Sunday, January 14, 2018

Anchor Charts vs. Posters: What's the Difference?

Anchor Chart: it's a phrase used commonly in education. They adorn walls in classrooms across the country, and, when used correctly, they can be an excellent instructional tool.
But sometimes the phrase "anchor chart" is used to refer to something that isn't an anchor chart at all. It's a poster. 
So what's the difference?
Let's start with anchor charts. There are a few things that make them special:
Anchor charts are...
  •  made DURING the lesson.
  • records of student and teacher thinking.
  • an anchor (ahhhh) for student learning.
  • placed on the wall to help students recall the lesson experience and content.
  • replaced when they are no longer needed or useful to students.
  • interactive. They can be added to over time.
  • full of student and teacher handwriting.
  •  purposeful. 
Anchor charts are not...
  • printed out from a file or teacher-created and possibly laminated.
  • done BEFORE the lesson.
  • records of teacher thinking or information only.
  • static; remaining the same  over time.
  • wallpaper in the classroom.
  • the same year after year.
  • decorations.
 Those are posters.

So let's talk a little bit about how to use anchor charts effectively.

Tip #1: Use them purposefully.

Anchor charts come into play when there's an important concept and learning experience that you want kids to recall. You may be a planner: you may know in advance that you plan to use an anchor chart to record and think through the lesson with kids. But you might not. You may be suddenly inspired during a lesson, whip out a blank chart paper, and go to town! Either way is ok!

That being said, you probably don't want an anchor chart for every single lesson. It's overwhelming and cluttered. You may want to identify the main concepts you want kids to have a reference for and build charts in those situations. As charts become outdated or unnecessary, take them down so you can replace them with current ones.

You can save the old charts, if you think kids will need to refer to them later. You can also just stack new charts on top of the old chart, by stapling only across the top.

Tip #2: Do some thinking first.

Some people have a template for the anchor chart before they begin the lesson. Having a general idea of structure and organization for your chart is a good thing, but you don't need (or even want) to have every last detail planned out. If you already know what you're going to write on the chart, you're less likely to allow for kid input.

It definitely helps to have kid-friendly definitions or language ready so you're not fumbling for how to word certain things on your chart. Ideally, you'll probably have this as part of your lesson planning anyway.

Tip #3 Include a learning target.
I try to include a learning target, purpose, or title on the chart. This helps kids recall what the point of the lesson was. I also will try to include the concept information (main bullet points of important ideas) needed for kids to recall the lesson later.

Tip #4 Try it out!
Then, we try the strategy out in the way that I want kids to try it later. We might use sentence starters, post-it responses, task cards, or a graphic organizer to help kids try out the strategy, and record it on the chart. 

Tip #5 Don't stress about beautiful-ness!

I keep it all-natural :) I record as we go through the lesson. I try to use color well, but honestly, I usually forget. My charts are not beautiful or gorgeous. You can definitely see a difference between the charts I make as a sample and the charts I make in the moment in the classroom. And that's ok! If they're legible and they're purposeful, and kids can access the information on them, they're fine!

Some teachers take home charts after the fact to rewrite them. The issue with this is that, at that point, it no longer looks like the chart you made with your students during the lesson. It's invariably organized differently or has information in different places. Will kids still refer back to it, or will it become wallpaper?

The main purpose of an anchor chart is to be a useful record for student reference. It anchors student learning to the chart. Posters, while they may be attractive and perfectly designed, are not anchor charts. They serve a completely different purpose.

Do you have any great tips for using anchor charts?

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Sunday, January 7, 2018

A TEK-a-Day: Texas Test Prep Made Easy!

As an instructional coach, I spent a lot of time trying to find good quality resources for my teachers to use when teaching literacy.

Sometimes this was easy and fun! Mentor texts! Classroom libraries! Sometimes this wasn't so fun. Texas reading test prep. Yuck.

The most important things we do aren't test prep, but you wouldn't know that from looking at the reports released from the state!

One resource my teachers frequently asked for, but weren't able to find, was a test prep resource that would allow them to teach test prep a little at a time, rather than a huge, long, horrendous, boring passage. 

They wanted a short passage to use each week, and then different types of questions each day. 

One question a day, they said! 

That'll help us reinforce the skills without drilling and killing, and spending so much of our time on test prep! 

I searched high and low but couldn't really find exactly what we were looking for.

So I decided to make it. And so the TEK-a-Day Test Prep was born!

Please know that I didn't create this product so you could spend more time on test prep. I created so you could spend less, better quality time on test prep.

I've really worked hard to ensure that this resource is TEKS and test-aligned. My pet peeve is when untested TEKS are included in a reading passage, or when the test prep materials sold by big companies don't match what kids will actually see on the day of their test. We should teach widely, of course, but if we're preparing them for something high-stakes, shouldn't our materials be accurate?

Here's what's in the resource. If you're like my teachers, it's exactly what you've been looking for! 

Short Genre-aligned Texts & Daily TEK-aligned questions

Each week has one short text - a half-page text - in different genres that are tested in that grade. For example, in third grade, I start the first nine weeks with literary genres (fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction), and in the second nine weeks I add informational genres (expository and embedded procedural). 

In fourth grade, students are exposed to these genres plus drama, and in fifth grade, they also receive persuasive passages.

For each text, there are five questions: one for each day of the week. Monday is a word study question (context clues, affixes/root words, and dictionary definitions where applicable). The other days spiral TEKS tested on the state test. If it's not tested, I didn't include it. The purpose is to focus test-taking skills on the kinds of questions kids will see.

I used a variety of question stems and focused my efforts on those TEKS that are most heavily tested, although all test-eligible TEKS are introduced (except for one in fourth and one in fifth that have never been tested, but are eligible for testing).

Each nine weeks adds a new layer to what kids are asked to do in preparation for their test. In fourth and fifth grade, the third and fourth nine weeks include questions in the 19F style - questions where the kids compare the readings from the previous two weeks.

Academic Vocabulary Word Wall & Guide
In order to make this an all-inclusive test prep resource, I also added in academic vocabulary.

The word wall includes vocabulary that is generic to reading (summary, infer, support), and genre-specific vocabulary (main character, cause-and-effect, cast, props).

Word wall cards are included and a vocabulary guide explains when each word is introduced to you can build a word wall by genre.

Writing & Reading Extensions

To support kids making connections to texts, I also included writing extensions and recommended
readings to continue the learning.

These recommended books are thematically or topically connected, and it can be as easy as checking some out from the library and leaving them on a book display for interested readers!

The writing extensions are from a variety of modes of writing - all of them supported in the TEKS. I wrote the expository prompts in the fourth grade Texas writing test style.

It's also a great way to keep those kids who finish quickly engaged.

Answer Keys & TEKS Data Trackers
Answer keys are included for everything, and they include the TEK/SE coding as well, so you can track student data and see how they're doing in each area! 

I also included several versions of the answer sheet - one that doesn't include the TEKS and one that does, in case you have kids track their own data.

To help you track student data, there's a data tracker in printable and digital format (Keynote and PowerPoint) so you can edit on your computer if you prefer!

Large Print Versions
So many teachers have to provide a large print version to their students, and I know from personal experience that this can be very time-consuming, and sometimes difficult, depending on the formatting of the document. So I included large-print versions of the passages for each week. This should save you some time!

Teacher pages are also included that explain how to use the program and all of its resources.

So you might want to check it out! If you download the preview file for each bundle on TpT, it will share exactly what is included in the entire bundle, as well as a TEKS alignment guide to help you with year-long planning.

I truly hope this resource helps you spend less-but-better test prep time with your kids.

Third Grade TEK-a-Day Test Prep Bundle
Fourth Grade TEK-a-Day Test Prep Bundle
Fifth Grade TEK-a-Day Test Prep Bundle

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Disguise a Gingerbread Man Library Contest

One of the most fun partnerships of my job was working with our school librarian. We worked Family Literacy Nights, Read Across America Celebrations, and our fun library contests! The library contests came about as a way to reach our kids and parents and engage them in fun activities that they would enjoy. We wanted our kids and parents to:
together on our

* love reading and love books.
* talk to each other about books.
* create something special together.

To do this, we invented our library contests! They were totally voluntary. One of our library contests that took place in December was Disguise a Gingerbread Man.

We posted posters around the school to let kids know we planned to host a contest.

When kids came to the library to ask about the contest, we provided a gingerbread man template on cardstock and the directions on a flyer.

The kids had about three weeks to disguise their gingerbread man as a character from a book they enjoy.

They returned the completed project (with their name, teacher's name, character name, and book title on the back) to the library by the due date.

Then we had a couple judges identify the winners! We chose many, many winners, because the prize was a big one. We booked a bus and a field trip to Barnes & Noble!

Our original idea was to give the winners gift cards to Barnes & Noble, but we realized that our population of kids might not be able to find transportation to get there to spend their card. So my incredible principal suggested the field trip!

We collected winners from the three contests in the fall (Disguise-a-Pumpkin, Turkey in Disguise, and Disguise a Gingerbread Man) and took them all to Barnes & Noble!

They gave each child a piece of chocolate and a tiny sample of a frappuccino (I don't have to tell you how fancy the kids thought that  was!) and then the school paid for one book of the child's choosing. It was a beautiful day!

To grab the editable version of these fun projects (and more: bunnies, snowmen, and designing bookmarks!) just head over to my TpT store!
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Sunday, December 3, 2017

Supporting struggling students without pulling them out

One of the biggest challenges to instructional coaching is time management. Where do you spend
your time? I've written about this before, but I'd like to address a specific problem that comes up frequently.
The dilemma:
Should instructional coaches pull out students for intervention?

A lot of this depends on your job description. If you're more of a reading specialist, this might be what your job is mostly about. My job description was about supporting teachers to grow our school's instruction, so that's where I'm coming from.

Sometimes instructional coaches (or literacy coaches, math coaches, whatever your district calls them) are viewed as the safety net for struggling kids. The RtI standby is "Have so-and-so pull the kids out for a small group intervention."

While this is clearly a better support for kids than sticking them on a computer-based program (another old standby), there are issues that arise with this philosophy.

I've done some thinking about this, and here's what I've come up with.

The student is pulled out by someone who is trained highly in their area of need.
This might not always be true. I have known people who weren't highly trained in their area of coaching and I was confused about how they were placed in that position. But in general, people in support positions should be very knowledgeable in their intervention practices. Students can benefit from a one-on-one or small group setting with a highly trained individual. 

If the student is at a level all of his own, he will get support at that level.
It's hard (sometimes impossible) for teachers to schedule support for students who have no peers at the same learning level. That is a tremendous challenge for teachers in the classroom with students significantly below (or above) their peers.

The student is pulled out of class.
This is a huge issue that I believe doesn't get enough attention. Our kids who are pulled out are at a serious disadvantage. They are missing what's happening in their home class and are interacting with someone who doesn't know them as well as their teacher.

Learning doesn't always transfer. 
Kids compartmentalize learning. (Adults do, too, incidentally.) To bridge this requires a conscious effort on the part of the classroom teacher and the pullout teacher.

This keeps the coach from working with teachers or meeting other school-wide needs.
This is also huge. If you're working with a small group, you're affecting maybe six people on your campus, tops. That's not a great ratio, when you consider the number of kids and teachers you're there to serve.

Coaches are frequently pulled from duties.
It's hard to be consistent when you're sent to trainings, pulled to monitor classrooms or to serve as support during other emergencies. Support only works when it's consistent. I really want to avoid committing to a teacher if I might not be able to follow through on that.

This doesn't solve the underlying issue.
The student will continue to go back to class with the underlying issue: something about their school day isn't serving their learning.

My proposed solution:

In order to support kids in the long-term, instructional coaches have to support their teachers. My thinking is in five steps.

1. Meet with the teacher to discuss the area of students' needs.
  • Ask specific questions to get specific details.
  • What has the teacher already tried?
  • How have students responded to that support?
2. Observe the teacher working with the students to fully understand what is going on.
  • Take careful notes.
  • Look for what the teacher has alrady explained to you.
  • Notice what the teacher does when students struggle.
  • Notice how students react to teacher instruction.
3. Plan with the teacher an approach that might work with students.
  • Be specific - use the lesson plan template or structure that the teacher is using.
  • Plan out steps.
  • Choose materials.
  • Write questions and dialogue together.
4. Model the plan.
  • Work with the small group using the plan you created.
  • Debrief with the teacher: what went well? what didn't? what needs to be changed?
5. Carry out the plan: observe and provide feedback.
  • Watch the teacher deliver the plan.
  • Check in with the teacher: how's it going?
  • Watch for student progress.
  • Model again as necessary.
I don't have all the answers. You might really disagree with this! And this won't always work, honestly. But it might help you minimize the number of students who need to be pulled out while growing your teachers' intervention strategies. Both of these outcomes are important for instructional coaching.

 Interested in getting yourself organized? Check out my Instructional Coaching MegaPack on TPT for records, observation forms, planning documents, binder covers, and more for coaches!

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Guided Reading: Make It Fun!

If guided reading is an important part of your reading program, your kids will be spending a lot of
time at your table. This means that the time you spend in guided reading has to serve a lot of purposes: growing readers, of course, but not just growing readers at the skill level. Our goal is to create real readers: people who can and do read.

I'm just going to say it: if guided reading is boring, and kids don't feel excited, successful, or engaged, then we may be robbing our kids of the joy of reading.

Here are some things to think about to make sure that love fills your guided reading lessons!

1. Fake it till you make it.
Don't love guided reading? Fake it. If you're bored or disinterested, your kid are too. Be excited and value the work you're doing with kids. Joy and humor go a long way to grow readers.

2. Choose texts with kids in mind.
Those handy dandy leveled readers are awfully convenient, but they're usually not very exciting. I prefer to go with real, engaging texts that kids might actually enjoy and connect with. Scholastic's Book Wizard is a great place to hunt for reading levels.

Find a text you'd like to read with your kids, and then search for it here to find the guided reading level. Choose a book that's high interest for the kids in your group. Starting with a reading interest survey can help. You can find one in Rolling Out Reader's Workshop.

3. Celebrate!
Guided reading is tough work for kids. They're exploring strategies at levels that aren't easy. When kids use a strategy they haven't before, celebrate! When they reach a new level, celebrate! High fives, stickers, bookmarks, and little cheers are easy ways to show kids they've accomplished something and should be proud.

4. Use fun materials.
Depending on the age group and personality types you're working with, props can liven up your lesson and give kids something to look forward to. Some easy props are fun pointers (swizzle sticks are cheap and cute), and "reading glasses"(nothing too distracting or view-obstructing, of course!) are great for younger readers.

My kids also love using dry-erase boards and markers, and sticky notes in cute shapes! The Dollar Store is a great spot for livening up guided reading.

Honestly, though, you don't need to buy anything to make guided reading fun. If you bring joy to your work, it will shine through your lessons and your kids will love getting small group attention from you! It could be the happiest part of their day, because they feel special, successful, and engaged!

Be sure to check back every Sunday for these informative posts. I promise you won't be disappointed. I included lots of information and tips to help you get rolling or to spice up your guided reading!
September 24: Getting to Know Your Readers First
October 1: What Are the Other Kids Doing?
October 8: Organizing Your Guided Reading Binder
October 15: Preparing Your Space for Guided Reading
October 22: Planning for Guided Reading
October 29: How Do I Know What to Teach?
November 7: Monitoring Progress in Guided Reading
November 12: How to Build Reading Strategies
November 19: Guided Reading: Make it Fun!
Grab the All-in-One Guided Reading Materials (over 100 pages of tools, forms, organizational strategies, and more for guided reading K-5).

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Guided Reading: How to Build Strategy Use in Readers

The purpose of guided reading is to build strategy use to support growing readers. We do this in a guided setting so we can introduce a strategy and help students practice it until they're able to do it on their own in their own reading.

In order to actually make this happen, it requires thoughtful planning and figuring out which strategies to introduce to students.

But it's not as hard as it seems! Once you've figured out which strategy to teach, here is how you can actually ensure that students acquire it and are able to use it in their own reading.

1.  Explicitly introduce it at the beginning of your lesson.
This can look like a little tiny minilesson. As in a minilesson, explicitly state what the strategy is and how to do it. Choose a chunk of text - it could be from the book you're about to read, a book you've read before with this group, or any short text. Model using the strategy in this text. Ask students if they understand and if they have questions.

2. Keep a record of strategies kids can use.

When you've already introduced a strategy, you'll want to keep a visual record so kids and refer to it in the future, during guided reading and other parts of the day.

I add the strategy on a little sentence strip into a pocket chart, so students will remember that's a strategy they are able to use. Have kids verbalize the strategy, too. The language needs to become theirs.

2. Set a purpose question that requires students to use the strategy.
I use my little dry-erase board to visually record what we are working on during the lesson. Then I provide students with post-its so they can try the strategy on their on during their reading. At the end of the lesson, we can add their post-its and have a discussion about how they used the strategy. 

3. During reading, prompt students to use the strategy.

As students are reading, prompt them to try the strategy out. Ask questions that guide them through using the strategy. If students are simply forgetting to use it, you can just ask, "What strategy are we working on?" and gesture towards the pocket chart and dry-erase board.

4. Close the lesson with a conversation about the strategy. 

Ask students how it went and if they were able to try it out. Think about how you'd like to continue with your next lesson. More practice? An increase in complexity? Different types of purpose questions? 

Over time, students will acquire strategies. Then you can bridge to their independent reading and have them practice it independently, at which point it will be part of their toolbox!

Once I've taught something whole-group or in guided reading, I add it to my Good Readers... chart so students can use the sentence starters to write their reading responses. It really helps to grow their independence! You can read more about this in Rolling Out Reader's Workshop.

Be sure to check back every Sunday for these informative posts. I promise you won't be disappointed. I included lots of information and tips to help you get rolling or to spice up your guided reading!
September 24: Getting to Know Your Readers First
October 1: What Are the Other Kids Doing?
October 8: Organizing Your Guided Reading Binder
October 15: Preparing Your Space for Guided Reading
October 22: Planning for Guided Reading
October 29: How Do I Know What to Teach?
November 7: Monitoring Progress in Guided Reading
November 12: How to Build Reading Strategies
November 19: Guided Reading: Make it Fun!
Grab the All-in-One Guided Reading Materials (over 100 pages of tools, forms, organizational strategies, and more for guided reading K-5).

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