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
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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!