The Printer that Saved Me

Okay, I’m exaggerating.  But my life as a teacher did immediately improve once I got an HP Instant Ink Printer.  Copy and printer ink are both hard to come by at my school, so having the power to print at my own desk has made my teaching life easier.   I purchased it for $47 on Black Friday 2016, and now I pay $9.99 a month to print 300 color pages.   If I go over that number, I just pay $1.00 more for 25 pages, which is $0.04 a page!!! Much cheaper than going to the copy shop.   The ink itself is wireless, so it communicates with the company and sends more ink in the mail automatically when it starts to run low. Before Instant Ink, I always seemed to run out of ink right when I needed to be printing pages on a deadline, and I rarely had the $60 or $70 in extra spending money to buy the replacements.   This automatic monthly fee and replacement mailing has taken all of the stress out of ink buying for me.

If you’d like to join the FREE from ink and printing stress club, join here.  You’ll get one month at no charge.

 

Getting my Mojo back

 

I’ll admit it.  I had lost my mojo a bit, baby.    Getting put back into the classroom unexpectedly this at the start of this year, teaching a new grade level, and encountering tons of behavior problems….all of these combined to throw me off my game.     The fall semester was tough.    I had to take some steps to recharge and find my way.

Now’s it a new semester and I feel like I’ve got my mojo back.    One of the main reasons for that is attending the NCTE 2016 conference, which luckily for me was held locally in Atlanta a few months ago.    It was my first national teaching event to attend, and it was a tremendous experience.    I left on such a high, and I’ve now caught the “conference bug”…I am already making plans to attend next year !

The reason NCTE 2016 was so invigorating is because I found my tribe.    I found the people doing the kinds of teaching that inspire me.  I was able to meet and learn from teachers and authors who influenced me from the start of my career….innovators such as Steph Harvey, Anne Goudvis, Nancie Attwell,  and Franki Sibberson whose books showed me how to implement Readers Workshop in my classroom and connect my dear students to just right and much loved books.     At the conference, I connected with teacher leaders like Patrick Allen, Jennifer Serravallo, Kristin Ackerman, and Jennifer McDonough who are still walking the walk and providing creative and engaging workshop instruction, even in this day and age of Common Core, scripted instruction, and accountability.

I had been out of the classroom for so long because of my years of work as a reading specialist.   In my absence, from 2006 to 2016, the classroom landscape had changed.    Now teachers have many more resources from sources like Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers, but those are expected to be used in a very monitored and data focused way.     We are now observed with higher scrutiny, striving to meet extremely high teacher standards 100% of the time, because we never know how or when we’ll receive an informal walk-through or formal observation.     All of this contributed to noise and confusion for me as I transitioned back to the classroom.  Truly, I forgot about my teaching foundations.      I was extremely fortunate to “cut my teeth” as a teacher through the America’s Choice initiative, which focused on explicit, creative, student-focused literacy workshops, and that’s the instruction that feels right-that matches my teaching style.     At the NCTE conference, I was surrounded by educators who all feel the same way and do the things that I used to do, namely putting great books in the hands of children and helping develop their writing voices.  These hundreds and thousands of teachers at the conference were doing the good work,  even in this post-NCLB classroom era.    In an instant, I was reminded of the teaching I used to do.

My students in my early classroom years READ and WROTE for the majority of the day with direct purpose.   Why wasn’t I doing that now?    What was I having my current students do all day, if not authentic reading and writing?  [possible topic for a shame-filled future blog post…or NOT.  I want to move on.]

Immediately, I returned to school and changed things, simplified things, in my room.     The students LOVED it!  The first day, M. said in amazement, “Mrs. B. we actually READ during reading time today!”      I responded, “yes, M.   Isn’t that a great thing?   Let’s make sure we do that every day from now on, and I’m sorry we weren’t doing that from day one.”

 

Thanks to the wonder of the Internet, I can connect to the tribe I located at NCTE anytime via social media, blogs, e-mails, and messaging.   I can see pictures and read anecdotes about their daily instruction and be motivated to do similar authentic literacy work with my students.    If I’m ever in danger of losing my mojo again, I’m one click away from a virtual field trip/ peek into “my people’s” classrooms, and I can be inspired once again.

Thank you, NCTE 2016 and tribe, for helping me find my mojo.    It’s an honor to be in the field of education with you.

 

“Teaching children to read and providing them with something

worthwhile to read is not a job for the faint of heart in this

world.   But I’ll keep at it, and I won’t be alone.    You’ll come

too.   We’re fortunate, you know.  Too many people in this world spend their lives doing work that doesn’t matter in the great

scheme of things, but bringing children and books together does

matter.  And we get to do it.”

 

~Katherine Paterson, “Back from IBBY”

Data Wall

img_6064 img_6066

 

“Teachers, district level personnel will be coming to inspect your classrooms.  One of the things they’ll be looking for is your data wall featuring MAP scores and goals.”

 

Oh, S#&%!    Whoops.  Yet another on my to-do list that I had forgotten to do.  And now it had to have it done…yesterday!     What was I going to do?     Confession time:  cute design ideas are not my jam.  My brain just doesn’t automatically work that way.   And I didn’t have the time to scour Pinterest for ideas.  I shared my struggles with a friend on support staff, who’s AWESOME, and she said, “Let me help.”

SURE….HELP….PLEASE!!!!     She came up with the rocket ship idea and “Shoot for the Stars” title overnight and started hanging it up the next morning.  We were going to put star goals on student decorated index cards, but after brainstorming, we came  up with the astronaut idea instead.   I printed a class set immediately, and the students stated decorating.    I conferred with each student and recorded their original assessment scores on the center of their astronauts with their goals written on the stars.  Within hours, the entire data wall was done.    Students now know their Reading and Math baseline scores and their mid-year goals for both subject tests.  Our data wall is something that our entire class is proud of.    Good friends/colleagues are the best, aren’t they?!?!  Full design credit goes to @mrspeachyblue!

Troubleshooting, Problem Solving

 

A few weeks ago, I posted about all the struggles I’ve been encountering in my Readers Workshop.      I’m a reading specialist.  Most of my career has been spent providing intervention to low readers to catch them up to their peers.    Give me a low reader, and I can determine why he/she is struggling and know how to close their reading gap.

But give me classroom full of readers at all different levels and with multiple behavior problems, and I’ve got more of a struggle.    Now that I’m back in the classroom, I’m experiencing what homeroom teachers around the country are dealing with, especially those in Title 1 schools, serving at risk populations of students.   TEACHING IS TOUGH, y’all!    I get it.    There is so much to do and so little time and resources and copies to do it in.

So, here I am a few weeks later, and the struggles are still there, but I’m tacking the problems one by one.     Here is a list of the issues I posted previously and a brief description of my troubleshooting.     My readers workshop is not all smooth sailing at this point, but I have been able to get to a place where I feel I’m better addressing my wide range of students’ needs.

 

 

img_5956   A picture of my messy desk in the midst of my research for solutions.

 

Closeup of jigsaw puzzle piece isolated on white

PROBLEM:

  • Where do I fit the grade level lessons and activities in my plans?

FIRST STEPS SOLUTION:

I’m focusing on broad level phonics and comprehension skills each week whole group and differentiating the depth of work/mastery required, depending on the students’ reading development level.

 

Closeup of jigsaw puzzle piece isolated on white

PROBLEM:

  • How do I provide support to those grade level activities so even my lowest readers can be successful?

FIRST STEPS SOLUTION:

The type of support differs depending on what I’m teaching: decoding or comprehension.    For decoding, I’m teaching the phonics skill to all the students, but then differentiating the word quantity and difficulty that students must learn.  For example, next week I’m teaching final consonant blends.  All the students will receive an overview of the skill and then each reading level group will practice and be tested on different word difficulty.    My emergent group will practice much fewer words than the on-grade level and above students in my room.

For comprehension, I’m again teaching the same grade level skill to all the students, but the practice materials and assessments are tailored to the students’ reading levels.  I like using http://www.readworks.org/ passages because they match the students’ Lexile levels, and they can be used for a variety of comprehension skills.

 

Closeup of jigsaw puzzle piece isolated on white

PROBLEM:

  • Should I give a grade level specific phonics mini-lesson, even when it’s beyond 75% of my students’ instructional levels?    If not, then how do I choose the best mini-lesson that will be relevant to the various differentiated tasks the students will do in their groups?

FIRST STEP SOLUTION:

Some days, my mini-lessons are on grade level specific phonics skills.   Other days, I’ll teach short lessons on generic word solving strategies such as “Good Readers look for CHUNKS of words they know.”  Students then practice those decoding strategies in their independent and guided reading time and share during Closure of Readers Workshop.

 

Closeup of jigsaw puzzle piece isolated on white

PROBLEM:

  • What’s the best way to manage the noise level and behaviors of the room during groups/center time?

SOLUTION:

Thank you, universe, for ClassDojo.    I leave it showing on my Promethean with the reading groups displayed.   The winning group each day receives small prize.   They’ve gotten pretty competitive about this.

 

Closeup of jigsaw puzzle piece isolated on white

PROBLEM:

  • How do I train the students to stop interrupting my group?

SOLUTION:

Dojo has solved this one.  Interrupting is a behavior that makes students lose points.   Students will still try every now and then to interrupt, but after they lose points, they get peer pressure from their group members to stop repeating the behavior.   If it becomes a problem again, I will adjust the points deducted from each team for that behavior, and I think that will work.   If students lose 2 or 3 points for interrupting, they will self-monitor themselves and their group members.

 

Closeup of jigsaw puzzle piece isolated on white

PROBLEM:

  • What are some of the best literacy activities for my students at each of their reading development stages?     What should my emergent students be doing?   What should my early readers work on?  What work can I give my on-level students that they could do independently?    How do I best challenge my advanced readers?  (Keep in mind, I have VERY VERY VERY limited printing and copying resources at my school.   So most of these activities must be paper-free.    That resource issue is contributing to the struggle)

FIRST STEPS SOLUTION:

This year, I’m relying heavily on Words Their Way because their sorting activities and games are organized by levels.  (Also our grade level used their spelling inventory as a benchmark common assessment at the start of the school year).  Using those assessment results and my own running record data, I placed my second grade students in four groups:

  1. Emergent (barely know letters and sounds)
  2. Letter-Name Alphabetic (limited sight words and decoding skills)
  3. Within Word (close to grade level)
  4. Syllables and Affixes (at or above grade level)

Student in each group are doing 2-3 word sorts a week, reading guided reading books, and playing sound and sight words games from my resource files (my favorites are from http://www.fcrr.org/).

 

 

 

Honestly, I need to beef up my games and activities for my highest reading group , beyond just the word sorts.     Because the majority of my teaching experience has been working with struggling readers, those are the most prevalent resources in my collection.

 

Closeup of jigsaw puzzle piece isolated on white

PROBLEM:

  • What scope and sequence do I set up for all my groups so that they can all catch up and be on-grade level readers by the end of the year?  How do I accomplish that huge task when I can only meet with them 2-3 times per week?    (That’s why the activities I choose above must be of the highest quality.   Students must be learning and advancing in reading, even when they’re not at the kidney table with me.   Centers can’t just be “busy work”.)

FIRST STEPS SOLUTION:

The lowest reading groups are going to do more sorts a week to hopefully accelerate their progress.   The other reading groups are doing 2 sorts a week;  I plan to increase the lower groups to 3 sorts a week for a few months and then maybe even 4 sorts a week by the end of the year.     The lower groups also meet with myself or the Title 1 paraprofessional four days a week to experience more supervised guided reading and intervention activities.   This accelerated calendar should get the Emergent group to the middle of the Within Word curriculum by the end of the year, which would be 1.5 years of growth in 1 year, narrowing the achievement gap by half a year.

 

Closeup of jigsaw puzzle piece isolated on white

PROBLEM

  • How I type all of this into a managed plan so that my grade level can understand and use these resources with their struggling students as well?

FIRST STEPS SOLUTION:

The whole group instruction follows a typical schedule, which should help my team with routine practices and expectations.    Mondays focus on the phonics skill of the week, Tuesdays are for sight words, and the other days of the week are for the word sorts, comprehension,  and decoding strategy minilessons and activities.    Interactive notebook pages are provided for the whole group skills, with 3 different pages for each skill (Easy, Middle, Challenging).     I think this is going well for my team, but you know each teacher has the power to shut their door and do what they think is best for the students, which I have no control over.  I’m just trying to suggest a variety of activities and resources that the team can use for their students, no matter the reading level.    Lastly, I’ve created a large resource folder on the network drive that everyone can access for Words their Way, center, and mini-lesson resources.  The “cloud” makes it so much easier to share files!

 

 

Minilessons- Where the Magic Happens

Last week I shared many of the struggles I’m currently experiencing in Readers Workshop.     Anytime I have problems to solve in my teaching, one of the first things I do is consult the “masters”/aka Go to My Bookshelf.   I have amassed a collection of education volumes that I use as resources time and again.     (Future blog post:  bookshelf pictures and a list of my favorite go-to titles, if you’re interested)

One of the first books I pulled off the shelf was The Art of Teaching Reading by Lucy Calkins.  Typically, I get lost in the chapters of this book because there’s so much wisdom in its pages.  But this time, I went straight for the minilessons section (Chapter 5) because I was on a hunt for a list of mini-lesson topics I could include in my grade level plans.     I’m searching for decoding mini-lessons that would be relevant for readers of all levels, so that they could apply the learning into their word work and guided reading activities during center time.   I’m looking for what I’ll call “umbrella topics”, ones that fit all my readers needs, even with their broad range of word solving abilities.  Did I find such a list in that chapter?    No.     But what I DID find was even more valuable—–perspective and a new way to think about mini-lessons.

Here are some of the gem quotes and insights I got from my reading:

"Whether we realize it or not, each of us, in our classrooms, authors a world and a story....The important thing to realize is that in our classrooms, as in any story, trouble can galvanize us to set off on a journey.  ~Lucy Calkins"

MLs are the best forum teachers have for pulling the class community together to take on a prob. ~L. Calkins Click To Tweet

"Minilessons may not be as powerful as Peter's magic sword and shield, or as potent as Lucy's vial of healing liquid, but they may be the best forum teachers have for pulling the classroom community together to take on a problem.    They are a gift of sorts, a resource to draw on.   With careful attention to the architecture of our lessons and an assertive responsiveness to our children's needs and goals, minilessons can turn classrooms into places where magic happens."   ~Lucy Calkins



Here are my takeaways from that section/those quotes.   Lucy Calkins, one of the leading literacy experts, actually gives us PERMISSION to screw up and have troubles within our workshops.  She says that she usually dismisses teachers from trainings, saying “When you go back to your classrooms to try out these ideas, they won’t work.  There will be trouble.”

Yay!   It’s so refreshing to hear acknowledgment that we’ll have trouble as we implement and that it’s okay and expected to not get it right the first time.      In this age of electronic evaluations and high teacher accountability, it feels like we’ve got to be perfect in our instruction 100% of the time and that if something doesn’t go smoothly, then that means we’re not good teachers.

What she’s making clear is that it’s our role as teachers to carefully observe our students and guide them on their literacy journeys.     When we notice they’re having trouble decoding, or choosing the correct books, or finishing a book, or understanding what they read, then we gather them together and provide short mini-lessons to give them strategies and tools to use in their real life reading experiences.    Mini-lessons aren’t meant to be long teacher-driven demonstrations or explanations about activity directions (Here’s How to Complete a Venn Diagram).    Rather, our mini-lesson time on the carpet is when we gather as a class community to identify and tackle problems in our reading lives.  This shows the students we care about their reading.   This is responsive teaching.  This is dynamic teaching.  This is relevant learning.    This….is magic.

I made a video!

I made my first video last week. Here it is:

I made the video using a site called PowToon. It took me about four hours to make it-half of that time was spent learning how to customize and edit using their tools. I think the next videos I make will take about half that time (2 hours) or less, now that I know how to navigate PowToon better. Overall, I enjoyed the process and using PowToon. They have a lot of tutorials for beginner video makers like myself, and their graphics and music are fun and easy to customize.

Have you made videos? Have your students? Eventually, it’s something I want to try with students, as another output vehicle for them to show what they’ve learned. I realized during the video creation process that you must be quite clear on the message/knowledge you’re sharing when you make a movie. The important information must be distilled in just a few minutes through an engaging visual medium. This is at the highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy: Create. My creative brain was firing on all cylinders as I worked on the video, trying to share reading knowledge in a format different than a typical lesson.

Another movie-making sites I plan to try are: Wideo, GoAnimate, and Moovly. I’ll post more later as I continue on this video-making journey. Is it time to join the Directors Guild of America yet? 😉

Balancing Act (The Struggle is Real)

 

I’ve got 21 students all at VERY different reading levels, the majority of which are below.     I must teach my grade level standards while also catching them up and meeting all of their literacy needs (and do all this with limited time during reading).  How do I manage it all?   How do I balance the reading period to get all of it in with maximum effectiveness?!?

 

Anyone else dealing with this struggle?   Do you have an answer to balancing it all?

 

I’m going to be figuring it out in real time this year.      I’m a reading intervention specialist.     When the students get into the small group at the kidney table with me, I know exactly what to do to unlock literacy for them and finally get them reading (all wisdom I’ll be sharing on this site in the future).    That’s the easy part for me, because my teaching experience was concentrated in that area.     As a reading group teacher, I could go into a class, pull my groups, and then move on to the next class.   I didn’t have to do what the classroom teacher does which is manage ALL the groups simultaneously, choosing differentiated activities appropriate for each group while also controlling the behaviors and noise level within the room.

Here are some of the problems I’m currently trying to solve in my Readers Workshop:

  • Where do I fit the grade level lessons and activities in my plans?
  • How do I provide support to those grade level activities so even my lowest readers can be successful?
  • Should I give a grade level specific phonics mini-lesson, even when it’s beyond 75% of my students’ instructional levels?    If not, then how do I choose the best mini-lesson that will be relevant to the various differentiated tasks the students will do in their groups?
  • What’s the best way to manage the noise level and behaviors of the room during groups/center time?
  • How do I train the students to stop interrupting my group?
  • What are some of the best literacy activities for my students at each of their reading development stages?     What should my emergent students be doing?   What should my early readers work on?  What work can I give my on-level students that they could do independently?    How do I best challenge my advanced readers?  (Keep in mind, I have VERY VERY VERY limited printing and copying resources at my school.   So most of these activities must be paper-free.    That resource issue is contributing to the struggle)
  • What scope and sequence do I set up for all my groups so that they can all catch up and be on-grade level readers by the end of the year?  How do I accomplish that huge task when I can only meet with them 2-3 times per week?    (That’s why the activities I choose above must be of the highest quality.   Students must be learning and advancing in reading, even when they’re not at the kidney table with me.   Centers can’t just be “busy work”.)
  • How I type all of this into a managed plan so that my grade level can understand and use these resources with their struggling students as well?

The answers to all these questions will be future blog posts topics.   You’ll be learning with me this year as I apply all of my reading development knowledge to the unique challenges that classroom teachers face.  The struggle is real, y’all.

 

struggle-is-real

 

 

Do you share this same struggle?    Have you figured out how to balance it all?    Share your concerns as well as success tips and strategies below in the comments.  I’d love to hear from other reading teachers in the same boat.

Happy Reading!

~S.

Cups and Ice

 

Have you ever had a decision made for you that was out of your control?     How did you feel about it?

This has happened to me recently, and the experience is making me stretch and grow in unexpected ways.    I was told by my boss that I had to change jobs very last minute before the start of the school year.  I was upset at the suddenness of the decision.   I was frustrated  with my lack of control.

I’m a reading specialist who suddenly finds herself back in the classroom.      So what do I do about it?  How do I handle this challenge/opportunity?

 

I was speaking about it with a friend from church, and he suggested that I watch this Ted talk by Josh Levs and the accompanying Friends clip.  In the Friends episode, Monica and Phoebe are throwing a party. Typically, Monica takes control of everything and will only allow Phoebe to help with the cups and the ice at the event.     Cups and ice aren’t the fun parts of party planning, and Phoebe knows she’s been given some low level tasks.       It’s the way that she handles her role that’s amazing.      She decides to SHINE in the realm of Cups and Ice and, spoiler alert, those end up being the coolest and best things at the party.

Takeaway from both clips?    Bloom where you’re planted.     Shine within the task/role you’ve been given, even when it’s not your ideal.

Or, as my friend put it, “You’ve got to cups and ice the s**t out of your job.”

 

TED Talk:

 

 

Friends:

 

Getting Started

Greetings!    You are reading my first ever blog post.   Forgive my inexperience as I get started with my blog and website, learning how to navigate the digital world.

 

Let me begin by telling you about myself and my reasons for creating this online space.

 

Reading is my “jam”.    I’ve heard that saying on The Bachelor.  Some girls will say “Motherhood is my jam.”   or “Being a journalist is my jam.”   This isn’t a phrase in my normal lexicon, but it does sum up how significant reading is to my life, both professionally and personally.

 

I’ve been a voracious reader since elementary school.  I was that kid staying up past my bedtime with a flashlight under the covers, desperate to finish the book and find out how the story ends.  Even as an adult, I’ve been known to pull all-nighters  to finish the newest Harry Potter or Outlander novels, for example.    I enjoy sending articles to friends and family of interesting things I read.    Anytime I have a new project or interest (tennis, adult ballet, yoga, buying a home, budgeting, healthy cooking, reading, etc), I head to my local library and check out a stack of books on the subject for a free education.  I’m grateful for the adventures I’ve gone on in the books I’ve read-  all the places I’ve “traveled” and interesting characters I’ve “met” in the millions of pages.

 

It’s not surprising that I chose the field of education as my field of study and work, because I wanted to spread that love of books and learning to the next generations.    I taught third grade for a number of years and then got the opportunity to join the support staff as an EIP (Early Intervention Program) teacher.    Through default, I was  tasked with mostly upper grade (3rd-5th) reading segments and one Kindergarten reading on the side.   That was a huge range but ended up being the pivotal moment of my career.    I quickly realized that the struggling readers in the upper grades were missing the very skills I had to teach to the Kindergarten students (phonemic awareness, blending, segmenting), and once I used the same activities with those older students and taught them the missing skills, they were soon able to catch up and finally learn to read.

So that became my specialty:  teaching older struggling students how to read.  Over the years, I’ve developed a method to catch the readers up as quickly as possible so they can become engaged and successful with their grade level work.

I created this site to share what I’ve learned over the years about reading development and unlocking literacy for struggling readers.   I have also been creating print and digital materials for my students to use, and I want to spread those resources to struggling readers beyond my school so that the learning gap can be closed once and for all.      I feel privileged to have such a meaningful relationship with books, and I believe that everyone deserves to enjoy the gifts of reading, or at least have the choice to do so, even if they don’t evolve into a reading nerd like me.

 

As this site is developed, you will have access to my teaching materials, resources, and methods.    I’ll let you know what’s in the process of being published, and I’ll be polling you to get feedback and input into product development.   I encourage you to question and comment often about my resources.    Everything I do is for the good of the students, and so I welcome the opportunity to assist you helping your students become great readers.

Let’s unlock literacy together!

 

All my best,

 

Shannon Betts