Thursday, July 14, 2011

Words Their Way

The year that I taught 2nd grade before, my school was a Reading First school. I had to go to a ton of workshops about literacy to comply with the grant. The best thing I learned about was Words Their Way. I remember initially thinking how overwhelming it would be to fill out those huge assessment sheets for all of the students in my class....but I tried it the following year when I was teaching 4th grade. I literally gave them the spelling test the first day of school (along with a math screener and a writing screener -- those poor children probably thought I was the meanest person in the world!).

It did take a LOT of time to grade them...but I put my students into groups and we fumbled our way through the process. I say fumbled because like anything new it does have its bumps. But by January, you would never know that these children hadn't been doing these sorts forever. They were amazing at them. They got so good that most of them could practice the sort for only 3-5 minutes a day Monday - Thursday and still pass the skill set that week! I also had students do so well that they actually SKIPPED a pattern style. 

As always, I am super ultra organized when it comes to keeping up with systems like this. YES, it is overwhelming and YES it will take you time. But it is worth it. I will shout to the rooftops that buying this set is the best $125 I have ever spent in my teaching career. 

First you start with the Words Their Way book itself (which is essential for the background and to get you started -- plus the included CD has a lot of great stuff!). I also have a binder to house my word sort books.

I found this great spelling test tracker at Laura Candler's website and had the students use it to track their progress with their sorts. We pulled these out at Parent Conference and it was really nice to be able to really show the parents how their children were doing. I can tell you that children who did NOT use their word sorts at home did not score as well as those who did and it was really evident on these sheets!

Inside my binder, I have 4 levels of Word Sorts. This is the newest one that I just bought, for Letter Name-Alphabetic Spellers. This one was essential for teaching 2nd grade because many kiddos in 1st-3rd are in this stage. The nicest part about these individual books is that they are already 3-hole punched and perforated. It makes it very easy to put them together into the same binder.

This is the final book that I have, intended for 5th - 12th graders and has pretty challenging sorts in it. When I was teaching 4th, I actually had to buy this one because I had some students who from fall to winter jumped from Within Word to this level and I wanted to have the sorts on hand. Unlikely that I'll have any 2nd graders at this level but you never know! And now I have a whole range so regardless of what grades I teach in the future, I'll be set.

So how do you get started using Words Their Way?

There are 3 different spelling inventories included in the initial Words Their Way book: primary (for K-3), elementary (for 1st-5th -- lower end of the grades if they get a lot correct on the primary test) and upper-level  (for 4th-high school). When I used this before, I used the elementary test and it worked out fine. This year for 2nd grade, I will use the primary test.

You give the test whenever you are ready to start this type of program. I liked giving it the first day even though it might seem overwhelming because then I had the rest of that week (as we were doing other beginning of the year assessments per the district and getting to know each other) to get them graded so we'd be ready to go by the 2nd week. 

You need to read Words Their Way and follow the directions therein but basically you analyze each child's answers and learn what kind of speller they are. Which ever area has the most mistakes is what group that child ends up in. There are forms in the book that guide you through how to group the students. It's really easy once you read through and look at the examples.

Working with Groups

When I did this before, I had 4 different levels at the same time (5 actual groups because one level had so many students). I just gave them group numbers 1-5 and at the start of each week, we would meet together for up to 10 minutes to model the new sort and answer any questions the students might have. I ONLY met with my groups the first day -- the other days they did partner sorts or speed sorts. After awhile we literally never spent more than 10 minutes a day on the sorts (after Monday when each group met with me to get their new list).

I have also read about teachers who stagger their groups so that group 1 gets a new sort on Monday, group 2 on Tuesday, etc so that it's a bit easier to manage within the time constraints of the particular classroom. I am a big advocate of finding what works in YOUR class.


I didn't really use the games very much but it is something I want to do with my 2nd graders (which is one of the reasons I have pulled this out so early this summer -- I can make some of them!). I did use a couple of the games for a project for a reading class that I was taking to finish my masters and students LOVED them. You could have game day Thursday to practice the patterns or better yet, make them an Academic Friday choice activity.


People would never believe me when I told them that I gave 4 spelling tests at the same time. They thought I was crazy. I'm sure many subs that year thought that as well if I was out on test day! I really did give 4 tests at the same time. I doubt I would do that with 2nd graders but my 4th graders did well with it. Most of the sorts have about 20 words and I would choose about 8 to test them on each week. It was enough for me to really see if they were getting the pattern that we were studying (because the point isn't to memorize the word, it's to learn the pattern).  

I bought these fun half sheets of paper online somewhere that were perfect for spelling tests. I would choose my words for each group and write them out on MY half slip and then we'd take our test. I would give the test like this: "Group 1, your first word is [word]" then I'd use it in a sentence and repeat and then go on "Group 2, your first word is [word]" and continue in that fashion. Again, it sounds bizarre and it was the first few times but I noticed two things.

a) very RARELY did the children ever get "lost" 
b) it forced them to pay attention so they wrote down the words for their group and not someone else's!
c) they heard a TON of other words as we were testing which can only be a good thing!


I REALLY liked using WTW as my main spelling program. I am not a big fan of giving children the same list and letting them basically memorize it. Using the patterns really helped a lot of my students that year grow as readers as well because they were able to find words in their books in the same patterns they were working on or had worked on previously. There is a lot of connection made and the children internalize the patterns because they use them over and over (and the sorts are fun!).

I actually had students who ended up with dozens of the little word cards because they never wanted to recycle them after we finished that sort. I just copied them normal size from the book and the kids cut them out but you could easily enlarge them a little and print on cardstock and then laminate and cut so they could be reused from year to year. I am still debating if I want to do that. It'll take a LOT of organizing and prep to start with but they'd be more durable and would last a long time.

Have you used Words Their Way? Do you plan to? What are your thoughts?

**If you have questions that aren't fully answered in this post, please leave it in the comments. I will try my best to answer them all. If I get quite a few I'll do a follow up post about this to answer the questions.


Monday, July 11, 2011

More on National Board

First, a big thank you to everyone who weighed in on my post last week about National Board. This has truly been something I have always known I would do eventually. It just feels important and worthy to me.

After careful consideration, I decided to focus on the Early/Middle Childhood Literacy: Reading-Language Arts. My undergrad is in Language Arts and it is my passion. I LOVE teaching reading. It doesn't mean I am good at it though! This is an area I want to improve in so that's where my focus will be. As I was deciding what to focus on, I downloaded and looked through the Assessment at a Glance for each area. They are short but quite detailed. That was actually what helped me to decide what my focus would be. 

This weekend I succeeded in convincing The Husband that yes, this WAS a good idea and IS worth the assessment fee. I had sent a message to the gal in my district who is in charge of the reimbursements and such for this and she told me to just send her a letter declaring my intent and we'll be good to go on that end. I thought about doing Take One but decided that I want to go for the full certificate. In looking through the center exercises and the portfolios, seriously this is not going to be any worse for me than my Master's was (and THAT was a pill because of all of the extra crap I was doing at the time).

Altogether you do 10 exercises -- 4 portfolios and 10 computer exercises. I know that this will be challenging and push me to the max...but I have to admit I am very excited about the prospect.

Entry 1 - Promoting Literacy Development through Writing: In this entry I will select one of my 2nd grade students to feature and will use two work samples plus instructional materials to help show how I am facilitating his/her writing development. I really like how broad yet specific this entry is. It gives you some flexibility and wiggle room but also is very clear on what they want.

Entry 2 - Constructing Meaning through Reading: This is a video based entry. I will videotape myself and my students during a reading lesson (and I'm thinking the small group Reading Street stuff would probably fit this perfectly) and then analyze and reflect on it. Again, I really like the flexibility here.

Entry 3 - Integration of Speaking, Listening and Viewing: This is also a video based entry. In this video, I have to show how I integrate the language arts skills of speaking, listening and viewing in an interdisciplinary lesson. This really appeals to me because I am always trying to make connections for the students that we don't only use reading strategies during reading.

Entry 4 - Documented Accomplishments: This is the only portfolio that is the same for every candidate, regardless of the certificate they pursue. Two-way communication is essential and I love that because it will force me to be creative in making sure I make myself more available to my Spanish-speaking families. All of that stuff has to be documented from the current school year. Then there are two other areas which you can draw from over the last 5 years. So I can use all of my work as a demonstration teacher and presenter for Former School as one of my accomplishments, which is really cool. It'll make all that pain and suffering worth it!

Assessment Center Exercises

Exercise 1: Reading Comprehension - Clearly you analyze a student's comprehension of a reading passage and then suggest a strategy.
Exercise 2: Oral Language Acquisition for ESL Students - Identify one strength and two weaknesses in oral language development for an ELL student. Two developmental teaching strategies have to be identified to address the weaknesses (can't be teacher correction).
Exercise 3: Emergent Literacy - Analysis of a student writing sample, describing developmental characteristics and propose two developmentally appropriate teaching strategies. [I like this one because since I am teaching 2nd grade this year, I will reacquaint myself with our developmental writing rubric my district uses.]
Exercise 4: Analyzing Student Reading - Analysis of a transcript of student's oral reading, identify two significant patterns of error and then discuss an appropriate strategy to address one.
Exercise 5: Interpreting Visual Text - Interpreting a piece of visual text by identifying the message, the target audience and how the text targets that audience.
Exercise 6: Writing Development - Identify one strength and one weakness from a writing sample and identify a strategy to address each.

Do I labor under the delusion that this will be easy? No. But I really think I would be disappointed in myself if I didn't go for the whole certification at once. I am a HUGE advocate of "clear expectations" and these expectations are about as clear as you can get. They tell you, before you ever even apply, exactly what is expected of you. So I can't turn around and bitch later that I didn't know or wasn't sure or whatever.

And being the weirdo that I am, I actually already printed myself a calendar and started to plug in deadlines and dates for myself. Again, the application is down until July 20 or 21st but I am definitely going to do this. There is no time like the present. And since the certification covers age 3-12, I feel like the time to do this will be while teaching 2nd. I feel VERY secure in my ability to teach reading at the upper grades. The best time to push myself and show growth for my own professional benefit will be when I am teaching a grade level that I don't have 100% confidence in myself in.

Oh...and I checked the NBPTS database...there is not a single teacher in my entire district who currently has National Board. Not one. So this would be a very, very good thing for me both personally and professionally. 

Part of me can't believe I am really going to do this...and the other part of me can't help but think that it's about time I do this.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

National Board

Call me crazy....but I am really thinking about going for my National Board Certification this school year. Part of me is a tiny bit leery since we're getting a new reading program and I haven't taught 2nd grade in awhile (and I only taught it once before). I'm not sure if I'll be shooting myself in the foot by trying to tackle this as well.

The Husband thinks I have lost my mind. He is bulking at the $2,500 fee. He thinks it is crazy. I pointed out that it's cheaper than getting a PhD (or a Master's for that matter!). My district reimburses $1,000 of the initial fee and I am sure I can get a grant or some other kind of scholarship to help pay for the rest. Additionally, my district pays out a $5,000 stipend to any teacher who passes the test (even if it isn't on the first round). 

I've been thinking about National Board for a long time actually. Ever since I first heard about it (in 2005 or 2006 I think), I have known it was in my future. Not just because I just want to be fabulous and be able to say I am a National Board teacher....but also because everyone I know who has gone through it says their teaching practice has dramatically changed for the better because they spend so much time reflecting and reviewing their craft to make the most impact on children. That appeals to me.

And honestly....a tiny bit of me wants to show Mrs. Principal that I am not a slacker (yes, I am still harboring a little resentment over my final evaluation -- see, I am still working on the Awakened strategies!). I know that I do as good of a job as I can with my students. I bust my behind and give them everything I can. Even those little friends who make me want to stab myself in the eye in frustration get 100% of what I can give them each and every day that they are in my classroom. 

I have downloaded a lot of things from the National Board website to help me decide if this is something I really want to do right now. At this point, if I do go forward with this, I have until January 31 to pay the full fee and then the portfolio entries are due March 31, 2012. The initial fee is $500 and you get your portfolio box and all of the forms after that so I could begin working on my entries even before I have paid the full balance of the assessment (giving me time to try to get a scholarship or whatnot).

I am looking at two different certificates -- either English as a New Language (Early/Middle Childhood) or Literacy: Reading-Language Arts (Early/Middle Childhood). My undergrad degree is in Language Arts and I am always looking to improve my delivery of reading and writing instruction. Children's needs are so diverse nowadays. My master's is in ESL and that certificate appeals to me as well because I will have a vast majority of ELL students in my classroom as long as I am teaching at Current School.

So right now, I am planning to read through all of the information I downloaded and really decide if I am ready to do this. I think I am. I think this process will really give me the opportunity to strengthen my craft where I want to strengthen it but also provide me with many opportunities to grow professionally. I don't know of a single teacher in my district that has National Board Certification. It doesn't mean there aren't any but I know a LOT of people in the district and I don't know any who have it or have attempted it.

So I shall sit on this a bit....and see what happens. Right now the application is down because they are revamping it. It should be up and running by the 20th or 21st of this month. That gives me some time to really think this through and decide if I am ready to do this.

I also discovered they have something called "Take One" where you do one portfolio entry from whatever certificate area you select so you can see how the scoring process works. If you pass that entry, you can use that score if/when you go for the full certification. That's an option to possibly explore as well because it's MUCH cheaper (less than the initial fee for the full certificate) and at least gives you an idea of what to expect.

I was also very excited to discover that there is a National Board assessment center about 10 minutes from my school. So that makes things very convenient whenever I do go this route, even if it isn't right now.