Friday, June 23, 2017

Ramping Up Interactive Read Aloud... with Technology

Howdy and Happy Friday!

This week I wanted to share a technology tip with you.

Are you looking for ways to increase student engagement during interactive read alouds?  

As reading teachers, we pull out all of the stops: post-it notes for stop and jots, reading notebooks, turn and talks, you name it! We’ve tried it.

But have you tried incorporating your technology while you read aloud?

Interactive read alouds provide a time for students to engage in a high level text with the support of the teacher.  During this time, the teacher is modeling strategies that good readers use and guiding the students in reflective comprehension conversations.  

Often times during an interactive read aloud, we will pause the reading and guide students to reflect on the text.  This typically looks like students turning and talking to a neighbor about their thinking, or jotting down their ideas on a post-it or in a reading notebook.  

But it doesn’t always have to be that way. It’s 2017.  We have a vast amount of technology at our fingertips.  We use it constantly in our everyday lives.  Why not provide your students with an opportunity to reflect using technology?

Kristin Ziemke has a great book called Amplify that suggests using a backchannel during interactive read alouds. Just like you would have students turn and talk or write down their thoughts, with a backchannel students are having a conversation in the background about the text.  

Here’s how it looks in a classroom:

Before students enter the classroom on the day I want to use the backchannel, I make sure to create an account for the backchannel.  

There are many different versions out there.  I use
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After creating an account, I then create a ‘room name’ and choose how long I want the ‘room’ to be open.  

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Next, I create a nickname for myself to use in order to post questions throughout the read aloud.  

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Once I am signed into the room, I have an opportunity to type a message and post it to the group.
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When students are present and ready to log on, I simply display the QR code found at the bottom of the screen under ‘Room Tools’
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Students log onto their iPads, scan a QR code that is linked to and type in their nickname.

It’s important to teach students digital citizenship as we use technology.  One of the first things we learn is Internet safety- nicknames only!

Once students are logged in, we greet each other and start the interactive read aloud! Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 5.13.31 PM.png
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I set up very clear expectations with the iPads.  The first few times we use the backchannel, I cue students on when to type on their iPads and when to listen in to the reading.  Eventually, we create a rhythm and students pipe in with their thoughts on the backchannel as they think of them.

Just as I have students stop and jot, I do the same on the backchannel.  Students share their responses, read others responses, and can reply to any questions.  

Imagine you are having a silent conversation with your students during your interactive read aloud.

I like to project the backchannel on the SMARTboard for everyone to reference.  You can do this by clicking ‘room tools’ and Projector View.
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Using a backchannel increases students reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills, which in turn creates an authentic reading community!

Once you finish the interactive read aloud, the teacher can go back and save the backchannel conversation by clicking under ‘room tools’ and SAVE Transcript.  This conversation can be printed and put in a station to further learning!
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There are so many possibilities with technology, things can sometimes seem overwhelming!  

Using a backchannel during an interactive read aloud is a simple way to incorporate technology.  

And if you are a school who is not blessed with 1:1 ipads or laptops, you can still incorporate the technology you DO have!  

If you have three laptops, have three students log on to the channel and have the conversation.  Students can take turns on the device.  Viola!  

Check it out, try it out, and make plans to engage your students with technology next year!

I’m curious, what other ways are you incorporating technology into your reading block?


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Independent Reading: Research Please

Do you know what the biggest predictor of reading success in comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency is between second and fifth grade?  

Worksheets?  Nope.

All of the cute TPT activities you have so willingly spent your own money and time preparing? Nope.


That’s right.  I will say it again:  Readers reading books is the best way to increase reading skills.  

Research has proven time and time again that the best way to increase reading achievement is to put books in the hands of readers.  (Anderson, Fielding, and Wilson, 1998)

As educators, we hope that families are helping us by providing a variety of books for our students to read at home.  However, we have big shoes to fill inside the four walls of our classrooms when it comes to books.  

Our students need to be reading, reading, reading.  

Our students need to be reading frequently (more often than not!), for extended periods of time, on topics that interest them.  

If there is one thing that you add to your schedule next year, could it be independent reading time for your students?  

Maybe your school already has a designated reading time.  You might call it DEAR or read to self or maybe independent reading.  We might call this time Reading Workshop!

Call it whatever you’d like!  Students need books in their hands in our classrooms. And in a Reader’s Workshop… we teach readers right before that reading time and give them something to practice, try, think about during reading- thus making it an INSTRUCTIONAL part of the day and not JUST reading.

In a classroom that values independent reading, there are six foundational beliefs that create a reading community. Allington states that (1) every child reads something he or she chooses (2) every child reads accurately (3) every child reads something he or she understands (4) every child writes about something personally meaningful (5) every child talks with peers and adults about their reading and writing (6) every child listens to a fluent adult read aloud.  

Let’s take a moment to break down just the first belief, shall we?

  • Every child reads something he or she chooses.  Yes.  Every child gets to choose books that interest them.  This instantly increases engagement during your independent reading time.  Johnny is no longer trying to throw his scissors in the air because he is excited to read his Minecraft series! Now I’m not saying that I never sneak a guided reading book in a child’s book bag, but the majority of the books students are reading during independent reading time, they have chosen for themselves!

  • Students should pick from a variety of genres.  This means as teachers, we must provide a variety of genres within our classroom libraries.  Now is the perfect time to take inventory of your library.  Make note of the genres you have, the topics. Next, hit up local garage sales, discount book stores, or host a book drive with friends and family to rev up your library.

Sometimes we must teach students using programs that do not support independent reading due to the resources available or the administration's guidelines.  BUT, there is always an opportunity to provide authentic reading for your students.   Afterall, that is what the research points to as the number one indicator of reading achievement.

Don’t believe me? Print off your own copy of the research?  Does someone not believe you? Print off the research and just leave it where they will see it!  This freebie will back up your scheduling decision to add independent reading into your day.  It includes several research-based books and articles that conclude the value of independent reading.  If this is something that interests you, feel free to research further by reading the source itself!

Get your Freebie HERE!

So to recap:  

Let’s provide a space and time for our students to read.  Real, authentic books.

Let’s provide a variety of genres in our libraries by adding to our collections now.

Let’s provide the research to back up our decisions as educators.  


Friday, June 9, 2017

Sticker Stories for Fluency

Do you have readers in your classroom who are still working on becoming proficient?  
Chances are- the answer to that simple question is-YES.  

I want you to close your eyes and imagine one of those readers.  He or she is sitting right in front of you at your Guided Reading table with their book open.  What do you see?  What do you hear?

When I place myself next to a one of those readers, one of the first things to stand out is their fluency.  The student lacks automaticity and needs our support in speeding up the reading process so that they can maintain meaning.  

We define fluency as the ability to read with speed, accuracy, and proper expression.  A big piece of the fluency puzzle is learning to move your eyes from left to right as your brain picks up each word.  And in fact, eyes eventually need to move ahead of the words being read.

Our youngest readers need practice pointing one-to-one in order to build their fluency strength.  Our upper elementary students who lack fluency must be explicitly taught how to train their eyes to move from left to right and at a faster speed!

Did you know there is a fluency activity that students can practice in order to build this one-on-one eye-brain connection?

Fluency Sticker Stories!

Fluency sticker stories can be used for readers who need support and practice pointing one-to-one or moving their eyes from left to right quickly.  It’s simple, really, but often times overlooked in the classroom.

Below are the directions to make and use them.

-paper or sentence strips
-stickers or clip art

Place the stickers on the paper or sentence strips in any order.  For example, cat, cat, dog, cat, dog.
With your marker, draw a dot underneath each sticker for students who need support with pointing one-to-one.  

You will teach the student to read the stickers aloud (cat, cat, dog, cat, dog) while he or she points to the dot underneath in order to build fluency!

After you’ve taught a student how to use this tool, you can send it with them in their book bag as a warm up before reading or place it in a literacy station for extra practice.

If you have older students who need fluency support, you can use this same activity- only don’t add the dot underneath because you don't want them reading word-for-word.  

I always teach this lesson before allowing students to do this activity independently:

“Yesterday while I was reading a really tricky book, I noticed that I started to sound really boring and I had no clue what the story was about.  I stopped reading and realized that my eyes weren’t doing what good reader’s eyes do!  My eyes got stuck on one word and forgot to look at the next word.

Today I want to teach you that good readers move their eyes to the next group of words while their brain or mouth says a word.  Let me show you what I mean (here i demonstrate reading a part of a book fluently.  My pointer finger represents where my eyes are looking as I read. I model and talk aloud how my eyes are moving to the next word while I am reading a word.)  

I have some silly sentences we will practice together and then I want you to practice using this strategy on your own with your book.  (Here I will guide the student to use the fluency stickers.)  Now I want you to read from your book bag.  As you read, remember to move your eyes across the page faster than your brain is reading the words.”

Fluency work is such an important piece of being a successful reader.  Fluent reading allows readers to maintain meaning for themselves and others.  

Why not take ten minutes out of your summer to create this foundational fluency activity for your readers? They will thank you with their improved fluency!  

Friday, June 2, 2017

Friday Freebie: Summer Writing Reflection

Can you believe that summer is almost here?  Chances are you might already be reading this post with an umbrella drink in your hand.  Woot woot!  Or perhaps you are counting down the days and have made it to the single digits.  You’ve got this!

At the schools I visit, library books are checked in, desks have been emptied, and furniture has been neatly stacked in the center of the room.  Summer is here!  

As a perfectionist, summertime can be both refreshing and overwhelming.  My body and mind need the break, but I can find myself in a panic thinking: What do I do with all of this extra time and space? How can I make the most of my time to better serve my students next year?  What can I accomplish now, so that next year is a success?

Before we know it, the days melt away and we find ourselves handing out welcome letters and gifts to wide eyed children who will soon steal our hearts-just like the last bunch did.  

How can we, as teachers, make the most of our summers "off"?  

What should we be doing with our time?  

There’s a reason teachers have the summers "off"!

But here’s the deal.  The reason you have the summer off might be different than the teacher across the hall from you.  

We all need different things, just like the students in our classrooms.

Maybe you need to spend your time at the beach with your family.  
Or maybe you need to finally reorganize your classroom library.  
Maybe you need to find a cozy corner of a bookstore and get lost in a good book forgetting you’re a teacher for a moment.  
Or maybe you need write the first of week lesson plans so that you aren’t as overwhelmed as last year.  

You won’t know what’s best for you as an educator (and human being) until you take some time to reflect.  

Reflection is key to growth.

We teach our readers and writers to set goals.  Shouldn’t we do the same as teachers?  

I’ve created a quick reflection page you can use to guide you through your reflection.  

Maybe you print it off and jot down your thoughts before turning in your classroom key.  Or perhaps you talk about your plans with your teacher friend over coffee.  It doesn’t matter how you reflect, what’s important is that you think about this past school year and ask yourself what you as an educator need for the next year.

Is it okay for your goal to be “don’t think about school for an entire month”?  Yes, if that’s what you need in order to be the best teacher for your students next year.  (If you do make this your goal, don’t forget to stop by and catch up on all of the blog posts you’ve missed!  I’m planning some great freebies to share!)

Comment below! Share your reflection of this past school year and any goals you have as an educator.

HAPPY SUMMER and congratulations on finishing the 2016-2017 school year!
You were AMAZING!


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Leveled Texts to Share with Families

Hello people!  How are you these days? Sorry it's been so long! But I'm back (for now at least) and I'm here with another Saturday Special! 

I was with teachers in Macomb IL this week! We were setting things straight about Guided Reading and laying the groundwork for a school-wide reading CULTURE at Lincoln School (yes, as in Land of Lincoln).  

One thing that we talked about was how to help parents know how to help students!  Telling parents that their child is reading at a Level T... is not helpful! How do you navigate that in the real world of reading? How do you find books on that level if you're not a teacher?  

So I have an idea for you!  Provide a book list!  Send home the page that goes with their level.  There are books to be read themselves and books to be read WITH someone at home.

You can get this for yourself... HERE!

You all know about Scholastic Book Wizard right? Add your own books to this list using that FREE site! Remember their Guided Reading level is NOT the level you share with parents... share their independent reading level with parents (a level below their GR level).  And of course- a CHILD is not a level- a book can be leveled and it is a tool to help children learn to read!


Enjoy your last days of summer... your students are waiting for you!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Saturday Specials (Formerly Known as Freebie Friday)

Hello out there! I am going to try SO SO HARD this summer to bring back FRIDAY FREEBIES... but I know I work most every Friday. So, we'll try our first SATURDAY SPECIAL!

I worked with teachers in North Dakota this week and it reminded me of things I have been meaning to share... probably promising to share all up and down the coast in numerous presentations. OOPS!

So here it is.  Nothing fancy really, but that's how I roll.  Speaking of roll, it's called ROLL and RESPOND.  It would find a nice home in a Write about Reading or Work on Reading Work Station.

You'll need to buy (or find in your classroom) at least two of these:

Or, go to Dollar Tree and find the cheaper and just as good version: 

Then use this SATURDAY SPECIAL to put in each of the sections.


Label the center FICTION or INFORMATIONAL text and put a die in the center!

VOILA!  Get your FREE copy here. Cheers!


Can We Get a Level Please?

As many of you know there are so MANY ways to level text.  For years we have tried to determine what is a frustrational, independent and instructional level for the students we teach. I recognize that the notion of instructional levels (and even Guided Reading) is being challenged currently (see Shanahan) but some teachers are still trying to wrap their heads around the idea. I know- 'cause I work with them all over the country.  So before we challenge the idea of levels in our teaching practices... let's get a common understanding of what exactly is being challenged.

So... frustrational level... kids are going to see it! They should see it! They should be struggling with it and doing close readings of it.  But that would be the text we use in our whole class settings and spend time repeatedly reading for a different purpose to better understand what the text says, how it says it, and what it means.  So... to do this... teachers are looking more closely at LEXILE levels.  You can use Scholastic Book Wizard to do this. You can check out the Lexile suggestions for grade levels.  It is a step in the analysis of complex text which would also be FRUSTRATIONAL for most of our students.

So what about independent? Teachers need to know this... students need to know this... but it is NOT THE ONLY DETERMINING FACTOR for text selection!  Did you hear that? Don't believe it? Spend some time with Donalyn Miller... Kylene Beers... Richard Allington... Kelly Galagher... do I need to continue? It's typically the STAR assessment teachers use to help them understand a student's "independent" level.  Keep in mind though... motivation matters more than level.
Kids who want to- will!

I guarantee you some of you reading this post have a higher reading level than me... if we both walked into a book store together and through a scanner that reported our "level" and I had to go one way to the 24.5 books and you got to go another to the 26.7 books... I'd be pretty darn sad.

So this brings me to INSTRUCTIONAL LEVELS... still very much alive and well... as they should be in classrooms.  There are a variety of ways to level out there... but I encourage us all to convert.

Convert your numbers (DRA perhaps) to Fountas and Pinnell.  Why? Because their work gives us the most information to guide our work at the teacher table!  If you haven't seen it yet... the Continuum of Literacy Learning may be one of the best resources and one-stop-shops for what we teach in each component of the Balanced Literacy Framework by grade level.

If instructional levels are confusing to teachers... imagine what they are like for parents???!!! Oy vey! So... we've got to be clear about what a "level" is at the Guided Reading table as educators and be able to communicate that information to families.

Does that sound like a good idea? If you've read this far, I'm assuming it's because you want to know what FREE tool Leach Teach is going to offer?

Well... here is it!  (gosh I use a lot of ...)

This is just the first page, but this document outlines the characteristics of each level A-Z as well as the behaviors to notice/support/teach a reader at each level.  I created this when I was part of the team at DC Public Schools and encouraged teachers to send the page at their child's level home for parents with report cards or progress reports.  Just a good and simple way to explain "levels" for everyone.  You can get your copy HERE!

*NOTE: When reporting reading levels to parents... remember to report their independent level... if parents don't know how to do Guided Reading/Strategy Lessons then they can't be told their child's instructional level.

See how complicated this all is???!!!

Happy Teaching, y'all!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Were You at the ASCD Conference?

What a great conference! Over 1,800 PK and Kindergarten teachers from across the state of IL and all over the country! I was honored to be a part of it and to help these great educators think more deeply about Guided Reading and Writer's Workshop on Day 1.
Day 2 we were in the land of Social and Emotional Development and some Tech Tools for Educators!

If you came to see me- comment and share something you learned! I will send you a FREEBIE! 

If you attended my Guided Reading session, we talked about prompts that support readers at the Guided Reading table and I promised I'd share the prompts (adapted from the work of Fountas and Pinnell) on my blog... so here you go... click here to download your copy!

If you're reading this, you know about Leach Teach (the blog), but have you found Leach's Literacy Training on Facebook? Give us a LIKE to know the latest links, freebies etc. in your news feed.

And find my Teachers Pay Teachers page- so much FREE stuff to explore!

Finally, I have Pinterest Boards... pin away!

It was so nice to meet you! See you again soon- ONLINE! 


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Currently December

Have I really not blogged anything since November? Yep! There's this BABY in my house these days! I don't know where the day goes, but it's GONE! I have PLANS to blog for y'all! I have some more freebies that are my gift to you for Christmas- but I have a BABY with PLANS of his own! Plans to eat, and not sleep. Plans to poop and plans to cry! This is the hardest job in the world and I absolutely love that I get to be his mommy!

So.... Currently he is sleeping!

But that could all change at any moment!

Going to try and finish this blog post before he changes my PLANS!  

Listening: My husband got home from work (I'm on maternity leave still) and praise GOD he swoops in and takes my little one from me!  I welcome break.  They are both currently taking a nap on the couch! 

Loving: I would love time to just be still! Sip some tea (lactation tea of course)- but still- it sounds heavenly! 

Thinking: As I said above... any time I have to do something else... I wonder how long I'll actually have to do it! What a different 10 seconds can make these days.  They say to sleep when your baby is sleeping and that is certainly good advice- but I don't sleep on command! I'm not tired when he's sleeping. I'm tired when he's up and fussy and crying!!!! Of course!

Wanting: When I say make dinner- I mean heat up dinner that friends made for us! :) 

Needing: My husband's sisters are coming into town tomorrow. I had wanted to have my tree up... that's not going to happen.  Alas... 

Real or Fake: I grew up with a fake tree. Married my husband and he is a real tree kind of guy.  But some years, my husband is gone, so I don't have a tree at all. This year- it's gonna be real- if I can ever get him to go get it with me!

There you have it folks! If you don't hear from me again this month- Merry Christmas!!!! It may be NEW YEAR gifts/freebies I give you! :)