Sunday, December 4, 2016

Engaging, interactive read alouds with purpose!

The other day I was planning with one of my grade levels and we were talking about making read aloud a little more interactive. Don't get me wrong: read aloud is inherently awesome. You're sitting on the carpet, reading awesome books, talking about your reading. What's not to love? 

But we have these kids....

The kids who have difficulty focusing and therefore might miss out on some of the best parts.
The kids who are so quiet that, unless you pull it out of them, they won't share their thinking.
The kids who raise their hands every forty-seven seconds to share about, "One time when that happened to me," and you're like, "Really? That happened to you? The time you were at your aunt's house for Thanksgiving and she got her head stuck in a turkey?" (True story, by the way. Or anyway, it's a true story that one time a kid told me that happened.)

So, to continue the conversation, I decided to write about my four tips for making read alouds engaging and interactive!

1. Start with a great text.

Consider your audience. Children easy to engage if you think about their interests! If you have to teach literary nonfiction, and you can choose between a book about Derek Jeter, Yankees star, or a book about PelĂ©, the King of Soccer, go with the book your kids will relate to more.  Look for books with...
  • Engaging topics
  • Interesting language 
  • A good flow - easy to follow
  • Some vivid illustrations (you don't have to show all of them, but you might want to choose some great ones)
  • Age-appropriate language

2. Set a purpose for reading.

Before you choose your book and plan your lesson, figure out why it is you're reading at all. Are you going to focus on story elements? character analysis? emotions? traits? changes? relationships? theme? The focus of your lesson will influence your book selection and the kinds of conversations you want kids to have. 

Set that purpose for reading with your kids. One great, interactive way to do this is with my brand-new Interactive Read Aloud Signs. Set a purpose for reading and provide kids with the signs. During the read aloud, students hold up their sign when they find evidence that matches their purpose!  

Another easy way to set a purpose is to ask a purpose question at the beginning of the lesson and give each student a sticky note. As you read, students will think about the question and write their thinking and evidence on the sticky note. They can Think-Pair-Share about their thinking, too!

This way serves as a great formative assessment! Read the kids' thoughts and see what they're thinking!


3. Plan some interesting, thoughtful questions and conversation starters.

Read the book first - reading that isn't fluent is BO-RING, and confusing as well! Figure out a few places you might like to pause and have students think about the text. Consider your purpose and find a few spots that kids can't help but react! Don't stop too frequently - it'll kill the story. 

4. Give them time to talk!

Once you know where you're going to stop,  make sure you have a cooperative discussion structure set up for them to talk to each other. Think-Pair-Share is the easiest one to plan, but you might experiment with others, too! Here are a few great ideas, if you're looking to jazz it up!

5. Use it as an opportunity for writing!

Kids get ideas by connecting to books you read aloud. After the read aloud, have students respond to the book! You can do this in two ways:
1. Have students write a reading response by providing sentence frames to respond to the purpose you set at the beginning of the lesson. If you're using my Interactive Read Aloud Signs, the sentence frames are already provided on the back!

2. Have students write a seed or an idea in their writer's notebooks. They can make a simple connection to write about later. The more ideas in their notebooks, the better! If you're looking for some fun, interactive tools to jazz up Read Aloud time, check out my Interactive Read Aloud Signs on TPT! I've got a brand-new set for fiction!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Build Fluency and Fun with Christmas Partner Plays!

The first day of December, my kids used to walk into class, excitedly exclaiming, "It's CHRISTMAS!"

This was hilarious. It was not Christmas. It wasn't even winter yet. We were still eating leftover turkey, and my kids couldn't stop talking about the next big thing: Christmas.

And I decided to capitalize on this. One of my ongoing goals as an upper elementary teacher was to grow students' fluency.

And then I realized: I needed to write my own. I began writing partner plays to address different seasons and holidays!

Some holidays were easier than others. Christmas, for example, is abounding with ideas! In my Christmas Partner Plays, you meet Santa, Rudolph, talking ornaments, some very excited elves, and a couple of bells hanging out downtown.

The best part? Teachers who've used the plays have told me that their kids can't get enough! They actually ask for more fluency reading! *sniff* I guess my budding career as a writer has begun!

Check out the video I made with my third grade buddy - I promise you, it's pretty cute.
And grab your set of Christmas Partner Plays on TPT! Great for grades 2 - 4! Monday & Tuesday, November 28 & 29, the plays are on sale for only $2.60! Fill up your cart today, and get them for a great low price tomorrow!

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Six tips for providing constructive feedback to teachers

If you're a new instructional coach, and you're reading this in real time, it's November. Even if you're not a new coach, but you're reading this in real time, it's still November.

It's been a couple months since school started, and there's still a very long way to go. This can be a good thing: you have time to make a difference in the teachers and students on your campus. This can be a scary thing: you have months and months of work left to do. 

Half glass full or half empty? You choose.

Now, I don't know about you, but when I have 900 million things on my to-do list, that's when I start to get a tiny bit crabby. Just a teeny weensy bit snotty. A teensy eensy bit (imagine me holding two fingers verrrrrrry close together) irritable. Sometimes the things that float around in my head when I'm extra crabby threaten to pop out of my mouth when I'm extra crabby and underwater with work to boot.

But we can't have that. 

Because if you say snotty, crabby, irritable things, you will not be able to make an impact on your campus. No one wants to listen to someone who makes them feel bad. That's pretty much human nature, and I think we can all agree that you can't blame people who just want to be treated decently.

Even if they don't treat you decently. Yes, even then. Especially then, maybe, it's important to ensure that you are in charge of the words that leave your mouth.

When it comes to working with teachers, you are building a bridge from you to them, and every act you do, gesture you make, and words you utter can either add a plank to that bridge, or it can rip pieces of your bridge right off and toss them down the river. 

Which is where you'll be if nobody wants to listen to the support you have to offer.

This isn't meant to be threatening! However, it is meant to be serious: you must speak carefully to teachers. Teachers, like kids, are people. And Relationships (with a capital R) come first.

However, part of your job as a coach is to provide feedback to teachers about their teaching and push the envelope a little. This might be in several different contexts, including when you facilitate planning sessions, RtI recommendations, as part of the coaching cycle, or little hallway conversations where teachers are either seeking help or avoiding it.

In our position, we must always consider the teacher's point of view. You are asking them to question, reflect, and adjust their teaching. You don't work with the teacher's group of kids day in and day out, and you're not facing the same obstacles that he or she is. So it's important to value the teacher's input and reasoning about why things are working a certain way in his or her classroom. And before you have any coaching conversation, ensure that it's a good time for the teacher. Don't just pop up in her doorway when she's on her way to run to the bathroom before wolfing down a frozen lasagne in thirteen minutes.

These are a few of the tips that have helped me provide feedback in a respectful, kind, yet firm way to help guide teachers into deeper reflection and response to situations in their classrooms. 

1. Be a good listener.
If you're not listening - and I mean really listening, you won't be very helpful. Good listeners pay attention not only to the words that are used but to the intent behind the words. So think about the words and the context of the words. Look at the teacher. Nod when appropriate. Control your facial expressions. If you think, "I'd never do that!" and it shows up on your face as incredulity, you are not being a good listener. Model respect before you expect to be treated with respect.

2. Try a noticing:
If I've seen something in action during a lesson that I think needs to be addressed in order to help the teacher, I'll say, "I'm noticing that..." For example, if kids continue talking while a teacher is trying to give directions or instruction, I'll say, "I'm noticing that some students listen to your instructions, but there are a few who keep talking during that time."

3. Ask a question.
Ask, "Have you noticed that before?" or "Does that often happen?" to see what the teacher can tell you about the situation.
Dig a little deeper into the problem by asking, "Why do you think that's happening?" "Have you noticed a pattern?" "Is this something you're currently working on with kids?"

4. Don't let the conversation be sidetracked.
If it's important enough to bring it up, it's important enough to ensure that it gets addressed. If the conversation is moving into, "The kids just don't want to," or, "Let me tell you about all the other stuff I've got to do," you'll have to steer it back to the important topic at hand. You might say, "Ok, I can see you've got a lot going on. So, about that question I asked you earlier..." and restate your question. 
Be confident and firm, while being reasonable and understanding. You're doing this to support teachers, and to support kids through their work in the classroom. 

5. Dig down to next steps.
If the whole conversation floats around the idea that the kids are the problem and that there's really nothing that can be done, then what have you accomplished? Absolutely nothing. One of the things I used to say to teachers (and remind myself of when I was a classroom teacher) is, "The only person I can control in this classroom is myself."

And guess what? It's still true! Teachers can't control kids. But they can adjust their methods to make sure they are doing whatever they can to reach kids. So the constructive feedback you're providing to teachers needs to end with a next step, or else nothing came out of a very uncomfortable conversation. I often say, to get to that point, "So what can we do in order to..." or "Do you have any ideas on what we can do to help kids..." or "What might you try to support students in..." These kinds of questions serve to help teachers stop and think about the actions they can take to meet students' needs. 

6. Provide suggestions when the teacher is stumped.
Sometimes the teacher is dealing with a situation that they've already tried to solve to no avail. I know that there were times when I went to my own coach to say, "I'm not sure what to do. Am I doing the right thing?"

If that's where the teacher is, don't be afraid to suggest something that could help him or her. Say, "One thing you might try is..." or "I recently read about..." to be non-threatening while pushing the envelope a little. You can refer back to a training that you've given by saying, "Remember when we learned about ... Do you think that might work in your class?"

You can also offer help. "What can I do to help you with this initiative?" or "Is there something I can do to help?"
Rehearsing your communication in the car on your way to work can help! Think about the sensitive messages you have to send and plan a supportive approach to share them with the teacher.
Being a coach isn't always the most comfortable place to be. Sometimes it requires us to say things we'd rather not say. By cultivating a supportive, kind, yet firm approach when communicating with teachers, especially about the sensitive issues they're dealing with on a daily basis, you can make a positive impact on your teachers, students, and your campus as a whole.

And it'll keep you from being just an eensy weensy bit snotty.
 Looking for more? Check out my new ebook: The Start-Up Guide to Instructional Coaching on TPT!

And organize yourself with the Instructional Coaching MegaPack of Printable & Fillable Forms!

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Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Special Place to Read: Our School Reading Lounge is Ready!

Prepare yourself:
As you read this post, you may find yourself wanting to make a cup of coffee, curl up in a cozy blanket, and read a delicious book.
That's because this post is all about a special spot in my school: our reading lounge.

Also prepare yourself because I am so very in love with this room that I took about 5,000 pictures. It was very hard to choose which 429 of them to include in this blog post. So be ready for photo overload. I can't help it. It's too beautiful!
A reading lounge, according to Stephen Layne in Igniting a Passion for Reading, is a dedicated place for students to read and learn to love reading. There's a link to this gem of a book on the bottom of this post!

A few years ago, my teachers and I did a book study on this book and fell in love with the idea. Three years later, we are the proud owners of this gorgeous space!

How do we use the reading lounge?

We have a sign-up binder with a calendar on the counter. There are 30-minute time slots that teachers can sign up for at their convenience.

Teachers bring their classes in to the lounge to read! Kids arrive with their books and choose a comfy spot to read. During this time, many teachers work with a small reading group or literature circle, or they have reading conferences to talk to kids about their reading!
The basic expectations are that kids will read the whole time, keep their feet on the floor (not on the furniture), leave the furniture where it is rather than moving it around, only read in the lounge when a teacher is present, and respect the other readers by remaining reasonably calm and quiet. 

 We've also talked about having the kids come share their own writing in the reading lounge.

How did we furnish the reading lounge?

When we first started, we asked teachers for donations. They brought in a couch, a loveseat, a couple lamps, and some little storage cubes. I also purchased camp chairs for five dollars each from a sports supply store and some beanbags from Target.

The school paid for our rugs from Lakeshore.

And then came the big boost! I wrote a grant sponsored by Price's Creameries and we received $3000.00 to create our dream reading lounge!

Apparently, Price's recorded a video of me on the day of this grant awards breakfast. So now I'm on a commercial on one of the Spanish TV channels! They keep looking at me funny when I walk into classrooms, and then they say, "I saw you on TV!"

We hired our incredible art teacher to paint the room in a garden theme, bought new couches and lamps, and of course, books! Those were for our Multiple Copies Lending Library (more on that later!).  One of our lovely teachers made the adorable rag curtains, too.

After we finished all of our work with the grant, we had a "Grand Opening!" Each teacher received a beautiful garden themed bookmark purchased by my assistant principal, and an ideas handout for using the lounge and the multiple copies lending library. 


 Want a guided tour? Check out the video!


Grab the book that inspired us:

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Monday, September 5, 2016

Mentor texts for each grade level* Freebie!

What's the most important teaching tool we have? Aside from your brains, it's books! We can do without handouts, copy machines, scented markers (although who would want to?) and even - gasp - post-its. But books are a necessity for authentic instruction. We learn from the greats. One of the first questions we ask when planning every reading & writing lesson should be "Which books show this in action? Which books can we use to engage students in observing this skill or strategy?"

One of the biggest undertakings my school has ventured into is aligning our use of mentor texts for reading and writing experiences. To support teachers and grade levels as a whole in doing this, and to help our collaborative planning, I decided to put together a collection of books for each grade level.

I was so excited to embark on this idea! I searched high and low for mentor text lists, lists of authors with titles under their belt, and recommendations from other teacher-authors, bloggers, and colleagues. I scoured the internet, high and low.


Why was this so difficult? Because my district, and therefore my school, is dual language. We believe in supporting the child's home language (in our area this is primarily Spanish) by following a specific model of language acquisition. This means the majority of literacy instruction in K-2 is in Spanish in our bilingual rooms, and then we increase English language arts in third, until in fourth and fifth we are teaching in English all day (except for Social Studies).
In order to make sure all of our kids had equal opportunity, and our teachers had equal support, I had to find authors and titles that were available in English and Spanish, or with equitable substitutes. This is tough. The trend is currently to move back into 100% English instruction, so Spanish titles are often off-the-market. We had to buy many of them from Amazon because Barnes & Noble (and other booksellers) no longer carries them.
But I finally figured out the authors and titles to use for each grade. The books were delivered a little at a time from different vendors over the summer. When I arrived, I had a pile of boxes in my room. I sorted them into grade levels and added a sticker on the front of each book noting the genre and grade level. Then I put a sticker on the inside cover of each book to give teachers a place to make notes about reading and writing lessons.

I set up the bins in the library and sorted all of the books - one set for each teacher and a master set to keep in my planning room so we'd have one to use during PLC.

During inservice, I provided a little training to teachers about using mentor texts and then I had my Oprah moment! Each teacher received his/her basket, labeled and tidy, to take back with them.
During PLC, we pull out the mentor text basket for their grade level as we plan for reading lessons and writing lessons! 

In case you're undertaking a similar initiative, I pulled together everything that I used for our mentor text project. The stickers, basket labels, and all the titles & authors that I used are there! Grab it from Google Drive!

Happy Teaching!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

How to plan an awesome family event *Freebie!

How do I know it's back to school time? 

My plants are dead.
All of my plants that I grew so lovingly in the spring, watered all through the summer, fertilized and pruned are either pathetic, desperate for water, or downright crunchy. Because by the time I stumble home, sore and crabby, carrying my bag and at least one box full random items for cutting, dyeing, or filling out, I am completely uninterested in watering my plants.

That's why I buy succulents, folks. The hardier the better. 

So we're back to school. I've been back for three weeks, being trained and training others, and last week was our first official week back with the kids. And I am dead tired. It's a Stranger Things marathon kind of weekend, people.
Recently, I was talking to some of my friends who are new to coaching, and she asked me, "What's the FIRST thing you do when you plan a family night?" It took me a little thinking, but I think I've narrowed down my family night planning to nine easy steps! I know that sounds ridiculous, but I wanted everything to be very clear.
Family nights are a great way to bring in the community. Get your parents involved in learning about the things your kids are working on every day! Here is the process I follow when I plan a family night for any content area (literacy, math, etc.)
1. Decide on your purpose.
Possible purposes:
  • To engage families in fun activities at school to help them enjoy the time they spend there.
  • To teach families easy things they can do to help their kids at home.
  • To help families create activities they can do at home.
  • To inform families about education on your campus or in your state.
  • To help families learn about and think about their future plans for their child's education.
The purpose you have will determine the kinds of activities families participate in!
2. Choose a theme. 
Parents love a good theme! And it really helps when you're thinking of fun ways to approach the activities. 
Themes I've done include...

3. Get sponsors.
Why not? I have one small company provide bags for each family (just simple colorful party bags), and we've had our high school and university provide items for prizes. A local organization that provides free books to kids often donates books so each one of our kids can leave with a new book! Which leads me to my next point -

4. Incentivize it!
How will you incentivize attendance? At our school, every child who attends a family night event gets a "Free Dress Pass" when they leave. This means they can wear free dress rather than the uniform the next day. You could also do a "No Homework Pass." 
Food is also a great incentive. For our Family Dream Night at the end of the year, every teacher brings a bag of hot dog buns and a package of hot dogs. Our admin pitches in to get the rest. Our coaches grill everything up and we give out one to each person that night! Huge turnout every year!
4. Think of the experiences you want kids to have with their parents. 
I usually approach these as stations. Stations are an easy way to make sure that there's something for everyone to do and people don't spend too much time waiting for an activity.
For example, when I'm planning a literacy night, I want families to do the following things:
  • Write something creative together
  • Make a fun game they can play at home to practice accuracy 
  • Read something together to practice fluency
  • Play an interactive game
  • Make a fun craft to get them talking and develop creativity and oral language
  • Make a snack while following a procedural text - our people show up when we feed them!
  • And obviously, read, read, read!!
I usually end up with about 6-7 stations. Each station needs about 2-4 people to man it. Obviously, crafts and snacks take a few more people than something simple like reading.

5. Figure out staffing.
I send out an email to teachers about three-four weeks before a family event asking who will attend. On our campus, teachers rotate, taking turns coming to our Family Math Night and Family Literacy Night. Everyone comes to Dream Board Night at the end of the year. 

Teachers respond to my email and I start identifying who will work at each station. After I have everything figured out, I send everyone an email explaining where they will go that evening and what time they should arrive.

5. Plan your stations.
What will each of these things look like? Look to your theme for inspiration! Spend some time googling "pirate word list" or "superhero word list". Hunt on Pinterest for ideas related to your theme that you could integrate into a station. 

Create materials for each station. These include the directions, which I print out and make into posters, and any handouts or graphic organizers people will need to participate in the activities.

6. Make a map.
I map out the areas I will be using for Family Night. We use the front entry in the school for bag and book distribution, the science lab for the snack station, the gym for several stations, and the cafeteria for several more. Noisy activities should be separated from quiet activities; messy activities need an easy-to-clean space.
I provide the map to the custodians who help me by setting up the tables, chairs, etc.  

7. Make a list of materials you need. 
Estimate the number of people and then examine your stations. How many of each material will you need for that many people? Make a list with quantities. If you need to buy it, buy it! If you need to make it, make it! 

Sort all of your materials. To organize your snacks, it helps to provide each student with a little bag of everything they'll need. I also make a sample of each station activity to help teachers, kids, and parents know what they're expected to do there. 

8. Organize everything on a cart.
This is a lifesaver. Instead of having boxes and piles everywhere, I set everything up on a multi-level cart. For example, everything I need for my first station (sentence strips, crayons, and pencils) go on the top level of the cart with a sticky note that says "Station One".

9. Send out invitations!
A week before the event, I send an invitation out to each student on colored paper. We announce it every day over the announcements, and we put it on the marquee as well. You could also send out a half-sheet the day before the event to remind parents.

You could also skip many of these steps and purchase one of my pre-made (and kid-tested!) Family Nights from TPT!

For an easy-to-print version plus a freebie page from my Coaching Megapack, visit TPT and download the freebie guide to planning a family night!

Read about my other family night events on the blog!

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