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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Skill-based Fluency Instruction

I wrote this post last week as part of my collaborative blog The Primary Pack. Thought you may enjoy it! I hope if brings you some ideas for your fluency instruction. :)

Fluency Overview
            In the past, fluency was defined as the ability to read smoothly and effortlessly, at a quick, automatic rate (Harris & Hodges, 1995; Logan, 1997). A student’s reading rate and accuracy are very important because less time spent on decoding leaves more time for the brain to focus on comprehension. However, after recent research, fluency has come to encompass much more. It now includes prosodic elements such as expression, volume, phrasing, pacing, and smoothness. When students read with prosody, they are able to capture the meaning of the story or script. Current research supports phrasing, pacing, and smoothness as elements that help develop fluency in students. (Clark, Morrison, & Wilcox, 2009)

            Students who do not read fluently segment the text and read it word by word. However, students who read smoothly with appropriate expression, pacing, and phrasing make reading sound like natural language (Zutell & Rasinski, 1991). Fluent reading develops when students are able to make their reading sound like individuals speaking as they do in daily life.

            Although fluency is a large part of reading curricula, it is often neglected in reading instruction (Reutzel & Hollingsworth, 1993; Zutell & Rasinski, 1991). Many teachers refer to traditional methods of measuring fluency. This is usually comprised of giving students an unfamiliar passage and timing their reading while keeping track of errors. Research has shown that varying the fluency practice is beneficial in the classroom in order to motivate those students who are not motivated by competition (Tyler & Chard, 2000; Worthy & Prater, 2002). Repeated readings of familiar texts are necessary in order for fluency, and therefore prosody, to increase.

Fluency in My Classroom(s)
            If you teach primary grades, then I'm sure you are used to the Oral Reading Fluency (ORF) Assessments or something of the sort. These are short stories that we ask students to read while we time them and note any mistakes. Last year, I had very high first graders who already read fluently, so our ORFs were easy to administer. I didn't stress about them. I simply tested my kids, plugged in their scores, and clicked submit.
            Fast forward to this past fall. During the first half of the school year, I taught in a private school. One of the small groups that I worked with consisted of first graders who were struggling readers. Fluency was....not quite their strong point. 
            Fast forward to January. I transferred back to the public school I was at previously. I now work with third graders, many of whom are at a lower level than the first graders I had last year. So I began to ask myself....What are they missing?
            After attending a training in Orton-Gillingham, {LOVE! If you ever have the chance to go, GO! Run! I recommend it over any conference I have ever been to!} I was convinced that students (or at least the ones I have worked with) were lacking basic instruction in phonics skills. If I could teach them the skills that they were lacking, would they then be fluent? Could they then comprehend?

Skill-Based Fluency
            I love the idea of fluency practice every day, especially in the primary grades. I have seen the benefits of repeated readings, and the smiles and giggles from successful readers. BUT I have always thought that fluency passages were sort of...random. I'm not saying that they are ineffective. I am not telling you not to use them as part of your curriculum. In fact, many curriculums require them.

Let me just explain my reasoning...
If I am teaching silent E, wouldn't it be great to immerse the kids in silent E? Letting them SEE silent E everywhere they look or read will help them to identify silent E in the future. Right? So, why not include that skill in your fluency instruction?

I began doing this with two different groups of struggling readers, and have seen the positive effects already! We use LOTS of hands-on activities to drive this concept home. The following pictures are from two groups of students - first graders and second graders.

One activity that my students love is this silent E set from the talented Lavinia Pop.
Use sound chips when saying each sound.
Add the silent E with a dry erase marker and use the sound chips to read the word again, changing the vowel sound.
I then ask students to change the onset of the word while keeping the rime the same. Once they have written the word, they cover the onset so that they see the pattern in the rime. They come up with as many words as possible.
            Another day during the same week, we read these Rhyming Poems which are WONDERFUL because they have Elkonin boxes for the rhyme sounds. We use sound chips again here. The students would put a sound chip in the box each time they heard a long vowel and saw a silent E. Then, they would underline the silent E words. In pairs, they would face each other and take turns reading the poem as I listened in and gave advice on pausing and pronunciation of words.

            During the same week, I introduce fluency sentences. Jen Jones {my literacy hero} created these amazing fluency sentences that are organized by skill. AHHHHH! Can you hear the hallelujah chorus?! Perfect for RtI and intervention groups!
Students read each sentence and underline and silent E words that they read. I then have them check with their partner to see if any have been missed. Then, they add any underlines that they missed.
I have the kids whisper read to themselves as I listen in to them one at a time. Then, we read together. Finally, they read to a buddy.
You will see here that this sweetie underlined "the" in the second sentence above. This was a GREAT teachable moment to discuss the fact that "Not every E at the end of a word is a silent E." Use these mistakes to help students understand the reasoning behind the skill.
This student needed more chunking. The text was too overwhelming. I drew lines between sentences and had him only focus on three sentences at a time. He then wrote down all of the silent E words and read them from his white board before continuing to the next few sentences.
            At this time, I am currently working with struggling second graders for my final practicum project. These short vowel fluency passages from Miss DeCarbo are a savior! The kids seriously love spinners, so that's a plus! This set requires students to hunt for words and participate in repeated readings of the text. And guess what!?! They are ALL based on a phonics skill!
This page focused on "ack". The kids were SO excited that the word backpack had TWO "ack" sounds in it!
After completing all of the steps and reading the passage together as a group a few times, students buddy read. They listen for changes in their partner's voice each time there is punctuation.
             Focusing on a skill while practicing fluency has been SUCH a blessing for my second graders. They are not at grade level and cannot handle second grade fluency passages. Using these passages with the same phonics skill repeated over and over again helps the students to read a full paragraph without stopping to "sound out" any words. They know the phonics skill and are able to apply it throughout the passage. After one day, I had these kiddos giggling and reading with expression in their voices. Why? Because the text was predictable and they had confidence in their skill.

As you go off into your classroom this week, think about including your skills into your fluency practice. There are oh so many ways that you can do this. Just keep practicing in a variety of ways, and make fluency fun! As they say, "Practice Makes Permanent!"

Monday, February 23, 2015

Teachers Are Heroes - What's in MY cart?

The SALE is coming up this Wednesday! My entire store will be 20% off!
What's in your cart? These are my top 3!

As you may know, Jen Jones from Hello Literacy is my favorite. Like my all-time, I-want-to-be-her-when-I-grow-up favorite! See is amazing. I have used her Picture of the Day Volume 1 for two years now. Let me tell you, your kids will make some MAJOR gains with this! They learn to make detailed observations, form questions, and make inferences all through pictures! I cannot wait to get my hands on the second volume! Click here to get it for your classroom!

This year I am co-teaching, and push in to two different classrooms. I am already thinking {dreaming} of my decor for next year when I have my own classroom. I have some ideas of color scheme and room arrangement, but I absolutely LOVE these polaroid style alphabet posters! Yep - they're from Jen Jones again.

And last but not least, I love these Fluency Spinners from Miss DeCarbo! They will work perfectly for the group of 2nd graders that I am doing intervention work with. Kids always love spinning a paper clip and a pencil! It's the simple things, people! :) They love them.

Those are my top 3!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Milestone Giveaway & Freebies!

I am SO excited to announce that my little store has reached 1,000 Facebook followers and 4,000 Instagram followers! You all are the best! When I started this journey last April, I never thought I would get this far. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I couldn't have done this without you --- so how about a giveaway and some freebies?!?
Scroll down to enter!

I will be posting freebies on Facebook from some lovely teacher friends throughout the day. One product will be posted every hour, on the hour, starting at 8:00am. They are only free for 15 minutes, so HURRY!

21 teachers are joining me in the celebration. Each of them is either donating store credit or a product for you to win. Enter the Rafflecopter below to get a chance to win all this goodness! Good luck!

Thank you for following along with me on this journey!!!!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Testing Mania

As I look back on this week, I feel like my fun teacher spirit was dumped off in Timbuktu. We have tested EVERY day this week during our reading block. No small group. No center activities. No hands-on learning.

You see, the official countdown to THE BIG TEST began a few weeks ago. Our state test (Florida Standards Assessment, FSA) is in 22 days. So you may ask, "Why in the world are you testing now?"

In third grade, students are retained if they do not pass the FSA assessment. There are many other ways to promote to fourth grade, so it's not black and white. Still, we have to follow the protocol. One important piece of the protocol is the Portfolio testing. This test consists of a series of passages and questions. We assess students on one passage each day. Then after like 2-3 weeks of testing all the different passages, we basically do an item analysis of each standard to see which ones they passed. If the student has "Mastered" all the standards with 70% accuracy, they can be promoted. If they don't, we continue the process that the county provides (Summer School, alternative testing, etc.).

It is sad, really, to think about the amount of time the kids are staring at passages that are extremely too high for our struggling readers. They use all the strategies we've taught them. They reread, underline, number paragraphs, and show their evidence. But, let's face it, some students do not pass.

Testing is not a horrible thing. It definitely gives me data that is valuable to my day to day life as a teacher. Testing shows me what my students are retaining and what needs to be retaught. But testing for so many days is another story.

I know there is nothing I can do to switch the system around immediately. Testing is not going to disappear. But, I do feel that there are many teachers out there who feel the same way. How are we suppose to teach and remediate skills when we have to test, test, test? Shouldn't there be a happy medium?

...For now, I will keep plugging away. I will expose students to engaging activities that align with our standards. I will help them to master concepts and skills. And in 22 days, I will hand them a pack of paper, and urge them to do their best.

Because at the end of the day, they are 8 and 9 years old, and I will remember that each and every day.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Literacy Centers & Student Achievement

Recently, I gave a professional development to the teachers who are new to my school as a requirement for the last semester practicum of my Master's (yippee!). The PD was focused on how to teach in and through literacy centers. But, not just any literacy centers. Real, data driven, standards based literacy centers. 

RIGOR is an important word these days with our new Florida Standards (as with Common Core). The goal of this presentation was to give teachers a deeper look into providing center activities that required students to do more than move task cards, match cards together, or order magnetic letters. I am not against the former. Yes, there is a time and place for both. However, the teachers that were in this PD were interested in how to create activities that would promote the thinking and writing that we are pushing for with our new standards.

After many requests, I've decided to share some of the slides with you below. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: Before we start, I know many people cannot call daily academic activities "centers" anymore, because administration and some researchers associate centers with play. "Stations" is becoming the popular term because it seems more work-based. However, my school still uses "centers". Please think in this mindset as you read. :)
Why should you teach through literacy centers?
Literacy centers allow us to gradually release students throughout the year. We teach them directly in small group when they are just beginning, and then as they become more knowledgable, we allow them to work on their own. This gives students a turn to practice and reinforce the strategies that we teach them.

When students are at centers, it is easy to differentiate their work. Differentiation is also not as obvious to other students when it is done in centers. I can have completely different activities going on, but students do not realize it because they are around the room working in groups. Integrating content is SO simple when you teach in a classroom that is full of centers. Students can connect material throughout the day in reading, math, social studies, and science.

And of course, you can plan centers to align directly with your standards.

Finally, literacy centers should include the 7 main components of reading: comprehension, phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, writing, speaking & listening, and vocabulary. Jen Jones, from Hello Literacy, calls these the Big 7 Rocks of Literacy.
If you do not have centers up and running in your classroom, the first thing you will need to do is figure out a layout for your furniture. Furniture should be placed in a way that will promote movement. In primary classrooms, it is convenient to have activities rotating around the perimeter of the room. In the picture above, you will see my first grade classroom last year. I placed my small group table in the back corner (with the ball chairs). My centers were then placed around the perimeter of the room so that I could "keep an eye on" everyone. Students who were reading would sit on the carpet in the center of the room. I liked this set up because the groups of students were separated just enough so that each group was able to stay on their assigned task.

Centers do not have to be at tables that are separate from desks. Frequently, I would set a center bin at a group of desks. Students would sit at that group of desks to complete the center. We also use the floor a lot. Students LOVE reading and completing sorting activities on the floor!
Is your school in love with data?
Mine is! There are state assessments, county assessments, school-wide assessments, grade level assessments, in class assessments, and observations. Whew! It can make a teacher crazy. However, we can use the important data to help us create center groupings.

In my classroom, I use summative assessments to determine reading groups at the beginning of the year. At this point, I do not know much about my students or their strengths and weaknesses. As reading groups are used throughout the first few weeks/months, I use the subsequent summative assessments to regroup students.

Formative assessment is perfect for taking note of how students are reading. While in small group, I use black return address labels to write little notes or observations that I see. At the end of the week, I simply peel each label off and place it on the inside flap of the specific student's folder. These notes are wonderful during conference time. I am just beginning to use the app Confer to do this same thing. See my previous post about this data tracking app here. Formative assessment helps teachers to differentiate center work. Don't wait for a formal test to change a student's assignment! If you see something that they need, go for it!
Mini-lessons are the first part of my day.
I teach a short 10-15 minute mini-lesson to introduce our topic of the week or review something that we need to practice. I always love using literature, a short movie clip, or a song to grab the students' attention! As teachers, we often teach too long in the beginning of a lesson because we are excited about the material. When we think about it, we are talking and students are "listening". It is important that we let the students do the talking. When you keep a mini-lesson short, it leaves time for students to show their independence on that particular skill.
Literacy Centers
When you begin forming your literacy centers, you should think about the centers that you want to include in your classroom. Everyone has different preferences here. I had 6 different centers in my first grade classroom: read to self, spelling, word work, computers, content area, and work on writing.

How do you rotate?
Above is my rotation chart. I had three reading groups that I met with daily (horizontal across the top). These were homogeneous groupings. Vertically on the left, I had "center partners". These were heterogeneous groupings. One child from each of the reading groups was placed together as "center partners". So, at the end of the day, each student went to two centers and my small group.

When I asked students to find their first center, they would all go to the center in the first column. Three students would be at each center. Then, I would call my first reading group "Cardinals". One child from each center would come to me, leaving two kids at the center. This continued during reading group two and three. After about two weeks, I didn't need to send students to their centers first. They learn quickly and know to just skip the center during their reading group time!
Differentiation is my favorite part of centers. Centers make differentiation so simple! Look at the image above to see some fun ways to provide students with instruction that is at their individual levels. I love these ideas from two of my favorite teacher bloggers! The Brown Bag Teacher uses folders that are color coded to match student reading groups. These folders are placed in each center activity bin. When students go to the bin, they just grab their folder and begin working! Miss DeCarbo differentiates word work by integrating student choice and differentiated sight words. Students keep words for a short time or for a few weeks...depending on what the specific student needs.
Remember, these images are from the PD given to my school. In our county, social studies and science are NOT given separate times in the day. We must integrate social studies and science (and math!) into our reading block.

Integrating content into literacy centers allows teachers to create thematic units in the classroom. Students in my classrooms have always enjoyed learning when it is built into what they are reading. Using nonfiction texts or magazines in small group is a great way to integrate! As students begin to discuss and respond orally to what they are reading, it is easy for teachers to incorporate the new speaking and listening standards!

I compiled the following literacy block examples for different grade levels in my school in order to show teachers how to use the same topics and standards throughout many centers throughout the week. They may not work for your students or your curriculum. Please remember, these are just examples! :)

I also wanted to show teachers how the same six centers can be used in K-5 classrooms. I created these little charts as a way to show the progression of ideas and activities within each center from grade level to grade level. Again, these are just examples! Add or subtract anything you wish.

Small group is my favorite time of day. I love the "almost" one-on-one interaction that I get with my students. This is when I really get to know them. I love the layout that Dianna from Sassy Savvy Simple Teaching created. I printed it out and gave it to all of the teachers in the PD. It is easy to understand and perfect for planning your small group instruction! Below is an example of Dianna's layout as well as a tweaked version that I created for our 3-5 grade teachers.

Fonts: Hello Literacy & KG Fonts. Backgrounds: Clipart: Melonheadz.
That's it! I hope you enjoyed a mini version of my literacy center PD! Thank you for stopping by!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Wordless Wednesday - February 11 - Character Report Card

I'm linking up with Miss DeCarbo for Wordless Wednesday! I know this is longer than a normal Wordless Wednesday, but I'm excited!

This month we've been working on identifying character traits in books and short videos. This week, we watched Ormie the Pig. It is an adorable video about a pig who is attempting to get a jar of cookies off of the top of the fridge. He puts many different ideas to use trying to knock the cookies over. The kids LOVED this video.
Before watching, students were given this handout. We (teachers only) chose specific traits, and students copied them into the boxes. As they watched the video, students graded Ormie and showed their evidence. We explain a general scale aloud to students before they begin. As you will see below, we allow students to disagree as long as they have evidence to support their opinion! It creates FANTASTIC discussion in groups. And that's about it! Super simple. Highly engaging.

Example Grading Scale for the Character Report Card
A = OH! He is definitely _____!
B = I see that he is ______.
C = He can be _______, but _____.
D = He's not very _________.
F = I didn't see him being _____ at all!

Here, an on-level student accurately described Ormie's character traits.
Here, a below-level student gave different grades, but he was able to provide accurate support from the video.
Click the image to see more pictures of classroom activities this week!
Be sure to head over to Miss DeCarbo's blog to read more!

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