Oct 24, 2019

Student Party Planning to Creatively Analyze Book Characters

student party planning to creatively analyze book characters

For the past several years, Otis has been a well-loved name in our classroom.  If you have never met him, Otis is a kind-hearted, loving, red tractor that makes several new friends throughout the series.  I have written about this book throughout the years, as he has been used during theme and metacognition lessons within our classroom.  But this year proves to be just a little different.  Because this year...Otis turns 10!  And we are ready to celebrate.
One thing to note before we dive in.  The lesson being described can be used with any book or series. It is just important that the book being used provides a strong description of the character.

Strong character development is paramount to a good, engaging book.  As readers, we want to feel a connection with the characters we read about by either seeing ourselves in them, relating to them, or learning from them.  As teachers, we must model how to find or infer information about characters.

One way to work towards this goal, is to analyze people within the classroom.  Before reading the book.  Ask the students to describe you.  Using a web format on large chart paper or the whiteboard, record their answers.  They may provide some physical observations, they may supply characteristics, and they may even give some inaccurate information.  Once the web is complete, ask the following questions:
  • How are you similar to me?
  • How are you different?
  • How did you learn all this information about me?
  • What else do you hope to learn about me?
Then explain that good readers, ask these same questions about characters in books.  By making connections and asking questions about characters, we can better understand them.

Introduce the book of your choice (in this case, Otis), by asking the students what they can observe about the character on the front cover.  It would be beneficial to record these observations so that you can return to them later.
Some things they may notice: He is red.  He may be on a farm.  He has a kind smile.

As you read the text, stop frequently to ask your students the following questions and record their answers:
  • What do you notice about Otis?
  • What can you learn about Otis from these observations? 
student party planning to creatively analyze book characters

 For the Otis series, I find it beneficial to read the entire Otis series and build off these observations throughout the week.  By reading all the books, students should pick up on the fact that Otis is a very caring, kind-hearted friend.  He is loyal to his farm, owner, and the friends around him.

This year Otis turned 10 years old!  And we all know that children LOVE birthdays (my girls are planning their parties all.year.long!).  So it is only fitting that your students plan a birthday party for Otis using what they know about him.

 I think this activity may be challenging (in a good way) for our young students because they have to take what they have learned about Otis and apply it to a new situation--a birthday party.  I have watched my own children struggle with thinking outside themselves when it comes to birthday parties or present giving.  They want to think about what THEY like versus the person that the party or present is for.

To model this activity, refer back to the web that the students made about you.  Then display the party planning sheet:

student party planning to creatively analyze book characters

Ask your students to help you plan a party based on what they know about you.  Where would you like to have a party?  Who would you invite?  How would you decorate? What foods would you want to have there? What activities or games would you do at the party? 

Record their answers on the form.  If this is a struggle for the class, as a whole, you may want to model a couple more times using students in the classroom.

Once you feel that they understand how to use what they know about the character to plan a party, refer to the notes about Otis.  Tell the students that they will be planning a party for Otis' 10th birthday.  Remind them that they will need to use the information they know about Otis to plan a party that he would enjoy.

 Students can illustrate the party and justify their party planning using evidence from the text with these two additional sheets.  This can be modeled with the original planning sheet you created together about the birthday party they planned for you.  Why did they choose those guests?  Why would the character like those decorations?

student party planning to creatively analyze book characters

Now...if you would like to actually host a birthday party for Otis...that is completely up to you!!

student party planning to creatively analyze book charactersstudent party planning to creatively analyze book characters

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Oct 18, 2019

Intervention for an Intervention

 I previously shared that I would like to reflect each week about a failure (because we learn and grow through them).  This week is no different!

The past two years I have used Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) and we (me and my students) love it.  The books are so engaging and the different characters are loved.  For the most part, my teammates and I have followed the program.  And we have seen some great growth in our Tier 2 reading instruction.

 In the training, we did learn that the phonics should meet the need of the group.  It seemed that each student in each group had a different set of needs.  So for the past two years, I have followed the phonics written with the LLI lesson.  But...yep, you guessed it.  Those gaps did not seem to fill.

This was a hard failing to swallow.  Because it was on me for not tailoring my instruction to better meet the need. It led me to some great reading.

From reading and conversations with Orton-Gillingham trained co-workers, I came up with a plan.
1. Assess reading level with F&P.
2. Assess phonological awareness skills.
3. Assess phonics skills. 

I use the phonological awareness assessment in this book.  It covers the following skills:
  • rhyming identification
  • rhyming utilization
  • alliteration identifcation
  • alliteration utilization
  • sentence segmentation
  • syllabication
  • onsets
  • rimes
  • blending task
  • phoneme segmentation
  • phoneme deletion
  • phoneme substitution 

 For the phonics assessment, I started with just the alphabet mixed up for my first graders.  Determining the letter sounds they did know and did not know was the place to begin.  If they knew all their sounds, then I moved on to this sheet (partial image of assessment).  Basically, this sheet helped me to determine if they knew sounds and how to apply them when blending words together.

Once all this data was collected during the first couple weeks of school, groups were formed with children at similar reading levels and phonics needs.

During the week, each student in my LLI group works with me one on one to be more flexible with sounds through phonological awareness activities.  Then, all three students work on the same phonics skill.  And our weekly schedule looks like this:
Monday: blending lines (lines of words with the targeted skill)
Tuesday: word sort
Wednesday: making words
Thursday: decodable text
Friday: dictation

Fast forward almost 5 weeks.  I know exactly the phonics and phonological awareness skills that can be applied by each student.  The information I gather each week through observation, dictation, blending, and progress monitoring allows me to plan more effectively for the focused skills of the following week.

A complete failure that has left me more informed and effective.

Oct 17, 2019

Word Study and Phonics: The Next Step Forward

A Little Opinion from Em:
Well Jan Richardson did it again (along with Michele Dufresne, this time)!  Jan's guided reading books really helped me  to tighten and strengthen my small group instruction.  And her new book "The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics" is already helping me to plan for my phonics instruction this year!

One section addresses children reading at a pre-A stage.  Yes, please!!  I jumped right to this and got started.  To begin with, students need to be able to recognize their name.  This is where I started with a couple of my readers.  Two different colored sentence strips were used.  One had the child's name printed on it.  The second strip had the child's name printed on it but then I cut out each letter.  My student worked to match the letters in her name by placing the cut up letters on top of the first sentence strip.
Once this task could be completed without prompting, I provided letter tiles and asked her to build the name.  For many of the sessions, the original sentence strip  was used to help with the building process.  But after time, she could build the name independently.

A Little Opinion from Maria:
This book is jam packed with ideas and lessons for readers at all levels.  I liked how this book is set up.  It's easy to read and if I ever (hopefully never, though) had to teach reading again, this book would be right by my side, every step of the way.

One thing that stands out to me in this book are the ideas on how to weave word study into your guided reading lessons.  While I'm not teaching those types of lessons, my brain started mulling over how I could use these ideas in my writing classroom.  For spelling practice/phonics work, I would love to add in the magnetic letters on a tray.  This kind of activity really scares me, but I know it would be beneficial to my firsties. Another activity I'd like to try is sorting.  I've noticed, especially in the past few days, that our firsties have trouble sorting.  It's challenging for them to come up with grouping ideas and actually sorting. We are also in need of learning how to work in groups, but it's okay, we've got time and sorting our words is the perfect way to practice.
In this book, you will also find a list of word study focus and activities by level!  WOW!

Another thing I loved about this book is the video links. SUPER HELPFUL for teachers young and old. :) You will also have access to downloads and resources on the Scholastic Website, BONUS!  Anytime I can get my hands on a book that provides this much support, I'm in!

One final gem in this book are the Lesson Plans.  You will find lessons plans that are specific and all laid out for you with ideas that follow. These easy to read plans will help you feel confident in your small group instruction.

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Sep 28, 2019

Harmonicas for Positive Management

 I previously shared that I would like to reflect each week about a failure (because we learn and grow through them).  This week is no different!

 Our first PD day this year started with a PAX training, which is a "preventive intervention used by teachers and schools to teach self-regulation, self-management, and self-control in young people (paxohio.org).  I was hooked immediately because the ideas supported many of the things we have learned in our trauma based training, the reading I've done, and the conversations we've had as a building.  But there were also enough ideas and things for me to tweak in my own behavior to keep me interested throughout the training.

Well, this week I got to start putting this learning to the test.  After many weeks of testing, scheduling, and co-teaching, my groups have officially started!  (But that is for another post).  What I've found through my trial and error is that getting my PAX language down is going to take time.  I'm a creature of habit.  I tend to use the same language for expectations day in and day out.  But with PAX, I wanted to change it a bit.  That has been a challenge this week and the good work/practice will continue.

I did want to share one piece of the training that has been very successful for my school.  Are you ready for it...a harmonica.

If you are like me, you've tried many different techniques to get the attention of your students.  Turned off the lights.  Whole brain teaching call backs.  Clapping patterns. Chimes. What else?  I'm sure there are more examples.

The PAX suggestion: harmonica.  I have not heard of this.  The trainer explained that children come to us with many different experiences and some may have negative triggers with the techniques we choose to use.
Turning off the lights--sudden darkness trigger
Call backs--not a bad idea but the raising of the voice may be a trigger
Clapping patterns--the sudden loud noise can be a trigger

But a harmonica.  Most children will not have any experience with this sound.  And the deep tones are pretty soothing.  So the harmonica is blown when you have something to say.  Not just to quiet students down but when there is something to be said.  Just the low tone can be blown or a short pattern.

Throughout my building you will hear this soothing sound and then students look at the adult, or put up a finger motion to signal to others it is time to listen.  Simple but effective.

Harmonica. Game changer.

Sep 20, 2019

Our Language Matters

I previously shared that I would like to reflect each week about a failure (because we learn and grow through them).  This week is no different!

My teammate and I co-teach a reading strategy lesson each year (one of my favorites!)  When I walked in one afternoon this week, there was some chaos in a typically very, very calm room. My teammate was going to prepare the class for some calming activities to get them back on track.  She said in a low voice, "when I turn off this one light we are going to say nothing."  She turned off one light.

A very literal student responded by saying, "Nothing!"  And then so did many other children.

We smiled at each other and said, "Yep, that is what I said to do."

It was a failed moment.  The language was just not quite right.  And it was little reminder to us that our language choices matter. 


Sep 6, 2019

Brain Research and Vocabulary

 Last week I shared that I would like to reflect each week about a failure (because we learn and grow through them).  Well...this week was filled with Aimsweb testing.  My teammate and I are in charge of completing all these benchmark assessments for our school.  If you have never given this assessment, let me share that it did not allow for much growth, on my part.  I ask the same 27 questions to every student.

But if we look...we can always find somewhere to grow.

This week I started to read "How the Brain Learns to Read" by David Sousa.
I just finished chapter 1...so I am not far along.  One section discussed the parts of the brain that process verbal and image based words.  As teachers, we know that it is important to be as concrete as possible.  So we use many methods to help our students understand vocabulary words: images, stories, context, motions, songs, etc.  David Sousa explains that different parts of our brain process verbal based information from image based information.

For example if I am talking to my students about a serpent.  I may explain that it is a large snake.  Students can visualize this and part of the brain lights up.  But if I have a discussion about the word grace.  Students will not a visual for this word because it is more abstract and verbal based; therefore, a completely different part of the brain lights up.

Students understand words better when they have a mental image of the word.  This is why, as teachers, we do anything we can to help them remember these words and their meanings.  Although, I teach in small groups all day and do not have a set list of vocabulary words, students are learning new concepts all the time through the texts we read.  I have always used a variety of methods to teach new words; however, when I read this information about the brain, it really helped me to have a deeper understanding of WHY I do it.  And WHY I need to do more of it.

So this year...as I am planning out my books for the week or day.  I want to ensure I am not glossing over words that could use more of a visual.  I want to ensure that even some "simple" sight words can have a picture attached, if it is going to help support a student's understanding.

 I can always work to do a little more.  A little better.

Sep 2, 2019

Being a Coach or Mentor

"I think it has been 15 years.  Wait, no...16."  Last night, a friend and I were trying to think through how many years we have been teaching and in what positions.  I'm a veteran teacher. The years have slipped by quickly (and slowly, at times).  But in this time, I have been a mentor for quite a few teachers.  And it is one of my favorite parts about the job.

Reflecting back...I didn't have a mentor my first couple years of teaching.  Crying, a desire to quit, and loneliness were daily feelings.  I didn't have a mentor.   So I take the position seriously and work hard to ensure that the new teacher does not feel alone because teaching is hard and we need goo teachers to stick around.

In July, Scholastic published the second edition of "The Coaching Partnership: Collaboration for Systemic Change" by Rosemary Taylor and Carol Chanter.  Although, I have had training (years ago) on being a mentor, it is like any other aspect of teaching.  We should be working to grow stronger at the task.  If I am going to be a supportive mentor, I need to work at it.  Professional development makes a difference.  So I read this book.

This book is broken into three parts: learning partners, learning processes, and learning breakthroughs.  The authors share practical applications, examples from the schools, and questions for self reflection.  But I really want to jump in and share some of my favorite parts with you.

Chapter 3 is about "Embracing Generative Thinking."  The authors really dig into the beliefs we have our thinking, the culture of learning within our schools, and the structures we provide for reflection.  This is something I think about a lot (probably too much).  What is the culture within my own school?  Do we encourage others (adults and children) to try out new learning, make mistakes, and then provide time to reflect and change?  This is the type of environment I want to be; therefore, part of my role is to promote and encourage generative thinking.

I cannot be any kind of mentor if my mentee does not trust me.  Not new information; however, this quote really struck a cord with me.  "Trust is built on consistent and predictable actions."  What are my repeated behaviors and what do they say about me?  Am I someone that says one thing and does another?  Or am I a person that does what I say I will do?

The authors do give Ideas for Productive Partnerships.  I found some nice little nuggets of information within these sections.  One quote really stuck with me...
To facilitate authentic discussions that build rapport and trust, we suggest replacing the common "Any questions?" with "Jot down your wonders."  The rationale for this suggestion is that having a question may signal a lack of knowledge or expertise.  On the other hand, highly accomplished people think and wonder.  People who make a great impact on the world wonder. p.66
 I love this!  Changing up our words and language can have a large impact on the job we are doing.

If you are a new teacher, this book may help you to work with professionals that are coaching or mentoring you.  It provides ideas on how to work with these individuals in a productive manner.

If you are an experienced teacher that would like to someday be a mentor, this book will provide you with a great starting point.

If you are currently a mentor or coach, this book may provide you with some new ideas, refresh your memory on training you have had, or it may reaffirm what you are currently doing.

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