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Friday, August 12, 2016

A Test Strategy That Actually Grows Students As Readers

So often, teachers in testing grades come to a point in the year where they have to make the decision to spend valuable class time teaching students how to take a test or continue building their foundation as readers. Unfortunately, the two are very different. End of year state tests are not written in a way that allows students to pass simply because they can read, comprehend, and apply on grade level. Without some explicit teaching on testing strategies and preparation, students go in to testing environments with a disadvantage.

I teach third grade, the first year that students have to take an end of year reading test. It is nothing like they have seen before and they have a ton of questions about it, usually starting in August. I have always been, especially this past year, the “Fight the Man-I Hate Testing” teacher. In meetings, I have even responded to the question of who in my class I don’t think will pass with DRA scores and phenomenal reading growth I’ve seen. I hate thinking of my kids as a test score and focusing my instruction all year on them passing one test.

However, although I may be stubborn, I am not stupid. I know that my students will need explicit test direction in order to be successful and I really do want them to pass. This past year, my students did AMAZING on their end of year reading test. I had higher scores than ever before and I was blown away. This was definitely not the highest group I have ever had. So, like every teacher has been trained to do, I reflected. I thought about what I did differently this year that may have made a difference, and one thing stood out.


*side note: I also saw a jump in my scores the year I started teaching QAR, but more on that another day.

I have always taught my kids strategies for answering questions and a method to reading text, understanding questions, and finding evidence. However, this was the first year I required students to take notes before answering any questions. This was a strategy I poured a lot of time into, because I realized it’s value not just in helping students better comprehend passages, but in slowing students down and allowing themselves more think time to analyze and grow as readers.

This idea, which we call “4-square notes” in my classroom, may not be new, but I wanted to share how it evolved in my room to best fit the needs of my students. Below are the anchor charts I created for my class. 

Thoughts on Teaching Note-Taking:
-I spend a couple weeks teaching fiction note-taking before moving on to nonfiction.

-I always use the strategy with read-alouds first and go slow. We don’t start using this note-taking strategy with comprehension passages until we are weeks/months in. I want my students to see this for what it is, a great reading growth tool, not an easy way to pass a test.

-I usually spend a week modeling whole group and week with buddies/small groups before moving to a week of complete independence with the strategy (then after 3 weeks, I move to nonfiction).
(We only use these fancy note-taking sheets until the students memorize what should go in each square for fiction and nonfiction, then we just fold a piece of notebook paper into 4 sections.)

-Getting students to actually stop reading and jot down notes before returning to the passage takes a lot of practice. Many students don’t have that patience, they want to just finish reading and by the time they get to the end, they are unable to recall details/facts because they flew through with no self-monitoring.

-When teaching students to scan and chunk in fiction, I tell them that the beginning and end should be smaller sections and the middle should be the largest chunk.

-When teaching students to scan and chunk in nonfiction, I tell them that chunks can be one big paragraph, or a group of smaller paragraphs. We also focus on headings and sometimes chunk that way.

-I also make the anchor charts into a booklet that can be glues into their interactive notebooks for reference when needed and taken home to use as homework help.

-Students are basically writing mini-summaries when they stop to jot. I tell students that it doesn’t have to be in a complete sentence and that it shouldn’t be more than 1-2 sentences (some of my kiddos would write all day and spend more time doing that than reading). I also tell them that they cannot copy the author’s sentences or phrases, their brain has to create the retell.

This strategy pack is available in my TPT store.
-Whenever we have reading unit tests, the students receive two grades for the test score and one grade for their notes. This is great because the lazy/lucky learners have to slow down and apply more effort while the poor test-takers get credit for being able to read and comprehend.

This strategy worked really well for my students and made them better thinkers. As they got better at note-taking on their own, I noticed that our conversations about literature in whole group and small groups became deeper and more focused. I am not allowed to remind students to do note-taking or use any particular strategies on their end of year test so practicing this strategy until every student could/knew to do it independently really paid off.  

The only problem I did see is that some students had trouble differentiating a nonfiction passage from a fiction passage. They would follow all the right steps, but set up their paper for the wrong type of text, which would lead to confusion mid-way through the process. One thing I plan to do about that is focus more on differentiating between the two types of text. We always do surface fiction vs. nonfiction lessons and my kids can tell you the difference between the two. But, when faced with a 4-page passage with no pictures, they sometimes struggled. That’s why I created this Fiction vs.Nonfiction unit that I will be kicking off my year with. As soon as we finish this up, I will move into note-taking.

I hope this post has been helpful for someone out there. I was really pleased to be able to fine-tune a strategy that would help my kids feel successful on tests, but also help them grow as readers. The validation I received from both their test scores and DRA reading growth this year was outstanding and I had to share.
Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

My 7 Must-Haves for a Smooth Back to School

Back to school season is officially here! A quick scroll through my Instagram feed is all I need for some cute classroom inspiration and motivation. I don't actually start school until the very end of August, but I have been going in to my room here and there since I'm already toting around a growing baby bump.

My little one on the way has also got me lesson planning for back to school and maternity leave. Since I am gearing up, I wanted to share the 7 products of mine that I created and still use every year to help get myself together and smoothly sail into the new year.

Data Notebooks are a must for back to school. I have worked in a Baldrige Schools (in which data notebooks are a requirement) since I began teaching and now I can't imagine not having one. We spend a lot of time the first week getting these notebooks set up, they make for perfect lessons to set expectations and build community. We start by creating and recording a mission and vision for our class, then we discuss and map out what quality students and quality teachers look like, and we have a section to set and check in on goals. We set up data graphs to track test scores, so throughout the year we are always revisiting to enter and reflect on progress,
My class rules posters are another piece that is essential for the first week. My class always has a big discussion about the rules we think we need in our classroom. I generally "guide" the discussion to the 3-5 rules that really sum up my expectations. While the students are discussing, I am jotting their ideas on the whiteboard, we are voting to see which rules are the most important, and we are revising to find ways to combine two or more similar rules. What's left when we're done is a messy board that reflects the input of every student. Sometime over the next couple days, I make the final rules fancy in my editable posters document and reintrouduce them to the class by having them turn and talk about why we decided each rule was important. It is a great refresher!

These schedule cards are something that I am just recently very excited about. Typically, I just print and post our typical daily schedule somewhere in the room and if things change then we just go with the flow. Towards the end of last year, during the crazy testing season when our schedule changed daily, I started writing the daily schedule on the board everyday with more detail. The students really loved it. They would pause to read it every day and then keep me on track with what was coming up. This year I decided to make event strips that I can laminate and just re-order in a pocket chart everyday to reflect our schedule.

This meet the teacher day kit has been a life-saver the past couple years. Our Open House day is always the last day of the work week, on a Friday, and then we come back Monday and start school. This is not ideal since the work week is full with meetings, not leaving me any time to set up. I a;so never had time after open house to organize the supplies the kids dropped off before school started on the following work day. This always created such a hectic, frantic time. Now, I can just update my about me/scavenger hunt booklet, print out the signs for supplies, and be ready to go!
For some reason, creating a sub binder was never something I thought was a big to-do at the beginning of the year. I would always drag my feet on putting one together because I knew I wasn't going to miss any crucial days at the start of the school year. Then, I had my daughter. I realized that your own children don't really care that it's the first month of school if they are sick themselves. That's when I started getting myself in gear and creating one right off the bat, just in case. The past school year, it really saved me a couple times when my daughter got sick over night and I could just tell my team to grab the sub binder with pre-made copies off my shelf vs. me having to drag myself into school at 7am to plan. (I also created a binder for maternity leave and blogged about it here.)

Every year I revamp my homework binder/folder a little bit, but the basics stay the same. I love being able to just make some edits vs. having to start from scratch. I also created some parent forms that are tailor-made to fit my classroom. It is so nice to have both in one place for when I am copying like a mad women during work week.

This last product is one that plays a big part in my lesson plans during the first week. One component of this pack is the data wall pieces. Posting and maintaining a data wall is a requirement for me, but I always try to make it as meaningful as possible for my students. I start with a blank wall and only add pieces after discussion or a lesson. The other piece in this pack is the essentials I need for my first week lesson plans, like get to know you writing prompts, behavior anchor charts, fake vs. real reading sort, how to treat a book lesson pieces, writing portfolio cover, etc.

There you have it! Those are all of the things I need to start my year off smoothly. It took me forever to find out what fits me best and crate these items, but now that I have them, it is easy breezy to do quick updates at the beginning of each year. All of these products are available in my TPT store and the majority of them are editable so that you can customize them to fit your classroom.

I bundled all 7 of these products together for the ultimate back to school package!

Please feel free to leave me comments with your ideas and must-haves for back to school.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Monday Made It - Objective Posters Freebie

This Monday, I decided to link up with a digital made-it that I just finished and posted as a freebie in my TPT shop.

I don't know about your district/principal, but for me, displaying daily objectives is a big "look-for" during observations and walk-thrus. This past year, my school made the switch from just requiring content objectives (the what) to also requiring matching language objectives (the how).

For example, instead of just saying:
"I can compare and contrast two fiction texts",
we need to say HOW we are going to do that; like:
"I can compare and contrast two fiction texts by using a Venn diagram to sort trait/feature cards."

As you can imagine, when you have to say HOW you are going to be learning the objective, your objectives need to change daily. I was the worst at this. I would completely forget, my personal goal was to change my objectives at least once a week.

Before the extra "how" piece was required, I used pre-made posters to display my objectives. One year, I changed all the objectives into kid-terms and printed them for each subject onto different colored paper. I put the papers inside a plastic sleeve and displayed it using binder rings. It was easy to just flip the pages to find the objective for the current day.

This year, I created posters, that I plan on laminating, so it will be easy to erase and re-write each day. I added the EDITABLE posters to my TPT store as a freebie.

Be sure to swing by 4th Grade Frolics for more amazing Monday Made-It Posts.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Quick Tips: Classroom Organization

As I dig through pictures of my old classrooms to get ideas for setting up my new space later this summer, I keep finding some really great ideas that I forgot about. I thought I would share some organization tips that worked for me in the past and might work for me (and hopefully you) in the future. Enjoy!

Color-Coded Center Organization
This first picture shows how I used to organize centers when I was math workshop and reading workshop queen. The back row of book boxes are math centers. The front row of paper sorting bins are reading centers. The colors for each bin represent the level (although that wasn't advertised to the kids). On the white board next to this shelf, there was a color coded list of names for reading and math, so students always knew which color to grab for what subject.

Small Group Separation
Occasionally, I would have little fights or frustrations break out during reading or math small groups because of table space. Messy kids would have their things spilling all over and neat kids would have no tolerance for it. I used washi tape to separate my table into six spaces and it worked beautifully. Plus, it was super easy to assign spaces during groups if there were students that needed to be separated.

Use Numbers, Not Names
This picture shows my book boxes and unfinished work bins from this past year. I used number labels vs. name labels for a couple reasons:
1. If they held up (which they did on the bins) I wouldn't have to replace them this year.
2. It helps students always put things back in the right order/spot.
3. I could start labeling things right away and not have to wait for my class list.

Let me know of any oragnization tips that you swear by, I would love to find new tricks!

Check out my other quick tips!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Five for Friday: July 8th, 2016

It's Friday! I absolutely love linking up with Kacey of Doodle Bugs Teaching for her weekly linky party. I follow so many amazing blogs and it is nice to get to know more about everyone. This week, I had so much fun! We have family in town, so it was a nice mix of going out and staying in to relax. I cannot wait to share with you.

My husband and I kicked off the fourth of July weekend at the Nats game with my sister in law and her husband. I am not really a sports person and I definitely don't understand the rules of most sports games, but I really got into this. Hopefully we can go back soon. It was a wonderful experience with amazing weather!

Unlike the weather for the baseball game, the Fourth of July was a mess. It was rainy and humid ALL DAY. Fortunately, that did stop us from dressing for the occasion and getting out of the house. We ended up leaving the kids with the grandparents and going to see Independence Day with all of my husband's siblings. It was actually a pretty good movie.

Earlier this week I finally finished the second edition of my Grammar Interactive Notebook. Hallelujah! Not only is the first edition my top selling product, it is also the product I use most often in my classroom. I started working on a "Around the World" themed second edition at the beginning of the school year and just never finished it. I loved how it turned out and I can't wait to use it with my group of kiddos next year!

I also finally started shopping for my new little one this week. When I was pregnant with my daughter, Gracie, I had a ton of clothes and an almost complete nursery by 7 months. This time around, I am just buying the first piece of clothing, a super cute onesie with a matching shirt for big sis. This baby is already going through second kid syndrome. I feel kind of bad, but since I'm having another girl, I don't need a lot. We don't even have a name picked out yet. I need to get my life together.

At the beginning of this week, I enrolled in Chalk and Apples 3 Week Blogger Challenge Course. I cannot believe she is offering this course for free, it is awesome! I have finished the first week and I have already done so much to optimize my blog like add a blog description that will make my posts be more "findable" by search engines, organize and clean up my blog labels, and fine tune my "About Me" page. I highly recommend getting yourself enrolled and taking advantage of this resource!

Have an amazing Friday!

Morning Work: Reading, Writing, Centers, or Spiral?

One of the many things I didn't learn in college was the importance of morning work. Having a consistent, efficient morning routine can either set you up for an amazing morning of learning or have you worn out by 10, trying to get your class back on track.

Morning work is a HUGE part of how effective your morning routine is. I've tried a lot of different things for morning work over the years and I can attest to how it prepares everyone, even me, for the day. There is no one right way to do morning work, it really depends on your group of students and your schedule. Today, I want to talk through some of the different types of morning work I used in the past and what I got out of them.

Spiral review is typically the morning work I use for at least the first quarter of the school year because it builds consistency. I use Evan Moor's Daily Math Practice and Daily Language Review books, so the students have 5 math review and 5 reading/writing review questions every morning. I typically copy either one week or multiple weeks at a time and have them keep it in their morning work folders. Students know to come in, complete the questions, and then read. When I ring my bell, students put their books away and move down to the carpet with their morning work for review. The math review from this book is not super challenging, but I have to say that the one year I used this morning work ALL year, without switching it up, my students ended the year with phenomenal number sense.

Independent journal writing is another type of morning work I've tried briefly in the past. I would put up a PowerPoint slide with a new writing prompt every morning and students would either write about that prompt, choose a topic from the monthly calendar glued into their notebooks, or select their own topic. This definitely helped students grow as writers as far as written expression and composition. It is not a replacement for formal writing instruction because usage, mechanics, and format still needed a lot of work. One of the rules my students needed was no drawing until at least 5 sentences had been written. I also had a "must-start" time. Usually right after announcements, I would ring my bell to signify students that their prompt selection time was up. If students had not yet chosen a topic and started writing, they had to use the prompt of the day on the board,

Reading as morning work was by far my favorite morning work ever! It is outweighed only by the fact that my students had such amazing number sense from the year I did spiral math every morning.

I am definitely not a morning person. Sustained silent reading as morning work was my favorite because I didn't have to prep anything for it, it started the students off quiet/calm, and it gave me ample time to get in attendance and lunch count. This year, SSR will be school wide morning work, for the first 30 minutes of the day. As the departmentalized reading teacher, I love this! In my state, third graders have language arts for 90 minutes a day. When you have to squeeze SSR into that time (along with guided reading groups, whole group reading instruction, and writing instruction), the block becomes very tight. Having 30 minutes of reading first thing doesn't technically take time from my reading block, so I get a full 90 minutes with both of my reading classes!

Centers as morning work is something I've only experimented with briefly during my career. Students absolutely love it, but it starts the day with a lot of energy, so it can be difficult to get them refocused for a mini-lesson once all the morning tasks are done. I've found that it is definitely something that takes a lot of teaching, both with explicit behavior expectations and with how to complete specific centers correctly. Procedures can take a while to learn because students are excited to see their friends first thing in the morning and want to talk about everything. We had to have several class meetings on what "math talk" sounds like at centers to help them stay focused in the morning.

I would love to hear from you guys, I always get such amazing ideas from feedback.
What do you use as morning work?
Does your entire team do the same thing?
Is morning work at all mandated by your building principal?

Leave me your thoughts!