Reflections and Resources from Tarheelstate Teacher: November 2015
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Building a Reading Life: Supporting Readers

In today's Building a Reading Life post, I'm sharing some of my best approaches for helping "growing" or struggling readers to build a reading life. This is not a post where I share reading strategies, but the ways I target struggling readers' independent reading habits and help them with their reading selections. These may not be only your readers who have difficulty reading, but also those who are capable readers that do not have high levels of engagement. In my last post, I asked you to remember that children are impressionable and that your positive attitude towards reading will rub off on them. At the beginning of the year, I create such an energy towards reading, it is unbelievable that any child would not "jump on the reading train" with me. I was shocked during at least three conferences this year when my students' parents told me that their child did not really like to read last year. Really? They have acted like a wild reader in my classroom since week one. I had no clue!
While I'm proud of the influence I have over my students' attitude, I still have students who do not come around so easily. In all honesty, your motivational reading lessons at the beginning of the year should be considered part of the "sifting" phase. Many of your students will follow your lead and amp up their reading right away--because you asked them to, because they like you, because you inspire them! Bask in the glow of those happy readers humming along as they turn pages...

And then, WAKE UP! Start zeroing in on those readers who are not quite where you want them to be. This is a time where you can identify which students are going to need more than a mini-lesson or two to get them reading on fire! Who has difficulty choosing new books? Who is choosing books that are above their success level? Who's not really focused during independent reading time or always seems to forget their book at home?  Who's constantly abandoning their books? I believe those students are the first students to target during first quarter. {If it's later in the year right now and you still have those students, don't give up! It's never too late!}

My greatest struggle with helping those readers who are reading well-below grade level and who may also have little to no self-esteem for reading left is how to support them while allowing them the autonomy that I believe all readers deserve. How do I careful guide the student to good book choices, while trying my best not to say "Harry Potter is too hard for you! Get that book out of your hands!"? How do I allow them to keep their pride as they stumble from book to book? And how do I get the right level books in their hands so that they can feel good about reading?

I also have to hold strong to what I know about reading growth--to become better readers, children have to read; to become better readers, children need to spend ample time reading at their independent reading level; to become confident readers, children have to read with understanding; to become confident readers, children have to finish books; to desire a reading life, children have to be part of a reading community.
So, how do I begin to work my magic? My third Building a Reading Life Tip is to KNOW WHO YOUR STRUGGLING READERS ARE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE and HAVE A PLAN OF ATTACK. I begin thinking about my struggling readers before the year starts. If you've not heard who the struggling readers are in the grade level below yours, be sure you ask when you get your class list. If you have access to end of the year assessment data, check it out. Who's on the lower end of the data? Who might be on your V.I.R. {very important reader} list? Then start asking questions. Ask the child's previous classroom teacher why they think the child has been a struggling reader. Decoding? Comprehension? Inferences? Attention? Stamina? Motivation? By the way, I call an unmotivated reader a student who just hasn't been led to the right book yet, but you might hear that labeled by teachers as a motivation issue. What was the child's favorite book they read? This probably means the book was on the child's "just right" reading level and they felt successful when reading it.

How can you start building a relationship with the student? When I'm lucky enough to already know who my struggling readers are before the next school year begins, I start priming them for being in my class. "Hey! How are you? You're about to be a 4th grader! I hope you are reading up a storm!" Just making the student feel like you care about them can give you so much power when trying to support their academic needs later on.

As I prepare for readers who need more support and have a round about idea of their reading levels, I start thinking about what books I'm going to lead each child to. Have you ever really stepped back and taken a look at your classroom library? In the beginning of my career, I'd find myself saying "I've talked about just right books so much. So-and-so still does not know how to choose a book on her level." Then one year I realized the books for "so and so" on a 2nd-3rd grade level were really hard to find and in slim-pickings. I'd have to search for at least 10 minutes to pull them all myself and only because I'm familiar with what's in my classroom library. How did I expect a struggling reader to land their fingers on just-the-right-book? I didn't turn my library upside down or even buy more lower level books, but I did start pointing kids in the right direction, helping them place specific books in their book bins, and attending library time with my kiddos to help get their hands on appropriate level books.

Do you have a set of HIGH interest/LOW level books? I've always liked the Stone Arch books by Capstone Publishers as a "go to" for boys with word-reading issues. They have silly titles like My Mom the Pirate, My Dad the Dragon, but they also have serious books like Kids Against Hunger. The Stone Arch books come in all genres and have the reading level on the back. The books usually have some picture supports but not too much to make it seem like an easy book, and the chapters are usually fairly short (another PLUS for my readers!). My current school does not have a school library, but at my old school, I would pull as many of these books from the library as I could get my hands on, check the reading level on the back, and identify which books my growing readers had the most success with. I was usually able to get them to read a handful of these books to create successful experiences with reading and build reading confidence.

Like many teachers do, I keep my students in mind while I'm at the bookstore or library. I know we put up with a lot as teachers AND do a lot for kids, but this is one burden of teaching that I am not willing to shirk. I will go to the library and check out books for a student. I'm always on the lookout for just right books for specific students--and keep in mind that I get the most mileage out of a series if I can find one they like. It is super rewarding for me to say "I was thinking about you this weekend and thought you might LOVE this book I found." And, how does it affect a child's reading life to know you care enough to be thinking about them outside of school?

A few years ago, I created a list of popular book series by level {from L-Z} so that I would have a quick reference of books that I might suggest or pull for students. Many of the lower level series touch on so many different topics that you are sure to find ones in a series that your readers will like. Take the Pee Wee Scouts series for example. While a student may not care for mysteries, they may enjoy reading about holidays. The Pee Wee Scouts series has titles focused on Halloween, Valentines, and other holidays, so you can still use these books to your advantage. This list is also great to use when it's time to bump a student up. I have a student who has spent all of first quarter reading The Magic Tree House series. He was reading this series towards the end of last year and I believe that it is no longer challenging him. I can use the series list to try to get him into a series that is just a step above MTH and lead him to other books that he can handle.
I have a strong passion for teaching readers. I could write about struggling readers forever.  Along with my passion, I have a few beliefs that I must share with you in this post.

1)  There are ways to help struggling readers WITHOUT telling them that a book is too hard for them. (You sometimes have to walk on the eggshells, but YOU DO NOT have to say those words.) You may eventually find that after trying many strategies that you do have to tell some students that a book is not just right, but I try my best to teach each child what that means and how to figure it out for themselves before I say those words. I regularly CELEBRATE when a child starts a book that I know is not just right and mid-day lets me know that they abandoned it because it was not just right. YES! You might have to bring how often books are being abandoned to a student's attention and then let them know that you would like to help them find a book that they can finish. When I've worked with a student on choosing a just right book and felt I've had some success, sometimes the student returns to their old habits of choosing a book that is just too hard, spending a day with it, and then abandoning it. I notice these things. I pull the student to chat during independent reading time and say "I noticed you were reading The Series of Unfortunate Events yesterday and today you are reading something different. Tell me about your independent reading." When the child admits that the book was too hard, you say "I like how quickly you realized that you had chosen a book that was not a good fit. Let's make sure that what you have chosen will work for you." You can read together and get the student on the right track again.

2) I DO NOT BELIEVE IN TALKING ABOUT READING WITH CHILDREN IN TERMS OF THEIR READING LEVELS. I have to say this because I'm talking about reading levels today and I've shared a go-to list of series by levels, but I do not want to send the message that I tell a child that they need to read a Magic Treehouse  because they read on an M, N, or O. I NEVER tell a child their reading level and my classroom library is not leveled. I'd like to go into all of the public libraries and school libraries and rip the AR levels and Lexile levels right off the spines. Discussions about reading levels are meant to be had with adults--parents, support staff, teachers, and other stakeholders. Children should not worry about being on an N or O or P. They should know whether or not they are reading books they can comprehend and read with accuracy and fluency. To put it bluntly, you can hardly guide a child to a series where all of the books in the series are the SAME level, so why have them stress out over whether or not a book is a 2.3 or a 3.2? If a child is an above grade level reader, I don't need them tooting their horns about their reading level--I hate to burst their bubble, but even they have a lot of work to do when it comes to interpretation and thinking more deeply about their books. While Lucy Calkins and I disagree on this point and I'm sure many teachers have successfully leveled their classroom libraries, I'm just not willing to tell a child their level until my strategies for steering children to just right books don't work anymore.

Last, I'd like to ask you to have compassion for your struggling readers. It is most likely the case that your struggling readers have not had good experiences with reading, especially of an independent nature. Maybe it took them a while to catch on to letter sounds. Perhaps they are actually dealing with dyslexia or attention disorders that have made it hard for them to pay attention while reading. If students were struggling to get reading to click in the younger years, it is almost guaranteed that their peers have surpassed them in reading. They see their friends choosing thick books, breezing through the Harry Potters and The Lightning Thief series. They pick up these books because they want to read them too or they want to mask that they cannot read those books with understanding. When we have this kind of reader in our classroom (and we all do), we need to believe that it is our job to be the teacher that makes a difference for that child.

Go into your year {or week} with a plan! I know it's November, but you can still commit to getting those kids reading on fire! Get your toolbox ready and convince those readers that they WANT to have the best reading life ever!

This is a "Revisit and Revised" post that was originally shared on Tarheelstate Teacher's first blog, Life, Love, Literacy.

Building a Reading Life: Revisit and Revise

Quite a few years ago at Life, Love, Literacy, I wrote a little blog series that I called "Building a Reading Life: Tip Time." I have always wanted to teach those students who have a history of not enjoying reading. When the previous grade-level's teacher says "This child hates reading." I always say "BRING IT!" I believe I turn almost all of those students around within the first two weeks of being in my classroom and I love the challenge of turning ANY and EVERY child into a reader. Even during those years when I've felt like my students came to me as wild readers, many parents still tell me that they noticed a tremendous change in their child's attitude towards reading after spending time in my classroom.

I'm starting a new blog tradition called "Revisit and Revise" where I revisit and update some of my best posts from Life, Love, Literacy to share with you here at Tarheelstate Teacher. First up, I want to share some of my best tips from my Building a Reading Life series. It's November, and if your students have yet to fall in love with reading, right now is the time to make some changes to see if you can turn those uninterested readers around. Make it your personal challenge!

I first learned about Building a Reading Life from the Lucy Calkin's Reading Units of Study that were published in 2010. Since then, I have launched my reader's workshop with a unit focused on making our reading lives the best they can be. You too can create an environment of thriving readers in your classroom!

Tip # 1: Remember that your students are mold-able and that you are their greatest influence. If you demonstrate a love of reading, share amazing books with them daily through read alouds and book talks, and help guide them towards books they can independently read and enjoy, it shouldn't take long before your students are wild readers with amazing reading lives! You cannot create a love of reading if you do not model it yourself! I create an environment in my classroom where not being a reader is not acceptable. We read independently every day and if you are going to be doing something every day, you ought to be enjoying it!

Tip # 2: Address your curmudgeon readers head on! (And we can all be curmudgeons from time to time about reading). Lucy Calkins talks about being a curmudgeon towards books. What's a curmudgeon? Make a scowling face, pick up a book, and have a grouchy attitude, furled eyebrows and all. Overdo it so that a curmudgeon is laughable and not something any of your students would ever want to be. Teach students that we have a choice in our attitude towards things that we do in our lives. We can read books like curmudgeons or we can read books like they are GOLD.

We have all had great times with reading and terrible times with reading and it's important that you share those stories about your WORST reading times with your students. I have two stories I like to share--one about when I lied to my 1st grade teacher about finishing a book over night. It was the 80's and children's literature just wasn't what it is today. She had given me a book that was totally not interesting to me and I just wanted OUT. My other story is about how hard college science and history courses were for me because of the huge nonfiction reading load.

Students can relate to having a negative attitude about "school" activities and hopefully see that they shouldn't give up on having an amazing reading life just because they have had bad experiences in the past. When I see students having negative reading attitudes, I can always remind them not to be a curmudgeon. Discussing the curmudgeon attitude also gives you the opportunity to teach students that they should be reading books that they enjoy, and that if they are not, abandoning an independent book that is not a good match is always an option. The first time I taught students about being a curmudgeon, I felt like I not only had the goal of making them all into readers, but that I invited students on board to help me with that personal challenge. You can read more about my curmudgeon discussions with students in my original post.

I've got more Building a Reading Life Tips coming your way!  Tip # 3 is chocked full of ideas for how to reach those struggling readers and Tip #4 and 5 address classroom and school libraries and how you can use them strategically to your advantage, especially for struggling readers!

This is a "Revisit and Revised" post that was originally shared on Tarheelstate Teacher's first blog, Life, Love, Literacy.

New Blog Series: Extraordinary Math Hacks

Sharpen your pencils, pull out your 10-sided dice and base-10 blocks, and get ready for some math lesson hacks that you can use right away! I’m going to show you some Extra-ordinary Math Hacks that take my math time from *yawn* to "da-Bomb!"

Why are these math hacks extra-ordinary? Well, some of my ideas are going to have you saying "That's so simple and ordinary. Why didn't I think of that?" I’m always making a little something “extra” to supplement my math instruction. Maybe they aren't that ordinary, because if it were already out there and easy to find, I wouldn’t be making the activity or worksheet myself. The resources and ideas I share for math hacks will add a little something extra (or better) to your typical, "everyday" approach to 4th and 5th grade math. Today's Math Hack is focused on modeling place value and writing numbers in different forms. These materials would also work for 3rd grade! 

Don't forget to follow Tarheelstate Teacher on bloglovin' or through email so that you don't miss any future Math Hacks!

I'm lucky enough to be teaching a block of 4th and 5th grade math this year. It’s been amazing to get to spend more time teaching one of my most passionate subjects, but it sure does mean that I spend a lot of my time thinking about math. Last year, I taught math without a textbook and with limited resources. This year, we adopted Math Expressions. Having had previous experience with Math Expressions in my former district, I was really excited to get my hands back on the teacher manuals, Homework and Remembering books, and the student workbooks. While I am NOT a textbooky teacher, I love having it as a guide to help me pace my lessons and to see different approaches to teaching math concepts and skills (especially since I’m teaching two grade levels).

Even with access to a high-quality textbook this year, I still constantly find myself coming up with ways to get the kids up and moving instead of just completing a worksheet. Just about every morning before math class, I create a new thinking sheet to go along with the manipulatives we will use or to give students a way to learn a new skill through a game. I want my students working HANDS-ON as much as possible and I'm always sure to use a recording sheet to keep them accountable and to allow me to follow their thinking as I'm rotating around the room.

I find myself "hacking" math lessons with games and manipulatives so often that I thought sharing some of my ideas and hacks with you would make a great blog series. I hope that some of my ideas and resources will be beneficial to you as you teach these concepts. You might even find ways to apply my ideas to create your own math hacks!

Math Hack: Create your own task cards in minutes! 
Earlier this year while teaching Place Value to my 4th graders, I came across these free "modeling place value" worksheets at Common Core Sheets and immediately thought of a way to hack these into a more engaging lesson. First, I printed three different versions of the sheets onto cardstock to make 30 cards. (Each worksheet is numbered 1-10, so I just wrote 11-20 on one sheet and 21-30 on the other). Printing a good set of math problems that's technically a worksheet onto cardstock and snipping the problems apart to create task cards is a math hack you can use any time to get your students out of their seats and "scooting" around the room!

Next, I moved on to figuring out how I could have students do more with the cards than simply write the number that's represented in the picture.

At this point in our place value unit, we were deeply focused on using different models to represent place value and writing numbers in different forms. So, I made a recording sheet that would have students engaging with the number on the task card in different ways. For each Place Value task card, students had to create the number with their Secret Code Cards (more info later), write the number in expanded form, write the number in standard form, and model the number in a different way than shown on the task card--the one we use when drawing whole numbers is a small square or a dot for the ones, a straight line or stick for tens, a larger square for hundreds, and a vertical rectangle for thousands. 

Math Expressions comes with a set of manipulatives called Secret Code Cards. These cards can be stacked to create a number and expanded to show the place value of each number and expanded form. Secret Code Cards provided us with yet another way to physically represent a number. You can check out a teacher modeling the use of Secret Code Cards in the video below. Although it's a number in the 10's place, I think you will get the idea!

I'm sharing the recording sheet with you today and have included number cards in the ones, tens, hundreds, and thousands in case you want your students to model the numbers in expanded form. (I really think that's what took this activity over the edge and helped solidify their understanding of the meaning of place value). I've also included another version of the recording sheet in case you don't use the expanded number cards or "secret code cards."

I hope this is a math hack that you can use right away or put in your file for next year! I look forward to sharing more hacks with you! 

I'm linking up again with Rainbow City Learning and my Teacher Talk friends. Follow the links to find other great ideas!

How to Justify the Time Spent in Your Upper Elementary Morning Meeting

While it is great to have a principal who understands, encourages, and supports teachers in having a morning meeting {or community meeting} in our schedule, I have worked under circumstances where I felt that I needed to be prepared to justify my classroom meeting as part of my daily schedule. I never had to explain how my community meeting fit my goals, but it has always been one of my personal “best practices” to know why I am doing what I am doing and be able to point to content standards that are supported by the instructional choices I make. Today, I'm sharing ways that you can justify your community meeting, the last post in my Implementing the Community Meeting series.

Take a look at the standards you are required to teach. When I was thinking about a classroom meeting based on themes in literature, Common Core Standards had also just been adopted in NC and theme kept popping up as a really important literature standard. I have created a reference tool of the “Common Core Connections” for 3rd-5th grades based on my literature-based classroom meetings. In addition, perusing your social studies standards and your guidance standards is a great way to see how a classroom meeting complements those content areas.

Common Core Standards Met through Implementing a Theme Based Community Meeting

3rd Grade
RL3.2 Determine the central message, lesson, or moral and explain how it is conveyed through key details in the text.
RL3.9 Compare and contrast the themes of stories written by the same author about the same or similar characters.

4th Grade
RL4.2 Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text.
RL4.9 Compare and contrast the treatment of similar themes and topics.

5th Grade
RL5.2 Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem, including how characters in a story or drama
respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic.
RL5.9 Compare and contrast stories in the same genre on their approaches to similar themes and topics.

6th Grade
RL6.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.
RL6.9 Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres (e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories) in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics.

Examine how you are called to build character, career and college readiness, and 21st Century Skills in your teacher evaluation. In our state’s teacher evaluation, we are called to “demonstrate leadership by taking responsibility for the progress of all students to ensure that they graduate from high school, are globally competitive for work and post-secondary education, and are prepared for life in the 21st Century. Teachers communicate this vision to their students…They establish a safe, orderly environment, and create a culture that empowers students to collaborate and become lifelong learners.” community Meeting helps us communicate our vision for students' current and future lives.

We are also called to “incorporate 21st century life skills into our teaching deliberately, strategically, and broadly. These skills include leadership, ethics, accountability, adaptability, personal productivity, personal responsibility, people skills, self-direction, and social responsibility.”

Community Meeting gives you an avenue for teaching:
  • Social Responsibility: how can we be more kind to one another? Who’s job is it to reach out to someone who needs us? Who should take responsibility for issues in our community?
  • Problem-solving of real issues {those that come up in a learning environment} through discussion, idea generation, collaboration, and learning to compromise
  • Personal Development through goal setting and your focus themes
  • People-skills as students negotiate wants and needs in the school environment and have a voice in the meetings
  • Self-direction as students receive some freedom in making decisions about how the classroom will run and share ideas for improving their classroom experience
Community meeting sets the tone for your classroom environment, it provides an opportunity for you to bond with your students and for them to bond with one another. It gives you and your students an opportunity to voice frustrations and problem-solve issues that you are having in the classroom and it allows you, as their trusted guide, to respond to their needs. Community meeting gives you a routine opportunity to embed personal goal setting and reflection into your yearly plan.

Not to mention, it allows you to meet some of the academic standards that you are required to teach without students really even realizing it!

Want to give Morning Meeting a whirl for free?

Integrity and Character Themed Bulletin Board Set
Integrity and Character Suggested Activities and Student Journal Pages
Belonging/Trying to Fit In Themed Morning Meeting Bulletin Board Set
Belonging/Trying to Fit In Suggested Activities and Student Journal Pages


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