Tuesday, March 31, 2015

VSRA Conference: Richard Allington

I first learned about Richard Allington in grad school when we had to read What Really Matters for Struggling Readers (the link takes you to the newer version, but the picture is the one I have). The man is a genius, and I was so excited to see that he would be one of the featured speakers at the Virginia State Reading Conference a few weeks agoHe also earned bonus points because Mr. Allington himself showed up for pajamas and PD later that night IN HIS PJS! How cute is that!! 

 Anyway, I took a few notes and wanted to share them with you. The big idea, if you read nothing else from this post, is that students do not spend enough time READING, and what they do spend reading is mostly chosen for them. We need to provide students with more opportunities to read and select their own books!

Some stats that I thought were interesting (WARNING: They may slap you in the face):
  • Disabilities are more frequently related to opportunities provided to the students. Meaning WE the teachers create many of the "issues" that our students have because we aren't meeting their needs in the best way possible.
  • Many of the deficits students experience are already well in place by the time they get to upper elementary, and then they just compound. We have to catch them early on and build that strong foundation for our students to become more successful.
  • The average student may read about 18 minutes during the school day. That's WAY lower than it should be! And it also means we are talking too much. We need to shut up and let them learn!
This goes along with an article I shared on my facebook page that was written by Irene Fountas (another reading GURU!) about how we need to analyze our teaching and make sure we're actually teaching and not "testing comprehension". Students aren't going to become better readers by just answering a set of teacher-created questions. We need to be very purposeful in our teaching and make sure that it facilitates their reading instead of constricting it.

I know this post doesn't include a lot of practical ideas, but it just goes to show that really the best thing we can do is put books in the hands of our kids and make sure that they are books that the student can read! I honestly don't mind if my level O student is reading a level M book IF IT GETS HER TO READ. She's still learning and can improve her comprehension on a lower level, but what's more important is that I'm allowing her to read for HER and not to test comprehension.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Raz-Kids and Headsprout

Have you ever used Raz-Kids? I've known about it for a while and have used Reading A-Z before, but right now I have a trial subscription for Raz-Kids and their newest program, Headsprout. I'm LOVING it!

Raz-Kids, if you aren't familiar with it, has a collection of leveled books (basically the same as the ones you can download on Reading A-Z) that students can read online. We use Fountas and Pinnell at our school, and the letters are different, but it shows what level the student will be on for their program. Anyway, what I really like about the program is that they can answer questions about the stories they read, and then it lets them go back and find the correct answers for the ones they miss. Students are rewarded extra points for getting all of the answers right, even if they had to go back and fix them!

Headsprout is a really neat new program that really helps the students with their reading comprehension. There are lower levels for younger students that work on phonics, but I just began all of my students on the first reading comprehension episode. These episodes break down a small passage and explain what the question is asking. The very first one was all about focusing on the beginning of the question: who, what, when, where, why, and how. I don't know about you, but many of my students, especially the third graders, still don't pay attention to this part and completely miss questions because of it. Below is a sample of how they reviewed this skill.

The episodes are about 20 minutes long (depending on how well the student does and how quickly they work), and after completing it, they are rewarded extra coins, 100 points to "spend", and are shown a quick little "movie". My kids would get so excited about completing levels and really enjoy the cartoon!

Then then can either move on to the next episode, read some more books through the Raz-Kids section, or redeem points. I've been playing around with a "dummy" account and have had fun spending my points and showing the kids what they can get. Looks like I need to do more to really show it off!

Oh, I haven't even mentioned the best part about the whole program, along with the fact that the kids really are having a blast with it and get excited when we go to the lab. Each student has a login and can do this at home! I can see how many times they've logged in, look at where they are struggling (from the Raz-Kid quizzes they take), and also send this information to parents so they can check their child's status. I've already told my principal that I want both programs for my 3rd and 4th grade students next year (my 5th graders saw a little and thought it was too babyish, plus they kind of max out around end of 4th grade reading level). Headsprout is $189.95 per class, and Raz-Kids is $99.95, but they are both worth it to me!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sunday Scoop

I haven't done this linky in a while, but I really like how it helps you lay out your plans for the week. Of course, when I started it, I realized that I'm actually ahead this week (for once) and didn't have a ton to say. Still, I wanted to participate!

Have to: Our house is on the market, so I feel like we're constantly cleaning. This weekend was the first in a few weeks that we didn't have any showings, so we slacked a little. With two dogs and a toddler, though, we are in MAJOR need of some vacuuming! And this book, I've had it on my list for about a month now and just haven't gotten around to reading it. Oops!

Hope to: Like I said, I'm a little ahead right now. Everything is already copied and ready to go for this week. BUT I want to go ahead and finish everything up to Spring Break before this week's over so I can focus on plans for after break before I leave April 3. I actually only have about 4 weeks of teaching after break before I start being pulled to help with testing, and then I go out on maternity leave! Crazy, huh?
As far as the home life goes, I just started Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl author). So far it's pretty good, but I need some time to sit and enjoy it.

Happy to: Like I said, maternity leave is just around the corner (10 weeks away actually), but I haven't done ANYTHING to really prepare. I mean, we have all the necessities from Keagan (except diapers), so it's not that big of a deal. Still, I can't wait to start putting his room together. Since our house is on the market, we're not really doing that yet, but I do want to go ahead and get the bedding. Pottery Barn Kids has some cute bedding that I'm looking at. Just need to make a decision...

What are your plans for the week?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Student Engagement is FUNdamental with Jane Feber

It's been a week since the VSRA conference, and my head is still reeling a little from all that I learned, but I wanted to start sharing it with you. Like I said, there were so many amazing presenters (and new products to test) that I couldn't possibly fit it all into one post! My goal is to share at least one each week, so I figure it will take about a month to get through it all.

One of my favorite sessions of the weekend was Jane Feber. I actually had not heard of her before, but I may have to buy one of her books. She had SO many ideas for keeping students engaged in their lessons, and I really want to try them all! I was hooked from the moment I sat down with my packet and saw this:

Say what?! Then I looked over at Jessica's paper (Hanging out in First) to see an almost equally disturbing quote. Needless to say, we couldn't wait to see what they were all about.

Turns out, this was for a predicting activity. Each of us had a different strip of paper and were encouraged to walk around reading as many as we could for a few minutes. Then we sat and tried to guess what the story was about. If you're curious, it's from National Geographic Edge. The story was called Stuck in Neutral by Terri Truman. I haven't had a chance to look it up yet, but what we learned is that there's a guy with brain damage. His family doesn't think he understands what is going on since he can't talk, but he's taking everything in.

Jane had a great idea for more practice making inferences which I would have never considered. Apparently Woman's World magazine has a Solve-it-Yourself mystery every week, and the one we looked at was fairly simple. I think my kids could handle it! I'm currently trying to fins someone who buys these and wants to get rid of old copies. Who knew?

Some of her other ideas included:
  • Use and have students create text sets for different topics they study
  • Critixal viewing for videos (maybe use graphic organizers). I know Erin (I'm Lovin' Lit) does this a lot and has some resources.
  • Interactive bookmarks - just Google it. There are lots of ways to use this
  • Cootie catchers - be creative!
  • Vocabulary madness -students explain why one word will beat another
To learn more about Jane and her resources, visit her website: www.thebetterteacher.com. She also does professional development at schools!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

VSRA Conference: I presented!

Wow. Can I just start with that? I went to the VSRA (Virginia State Reading Association) Conference this week from Thursday until yesterday, and I'm a little overwhelmed. In a good way! My husband told me that he needs me to move back into my classroom because I have SO many samples of resources in the back that it takes up almost the entire backseat area. And I have tons of notes. Basically, I have enough resources to blog about almost up to the time I go out on maternity leave!

Today, I'm just wanting to share a few highlights, and I'll get into the sessions later (after I have time to unpack everything and get my thoughts together). One of the most exciting things was that I had a chance to present with three other amazing women you may know (Andrea - Reading Toward the Stars; Carla - Comprehension Connection; Jessica - Hanging Out in First). We talked about the benefits of blogging and how to get started. I didn't think anyone would show, and we were all shocked when we saw the size of our presentation room (eek!).

But we ended up having about 30 people come, and some of them even had their laptops out trying the things we discussed! It was really fun, and I want to try presenting on something else next year. Who knew I'd be brave enough to want to try again?

Oh, and if you want to grab information about our presentation, everything is on Adventures in Literacy Land right now (the PowerPoint and handout). They're great resources!

I was able to see a lot of friends from my Master's program, summer committees, and blogging, which was a lot of fun! Of course, I was not very good about taking pictures, but I was able to steal a few.

Me, Carla, Andrea, and Jessica before our presentation (picture courtesy of Andrea)

Andrea, myself, Carla, and Tiffany (K Teacher Tiff) at the Jeff Kinney Brunch (picture courtesy of Tiffany)

And FINALLY, I was able to meet Jeff Kinney, author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series! He did a book signing and spoke at the final brunch yesterday afternoon. He's so down-to-earth and funny, and it was precious because basically his entire family came. His brother, Scott, kept interrupting (well, once technically) and asking questions during the Q&A session at the end. I need to catch up with all of his books and get them all in my classroom!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Creating Figurative Language Booklets

I'm actually here today with a REAL post that is not connected to a blog hop or a linky. Shut the front door, I know! Call it the very end of my second trimester energy, or maybe it's the beginning of my "Yay, it's spring and I'm happy for daylight and warmth" energy. That may be too much of a mouthful, though. I guess there could also be a third reason. We're actually at school and not looking at the forecast and upcoming snow days interrupting a full week of work.

Whatever the reason, I want to share what we've been doing and are getting ready to do in 5th grade.

I'm not getting into the poetry analysis book here because I'm doing TWO posts today: the post about how to use that is over at Adventures in Literacy Land. This post is all about the figurative language booklet.

I don't know about your kids, but mine really struggle with figurative language. They just don't get it. Either they just skip right over it and ignore the entire thing, or it just goes over their head entirely. I found the Poetry Analysis Book last year, and it is definitely one of my favorite purchases ever (hence the reason you should click over to the other post after this one). I knew figurative language and poetry were coming up, and I wanted to teach them together. However, I wanted to make sure that my students had a good reference to use before they got started on the book. So, using my quick thinking, I whipped up this little figurative language booklet. It's super simple to make (although a little time-consuming), but I love that they can keep it with them to help remember what's what.

Yep. That's it! I chose to focus on seven types of figurative language that we hit the hardest, which made this size booklet perfect for me. Yours may need to be bigger:

  • simile
  • metaphor
  • personification
  • alliteration
  • onomatopoeia
  • idiom
  • hyperbole
When I actually did this with my students, I decided to help speed along the process and type up definitions and examples which you can download here (absolutely nothing fancy - maybe I'll dress it up later). I gave them the definitions to glue into the book first, and then I had each student try to match the examples on their own. Of course, I checked them before letting them glue. That was a nice little check for understanding and already showed me which types of figurative language I don't really need to worry about much (onomatopoeia and alliteration). I've already been searching for lists of idioms because that was BY far the hardest for them to understand. Do people just not use these phrases anymore?

Anyway, if you need resources for teaching figurative language, I love Erin's (I'm Lovin' Lit) that are included in her Interactive Notebook pack for grades 4-8. She uses popular songs to teach each type of figurative language.

Interactive Reading Literature Notebooks ~ Literary Elemen

And the poetry book comes from Kathleen (Middle Grades Maven).

Poetry Analysis Booklet

Now go check out my post about how to use poetry to help with figurative language!

Adventures in Literacy Land

Friday, March 6, 2015

Virginia is for Book Lovers Blog Hop

I am thrilled to be joining my fellow Virginia bloggers for a blog hop that embraces our love of reading! Each of us is happy to share a book and resource that we LOVE to use in the classroom for this very special hop. Not only that, but you'll find a book giveaway on each page of the hop, with a super huge giveaway at the end, which just happens to be here! 

I've always been a fan of reading. My dad used to read to me every night, and I cherished those moments with him. I remember going to the mall with my family, and dad and I would sneak away to the bookstore for what felt like hours while mom shopped to her heart's desire. I was that kid who would get in trouble for reading way past my bedtime. Books have just always been a huge part of my life, and I love that I get to read with kids all day now that I'm a reading specialist! Even better, now I am also able to pass down that love of reading to my son with some of the same books that I grew up loving and listening to my dad read.

As a classroom teacher, I loved choosing books for read-alouds and literature circles. Now that I see three grades and only have groups for a short period of time, I have transitioned over to more picture books. I've actually fallen in love with this and get so excited when I find a new book to share with my kids. The reason I like using picture books is because we can actually finish a story without worrying about forgetting before we meet again. It's also a quick and easy way to focus on comprehension strategies and still have strong discussions about the book. I have so many favorites that it's a good thing I get to work with multiple groups in a day.
One of my MANY favorites is John, Paul, George, and Ben by Lane Smith. Not only is it funny, but it also works into our Social Studies lessons perfectly in the upper grades. I discovered this book shortly after I began teaching and have used it almost every year since. It takes five of our founding fathers and imagines what they were like as a child. I use the book as a lead-in to discussing the Revolutionary War, but it's also great for talking about reputations and how our actions define us.
Changing History One Lad at a Time SAMPLE FREEBIE - John,
I'm sharing a sample freebie to accompany your reading of John, Paul, George, and Ben from my larger Literature Unit. This freebie includes an activity where students create a story about another famous person's past as a child.  In addition, I'm giving away a copy of my book in the Rafflecopter below. 
To celebrate our love of reading, Virginia bloggers have also put together an additional mega-giveaway. One lucky winner will win ALL of the books (that's 19 wonderful books) in our hop! Each blogger will send you the book they've talked about. Imagine receiving 19 wonderful books for free on your doorstep and sharing them with your lovely students! Follow all the way to the end to enter!
Thanks so much for hopping by! 
Mrs. Stamp's Kindergarten

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Are you ready?

Mark your calendars! There is a blog hop on the way! And trust me, you won't want to miss it!

That's all I've got. Today was snow day #8 for us, and I'm beyond ready for warmth and pretty green grass. Not that sleeping in wasn't nice...

Monday, March 2, 2015

Currently March

It's March! For once (and wouldn't you know it's the time that I actually was ready for February), the month really did fly by. Maybe it's because I didn't manage to work a single full week between being sick at the beginning of the month and then snow the past two weeks. Wait. I lie. I did work a full week that very first week. I think.

Listening: Recently I've worked way less than I've been at home, so it's a strange feeling to even be at work. Although Mondays are a little nicer after a 4 day weekend, especially one that followed an entire week off from school. Anyway, breaks are still nice. And mine is just about over...

Loving: March is always a favorite because it's when I can finally hope for spring weather. And I'm especially ready for it now because my clothes are getting uncomfortable and I can't wait to wear dresses. This belly is starting to get HUGE!

Thinking: We put our house on the market about a month ago, but we haven't had any bites yet. I would love to be moved into our new house before this baby gets here, but we'll be cutting it close at this point. In other words, I'd love for someone to put a contract on our house THIS MONTH so we can get through closing before the end of May. Prayers!

Wanting: Before Christmas, I was so good about planning for a month at a time (and then just moving things around and making copies at the end of each week for the next). I haven't gotten back in that groove yet, and these snow days aren't helping. Last week, I didn't get around to making my plans for this week, so I had to hurry and put them together this morning. Now I'm already working on next week's, but I'd like to plan all the way up to April 3 by the end of this week. Then I'll just have a few weeks left after break and before testing begins. Are we really that close to the end?!

Needing: Last week, my boss handed me a copy of Strategies that Work to look over and help our teachers make sure their instruction is appropriate and as good as it can be. I brought it home knowing we'd be out a few days for snow, but I didn't even pick it up. Other than moving it out of the way. I need to work on that this week...

Spring Break Plans: I'd love to actually go somewhere, but any trip past an hour starts to get a little painful at this point (I'm 6 months along and will be 7 by break). We may make it down to the beach one day, but that will be the extent of "travel". Instead, maybe I can start thinking about putting Caffrey's room together. We have a theme in mind, but that's as far as we've gotten. As for cleaning and relaxing, I try to do those every day. It's so hard to keep the house clean enough for a showing, especially when we aren't getting any showings right now. Come on, warm weather!!