Sunday, April 23, 2017

April Post

Anchor Charts

Have you increased the amount of chart paper you order every year? Do your markers run out faster than years previously? If you answered yes to these questions, then you are an anchor chart master. If you answered no, well, you have probably noticed anchor charts on Pinterest, on Twitter, or even on the walls in classrooms in your building. However, do you know the purpose of anchor charts?

Why Anchor Charts?
Anchor charts are created during the mini-lesson to capture the strategies readers and writers need to be successful during independent reading and writing time. As you move through a unit of study, teachers and students add ideas to an anchor chart as they apply new learning, discover interesting ideas, or develop useful strategies for problem-solving or skill application.

Anchor charts serve as a resource tool for students during independent work time. To help create independent strategic readers and writers, we need to teach students how to use these tools. For these tools to be useful, we must refer to the charts during mini-lessons, strategy groups, and one-on-one conferring.

When do I Make my Anchor Charts?
When I first started using anchor charts in my room (many years ago…don’t ask), I would make them prior to the mini-lesson. However, I noticed that students were not even looking at the chart when I referred to it during the mini-lesson; therefore, I shifted to creating the charts with students. Students were now engaged during the creating process of the chart, and I was able to capture their thoughts and learning on the chart. The only downside was my charts were not as pretty, but I learned to let that go. The benefits of creating the charts with students far outweighed my poor handwriting. If that bothers you, you can always recreate the poster later.

What do I do After I Make the Chart?
You finished the mini-lessons that involve a chart, so now what? As long as you are in the same unit of study, you will need to keep the chart posted. Students need to be able to access this chart for strategies during this unit, so it should be in a place where students can easily see it. If students have to hunt around for chart (strategies), they are losing valuable independent work time.

In my classroom, I dedicated parts of my room to each content area. I also used the clothesline with clothes pins that hung from the ceiling - one for reading charts and one for writing. As you can imagine, I spent time scaling ladders, desks, or whatever to change posters. By having the charts clustered together, students knew exactly where to look for a needed strategy.

At the beginning of the year, you will probably need to create management and procedural charts for reading and writing. If the structures are the same (i.e. the jobs of the teacher and student during the mini-lesson), then you only need to create one chart. Once students are familiar with the procedures, you can remove the charts. At some point in the school year, you may need to revisit those charts so don’t get rid of them.

As we think about our classroom spaces, I would like you to think about what’s on your classroom walls. Are your anchor charts wallpaper or wallpower? Do your charts or pre-bought posters help create strategic independent readers and writers?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

March 2017

Classroom Library

As an undergraduate, I remember designing a diorama of my future classroom. In my classroom, I envisioned walls of bookcases filled with books, comfortable seating, a rug for a meeting area, lamps, and desks arranged in groups of four. That's probably why I spent a small fortune on purchasing books for my classroom. On Saturdays, I shopped garage sales, resale shops, and Scholastic warehouse sales. At one point, I even raided my parent's house to take back the books from my childhood…thankfully they saved them. 

After I attended the Coaching Institute at the Teachers College in October and worked in classrooms while I was there, my awareness towards classroom libraries became heightened. The classrooms at PS 1 Alfred E. Smith Elementary had books EVERYWHERE. Students were surrounded by books (pictures included are from the 4th grade clasroom I taught in while I was in NY).

Reading Engagement

The International Literacy Association completed a global study examining the relationship between students' reading engagement and their academic success. It was measured by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam and grade point averages. This study concluded that "attitude toward reading, frequency of leisure reading, and diversity of reading materials" were crucial factors in reading achievement and measured by grade point averages (Brozo, Shiel, and Topping 2007, 311).

Does your classroom library offer diverse reading material? Are students able to see themselves in the books in your classroom? As you pack up for the summer and think about your supplies for next year, I challenge you to think about these questions. Would your students answer the same way?

According to Jennifer Serravallo (see chart below), students must be engaged with a text before they can tackle the more complicated work in reading. This begs another question, are the books in your classroom library current and on topics that interest students? I know classroom libraries are a costly upkeep, but we need to make sure we have current titles students want to read. Recently, I read/heard a teacher should lose 10% of their classroom library every year. If you are “losing” texts, then students are keeping your books. Is that a bad thing? I’m not sure about you, but I always thought it was my responsibility to help students to find that “ONE” book that made them become life-long readers...personally, I loved the challenge. If students are not engaged in reading, then they have not found “that book.”

How Many Books?

As you look at pictures on this blog post, you will notice the wealth of reading material available in this one classroom. When thinking about your classroom library, it helps to think about your readers (number of struggling readers, on level readers, above level readers) and the units you will teach across the year. Do you have enough books for ALL readers to read books with in the unit?

Now to the numbers. For this example, I want you to think about levels of texts your students read. Below is a chart (based on TCRWP & Jennifer Serravallo’ research) for how many books each reader needs a week. Do you have enough books?

Books I’ll Need for the Week
J, K
8 – 10 Books
L, M
4 – 6 Books
N, O, P, Q
2 – 4 Books
R, S, T
1 – 3 Books
U, V, W
1 – 3 Books

Bottom line, our students need access to books they want to read. How will you help your students find their love of reading?

Brozo, W., Shiel, G., & Topping, K. (2007). Engagement in reading: Lessons learned from three PISA countries. International Reading Association, 51, 304-315.
Goldberg, G. & Serravallo, J. (2007). Conferring with Readers: Supporting Each Student's Growth and Independence. Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

February 2017

Students NEED Independent Reading

How valuable is independent reading? How long should I allow my students to read? Should my students read at home? Should I hold them accountable for reading at home? At some point in your teaching career you have probably struggled with these questions or will struggle with these inquiries. With all the demands on teachers to meet the ever-changing standards, sustained silent reading seems to be the first to go from classroom schedules. As teachers, we want our students to be life-long readers and learners, but also feel the pressure to have our students perform on state assessments. Let’s set state assessments aside and focus on what we believe is right for our students…time spent reading.

How valuable is independent reading?

Independent reading is giving students the time to read materials of their personal choice. Students have the opportunity to read for information or pleasure, and NO ONE ASSIGNS IT! A book report is not required either! According to Richard Allington, the most important activity for developing literacy is inducing students to read independently. For students to become life-long readers, we need to give them TIME in school to read and CHOICE.

In addition to readers becoming life-long readers, they also increase their knowledge by having time to read. “I think it is clear that vocabulary knowledge is largely a product of independent engaged reading (Stahl & Nagy, 2006). But there is also evidence that almost everything, from phonemic awareness, to phonics, to comprehension is developed through independent reading and writing (Allington, 2009a).” Krashen, Cunninham, and Stanovich research proves students who read independently become better readers, score higher on achievement tests in all subject areas, and have greater content knowledge than those who do not (Krashen 1993; Cunningham and Stanovich 1991; Stanovich and Cunningham 1993).

Do students really need choice?

The easy response to this question, and a slightly arrogant response would be, do you want students to be engaged while reading? Penny Kittle believes, “Students need to make choices in reading that reflect their interests because interest drives engagement. Teachers should encourage wide reading in all genres as well as students who pursue an author or genre study. Allow students to reread favorite books and to abandon a book that no longer interests them.” Students need to be in charge of their reading lives. Our goal as teachers is to guide students in selecting “good fit” books and to introduce them to different genres. By giving students choice in their reading, they will be empowered lifelong readers.

How much time do students need?

We have all heard the collective groans from our students when we announce reading time is over for the day. Of course, this was music to my ears. However, I always wondered if my students were getting enough eyes on print time. Many times during the reading block “other stuff” tended to creep into the sacred time and rob students of their reading time.

When you think about your students’ reading block, how much time do they spend reading? According to Richard Allington, “In many classrooms, a 90 minute 'reading block' produces only 10–15 minutes of actual reading, or less than 20 percent of the allocated reading time is spent reading. Worse, in many classrooms, 20 minutes of actual reading across the school day (Knapp, 1995) is a common event, which includes reading in science, social studies, math, and other subjects. Thus, less than ten percent of the day is actually spent reading and 90 percent or more of the time is spent doing stuff.

I’m assuming now you are wrestling with a new question – how do I make sure all students have time for protected reading time every day? I think as teachers we need to ask ourselves, what do we value for our students? If it is time spent reading, then we need to do whatever we can do to guard this time – keep the minilesson to 10 minutes, avoid letting other “stuff” sneak into reading, and avoid students leaving the room during this time. By giving students time and choice, we can give students the gift of becoming lifelong readers.

Allington, R. (2013) What Really Matters When Working with Struggling Readers, 66 (7), 4-14. Newark, DE: International Literacy Association.

Kittle, P. (2013). Book Love. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Summer Learning Opportunities 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

January 2017



I hope that you found time this break to relax and rejuvenate with family and friends. 

You may have noticed that this is not the typical format for the ELA newsletter. Unfortunately, my subscription to Smore is over, and I needed a new, free option.

ELA Website

If you like to know more about ELA curriculum, the workshop model, guided reading, mini-lessons, etc., please check out the ELA website. There are links to videos and other reading materials to explain each component.

When are the Fountas and Pinnell Assessment Windows?

Beginning of the Year - August 22 - September 30 DUE: October 3rd
Middle of the Year - January 9 - February 16 DUE: February 17th
End of the Year - April 17 - May 18 DUE: May 19th

Helpful Resources

GRL Chart

Entering GRLs into SIS

This year you will enter GRLs into SIS. For directions on how to input this data, Tim Brown created a how-to video for you. Below is a link to the video Tim created. GRLs need to be entered by the end of the day on February 17th.

District Writing Assessment

When scoring students' writing, you will look at the writer from a holistic point of view. Are students applying the curriculum items taught at their grade level (i.e. organization, audience, conventions, etc.) on conferred pieces and on-demand pieces?

With the new ELA curriculum, writing needs to have an emphasis in our classrooms. Students are expected to write narrative, expository/informational and opinion/argumentative pieces at every grade. Writing is not limited to just these three types of writing, so there is still the opportunity to add in other units.

At the end of the three main types of writing (narrative, information, and opinion), students will complete an on-demand piece. These prompts, available for all three genres, direct students to compose the best piece of writing they can-narrative, information, or argument-in a fixed period of time. The prompts for each type of writing are linked (see below). At the end of the year, each on-demand piece from each type of writing will be placed inside the Fountas and Pinnell Student Folder.

For teachers using the Units of Study for Writing, you will continue to pre-assess and post-assess your students.

Have a Wonderful Year!

Please do not hesitate to contact your building’s ELA Teacher Facilitator or me with any questions, concerns, or feedback.

Thank you!