Sunday, April 15, 2018

Texas Reading Test: Camp Reading Ready Test Prep Resource

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.

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Camp-Reading-Ready-Texas-State-Reading-Test-Prep-Review-3732363

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! 

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Camp-Reading-Ready-Texas-State-Reading-Test-Prep-Review-3732363

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Camp-Reading-Ready-Texas-State-Reading-Test-Prep-Review-3732363


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!)

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Camp-Reading-Ready-Texas-State-Reading-Test-Prep-Review-3732363


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!

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Camp-Reading-Ready-Texas-State-Reading-Test-Prep-Review-3732363


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!

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Camp-Reading-Ready-Texas-State-Reading-Test-Prep-Review-3732363


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.

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Camp-Reading-Ready-Texas-State-Reading-Test-Prep-Review-3732363

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!

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Camp-Reading-Ready-Texas-State-Reading-Test-Prep-Review-3732363


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

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Camp-Reading-Ready-Texas-State-Reading-Test-Prep-Review-3732363


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.

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Camp-Reading-Ready-Texas-State-Reading-Test-Prep-Review-3732363

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Camp-Reading-Ready-Texas-State-Reading-Test-Prep-Review-3732363

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

Blooming Readers: Tips for Building 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
requirements:
  • 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.

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Spring-Readers-Theater-Script-A-Partner-Play-for-Two-Readers-3733892

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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Sunday, March 25, 2018

Choosing quality resources: When "cute" doesn't cut it.

Let me start off by saying, who doesn't like cute stuff?

I do. I love cute stuff.

I love little apples and chunky frames on handouts.

I love craftivities that ask kids to cut and glue, color and bedazzle.

I love anchor charts that use color beautifully and include clever visuals to help kids remember.

Glitter... not so much. But buttons? I'm all about buttons.

But sometimes, "cute" just doesn't cut it.

Sometimes, you need a resource with some meat. By this, I mean, when you choose resources to use in your classroom, it's important to keep the purpose in mind. What's the point of any resource? That kids will learn.

So let's think about what this looks like in practice.

Let's say you're working on a unit for social studies. You want kids to learn about the important contributions made by people in the Civil Rights Movement.

If you look for resources for this online, you'll probably find 100,000 different lesson ideas, printables, and crafts to help you teach this idea.

Just to name a few, you'd probably find:
  • a printable "anchor chart" with the pictures of the leaders in the Civil Rights Movement.
  • a craftivity to craft Martin Luther King Jr. out of a paper plate
  • a slew of graphic organizers for brainstorming and organizing information
  • lists of books about historical figures who were active during this time
  • a craftivity where students make a dream bubble and write about their dreams
  • a PowerPoint presentation introducing several important events from the Civil Rights Movement
  • a timeline cut and paste activity of important events
  • partner plays about civil rights activists
So you'll have to be selective.

But how will you choose what resources to use in your unit?

1. Start with the thinking.

What kinds of thinking will kids have to think (in their brains) understand the causes, events and impact of the Civil Rights Movement? They'll have to...
- identify the concept of civil rights
- understand the laws in place at the time of the Civil Rights Movement
- visualize the way life was before, during, and after the Civil Rights Movement
- identify important historical figures and explain the actions of the people responsible for fighting for their rights
- empathize with people who made sacrifices to achieve something for their communities
- evaluate the outcome of civil rights leaders' actions
- understand that there are still inequalities in our world

When you're choosing resources, think about whether that resource will help kids achieve that thinking. The "anchor chart" might be adorable and serve a great purpose elsewhere, but will printing out what is actually just a poster actually help students do the thinking you need them to? It's okay to challenge our kids. In fact, it's necessary! Cute resources might look nice in the hallway, but they don't often get kids to think deeply about the important kinds of learning we want them to do.

Tip: Think about what kinds of thinking kids need to do, and choose resources that will help them do it.

2. Think about your time frame.

If you've got a couple weeks to spend on this unit, a lot of "cute" has to go right out the window.

Depending on your daily schedule, you may be able to fit in one crafty lesson, or you may not even have enough time to finish your unit even without the cute stuff. Having students create a paper plate Martin Luther King, Jr. might make a great bulletin board, but it probably won't be a great use of time during your week-long unit.

Tip: Think about how much time you've got, and choose resources that will maximize it.

3. Think about the level of support students need.

Some kids need more explicit instruction than others. Some groups of kids might be ready to read a partner play about Jackie Robinson and begin to empathize with his experience. Some groups of kids will need more scaffolding and discussion to help them get to the same point.

If you have students who need a lot of scaffolding, will cutting out a dream bubble and writing about their dreams be a good use of their time? Will they make the connection between the kinds of ideas you're discussing and the paper plate? If students need a lot of support and explicit teaching, sometimes adding too much "cute" can actually muddle the experience of learning and confuse them. Sometimes a simple experience is more effective than a complicated one.

Tip: Think about the most effective way to teach students the content, and choose resources that will support it.

4. Think about age and grade appropriateness.

If you're working with second graders, that timeline cut and paste activity might be a great way to scaffold their understanding of important events. Your fifth graders might not get much out of it, though, and it's possibly not appropriate for their developmental level. A PowerPoint presentation with videos and images from the civil rights movement will most likely overwhelm your kindergarteners, but it might be just right for fourth graders.

Just because you find it online, doesn't mean that you have to use it. Your time, and your kids' time, is limited, so be selective and choose the resource that will give you the biggest bang for your buck!

Does that mean that any of those resources I mentioned are bad? No! Nothing is inherently wrong with any of them! But with our limited time and unique community of learners, some resources will be more effective than others.

For every resource that's out there, there's probably an appropriate time and group of kids to use it with! But not every resource is created equally, and our job is to choose the resources that will help our kids really, truly learn. Sometimes, it might be the right time for cute! And sometimes, "cute" doesn't cut it. It's our job to know the difference!
 
 
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Sunday, March 4, 2018

4 Reasons Why Instructional Coaches Visit Classrooms

How do you feel when people walk into your classroom?

Are you nervous? Immediately stressed? Get a bad case of dropsy?

This is pretty normal, unfortunately. In a lot of schools and communities, teachers tend to teach in a bubble. They spend all day with the minions, only looking someone eye-to-eye while walking to the car after school.

But this isn't ok. Bubble teaching is the opposite of collaboration. This isn't a commentary on teachers or coaches; rather it's about school culture. If your school promotes a culture of collaboration, you'll see teachers working together in different ways: PLCs, book studies, planning sessions, teacher-led sessions, and teachers visiting each other.

And yes, you'll see instructional coaches in classrooms, too.

In some schools, people visiting classrooms are a threat. They're there to "catch" you doing something "wrong". But that's not a good reason for coaches (or anyone) to visit classrooms. 

Here's what you should know: If I don't visit classrooms, I'm like a teacher who doesn't watch her students while they work. You can hand out an assignment and sit back. And then you'll have absolutely no idea what kids do, how or why they do it, and you've missed an opportunity to see how someone thinks.

Here are a few good reasons instructional coaches visit classrooms:

1. To see how the curriculum is going.


When I walk into a classroom and I see a lesson we planned (or didn't plan) during PLC going on, I should know what it's trying to accomplish. As an instructional coach, I know the standards for the subject areas I'm responsible for very well. And part of my job is to watch a bit of that lesson and see: are the lessons we're planning achieving their goals?

If not, then I need to make adjustments to the work I'm doing during planning with teachers. What's missing? Is the standard not being taught to an appropriate level or degree? Is it misaligned to the way we planned to assess the kids? Are the materials not serving the lesson purpose?

There's a lot to think about in curriculum. We can make all the most beautiful plans on paper, but if they don't pan out in the classroom for kids, then we've got to make some adjustments to our approach.

2. To see what training support I need to provide.

If I visit four third grade classrooms and see the same need, then maybe that's an appropriate topic for training. Training needs to be supportive of teachers' needs and wants for professional growth. If teachers are experts in questioning, then I'm not going to waste their time with an hour and a half session on higher-order questions. But if that's an area that many teachers can grow in, it's a good use of our time.

3. To figure out what kinds of support teachers can benefit from.

It's easy to sit around a table and talk about the support teachers need or want. But until I see it in action, I don't really know what that support needs to look like. As the instructional coach, it was my responsibility to meet teachers where they are and support them in increments. Just like in the classroom, everyone needs something different. What's equitable isn't what's "fair". I won't put everyone through the same support plan because that's a waste of their time.

In the classroom, I can really see what's happening. I visit the teacher who mentioned that her students are struggling with test-taking skills during a test to see what the kids are actually doing. I visit the teacher who is struggling with classroom management to see what's already in place. And I visit the teacher who hasn't asked for support to see what I can do to actually do my job: support her in areas she can grow in.

I take notes for myself, so I know where to go next. I use them to create a support plan for the teachers I've seen. Of course, I talk to the teacher, offer the support, and see what they think before proceeding.

4. To see who can help us grow.

Some teachers have a knack for something. They don't always know it, though. For example, I've walked into a classroom and seen a really great strategy for helping kids figure out main idea. I've told the teacher, "That's a great strategy! Could you share it with your colleagues?" and the teacher says, "Oh, everybody does that."

Nope. Everybody doesn't. We think everybody came up with the same ideas, but they didn't. Everybody has strengths and everybody has areas to grow in. So sometimes, in visiting a classroom I see one of those strengths that the teacher doesn't even know she or he has. And I use that as an opportunity to say, "Help us! Help your colleagues!"

I might ask them to share during PLC or another grade level meeting. We may set up a mini-training, or we may have an opportunity for colleagues to come in and watch a lesson in action. I might record the lesson and share it via Google Drive. Either way, if I don't visit classrooms, I can't help teachers share their ideas with each other.


We need to get out of our bubbles and work together to create the best possible collaborative professional environment for teachers. Sometimes that's a little uncomfortable, but discomfort is an opportunity for growth.

How do you feel about having people in your classroom?
 
 
 
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Sunday, February 25, 2018

How to Teach a Novel During Shared Reading

Last week, I shared some tips for reading a class novel as a shared reading text. But I know a lot of people are asking: What does that look like?

Well, you're in luck. Here you go.

Before the lesson:
1. Decide on a purpose for reading that section. It might be "Analyze character emotions using text evidence," or "Visualize the setting using details from the text."

Make sure that it's valuable to your kids and grade level standards, and that there are opportunities to practice that strategy/skill in the text. Too many times, I've seen teachers choose "make inferences," when there are very few opportunities to actually do that in the chunk of text that they're going to read. I've done it, too!

2. Find some places kids can practice that strategy or skill. Mark the text with post-its that include the question you plan to ask.

3. Decide: how will kids respond? In speaking, with a partner (because everybody needs to speak; not just the kids who raise their hands), or in writing, in their notebooks? On a graphic organizer?

During the lesson:

1. Explicitly introduce the strategy/skill you're working on that day. You might build the top part of an anchor chart where you introduce the target and the teaching point: how should kids apply the strategy? You could also put that into a reader's notebook page so kids can practice the strategy there.

2. You can always make good predictions - that's an easy strategy that helps kids comprehend better.
3. Teacher reads, kids follow. Teacher stops at pre-selected places and asks kids to read or reread that chunk of text. The first couple times, the teacher models using the strategy. 
4. The next time, the kids try out the strategy in partners. Have students share their thinking verbally, and then have them write about their thinking in their notebooks or on their organizer.

5. Continue to read- stop- talk- write. Add to the anchor chart as you see fit, or to the notebook entry.
After the lesson:
1. This is the important part: you can ask kids to apply what you just did! They should take out their independent reading books/texts and try out the same exact strategy, in the same exact way. Provide them with the same sentence starters, anchor chart, or graphic organizer. 
Ask them to read independently and then prompt them to write their response! 

That's how I got the most out of my class novel studies. What's your favorite novel to read?

If you want some resources to use with a novel study, check out my Wonder Novel Study - kids LOVE this book, and it's such an important book to read!

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Wonder-Novel-Study-1351406
 
 
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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!
 
 
http://buzzingwithmsb.blogspot.com/2015/03/all-things-seuss-19-ideas-for-dr-seuss.htmlhttp://buzzingwithmsb.blogspot.com/2016/02/19-more-ideas-for-celebrating-read.html
 
 
 
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