Monday, April 21, 2014

Easy Credit

Last week we completed Session 3 of Reading Essentials Class.   Each session lasts six weeks and this was our last day.  Several of the 8th graders asked if they could be part of the next session.  I was curious as to why they wanted to extend their stay with me.

One student replied, It's an easy credit."  Immediately I began thinking that maybe I should make the course more academically rigorous.  Although the purpose of the course is to help students reach a point with their reading ability where they can be successful in academically rigorous classes.  I had carefully structured the class to be a place where reading was nurtured and encouraged.  I also wanted to make success within reach of everyone so their lessons were set-up so they could be successful with effort on their part.

Another student piped in and my fears were put to rest.   K added,

"Easy credit.  All we have to do is read and talk about what we are reading and do her lessons."

So the class boils down to reading, discussing your reading and having mini-lessons on appropriate reading skills and strategies.  Yes, sir.  That was music to my ears.

I want my students to be reading, enjoying it, discussing it with others and learn strategies and skills that will make them better readers.  That's a big order for 40 minutes a day.

But if they are doing this and it seems easy to them-so much better.  Each one of them has grown significantly in their reading ability during this session.  So I'm feeling successful and they're feeling successful.

I guess you'd call this an easy credit.

Want to hear some of my ideas.  Contact me with your email address.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Returning from Spring Break

Michigan in March

Spring Break in Michigan in the schools often occurs when there is no sign of spring in our weather.  As a results, many families leave the state for warmer and sunnier climates.  Florida and Gulf Shores Alabama are favorites.  If you are in Gulf Shores during the first week of April you will see almost more Michigan license plates than those from Alabama.

This means that the students returning from Spring Break today have thoughts and memories of fun days in their minds.  But that is not what they see as they arrive at school.  This morning started rainy and very windy with snow in our forecast for this afternoon and evening.

My task today will be to help the students refocus and continue reading.  But wait, that's my task every day.

I work with the most struggling and reluctant readers in our middle school.

I have the data of their reading levels both for fluency and comprehension.  I know their MEAP scores (our Michigan assessment), and I know their classroom grades.

Reading strategies-I have been thoroughly trained and have implemented several of these-visual imagery, self-questioning, inference, word identification which I share with them over the course of the class.

But none of the above items are the most important thing I have to impart to my students.

The most important take-away I want my students to have from Reading Essentials class is a love of reading and the desire to pick up a book-not as a last resort for something to do but rather as an enjoyable activity for which you never have enough time.

So today, I will be using The One and Only Ivan to accomplish that goal.  We are on our last week with this book.  This story lends itself perfectly to teaching inference and self-questioning.  I was most impressed, however, when my student reacted enthusiastically to my introduction of the One and Only Ivan.  J is one of the lowest readers in our 8th grade.  But after I introduced Ivan, J went immediately to the school media center to get his own copy of the story.

He quickly began reading it outside of class.  One day he stopped me in the hall. " Mrs. B, Stella died today," he said sadly.

A reluctant reader who had never read a complete book before is becoming emotionally involved with a story.  Success!!

That is the heart of my class-encouraging students to read as an enjoyable activity. No homework, no worksheets, no projects.  Just read a book and talk to me about it.

It's what adults like to do with their reading.  It also works for middle school students.

Over the next few days, I'll share some of the activities I used with the One and Only Ivan.  Feel free to use them and send me your own ideas.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Welcome Back

As the sun sets on another summer, teachers are working hard to be ready for their students.

Welcome back to a new school year.  Here in Michigan, public schools cannot begin their year until after Labor Day.  But many of you in other states or in Michigan private schools have been in session for a week or more.

I have heard from many teachers over the summer and there has been lots of interest in Daily 5 for use in middle school. School might not be in session but teachers are working.

I am working on the best way to communicate with all those who have shown interest in Daily 5 for middle school.  I should have something to send you very soon.

If you have ideas about the best way to design and send out a newsletter, please share it with me.  I would appreciate any suggestions about technology, platforms and especially on the use of Google+.

The picture above is taken on Birch Point near Brimley in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  I spend most of my summer in the UP.  I'll be moving back down state now to begin my school year.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Look at My Classroom

Now that school is out for the summer, I have some think to think back over the past year and evaluate my program.  I have begun to make plans for next fall.  So I thought I would give you a look at my students and tell you about what I did this year.

Reading Essentials Class is a reading intervention in our middle schools, grades 6-8.  The three classes each meet daily for 40 minutes.  Each session lasts for six weeks.  Because I am a part-time employee, we offer three sessions each school year.  The class has been set up this way because of funding.  There are enough students in our school of 350 students who would benefit from reading interventions to offer more sessions, but the school has not allocated money for that many days of staffing.

Each student usually attends one of the three sessions, although occasionally a student may repeat for a second time.  I had one student this year who attended all three sessions.  He has a several reading disability and his parents requested that he be included in each session.

Our classroom is less than ideal.  I have to use the computer lab because it is the only classroom available during my class time.  So my vision of a room with reading spots that allow students to get comfortable with pillows, lamps and overstuffed chairs had to be replaced with reality.

But my students are allowed to find a spot that is comfortable for them.  Here are some pictures of a typical class day.

Sue, shown below, has taken Reading Essentials as a 7th grader and again as an 8th grader.  When she began, she did not enjoy reading but has developed into quite a reader.  Her choice of Charlotte's Web seemed too easy for her.  However, she really enjoyed it and seemed happy every day to get in her spot.  

Sue is an 8th grader

 Each student meets for a conference 1 -2 times a week.  Here Jay meets with Chris who is my helper.  Actually she is very organized and I depend on her so much.  We don't use the computers in our conferences but simply push them back to give us desk space.  We use the CAFE menu to pick strategies to work on with the students.

Ann had some difficulties in school and liked to be out of sight when she was reading.  Actually she is sitting very close to Chris but the open door seems to give her a feeling of isolation.

Some students like to sit in the chairs.  You can see Lee's tub sitting on the table.  I follow many of the organize methods from the Daily Five book.

This student doesn't look comfortable to me but it is her choice.

Students are allowed to choose their own reading material.  I have a small classroom library.  They also use our school library.  Each Language Arts teachers has many books for the students too.  I have read The Book Whisper by Donalyn Miller and I've used this philosophy in my class too.  If you look closely, you can see this student is reading about basketball which was his passion.

Find a spot and get reading quickly is our classroom rule.  I use an I-Chart as detailed in Daily Five.

One of the most coveted spot is shown here below the teacher table.  We require the students to spread out throughout the room to minimize distractions.

(The names I used are not actual student names.)

I've heard from many of you this year.  I had mentioned publishing a newsletter for the use of Daily Five and CAFE Menu with middle school students.  However, I am beginning to think that a blog is a much better way to communicate with teachers.  It will allow interaction between us through comments.  I would love to hear about your experience with Daily Five.  I will share what I hear in furture posts.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Year-End Review

Here are some of my favorite photos from Reading Essentials Class 2013.  This is a reading intervention for middle school students.  These students are reading or conferencing about their reading.

The students are allowed to pick a spot for reading. The guidelines are to find a comfy spot where they are not distracted by computers or other students.  My classroom is less than ideal.  It is the computer lab so comfy spots are hard to come by.  My students do not use the computers-strictly reading during Read to Self or conferencing with an adult.

 The students have favorite  spots.  A couple of them always pick the area under the computer teacher table.

The above photo shows a student conferencing.  The key to Reading Essentials Class is found in these pictures.  Read, read, read, and then talk about what you are reading with an adult.  The students read out loud for the adult.  Then together they pick a goal off the CAFE menu to work on until they conference again.  Each conference always begins with assessing how much progress they have made to their goal.

I am currently reviewing the data from the students served this year.  This week of May is when all students are given a test of fluency and comprehension.  This is our universal screener.  I also use it to  identify students in need of interventions and then to  track their progress.  I'll post next week on this year's results.

I use the data to identify students , and I also use teacher recommendations and parent requests.  No data seems perfect for identifying reading difficulties.  It always has to be used with person-to-person observations.  Classroom teachers are so important to my program because they almost always have such a good idea as to why a student is struggling.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Conferencing with Middle School Students

Conferencing with middle school students

One-on-one conferences are one of the pillars of Reading Essentials Class.  Reading Essentials is a reading intervention class at our middle school.  Each day the other teacher and I sit and conference with students.  The focus of the conference is identifying areas of strengths and weakness in the student’s oral reading as well as assessing their comprehension.  Together with the student, we set goals for the student’s read to self time for the upcoming week.
 Because there are two teachers and student numbers around 10 per class, we are able to conference about one time a week for each student.  Each conference lasts between 10 – 15 minutes.
Oral Reading Assessment   We monitor the students’ fluency, decoding, and expression by hearing them read.  The students use the book they are currently reading during read to self time.  We then discuss our observations with the students.  This reminds them the important aspects of oral reading and they can try to implement suggestions during the following week.  Each conference begins with looking at the goal from the previous conference and discussing the progress being made toward the goal.
We use the CAFÉ Menu ® to align the goals with their students’ areas of difficulty.   The areas are comprehension, fluency, accuracy (decoding) and expand vocabulary.  I use expand vocabulary when the student is doing well with all other areas.  Reading Essentials is a reading intervention and most of the students struggle in comprehension, fluency or accuracy.
Student Accountability   The student conference always puts accountability into Read to Self because we monitor the books and pages read by the students.  We record the page number(s) that we heard the student read.  Sometimes their goal for the week is a set number of pages to be read daily.  For some of these students, daily consistent reading is new to them.  Even sticking with one book can be difficult for some.  We discourage jumping from one book to another although if a student really doesn’t like a book, we allow them to make another choice. 
Comprehension   After listening to a student read, we then assess their comprehension.  We may ask them to retell the passage in their own words or ask them questions based on the reading.  If we determine that they are struggling with comprehension, we take out our CAFÉ Menu ® sheet, and look at the comprehension strategies.  We always begin with Check for Understanding.  I set the frequently of the checking for understanding on how much difficulty the student is having.  I may have them stop and check for understanding every page or every paragraph if needed.
Many students complain about conferencing and state that they do so much better reading silently.  I encourage them by saying that most people read better silently but that it is important for me to hear them read so we can accurately set goals and help them improve.
I have found no better way for me to help students with reading difficulties.  Our conferences make it very clear where their difficulties are and the one-on-one attention is a real personalization of education.  

Monday, December 3, 2012

Daily 5 ® for Middle School Newsletter?

The school year is well underway and our Reading Essentials Class is going well.  I'm in my second 6-week session now.  I am learning so much as we are in our third year of using the Daily 5 ® format for middle school.

I have heard from many teachers across the United States who are attempting to use Daily 5 ® at the middle school level as well.  I believe we can be a resource for each other.

I have quite a list of teachers who have emailed me with questions.  As I try to think of the best way to answer the questions, I think we can be a support system for each other.

I am going to start producing a newsletter addressing the specific issues we face as middle school teachers.  Are you interested in getting on my newsletter list?  If so, please let me know and I'll add you to the list.

The first edition will come out right after Christmas.  Things are just too crazy between now and then to even thinking of adding anything else to my plate.  Do you feel the same way?