Sunday, February 18, 2018

Celebrating Dr. Seuss: Read Across America!

If you've followed my blog for a while, you'll know that Read Across America Week is kind of a big deal around here. We celebrated last year, the year before, and the year before that. And guys, we go big or we go home.

We've covered all sorts of treats in red & blue chocolate, made truffula trees, cut out dozens of letters spelling out the word, "Seuss", and generally have a blast.

The week after Read Across America, I pretty much just want to take a 15-hour nap.

Last year was no different. We celebrated with a few different things: tasty treats, fun crafts, lots of new bulletin boards & hallway decorations, and, of course, guest readers!

Some people completely understand my crazy obsession with doing so many fun things for this week, but others might think I'm a little nuts.

Here's the real reason: It's an excuse to have some fun. I want our kids to love school, to love reading, to love books, to love to learn. Any excuse we can find to make a big to-do and share the joy of learning, books, and reading is worth it! We could do this even if there wasn't a special week for Read Across America, but it's a great, ready-made reason!

Anybody who knows me knows that any good holiday/celebration/ordinary day starts with a special mug. I saw this cute mug for sale on our last trip to Pheonix, and I had to grab it! It served me well, even if it was a bit smaller than my usual ginormous coffee mug!

So here are the fun things we did last year to make this week special!

Fun wall decor. Last year, I made the big truffula trees and my librarian & I decorated the doorway to the library! You can check out the DIY for the truffula trees here.

An easy way to add a little life and interest to the hallways is with the Seuss character silhouettes. We projected images of the characters onto black butcher paper and I traced them with a white crayon. Then we cut them out and taped them to the wall. We made them all face down towards the hallway to show all the characters heading to read!

These cute Seuss arrow signs were a lot easier to make than I expected! I printed out sheets of color with words typed in "Doctor Soos" font. Then I drew the arrow on top with a permanent marker and laminated & cut the arrows out. I used a hot glue gun to glue the arrows and the Seuss hat to a long pole and used butcher paper and Dollar Store poofs for everything else! (Poofs made by one of my teachers for a baby shower - it's good to reuse!)

Bulletin Board

For our new bulletin board, we decided to have kids vote on their favorite Seuss book! We chose nine Seuss titles and made a little table for teachers to use to collect the kids' votes. Then, we used a Seuss hat to represent each vote on our bulletin board! Surprisingly (to me, anyway), Green Eggs & Ham had SO MANY votes, the hats didn't all fit! Turns out, kids really loved making green eggs & ham in kindergarten, and so that's their favorite!

My personal vote: How the Grinch Stole Christmas, with The Lorax as a close second.

This was the little table we used to gather the votes!

Fun Snacks

Every year, we make fun snacks for the teachers. We leave them in the lounge so they can grab one during lunch! On Monday, our first treat was Barbaloot Snacks.

This comes from The Lorax when Seuss writes about "the brown barbaloots in their barbaloot suits" eating "barbaloot fruits." So we used chocolate teddy grahams and fruit flavored marshmallows to make little snacks!

 We decorate the lounge to add a little Seuss fun for our teachers!

Our Tuesday snack was Lorax cheeseballs. This was an easy one!

On Wednesday was our most complicated snack. We laid out some plates, melted some red and blue chocolate discs and drizzled them over some chocolate donuts. Then we stuck a stick in each one and used our little styrofoam-filled pots to display them! This day's theme was "Donut you love Dr. Seuss?"

Thursday wasn't too complicated. We made truffula tree snacks out of celery and carrots. It was a bit of a stretch, I guess, but teachers were ready for a healthy snack :)

On Friday, we reverted to 100% sugar. My niece made us these adorable colorful swirl cookies. We thought they looked Seuss-ish!

Dress Up Days
Every year, we have fun dress-up days for the kids and teachers! This year, we went with Horton Ears & blue on Monday,

Mustache Day for the Lorax on Tuesday,

Crazy Sock Day for Fox in Socks on Wednesday,

And Crazy Hat Day

It's one of my favorite school events and I love planning it! For more ideas, check out the posts I've written about the other fun stuff we've done below!
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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Tips for Reading a Class Novel

In a reading class, we want to give our kids lots of different kinds of reading experiences. That includes read alouds, shared readings, and independent reading of self-selected material.

We want to expose them to different genres of texts and different levels of complexity.

So every day might look different, which isn't a bad thing!

But there are some practices we might want to avoid. Two of the biggest ones? Round-robin and popcorn reading.

It's been accepted for a quite a while now that those practices aren't effective when it comes to a shared reading experience. But we still see them in classrooms, very frequently. Why do you think that is?

I think it's a comfortable practice that requires little to no preparation.

I think it's what happens to many of us teachers: we revert to the way we were taught when we're not sure what else to do. Many people have reasons that they use these practices, but I haven't ever seen the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

I won't spend time getting into what those are in this post - maybe at a later date, I will! But in the meantime, I thought I might share some ideas with you that you can use instead of those practices. These are some tips for rolling out a class novel!

Why Read Class Novels?
Again, this is a debated practice. I wouldn't take up independent reading time to read a class novel. The most precious time of day is when kids are engaged in reading independently in a book or text of their own choosing, and nothing else can replace that.

But class novels can serve many purposes!
1. A shared reading experience is great for creating anchor lessons and experiences.
2. Shared reading experiences are excellent opportunities to have kids speak and share their thinking about a text.
3. As students move into reading novels, they often have to be taught how to read them. That sounds silly, but I've had kids who think you read a chapter each day and then just stop. They don't realize you can continue reading until you want to stop.
4. The gradual release model fits into a class novel really well - and then you can extend the You Do into independent reading.

Tip #1 Choose Wisely
My first year of teaching, I remember thinking that I could kill two birds with one stone by finding a class novel to read that would cover some of my social studies content as well. I remember choosing a book that was a little too challenging, and a lot too dry. My kids weren't engaged and we just kept trying to "get through it". It wasn't a good choice. I hadn't chosen a text with my kids' reading abilities or interests in mind. 

As you're choosing a class novel, there are a few things you'll want to think about. 
1. Student reading abilities. You'll be supporting the reading, so it can be a text that challenges students a little, but you don't want it to be too far out of their range. They'll need to read sections on their own and comprehend to participate. 

2. Student interests. If you choose a book you love that no one else seems to enjoy, you'll be the only one learning during this time. 

3. Teaching opportunities. Some books are fun, but what will you teach with them? Class novels are a great way to introduce the elements of fiction and the way readers read fiction authentically, along with all of your other standards for fiction. Choose a text that helps you accomplish those goals. 

4. Accessibility. Do you have a copy for each child? I think that, when it comes to reading a novel, you're either doing a read aloud (you have a copy, and maybe a couple of students who benefit from having the visual aid), or a shared reading (every student has a copy). If you are going to have to have students "share", it's not worth it. I'd recommend choosing something else.

Tip #2 Make Predictions
For students to comprehend to the best of their abilities, they'll need some support. One way to do this is to have conversations using the book itself to make some very thorough predictions. 
Preview the cover, but don't stop there. Read the blurb on the back, preview chapter titles, and examine anything else the author gives you before you start reading. Have kids write predictions that are thorough. Later, you can go back and evaluate them to see if they happened.

Tip #3 Set Up a Reader's Notebook
If you don't already have a reader's notebook, now's the time. It doesn't have to be fancy. If you're looking for some tools to help you get started, you can check out my Reader's Workshop Resource here, but you can start with a simple spiral or composition book for each child. 

It's a great place to keep your minilessons, but it also serves a bigger purpose in my opinion: having kids write about their thinking as you read the novel. 

Tip #4 The Teacher is the Main Read-Aloud-er
This is where the trouble sometimes starts. There are a few problems with kids serving as the main reader-aloud-ers of the novel. One of these is that they are not necessarily great models of reading. The teacher, hopefully, is! Another is that, when kids are reading, they won't pause to talk. When the teacher is reading aloud, he or she can pause where she/he wants in order to have great conversations. Kid readers don't encourage conversations. They are more focused on decoding, of course.

Tip #5 Be Planned & Purposeful
Don't just start reading and hope for the best. Before you read with kids, you'll want to have a few
things planned out:

1. What is your purpose for reading (what strategy or skill will you help kids grow with that part of the text)?
2. What sections of text will you have kids read or reread to practice the strategy or skill?
3. How will students apply the strategy or skill - in speaking or writing?

 Next week, read all about what a shared reading lesson might look like!

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Sunday, February 4, 2018

Book Buddies: Growing a Love of Reading with Buddy Readers

Building a community of readers and writers should be #1 on our literacy priority list. Kids who read
and write, and share those things with others, become lifelong readers, writers, and learners!

But that's easier said than done. Many of our kids, especially once they reach the upper grades, have had experiences with literacy that are less than positive.

They may have preconceived ideas about themselves such as...
* I'm not a good reader.
* I'm not a good writer.

They may have preconceived ideas about reading such as...
* Reading is boring.
* There aren't any books I like.
* Books are too hard to read.

This includes who are either struggling readers or kids who just don't enjoy reading.

I firmly believe that kids who don't enjoy reading need exposure to books they might enjoy and people who will talk about those books with them. But those kids don't know that. They think that reading is not for them.

So sometimes we have to try some pretty novel things to get them interested. One strategy I used with kids at my school was "Book Buddies." Book Buddies are buddy readers.

The goals of the Book Buddies program were many:
* To encourage the big buddies to find joy in helping someone read.
* To encourage the big buddies to have positive book experiences.
* To motivate the big buddies to be responsible at school, because they were serving as role models.
* To support the little buddies in their reading.
* To provide a positive book experience for the little buddies.

This is how it worked: I asked teachers to choose 5th grade students who were able to read at least at a 4th grade level, but who didn't engage in reading by choice. Then, I asked kindergarten and first grade teachers to choose students from their classes who struggled to read at or near grade level.

I paired up the big buddies with the little buddies. I trained the big buddies on how to do a read-to (like a read-aloud, but 1:1) and how to talk to their little buddies about interests and reading. I gathered them together in the school library and we decorated little canvas bags for them to keep their books in each week.

I also stapled their book buddy card to the bag. It included their name, the name of their buddy, and their buddy's room number, in case they forgot. Each big buddy also received a bookmark with directions about how to work with their little buddy.

We gave the little buddies surveys about their interests and the big buddies and I met in the school library to choose a great book to read to them. Once a week, the big buddy would visit the little buddy's class and read with them.

They would talk to the buddy first, read the book to them, and then have the little buddy read their books (usually guided reading books they had previously read) to them.

Although the program was far from perfect, we had many successes. Little buddies loved their big buddies. They looked forward to visiting with them and were so proud to read their books to them.

Many (sadly, not all, but many) of the big buddies had a lot of pride in choosing books for their little buddies. They had to be responsible for choosing a book and practicing it, and the little buddies held them accountable for that.

A couple times a year, we got our buddies together to celebrate their partnership in a group. At Christmas, we had a little mid-year celebration. We read a book together as a group and the buddies got to work on a fun Christmas-sy craft. 

At the end of the year, we had a Book Buddies Pancake Breakfast. Big and little buddies were able to invite their parents to celebrate their year of reading.

We made pancakes for them and watched a slide show with all of their pictures. They received a certificate and a free book (we gave out books at the slightest excuse!), and we included some goodies like pencils, erasers, and coupons for pizza and ice cream at places from the area.

With the incessant focus on testing, and the constant demands of levels and mandates from the state and district, it can be hard to find the time to do these sorts of programs. But really, isn't that what school is about? Growing readers, and growing people?

I really recommend trying a program like this out in your school to grow and support your reluctant readers, and struggling readers, too. They can really help each other grow.

This post should provide enough information to help you get started with something similar on your campus, but to make your life easier and give you a head start, I put together a resource that includes a facilitator's guide, printable, and editable materials to help your program grow!
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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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