Sunday, April 22, 2018

6 Tasks Instructional Coaches Spend Time On... that aren't coaching

Think about your day. Where did you spend most of your time? Modeling lessons, working with kids, or planning with teachers? Maybe, but maybe not.
You know that little line in your contract? The one that says, "other duties as assigned?"

Sometimes that little line can feel like it grows and grows until it takes up your whole job. And all the original duties you thought you were going to do as an instructional coach can get put on the back burner.

This is not meant to be complain-y. All of these jobs need to be done on a campus, and, when you're a coach, you're usually part of the campus leadership team. And that means that, if it needs to be done, who's gonna do it? Probably you.

But it can be helpful to realize where the time goes, and to think twice about saying "yes" to responsibilities that may not serve your purpose as a coach. (If you have the option of saying "no" that is.)

So what are instructional coaches spending their time on? Here are five ways coaches spend their time (that aren't coaching), in order from most favorite to least favorite.

Monitoring school events

Sometimes it's fun to attend the school pep rally, or pop in to see the magician who's there for second grade. But when you're scheduled for event after event, your week can fill up pretty fast. 

Coaches are usually on the short list to supervise or monitor school events because they don't have a class. It makes sense. But it's hard to support teachers when you're shushing kids in the auditorium, trying to keep them from asking the border patrol officer how much money she makes and whether she's used her gun before.

Disaggregating Data

Oh my gosh. If I could tally up the number of hours I spent printing, multiplying, adding, scoring, finding percentages, marking standards, breaking it up, putting it together, finding patterns, color-coding... 
Well, I'd probably want to throw up if I saw how many hours it actually was, so maybe it's best that I don't.

Looking at data is, of course, important. I'm not going to say it should never be done. But the massive amounts of time coaches spend on data disaggregation is pretty crazy. Want to do something nice for a coach? Buy them some colored highlighters. They'll use them. I promise.

If you'll notice, though, data is still before "duty" on my list. Which tells you how I feel about duty.

Again, because coaches don't have their own class, they end up doing a lot of duty. This might be lunch duty, after-school duty, morning duty, hall duty, or any other place that kids can get into trouble. 
It might not seem like a big deal to spend 20 minutes monitoring lunch every day, but if that's right in the middle of the second grade reading block, guess who's probably not getting reading support. 


I've sat in approximately 8,349 meetings. 

About half of those meetings were relevant to me. The other half? Well, I don't know if they were relevant to anyone. 
This was my favorite: We're going to train you in using this specific approach. What? We trained you in it already? Well, come anyway. It's good to have a refresher.

District/State/Federal accountability

There is so much stuff that has to be done for accountability purposes. This might be sending out parent letters, filling out evaluations and monitoring forms for goals, writing the goals in the first place, checking and double-checking codes on rosters, sorting documents for teachers, and other CYA-type work. 

There's EOY and MOY and BOY, but for some reason, there's never BYOB, which would undoubtedly improve the process.

Some of it might be useful and help you think about your focus and purpose at school, but most of it is really just dotting 'i's and crossing 't's for somebody else's benefit. (And that "somebody" isn't the kids.)

Testing, testing, testing

Ugh. The T-word. Nobody likes it. Sitting in a bare, hot room, testing kids who you didn't get to teach is no fun. Small group test administration is the bane of my existence. I can feel my eyes rolling back in my head as I type. Can anybody stand it? Nope.

You count your steps around the room. Then you count the tiles on the floor and ceiling. Then you wonder what number the kids are on. Then you look around the room and think about how you'll arrange it differently next year. Then you think, "One year from today, I'm going to be administering this awful test." Then you choke back tears.

Does this sound familiar? Where does your time go?

Are you a new coach, or a coach who's trying to get a handle on your approach? The Instructional Coaching Start-Up series is a great way to learn about how to get started as a coach: the organization and tasks you'll be responsible for! It's all free, and it's all sent straight to your inbox!

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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Texas Reading Test: Camp Reading Ready Test Prep Resource *Freebie!

Over the last few years, several hundred classrooms have used my Camp Write-a-Lot resource for Texas State Writing Test Prep.

I get so much great feedback about this resource, but I've also gotten one request, over and over: make one for reading!

So I did!

The last few days before THE TEST are a great time to review the major concepts you've been practicing, but in a new and fun way. Enter: Camp Reading Ready!

If you've used my Camp Write-a-Lot Texas Writing Test resource, you'll love Camp Reading Ready!

Camp Reading Ready consists of nine TEKS-aligned stations. I wrote them with the TEKS in mind, but guess what? They work for Common Core standards too, because they cover basic skills that most state tests expect kids to master!

Here's a list of skills that Camp Reading Ready will help your kids review:

  • Identifying genre with related author's purposes, vocabulary & test questions
  • Identifying main idea
  • Identifying nonfiction text features and their definitions
  • Matching vocabulary words with definitions and pictures
  • Using context clues to infer word meanings
  • Analyzing & describing characters
  • Making inferences in poetry
  • Sequencing events in fiction
  • Synthesizing, using text features, and understanding text structure in expository text
To start with, the camp includes some motivational tools that will help kids stay focused while working through the stations. Choose from punch bracelets, punch cards, or collecting camp badges!

Identifying genre
In this activity, students read short texts and identify the genre of the text. Then they sort the author's purpose, vocabulary and sample questions into the different genres.

Identifying main idea
I think this might be my favorite station! (Probably because of the puzzle pieces) 
Kids read the paragraphs and match them with the main idea piece. Then they flip them over to check and see if they got a match! It's a fun way to self-check!

Nonfiction Text Features
I found the best set of nonfiction text feature images and I'm so glad I did, because they made some awesome cards! To play, kids follow the rules of Go Fish to Go Fishing for Text Features! 
They make pairs of the feature and the name/definition of the feature! (Scroll down to the bottom to get this one for free!)

Vocabulary Match
I get a kick out of this station because it's got a s'mores theme, and if you know me, you know I'm ALL about s'mores. I prefer the chocolately sugary melty kind, of course, but in a pinch, this will do. Kids match vocabulary that's relevant to the test with pictures and definitions. They can play free-for-all style, or Memory!

Context Clues
This one's a no brainer. Kids HAVE to be able to use context clues, right? In this activity, they draw a task card and figure out the meaning of the underlined word. Sound familiar? It's test prep in a fun camp theme, so we can sneak in the test-taking skills!

Analyzing Characters
I really want to play this game, actually. Like, with another person instead of just with myself. Each player gets a game piece and some character cards. They move their pieces across the board, trying to get back to camp! To move faster across the board, they have to match their character cards (synonyms and descriptions) with the traits on the board. It's Candyland...minus the candy.

Making Inferences in Poetry
I had a BLAST writing these poems! Each poem is written from the point of view of an animal. Kids have to read closely for clues to infer what animal is the speaker in the poem!

Sequencing Events in Fiction station is all about making sense by constructing a story out of paragraphs. Kids read the paragraphs on strips and then sequence them to tell a fictional story about... you guessed it: camping!

Students have to use sequence of events and clues they gather from transitions to put the paragraphs in logical order to tell a story!

Building Expository Text
Okay, maybe THIS is my favorite station. I love having kids use text features, understand text structure, and synthesize all in one! First, kids sort out the text features and begin figuring out the topic and structure of the text. They match captions and photos, titles, maps, and more. Then they take out the paragraphs and really get busy! It's one of my favorite things to do with kids because it is so engaging and requires lots of thinking.

These stations are an engaging and purposeful way to review for the Texas State Reading test, and they're in my TpT store, ready to go. Just click to head over and grab it. I really believe your kids will enjoy it and it will take away some of your test prep stress.

Are you a Texas teacher? Enter your email address below to get a freebie from this resource!

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Tips for Building Reading Fluency Through Partner Plays

When I'd sit in RtI meetings, one of the major concerns teachers frequently brought up was fluency.

"He can decode at a level 24, but his fluency holds him back."
"I think if his fluency would improve, his comprehension would improve, too."
"It takes him so long to get through the book that he's forgotten what he read in the beginning."

Fluency is a major hurdle. It keeps kids from comprehending and from reading A LOT, which is what we need them to do. 

The trouble is, to improve kids' fluency, they need to read A LOT. But they don't want to, because reading is A LOT of work. So they don't improve their fluency. So they don't read A LOT. So they don't...

You get the picture.

We know we develop fluency when we take into consideration:
  • Students' independent reading levels (don't try to develop fluency at a frustrational level)
  • Students' reading interests (boring text = not going to engage readers, especially the reluctant ones)
  • Repeated reading opportunities (repeated readings promote fluency because the brain can attend to it rather than decoding accurately for the first time)
So What Resources Help Build Fluency?
As a classroom teacher, and later as an instructional coach, I spent a lot of time trying to help kids practice their fluency in fun, manageable ways. The tricky part is helping every kid in your class practice when they're at such a wide range of reading abilities.

So I needed a solution that met all of these requirements:
  • Short texts, so kids weren't overwhelmed.
  • High-interest texts, so kids weren't bored.
  • Texts at a variety of levels, so kids were appropriately challenged and scaffolded.
  • Texts with no prep, so kids could easily read them every day, for repeated readings.
I realized that kids LOVED reading plays. They stepped right over each other to get the roles they wanted, even if they didn't read confidently. And so I started writing Partner Plays.

Why Use Partner Plays?
Partner Plays are plays for two readers. They're so much fun to write, and even better, they meet my
  • They're two pages long: not overwhelming!
  • They're high-interest: I've written seasonal, holiday, and content area plays that are funny and interesting for kids.
  • They're low-stakes reading. There's no test, no quiz, no questions to answer. It's about reading to enjoy.
  • I include four different levels in each set, so kids can read a text that works for them and their fluency level.
  • They're seriously no prep - print and go! Kids can keep them in a folder, or you can get fancy and put them on a file folder and laminate for repeated readings and durability.
So how do I use partner plays? Well, there are a million different ways, but here are my tips for making partner plays work for you and your kids!

Tips for Using Partner Plays

1. Do a minilesson first about what fluency actually is. Ensure that kids aren't just reading for speed. They need to pay attention to the stage directions in order to really read fluently and express the character's feelings through their tone and expression. The anchor chart below might be a great way to start.

2. Assign partners. Random selection doesn't work as well when you're trying to develop fluency. You want to ensure that kids can actually read the text they're reading.

3. Preteach any words that you think kids might struggle with. It helps to pull your most struggling group of decoders and do a little minilesson with them first, before you "set them loose" to read. If they've never heard the words in the play, it will be next to impossible for them to read some of the words that aren't easily decoded.

4. Have kids read the play several times on their own before they read it with a partner. This allows them to work through challenging words and practice.

5. Repeated readings are important! Keep the same play for at least 3-5 days so kids can really develop their fluency!

Today, as part of the Blooming Readers blog hop, I've taken one of my Spring Partner Plays and made it into a forever freebie, so you can try it out with your kids!

You can just click here to head over to my TpT store and grab it. Then print and go.

Watch the video to see a part of this play being performed by my wonderful third grade buddy!

But wait! There's more!

There's an absolutely ENORMOUS giveaway! Enter the Rafflecopter below to win one of SO MANY great prizes!

Check out the next stop on the hop: Stories and Songs in Second to read about teaching prepositional phrases in reading, and grab a great freebie while you're there!
If you enjoyed this tip and want to see more, check out the whole hop!
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