Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bright Ideas - A Round Up!

Welcome to the November edition of the Bright Ideas Link-Up! This one is a special one! Over the past 10 months, we have shared thousands of great ideas through our monthly Bright Ideas event. This month, we’re re-capping all of those great ideas, just in case you missed any!


Back in August, I wrote about ways to use classroom magazines effectively, which you can read all about here:

In July, I shared my most popular Bright Ideas post, all about my Brain Booster Box:

In May, I shared Bright Ideas for Word Work. I was so happy to share the little tricks I use to keep Word Work fun and organized!

Back in April, I shared my eco-friendly Reminder Bracelets! This tip saves me so much time, and is a great way to keep the lines of communication active between home and school.


March was Cheap Ways to Tame the Clutter: (And what teacher doesn't have stacks of clutter everywhere?? I can't be the only one!)

Last, but my favorite, is from last February - Use Pinterest for Transitions!


There are so many Bright Ideas out there! I hope that you found an idea (or a few ideas!) that you can use in your own classroom. Be sure to check out the link up below for tons more fabulous ideas from my bloggy friends! Have a great day!


Friday, November 7, 2014

Make and Take Literacy Night = Fun Parent Involvement

The ultimate goal of literacy is to help students become life-long readers, so they can be educated citizens. The child's first and most influential teacher is their parent and/or guardian. With that in mind, it is crucial to give families the tools they need to help this child, as well as other children in the household. When families play together, it helps their social skills, critical thinking skills, and focus their attention on an activity that doesn't involve a computer screen. {Here's a link to an article from The Atlantic: How Family Game Night Makes Kids Into Better Students} Since my focus is on Literacy, I love to invite families to school for Literacy Night. I've helped organize, prepare, and lead Literacy Nights for over 8 years over the course of my teaching career, and I plan to continue this for years to come. Here are my tips for a successful Literacy Night in Upper Elementary classrooms.

Make and Take for Literacy Night, grades 3-5


At a recent Literacy Night at my school, the parents met in the gym to see a quick presentation. The students went to the media center to watch a video, learn how to do the 3 activities, and prepare to teach their parents.



We learned how to play Boggle {one of my favorite games to teach students to reinforce many essential skills}. We used a document camera to project my Boggle game, and we spent about 5 minutes learning how to play, then moved off to the next activity.

Click here to see Boggle on my affiliate link from Amazon.
Remember Cootie Catchers? Or did you call them Fortune Tellers? Either way, they are fun! We used them for comprehension activities for the families to take home. We practiced using a familiar story.

Note: I used Jack and the Beanstalk. I didn't read the book, we just reviewed it as a group:
Mrs. Sykes: Raise your hand if you've heard of the story Jack and the Beanstalk.
Hands shoot up all around. 5 excited kiddos start calling out. Pandemonium might break out any minute.
Mrs. Sykes: Great! We have so many people who know the story. Turn to someone and tell them about the story.
Excited talking. Some jumping up and down. After 15 seconds, I get everyone's attention.
Mrs. Sykes: Let's just review it together. Let's start: Jack and the Beanstalk is a story about a boy named... pause
Kiddos: Jack!
Mrs. Sykes: Jack trades his cow for a pile of... pause
Kiddos: Beans!
This continues for about less than a minute, and we all know the basics of the story. Then, I model using the Cootie Catcher with the story, and we practice a couple of times, using the document camera so everyone can see.

 Next, we practiced "Read it Like..." which is a fun and quick way to work on fluency with repeated readings. We practiced saying the name of the school and our teacher's names using silly voices. {Like a buzzy bee, like you are underwater, and like a pirate - AARGH!} We were silly, and had a few laughs while practicing.


Finally, the parents arrived. We told the students it was their job to show their parents how to do the activities, and showed them quickly to the parents. Teachers circulated to answer any questions, and the families circulated to collect the materials. After about 20 minutes, it was time for everyone to go. We thanked them for coming, and everyone went home. The only prep work was printing/copying the take home activities, and trimming the paper for the Cootie Catchers to make them easier to fold.

Interested in hosting a low-prep Make & Take Literacy Night? Click the picture below to see them in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, to see if it might meet the needs for  your school community. How do you support family literacy in your classroom?



Monday, October 20, 2014

Mystery Word of the Week ~ October Deal!

Y'all know I love my Mystery Word of the Week sets, right? It's not just me - my students *love* this, and we are linking unknown words to known words, using definitions, visual cues, synonyms, antonyms, and context clues. I have seen the effect this has on the vocabulary (and test scores!) of the struggling readers I have worked with in grades 2-6 over the years. Here's an opportunity to get 60 weeks at a deal!

The bundle was 40 weeks, and now it includes 60 weeks! And the price didn't go up... actually, it went down (for the rest of October.) I know it doesn't make much business sense for me to lower my price when I add more content, but hear me out.

I decided to add all 12 existing sets (including the science sets) of the Mystery Word of the Week to the 40 week bundle.Now includes all 12 Mystery Word of the Week sets!! That's 60 weeks of Mystery Words (a $48 value) for the SALE price of $20.00 through the month of October. The price will increase Nov. 1 to $35. At least 6 more sets will be added to this bundle during the 2014-2015 school year, and the price will rise as more content is added. Purchase the bundle in October to get all future Mystery Word of the Week sets for this super-low price, then come back and download the updated sets from your purchases.

Want to see more? Click on the picture below to view this bundle in my TPT store, and check out the *huge* preview to try the Mystery Word of the Week in your class tomorrow.

60 weeks for $20 - Ends 10/31/2014
Print, post, discuss.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Beyond Oral Reading Fluency ~ Dig Deep

The Reality of Oral Reading Fluency

Often, teachers are asked to give too much importance to a bit of data. The current trend is a focus on Fluency in struggling readers, particularly in grades 2-5. The Oral Reading Fluency score (ORF) is simply a look at how many words the student read correctly in a minute.  If it is below the magic number, the teacher needs to take a closer look.  The magic number varies, depending on the grade of the student, the time of year, and if you are using DIBELS, mClass, EasyCBM.com, etc.

Here comes the tricky part - looking past the oral reading fluency to why the student is struggling. Too many teachers are being asked to provide an intervention in fluency, when that might not be the issue at all. Teachers and parents spend tons of time reading (and timing their students!) with the goal of reading faster.

That's right. The goal is to read faster. They chart it, celebrate when the numbers rise, and fret when the numbers stay the same. All with one purpose: read faster.

As parent and a teacher, this is scary. Often, the problem isn't fluency. It's from gaps in phonics skills. Student, teacher, and parent - stressing over how fast the student reads, and it isn't the underlying cause. Worse, the underlying cause is never addressed, which leaves the student at risk for a long time.

Look Past the Numbers ~ Dig Deep

What's a teacher, administrator, and parent to do? Dig Deep by going beyond the fluency score.  It takes a bit more time, and that is important to consider.  No teacher has enough hours in the day, between returning phone calls, helping a sick student, attending meetings, and teaching.

Here's my answer: take the time to Dig Deep and find out what they need. This time is well spent. If you identify an area of deficit, like long vowels, simply provide your intervention on this one area. Need help? Click here for my blog series: Supporting Struggling Readers in Grades 3-5.

Observe Your Struggling Reader

Once you've Dug Deep to pinpoint their area of need, take the time to observe and listen to your struggling reader at least several times per week.  Extra points if you can do this daily. ;)  Do not underestimate the power of your anecdotal notes. Pull them out, look them over, and see what the group (or the student) needs.  Here are a few examples:
 My R5 Group: Rydell needs to work on chunking unfamiliar words and attending to endings of words.  Ellington uses the beginning of a word to identify an unknown word, and needs to work on "Does this make sense?"

 My 90210 Group: Brenda's pencil grip is really forceful - OT referral? Dylan is using visual cues (beginning of the word) to identify unknown words.  He needs to work on: "Does this make sense?" Brandon uses meaning cues, and needs to work on: "Does it look right?"

Molly Lou Mellon is in a different group, where I happen to use one page per student. {This helps me look for patterns in the students over time.} Molly Lou is working on attending to word endings, while asking herself: "Does it sound right?"

If you're having trouble analyzing the anecdotal notes to see what they need, here's a free Word Work Cheat Sheet for Struggling Readers in Grades 3-5.

As you work with students, remind yourself to dig deep, observe, and listen. Happy Teaching, Friends!

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?

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