Sunday, September 28, 2014

Supporting Struggling Readers ~ Upper Elem

Fall is here, everyone is back in school, and my intervention classes are going strong.  In chatting with teachers, I found that I was giving the same advice that I've been giving for years, either as a literacy coach, intervention specialist, or classroom teacher.  Thought I'd pass them along.  If you find them helpful, I appreciate your sharing my blog with your colleagues.  Thanks, y'all!!

  • Find out their interests, then help them find tons of cool books on that topic.  If the books are way too difficult a text, but have rich, engaging pictures, let them keep them in their reading box.  If the majority of their books are at their reading level, let them keep a few that are interest-based, even if they are far too easy or difficult.
  • Find out their needs, then help them find materials they can keep in their reading box.  If they can't tie their shoes, find a preschool book with the big, chunky laces, and let them quietly practice during reading time.  Yes, sometimes 4th graders don't know how to tie their shoes.  It gives them practice with a life skill, they'll be using the pictures as a diagram to follow the directions.  Win-Win!  Books about telling time, tying shoes, and counting money are some I have used in the past.  When you have a 9 year old 2nd grader who reads on a F&P level D (instead of J), you get creative.  
  • Find out what they are good at, and build their self-esteem.  Particularly in Upper Elementary classrooms, struggling readers *know* they are struggling.  They often feel frustrated at school because they are continually struggling, since they need to use their reading skills in math, social studies, science, health, etc.  One year, I had an 3rd grade student who was already pulled for three acronym classes: ESL, CCR, ALP.  When she qualified for speech, the class began during the last 5 minutes of our recess.  I fought to keep those 5 minutes, arguing that she needed the time with her classmates. Here's my secret: I wanted to keep her there for every moment of our recess because this was the time of day when she was able to outshine her peers. (She was - and still is - an amazing athlete)  Her joy at winning in kickball helped her stay engaged in our school community, and built her self-esteem.  Let them have time to show their talents.
  • Protect *uninterrupted* chunks of time to read independently.  This is so important, because this is when they can practice the decoding, accuracy, and fluency strategies we are growing.  Our struggling kiddos are having such a hard time transitioning from the Speech room to the English as a Second Language class to the Special Education class, and then back to the classroom.  Often, the biggest loss is in their focus - how can you stay focused on that book if you don't get much time to read it? (or reread it!)
  • Play games together.  Pick one game and play it a few times a week for 2 weeks.  Pick something quick, like Boggle (Click here for my classroom rules) or fun Word Games for Vowels.  Spend 5 minutes a day, 3 times/week for a couple of weeks, to encourage a joy of looking at words.  Tip: I often make sure we "run out of time" before we have a winner.  They ask, "Who won, Mrs. Sykes?" I answer, "It's a game where we have fun with words, not a game where we have to have a winner each time."  Then we move on...
  • Most importantly, love them, celebrate their successes, and help them to love learning.  It's why we choose to work with children, right?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Functionally Cute Classroom to Inspire...

Great news!  I finally finished my "Back to School" stuff.  :)  I've been back at work for 4 weeks now...  I've finished most of my beginning of the year assessments, analyzed my data, and am ready to dig deep into learning to fill the gaps of my struggling readers.  (If you want to read about how I do this each year, check out my series: Supporting Struggling Readers in Grades 3-5)

One of the most important things I needed to do was to make sure my classroom is inspiring, even though it is *not cute!*  I do have touches of cuteness, but it is always functionally cute, not just cute.  Here are a few examples of functionally cute from the Upper Elementary Literacy Room:

Common Core Rules for Discussion from Jen Jones @ Hello Literacy.  These are a fantastic resource for my students, and are posted in a spot that we refer to as needed to remember to make eye contact, respectfully agree or disagree, etc.

What's Your Graduation Year? Freebie from me @ Hello Mrs Sykes - To inspire my students to graduate high school on time!!  My kiddos are all at increased risk of dropping out since they are struggling readers in grades 3-5.  They love informing their parents when they will graduate high school, and it helps spark some thoughts about what to do after graduation!  Win-Win!

 Mystery Word of the Week - I love having this as a part of our routine, and my students are always excited to solve the Mystery Word.  Since I don't tell them until Friday if they are "right," this always leads to interesting discussions as the clues are revealed one day at a time...
An old pic of the Mystery Word of the Week in the Literacy Room

Academic Word Walls - Actually, these words get used a ton, and not just stuck on the wall like wallpaper!  We play games with them, practice our fluency with them, and post one daily as a word of the day.  We then try to remember to share the word with our families at dinner.  I love when students come in the next day telling me that their parents were impressed at their vocabulary!!!  :)


Guided Reading Cheat Sheet - This one is for me.  I'm a visual person, and I refer to this sheet when  redirecting students (reminding them what they are doing before/during/after reading.)  I lost the one I printed last year, so I need to laminate another one before returning to the Reading Room tomorrow!


The really easy notebook (free, since it's made with construction paper and notebook paper from the supply closet, and cute, since students decorate them using permanent markers!)

For an absolutely hysterical post about a non-cute classroom, check out this one from my buddy Casey @ Second Grade Math Maniac.  Have a wonderful week!!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mystery Word Madness!

Omigoodness, y'all!  What a surprise this morning to see my Mystery Word of the Week in the TpT newsletter!  To celebrate this personal milestone, it's 20% off for the next 24 hours at my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  :)
Yep, I tried for 2 years to get this in the newsletter.  Got it today!!  :)
Happy Labor Day Weekend, everyone!!  :)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Use Classroom Magazines Effectively - A Bright Idea

Hello!  If you are lucky enough to have a subscription to classroom magazines, then you know how easily they can slide from being effective to being something else to take care of.  (If you don't have classroom magazines, be sure to check your Scholastic book catalog at the beginning of the year - they usually have a deal where you can "try it for free in your classroom.")   

Here are my top tips for using Classroom Magazines effectively.
 
 I know... slap a post-it on there to help you remember that this is a great article for summarizing, casue/effect, etc.  That will save you a bit of time in the future.
 I have class sets of several classroom magazines that I received ages ago.  I love, love, love using these magazines with my Upper Elementary kiddos, because they have great content that can used for close reading (annotate with sticky notes), reader's theater (I just love watching them prepare to perform; they don't realize they are practicing fluency!) and poetry studies.
Occasionally, we aren't able to get to all of the things I have planned.  I make sure to clip them together, slap on a sticky note for instructions, and keep it in my sub tub.  It's always a great idea to keep some "extras" in the sub tub, in case they need something to do unexpectedly.

Any other ideas?  Feel free to leave them in the comments below.  For more Bright Ideas, consider browsing the link-up below for topics and grade levels that apply to you.  Happy Weekend, everyone!!


Sunday, August 10, 2014

5 Resources for Teachers of English Language Learners

If you are a teacher, you will eventually need to have resources to help you teach students who are English Language Learners.  Here's a quick round up of my favorite go-to resources for working with ELLs.  Enjoy!


ColorinColorado.org - Picture Reading Rockets in a Bilingual Format... Yep, it's amazing.  It contains resources for Parents, Teachers, Students, and Administrators in English and Spanish from Pre-K through High School.  They are translating the parent and student resources into many languages, so keep checking back if you need resources in a language other than Spanish.  Also, they have many timely topics, such as Guidance and Resources for Schools and Staff Working with Unaccompanied Minors.

LearnAlberta.ca - Benchmarks, Strategies and Resources for Teachers of English Language Learners.  I constantly use the K-12 ESL Proficiency Benchmarks search, which gives you information based on different levels of language acquisition.  I just discovered the student writing samples and analysis, and I think this is incredibly helpful for teachers across the globe (even if you don't teach in Canada.)

BrainPopESL.com - Yessir...  Brain Pop geared towards English Language Learners.  This is a pay subscription service, so try the free resources before deciding to sign up to make sure it meets the needs of your classroom.

CAPL: Culturally Authentic Pictorial Lexicon - (located online at http://capl.washjeff.edu/)  This amazing resource provides images demonstrating the true meaning/intention for words in a variety of languages.  This is a work in progress so not all words are represented, but it does help teachers to remove any cultural bias when assisting ELLs.

MakeBeliefsComix.com - This is a wonderful way for all students to tell stories through comic strips.  My students always enjoyed selecting their characters, making them talk with speech bubbles, adding thought bubbles to show character motivation, and telling their stories.  This appeals to reluctant writers, too!  The site is bilingual (English/Spanish) and is also available as a free app in the iTunes store.


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