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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Fun Test Prep!

Are you ready for testing?!?! We are!

We have one more school day before the FSA (Florida Standards Assessment) reading test. Over the past few weeks, we have been working oh so hard to get ready. We have reviewed in groups, in small group, in pairs, and independently. But, truth is, we are all sick of reading comprehension pages and practice assessments. (Can I get an AMEN?!) Sometimes they are just not fun to do. As teachers, we can change this attitude!

This year, my co-teacher incorporated many fun activities in order to keep our students engaged while continuing to practice using our strategies in the text and on test questions. I am sharing three of our favorites with you today! These "games" are extremely simple to make and will not break the bank. Many thanks to the Dollar Store! Plus, all of these activities can be saved for next year!

Students should read the passage(s) and answer all questions first, showing their evidence in the passage. All of these activities are to be done while REVIEWING the answers with students. The review can happen in small groups or whole group.

Ping Pong Balls & Cups

Place cups in front of a group of 4-6 students (clear cups work even better than these styrofoam ones!). Label the cups with the letters included in the answer choices. Give each student a ping pong ball (cotton balls will also work). As you go over each question, thinking aloud, have students bounce/place their ball in the corresponding cup. Announce the correct answer (Cue student cheering). Students hand all the ping pong balls back to each other and you start over on the next question.
***Yes, students may look around and follow their peers, but we make sure to let them know that we are looking for their own answers only! "Cheating does not help you in life."....and that whole teacher spiel. 

Our Rule:
We allow students to bounce their ping pong ball on the table, ONE TIME ONLY, trying to aim for their chosen answer cup. If the ball doesn't make it in, they are to just place it in the cup. They follow this rule religiously. If they don't follow this rule, we would have ping pong balls ALL over the place. Follow it, or don't play. :)


You will need a couple Jenga towers, unless you plan to do this whole group (then you only need one tower). We use about five in our classroom. You can borrow them from other teachers or grab them here. While students are completing a reading comprehension packet/review page place a Jenga tower in the middle of each group. As you go over each question, think aloud. Announce the correct answer. (Cue student cheering) Walk around with a pen and give students stars or checks beside the correct answer. When they get a star/check, they may take a Jenga block from the tower. If they do not answer correctly, they work through the question again. Continue through the rest of the questions, walking around to assess as you go. The goal is to see how many blocks you can successfully pull without knocking the tower down. If the tower falls, simply gather all the pieces and rebuild it.

I have also played this in small group with struggling students. We read the passage together and then went one by one through the questions. After they answered one question, I would check it. This provided immediate feedback to them. Plus, they were always excited to pull the blocks!
Fly Swatters

Each child will need a fly swatter. (We bought them at the dollar store, but here is another good deal from Walmart. These are reusable from year to year.) Students break their desk into fourths with dry erase markers and label with the answer choices. (Just use a clorox wipe to clean up!) As you go over the test questions, think aloud. 

Say something like, "One, two, three -- SWAT!" When you say that, students "swat" their answer. They must hold their fly swatter on the letter until you tell them to remove it. Walk around and assess student answers. Announce the correct answer (Cue student cheering), and then move on to the next question. 

Our Rule:
If you mess around with the fly swatter (including but not limited to: hitting another person, lifting it up and changing your answer, swinging it like crazy in the air), you will loose the privilege of the fly swatter, and have to continue reviewing the questions the "normal" way.

Those are a few of our classroom favorites! These little games give students a reason to try their very best during our review. It also keeps review a little interesting on the teacher end, too! 

Happy Testing Season!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Early Reading Process

I've recently been spending a lot of time studying and reviewing for my state's K-12 Reading assessment which I have to pass to obtain my Master's degree in Reading. This test also certifies you to be a Reading Specialist, if you so choose. As I was talking to my friend from class who already took the test, she said, "I thought it focused a lot on emergent literacy, but you're're dealing with that every day."

As I read through the emergent literacy section of the review book, I realized that there were SO many technical terms that primary teachers use quite often. On the other hand, intermediate elementary teachers may not. 

My friend has been in all of the same courses as me in the last two years, but she didn't feel as confident with these terms. All of a sudden it made SO much sense to me! I mean, we're human. If we don't use complex (Tier 3, if you will) vocabulary often, we forget the true meaning.

I get confused and think too far into all of these Ph words often, so these are the details that have helped me! Let's take a look at a few of those technical teacher-y terms that we throw around with colleagues. Hopefully, this breakdown will help you all to gain a firm understanding of each concept or just review some that get a bit confusing (phonological, phonemic, phonics....ahhh!). 

Phonological Awareness
Phonological awareness is recognizing the sound structures of spoken language, or speech sounds. Phonological awareness focuses on large parts of spoken language. It includes syllable awareness, sentence awareness, word awareness (rhyming and alliteration), onset-rime awareness and phoneme awareness. 

Syllable awareness (deletion) example: What is bookshelf without book? Shelf
Sentence awareness example: How many words are in the sentence, "Did you have a fun trip?" 6
Word awareness example: Do these words rhyme: bark and bike? No
Onset-rime example: What word is this: m-ath? math
Phoneme awareness example: What is the beginning sound in path? /p/

Phonological awareness focuses only on sound. It does not address the symbols (letters) for the sounds. Students are not looking at words or any print, they only listen and produce sounds. It is a broad term. Phonological awareness is the umbrella. Phonemic awareness falls below. Many researchers believe that phonological awareness is a key indicator of a child's future success in reading and spelling.

Be sure to check out Hello Two Peas in a Pod for amazing phonological awareness activities created by Jen Jones from Hello Literacy and Katherine Zotovich from Pure Literacy. They are PERFECT!

Phonemic Awareness
Phonemic awareness is a subcategory of phonological awareness. Phonemic awareness includes identifying and manipulating individual sounds within spoken words. The smallest units of sounds are called phonemes. Phonemes combine to form words. So, phonemic awareness only deals with the phoneme level of language.

***Rhyming is considered phonological awareness, NOT phonemic awareness, because it does not relate to the individual sounds in words.

When students have phonemic awareness they have knowledge of the smallest units of sounds, or phonemes, in a word. Students should be actively identifying, segmenting, blending, and manipulating the separate sounds in words. Only sounds. This is key! No visual symbols --- no letters! If students have phonemic awareness, they can connect sounds together to form words!

Phonics is often confused with both phonological awareness and phonemic awareness (above). The main difference is easy to remember. Phonics deals with letters! A professor at a reading conference once said to our group, "The second you give a kid a letter or word to look at, BOOM!, it's phonics!" And it's very true. While phonological awareness deals with only sounds, phonics deals with actually seeing and working with the letters that make the sounds.

PSA: When you are googling or Pinterest-ing phonemic awareness activities, PLEASE be careful. I know someone who was doing a doctoral project on this topic. Many times, honestly most of the time, phonics activities (activities including letters) are listed under the label "phonemic awareness". Just be on the lookout...

Alphabetic Principle
Letters represent speech sounds. Arrangements of letters represent spoken words. Students learn letter names by singing the alphabet song. Then students learn the shape of letters by looking in books, playing with blocks, or playing with plastic/wooden letters. Finally, students relate to the letters they see to the speech sounds they hear and produce. The alphabetic principal is the understanding that there is a relationship between speech sounds and written letters

Directly teaching phonics patterns will make decoding easier for students. If students recognize relationships within words, they can figure out words they have not seen before. When students can decode quickly, they are able to spend more of their working memory on comprehending the text.

Decoding incorporates the ability to:
-use what one knows about patterns in letters
-understand the correspondence between letters and the sounds they represent
-pronounce printed words correctly

The smallest units of meaning are called morphemes. For example, the "s" that is added to the end of the word "dog" to make is plural is a morpheme. A single morpheme can change the meaning of a word. Morphology is the study of the structures of words that are formed with the smallest units of meaning.

Whew, okay. That's all the teacher jargon I have for today!
Happy Reading!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Every Child.

"Every child in your class is someone's whole world." -Unknown

My brother is diagnosed PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified) with a processing disorder. That means that he is on the spectrum, but they aren't quite sure what he has. 

This past weekend, we toured a fully accredited college that is specifically designed for students with learning disabilities and/or ADHD. (If you haven't heard of Beacon College, check it out! It is amazing!) It is there that we realized that he is not ready. There are too many reasons to list to describe why Michael is not ready. I have been in a funk since last weekend because my mind has been filled with the doubts and the uncertainties of his future. However, that is not my focus today. I want to look past that. Far too often we focus on the negative. Let's change our perspective, and think of what students succeed at, what students find joy in.


Visualize your students. Write down the names of your "low", "struggling", "behavior" students. Think about how many of them are formally diagnosed (with anything). Picture the ones that you can sense have "just a little something else going on".

These are the students we need to focus on.
Each student needs your love and understanding.
That student is someone's baby.

I know the days can be SO challenging. I know behaviors are sometimes completely unpredictable. I understand how frustrating it can be to want to finish a lesson with so many other activities or discussions happening around the room. I have been there when people say, "Really!?! How do you teach while that is happening?" 

So, I started watching the expert teachers around me. They are not necessarily veteran teachers and they are not necessarily trained to work with students with special needs. They just have a gift. This year I am blessed to co-teach with two wonderful ladies in two separate classrooms. Each one has a student who was a "problem student" in the past. I saw something different in the kids. There's just a certain spark about them compared to last year. I started realizing that there was a type of trust, love, and friendship that developed between the child and the teacher. The following two things hit home the most:

Learning about the child is so important to his/her success. We have a student who is autistic in one of my classes. Let's call him B. B is infatuated with dinosaurs. He absolutely loves everything about dinosaurs. I noticed that his main classroom teacher has embraced this from the beginning. She has taught me to relax throughout the day and just be whatever B needs us to be. We talk dinosaurs, we act out dinosaurs, we get him books about dinosaurs, we listen to "Dino Stomp" on GoNoodle. B thrives with his teacher. He is so sweet and innocent (and can tell you 100000 facts about a Velociraptor!). 

Investing in their interests helps students to understand that you truly care about them. B begs to go down the hall to another classroom so that he can look up dinosaurs on the computer and hang out with that teacher. This teacher knew B loved dinos, so she took the time to show him a dinosaur research website. A second grade teacher from downstairs even decorated our door and room today with dinosaur footprints because she knows B. He often waves in her window when we pass by, because he knows she always loves his dinosaur sounds and hand movements. This teacher made T-Rex footprints "appear" in our classroom this morning. There was even a note on B's desk from the T-Rex. I cannot tell you how excited he was. He literally talked about it all day!

These days, we are so hyper focused on standardized tests and achievement scores. Other times, we teachers read the child's "label" before learning about the true child. However, kids like my brother or B are not defined by those numerical scores or the series of letters in a label. They may not be able to read a passage and comprehend the text perfectly. They may not be able to process quickly enough to solve all of the math questions during a timed test. They may not be a top performing student in your classroom. But they are someone's WHOLE WORLD. 

Each and every single child in your classroom is someone's whole entire world.

After facing some difficult times with my brother, I look at my students in a new light. I am doing everything in my power to understand where they are coming from and what brings them joy. As teachers, we have to find that joy in children. That joy deep inside that their mothers and fathers see. That joy gives such insight beyond the label. It gives you insight on the child. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Digital Game Shows

Hey! I am so excited to share my brand new game show idea with you! 
I have some third graders who are quite low. They struggle with vocabulary and basic sentence structure. I decided that I needed to think of a way to engage them, but still teach hard-core vocabulary before our state assessment.

So, I began working on this game show product a few weeks ago. Since then, it has been played by my kiddos and edited by many other teachers to make sure that there are no kinks. I am happy to announce that my first digital game show is posted and ready to be enjoyed by many students! Keep reading to hear more about it, and scroll down for a link to the product.

What is a digital game show?
Basically, it is like playing Jeopardy! The game is created in PowerPoint and has clickable links throughout. You MUST have PowerPoint to play it. As you click, new pages appear. The kids were amazed that the answers were instantly given to them!

Why do I need a digital game show?
First of all, who doesn't love a game show?!?! :) 
Digital game shows are engaging to all learners in my classroom. Students really get involved and excited about these games. We have been using this game show as a review of multiple meaning words. It is perfect timing, because our state assessment is in about 17 days.
How do I keep students engaged whole group?
I hardly ever teach whole group. If I do, it's a mini lesson or review that lasts about 10-15 minutes. However, the game show I created is 20 questions and takes longer than 15 minutes if you are talking and teaching as you go. In my two third grade classes, we use white boards ALL THE TIME. So, we asked students to take them out and record their answers as we read. I also included a recording sheet in the PowerPoint in case you would like to print that out. We all have those few kids who stare off into space! :) Having some form of writing keeps students accountable for their learning. Plus, they actually enjoy recording and checking their answers.
How can I integrate skills?
If I am playing a game with my students, I am trying my very best to get their best effort. I read with funny voices, jump around, and act silly when they get the correct answers. I am also embedding skills in our fun. In the picture above you will see that my kids wrote "verb" on their boards. For each question, I asked them to record their answer, and then explain if it was a noun, verb, or adjective. This was tricky for many of my struggling students. These little additional activities can give you LOTS of data on your students. (Let me be honest. This part sincerely scared me! I had some kids writing noun when it was an action and adjective when it was a place. AHHHH!)
 How can I use game shows?
I have created this game show to be very versatile. I have personally used it as a mini lesson and in whole group to review for our upcoming test. I even had a couple girls who wanted to play the game on my computer during our break on Friday. Whether it be with the entire class or one person, the game show is engaging and effective. I am excited to add this file to our classroom computers so that students can play the games during centers as well!

I can't wait to make more of these games in the future, because my kids are certainly hooked! I welcome you to take a closer look at the preview file in my store to see if it is something that you would enjoy. Have fun!

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