Reading Speeding Tickets
Thursday November 08th 2012, 1:59 am
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As I’ve been participating in Parent-Teacher Conferences this week, I’ve seen a few common areas where many of my students need to grow.  When it comes to reading, most of my first graders are already great word callers/decoders.  They have a large bank of strategies to use to figure out words they don’t know and have become quick at solving them.  While I celebrate their accomplishments in decoding, I am struggling to help many of my readers slow down their reading enough to truly comprehend the text.  They seem to have the idea in their head that good readers read fast and lots!  They are focused more on the quantity of their reading as opposed to the quality of their reading.  I wish I could whip out a pen and write them a reading speeding ticket on the spot!

When I instruct these students in a small reading group or we engage in a reading conference and I hear them read aloud, they sound great and I am quick to think, “Wow!  What a great reader!”  Then as we begin to discuss what they have just read, they have trouble answering my questions with much detail and tend to lean on their own background knowledge to answer the questions.  Their speed reading is not allowing them to really comprehend the text.  I’ve tried a few strategies to help these students understand that readers read to gain information and be entertained, not just to say “I’ve read that book!”  I hold my students accountable for going back into the text to “prove” their answers to my questions and give detailed reading responses.  While they seem to slow down when I’m working with them, I often observe them reading too quickly the next day when they are back on their own. 

What strategies or ideas do you have to help these speed deamons slow down and make sure they are comprehending what they read?

Print, Cursive, D’Nealian, Oh My!
Monday November 05th 2012, 3:41 am
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We are expected to teach handwriting to our first grade students each year.  Each year, we ask for some guidance or a program to best instruct our students in forming their letters correctly.  Each year, we are told something different.  Sometimes we are told to use Handwriting Without Tears because we have enough money to purchase the materials for our students.  Recently, we have been told to use the Fountas and Pinnel Verbal Path and create our own books.  The type of paper we have used to teach the letters has also changed each year.  As a result, almost every grade in our school is using a different program, paper, and style of handwriting.  I cringe thinking about how confused my students who really struggle with forming their letters correctly feel each year when they are asked to form their letters a different way.  I also find that many students who form their letters correctly during handwriting instruction, don’t transfer those neat, legible formations to their other writing assignments.   

What programs or methods have you found for teaching your students handwriting?  What have you found helpful to motivate your students to use what they learn in handwriting lessons on other writing assignments the rest of the day?

Listening (or lack there of) to Non Fiction Books
Monday October 29th 2012, 3:19 am
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My students love to listen to reading!  They love to listen to teachers read out loud, their peers read books or things they’ve written, books on tape/cd, and ebooks on the computer.  I think they would sit and listen to reading all day long if I let them.  I try to give my students as many opportunities throughout the week to listen to reading as possible.  We read at least three books out loud every day and most of my students choose to read to a partner as one of their choices during Reader’s Workshop each day.  I have a great collection of books on tape and cd that they can listen to in Listening center and we have access to wonderful online resources like Tumble Books and RAZ-Kids on the computers. 

I believe my students get a lot of out listening to all types of reading.  It helps them become more fluent readers, build comprehension, and expand their vocabulary.  As much as I love that my students have fun and learn while listen to reading, I’ve recently observed that the majority of the books available on tape, cd, or on the computer are fiction stories.  As we are trying to help our students become better at reading and understanding non fiction texts, I think it is important that they have access to listening to non fiction books as well as fiction.  But where do I find them?

I’ve found some ebooks that are non fiction/informational texts, but have had no luck in finding books on cds.  I have an idea to help combat this issue.  I think it would be great to have my first graders record their own voices reading non fiction texts that they can share with their classmates.  I believe this is going to take a lot of modeling and practicing reading non fiction texts with fluency, but I think this will be a way to motivate my students to work on their non fiction reading.  Knowing that their voices will be recorded and shared with others is exciting to first graders and I am just as excited about the potential of this project. 

Any other ideas about finding or creating non fiction listening books?

Please, Not Writing!!!
Monday October 22nd 2012, 2:23 am
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There are many days in my classroom when 10:00 rolls around and I hear my students groan.  “Not writing!!!”  “Can we skip Writer’s Workshop today?”  “Can’t we just go to lunch?”  To be honest, there are days when I find those same thoughts going through my mind.  Writing can be one of the toughest parts of the day for first graders.  Students have to think of a topic, figure out what they want to say, the order they want to say it in, sound out the words, and remember how to form the letters.  Not to mention when to write a capital letter, lowercase letter, or put a period.  I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

While not all of my students feel the need to go see the nurse, spend 20 minutes in the bathroom, or take a nap during writing time, I’ve heard them all say at one time or another “I have nothing to write about!”  This year, I’ve tried to take a different approach in my response to this statement.  My students come from all types of homes and families and different background experiences.  So when I ask them to write a personal narrative about something they’ve done in their life, some students can pull from a list of vacations, parties, and sporting events.  Others don’t have as many experiences to pull from which leaves them feeling like writing is an even harder time of the day.  I believe it is important to “level the playing field” and help my students have common experiences.  I have tried to create these experiences by using things we do on a daily basis like relay races during a movement break, building a rollercoaster in science, and walking to the pond to see what notice about Fall.  During these authentic learning activities, I try to make it a point to remind my students to stop and think about how they could use these activities for a new story in writing. 

Part of my job as a teacher is to help my students feel and be successful in all academic areas.  Building a common background knowledge and pool of experiences is one way I can do this each day.  It has been great to see my struggling writers finish a story and jump up to get a new piece of paper right away.  Yes writing is still challenging for many of my students, but on most days, they no longer have the blank stares and dreadful looks when it is time for Writer’s Workshop.  Now my students yell out things like “When do we start Writer’s Workshop?” and “Can I keep writing instead of recess?”  It’s like music to my ears!

Critical Literacy in First Grade
Monday October 15th 2012, 1:42 am
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Last week, I decided to read aloud a book about astronaut Ron McNair’s experience with getting a library card as a child with my first grade class.  I believed that the story of the young African American boy who stood up for his right to check out books from the public library could be somewhat challenging for my six and seven year old students to understand, but I thought it was a great way to start helping my students start to be critical readers.  As we read the story, I stopped at key parts to ask questions about what my students thought was happening in the story, what the author was trying to teach us, and how we could learn from this book.  My students answers seemed to be right on with what I had originally wanted them to get out of this read aloud and discussion.

After reading more about Critical Literacy (the deconstructing and reconstructing of text, resulting in some type of social action) this week, I realized that what I thought was a great lesson in which my students were being critical readers, was more of me coaching them to the answers I wanted them to have.  I went into the lesson seeing Critical Literacy and an outcome.  I asked very direct questions like “That’s not fair is it?” and “Wasn’t it nice of the lady to offer to check out his books for him since he couldn’t?”  While my students reached the outcome I had hoped they would reach, I didn’t give them the chance to come to that view on their own. 

In order to teach my students to be critical readers, I need to model how to read with a critical eye, looking for multiple perspectives, but I don’t need to do it all for them.  I need to make sure I ask more open ended questions that allow my students to come to their own conclusions, not my conclusion.  I need to help them make connections to others’ perspectives, not just their own life.  My students need to be able to seek their own perspectives about social issues, not just understand and take on my perspective as their own.  I believe in the importance of teaching students to read critically, but there is not a procedure to do so.  It is my job to create a space where my students can read, discuss, and consider multiple perspectives of texts.  This isn’t going to be easy, but I’m looking forward to the challenge that it brings for me and my students!

Are We Reading This Book Again?
Monday October 01st 2012, 3:01 am
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Recently, my staff has had many discussions about the books we are reading in our classrooms.  Books our students read on their own, books we use for shared readings, and books we read aloud to our students.  As we have adopted the Common Core, we are paying more attention to book choices we make and help our students make as well.  We are working towards making sure the books we choose to read are complex texts that help prepare our students for college and career readiness.  A text’s complexity is evaluated by looking at aspects such as structure, language, and background knowledge demands.  It also takes into consideration who will be reading the text. 

One of our conversations led to the fact that multiple teachers are reading some of the same books to their students in different grade levels and find that they are complex texts for both.  For example, some students hear the book Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White read to them aloud in first grade and then read it themselves in fourth grade.  While initially some teachers were apprehensive about the idea of multiple readings of the same text in different grades, many teachers discussed the idea that students would be learning different things from reading Charlotte’s Web in first and fourth grade.  The focus and purpose for reading the books would most likely be different.  Hearing or reading a text more than once should be something that students do often, whether it is in the same grade level or different grade levels.  I believe multiple readings of the same text benefits students and helps them grow as readers. 

I enjoy reading books more than once.  In my own experience, each time I reread a book I have previously read, I catch new things that I didn’t pay attention to before, better understand the author’s intentions, and my comprehension about the subject increases.  As first graders, I ask students in my class read books more than once to help increase their fluency rate and comprehension.  While some students would prefer to run straight back to the library for a new book as soon as they finish once, I find that my students are able to discuss the book with more detail and read it smoothly after the second time.  This usually ends up with my students enjoying the books they choose more and they can’t wait to have a reading conference with me to show how smoothly they can read or tell me all about what they understood.

So while the converstations about reading books multiple times continues with my staff, I would love to hear some other opinions on this topic.  How do you get students to reread books?  What effect do you see rereading texts has on your students?  Should certain texts only be used in certain grade levels?

Publishing with Technology: Fun, Authentic, or Both?
Monday October 01st 2012, 2:35 am
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Technology can be a powerful motivator for students of all ages.  As a first grade teacher, I am constantly amazed by how much my students already know about using computers, iPads, and other electronic devices.  Recently, I had a conversation with a high school English teacher about how to engage students in the writing process that ends in a meaningful publishing project.  While I originally thought our solutions to this challenge would be very different, we realized that we ultimately had the same goals in mind for our students and could meet those goals in similar ways.

First and foremost, we want to prepare our students to be writers who value their own pieces of writing and work hard from beginning to end of the process.  Secondly, we want to encourage our students to create pieces of writing that reflect their own understanding of themselves and the world around them.  Finally, we want our students to publish their writing in authentic methods that prepare them for the twenty first century.  With these goals in mind, we agreed that while drafting, editing, revising, and publishing can all be done with pencil and paper, technology can be a great way to engage students in the writing process as well.  First graders and high school students alike seem to be very motivated when they are aware that their work will be seen and appreciated by more of an audience than just their teacher. 

This past year, my students each published a story by typing it in a word document and printing it out.  We also used Voice Thread to publish two separate pieces of writing, one personal narrative and one persuasive writing piece.  They were very excited to use laptops, upload their illustrations, and record their own voices reading their writing.  They were even more engaged when I told them we would be sharing their final products with the other first grade students in our school and we would put a link to their work on our classroom website, so they could share their writing with their families as well.  I loved seeing them take more ownership in their own work as they prepared to publish for an audience of their peers, family members, and all who had access to the internet.

While using technology is fun for all ages and in many subject areas, as a teacher, I sometimes find it challenging to make sure my students are using it for authentic learning purposes.  It can be easy to say that it engages students, but it is the engaging students in meaningful activities that can be tricky.  As we are approaching the middle of the first quarter in this school year, I find myself looking for the best ways for my first graders to use technology, especially when it comes to publishing writing pieces.  I hope at the end of this year, I can say that adequately met the goals I mentioned above for my student writers!

Guided Reading or Strategy Groups
Monday October 01st 2012, 2:16 am
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The past few years, I have used Guided Reading groups during my literacy block to instruct my students in reading. These groups are made up of two to five students who are reading on the same instructional reading level. Groups meet two to five times a week based on the students’ reading needs. Within a group, all students read a teacher selected text on the current reading level and focus on a reading strategy. These lessons usually conclude with a few minutes of word work practice. Our school is beginning to think about moving towards using strategy groups as opposed to Guided Reading groups. From what I have read and discussed with others, strategy groups still consist of small groups of students being instructed by the teacher. Instead of students being on the same reading level, they can be on different reading levels, but each student in the group needs to work on a particular reading strategy, such as attending to punctuation or determining the main idea of a story. Students also bring their own text choice to the group as opposed to the teacher selecting the same text for all students.

I can definitely see the benefits of both instructional methods, Guided Reading and strategy groups, but would love some input from teachers who have taught reading using both. Which method do you prefer? Have you seen more growth in students using one method or the other? What advice do you have for someone who wants to try to start using strategy groups in their first grade classroom?

Student Book Choice
Monday October 01st 2012, 2:15 am
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I love to give my students choices about what they read as individuals, in reading groups, and as a whole class.  Students seem to be more engaged in reading when they are reading texts they are interested in.  Getting students interested in reading can be a huge challenge some days, but it can be even harder when students can’t find books they are interested in that are just right for them.

Some of my students are great at choosing books from my classroom library or our school Media Center that are on their reading level and they are quick to put a book down if they realize it is too hard or too easy for them.  However, many of my students have a hard time choosing books that are just right for them, especially books they are interested in.  As first graders who are just learning how to read, they often choose books that are too challenging, which leaves them feeling frustrated with themselves and reading altogether. 

While I absolutely want students reading books they are intersted in, I want my students reading books that leave them feeling confident in themselves as readers.  So this is where I find myself stuck.  How do I get my students to choose books that are just right for them, without feeling bad about themselves because it isn’t a chapter book or isn’t something that sparks their interest?

Last year, I tried to give my students some free choice books in their book baskets, while also having them read some teacher picks.  I decided to allow my students to choose three books that they were interested in and thought were just right for them from our classroom library.  Then each week, I picked out three leveled books that were on each students reading level for them to read.   This seemed to work okay, but it took a big chuck of time out of our reading block once a week.  I’m also not positive it helped students learn to choose books that were a better fit for them. 

I would love to hear how other teachers approach the challenge of helping students choose just right books!

Using Nonfiction Texts In The Classroom
Monday October 01st 2012, 2:13 am
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I LOVE to read! I love to read mysteries, romance novels, science fiction books, realistic fiction books, cook books, biographies, newspapers, magazines, blogs, emails, and tweets! I love reading on the couch, in the bed, at the breakfast table, on the beach, at the local coffee shop, and anywhere outside. As I thought about the things I read, I realized that while I love to read a variety of things, the majority of what I read on a daily basis is informational texts. My thoughts immediately went to my students and the responsibility I have to prepare them for a world that requires them to communicate with and understand informational texts.

As we begin to implement the Common Core Language Arts standards, many of my colleagues and I have been discussing the shift from reading large amounts of fiction texts to more of an equal focus on reading nonfiction/informational texts. In preparation for the implementation of the Common Core last year, I began to use more nonfiction texts in small guided reading groups and individual reading conferences with my first graders. I truly believe it is important for students to be exposed to a variety of nonfiction texts throughout each school day and the entire school year, not just I particular units of study once every few months or in an isolated unit of study focused on informational texts. I also believe it is important for nonfiction texts to be integrated in with other subjects such as math, science, and social studies, as it will make reading non fiction more relevant and authentic in the classroom.

Last year, I really enjoyed teaching and reading nonfiction texts and loved seeing my students grow more of an interest in learning new information about topics they wanted to know more about. However, I found it more difficult to use nonfiction texts during whole class read aloud times as opposed to using them in small group instruction. I think that my students benefitted from the time we spent learning how to read nonfiction in small groups and conferences, but I think they could benefit even more if I made more of a point to use them as read alouds more consistently. I would love to know how other teacher use nonfiction texts in their classroom, especially when it comes to whole group read alouds.