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August 20. 2018

Teacher Tip: Work Actively to Create Inclusion

It is not enough to create acceptance; you also have to work actively to include students. Take the attitude that all students in the class have much to learn from each other; they have the responsibility and opportunity to help their peers learn. 

Walk into your empty classroom. Does it extend a welcome to every student? Are their names prominent? They should see themselves and their work on the walls. Work hard to pronounce their names correctly. Ask also for their name in their native language. They will enjoy helping you, and in the process, you are communicating not only that they are important, but also that you value their languages even if you cannot speak them. For example, if you are reading aloud or talking about a new word, ask students how the word would be said in another language (like Spanish or Urdu). You can easily put common phrases like “please and thank you” or “good morning” on the wall in every language represented in your classroom. All students will enjoy using a bit of another language.

From Guiding Reading: Responsive Teaching Across the Grades by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2017 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

August 14. 2018

Teacher Tip: Establish Routines in the Classroom

From school entry to the end of elementary school, they key to teaching students to make good choices is to establish and teach routines for each activity in the classroom. A routine is a set of actions or steps that you repeat for accomplishing something. Don't have too many routines and don't make them too complex because even intermediate or middle-level students can find it difficult to remember a long list. During the first week of school, demonstrate and teach a few routines to get started, and then use them over and over.

From Guiding Reading: Responsive Teaching Across the Grades by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2017 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

August 6. 2018

Teacher Tip: How to Design Your Classroom to Build a Strong Community

Your classroom is a place where students learn how to read, write, and expand all of their language skills, but it is much more. It is a laboratory where they learn how to be confident, self-determined, kind, and democratic members of a community. The design of a classroom supports the building of community. Although the materials and organization of space will vary from grade to grade, here are 6 characteristics of classrooms that build strong communities.

  1. Welcoming and Inviting. Bright colors, beanbag chairs, and lamp all help to create a welcoming space. The intention is not to fill the room with furniture, but you do want to create a pleasant, comfortable place for students.
  2. Organized and Tidy. Clutter increases stress. The more organized the classroom, the more independent your students will become, the less of your time they will require, and the more time you will have for teaching. Materials should be clearly organized and labeled, and the work that takes place in each area should be visible at a glance.
  3. Rich with Materials. Fill your classroom with books, writing tools, art materials, manipulatives, references, computers, tablets, and other technological resources. This can be difficult criterion to meet because it depends on the resources of the school district. But, at least where books are concerned, you can increase their richness by visiting garage sales, checking out books from libraries, asking parents and friends to donate, writing for grants, and appealing to the business and social community.
  4. Includes Group Meeting Space. If you want to form a community, students must have a place to meet together and talk every day. For young children, a colorful rug with space enough to accommodate the class sitting on the floor in rows or in a circle. Older students can also sit on the floor in a circle or they can move chairs from their tables to make a circle in the same area.
  5. Includes Personal Space. Instead of individual desks, many teachers use tables or desks that can be combined in flexible ways. But students also need a personal space. If they do not have a desk, they can have a cubby or personal book box where they keep personal documents like a reader's notebook, writer's notebook, independent reading books, etc.
  6. Shows What is Valued. A classroom must be alive with student work. You can start the year with relatively blank walls because your students are going to fill them with a variety of products that show student input and student wrok. The greatest motivation you can give your students is to display their work. Change displays as the year progresses. And at the end of the year, let students take them home. You'll be starting again with a new group.

From Guiding Reading: Responsive Teaching Across the Grades by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2017 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

July 30. 2018

Teacher Tip: Track Student Progress with Literacy Portfolios

Portfolios are a popular way to present students' work over time so that progress is evident. Many assessments can be part of a writing portfolio. The goal is to guide the process carefully so portfolios don't become unwieldy and time-consuming collections of "stuff" that no one examines or uses to inform teaching.

You will collect reading data and writing projects throughout the year. Many teachers keep all products for the year, selecting materials for the “pass on” portfolio in the spring. Others identify particular times when the portfolio is examined in conjunction with the child; some pieces are sent home and others remain in the portfolio. Some general considerations for the type of the information to include in the portfolio follow:

  • Include a list of the books the student read and the writing projects he completed. 
  • Feature “best work” or a range of writing projects and poetry (e.g. several pieces that you and the student have selected for a particular reason). 
  • Document the level of texts the student read during the year as well as the range of the genres he attempted. 
  • Illustrate the student’s growth and progress through a thoughtful selection of writing samples. 
  • Include writing projects of investigations that demonstrate the student’s ability to use knowledge in content areas.
  • Encourage self-reflection by asking the student to write rationales for his portfolio selections: Why he chose to include writing samples, how he chose books to read, and his reflections on his growth as a writer and reader. 
  • Feature writing samples from all the genres the student studied and explored in his own writing. 
  • Weave in written evaluations by the student about his growth as a reader, writer, and learner.

From Guiding Readers & Writers by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2001 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

July 24. 2018

Teacher Tip: Selecting Books for Guided Reading

In order to select books for guided reading, start by looking through your set of leveled books. The level helps you narrow your choices. Think about the appropriate level and look at the variety of books available. Consider books that will delight the readers of the age group. Think about the variety of topics, themes, and genres they have experienced. If the students are processing the text well and are finding new learning opportunities on a particular level, the selection is probably about right; however, there are more factors to consider.

  • Are the concepts in the book familiar to students or can they be made accessible through the introduction? 
  • Is the topic one that will engage the students’ intellect or curiosity? 
  • Is the plot interesting? Will it appeal to this group of students? 
  • Is the setting important? 
  • Does the text provide opportunities for this group of students to use what they know? 
  • Are some words in the book known to students? 
  • Are other words accessible through the readers’ current ability to use strategic actions such as word analysis and prediction from the language structure or meaning?
  • Does the text offer a few opportunities to problem- solve, search, and check while reading for meaning? 
  • Do the illustrations or graphics support the reader’s search for meaning? Do they extend the meaning of the text?
  • For emergent and early readers, is the text layout clear? Is the print clear? Are there an appropriate number of lines of text? Is there sufficient space between words? 
  • Is the length of text appropriate for the experience and stamina of the group?

Obviously the book’s levels of support and challenge will not be the same even for all students in one guided reading group. They bring different experiences and control of language to the book, so they will search for and use meaning and language structure in different ways. Nevertheless, with effective teaching and social support, all members of the group can process the new text successfully.

From Guided Reading: Responsive Teaching Across the Grades by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (C) 2017 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

July 16. 2018

Teacher Tip: How to Make More Time for Language and Literacy Learning

It's not always easy to find time for literacy instruction in the classroom, so here are some suggestions for making more time for language and literacy learning.

1. With your grade-level colleagues, design a daily schedule that includes two-and-a-half to three hours of language and literacy teaching: 
  • If you encounter problems, think "outside the box:" integrate subjects previously taught separately, rearrange your planning periods, reexamine how you incorporate special areas like music and art. 
  • If you have departmentalization and cannot change it, work on a plan for allocating time for reading, writing, and word study, and for regular communication with other teachers so you can make connections over content areas.
  • Compare the time you have allocated for reading with the time you have set aside for writing. Writing is often shortchanged. 
  • Talk about ways to incorporate more social studies and science into your literacy blocks. 
  • Discuss ways to be more efficient. Could the first fifteen minutes of the day become part of the independent reading block? 
  • Try out the schedule for one month and then revise it based on your experience.
2. Reevaluate the existing organizational structures in your classroom. Can some of these be changed? Can you find ways to incorporate some of them into the language and literacy framework? 

3. With a group of colleagues, discuss changes you plan to make in terms of time, instructional approaches, classroom structure, or content.

From Guiding Readers and Writers by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2001 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.
July 9. 2018

Teacher Tip: How to Provide Opportunities for Processing Texts

Comprehending the fullest meaning of a text is the goal every time we read anything. We do not teach comprehension by applying one strategy to one book during one lesson: we help students learn how to focus on the meaning and interpretation of texts all the time, in every instructional context, each instance contributing in different ways to the same complex processing system. Below are some suggestions for you and your colleagues to provide your students with opportunities for processing texts:

  1. Bring together a cross-grade-level group of colleagues to think about text experiences. You may want to have them work in small grade-level groups and then share as a whole group. 
  2. Use large chart paper divided into columns. As a group, consider (1) processing orally presented written texts; (2) processing written texts; and (3) acting on the meaning of texts after reading. These three actions occur across instructional contexts. 
  3. Have each group use their weekly schedules to discuss a week of instruction in their classroom. Make a list of all the processing opportunities students have in each of the three areas in the three columns on the chart paper. 4. Review the charts. Have the whole group participate in a larger discussion of how these opportunities can be expanded. Emphasize that there are specific ways of teaching for comprehending in each of these settings. 
From Teaching for Comprehending and Fluency: Thinking, Talking, and Writing About Reading by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2006 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

July 3. 2018

Teacher Tip: Expand Your Guided Reading Moves with Self-Reflection

Guided reading is not a static concept; the materials, teacher decisions, and interactive framework change over time as students grow in knowledge, skill, and independence, and teachers become more experienced. Fountas and Pinnell believe that teacher expertise and the professional development that supports it is the only way to raise student achievement. High-quality, highly effective implementation of guided reading involves a process of self-reflection.

Each time you work with a small group of students, you can learn a little more and hone your teaching skills. For example, in guided reading lessons, the goal is to teach the reader, not the text.

Self-reflect: Think about how your language interactions with readers support the ability of each student to initiate problem-solving actions. Ask yourself: How does my language support pass control to the reader? What have I taught the readers how to do today that they will be able to do with other texts? Remember, reflective teaching is rewarding because you are learning from teaching.

From Guided Reading: Responsive Teaching Across the Grades by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (C) 2017 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

June 18. 2018

Teacher Tip: Selecting Books for Interactive Read-Aloud

Interactive read-aloud is an important instructional context that allows readers to experience rich, interesting texts that are age-and grade-appropriate, regardless of their independent or instructional reading level. In order to get the most instructional power from interactive read-aloud, it is important to plan for teaching in a precise way. Here are some guidelines to help you select books for interactive read-aloud.

  • Look for texts that you know your students will love (funny, exciting, connected to their experiences, able to extend their thinking.) 
  • Select texts appropriate to the age and interests of your students. 
  • Select texts that are of high quality (award winners, excellent authors, high-quality illustrations). 
  • Plan selections so that you present a variety of cultures; help students see things from different perspectives. 
  • Choose texts that help students understand how people have responded to life's challenges. 
  • Consider books on the significant issues in the age group--peer pressure, friendship, families, honesty, racism, competition. 
  • Especially for younger readers, select texts that help them enjoy language--rhythm, rhyme, repetition. 
  • Select different versions of the same story to help students make comparisons. Evaluate the texts to be sure the ideas and concepts can be understood by your students. 
  • Plan selections that appeal to both boys and girls. 
  • Mix and connect fiction and nonfiction. 
  • Repeat some texts that have been loved by former students. 
  • Vary genres so that students listen to many different kinds of texts--articles, poems, fiction, informational texts. 
  • Select informational texts, even if they are long; you can read some interesting parts aloud and leave the books for students to peruse on their own. 
  • Choose texts that will expand your students' knowledge of others' lives and empathy. 
  • Choose texts that will help students reflect on their own lives. 
  • Select texts that you love and tell students about them. 
  • Select texts that build on one another in various ways (sequels, themes, authors, illustrators, topics, settings, structure). 
  • Link selections in ways that will help students learn something about how texts work. 
  • Select books that provide good foundations for minilessons in reading and writing. 
  • Consider the curriculum demands of your district; for example, link texts with social studies, science, or the core literature program.
  • Select several texts that help listeners learn from an author's style or craft.
  • Select texts that offer artistic appreciation. 
  • Select fiction and nonfiction texts on the same general topics. 
  • Consider "text sets" that are connected in various ways--theme, structure, time period, issues, series, author illustrator, and genre. 
From Teaching for Comprehending and Fluency by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2006 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.
June 11. 2018

Teacher Tip: How to Build a Culture of Empathy and Kindness in the Classroom

One of the hardest things for students to learn is that other people have different perspectives and that they need to understand them. Becoming aware of the feelings of others is especially difficult for young children because, developmentally, they are centered on themselves. School is their opportunity to learn that others have feelings to consider, that kindness is valued, and that they can feel more confident and powerful if they help others.

Some intermediate/middle students have not learned how to feel (or at least express) empathy for or kindness toward other students. You cannot undo the events of their lives or what they have learned or not learned, but you can help them start down the road to becoming positive members of the community. A feeling of collaborative ownership and responsibility in the classroom and school will go a long way toward creating empathetic members of that community. Model and even “act out” the behaviors you want students to use in an automatic way. We caution against moralistic, “preachy” lessons that have no connection to real life. Involving students in the cooperative solving of real classroom problems provides an opportunity to demonstrate empathy and kindness daily.

From Guided Reading: Responsive Teaching Across the Grades by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (C) 2017 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.