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Friday, November 8, 2013

Hello from the ELA Title One Boot Camp!

I'm looking forward to spending Saturday morning with a group of very dedicated Fulton County elementary teachers at the Title One ELA Boot Camp.  We're going to be discussing differentiating through Guided Reading and the Reading Workshop.  And beyond the instructional practice of a Guided Reading classroom, we're going to dig deeper into understanding the role of developing a relationship with students in order to champion their needs.  Ultimately, our goal as reading teachers is create avid readers and writers!

Check out our slideshow that highlights building student choice into work stations, responding to individual reading levels, and alternatives at the reading table that promote high text engagement.  Then, check back later for a recap of the session, and access to choice menus and writing response documents that can be integrated into your classroom next week.

                                                              Click Here for Slideshow

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Integrating Literacy Into Science & Social Studies

Literacy in the 45-60 Minute Science & Social Studies Block

PowerPoint from Professional Development Session at Hillside ES
That's been one of my mantras - focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains. Steve Jobs
Anyone that knows me well would probably laugh at the idea that I'm promoting simplicity.  Give me a project and I can always come up with one more idea, the pièce de résistance, that usually results in someone's to-do list (usually my husband's or girl scout co-leader's list) getting a little longer. But, when it comes to integrating literacy throughout the elementary day, I'm finding that simplicity, clear focus, and consistency quickly zero in on the literacy gaps that our students are experiencing in non-fiction reading.

So, to keep this simple, I've begun using a consistent sequence of events in my Science and Social Studies lessons, and each lesson begins and ends with an over-arching reading essential question.  Here's the plan:

Part 1: The Big Idea
Develop a "big idea" reading focus that you will use for several weeks. My team is referring to Strategies that Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement by Harvey and Goudvis. With this resource, there's no reason for us to reinvent the wheel.  This book has developed research-based reading strategies into quality lessons that can be used throughout the elementary curriculum.  Get the book and hug it!  It's your new best friend.

My 3rd grade team is currently working from Chapter 6: Monitoring Your Inner Reading Conversation, and we are constantly tying our content lesson back to this essential question: How do I monitor my inner reading conversation? 

Part 2: Daily Teaching Sequence

All of my Science or Social Studies lesson follow a sequence of modeled reading, shared reading with building of content anchor charts and note-taking, Active Engagement link (experiments or content center rotations), and a closing that checks for understanding.  Below you'll find a sample lesson that I took pictures of that demonstrate the sequence.

Reading Mini-Lesson/Review Strategy
With each new reading strategy, I take the first 10-15 minutes of the content block to build an anchor chart with the students. We will refer back to the chart throughout the next 5-10 days that the "big idea" will be incorporated into the lessons.  After the first day, though, I simply do a quick "check for understanding" of the essential question and anchor chart.
(Time for Review of Strategy: 1 minute).

Modeled Reading
This is the time that I read aloud to the whole class from a purposefully selected text that supports our Science or Social Studies curriculum.  I always use an authentic text, such as picture book, informational book, or novel related to the content. My 3rd grade class was studying our Rocks and Minerals unit, so I choose the book below.  You can see that it's not an award winner, but it served its purpose for the strategy, CCGPS standard (using text evidence) and anchor chart.  It had funny, surprising, important, and confusing parts, AND it directly reinforced my content standards on rocks.

As I read, I stopped on each page and did the following think-aloud that matched my reading strategy anchor chart:
What was the most important part of the text?
I’m confused about…
The surprising part is…
I wonder…
This is my favorite part because…

I then had the students turn and talk to each other using the same language.  The turn and talk immediately gave me feedback that my students could NOT pick out the most important parts of the text.  This quick informal assessment told me what reading gap I needed to fill: understanding that text features such as titles, subheadings, sidebars and bolded words often highlight the most important parts of the text. It also told me that I needed to de-emphasize the LOL parts and generalized text connections.  Every child wanted to tell me that they had found a rock at some point in his/her life, but very few were prepared to do the mental work of connecting the prime information in the text to rocks in their world. Oh my goodness!

(Time for Modeled Reading: 10 minutes ~ I only read a few pages a day.  Picture books usually last me 3-5 days, and novels last 2-3 weeks).

Shared Reading
Following the modeled reading, students move into Shared Reading. It’s time for the students to apply the strategy modeled in the read aloud onto an unleveled authentic text.  This is a time of High Teacher support in the Gradual Release model. I coordinate buddy reading, cooperative group work, and side-by-side teacher support to scaffold the text.  Students should not be working independently during this time.  They should be talking to each other A LOT!  On topic…of course!

In the case of my sample lesson, students were paired in buddies and given post it notes.  Two pages from the science text book were assigned to the buddy readers.  The pair took turns reading the text together.  (I taught my expectations for Buddy Reading before this lesson, but I referred back to may anchor chart).

Then, they worked together to code the text using post-its identifying important, confusing, and surprising parts of the text.  

Once students had enough time to work with the text, we returned to our seats (my students buddy read in nooks throughout the room).  We used the post-its to drive our content conversation and reinforced what important information looked and sounded like. Again, it was an easy way to check for understanding of both the reading strategy and content standards.  It quickly identified many misconceptions of both!

Then, the students and I built an anchor chart of the science content information together.  We used the language of the strategy ("an important part we should add... a surprising part we should include") and our CCGPS standard on using text evidence to answer questions ("according to the text...")  The students recorded the chart in their science journals.

(Time for shared reading: 15-20 minutes)

Link: Active Engagement with the Science Content
In the case of the sample lesson I've presented, my class then moved into a hands-on lab.  The students worked in cooperative groups to identify characteristics of each of the 3 types of rocks.  Students recorded their findings on a graphic organizer that was pasted into the science journals.

(Time for Lab: 20 minutes)

As the year progresses, I will be introducing my own adapted version of the Science/SS Weekly 5 during this time.  I found the idea from another blogging teacher, Ariane Huddleston, who runs the Science Penguin blog.  Check it out here.  I will use this time for science or social studies rotations related to experiments, content vocabulary, research projects, performance tasks, and content-related task card review.  As my students work, I'll be available to pull small groups of students that need additional work with the Science or Social Studies content and literacy strategy. 

Lesson Closing
I always save 5 minutes for my class to return to a whole-group setting so that we can close out the lesson.  We return to both our content standard essential question and our literacy over-arching question.  We first answer how the reading strategy helped us understand the text, and then we do a final short response to the content EQ.  Sometimes, students respond through journal writing or a turn and talk to an elbow partner.  Other times students respond by showing me five fingers if they are confident in their understanding, four fingers if they feel ok but need more time with the material, and three fingers if we need to meet the next day to review. My favorite way for students to respond is through my Twitter board.  It's a "Ticket Out the Door" model where students write a response on a post-it and tweet it on the class Twitter board.  My goal is that ultimately we will tweet our responses on the real Twitter!

Time for Closing (5 minutes)


I think as Steve Jobs said, "You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains."  Making the shift towards seeing your elementary school day as driven by literacy requires hard work and some periods of trial and error.  But, in the end, the work is transformative. I read recently that modern scientists spend 80% of their day reading and writing research. If we're going to prepare our students to be 21st century leaders and learners, we have to recognize that shifts in our teaching must happen.  

P.S.  Check out the PowerPoint for more Shared Reading ideas!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cloud Collaboration : Dropbox and Amazon Clouddrive

I’m headed into this school year looking for ways to increase PLC collaboration within my new grade level team. On my “To-Do” list this week are a couple of quick tech set-ups that are make sharing ideas, skill tasks, assessments, reading passages, and lesson hooks easy. Creating a digital cloud is number one on my list because it quickly fosters collaboration and sharing.

If you’ve ever changed grade levels, you may have found yourself wondering something along these lines… “This school has been open for ten years.  How is there not a single notebook, binder, file cabinet, etc with a collection of tests, resources, and activities that students have done in this grade over the past 10 years??? The problem is that when teachers change grade levels, they take their hard work with them, only to forget about it in an old computer file. It’s time to start leaving a digital footprint and stop reinventing the wheel every time there’s an upheaval in teaching assignments.

Set up a “cloud” for your team with folders that match content areas, and subfolders that match standards.  Then, have your team members upload content that can be used in all classrooms.  On my team, we upload common assessments, workshop task cards, video clips, pictures of anchor charts, and any worthwhile PDF that matches our standards.  Our main rule is that content that is uploaded needs to be premium content that is innovative, purposeful, and not a traditional worksheet. We also keep a copy of the instructional calendars on the cloud drive.   Sharing our digital content enables us to make sure that all team members have access to materials, reduces clogs in our email, and leaves a digital footprint for future teams.

The two clouds I would recommend are Amazon Cloud Drive and Dropbox.  Both are free, but limit the amount of content that can be held.  I have used Amazon Cloud Drive for several years because it’s easy to navigate and allows a large amount of content on the cloud before meeting a size limit.  DropBox has a smaller content limit, but downloading files to your computer is an easier process. I'm leaning towards switching to Dropbox this year because I'd like to reach out to other 3rd grade teams outside of my schools to collaborate, and Dropbox seems to be the more widely used cloud.

Good luck to everyone with pre-planning!  My next post will focus on #2 on my To-Do list: Using Padlet to facilitate "shared leadership" roles on a PLC team.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Welcome to Unpacking the Balanced Literacy Classroom Workshop!  

I've spent the past four years navigating Balanced Literacy in my 3rd-5th grade classrooms.  There's been quite a bit of trial, reflection, and fine-tuning of the process, but the positive impact that the program has on my students makes it worthwhile. I'm looking forward to sharing my experience with other teachers in Fulton County!

In an effort to save trees and provide you with digital copies, we'll use the links below throughout the workshop.  Please do not work ahead of the pace of the class by opening links before we get to them.  Thanks for your cooperation!

Let's get started...

Before the class begins:
While you wait for the class to begin, please respond to the following question by using the Padlet link below.  These responses will be sorted and organized following the workshop, and available for your viewing throughout the summer.  I bet we'll see a lot of great ideas that can quickly be implemented into our classrooms!
What new reading strategy or task have you implemented successfully in your classroom?

Read Aloud
If you'd like to hear more from Ken Robinson, check out his book: Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative.

Lesson Hook
If you'd like to use the Zones of Comfort, Risk, and Danger protocol with a PLC group, you can download the graphic here

Additional protocols can be found on the National School Reform Faculty website.

Here's the big idea...  Balanced Literacy is more like cooking rather than baking.  It's a pinch of this, a smidge of that, add a little zest. Amounts vary.  It is not an exact science or prescribed recipe.  Lessons are built off of a standard, driven by assessments, and individualized to the student.  The Balanced Literacy classroom uses authentic text and personalized learning to meet students' diverse needs.

Balance Literacy Classroom Schedule
One of the main questions I often receive about a Balanced Literacy classroom is how the schedule looks throughout the day.  When do you give tests? How do you have time for a science lab or presentation? The key word is flexibility!  I've posted a schedule below that I've used when I prefer larger groups that meet frequently.  Other times during the year, I'll tweak the schedule to accommodate smaller groups that meet less often for a longer duration. Click on the pictures to download sample schedules.

Shared Reading Lesson
The Shared Reading Lesson is an excellent time to use a complex text that integrates the Science or Social Studies curriculum. The text should be unleveled, but provide scaffolding for students that need it.  I love to integrate writing and "partner talk" into the lesson by using Lucy Calkin's Pushing Your Thinking writing stems. Writing on a graffiti table makes the lesson even more engaging for students! For an outline of my lesson process, click here.

Balanced Literacy Workshop Rotations
We're going to continue to follow the routine of a Balanced Literacy classroom by breaking into small groups and rotating through stations. Your groups will be based on your self-assessment you posted on the Balanced Lit continuum.  You'll be grouped by your experience with Balanced Literacy. Please follow the norms that we created before moving to small groups.  Sometimes, a noisy group of adults makes learning harder than a loud classroom of kids. Thanks!

Rotation #1: Computers~ Independent Exploration of Project-Based Learning (K-5)
I've created a slideshow with active weblinks that presents some of my favorite tech tools for the elementary classroom. I've used almost all of these websites in my classroom for student projects.  In some cases, I've included links to view completed projects by Fulton County students. If you haven't yet introduced Edmodo into your classroom, I highly recommend it for this new school year.  I rely on it to run a Balanced Lit classroom! Click on the slide show below.  You'll need the password from the Rotation sign to access it.

Rotation #2: Differentiation ~ Partner Exploration of Differentiation Ideas (K-5)
In this rotation, you'll work with a partner to explore the use of choice menus, literature circles, alternative assessments, and Think Dots during the workshop rotations.  My students always enjoy the Book Club choice menus as formative and summative assessment options. You can explore the printed copies of these differentiated tasks and/or use this time to download your own copies.  Click on the pictures below to download:

Check out this Wiki for differentiated Choice Menus spanning K-5: Dare to Differentiate

Rotation #3: Guided Reading Using Leveled Text
 We will meet together to discuss using leveled, authentic text to drive small group instruction. If you have questions, this will be the time to ask them.

Closing: Goal-Setting
Take a deep breath!  Neither Rome nor a Balanced Literacy classroom was built in a day. The best advice I received in the early stages of my shift in teaching was to pick one to two areas to build.  Once those elements were in place, I layered in the additional elements of Balanced Literacy.  I started with my strength.  With an undergraduate degree in writing, I was most comfortable targeting the Writing Workshop and developing leveled Book Clubs.  With those foundation pieces in place, I added 1:1 conferencing, and the Reader's Workshop format. As the routine developed with my students, I then began moving away from a whole-class Science or Social Studies block, and began integrating those lessons into authentic texts throughout our morning. I adjusted the schedule on the days that called for science labs or Social Studies projects. Finally, I zeroed in on differentiating our tasks, integrating technology, and building skills through project-based learning.  My classroom continues to be a work in progress!

If you are at the point of shifting to Balanced Literacy or tweaking an existing program, I encourage you to use the Goal-Setting document below to help you navigate the process.  Good Luck!

Redelivery for Schools and PLCs in Fulton County:
If you would like to use the all or part of the PowerPoint used in the workshop to redeliver to schools and/or PLCs in the Fulton County School System, you may download a copy below. You will need the same password you used to access the Tech Tools Slideshare to open this PowerPoint. Under no circumstances may all or part of the presentation be copied and used for presentations outside of the Fulton County School System without permission.  In addition, all or part of the slides may not be copied and resold through popular teacher profit websites, such as Teachers Pay Teachers or other venues.  Thank you for your cooperation!
Click on the image to access the PowerPoint

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Does the Daily 5 Fit into Balanced Literacy?

The quick answer is yes, but the implementation will vary based on grade level, whether science and social studies are integrated into the primary reading block, and your local school initiatives related to upgrading independent workshop tasks.

The Daily 5 is a literacy framework designed by two veteran teachers, Gail Boushey and Jane Moser, intended to improve differentiation, classroom environment, structure of groups, and overall paperwork. If you look at the structure below, you’ll find that it matches up nicely with Balanced Literacy tasks peppered throughout your literacy blocks:

Daily 5
Balanced Literacy Model
Read to Yourself
SSR (Self-Selected Reading) + 1:1 Conferences
Read to Someone
Buddy Reading with a Choice Menu or Think Dots
Work on Writing
Writing Choice Menu / Journal Response
Listen to Reading
Modeled Reading and/or Listening Center
Spelling/Word Work
Spelling / Word Work

I didn’t set out to implement a true Daily 5 model, but you’ll find, as I did, that the best practices of a Balanced Lit classroom are instructional strategies that should be found in all literacy classrooms: independent reading & writing, shared reading, modeled reading, and word work. Because I’m concerned that the Daily 5 model has the potential to lack rigor, I make sure that most (not all, though) literacy tasks involve a written response, draft, or final product. I keep it simple, though, and it doesn’t involve worksheets!

In a primary classroom, many Balanced Lit teachers follow the structure of the Daily 5 closely during the reading workshop/guided reading portion of the day.  As students get older, though, I think that teachers need to consider modifying the Daily 5 in order to work project based-learning tasks and tasks connected with science and social studies units into the workshop model. 

In my 3rd and 4th grade classrooms, I’ve structured my literacy blocks to include at least three of the “Daily 5” components each day, and multiple “Daily 5” tasks each week. I also incorporate these tasks into homework. The two “Daily 5” components that I make sure are completed every day are the “Read to Self” (aka Self-Selected Reading/SSR) and “Work on Writing.” I believe the single greatest movement in reading levels is directly connected with daily independent reading and writing time. I set aside 35 minutes at the end of the day for SSR/Writing Response time.  During this time, I’m conferencing 1:1 with students or meeting with strategy groups. I also use this time for student-led Book Clubs to meet.

The one “Daily 5” that I do not include as part of workshop rotations is the “Listen to Reading” task. On the high-support end of a Balanced Lit classroom is the “modeled reading” (aka The Read Aloud).  I read aloud and think aloud to my students every day.  By 3rd grade, I have moved the “Listen to Reading” station into my RTI toolkit, and use it as needed. Instead of a “listening station,” I make sure that I have a project-based task as part of the workshop rotation.  This project-based task may be related to a Book Club text, Science or Social Studies unit, or integrated writing & technology project. This task may run from a week to a month in duration.  I create a rubric for these projects and a checklist with mini-due dates to help students manage their time. During 1:1 conferences, I check-in with the progress of the project.

Balanced Literacy empowers teachers to make curriculum choices.  The Daily 5 model will be a good fit for some classrooms and a stepping stone for others.  Use your professional judgment!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Assessments in a Balanced Lit Classroom

     In a balanced literacy classroom, assessment-based planning is at the heart of the literacy model. It should be on-going, and drive instructional decisions. These assessments provide a clear window into each student’s reading life. Once you introduce a variety of assessments into your reading classroom, you’ll quickly see that there are no longer red birds, bluebirds, and yellow birds, but rather a unique ecosystem of readers constantly adapting and changing.  And, to keep with the ecosystem metaphor, you’ll find quite a few readers so sly with camouflage that they have hidden their literacy deficits under the canopy of good test-taking skills.

     Assessments in my classroom continue to evolve, and have become increasingly tied to my PLC grade level assessment decisions. Below you’ll find a summary of the assessment tools and opportunities for student reflection that I incorporate into my Balanced Literacy classroom.

Materials & Tools

DIBELS & Running Records (Formative/ non-graded) 
This is the area most in flux in my Balanced Lit classroom at the moment.  For several years, I have used DIBELS to assess reading fluency and basic comprehension.  I’ve had mixed feelings on this tool because, ultimately, this is beneficial to monitor non-fluent readers, and a waste of time (IMHO) for fluent readers. Last year, I moved to only using DIBELS as a progress monitoring tool for RTI. When it comes to running records, we all know that it’s time consuming.  In the past, I used running records for RTI. This upcoming school year, I plan to reverse it and use running records on all of my students.  I’ll do an initial assessment during the first weeks of school, and then shift the tool into my conferencing time throughout the year. I share DIBELS results, running records, and anecdotal notes with parents during parent conferences. 

Performance Assessments (Summative / test grade) 
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!!! After most extended text readings, whether through guided reading, modeled reading, or book clubs, students typically complete a creative performance assessment based on the text and standard(s) that we have been working on. I often use a choice menu of tasks or presentation modes to differentiate the process and product. You must create a rubric for this!  I promise, it takes a little hard work upfront learning to create rubrics, but it gets easier. If this is a common assessment among your grade level, be sure to share your rubric with your PLC members. I grade these projects, hang them in the classroom, and then send the graded rubric and project home to parents.

Reading Response (formative/ quiz grade) 
I use a reading response journal for quick formative checks. Students are given a 3-ring binder that contains a response choice menu, reading log, and written response section. (I created mine based off of Beth Newingham’s blog suggestions). Students will either bring their journals to our 1:1 conference or I will peruse responses every two weeks and assign a grade based on a response rubric.  *I just saw an idea on Pinterest where you have mini-rubrics on label stickers that you can attach to reading responses. It saves paper and time! I send these response journals home to parents twice a quarter.

Cold-Read Assessments once every two weeks at their current grade level  (formative/quiz grade) 
The easiest source for this is to use a Science or Social Studies passage/lesson from the textbook, with a correlated quiz from the textbook teaching materials. It’s essentially an open-book quiz.  I know…it’s a textbook and super traditional!  But, it’s non-fiction, relevant, rigorous and (supposedly) on grade level. We also can’t ignore that our students are assessed in a multiple choice format on standardized tests, typically using science and social studies passages. Other resources for these cold-read passages with comprehension questions include, and test prep books. These cold-read assessments should be at their current grade level, not the instructional level.  

Grade level Common Assessments (formative or summative/ graded) 
An entire blog post…no, make that a book…could be written on developing common assessments among your PLC. Look for a post on this topic later, but here’s the gist.  Balanced Literacy uses the Backwards-Design model, meaning you must decide what you want your student learning outcome to be related to the standard, and then design the assessment using a variety of DOK levels before you begin to actually write your lesson plans.  Your PLC needs to be able to answer these questions before drafting the assessment:

                What do we want the students to learn?
                How will we know when each student has learned it?
                How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty 
                in learning?

In my PLC, we typically look ahead in our instructional calendar and decide which standards will be assessed in an upcoming unit.  We then divide up the writing of the initial draft for each assessment. Initially, my PLC had content “leaders” that took charge of their content’s initial draft of assessments.  This only worked, though, for those content leaders with less assessments. We found that we needed more frequent language arts, and vocabulary tests than reading, science and social studies.  The distribution of assessments was uneven and led to quick burnout.  We later changed our process to creating a list of needed assessments and divided it up equally. 

Individualized instructional level assessments  - My school has used the Accelerated Reader program for several years to assess reading at student’s independent levels. For the past two years, we have taken a quiz grade every two weeks, using the average of all quizzes. While I liked the potential that the AR comprehension assessment data might have provided me, I was often concerned that the data was skewed.  When kids didn’t manage their time well, they would rush through books to meet the deadline impacting scores, or try to slip in a book below their instructional level to read it fast. 
My school is moving away from the AR program this school year.  I’m not sure yet what that will mean for this category of assessments. Stay tuned…

Conferencing (formative / non-graded) – Look for a blog post on 1:1 conferencing.  It’s a vital component in a Balanced Literacy classroom!