview Tip #4


Be honest. I think most candidates always set out to be honest. However, if they are asked a question they are unsure of, sometimes we are scared to tell the truth. If I'm ever asked a question that I do not know the answer to, I like to tell the administrator, that I'm not familiar with that procedure, resource or strategy. I will follow with saying that I'm always researching and wanting to learn, so I look forward to learning the new procedure, resource or strategy with them as my mentor. This shows that you are willing to learn and you admit that you do not know it all. That's a very good quality to have for educators! We should always be willing to learn! 


Interview Tip #5


Relax. Look at your interview as a formal meeting with a friend. Treat the administrator like you've known them forever, and  be flexible. Education is a difficult field. A person who is professional, knowledgeable and willing to learn is the ideal candidate for most schools. 

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Guided Reading Part 2

So a while ago I posted about Guided Reading. I always meant to have a follow up post, but somehow, never got back to it. 









Small Group Instruction or Guided Reading

You will often hear the term "small group instruction" or "guided reading". I wanted to clearly explain the differences between the two. Small Group Instruction is a format. It's an idea that we deliver content using smaller groups to reach more students. Guided Reading is an intentional, data driven form of instruction. Guided reading is done in the small group instruction format.Guided Reading is NOT a program. It's a best practice of education that fits into the Balanced Literacy Model. 


During your guided reading groups, you want to be sure to use a variety of scaffolded reading strategies. 
 I want to spend some time discussing what kind of scaffolded reading strategies you could use during your guided reading time.



Scaffolded Reading Strategies

Echo Reading 

The teacher will introduce echo reading and how it sounds. Once children are comfortable with the method of echo reading, the teachers goal is to decide how much of the text to read each time before pausing for the children to echo it back. In this strategy, I recommend chunking the text.  During this strategy, students should track with their fingers. 


Choral Reading


This is often called "unison reading". Students are reading at the same time as the teacher. The teacher is modeling correct phrasing, annotation and expression. Students are tracking with their finger while reading. Research suggests that students should choral read at the first or second exposure to a text, but should eventually be able to whisper read. 


Whisper Read

Students are reading at the same time but not at the same rate. The teacher will listen in or take a running record on one student at a time. The biggest mistake about using this strategy, is not using this strategy! Students who are always asked to choral read and never given the opportunity to read out loud for their teacher are going to have gaps created in their instruction. I like to work through each level of support depending on my students ability. Once your students are whisper reading consistently, have them remove their fingers. Tracking is helpful in Kindergarten and early first grade, but tracking can slow their fluency as they begin to read harder texts. 




The biggest take away about scaffolded reading strategies is that we should be using ALL of them. Students will need more support at different times. As educators, we have to use our own judgement for when to give support and when to let them fly. My biggest advice, is try to give students the opportunity to whisper read each day. Even your kindergarten babies! They can do it!

Friday, March 23, 2018

Understanding Response to Intervention: A Guide for Teachers and Parents

As a classroom teacher who has moved all over the country, understanding how each district does RTI can be difficult.However, with a strong understanding of the purpose of RTI and the goal, Response to Intervention does not have to be difficult.  RTI is a process that helps identify students who are experiencing difficulty in the classroom.



                                  Understanding the Levels of Interventions



Response to Intervention or RTI has three levels.  I have always been told to look at it like it was a pyramid.   The framework for RTI is detailed for each tier, but how you instruct at those levels vary from district to district. I believe that regardless of what "tier" students are on, students need the opportunity to have an intervention time to work out problems. 


Tier One Instruction in the RTI Framework


Tier one is the level that all students receive. At this level, teachers should provide high quality instruction and assessment. Teachers are able to screen students to determine their deficiencies.  Assessment is key, because it gives the teachers information. This is the level that nearly 80% of students fall in for instruction and intervention. One common misconception that children should not receive intervention in tier 1 instruction. RTI does not say that, and their is no research to support that. I base my intervention groups off of classroom needs and what my data shows. If your district uses a computer based assessment, that's great for a starting point. Often times, we can provide intervention and fill the gaps, students will demonstrate success and no longer need intervention services.



Tier Two Instruction in the RTI Framework

Students who are not progressing in Tier 1, should be moved to Tier 2 with adequate time given. Each district has a different requirement, but if you ask me, I believe it should be at least 6 weeks. This is where we look at more targeted instruction. Often times, computer based assessments can be skewed, so I like to give my own assessment to be sure it matches up.  In tier two, we are focused on specific skills. We should have less students in Tier 2 than Tier 1. It's generally no more than 15% of your students. It's important to think about group size for Tier 2. A lot of times, we will just keep our lowest group and say that we are providing Tier 2 instruction. However, if the instruction is not targeted and purposeful, that is not the case. Questions I like to ask myself "Does each student struggle with the skill I am teaching?" or "Can I prove that through my data collection?". 
If  I have a students who failed a rhyming assessment, for example, then I would re-teach rhyming for one or two weeks, then test again. I would keep that cycle up until the student passes that specific skill. The key with RTI is documentation.  Below is an example of how I keep up with my data for RTI. I needed something that had the skill listed several times  to show the students progress or lack of progress after quality instruction has taken place.






Tier Three Intervention in the RTI Framework

Once a student has advanced to Tier 3, they should be receiving individualized instruction. The group consists of one on one instruction and is happening daily. If the student is still not making progress at this level, further evaluation might be needed. Questions that I ask myself when providing Tier 3 Instruction (And parents should ask their child's teacher):

-Is this instruction individualized for each specific student?
- Am I consistently providing instruction on their needs?
-Do I have the documentation to prove that?
-Have I  presented the skill in a variety of ways to give the students ample opportunity to learn?

That last question is where I sometimes have to make SURE I can answer. Sometimes, we can present the material over and over again with students who just don't get it. Reflection is a HUGE part of instruction, so I will reflect to make sure I am truly presenting it in another way. Sometimes, I'll ask a colleague to come in and try to present the same skill.  I find so many ideas for just watching all of the awesome educators I get to work with. 

Side bar--- One of the biggest downsides of this process that I've noticed, is once a student is moved out of Tier 3, tested and found eligible for services, the one on one instruction stops from the general education teacher. If you are a parent, advocate for that to continue. If you are a teacher, remember the student maybe receiving services, however, they still likely will benefit from one on one instruction. I know this can be challenging, trust me, I've been there. That's really not related, but it's just something important to me. I've seen it happen to my own child and students in nearly every district I've been in. 
Back to Tier 3--Once a student gets to Tier 3, a parent can request an evaluation at this point. It is important to know and understand that not all students in Tier 3 are special education students. Students can struggle without having a disability, but that is why we have to continue to work on providing targeted instruction. If targeted and intensive instruction is being provided ( and documented), parents and teachers should be able to see some growth. Parents, don't be afraid to ask about the specific interventions taking place with the teacher. Sometimes, districts will offer tutoring services and intervention with a volunteer. This does NOT take the place of tier 3 intervention that should be conducted by the classroom teacher. In other words, if the teacher isn't pulling the student one on one, I would question the validity of that tier 3 data. As a parent, I would not accept a computer based program as tier 3 intervention. 


Collecting Data for RTI


The process of RTI can be difficult. Without proper documentation to show that you have moved students between each tier,  you are unable to move forward with the evaluation process. While each state and district have their own specific paperwork, the skills that you teach have to be documented. I created a system so that I could adequately test my students through the LITERACY FRAMEWORK. I didn't mean to  shout, wait, YES I DID!  We have to assess the literacy framework to find the students true deficiencies. 





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Saturday, March 10, 2018

How to Teach Sight Words Tips for Parents and Teachers


Teaching sight words is different for every student. Sight words are words that students need to know without having to decode or sound out the words. Sight words are in approximately
50% to 65% of the words students will encounter in text. Sight words instruction is imperative to any student who is learning to read. In this post, we will talk about different methods to ensure your students or child learns their sight words. As parents, it's difficult to know exactly how our children's teacher is spending time on sight words. However, with these ideas, you can implement your own sight word plan at home!









Be specific and Purposeful with Teaching Sight Words


When teaching sight words, it's important to be very specific. Depending on the students age, depends on how many words students should work on each week. In Kindergarten, students should only start off practice two to three words a week. As the year progresses, students can gradually work up to 6-8 words per week. I like to do this slowly. Starting with two to three words a week gives students a chance to start the year off with confidence once they master the words.

In first grade, starting with 6-7 words in the beginning would be ideal.  For second graders, they should be able to handle 8-9 to start with. Every class and student is different, so use your judgement. If students are not mastering words, dial it back a bit. By third grade, students should be able to handle 10-12 words a week.

Look at your year long plan for teaching sight words. Every few weeks, add a week of spiral review in. Students should continuously practice words they've learned. If you are a parent, feel free to do this as well. Spiral review is one of the most effective ways to make sure students have really learned the content. 


Building Sight Words

One of the best ways to have students learn their sight words, is for students to build their sight words. Using tactile methods, students can develop a deeper connection to the words. 


I love using all kinds of different things for students to practice building words.  In PreK-1st Grade, one of my favorite tools to use this are Melissa and Doug's ABC Blocks. They are durable, colorful, inexpensive and last forever!



Another student favorite is magnetic letters.  Students love building words with them and placing them on cookie sheets or magnetic boards. The more colorful, the better! 






Students love these sight word builder cards and teachers love them too! Let me tell you why. Students get to practice building the word and then immediately apply it to text. 


Use seasonal items to practice sight words. Right now, our students are having. so much fun with these sight word building puzzles. Anything the kids can move, is a win-win!! 


Turn Learning into a Game


This looks large, it's really not. We would take this outside for recess though and place the sight words the kids have already mastered on the Lego Duplos . I even added a little math by having them keep score.



Sight Word Pyramids are also a great way to review words and maybe introduce a few more. The best part about this is. that both of these games can be done at school or home. Parents, the cup pyramids make for a GREAT rainy day activity! 


Be Consistent

Students need to consistently be practicing words. Sometimes, you will see students practicing one set of words with the teacher, and another set of words with the home. It's important to present the words differently with each encounter the children have with the words. For example, on Monday, you might write the words. On Tuesday, you might build the words using on the the methods above. On Wednesday, the students might read the words in a list or buddy read the words using flash cards. For Thursday, students might read the words in a sentence while building them. By Friday, students can read the words in a passage.  The big picture is that students need to practice words a different way each day. They need the opportunity to apply what they've been taught, so give them the chance to read the words on their own. 




*This post contains affiliate links.

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

How to Prepare Your Students for Standardized Testing

This is one of those posts that I hope that it can be something we try to look at the positive side of things.  I'm with you, I am not a fan of standardized testing. I understand why we have it, but how do we approach the culture of it? It's a necessary component to our jobs, to have a system to evaluate student's growth and the effectiveness. If what it does that, that's another Oprah show. Ha! But for real, we can't change it, so why let it consume you? I want to discuss how to prepare your students for standardized testing without teaching the test. There is a difference. 






Use Standards Based Instruction


Back in the day, when someone would ask "What are you teaching?" I'd often respond with something like "Character traits". That was indeed the skill I was teaching, however, I didn't always spend a lot of time reflecting on how the standard was assessed or addressed in other places than the way our curriculum presented it. This was a crucial mistake on my part, because I didn't exactly understand what my students were being asked to do. I thought "I've adequately taught this skill, so they are good". And most of them were. But how do we guarantee all students are able to correctly master the standard? By teaching the specific standard using the correct academic vocabulary.  I want to be sure that each question I ask is purposeful while using the correct academic terms. For example, while teaching character traits, I want to be sure my questioning sounds something like "how did you interpret the character's actions?".  Question stems are one easy way to incorporate the language of the common core standards into the questions you ask your students at your small group table. Through my guided reading groups, I'm able to take each standard and apply it to the level of text that each group needs. 




Sometimes it's difficult because the standards have a very high level of vocabulary, so we have to scaffold our instruction to work up to the level of vocabulary the students are ready for. 





Use Spiral Review Weekly


Sometimes our pacing guides do not allow for much spiral review. We are pretty pressed for time just to get ALL the standards covered, let alone time to go back and reteach something. One way to combat this is to use a spiral review center in your literacy rotations daily. I like to start this week three or so of my rotations, so that I can go back two or three skills, not necessarily the one I JUST taught. This allows students to continuously practice the skills throughout the year, not for just two weeks or so at a time. Plus, it helps with your preparation. If I've used a task card or center in small groups while teaching a skill, three to four weeks later, that activity can be in my skill based center for students to practice independently. 


Use Standards Based Assessment


I'm not sure how your district or school requires you to assess your students, but we have the ability to chose the assessments our grade levels want to use. This can be challenging. How do you pick an assessment that is standards based and on the appropriate reading level? Some say it helps to pick assessments that are above grade level expectations to prepare them for the testing season. Here's my opinion on that: We are teaching elementary students who will have to be assessed on above grade level content at the end of the year. However, I do not see the benefit to selecting a text above grade level for the entire year. That will not close achievement gaps. Students should be instructed on their instructional level and tested on grade level (not above) expectations. So by using a standards based, grade level assessment, you are essentially providing SOME students with above level assessments. How far do we want to go? If you use something higher than grade level, the students who are below grade level will not be able to master it or experience so much difficulty they will become frustrated. Let's expose students to above grade level text, I absolutely believe they need that exposure. However, do that with your instructional materials, not your assessments. Students are going to eventually become so frustrated that they can't master something, thus killing their confidence. 



Reduce Students Stress

Students feel the stress we feel as educators. If we look at the test like just another assessment, the students will too. A few years ago, my happy go lucky son, woke up the morning of his standardized test. He is such a little ray of sunshine! He's always super happy and loves school. He was crying nonstop and I couldn't get him to stop. He kept saying "Mom, mom, if I fail this test, I'm going to fail third grade." Wait- WHAT? That is our state requirement, but he's an honor roll student. Why was he told this? I get students need to take it seriously, but we don't have to use scare tactics to get them to focus.  I  say things like "This is just a test to show us how smart you are!". By reducing our stress (I know this is hard) we will reduce the stress of our students. 



Use the End of the Day

The last fifteen minutes of the day can be very helpful. I like to use a variety of ways to practice the skills I've taught. Quizizz is a great interactive tool to use to review. During this time, I try to pick a skill I taught several weeks ago. Unless my students are struggling with the current skill of course.  I also like to use a variety of task cards. One of my favorites for the upper grades are from Jamie Sears from Not So Wimpy Teacher. These task cards are amazing! I also use the end of the day to pull another intervention group. Through my intervention binders, I'm able to hit additional reading skills that my students struggle with.


Read Aloud to Students Daily

I know you probably get sick of hearing me say this, but it's so powerful. When we read to our students with purpose, they gain so much. We can read text that is above their level (like their standardized test will be....haha) and work through how to understand the difficult text TOGETHER. Through read alouds, you can model for students how readers think and respond to the text.  Read alouds help students because they can hear fluent reading AND see how the reader THINKS while reading! 




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Thursday, March 1, 2018

Reading Literacy Centers in the Primary Grades



Hey friends!  I wanted to chat with you a little bit about how I ran centers in my primary grade classroom. 





Depending on the number of students, I typically have five reading groups. I want to make sure that my reading groups have no more than 4 students in them. If you've followed me long enough, you know that I'm a big believer in research based strategies. Keeping our guided reading groups low, helps with providing more targeted instruction. I'm also a firm believer that the higher and average students need just as much of targeting instruction as the lower groups. We have to prevent our higher and average groups from slipping. Ideally, your guided reading block should be 70-90 minutes long. I understand that may not be the case for some of you though.


As a primary teacher, I want EVERYTHING to be visual and labeled for my students. I  want to create an environment that is rich in print, so I label EVERYTHING. 



In our five centers we had: Listening Center, Skill Based Center, Word Work, Library and Computers.

Our computer center was easy. The kiddos just logged in (once they learned haha) and began to work on the desired website for the day. Our district used iReady, so they spent a lot of time on that. I also used ABCYA, Epic, Tumble books, PBS Kids, ABC Mouse and more.


For our listening center, I changed out the response each day. The students might listen to one story a week or two. It just depends on the particular book, and the response I am looking for.  Creating and using listening center responses, is a great way to keep the kids engaged while listening to reading. I would have "Listening Center Scavenger Hunts". On their directions, I would provide specific words for the students to listen for. When they found the word, they would place flagging tape on that page. After they listened to the story, they go back to the page they found the word. I teach my kids how to use accountability talk and discuss the meaning of the words. The recording sheet might ask specific questions or give the chance for students to apply using context clues. My kids LOVED getting their folders and looking to see what they would "look" for in the book on that day.  Click HERE to get your free scavenger hunt file. 


So this is a real life teacher picture, it's not perfect, but it's what my listening center has looked like!


Word Work Centers

Our word work center consisted of the focus skill of the week. I used either a phonetic skill or the vocabulary words. I change this out to prevent boredom. I try to use my phonics skill to match the vocabulary words, but that can be difficult to do depending on your curriculum. 



Library Center

So I am going to go out on a limb and say this- I still let my kids read to self. Research says that independent reading is one of the best strategies to foster a love of reading and cultivate great readers. I understand the controversy with it though. This can be a difficult stage to manage. How do you make sure your students are really reading while you are teaching with another group of students? Those are all challenges I've faced at some point or another. My best answer to you is this: If your classroom creates and enhances a love of reading, you shouldn't have any issues by using this as a "center". Even my most difficult students, did well at this center. Why might you ask? I believe it's because I provided them with materials they wanted to read. It was fun for them. For 15-20 minutes a day, they had complete power over their choice of text and purpose. They set their own purpose. I teach my students each and every time you pick up a book, there is a purpose. Even in the primary grades. Your kindergarten babies should know this. Even before I had built up my classroom library, I used the school library, the public library and other libraries in our district. I enjoy getting to know students to find out their interests and use that to help them become better readers.






For my skill based center, I use the previously taught comprehension or vocabulary skill. I use a different skill than what I am teaching during my guided reading instruction on purpose I want my students to have a continuous spiral review of the reading skills that we've taught.  These are skills the students have an understanding of but still need to apply it to the text. 
I always include a mini anchor chart at this center of the skill we are practicing to remind students what they've learned. I usually pull the anchor charts from my intervention binders to make it simple.




In order to do this without completely boring my students, I use a variety of resources.  

High interest topics help make the students engaged in the skill we are trying to teach them. This year, I have a group of boys that could literally care less about reading when they started coming. I had to really work hard to get to know them and figure out what they liked. I couldn't find reading material that was skill based on those topics, so I just started making them! Oh My Word, they LOVED it











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