Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Reading Rotations {Guided Reading Series 2}

I have to be honest and tell you that I think guided reading is one of the hardest things to do as a teacher. Every degree and certification area I have involves literacy of some kind. Even my doctoral dissertation is focused upon literacy. I think it is safe to say that literacy is pretty important to me.

That being said, even with an undergraduate degree in language arts, I don't feel like I really got a handle on teaching guided reading until last year. It was my eleventh year in the classroom. Yes, I will fully admit I fumbled through teaching reading in small groups for TEN YEARS before I feel like I finally got it right. And just because what I am not doing works for me doesn't mean it is the end all, be all way to do it. 

Part of the issue is that during my student teaching, my cooperating teachers didn't use small groups, so I never had it modeled for me at all. I was expected to use small groups when I taught 2nd grade but I look back on those years and cringe because I had no idea what I was doing! When I moved down to third grade, I had a huge class (30 kids) with a ton of behavior problems. Trying to teach in small groups was almost impossible (even though I knew it was necessary since 13 of those students came to me at a kindergarten level). 

Last year I had a much smaller class (9 less bodies than the year before!) and not nearly as many behavior problems. I was determined to make small groups work better for me. And interestingly enough, I have a big class now (26) and we were in groups the second week of school! I had so much more confidence in my own ability to teach these way that we just rolled it out and the kids have never looked back. 

Last year I had 5 rotations (teacher, vocabulary, spelling, Lexia and listening). I had three groups and they rotated throughout the stations every day. Each group had listening once and vocabulary once, everything else they had twice a week. 

This year we have a separate time built into our day for interventions and that is when we use Lexia. My reading rotations now are teacher, word work, vocabulary, SSR and partner reading. The students work in partner reading once they have finished their weekly vocabulary foldable. 

Teacher Group: I meet with each group 3 times over the course of our 8 day reading schedule. We reread our anchor text (basal story), work with a paired text for close reading, review vocabulary and phonics skills and work with leveled readers during this group. The groups meet for about 25 minutes.

Word Work: The students work with their weekly grammar skill during this time. With our first story, my student teacher ran this group. Knowing however, that I won't always have an extra pair of hands, for the currently weekly story, we made short videos using the Clips app on iPad to "flip" these lessons so the students still get me teaching it but I don't have to be sitting in front of them (thank you 1:1 iPads!). 

Vocabulary: We select 5 key vocabulary words from the weekly story and put them onto a vocabulary foldable. The students practice their dictionary skills by looking up the words, discussing the words with a partner and then completing the vocabulary foldable including a picture. 

Partner Reading: Generally it takes 2 sessions to finish the vocabulary foldable when kiddos first start using them. My highest group may get done with it in one session. Having the Partner Reading station allows them to share books and have a discussion about reading with a partner. I just got a wicked bundle of Text Sets from a Donor's Choose project that will be utilized in this station too.

SSR: Pretty self-explanatory :) 


I have never had the luxury of having two full weeks to teach a story before so I am loving our 8-day rotation. Day 1 and 8 are whole group and testing days. Day 2-7 are all small group. I see the same groups on odd days or even days. We have two rotations each of those days. One day the kids see me and then read independently and the other day they are doing vocabulary or partner reading and word work. 

The time I have at the small group table is so incredibly precious to me. I look back at years when I didn't have a firm handle on small group teaching and I cringe a little. There are many variations of stations you could use, as long as they aren't busy work and are helping your students grow, do what works for you and them! 

I can't imagine not teaching with these rotations now that I have perfected them. They have really been a game changer in terms of helping me be a better teacher and providing my students with the individualized attention they need. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Third Week Tech Fun

We are already into our third week of school. How is this possible?! Time is flying! (I feel like I say that every year, but it's so true!)

We have been cruising right along. I am so impressed with how well the students have fallen into our routines. The hardest time is transitioning from activity to activity and the end of the day. They are super social and just want to chat. So my student teacher and I keep reviewing and practicing the expectations and I know they will get it.

We have been working in our reading and math groups and I love teaching like this! Next week my student teacher is taking over our reading groups. Currently she is working with the word work group. So we had to figure out a way to have a "teacher" in that group and have her in the main group. We have to act like we won't always be there together because sometimes it will just be me or just her.

I used the app "Clips" on my iPad to create three short videos (seriously they are 3 minutes or less) on our grammar strategy for next week. The students will be learning about the four types of sentences. With this app, I can use pictures, videos, audio and the cute little extra pieces in the app to create a video that reviews the work with them. It is basically like me being right in front of them to review the work...except I'm not. It's super cool and I can't wait to use them next week!

We are well into our reading and math rotations too. Look for a post coming up soon to discuss the rotations I'm using and how we are making it work (this will be part 2 of my guided reading series!).

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Guided Reading Groupings {Guided Reading Series 1}

One of the best parts about teaching is that every year is so vastly different. Different students means different dynamics and different needs. This year, we also have a different reading program so it means learning a new curriculum to best meet the needs of my students.

Since we have this new program and I am short a day of teaching reading due to how my specials worked out, my team agreed to teach one story over two weeks instead of trying to rush it all into one week. I am very grateful for this for two reasons: the students need to be able to really dig into a text to close read, analyze and really put the strategy to use; secondly this schedule will allow me to utilize the resources I need to in order to help boost my students' reading abilities.

I have a special smack in the middle of my reading block on Wednesday so my schedule will be split in half over the course of the week. Since I will have 8 total days for reading instruction over the two week period (sometimes only 7 due to days off or whatnot), I will have more face to face time with each group and none of my groups get slighted. (I have always hated that usually my highest group gets slighted from having face time with me due to time constraints.)

I put together a rotation schedule to keep myself on track with this new 8 day rotation. It looks like this:


Day 1 is pretty much all whole group. We will do our spelling pre-test and complete the anchor activities that will help build background and prepare students for independently reading through the story. Day 1 (which 99% of the time will fall on a Monday) will be the only day in the rotation that we will teach any reading whole group. The rest of it will all be done in small groups so I have time to scaffold and support my kiddos right there at the small group table. 

Day 2-7 allows me to rotate students so that each child sees me three times over the course of the story. The blocks will be about 28 minutes long (with two minutes for transition) so we can really get into the heart and soul of the text and strategy we are working on. I love this because it will give me a day to get them back into the actual anchor text, use the leveled reader AND complete the close reading activity. No rushing to try to get everything in!

Day 8 is reserved for the spelling test and the test that accompanies the story. The Journeys weekly tests are LONG (like 50 questions!). The good news is, we can go in and take out parts we don't feel fit our students' needs. Let's say I have a group who really needs to focus on vocabulary. I could create my lesson plans in such a way that those kiddos are getting more targeted vocabulary instruction and then choose to make sure they get the vocabulary questions on their test. Another group may really be struggling with phonics and I could provide more targeted instruction with phonics for them and then choose to give them those questions on their test. So really every group could have different tests based upon their needs. And it would take me less than 15 minutes to set up all of those different tests in Think Central to meet the needs of my class! Bonus!

So there you have it. We are going to give this schedule a try starting Tuesday. (For the record, I grouped my kiddos by their spring MAP data since we won't MAP until the week of September 11.) 

The next post will provide information about the rotation stations the students are in. Stay tuned!

Friday, September 1, 2017

First Week Done!

We just finished up our first week of school yesterday! (In Michigan we are not allowed to have school the Friday before Labor Day so as to not impede tourism.) 

What a fabulous first week of school! This was definitely the change that I needed in my professional life. I could not ask for a better staff to work with, a better principal to push my thinking and a better group of students. Seriously. I am so glad that I took the risk and made the decision to bid out and try something else. If this first week was any indication, this is going to be a great year!

Here's a peek at our first week :)

The Power of Yet

I am a big proponent for teaching students about Growth Mindset. Last year, I read "Teaching Students to Drive their Brains" which has these brain car pictures for kids. I have turned them into a poster with the kids with the words The Power of Yet on it. The students color/decorate their car and we add them to the poster. Every time a student says "I can't", we all chant back "yet!" This poster hangs in the back of our class where you can very easily see it. 



Peek Face Portraits

I don't even remember where I found this activity. I know it was on a blog somewhere about 5 years ago. They always turn out so adorably! We read "The Important Book" by Margaret Wise Brown and then the students mimic the writing style from the book to write what is important about them. Then they add their faces peeking over the top of the paper. So cute! 

Teaching Kindness, Respect and Love

I love the book "Mr. Peabody's Apples" by Madonna. I read it every year to my students but this year was searching for ways to incorporate and activity with it. I came across this blog from Tenacious Teacher and knew I had to do this activity. We read the book together and talked about how spreading rumors, especially if you don't know the whole situation, can be really hurtful to the person you're talking about and how once the words leave your mouth, you can't really ever get them back. You can apologize but it doesn't take the words back, ever. 

Then we went outside and did the glitter activity. The kids were so excited because they wanted to be the winning team, but of course, they got frustrated very quickly because it was impossible to get the glitter off their hands to pass to the next person. After the activity, we talked about how the gossip and mean things we sometimes say stick to us like glitter. We can't get rid of all of it, even if we say sorry. It was a powerful lesson and I'm glad we did it. 


Digital Citizenship

Can I point out how awesome it is to have 1:1 iPads? I'm not a fan of putting a child on a device all day, but we have used the iPads a bit each day (except the very first day of school) to get the kiddos immersed into some of the activities we will do this year. 

The first activity we did was on Digital Citizenship. I updated my class in Google Classroom and invited each of my students to join. Once everyone was in, they attacked their first assignment. We watched a Brain Pop video and took a short quiz on digital citizenship so students understand how we should behave when we are using digital technology and/or social media. 

Growth Mindset Sort

We also did a growth mindset sort with Keynote app on our iPads. I am using "The Growth Mindset Coach" this year and there are activities for each month to help reinforce growth mindset for kids. I took the first activity and put it into Keynote during lunch yesterday (which was much easier than I thought it would be to make it). I do like Keynote in that the kids can manipulate the shapes and move them around, it makes word sorting or categorizing very easy. 

I read the tiles to them and they moved them to show if they thought they fit under the fixed or growth mindset. Some kiddos have a few misconceptions about the statements so we will review and revisit this on Tuesday so the kiddos know they have positive affirmation statements they can make to help themselves stay positive and keep pushing through. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Blog Series

Surprisingly, I only had 8 votes on my blog poll (according to the blogger stats, over 140 people read the post so I'm not sure why there were so few votes). At any rate, of those folks who did vote, the vast majority want a blog series on Reading Workshop. Let's be real, I'm still going to do one on Math Workshop too but I'l focus on the reading stuff first.

I've been thinking about how to do this since we are getting a new reading program this year. We have used Reading Street since 2011-2012 school year and that's the program I have used to shape and begin to perfect my reading workshop methodology (keeping in mind, obviously, that what is perfect for me may be a total disaster for anyone else). My new school is switching to Journeys and we don't have our curriculum training on it until next Thursday. 

We also have a new third grade reading law in Michigan that has some big changes that will absolutely affect how I run my reading workshop. (In a nutshell, any student who is below a certain percentage on whatever screener the district chooses--my district is using NWEA/MAP--has to have an IRP or individualized reading plan. It's basically like an IEP but for reading only and every child below the benchmark has to have one. We have to document the interventions that we are doing to try to fill the gaps. I know that probably sounds hellacious but there are so many things we already do for interventions and this just gives us a tidy way to document them and ensure we are doing everything we can to help boost the kiddos up to benchmark.) 

That all being said, I'm not sure how long the blog series will end up being, but I am going to focus upon the screening process (using MAP), how I put students into groups, how I manage and run my reading groups, the activities the other kids are doing and as I learn more about it, I will share how those IRPs will work. The blog series for this will definitely be slanted toward having at least some help (a paraprofessional or a student intern) but I'll do my best to show what can be done if you are 100% by yourself too.

I am not an expert. Not even close. But I do know I benefit, even all of these years later, even with all of the credentials I have, from seeing what others do and having the chance to learn from them. To this day I still take ideas from multiple places, modify them and make them work for me. That is what I hope to be able to share with this blog series too. 

I'm not going to promise a specific start date for the series because you know how overwhelming back to school is (and my school is getting three new curricular programs all at once so it's even more overwhelming than usual). I hope to at least provide an overview of my new reading program next weekend (August 26/27) before we begin with kiddos on the 28th. 

Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

2017-2018 Classroom Tour

Yesterday, I posted a short video of my classroom setup. You can view that here if you missed it. 

This post will provide a picture tour of my 2017-2018 3rd grade classroom. I had so much fun setting up this room. It is, hands down, the best classroom I have ever had. It's big and spacious and we won't be feeling crowded in here, that's for sure!

Let's take the grand tour, shall we? We will start at the entryway and go counterclockwise. 


This is my entryway. It's really hard to read but the words are positive affirmations to let the students (and anyone who drops by my room) know that they are loved and important for being who they are.

Inside the door. I hung my anti-bullying sign on the door. That's my storage closet (which is very deep and is full of STEM kits and centers for reading and math along with some actual storage items). On the closet door is my sign out system. When students leave my room for anything (bathroom, resource, speech, mentor, etc), where we aren't all together as a class, they move their magnet so we always know where they are. It's great for during emergency drills!  

This cart holds the students' book boxes. They are obviously empty at the moment. Usually I select some books for the students at the beginning of the year, but this year will allow them to book shop on the first day. 

This is my "No Excuse Words" board...otherwise known as the word wall. I made this out of foam boards I bought at Home Depot last year and covered with a fabric shower curtain. It hangs there with command strips. Underneath will be the rotation schedule for Words Their Way which we will use for spelling this year. 

The meeting area. That green chair was my desk chair last year. There were so many chairs left in this room that it will be going back home. The pocket charts are for the teaching that will happen in the meeting area (I like to do mini-lessons together at the carpet area). This rug is super large and awesome. I will also have kiddos sit back here for group work sometimes.

You can see the library there too. The smaller cart has book baskets on both sides and the pink baskets you see on the left are only on one side of that cart. Genre posters are on the small cart and above it on the wall. 

This is a long view of the student desk arrangement. I have two double rows with seats for 14 in each row. I don't have that many on my roster, but I always plan for extra students, just in case. 

This is to the immediate left of the library area. These windows are opaque on the bottom because they face the library. There are extra book boxes and binders resting in this spot for now because I have two teacher tables that have to be removed and replaced with student tables instead. If you look closely at the second window, you can see my gecko's tank (obviously empty right now). Where those binders are sitting will be where I put my new light box because there is an outlet right there. 

The small table in front of the window (where the CD player is) will be a small listening station. I have some picture books on CD that the students will be able to browse and listen to with a partner during our reading stations. Eventually the picture books will be replaced with chapter books on CD. 

The drawer cart with the bins on it will have copies and materials for the week. We are 1:1 technology so much of my stuff will be digital but there will be some things that are paper and I needed a place to keep them sorted out. 

You can see the tech area better in this picture. The board above will have our daily schedule and the calendar (which says August but I put my numbers for the dates down somewhere and don't know where haha). The small group table will double as my student teacher's desk. Just behind it is a small filing cabinet and on top of it are supplies for her to use. She will also be able to use the filing cabinet for whatever she needs it for. 

This shows the rest of the white board with our Fist to Five sign to show understanding. It's hard to see in this picture but above that small bulletin board is our hand signals for bathroom, tissue or a drink. I've used this system for years and it's awesome because kiddos can ask for what they need without needing to interrupt me for anything.

This is my favorite spot in this room. This is my teacher desk/small group teaching area. This table was donated to me at my last school and I wasn't about to leave it behind. You can just see the stools underneath the bulletin board that the kiddos use when they meet with me at my table. 

It's hard to see but behind my chair is an organizer that has 6 slots which will hold materials for my small groups. I absolutely LOVE this space. I have my Thinking Maps there and the pocket charts can hold focus wall information or whatever else I need to support my teaching. 


This is what I'll use for student mailboxes.  They will take papers home each week from the week before. I will put a sign above it that says "You've Got Mail" :)

This is the rest of my storage area. I had that fabric hanging up at my old school to cover the shelves and such. It just looks so much better with it covered! All of that stuff on the top of the cabinets is old curriculum materials that were supposed to be removed, so I'm not sure what they are going to do with it. I will just leave it there for now since it's out of my way. 

Underneath the counter are some crates I haven't figured out what to do with yet and some lapdesks the kiddos can use to sit around the room with their iPads (or their notebooks for that matter). The two door cabinet holds board games and puzzles for indoor recess. On top of the counter in the crate are our SMILE folders (goal setting), the pink baskets hold scissors and rulers. The green basket in the middle (which I bought my first year teaching and it's still going strong!) is currently holding folders which will be the students' take home folders. Next to that are the glue bottles. Those yellow boxes hold spiral notebooks that have to be labeled and passed out to kiddos.  

And that is a tour of Room 124 :) 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017