Sunday, January 28, 2018

Ways to Make Anchor Charts Interactive

If you've read my previous post about anchor charts, you know that I feel pretty strongly about a few things.
They must be created with kids, during a lesson, and they shouldn't just be wallpaper in the classroom. Instead, we want charts that grow and can be added to as kids learn and try new things. 
The best way to ensure that anchor charts don't become wallpaper is to make them interactive. If kids can interact with charts, they are more likely to learn the content and strategies that the chart represents.
Also, having their own handwriting on a chart, or their own work, can give them ownership over that learning.  

And the more times we refer to a previous "anchor" lesson, the more it will solidify in kids' brains.

So here are a few ways to do just that!

#1 Post-it try-its
Have kids try out the strategy or skill you're working on. For example, on the first chart, we recorded characteristics and important details of two different texts to help us make connections. We figured out the lesson from the first text, and I had the kids figure out the lesson of the second text on their own. They wrote it on a post-it and we charted them up!

#2 Task cards
One easy way to have kids try out a skill or strategy is through using task cards. They're equipped with short texts and they're made for targeting specific skills. For this anchor chart, I had kids identify evidence on task cards for author's purpose. They marked their evidence with yellow highlighter. Then we sorted the cards by author's purpose. This interactive lesson required kids to practice the strategy and apply it right away. Then we used their thinking as evidence for our chart! You can grab the materials for this lesson here.

This isn't exactly a task card, but I did provide groups of kids with a paragraph that they could analyze to find evidence and make inferences about characters. Kids marked their evidence and told me what to label on the chart.

#3 Growing list
Charts that kids can add to over time make great interactive reminders of their learning. They're also helpful for setting a purpose for independent reading! For example, you can direct students to look for examples of figurative language, or specific types of characters, and add them to the chart.  
For the charts below, I introduced a strategy (identifying theme, and describing characters) and the categories or types kids might encounter. Kids were encouraged to add the titles of books as they came across them, and in other cases we added the titles of texts we read together as a class. 

#4 Post-its on graphic organizers
Blank graphic organizers make great anchor charts because they help kids organize information visually. For this chart about plot structure in fiction, we marked the important elements on the plot map with symbols. Then we recorded important events from the stories we read on post-its. We sequenced the events on the map. For a bonus, we pulled the post-its off of the plot map to represent cause and effect in the bottom right corner. This would make a great work station, too!

#5 Record of learning
For these interactive charts inspired by Lead4ward, we broke up the space into four different areas of focus: texts we read, summary elements, making inferences, and vocabulary. Each chart represented a different genre. 

As we worked through texts, we added them to the chart. We also added question types that referred to summary elements and making inferences. As we came across important academic vocabulary, kids recorded the words on post-its and stuck them on the charts. Great way to record learning and to review later!

These are some of the fun ways I've used anchor charts to help kids record and interact with their learning. Which idea would you try?
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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Baby Bee

I'm finally settling into this whole Mom thing and I actually have a few minutes here and there to get back to business. I thought I'd let you know a little about our lives these days!

Baby Anne (my two- and four- year old nephew and niece call her 'Baby Ant') arrived three and a half weeks early on October 31. When the doctor told me my blood pressure was high and we needed to take the baby early, on Tuesday, I said "ok." Then, my husband said, "Oh, she'll be a Halloween baby!" and I burst into tears. "Tell him nevermind!" I said. "I don't want her to be a Halloween baby!" 
My husband, to his credit, actually went out into the hallway and asked the doctor to come back, because "my wife may have changed her mind." That still cracks me up when I think about it. At the time, though, I just kept crying.

I can't explain this reaction. I just don't like holiday birthdays. I feel like the kid gets the short end of the stick every year. But if you have to have a holiday birthday, I think Halloween is the way to go. As my husband said, "Every year, she'll get to dress up and eat tons of candy on her birthday. What could be better!" And then I thought of the adorable pumpkin cupcakes I'll be able to take to school and decided I was ok with the whole thing.

So she arrived. She is our pumpkin baby.

She's been here for almost three months now. If you follow me on Instagram, you've seen a bit of her transition from teeny weeny preemie to slightly-smaller-than-average two and a half month old. 

I love her so much. She is wonderful.

She's a sweet baby, who sometimes lets Mama sleep for seven hours in a row at night! I don't know why. There is no pattern. I have tried to replicate it. It's just a special gift from miracle baby and I have no control over it. Every time she fusses and I wake up, I excitedly check my phone to see what time it is, and I celebrate at anything over five hours. "She's amazing!" I tell my husband.

Because it's nothing I'm doing; that's for sure.
We've had some struggles with nursing. She had a tongue tie and a lip tie, and those both had to be corrected. That was sort of terrible, and the terrible-ness lasted for a while. She's doing a bit better every week. Maybe soon we'll be normal! Any breastfeeding Mamas who struggle, I hear you. It's tough sometimes, especially when Baby or Mama has an issue.

I'm staying home with Baby Bee. She's the boss of me, day and night. Sometimes, when the weather changes, I miss my job. But I'm so happy here, in my house, with my sleeping Baby Bun that I know I made the right choice for my family.

But I'm also going to start getting back into the swing of product creation. I've still got blog posts galore, ready for you awesome readers, every Sunday! And you can always find out what's going on on Instagram, or check out current reading or resources on Facebook. But I'm about ready to start working on new stuff. 

I'd love to hear what you'd like me to work on next. Any ideas will be considered!
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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.

Want a sneak peak? Enter your email address to get a free week from third, fourth, and fifth grade! You can try it out with your kids for free!

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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