Friday, November 14, 2014

Guest Blog - Reading Instruction and Reading Response Journals

I am excited to announce Maria Braswell as the first to guest-blog!  I met Maria last summer at a professional learning conference hosted by our district and it was immediately obvious that she was hungry to grow.  Her enthusiasm is contagious and I am not surprised that her students are producing amazing results!

Get to know Maria.

I am a 3rd year teacher. I have taught 2nd, 3rd, and now 4th grade. I have a B.A. in Communication and Information Sciences from the University of Alabama (ROLL TIDE!). I spent 3 years working as an advertising executive at BBDO Atlanta on the AT&T account. During my time in graduate school, I worked as a translator for a large, non-profit organization in Atlanta. I graduated from Mercer University, Atlanta in 2011 with an M.A.T in Early Childhood Education. 

I teach in a high poverty, high transiency school. Our school is Title I. 97% of our student population qualifies for free or reduced lunch. Though our students are predominantly African American (60%), we have a growing Hispanic population (20%). My class has a high volume of students in the early intervention program, and also serves as the ELL classroom for my grade-level. 

Discuss your prior experiences teaching reading.

Last year, I used guided reading in my classroom. It is the model that most of the teachers in my building use, so I felt that it was my best bet in terms of resources and support. My class was an exceptionally diverse group of readers. Coming into the school year, I had students reading anywhere from a Kindergarten to a 3rd grade reading level. Not only were most of my students significantly below grade level, but they also loathed reading. As soon as it was time for reading, I found that half of my class couldn’t stay awake, wanted to chat with a friend, or needed to go to the restroom, nurse, etc. During our guided reading time, I would pull small groups of readers on similar levels. I would typically select the texts for the students. My ESOL teacher pushes in, so she would support her students in small group during the reading block as well. Meanwhile, the rest of my students would read independently or be working on an activity related to the standards that we were mastering. As the year went on, I noticed that my students were not progressing in the way that I had hoped. Guided reading was helping my lower students, but it didn’t seem to extend the students on the higher end of the spectrum. One of my biggest challenges was that I had not fully bought into the idea of guided reading. I am an avid reader. When I pick up a book, I am all in. I am invested in the characters and their circumstance. I will finish a book in one sitting if the stars align. There is so much to love about reading, but I did not feel that guided reading was delivering this message to my students. For me, the leveled readers did not provide an authentic reading experience. I do not want to read those books, so why would my students? To me, it is very difficult to have grand literary conversations about a leveled reader. Last October, something amazing happened in my classroom. I chose Charlotte’s Web as our extended text, class read aloud. Immediately, I saw a change in my students. Though the book was on a high reading level, my students were following along as I read to them, and they were actually interested in the text. They were asking questions, writing about the literature, and having those grand conversations that I so yearned for in my classroom. The entire dynamic of our reading block was drastically different. The read aloud became a staple of my classroom. We ended up reading 6 novels as a class from October to May. By the end of the year, my students would choose extra read aloud time over recess. I realized that moving forward, I needed to tap into the authentic reading experience in order to help my students grow as readers.  

What instructional changes have you implemented when teaching reading this year?

This year, I implemented reading response journals (View Reading Response Journals Blog Post for additional support) in my classroom. The reading response journal is now the anchor of my reading instruction. From the teacher’s perspective, there is a lot to learn when it comes to teaching alongside the reading response journal. The journals force the teacher into the role that they should play in the classroom of facilitator, rather than dictator. The entire literacy block is driven by the literary conversations that are taking place in the journals and spilling into the conferences and strategy groups. It is a departure from many of the “traditional” models that people think of when they think of reading instruction. With an open mind and a passionate heart, I dove right in this year. Since my students have no previous experience with journaling in reading, they needed additional support in order to be successful.  One of the keys for their success has been the strategies journal. My students keep a separate journal which they update with the strategies that they have learned as they progress through the year. This journal works in tandem with the reading response journal. When I teach my students any of the CAFÉ strategies, they record the name of the strategy in their journal. I model the use of the strategy and then the students have the opportunity to practice the use of the strategy with peer partners. Additionally, I create an anchor chart or some type of visual cue that ties in with the strategy. The students copy the visual into their strategies journal so that they always have a reminder of how to use the strategy. (this element is key, especially for my ELL students) During our reading block, I meet with strategy groups. I use a variety of assessments and most importantly the reading response journals to select the topics that I will teach or review during strategy group meetings. One very important component of my reading instruction this year is that all texts are student selected. I invested a great deal of time in the beginning of the year teaching my students about book selection. This conversation has continued throughout the year in our small group and individual conferences.
                Additionally, I have continued with my extended text class read aloud. During this time, we continue to reinforce our CAFÉ strategies. The extended text also serves as a time to introduce my students to the Notice and Note signposts. Since the signposts dig deeper into the text, the read aloud is the perfect time to learn about and utilize these strategies. 

What differences do you see with your readers this year when compared to last year?

Since I looped with my class, I can say with certainty that reading response journals have revolutionized my reading instruction. First and foremost, my students are reading! They look forward to reading time more than any other time in our day. I find that my students feel empowered this year. They are accountable for their learning during reading. They are the ones that choose the books that read. They are the ones who drive the conversation during strategy groups. I also find that my students are more motivated than ever before. They are making significant gains this year. One of my students has already moved 5 reading levels and it’s only November! Because my students can see their own growth, they are encouraged to persevere. They can clearly see how far they have come. When the doubt creeps in or they feel uncertain, all they have to do is flip back to their earlier entries and compare them with the work they are doing now. There really is nothing more powerful. The most important change that I have seen in my readers is that they are becoming thinkers. It is not uncommon for them to stop in the middle of reading and jot down a question on a sticky note about something that they may be wondering about the text. They make predictions. They reflect on what they have read. They have become readers in the truest sense.

What is your plan, in regards to reading instruction, for the future?

Moving forward, I plan to continue using reading response journals in my classroom. I know that as we move through the year, my students will continue to teach me what works and what does not work when it comes to journaling. Towards the end of the year, I plan to have my students reflect on their journaling. I am certain that they will be able to give me more insight into what I can improve upon for next year. Later this year, I’d like to have my students participate in some authentic book clubs.  Last but certainly not least, I plan to have all of my students reading on grade level by the end of year. 7 down, 17 to go! 

Check out some examples of the interactions Maria and her students are sharing through the use of Reading Response Journals.  It is clear Maria is differentiating process through knowing her students' learning profiles.  She has individualized her instruction so that students are working on strategies that are appropriate for them.  As a result, students see the importance of the work they are doing and Maria is creating lifelong readers!  Keep up the great work, Maria!!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tough Questions

"Tough Questions" is the last signpost from Notice and Note.  Students frequently think they have a solid understanding of this signpost, but sometimes have a tendency to confuse this with asking questions; a comprehension strategy from CAFE.  The CAFE strategy requires the reader to ask questions typically regarding the plot.  However, "Tough Questions" is when the main character within the story asks a question that allows the reader to better understand the internal conflict in the story (credit to Brent Peterson for the video

Sharon Draper's Out of my Mind is one of my all time favorite books.  Melody is a young lady with cerebral palsy who is not given much credit after being included in the general education classroom.  She is incredibly intelligent, but others frequently only see her for her disability.

As the story progresses, she decides to try out for her quiz team.  She is having success with initial tryouts, but doesn't believe that her fellow classmates or even her teacher have faith in her.  She asks herself a tough question; "Why is it worth studying if I won't even be allowed on the quiz team?"  Recognizing that Melody has asked herself a tough question is the first step, but then the reader must also ask themselves "What does this question make me wonder about?"  As I was reading, it made me wonder if she would ever be accepted and also what would have to happen in her classroom so that she feels as though she is accepted.

Each of the signposts asks readers to do some initial work as far as identification, but the true value of the work comes from the follow-up questions once the signposts have been identified within the reading!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Memory Moment

The "Memory Moment" signpost might be more familiar to students than some of the other signposts from Notice and Note because it is somewhat similar to a flashback within a story.  Check out Brent Peterson's video below for an overview!

Lynda Mullaly Hunt, author of One for the Murphy's, pauses Carley's story to take her back to a previous moment in her life; an opportunity for Carley to come to a realization but also an opportunity to reveal an important aspect of the plot to the reader.

After the character experiences this "Memory Moment," the reader must ask themselves why this memory is important.  Why did the author decide to include this within the plot and what does it reveal to the reader?

From a writer's standpoint, "Memory Moments" are great pieces of a text to lift into a Writer's Workshop minilesson; to analyze how and why the "Memory Moment" was included.

Continue reading and be on the lookout for signposts within your reading!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Again and Again

We are now past the halfway point!  "Again and Again" is the fourth signpost from Notice and Note.  The video below, put together by Brent Peterson, will help you learn more about this signpost!

It's impossible for me to think about the signposts without thinking about books I've read in the past.  Likewise, now that I'm familiar with the signposts, they also seem to jump out at me as I'm reading new books as well.  The trailer below is from a book I read a few years ago.  The new format of a documentary novel, in my opinion, has Revolution'ized the historical fiction genre.  Enjoy the trailer below of Countdown by Deborah Wiles.

The trailer mentions that Franny's life is seemingly falling apart.  One of the relationships that is not mentioned in the trailer that seems to be falling apart is the relationship between Franny and her sister, Jo Ellen.  Deborah Wiles builds tension throughout the text because a mysterious envelope keeps showing up "Again and Again." The reader is unsure of what is in the envelope, but by it repeatedly showing up, the reader naturally wants to know what is inside of it.  The reader quickly realizes that whatever is inside may hold the secret to the wedge that is being driven between Franny and Jo Ellen.

Book two of Deborah Wiles's 1960's trilogy is currently sitting on my To Be Read (TBR) pile on my nightstand.  I'm looking forward to Sunny's story and seeing what signposts will be present!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Aha Moment

Today, we'll look at "Aha Moment" which is yet another signpost from Notice and Note.  Aha moment always reminds me of when a light bulb goes off for a character; he or she has some realization and then changes some of their behaviors or decisions based on their new realization.  Check out Brent Peterson's video below for more information!

This strategy immediately made me think of Lynne Kelly's Chained.  My previous co-teacher and I always describe Chained as The One and Only Ivan meets Boys Without Names.  If you have not read Chained, I would highly recommend it!  (See the work Dumbilli did in a conference while working with Chained)

The main character, Hastin, is looking to assist his family because his sister is dealing with an illness and his mother is already working all hours of the day to try to support her family.  Hastin finally lands a job with a circus and he believes that this is the answer his family needs.  As time passes, Hastin experiences an "Aha Moment" as he realizes that the circus owner does not have the animals' best interests in mind nor the best interests of his employees.  Hastin's working for the good of the circus before he comes to this realization, but his focus of what is most important to him shifts drastically after his thoughts of the circus owner also changes.

Brent Peterson touched upon the idea that a character's behavior following an "Aha Moment" will often lead a reader to better understand the central idea (he said "theme") of a story.  This is challenging work for many students, but another great example of how the signposts can offer support in raising the level of thinking of our readers!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Words of the Wiser

The second signpost from Notice and Note is "Words of the Wiser."  Check out the video below for more information!  (credit to Brent Peterson for video creation)

As I was learning more about Words of the Wiser, I began thinking about Cynthia Lord's Rules (for the record, I just started her newest novel, Half a Chance last night).

(Credit to YouTube user jastrohp)

The Rules book trailer mentions that Catherine is torn when Jason, a young man with a disability, asks her to the school dance.  She wants to go but is concerned about what Kristi, her neighbor, will think about Jason.  Catherine turns to her mother to receive "Words of the Wiser" to determine what to do in this situation.  Not only does her mother provide solid life advice, this piece of writing also provides the reader with some insight as to the central ideas of the entire text that the author is trying to convey.  Identifying central themes within a text is often a challenging concept for students, but locating "Words of the Wiser" is frequently the intermediate support necessary to lead to student success with this!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Contrasts and Contradictions

We frequently begin the school year sharing a majority of the CAFE reading strategies pretty quickly through shared reading, minilessons, and really any time we can throughout the day.  The CAFE strategies were really meant to be primary level strategies, but reviewing them for readers will never hurt.  However, we've found ourselves wondering where to go with upper elementary students once they are comfortable with CAFE strategies.  Kylene Beers and Bob Probst released Notice and Note; these strategies took our readers to the next level!

There are six strategies within Notice and Note which are referred to as the signposts.  The first signpost is known as "Contrasts and Contradictions."  Check out the video below for more information!  (credit to Brent Peterson for video creation)

As I was learning more about Contrasts and Contradictions, I began thinking about some of my favorite books and where I had seen this signpost.  R.J. Palaccio's Wonder instantly popped into my head!


Auggie has a friend, Jack Will, who has always been kind to him.  He befriended him before the school year even began and that has continued throughout Auggie's first year at a public school.  However, when students are dressed up for Halloween, Auggie overhears Jack Will make a malicious comment about him.  This is out of character for Jack Will which is exactly what makes a Contrast and Contradiction.  Identifying the unexpected behavior is the first step in utilizing this sign post.  The next step is, as a reader, asking why Jack Will may have done this.  The answer in this particular situation is that Jack Will was around other students and was apparently trying to fit in by acting the same way the other students were.

After you teach a signpost, you'll notice that you and your students are more aware of that particular signpost.  Your readers will read with that particular lens and be on the hunt for finding opportunities when characters act out of character!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Progression of a Reader

If you're currently reading this, you'll probably want to have made sure to have looked at July 28th's entry as Dumbilli began her 5th grade reading journey (her entries were from last August).  If you have read it, you'll remember that she was lacking a focus.  She was working with multiple texts throughout the week and even multiple strategies within the same entry (we're not against using multiple strategies and recognize that this is what advanced readers do, but wanted to see more depth from Dumbilli's work).  Today, we'll take a look at the work Dumbilli was doing in March.  Seven months had passed and you should immediately see that Dumbilli learned to slow down; to give herself the necessary time to do the level of thinking we were expecting of her and even more importantly, the thinking she now expected of herself.

We have a quote in our classroom from Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer.  It states, "Reading is the inhale and writing is the exhale."  Dumbilli has taken this to heart as she is beginning Ann M. Martin's A Corner of the Universe.  She's thinking about her reading, but she's doing so from a writer's stance as she attempts to determine what genre of writing her book may be.  The graphic organizer provides evidence as to why it might be a personal narrative or possibly historical fiction.  I really appreciate her last paragraph where she discusses how she'll have to read more and even states "The more you read, the more information you get."

I don't think the entry above is Dumbilli's strongest effort.  However, this is one of the many beautiful things about reading response journals!  After this quick assessment of Dumbilli's work, this would guide our instruction.  This would turn into either a small group conference if others were struggling with this strategy as well or a one-on-one conference if we did not feel others needed additional instruction with this type of work.  I would start the conference by informing her that I appreciate that she was thinking of some of the cause and effect relationships occurring in her book, but was slightly confused with how they were connected.  She very well may explain this perfectly during this conversation and if so, then that's what I would want to see in her writing.  If she is not able to do so, then we would most likely refer to either previous books she has read to look more closely at cause and effect that occurs in those or perhaps the extended text we are sharing with the class at the moment.  We would end the conference by urging Dumbilli to revisit this strategy; to continue to read with the lens of cause and effect.

Dumbilli decided to compare characters within her story with this journal entry.  She discusses that both characters are facing a similar problem, but how Hattie's problem is slightly different.  As much as I like the comparison, I really like the question she asked in the margin as well.  This is an example of her using multiple strategies, but now you can see her comparison has more depth than where she was as a reader earlier in the year.

I think Dumbilli's second paragraph in her letter really shows how our readers at this point in the year have been able to progress.  She mentions that Hattie is not difficult for her to understand because she reminds her of Diamond (from Helen Frost's Diamond Willow).  The more books we read and the more characters we get to know, the more we understand "how stories go," as Lucy Calkins says.  Progressing to this point, where Dumbilli understands "how stories go" have helped her strenghten not only her reading but her writing as well.

 (This is the rubric we switched to mid-year.  We wanted it to be more standards-based and ensure that depth was present in our student thinking and writing.)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Reading Response Journals

I've been fortunate enough to speak multiple times to various groups of teachers across the state about differentiating reading instruction.  The conversation always includes engaging students through our own excitement about reading, providing time in class for students to read, allowing students to choose what they read, and supporting students in their reading with a variety of strategies; strategies that are individualized based on individual student needs.

One question that frequently arises from teachers is where to begin with these journals at the beginning of the school year.  We do assess our students' notebooks using rubrics, however we provide students with a few weeks' worth of journal entries before those assessments become grades.

I looked back at one student's entries from the beginning of last school year to share where this 5th grader was at the time.

The entry above is really two comprehension strategies combined into one entry.  The student wrote a summary and used a chart to track noticings and judgements she made on two characters in her book.  Our goal is not to create an abundance of work for students so I suggest to the student that she focus on one strategy at a time (personally, had she finished the noticings and judgements chart, I think this is higher-level work).

The very first thing that I noticed after looking at the entries above is that in three days, she has now focused on three different books.  I distinctly remember conferring with this student regarding the amount of thinking that should occur throughout a text.  She was moving so quickly through her books that she wasn't comprehending on a level that matched her abilities and wasn't doing the thinking necessary to extend her thinking either.  I do like that she mentioned why she selected asking questions as her strategy.  "I did this strategy because I wanted to understand the characters better."  This is evidence of her metacognitive strategies that she possesses.

A teacher can see that this student already took the suggestion from her conference (to slow down and look more in depth at the pieces of her story) and is doing that here as she is working with the same book she had yesterday and is discussing the main idea of a chapter rather than the main idea of the entire story.  While to some these may not seem like reasons for celebrations, they certainly are!  Celebrating that a student was "coachable" will increase the likelihood that the student accepts future suggestions.

 My amazing co-teacher, Mrs. Barber, wrote back to this student.  Just like the structure of a conference, Mrs. Barber began her note with a compliment and then provided guidance for the student to both improve her entries as well as to improve her writing.

The rubric above (which we were using at the beginning of the school year - See link for most recent rubric) was used to assess the work of this student but it's important to note that this was not taken for a grade.  We wanted to provide feedback to our students so that they could grow without them feeling like they were instantly being judged.  We were able to confer with each student and discuss what they did well as well as areas where each student could improve.

Overall, I hope this has been helpful as has reduced some of the trepidation some teachers are feeling in rolling out reading response journals.  They certainly do not need to be perfect, but the beauty of the notebooks is that they truly show where students are and through consistent usage also show student progression throughout the year!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Before getting too far into this, I need to confess a couple of things.  First of all, the copy of Fish in a Tree that I read was an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) that may have changes coming before final publication.  Secondly, the ARC was sent to me by the author so yes, I am completely biased.  I will add, however, that I am completely biased because of how much my students and I enjoyed Lynda Mullaly Hunt's first Middle Grade novel, One for the Murphy's.  I appreciated the journey she took us on with Carley's story as she grew with the Murphy's and was expecting more amazing storytelling and writing with Ally's story within Fish in a Tree.  I was not disappointed!

Lynda Mullaly Hunt begins Ally's story in a way that the reader will immediately connect with the main character.  As a teacher, my first thought was a few various students with whom I've been fortunate to work; students who will forever stay etched in my mind and in my heart.  Ally's struggles are immediately evident within the first couple chapters.  Any teacher reading her story will want to hug her and while her first teacher may not have had the vision to see Ally's struggles or her strengths, the reader is left hoping a strong, passionate teacher will cross her path at some point in this story.

Mr. Daniels is that teacher.  He is the teacher I hope a piece of me has been and the teacher I aspire to be.  He is the teacher who creates a positive classroom atmosphere and values individuals and their strengths while working to improve areas that need improvement.  Dave Burgess, of Teach like a Pirate fame, asks teachers if their students would show up for class if they were not mandated to be there; if students would buy tickets just to have a seat in their classroom.  With Mr. Daniels as the lead learner, students would find a way to be in attendance.

Ally's growth is evident throughout this text.  She is initially isolated and feels as though nobody understands her struggles.  Throughout time, she gradually begins to trust those that are there to help her.  Meanwhile, the antagonist, Shay, becomes increasingly unlikable throughout the text.  As more individuals begin to value Ally, fewer characters are supportive of Shay.  This gradual shift occurs throughout the text as multiple events within the plot allow the reader to form opinions of both Ally and Shay.

Lynda Mullaly Hunt makes it very difficult to put this story down for any extended period of time.  Each chapter seems to end with a thought or a quote that makes the reader want to continue reading.  Many of Ally's thoughts stood out to me, but these two shined the brightest: "I guess maybe 'I'm having trouble' is not the same as 'I can't'" and "And isn't it funny - I've gone from invisible to invincible."  From invisible to invincible.  I love that line and I love Ally's story.  I know that students that hear her story will understand that we all face struggles, but through learning about ourselves and allowing those that love us to come into our lives and support us, we can all be invincible!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Transition Music

Several teachers have asked what music we use to transition from the closing of one lesson to the opening of the next.  During this time, students have the opportunity to use the restroom, get a drink of water, stretch, move, they are better prepared for the upcoming lesson.  They are also expected to bring their necessary materials to the carpet and write the lesson's learning objective in their notebooks.  At my previous school, this was the domain and the standard, but could be an essential question based on the vision of your school (what's most important is that students have an idea of what they will be learning).

Let me also say that my co-teachers and I have had in-depth conversations about the songs we have selected because we want students to be able to determine the central idea of the songs.  This frequently comes without a lesson, however we also use some of these song lyrics when teaching close reading to determine central ideas.

I should also point out that we use the one song to indicate which workshop is forthcoming.  We always tried to keep our schedule as routine as possible, but we all know that is not always possible.  When our students heard "Man in the Mirror", regardless of the time of day, they knew it was time for Reader's Workshop.

Without further ado...feel free to make a joyful noise!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Digging Into Writer's Workshop

We have had some great conversations about writing instruction this week.  You can access the Powerpoint below!

Digging Into Writer's Workshop

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


I sat for a while trying to determine an appropriate title for this particular blog post.  I thought about end of year reflections provided by our AMAZING students but then also thought about the reflections my co-teacher and I had after an unforgettable year.  It's nearly impossible to separate the two, so I won't.

As some may be aware, I'm currently working on my Educational Specialist degree in Instructional Technology.  That being said, my co-teacher and I moved our four desktop computers OUT of our classroom before the year began.  One may think that this was counter-intuitive to my field of study, however four desktop computers in a room of 28 students is counter-intuitive.  At the time, I didn't know the data, research, or ratios necessary for devices in a classroom to be effective.  I did know that four computers weren't the answer.

So, implementing the concept of "We'll apologize later if necessary," we moved the computers into the spare room next door and made way for.......more bookshelves!

Our classroom consisted of eight bookshelves that were fully stocked with books that would later be loved, hugged, and passed along.  They were full of characters who would become friends and enemies and stories who would make us laugh and cry.

We are frequently asked how our students are so engaged in reading throughout the school year.  Well, from the first minute our students walk into the classroom, they notice what is important to us.  They will spend the year surrounded not only by literature but by conversations about literature as well.  At our yearly open house known as Sneak-A-Peak, we frequently hear comments such as "Wow, look at all the books" and "I know I'll love to read in this room."

We must give our students time to read.  We must support them with appropriate strategies and we must know what strategies may be appropriate based on our conversations with them.  We must surround them with literature with which they can connect (#weneeddiversebooks).  We must be readers ourselves and we must lead the way.  Our students will follow.

As I close, I reflect upon a few student comments as the year came to a close.  I am all for strong Media Centers in our schools, but was reaffirmed by the power of the classroom library when Alexis said, "We really didn't need to use the Media Center too much because we had so many amazing books in here (the classroom) every day."

Perhaps my favorite student quote of all-time came from Janaya, who was reflecting upon the choices we gave our students during independent reading when she said, "Thank you for letting us be us."

Without a strong classroom library, loving books ourselves, and giving our students both time to read and choices as to what they read, that genuine, heartfelt thank you doesn't sound quite the same.

Alexis and Janaya, and the other 26 incredible students in room 504, thank YOU!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Differentiated Reading Instruction through Reading Response Notebooks

I am honored to be able to learn alongside teachers from around Cobb County and the state of Georgia this summer as we expand our minds and prepare for the upcoming school year.  Below, you will find resources for setting up and utilizing reading response journals.  Please feel free to borrow, modify, and adapt these resources to meet the needs of your students and as always, should you have any follow-up questions, please feel free to let me know!

Differentiated Reading Instruction Prezi


Notice and Note Signposts Flyer

Notice and Note Signposts Bookmarks

Reading Response Notebook Set-up

Reading Response Notebook "If your journal is due on..."

Reading Response Journal Rubric

Hendricks Elementary School NCR Form

Status of the Class

Monday, May 19, 2014

Favorite Books of the 4th Nine Weeks

One of our goals at the beginning of the year was to create "Favorite Books" videos at the conclusion of each nine weeks.  Miraculously, two things occurred: 1) we remembered and 2) we had time.  I joke about this being miraculous because I fully believe that we make time for the things that are important to us.  Reading is important to us and as a result, is important to our students.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Supporting Student Thinking Through Conferring

My co-teacher and I have been fortunate enough to have been a lab classroom for our district again this year.  We had approximately 50 teachers from around the county come in to our classroom and observes both our practices as well as the daily work of our students.  After each day's observation has been completed, we spend roughly 30-45 minutes debriefing with the observers so that they can better understand strategies we have in place or why we do certain things the way that we do.

It's interesting to hear how various themes tend to arise each year.  This year, common topics of conversation seemed to be Word of the Day, level of student engagement, and student independence.  As I was mulling over this particular blog post in my mind, I had a difficult time deciding whether it would focus on a strategy a student used or the independence of our students.  There is so much overlap with those two particular ideas that I find it almost impossible to delineate.  Therefore, I won't.

A student came to me the other day clutching Lynne Kelly's Chained.  "Mr. O'Neill, I don't understand Timir.  I can't figure out if I like him or not."  Have a seat, let's talk.

Now, during debriefing teachers frequently ask us when and how we know to confer with a student.  We are readers ourselves, and while too many currently believe that reading is an independent activity, we know that conversation is the ladder that raises readers.  When I finish a book, I need to find a friend with whom to hold a conversation.  I need to hear their thoughts to better understand my own.

Additionally, we want our students to be able to identify when a breakdown is occurring and to be able to develop possible solutions to that breakdown.  When we confer, we don't force strategies upon them.  We simply attempt to ask the right questions.

When this particular student was trying to wrap her mind around Timir, it was because his behavior was beginning to change.  I placed sticky notes in front of her.  "What did you think about Timir when you first met him?"

"What do you think of Timir now?"

From there, she now had a better understanding of who Timir was.  We discussed his motivation and his manipulative, selfish ways.  I wish I had a picture of her face as she realized similarities between Timir and Scarface (the antagonist from Boys Without Names, a book she had read previously in the year).

Getting back to engagement and independence, she left our conference hungry for more.  You'll notice that her claim of "Now Timir is so mean and angry" has one bullet point completed, but one left intentionally blank.  That support was not for her to complete while we were together, but for her to continue reading and add to her thinking as she continues to learn more about Timir and how Lynne Kelly has chosen to develop him throughout the course of the plot.

As teachers, we don't need to have all the correct answers.  We simply need to know how to ask the right questions; the questions we would ask ourselves so that we can help build readers, writers, and mathematicians. We need to build problem solvers who are then able to process through their own thinking by asking themselves the right questions.  This is why our students are engaged and driven.  We're not doing the thinking for them.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Creating Lifelong Readers

A district literacy coach and good friend recently asked our students (through our Edmodo page) for book suggestions for a group of middle school students with whom she was working.  First of all, I was honored and impressed that she was looking for recommendations for her middle school students from our 5th graders.  Second, I was impressed with our students' responses to her.  They provided titles and authors and even kept certain types of readers in mind ("Maybe middle schoolers would like Out of my Mind.  I think they would like to read Out of my Mind because it tells you how to react with kids that have a disability.  This book also tells you how those kinds of people with disabilities would feel when you react a bad way when you see them.").  However, as the conversation continued, I was horrified when I read one particular student response.

"I don't know what kind of books I like.  You'll have to ask Mr. O'Neill."  WHAT HAVE WE DONE?!?!?  My panic began.  We're creating "readers" who are completely dependent upon myself and my co-teacher!  We're building students who are readers during the school year and may never read again!  They will read from August until May and never pick up another book unless it has been assigned to them; and even then, they probably won't read it!  I couldn't get it out of my head.  "I don't know what kind of books I like.  You'll have to ask Mr. O'Neill."  The comment stayed with me; haunted me until we could meet in a conference.

Now, the student who made the comment has read some incredible titles this year and she certainly enjoys to read.  However, she obviously doesn't feel like she knows herself well enough as a reader or is confident enough as a reader to verbalize or perhaps to classify her favorite types of books.  We certainly help our students find great titles at the beginning of the year and share books with them throughout the year, but we also hope to gradually pull some of that support back as the year progresses so that they can become more independent with their selections.

When this student and I met, she was able to rattle off all of the books she had read so far this year without referencing anything in her notebook.  The books have impacted her and stayed with her.  As she told me each title, I wrote it down on its own sticky note.  She then ranked the books from her favorite to her least favorite and we discussed what she liked about each one.  As we did this, we grouped books together when she saw that they had something in common.

She then responded again on Edmodo.  Her response is below.

"Well, I like books with strong friendship, characters persevering through some troubling times and I also like books with strong family relationships.  Some books with strong friendships are After Ever After, The One and Only Ivan, and Rules.  Some books with characters persevering through something are Out of my Mind and The Running Dream.  The Wednesday Wars, I did not like because it had no action, was not funny, no one came from a different family, and no one persevered through anything."

While readers could certainly disagree with this student's opinion of certain books, it is clear that she now has been able to identify what she liked about the books she has read and will use this new knowledge to assist in previewing and selecting books in the future.