Monday, July 17, 2017

Have You Attended a Scholastic Reading Summit?

Howdy from Central Texas!  This is Noelle guest blogging about the Scholastic Reading Summit because Melissa’s boss wouldn’t let her take off to go- so she sent ME! (PS- Melissa is Melissa’s boss!)

Last Thursday, I traveled to Houston to attend the Scholastic Reading Summit.  If you weren’t lucky enough to attend, keep reading to learn, grow, and be inspired with the great ideas that were shared!

I started the day by checking in and received a goodie bag full of BOOKS!  It wouldn’t be a Scholastic conference without free books, right?  And what teacher doesn’t love another teacher bag?  I was already hyperventilating with excitement and the conference hadn’t even started yet.

The front of the bag has a quote from Donalyn Miller: “I can learn anything, travel anywhere, ask my own questions, seek my own answers because I read.”


Cute, right?

Here’s a peek at what was inside:


Not only did they give us children’s books of all levels, they also included pure GOLD in our bag! That’s right.  Scholastic has put together the latest research on reading- A Summary of Research!  


Every educator needs to get their hands on this resource. It is pure gold, I tell you!

The keynote speaker this year was the one and only, John Schu (@MrSchuReads) He started the day with ENERGY and inspiration for reading!  He talked a lot about the need for school librarians. He said, “Every student deserves to have a FULL time librarian.”  That couldn’t be more true!

Here are a few of my favorite quote that were shared:



One of my goals for the day was to get retweeted by Mr. Schu and guess what?  I was retweeted within the first hour!  


If you are not on twitter for educational purposes, after reading this post you should create an account!  Twitter can be a fantastic learning community.  So many times educators will tweet as they are in the conference, and if you follow the right hashtags, it feels like you are sitting right there in the conference yourself! If you are already on twitter, are you following Melissa?  She has great ideas that can inspire you and your students! Go follow her @LeachLiteracy.

After Mr. Schu, next up was Kylene Beers (@KyleneBeers) and Bob Probst (@BobProbst).  I’ve been following Kylene for a while, but hearing her speak was truly inspiring.  

She talked about how our readers need to be encouraged first.  She said, “Skill and will go together. You cannot improve competence without first improving confidence.” That right there started blowing up Twitter!

During their talk, they introduced us to a way of engaging readers with text besides the basic recall questioning.  Through their research in classrooms, they have created three questions to ask students while reading that works in any grade level.  Through their research they found that students who were asked to read a text and then answer basic recall questions (think ten multiple choice questions for a quiz) could not even remember what the text was about the next day.  These students were simply reading to answer a question….they weren’t reading to THINK!

Kylene and Bob suggest using these three questions instead to engage our readers with thinking:

What surprised you?  
What did the author think I already knew?
What changed or confirmed what I already knew?

They have just published a new book called Disrupting Thinking.

After those keynotes, we split up into our breakout sessions.

I attended “Building a Love of Reading Campus Wide” with @TechNinjaTodd and @brandonkblom . Both are principals (in TEXAS) changing the way students and educators view reading.

Their session was incredible!  These two educators are funny, inspiring, and truly have a passion for reading! I walked away with so many great ideas, way too many to share in a blogpost.  So I will share my absolute favorites...

  1. Advertise what we are reading: Create a poster that announces what educators (every single adult in the building is an educator) are currently reading.  Laminate it so it is a quick update with dry erase markers. (Shout out to MAGNOLIA ISD- they are DOING this!)
  2. Guest readers: Invite all kinds of community members to bring a book to read.  Create a mystery Skype read aloud by turning off the camera but keeping the sound on.  One teacher invites grandparents to Skype in and it drives the students wild to try to guess which grandparent is reading!
  3. 6 word book talks: Silently write a 6 word book talk for a favorite book.  Next, have students share their 6 word book talk and have other students guess the title. Tech option to share via Padlet or Twitter.
  4. Secret Society of Readers: Pass out ‘golden tickets’ (Willie Wonka style) to the avid readers in your school.  You know the ones.  They always have their nose in a book.  So often we put all the attention on the struggling and reluctant readers, but in order to build a school-wide love of reading, we need to tap into the students who read any chance they can. Pass out the tickets.  Tell the students to meet in the library at a certain time, to bring their current favorite book, and to tell no one!  (Teachers are, of course, in on the secret and all the students need to do is use the code word to get out of class. Brilliant!) The first meeting can be held with flashlights under the tables of the library.  During the meeting, we allow these readers to be readers!  Encouraging them to talk about their books.  A second golden ticket is given to students and their job throughout the next week is to be on the lookout for other readers to join the secret society!  It will only take a few days for the buzz of reading to grow in your school!  I am so excited to implement this at my school.  Will you try it with me? (This is Melissa piping in- if I were in school I so would have wanted a GOLDEN TICKET!)

The afternoon session I attended was called “Independent Reading: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going”  It was a panel chalked full of the best of the best in education!


The biggest takeaway from this panel would have to be the discussion of independent reading vs. reading in isolation.  

Often we think those are the same thing, yet independent reading can and should be collaborative.  (AMEN says Melissa) The only time our students should read in isolation might be on a test.  The session closed with Donalyn Miller (@Donalynbooks) discussing testing.  This left a lasting impression on me: “You don’t get a prized cow by weighing it every day.”

The conference came to a close with JJK (@StudioJJK) as the last keynote speaker.  The New York Times Bestselling Author and Illustrator walked us through his writing process (so cool!), read aloud one of his published books (so entertaining!), and inspired us to accept all reading as reading in our classrooms (even graphic novels!).  

To say I learned a lot is an understatement.  I could go on and on about all of the inspiring ideas and latest research that was shared.  But I will leave you to go sign up for Twitter (if you haven’t already) and to add those speakers to your follow list!  

One last thought before I go:


Kids who read self-selected text rather than teacher-selected books read more and student selected reading is 2xs as powerful as teacher-selected reading in developing reading engagement and comprehension. (DROP THE MIC)


Saturday, July 8, 2017

Saturday Special: We're Going on a Letter Hunt

We’re going on a letter hunt.
We’re going to catch a big one.
I’m not scared!
What a beautiful day!

Have your students ever been on a letter hunt?  

Letter hunting provides our youngest students a chance to practice foundational reading skills- recognizing letters!

It’s a great way to practice letter recognition and automaticity, and is a must in any primary classroom.

It’s simple, really.

You just need a few supplies to make this activity an engaging, meaningful work station!

Gather up your magnetic letters (if you don’t have a gigantic stash in your classroom, I’m sure you can find them hidden in a dark closet at your school or even at a local garage sale for cheap!  Every reading teacher needs these in their classroom.  

You don't need to buy special magnetic letters, but these are my favorites... consider having a set of uppercase and lowercase. Start with uppercase as that is what you'll find on the word searches. Then later, switch to lowercase! Then they are working on MATCHING!

You’ll also need a few magnifying glasses (ask to borrow from your science teacher friends, they should have plenty to share), then get some crayons, and printed word searches.

Students doing the letter hunt activity (probably in a work on words stations or a fluency station)  will use the materials to ‘hunt’ for specific letters depending on what you are teaching that day/week/month- or just based on the letter they pull out of the bag!  

Students choose a magnetic letter from the bag, get a color crayon that matches the color of the letter- then they go hunting for as many of that letter as they can find on their word search. When a student finds that letter, they color it on their word search.  When they have hunted and found as many first letters as they can, they choose a second letter, match the crayon, and continue to hunt! Students can hunt for as many letters as their station time allows.

While it’s certainly FUN for students it’s also FUNctional!  Kids are learning tracking left to right and return sweep too!  As long as you model how to do it that way before you place the materials in a station!  :)   At the end of the station time, the student’s word search page will be a rainbow of letters found and recognized!  

And you will be a happy teacher because your students will be solidifying their letter recognition skills. It’s a win-win!  It wouldn’t be Friday without a freebie! Or in this case a Saturday Special! :)

Here are the directions to get your students started in your classroom.  

Feel free to snag this, HERE and let the letter hunting begin!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Tracking Engagement in the Early Days of Writer's Workshop


How’s your summer going?  If yours is anything like mine, it is flying by!  Can you believe it is July! Yikes!  August will be here before we know it...wait... did I just SAY that?

But August WILL come... so are you ready to launch your Writer's Workshop again?  

If you are like me, you have already been planning how to make things even better than last year. You may be scouring Pinterest or reading some of the new books about Writing Workshop.  As teachers, we are constantly searching for resources to help our students get exactly what they need.

But here’s the deal.  You don’t have to spend a dime on resources to ramp up engagement during Writer's Workshop.  You already have everything you need to help your students be successful writers.  

They have YOU as their teacher!  

At the beginning of the year, as we launch Writer's Workshop, we, as teachers of writers, must teach students how to be engaged in the writing process.  We do this by teaching mini lessons about engagement!

However, in order to know what to teach students when it comes to engagement, we first must know how our students are engaged (or not engaged) in writing.

Have you heard of a Writer's Workshop Engagement Tracking Form?  It’s simple, really, but powerful in our workshop classrooms.

As we launch Writer's Workshop, we can make note of how students are engaged during the writing time.  We use this data to drive our instruction in order to increase engagement!

This form is a great way to help you know which students need extra support with engaging the writing process.

I use this form the first few days of Writer's Workshop (and come back to it as needed throughout the year).  As students begin to build their stamina for writing, I track what they are doing.  

Instead of conferring with students the first few days of Writer's Workshop, I carry a clipboard with me and walk around the room monitoring students.  I tell them before they go to write that I have writing to do as well!  I’m writing what they are doing as writers so that I can be a better writing teacher for them.  

You’ll notice every five minutes, I am marking something for each student in my classroom.  I scan the room and notice any behaviors of my writers.

Depending on the grade level, we may not use all of the time boxes because we are building our stamina.  For example, in first grade on the first day of Writer's Workshop, my students typically only write for five minutes before they lose stamina and we come back together.  So the 10 min through 30 min time boxes are left blank.

As we build up our stamina to write for longer periods of time, I can use the other boxes.

The code at the bottom is helpful for me to be able to mark student behaviors quickly.

The check mark means a student is engaged in the writing process.  I see their pencil moving and their brains are working hard at putting their ideas onto their paper.

The B symbol is marked when a student appears to be brainstorming.  Whether it be a picture or graphic organizer, I want to make a note of a student who is brainstorming before I even teach them how because this is a HUGE step in the writing process. I can come back to this student and praise them for their work as a writer.  This is sometimes the hardest step in the writing process!

RR means the student asked me to use the restroom or go get a drink of water.  This is helpful to track!  Writing is HARD!  Sometimes writers avoid writing because it is hard.  As a writing teacher, I want to make note and track how many times a student is using the restroom or getting water in order to see any patterns within the writer's behavior.  Maybe the student is avoiding writing altogether?  Maybe the student has trouble getting started and needs a drink of water to clear their head? Maybe the student never leaves their desk because they are so engaged in their writing the break would leave them lost?

SP stands for switching papers.  I want to know how often students are getting a new piece of paper or going back to another paper they have already started writing.  This is valuable information as a writing teacher!

Z is for zoning out.  You know what I’m talking about, right?  Those students who just stare.  At their papers.  At the teacher.  Out the window.  They are in their own little world in their heads….sometimes engaged in thought about their writing, and sometimes not. Even the best writers zone out from time to time.  It can be a place where we get our best ideas for writing.  But as a writing teacher, I need to track who is zoning out and how often in order to help them become more engaged!

W means the student is starting at the window.  I usually mark this with a Z in front if they are zoned out.  This just helps me to know where they are looking.

T stands for students looking at the teacher.  If a student consistently looks at me the first ten minutes of writing time the first three days of workshop, I now know something about this writer!  They are looking at me for help! Their little eyes are saying (if their mouths aren’t already) “Please, lady, tell me what to do because I’m just not sure!”

Those are all of the markings I mark.  Will you add more to your form?  Remember, we want to keep this as simple as possible so that we can look over the data across the day, across the week.  

We look at the data, this tracking form, and notice patterns and behaviors in students.  

Then we teach them based on that data!  

Are several students zoning out after the first five minutes?  That’s a minilesson on stamina!

Are the majority of your students staring at you instead of getting started writing?  That’s a minilesson on making a plan for writing!

Do you have a revolving door with students going in and out of the classroom for a break? That’s a minilesson on sticking with your writing and pushing yourself to stay focused!

Click HERE to snag this freebie and may this year of Writer's Workshop be your BEST and most ENGAGED year yet!


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
Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 5.10.49 PM.png

After creating an account, I then create a ‘room name’ and choose how long I want the ‘room’ to be open.  

Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 5.11.21 PM.png

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

Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 5.11.36 PM.png

Once I am signed into the room, I have an opportunity to type a message and post it to the group.
Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 5.12.22 PM.png
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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’
Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 5.12.46 PM.png

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.
Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 5.15.14 PM.png
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.