Shared Weekly Poems Build Literacy Skills

Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Are your students fluent readers? If they're anything like my students, fluent reading does not come naturally or easily, especially if they are English Language Learners.  Each year I'd say, "This is the year we are going to practice fluency every day!" And the first two days were great! But then life happened.  And fire drills happened.  And half the class was out with the flu.  So fluency practice went out the window with my good intentions.  This year, I was determined to find a routine and stick with it.  One that wouldn't take time away from any other skills, and one that I could integrate into my already established daily schedule. 

 After reading some posts and talking with other intervention teachers, I decided to add my fluency practice into my daily morning meeting.  I always meet with my students whole-group on the rug before we move into our Daily 5 stations, so I thought that would be the best place to add it.
 Once I decided to create a dedicated time for fluency practice, I started writing poems specifically tailored for my struggling readers.  Once I got started, the ideas just kept rolling! Right now I'm set with weekly poems from September to winter break.

Here's a quick run-down of how it works in my room:
Day 1: I read, they listen, I help them establish background knowledge about the vocabulary using google images
Day 2: I read, they listen, then we read together.  I call up some students to point to letters/words/sounds depending on each student's abilities.
Day 3: I read, they read with me, then they read chorally.  I call up some other students to identify sight words, rhyming words, or other skills we are working on.
Day 4: They read chorally, then read to a partner.  We answer comprehension questions orally.
Day 5: Whoever wants to read aloud can come up and display their beautiful fluent reading for the class.  We answer comprehension questions in writing, and/or illustrate the poem.

 Sometimes we'll spend time looking at pictures and videos of the weekly topic, which is always seasonally appropriate. I have some students who don't celebrate American holidays, so I've included non-holiday options as well.
 When we're finished with the week's poem, I hang it in my room so that the kids can read it the following week during read to self.
 Sometimes I'll give out whiteboards and dry erase markers and have students copy a line from the poem to practice one-to-one skills, or for more advanced students, I'll cover a word and see if they can write it from memory.

The options for addressing skills and standards with one weekly poem are practically endless! If you write the poem on an easel, you can purposely misspell words and have students correct them.  There are so many ways to differentiate and tailor this activity to the unique needs of your class.

Use Environmental Print to Practice Literacy Skills

Monday, August 22, 2016
If you have struggling readers at home or at school, practicing with environmental print may be the solution to your literacy problem.  My English Language Learners often come to class with very little exposure to American vocabulary, and environmental print has helped them get a better grasp on letters and sounds.  

Once, I had a class of ELL first graders working in pairs with letter flashcards, and one student started sniffling and tearing up.  When I knelt down to help him along, he showed me the card; it was J for Jam, but he had never had jam before, didn't know what it was, and was afraid he would be in trouble for not knowing.  After a hug and a few tissues, I collected all the flashcards and we sat down with Google Images to find other words that started with J.  I started using environmental print the very next day, and am so glad I more tears!

Whether at home or at school, print is really all around us.  From food wrappers to license plates, children are exposed to words from the time they wake up to the time they go to sleep.  Use that to your advantage! There are so many ways to use environmental print at home or at school to help early or struggling readers.  Here are just a few!

Here are some more ways to practice reading skills using environmental print
  • Play I-spy on the road with license plates or car models (I spy with my little eye, a car that starts with S!)
  • Pick a common sign (like Speed Limit) and count to see how many they can find along the way
  • Use the morning cereal box to find the first letter in the child's name

Here are some more ways to practice writing skills using environmental print

  • Cut out the logo from a cereal box and have children trace over it 
  • Keep a pen and paper in the car, and make tally marks each time you see a sign that starts with a certain letter.
  • Use magnetic letters on the fridge to form the words of household items
Here are some more ways to practice speaking skills using environmental print

  • Ask students to explain whether or not they like something, and why (like Legos) 
  • Have kids tell you if something belongs or doesn't belong (like McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, and Barbie) and why or why not.
  • Practice on a Saturday running errands by making a list of places you went.  ("First, we went to Lowe's, then to Petsmart, and last to Subway.")

Here are some more ways to practice listening skills using environmental print

  • Provide a list and ask students to tell you which was first or last. 
  • Spread out word cards and ask students to put in order using directions you give
  • Allow students to discuss likes/dislikes with a friend, then summarize the conversation
You can use environmental print to practice math skills by counting and comparing letters, and practice social studies skills by finding out if there is a McDonald's in every country.  How else can you use environmental print in your class?  For more information and research about environmental print, read this or this!

Strategies for English Language Learners

Sunday, August 14, 2016
It's not easy to be an English Language Learner in the USA.  In fact, the odds are somewhat stacked against our ELL's.  We're asking them, from the minute they set foot in a school, to learn specific content-area vocabulary at their grade level, when in reality, they may not have the background education, knowledge, or experiences to be able to keep up with their classroom peers.  There may also be environmental factors that affect their ability to attend or focus at school. So how can we reach them?

1. Get off on the right foot.

2. Get to know your student.

  • Learn where he came from, how he got here, who he lives with, and any information you can about his culture and customs.  Use that information to make slight adjustments within your room to make the student feel more at home.
  • Find the student's proficiency level.  In NJ, we use WIDA, which provides us with  Can-Do descriptors.
  • You can think of "Can-Do's" like an IEP: it's a summary of what students can be expected to achieve.  Here's a teacher friendly version- just click the picture to download.

3. Assume nothing! 
  • Just because it happens in the USA doesn't mean it happens around the world. Many of my refugee students come from cultures where birthdays aren't celebrated.  That makes it difficult when you want them to read and answer questions about a book called "Susie's Surprise Party!" Not only does it make it difficult to understand the concept, but the students may feel ashamed of not knowing, and therefore become alienated.
  • Many students come to the US without the experiences that our students take for granted.  We can't assume that ELL's have been to the beach, rode a roller-coaster, gone camping, or trick-or-treat'ed with friends.  
  • If you know that this week's guided reader is about camping, take a quick needs assessment to see if your ELL's know about camping.  If they don't, there are things you can do to build the vocabulary they need: put together a short slideshow with common camping vocabulary for the benefit of all the students in the class, find a Youtube video, or let the kids explore Google Images. 

Another tip: have one student be the "expert" on a topic to build community and enhance speaking and listening skills.

4.  Teach vocabulary in context: 
  • This strategy will work for all the students in the class!
  • Here's the scenario: The students need to know their vocab words, so you send a list home on Monday with this week's 10 words, and there will be a quiz on Friday.  Whoa! Pump the brakes! If the objective is for the students to learn how to SPELL a word, sending a list home might be adequate.  But if the objective is for students to learn how to USE a word, sending a list home will result in a big fat nothing.    
  • Whether it's sight words, math vocabulary, or elements of the periodic table, ESL students need to be taught in a way that will allow them to take the word and process it, then produce it.  Marzano's Six Steps are a great framework to use.
  • Let students hear, use, and read lots of examples where the word is being used throughout the week or unit, and let them practice using the word correctly. 
    • Here are a few examples where the vocabulary words are used throughout the unit in many different forms. Click either picture to see them in my TPT store.

How do you reach the ELL's in your classroom? Share your stories of success (or difficulty!) in the comments.  

Ideas and Resources for a Paperless Classroom

Sunday, July 31, 2016
Going paperless this year? Welcome to the club! Here are some of my best tips for going paperless in your classroom.

I've been teaching in a 1:1 paperless classroom since 2014, and I learn something new about it every day.  Just starting out? Here are some tips and resources for a smooth transition to digital learning. 

1. Pick ONE part of your daily classroom routine to start with.  

2. Just keep swimming!  

  • It's going to be hard, and you're going to have issues.  It's ok!
  • Issues include, but are not limited to: I can't connect! The battery died! The Internet is down! My screen is cracked!
  • Have a contingency plan for emergencies, such as device sharing and alternate activities.  
  • You can assign one or two of your students to be the "Device Manager," and let small issues be diverted to them. Watch their confidence soar!
Try word work using the Osmo!

3. Decide how you will monitor or grade work.  

  • If you're using Google Classroom or One Drive, make a plan for grading assignments, and share that with your students so they know what to expect.  
  • Here's a post about how I use One Note in the classroom.
  • With Google Classroom or One Drive, students can access their work from home, so homework assignments are a great way to get your feet with with digital learning, especially if you're short on devices in the classroom.
Students work on typing skills, researching skills, presentation skills all at once.

4. Once you've gotten the hang of one activity, add one more. 

  •  Going paperless one activity at a time is the best way to work out the technology kinks.
  •  You want to make sure you're not sacrificing quality instruction to jump on the paperless bandwagon.
  • Here's a really fun character traits activity using hashtags to try- kids will eat it right up!
Students can participate in shared research.  Group work takes on a whole new meaning!

5. Don't forget to be a learner.  

  • Over the course of my first paperless year, I learned more about going paperless from my students than I could have possibly learned from a blog post, text-book, or e-course.  
  • There are going to be things you don't know how to do, but your students will, and vice versa. Let them teach and help each other.
  •  Create a mindset where sharing knowledge and intelligence about technology is the norm; you will reap the benefits of a strong classroom community and even stronger technology skills.

Good luck going paperless! If you have questions, please leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to help you.

Ways to Prevent the Summer Slide

Thursday, July 14, 2016
The dreaded summer slide...when students come back to school in September and have forgotten everything they learned.  Teachers grit their teeth and say, "Sure, the curriculum pacing guide can wait 2 weeks while I re-teach 3rd grade."  The good new is, just like forest fires, you can prevent it!

Now I know what you're going to say: "My kids whine and complain when they do work in the summer." Believe me, I was that kid! When I was in elementary school, my mom used to plunk down a math or language arts review workbook, and I couldn't play outside until I had finished the assignment of the day. Mom's intentions were great- as a teacher, I totally understand it (and thanks, Mom)...but as an 8 year old, I hated it. But there are so many more engaging ways to learn during the summer, instead of through a boring workbook page.   Here are just a few.

These are great ways to prevent the summer slide and have some meaningful family time as well. 
Looking for more ideas? Here are some great ones for kids young and old! Your backyard can be your classroom, so get out and explore!

On behalf of all teachers everywhere, thank you for doing your part to prevent forest fires the summer slide. What are some other ways you've found to prevent the summer slide?

Ideas for Summer School

Thursday, May 26, 2016
Whether you're supervising, teaching, or volunteering at Summer School, you want to provide your students with a fun and engaging few weeks of learning.  There are so many things during the school year that get overlooked due to time, curriculum, or budget constraints, but Summer School is the perfect time to fit them in.  Not sure where to start? Read on! I've got lots of ideas for you.

1. Stick to a Routine

In the heat and lazy days of summer, sticking to a routine helps everyone stay on task. I'm a huge fan of morning work to get us started.  Whether it's math, reading, a question of the day, or a writing prompt, having something to focus on is a smooth and efficient start to the day.  I project our morning work on our Smartboard and the kids fill in the answers in their notebooks. After our morning work is over, we check it as a group and then go over our agenda for the day.

2. Exercise!

GoNoodle is a great way to get the wiggles out, especially on rainy days. It's also a great component to add to your morning routine.  We always start with yoga, then move into a dance or other higher impact activity.  It's just the boost some of my sweeties need after being couch potatoes at home!

3. Get your snack on!

 Most of the time, we asked our students to bring in snacks, but one day a week, my teaching partner and I would provide a snack that went along with our lesson.  Whether it was popsicles, lemonade and cookies, s'mores or watermelon, sharing food with your students is a great way to bond.  It may even be a chance to work on some table manners while you're at it!

4. Get crafty!

Summer school is a great time to experiment with some art mediums that the kids normally wouldn't have access to.  Make some tissue paper pom poms, finger paint, or experiment with squiggle drawing.

5. Stick to a Theme

 Olympics, Beach, Camping, Safety, Watersports, 4th of July...all of these topics are amazing starters for summer school themes.  You can do a weekly theme or even theme your entire session.  I tend to stick to summer themes, but STEM, forensics, robotics, cooking, and sports are all ways to engage your students.  For each theme I would choose books, reading and math activities, and a craft/outdoor activity.

6. Try something new

 Saw an activity on Pinterest that you want to try? Summer School!  Want to experiment with flexible seating? Summer School! Need to test out some iPads for your principal? Summer School!  The few weeks in a summer school session are fabulous opportunities for experimentation.  The expectations for curriculum and data are usually much lower, so think about something you're interested in and go for it!  One year we experimented with a technology rotation that worked so well, I implemented it the first day back to school.

 7. Find the Fun

 Some students may be in Summer School because they have to be, some students may be there because they want to be, some may be there because there's no other safe place for them to go.  So while you're covering curriculum points you missed or prepping for the next grade, try to find the fun in it.  Do things that take your students by surprise.  Hand out stickers with math facts/sight words/periodic elements on them and make them be "nametags."  Instead of guiding the reading, give kids a scavenger hunt through the book.  Make it a summer they won't forget.

If you are teaching Summer School this year, good luck and have fun!
Looking for more ideas? Check out my pinterest board!

End of the Year Ideas for Administrators

Thursday, May 19, 2016
If you have the last day of school circled and highlighted on your calendar, you are not alone! There's a great sense of relief that comes with the dismissal bell on the last day.  But before that last bell, there are a few things you can do to keep up morale for staff and students and ensure a smoother transition back in the fall.

1. Hold a Moving Up Day

What a great way for students and teachers to get a glimpse of the next school year! Moving Up Day is a great way to build community for all grades. 

2. Have an Open House

It's not just for September! You can have an Open House for parents before the end of the school year to showcase what students have learned.  The ESL Department at my school even holds an extra Open House at the end of Summer School to keep our parents updated.  This has been so valuable for our back-to-school transition!  

3. Plan Summer School

If you've got some money left in the budget, plan for few weeks of summer school.  It can be for certain subgroups- ESL, Basic Skills, Sp.Ed, or for certain grades. Summer school can be all new topics and themes or it can be an extended year program.  I've done both versions, and some of my plans for a few different grade levels are linked, just in case you need an example.  STEM, robotics, forensics, environmental studies, and book clubs are all great starting points for course offerings. If you need more hands, round up some local college education majors as volunteers- free for you and resume builders for them!

What are some things you do to close out the year and prepare for the next one?

Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top