Monday, February 22, 2016

Teaching Context Clues Using My Own Literature

To a struggling reader, unknown words are like a huge wall they cannot climb over.  But if they don't climb over it, the sentence won't make sense. If the sentence doesn't make sense, then possibly the paragraph won't either. Unfortunately for struggling readers, decoding and comprehending unknown words is such an obstacle that they quickly lose interest in reading that piece of text. Can you imagine how hard this is on a daily basis?

How can we teach context clue strategies in a way that struggling readers will understand? Fluent readers decode easily and use context clues to figure out words they don't understand, but struggling readers just struggle with them. What will get their attention and stick with them?

A funny or coincidential thing happened to me a few days ago that gave me an idea for the lesson I was going to teach that day on context clues. I was reading a chapter in a book I recently started and I came across a word I had never heard or seen before. This is pretty unusual because I am a huge reader and I love words, so I notice them everywhere. So, even if I don't exactly know what a word means, I have probably seen it somewhere. But I came across a word that stopped me in my tracks. The word was comestibles.  Hmmm, I thought, what is that?  Here it is........

By the way, the book is titled, Delicious and it's about a young girl who goes to work at a food magazine. So, the book is about food and this paragraph is a description by one of the magazine's writers about a visit to Tuscany.

Now, I am a huge Googler - I google everything!  But for some reason, I decided not to that day. I decided to bring my book to school and use this for my context clues lesson. When I began my lesson, I explained to my class my situation with this word and that I wanted their help. So I read the paragraph to them and we talked about what we thought the definition of comestibles was. We discussed all the clues around the word and they were amazing! They debated and discussed why they thought their definition was correct. I asked questions and made them defend their answers. It was really fun!  Finally, I googled it and it is food. Yep, the word comestibles just means food. Simple right?  But, it tripped up a seasoned reader and word lover - me. 

So, can you imagine how hard it is for a struggling reader? I think letting all my students know that sometimes really good readers (like their teachers) don't know word meanings either ~ helps them feel better and maybe try harder. 

We went on to making a class anchor chart for Context Clues and the kids were so engaged and interested in it that they pointed out context clues to me all day!  I love that!

Not Pinterest worthy - but it's a great visual
of five different context clues strategies!

So, the next time you are teaching a difficult skill or one that you are having a hard time getting across to your students - try bringing your own experiences as a reader out into the open for your students to see and hear about. It's what makes some lessons stick with your kiddos!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Teaching Point of View

The Common Core Shift

Teaching point of view in fiction text has been a constantly evolving process since Florida adopted the Common Core standards two years ago. Previously, we had the Florida Sunshine State Standards and we focused on who the narrator was by identifying the pronouns used. That was basically the extent of it. 


Differentiating Point of Views

Two years later, teaching point of view is drastically different. I still introduce it by showing students which pronouns identify the narrator or characters. I help them understand what a point of view is, but that is not enough. The standard actually wants the reader to focus on differentiating their point of view from that of the narrator or character, not just identifying it. Just between us, me and my grade level friends have struggled with the true intent of the standard.  At first, understanding what our point of view was in relation to the story didn't make sense.  What do you mean, my point of view? In fiction text? As with many new ideas, it takes time to learn how to teach it best.  I finally had an aha this school year! You know, the one where you are collaboratively planning and talking about it and suddenly it hits you? A little part of your brain goes duh you dummy- but the rest is going yay - because now you know what you are supposed to be doing with this standard! 

Why didn't the Common Core come with an owner's manual?


The "Aha" Moment

So, what was my aha?  Simply, that my point of view is what the character or narrator isn't seeing. I, as the reader, see the actions and words in a different light because of my experiences and knowledge of the world. For example, in a recent study of the folktale "Nail Soup"a father has no food to feed his son so he stops at a farmhouse to ask for help. He tells the farmer and his wife that he can make nail soup if he just had some water. The man and woman are fooled by the father into giving him water, vegetables, and spices for his soup.  I say fooled because that is in fact what happened, but the narrator (his son) thinks his father is clever and charming, because after all - he is his father. This is someone the boy looks up to. The reader realizes that the father is tricking the people into giving him the ingredients. Two different points of view of the same situation. 


The Lesson Plan

Here is the anchor chart we built as we read the story together:

Then, we wrote a summary together making sure to include the character's point of view, text evidence, and our own point of view.

Together, we go through analyzing what the characters say and do that would lead us to their point of view.  I add the text evidence and clues to the chart. Then we look in the text to see if the character states their point of view or if we have to conclude this based on the text evidence.  After we have found all of our clues and talked about the character's point of view, I ask my students...what is your point of view of the father?  This is where the discussion goes deeper. I use questioning to draw them into analyzing what the characters say and do and what they think about it. At first, they agree with the son. So I ask them, "Don't most boys admire their fathers? Don't most children think their parents can do no wrong? Can you understand why a parent would do anything to feed their children?" Eventually we arrive at our own point of view of what actually happened in the story. 


Gradual Release

In my school district, we use the Gradual Release Model for Literacy instruction. So after explicitly teaching the concept of point of view in one text, I move on to gradually releasing it to my students in another piece of text.  I can look at their graphic organizers and also use an exit question to determine whether they got it or not.  If not, small group instruction is where I will target this skill and re-teach. Here is a sample of the type of exit questions I use:

You can see that my student used text evidence to prove the character's point of view. He was able to use what the character said to what show his point of view. 

This question is from my Reading Wonders 3rd Grade Constructed Response Unit 4
on Teachers Pay Teachers.


I've noticed that when my students are personally involved in text by thinking about and stating their own opinions, comprehension shoots up!  They now have ownership of their learning and I now love teaching point of view!

I believe that the true intent of this standard is exactly that.  Getting students to think deeply about characters, character motivation and intent, and character's point of view by comparing it to their own.  This aha moment was truly worth it!

How are you teaching point of view?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Hello February! - The Month of Love

Here we are .....February 1st!  January was a total blur, probably because we only had students for one 5 day week the entire month! That was with no snow days for us - just a teacher work day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Plus throw in a grade level planning day, a teacher leader training,and TWO days of jury duty! Whew! It made for a challenging month for both teachers and students. After all, we are all creatures of habit and 5 day weeks are our habit.  So, students were out of sorts all month.  Then the very last week of January my students finally started to come around and I'm now looking forward to a "normal" February - only one Monday off!

Looking forward......

"Are we going to exchange Valentine's?"  "When are we going to exchange Valentines?"  "How many do I need?"  "My mom wants to know if I can bring candy?" "What time are we doing Valentines?" "Can I eat my candy?" 

Sound familiar?  

My third graders are obsessed with Valentine's Day - How about yours? 
At my school, we cannot have Valentine parties, but students can exchange Valentines.  I hate that we can't do more because I think they love celebrating Valentine's Day more than any other holiday!  So we set aside time to decorate a bag to collect Valentines and then I let them "deliver" theirs to each other.  It is beyond cute when you hear them say "thank you" to each other.  That's when you know they have somehow become a community in your little classroom! No wonder "Love is in the air!"

The teacher is stressing about upcoming state testing and making sure she is not only covering all the standards, but moving the high kids higher and using small groups to re-teach concepts to struggling learners. All the while, making sure that it's not all about the testing.  It's quite a balancing act - isn't it?

May I suggest?......

Set some goals. Set goals for yourself. Set goals for your students.  Better yet, let them set goals for themselves.  

You know your students now. Give them the opportunity to chart their own path by setting goals in reading, math and writing.  Help them focus on the next few months. Let them struggle and then attain those goals.  They will be better for it.  They will also be ready for that test. It can be as easy as this:


If you want to do more in~depth goal setting,my Smarty Pants Goal Setting might do the trick! For the next 4 days, it's 20% off, so give it a try. I use it in my own classroom and now is a great time to introduce it in yours!

SMARTY PANTS Reading, Writing & Math Goal Setting


Don't forget...Love is in the enjoy February with your little community of learners!