Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Best Thing You Can Do All Day

One of the most rewarding and worthwhile activities you can perform as a teacher is to consistently read aloud to your students.  There is absolutely no other thing you will do during the day for or with your students that will hold their attention more or reap more benefits. As parents, we train our little ones to look forward to being read to usually by making it the last thing we do before they head to dreamland each night. We snuggle up with them and read books over and over until we could do it with our eyes closed.  But we do it - because it is so important and so powerful in their literacy development - even as babies.

Over the past 5 years, read aloud has been pushed aside in the schools because "we don't have time". We were preparing them for the state tests, which became more important. Unfortunately, many teachers stopped making time for reading aloud.

Well, read aloud is back.  With the onset of Common Core, teachers are being encouraged to get their students back to the love of reading and the author's craft.  Hallelujah!  This is making me a very happy teacher again!  Personally, I love to read and I have read millions (???) of books in my lifetime.  I want to pass my love of reading onto my students and there is no better way than to read some of my favorites to them. If you love a book, they probably will too.

Here is my top 5:

1. Because of Winn DixieKate DiCamillo 

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this book! India Opal is such a sweet inspirational character and we fall in love with her over and over in this book. The heartbreak she experiences over her mother leaving her and her father is at the core of this story. But Opal learns many lessons and being grateful for the flawed people in her life is one of them. Such an inspiration to kids who are struggling in their own broken families. I think they really connect with this character - not to mention, her funny dog Winn Dixie.                                                 
2. White Giraffe, Lauren St. John

Another story of a child who has experienced the loss of parents and has to move to Africa to a grandmother she never knew.  It's a classic story of how a child overcomes loss through a connection to animals - in this case - a white giraffe. I think the author does a wonderful job of using beautiful language and imagery to help the reader visualize what South Africa looks like. It's also a great resource when teaching descriptive writing techniques.

3.   Snot Stew, Bill Wallace

Sounds gross, right?  That's exactly why I read it!  My third graders listen intently every day to find out what Snot Stew is and when it starts to become clear - they love the play on words! They also think I'm kind of cool because I read a book with the word snot in it!

4.   The Miraculous Adventures of Edward Tulane, 
       Kate Di Camillo

I am currently reading this to my class and they moan and groan when I close the book at the end of the chapter each day.  A china rabbit named Edward Tulane learns what love is through a series of unfortunate events in his life. It takes place over many years and many encounters with a variety of temporary owners. This one reads like a classic novel. I discovered this one a few years ago and it's definitely one of my favorites.

5.  A Bad Case of Stripes, David Shannon

The classic book about being true to yourself.   I usually read this at the beginning of the year because I want my new third graders to know that it is perfectly acceptable to be different and be proud of it.  By the way, I too LOVE lima beans!

These are my top 5 read alouds and I am looking forward to sharing each one with my kiddos this year. It's those precious 10 - 15 minutes after lunch that we all look forward to. So happy it's back!

What are your favorite read alouds?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Joining the Dance

I had an interesting conversation with my principal this week. Our reading focus is in a state of change. Our tried and true practices of guided reading at a student's instructional level is being challenged by advocates of the Common Core and close reading. Our shared reading is moving away from a comprehension strategy focus - compare and contrast, author's purpose, main idea, etc. (not to mention all the changes in math - whew!) As teachers, our equilibrium is really out of whack this school year.

I say this because the State of Florida has implemented their version of Common Core this school year. School systems and teachers in other states are way ahead of us.  I can tell by how much when I read teacher blogs and look at resources on Teachers Pay Teachers. But for Florida teachers, we are being asked to make a huge change in how we teach the standards and this is HARD! If you can't teach the main idea as the main idea, how do we teach it?  

Back to my conversation with my principal...she referred me to a blog post Shanahan on Literacy that is challenging the belief that leveled books are not the best way to teach reading. WHAT? That is heresay! Shanahan and others say that students need to be put in text that is challenging and requires them to struggle. This certainly goes against everything I have learned and practiced in the reading arena. 

I'll be honest - I'm feeling very unsure of where this is all going.  I want to do what's best for my students, but right now does anyone know what's best in reading? Is the pendulum swinging too far or is this a needed correction to our reading instruction? As you know, Common Core standards are very controversial and now we are seeing why.

Teachers from other states - what do you think of the Common Core and the new reading requirements? How have you made the change? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Well, Florida is joining the dance this school year - but right now it feels like your first middle school dance - you know, awkward and uncomfortable. But we all survived that, right?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Getting in the Swing of It

Now that school is in full swing, I am finally seeing how and why my struggling readers are struggling. It takes a few weeks to get to know our new students - what their strengths are and what their struggles are. 

I have 4 third graders who have made it this far without really learning how to decode words, so the more difficult texts in 3rd grade are pretty overwhelming. Of course, these students are in my reading remediation group for decoding, fluency, AND comprehension. So, every day these 4 students are working really hard during reading block because I pull them 3 times - once for their regular reading group, once for decoding interventions, and once for extra comprehension work. Whew!  Pretty intensive, right? 

I am always in awe of these students, because they put in 3 times the work as every other student, but you know what? They are so grateful for the help. They want to be good readers so bad. Breaks my heart every year - but it also warms my heart because they will improve and they will notice it and be so happy!

This is why I created my Fluency Packs
 # 1 and #2.
Many times, 3rd graders need that extra boost of phonics work, and practice with Fry Phrases.

After they have gained confidence,
 they go on to my Pyramid Sentences,

 which they love! They have lots of fun
 with these and that warms my heart too!

I use all three of these consistently and I see their confidence blooming. Once they are decoding and reading fluently, their comprehension starts to improve.  And the icing on the cake!  It makes all the hard work they put in worthwhile.

Although I created these for my struggling third graders, you might be able to use one of these Fluency packs or all of them for your 2nd, 3rd, or 4th graders. 

Each of these are available separately,
or as a bundle pack on Teachers Pay Teachers.

If you try any of these, make sure to leave feedback.
Not only will I appreciate your feedback, you will earn points toward other purchases on TPT.


Please check out my friend, Dr. Christine Hecox's new blog  She is one of the most amazing teachers and someone I admire greatly!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Teacher's Life - Finding a Balance

Definition of a Chinese Fire Drill: The car stops at a green light, everybody jumps out and runs around the car, then takes a new seat. All the while, the cars behind you are honking their horns because you are not moving. This is how I would describe this school year so far. Everyday it seems that we are adapting and changing what we do to accommodate the "new" standards and testing requirements. Meanwhile, someone is behind us wondering why we aren't moving fast enough.  It's enough to make a teacher scream STOP - I can't take it anymore!  Because of this need to scream, I have taken a step back and decided to get my balance back. So this weekend I did and here's how I did it.

Enjoyed a really nice glass of Chardonnay.

Got back to walking in this beautiful fall weather.

Watched my beloved Seminoles extend their
win streak to an amazing 21 games.

Took a nap.

Indulged in a heavenly pedicure.

Started a new book.

If you are feeling like me....what did you do this weekend to get your balance back?