May 24, 2017

Stopping Summer Slide

summer reading

Every September, I have the same conversation with classroom teachers. They come to me questioning students' reading assessments from the previous year. They insist a student is not reading at the level listed on the assessment. Does this mean the previous teacher did not administer a valid reading assessment? Of course not! This difference in reading levels is typically just a result of summer slide. When students lose months of academic progress during the summer months, it can lead to an increase in the achievement gap between students.

Research and common sense tells us that the more students read the more proficient readers they become. Reluctant readers are often the ones most impacted by summer slide. The biggest way to combat summer slide for these students is by finding ways to encourage them to keep reading. So how can we do that? Here are a few ideas I've found to be successful.

Show Me Where You're Reading

Our school is very active on social media. We encourage students to post pictures with our school hashtag showing us where they are reading over the summer. I printed copies of the pictures to create a bulletin board when we returned to school. We received some really cool pictures!

summer reading, summer slide, reluctant readers

Online Access to Books

Some students do not read over the summer due to the simple fact that they do not have access to many books. Here are some websites to provide students with access to more books!

  • Unite for Literacy - This website has emergent books meant for early readers. I love that it offers a vast selection of nonfiction books. It also allows you to change the language and provides an audio option, both of which are great features for our English Language Learners.
  • EPIC! Books - Teachers have access to free books for students. But parents have to pay for home access ($4.99 a month). Luckily there is a 30 day free trial which is a great option to get students started with summer reading!
  • Storyline Online - Students can listen to stories being read aloud by famous actors. 

Check with your local library

Our local library offers incentives to get students to come in over the summer. Each summer is a different theme that students can earn prizes each time they come into the library. They also offer fun events and activities to encourage families to visit. Look into what programs your local library offers and make sure to tell your students' families! You may also want to find ways to make sure all students have a library card before leaving for summer break.

Reading Challenges

There are so many reading challenges available to students over the summer. Each year we select a different challenge and spend time promoting it to the students before the end of the year. Students who complete the challenge are invited to attend a celebration when school resumes. This past year these students got to choose a new book and attend a Popsicle party in our learning garden. Here are a few reading challenges you may want to consider using:

Reading Scavenger Hunt, Summer Reading, Reading Challenge

What other ways do you encourage students to read during the summer? Any successful tips on how you help stop summer slide?

May 3, 2017

Simple Multisensory Phonics Strategies

multisensory learning, phonics instruction, dyslexia

Dyslexia has been a hot topic in education lately. In fact, Virginia is now requiring teachers to complete dyslexia training when applying for licensure in order to make sure educators know how to meet these students' needs. Hearing the word dyslexia can make some teachers nervous, but what they need to remember is that they are already implementing these strategies daily! Multisensory learning is beneficial for students with dyslexia to help activate multiple areas of the brain which helps these students make the necessary phonetic connections when working with words.

In order to reassure you that you DO already know how to help students with dyslexia, here are some simple multisensory phonics activities that are beneficial for these students that you're most likely already implementing!

dyslexia, phonics, multisensory learning

What can I use?
These are just a few suggestions. Be creative with other tools you can use!
  • Shaving Cream
  • Magnetic Letters
  • Sidewalk Chalk
  • Songs & Dances (link to an example of songs I use with my students)
  • Gel Sensory Bags
  • Play-Doh
  • Sand / Sugar / Salt
  • Air Writing
  • Sandpaper Letters
  • Pipe Cleaners / Wiki Sticks

What strategies should I try with these tools?
Here are a few suggested strategies you can implement with the tools mentioned above. The important thing is to make sure the students are verbalizing the sounds as they manipulate/write with the tools. This helps activate the different parts of the brain to strengthen the connections for the students.
  • Practice writing letters
  • Sight words writing practice
  • Making word families
  • Decoding unknown words
  • Making Words

More about Making Words

multisensory learning, phonics instruction, dyslexia

Patricia Cunningham's Making Words is a structure that provides scaffolded support to students when working with words. Students are lead through steps to create new words by adding or deleting phonemes, manipulating letters to make words, and ultimately using all of the provided letters to make a mystery word. For example: Take 2 letters to make at. Add a letter to make cat. In the picture above, instead of having students manipulate letter tiles I had them become the letters. This added a kinesthetic approach which helped make the phonics skills more concrete for them.

Most likely you are already using many of these multisensory strategies or just needed a quick reminder about them. But what about your students' parents? I made a video series to explain and model various multisensory learning strategies. It is beneficial for parents and new teachers to view these strategies in action. Below is an example of one of these videos but a link is also provided to access the entire playlist. 

What other multisensory learning strategies do you use with your students? Which ones to you find to be the most effective?

April 24, 2017

Escaping from State Testing Stress

State Testing, Standardized Testing, Escape Room

State Standardized Testing is unavoidable for educators each spring. As much as we strive to teach our students to be critical thinkers and lifelong learners, the reality is we still have to prepare them to also be test-takers. This time of year can be very stressful for students and teachers. BUT that doesn't have to be the case. We can avoid testing stress by bringing an element of FUN when preparing students for the test. One way I managed to do that was by creating an Escape Room for my students to review various reading skills. 

When preparing for the Escape Room, I analyzed the results from their test simulations to identify the skills with which the students would benefit from additional review. I created 4 stations for students to practice these skills.

State Testing, Standardized Testing, Escape Room, Main Idea

Main idea and supporting details are always skills that my students find difficult. In this station they were able to practice both using main idea mazes. On one side they were given a main idea: Tornadoes are very dangerous storms. They needed to color in the supporting details for that main idea. By doing so they created a path to take our school mascot back to our school. The opposite side was the inverse of the first activity. The students were given supporting details and they needed to identify the main idea.

State Testing, Standardized Testing, Escape Room, ABC Order, Alphabetize

ABC Order is a skill that quite often is missed on tests due to students not taking their time. They know how to alphabetize, but make simple mistakes. This station required them to put 2 sets of words into ABC order. 

State Testing, Standardized Testing, Escape Room, Dictionary Skills

Questions requiring students to identify guide words are ones my students frequently miss on tests. What better way to review than through authentic practice using dictionaries? In this station, students had to locate 3 words in the dictionary (timid, anxious, nervous) and write down the corresponding guide words. They then needed to write a sentence for each one as they benefit from the exposure to new vocabulary words. A sentence frame was provided to support students with this task: She/He is ____ because _______.

State Testing, Standardized Testing, Escape Room, Thesaurus Skills

Similar to the dictionary station, students need authentic practice using a thesaurus. My students tend to have limited vocabulary and need exposure to new words. This way a great way to introduce them to new words and provide additional practice distinguishing between synonyms and antonyms. For this task, they needed to identify 2 synonyms for 2 given words (cruel, fearful) and find 2 antonyms for 2 other words (miserable, foolish).

After successfully completing each task, the students were given letters. Their last challenge was to unscramble the letters to find out the secret password. 

State Testing, Standardized Test, Escape Room

I chose this as the secret password to give students a boost of confidence before state testing and remind them that they CAN do anything! It is also encouraging for teachers to know that we can make it through standardized testing also!

Of course, breaking out of an Escape Room wouldn't be complete with out a photo opt! The students definitely had fun with the signs!

State Testing, Standardized Testing, Escape Room

What are some ways you escape from state testing stress? Do you have any fun ways you help prepare students for standardized tests?

April 11, 2017

Kahoot!: Interactive Online Learning Game

Kahoot learning game, interactive technology, The Reading Roundup

With state standardized testing quickly approaching, I wanted to share one of my favorite ways to review skills: Kahoot! This is a fun, interactive game that my students LOVE to play! 

Kahoot learning game, interactive technology, The Reading Roundup

In order to play you must have access to electronic devices (iphones, ipads, kindles, etc). When you set up an account online you can search through thousands of already created Kahoots or create your own. You can find premade Kahoots on just about every subject/skill! You also have the option of previewing the Kahoot before trying it with your students.

Now that we know how to select a Kahoot... let's learn how to PLAY!

Kahoot learning game, interactive technology, The Reading Roundup

Once you have picked a Kahoot, select the PLAY button next to it. That will bring up a screen similar to the one above. It will provide the game pin. Students should go to on their devices to enter the game pin. They will then be prompted to create a nickname. Once all students have logged in, select START to begin the game!

Kahoot learning game, interactive technology, The Reading Roundup

Above is an example of what the game will look like to you and your students. On the left, is an example of a question that will be displayed on your SmartBoard. The picture on the right shows what the students will see in order to select their answers. There may be a timer such as the purple circle on the left. Once all students have answered or the timer runs out, the correct answer will be revealed. You'll be able to see how many students picked each answer, which is definitely good information for you! The leaderboard with the top scores will also be displayed between each question. That feature is highly motivating to students! It is also nice that it doesn't rank all of the students (unless it's a small group), so no one gets embarrassed by a low score. Having unidentifiable nicknames also helps keep student anonymity. 

Kahoot learning game, interactive technology, The Reading Roundup

Most of the quizzes are multiple choice; however, a new game option is now available called Jumble! In this version, students are required to put the answers in the correct sequence instead of just selecting the correct answer. I have not tried this option yet but am definitely excited about it!

That's the basics about Kahoot. It's very easy to set up and play. Plus it is a fun learning game that involves ALL students!

What are you waiting for? It's time to have fun and play Kahoot!!

Kahoot learning game, interactive technology, The Reading Roundup

Have you tried Kahoot with your students? I'd love to hear your experiences. Are there other interactive review games you play? Please share them in the comments!

April 4, 2017

Creating Engaging Learning Spaces for Kids

Creative Writing Corner, The Reading Roundup

This year our back hallway felt extra lonely and empty. A new school had opened up which caused us to have fewer classroom teachers. It was only myself and a few other resource teachers in the hallway, and we felt very isolated. We had this huge empty hallway without a purpose. It was dull and colorless without all of the teachers' bulletin boards and displays of students' work. 

SO... I had the idea to create a fun learning space to entice classes to come visit us in our lonely hallway! Thus came the Creative Writing Corner!

Creative Writing Corner, The Reading Roundup

The purpose of the Creative Writing Corner was to provide teachers with another space they could bring their classes. It connects to the outdoor learning garden, so it is very convenient to do class activities in the area. 

Students do not get enough opportunities to be creative with their writing. They either respond to teacher provided prompts, write about small moments in their lives, respond to stories, or write facts about a given subject. The goal of this area was to inspire students to be a bit more creative with their writing. It is an important skill that too often gets overlooked.

Creative Writing Corner, The Reading Roundup

I made table runners with pictures and text prompts to encourage students to write creative stories. Each storage bin contains additional picture prompts, story starter dice, pencils, and post-it notes. 

The bookcase includes a variety of other tools that students might need to write. These resources include: clipboards, a variety of paper, markers, colored pencils, crayons, stickers, and editing glasses.

Creative Writing Corner, The Reading Roundup

The student spotlight area is a place to display student writing. Seeing stories other students have written is just as motivational as the funny picture prompts.

Creative Writing Corner Posters, The Reading Roundup

I created a few posters on the walls to help students as they are writing. One provides reminders of the elements of a story: plot, setting, and characters. The other poster features our school's popular video series featuring our principal and school mascot. In the Mr. Jacks and the Falcon series they go on different adventures and meet many popular characters. 
(Click here to see the videos... you know you're curious!)

Overall the Creative Writing Corner has been a great success! I admit, it isn't always used for writing but it does get used on a daily basis. Everyday I hear students getting excited about the pictures and having engaging conversations about them. Quite often teachers bring their classes when they need a change of scenery. We also have many parent volunteers working with small groups at the tables. But the most rewarding aspect has been being able to give energy back to our hallway and provide an engaging space that inspires students to want to learn!

Our staff seeks to create these engaging learning spaces for our students, such as the Creative Writing Corner. Last year my teammate and I created the Reading Nook which has also been a favorite spot for students to visit!

Reading corner, Reading Nook, The Reading Roundup

Reading corner, Reading Nook, The Reading Roundup

What about your school? Do you have any of these special locations to engage and inspire students? I'd love to see them!

February 28, 2017

Should We Avoid Independent Reading for Struggling Readers?

Should we avoid independent reading for struggling readers? The Reading Roundup

Facebook groups can be an amazing way to collaborate and connect with other educators across the state, country, and even the world! While it can be a place to gain amazing new ideas from other educators, it is also a place where we encounter educational beliefs that differ from our own. There is one comment I came across that really bothered me: 

"Avoid silent reading time if they are struggling."

Really?! This goes against everything I believe about helping our struggling readers. In this teacher's defense, I did not engage her in conversation to find out more about her statement as it was off topic from the original subject of the thread. Had I done so, I may have better understood her rationale for making that statement.  

Struggling readers need even more time to read independently than other students but unfortunately that does not always happen. Quite often, these students receive small group instruction within the classroom and are also pulled throughout the day to receive additional instruction from an interventionist. With all this instruction, these students are not given enough opportunities to implement the skills they are learning and practice reading in an authentic manner!

"...poor readers get more work on skills in isolation,
whereas good readers get assigned more reading activity."
~ Richard Allington

Let's use this mindset with the example of athletes, specifically volleyball players.  If the coach only has them do drills to learn proper technique for passing, serving, spiking, and blocking, then the players are likely to become strong with these specific skills but not successful volleyball players in a game. Athletes need to practice incorporating all of these skills together and independently identify which skills to use within an authentic game situation. Are there benefits to practicing skills in isolation? Of course, but it's pointless if it doesn't carry over into an authentic situation.

authentic reading vs. isolated skills practice - The Reading Roundup

The same holds true for our students. If they only do activities to learn reading skills in isolation, will they be able to implement these skills independently during authentic reading?  Ultimately, isn't our goal to encourage students to become readers and not just capable of implementing reading strategies during small group instruction?

Richard Allington constantly stresses the importance of independent reading practice for struggling readers. 

"We fill struggling readers' days with tasks 
that require little reading."  ~ Richard Allington

Allington What Really Matters for Struggling Readers

I am NOT saying that we should let students practice reading independently without any support. Instead we should confer with students during independent reading to scaffold their reading. We can use that time to provide tips for picking "just right books," help students monitor their comprehension, and reinforce reading strategies taught during small group instruction. 

Here's a great resource to get you started with conferring during independent reading time:

With all of the research stating the importance of giving students more time to practice reading, I've began creating more opportunities for my students to read independently.  The results have been astounding on standardized test scores, but that is not our ultimate goal. The most rewarding result has been seeing struggling readers become empowered, confident, and engaged readers who WANT to read!  

Do you provide opportunities for independent reading?  How do you manage to find enough time to allow students to practice reading?

February 25, 2017

TPT Gift Card Giveaway

Do you want a chance to win a TpT gift card?! Of course you do! We are celebrating Nikki's (Teaching Autism) birthday! There will be 4 winners who receive a $100 TpT Gift Card.  Want a chance to be one of the lucky winners?  Be sure to enter each of the four rafflecopters to increase your chances. Remember to complete all of the actions on the rafflecopters to gain your entries.