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?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Taylor Swift Webcast

Scholastic, Inc. produced a webcast this week that features Taylor Swift.  She is talking about reading and the influence reading has had on her life and songwriting.

The program uses the format of a talk show with Trey Morgan, national radio personality,  as the moderator.

The program was 'hip' and geared for middle school students.  Swift had some great advice for surviving middle school.

I loved their motto-RED which is the name of Taylor Swift's new CD.

In this program they say that RED stands for Read Every Day!

I think this correlates well to Read to Self.  We may rename our Read to Self to Read Every Day.

The 37 minute presentation is available for no cost at

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Daily 5 as a Reading Intervention

I received an interesting email from a teacher who is facing a new challenge.   The note said,

I have just accepted a position as a teacher for middle school reading intervention.  This is new to the school so I will be building the program from scratch.  As of right now they will not provide me with a specific intervention program to follow, but want me to incorporate curriculum from other classes while teaching specific reading methods.  I am at a bit of a loss as to where to start.

I have been in that same situation.  Three  years ago I was working as a literacy coach in a middle school.  The school was in the beginning stages of an RTI program.  AIMSWEB was used as a universal screener.  We knew how all the students were reading and which ones were above our benchmark.  But there was no intervention to help the struggling readers.

Kelly asked  

I was wondering if your use of Daily 5 and Cafe could be incorporated into a "homemade" intervention program.  I will be working specifically with at risk readers with specific difficulties in fluency, comprehension, etc.

My answer is yes, yes yes!

My story continues-I couldn't help myself-I said I wanted to design an intervention.  I did just that.  Our elementary schools were in the process of beginning a Daily 5 program.  Plus I had just read the The Book Whisperer.  It was a perfect storm and a longer story than I want to post right now.

 If you have specific questions about using Daily 5 for a reading intervention, I would be glad to answer them.  I've developed many materials that I use in class.  I'll share them too.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Ten Hours of Reading

Can you read for ten hours?

  I asked my students that question today.  They overwhelming felt that they could never read for ten hours.

So I challenged them.  My Reading Essentials Class has 20 minutes of Read to Self every day.  Twenty minutes of silent reading every day.  Five days a week for the six weeks of this middle school exploratory class.

That equals 100 minutes per week.

Read 20 minutes a day times the six weeks of the class= 600 minutes of reading.

600 minutes is 10 hours.

Would you be better at playing sports if you practiced for 10 extra hours?
Would you be better at your musical instrument if you practiced for 10 extra hours?
Everyone knew that 10 extra hours of practice would make you better at sports or music.

You will be better at reading if you practice for 10 extra hours.

I explained that Reading Essentials is a class with laser-focus on reading.  We use every minute to help improve our reading.

I even guarantee results.  I've never had a student who took advantage of the time we give them to practice and takes to heart our goal setting in conferences that didn't improve their reading skills.  I've had students who didn't improve but they also used Read to Self for goofing around or day dreaming. 

How many classes give you a guarantee?  I'm confident of this because I have seen it work.  Over and over students improve with laser focus on improvement.

What fun it is to see this growth in my students.

Friday, September 14, 2012

3 Ways to Read a Book

One of the first lessons I will be teaching my students this fall is 3 Ways to Read a Book.

I use the Daily 5 format for a middle school exploratory that I call Reading Essentials. Reading Essentials is a reading intervention for our struggling readers in a Michigan middle school for grades 6 - 8.

The students are supplied with books and magazines in their interest areas when we begin. I've found that many of them gravitate toward the magazines. But as I observed them reading, many students were just flipping through the pages and glancing at the pictures.

I developed a lesson called 3 Ways to Read a Book. I use the lesson to emphasize how making meaning from the text is very important whether you are looking at pictures or reading words.

I offered the PowerPoint to my readers earlier but I have now revised and expanded it. I believe it is much improved.

If you are would like to use the PowerPoint, just send me an email. In return for the PowerPoint, I ask two things.

1. Share with me if you have been able to use Daily 5 or the Cafe Menu with middle school students. We can all learn from each other.

2. Give me suggestions how to improve the PowerPoint and how your students reacted to it.

We're all working together and I'd love to create a network of middle school teachers who are using the Daily 5 for this age group.

Brenda Benedict

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Importance of Teachers in the Lives of Their Students

In addition to my duties at Hopkins Middle School, I also am adjunct faculty at a local university. This year I needed to spice up my lessons on recognizing child abuse in our students. As you know, teachers are mandated reporters of suspected child abuse. We are required by law to notify Child Protective Services the moment we think a student may be experiencing abuse or neglect.

I wanted to bring an actual protective services worker into class. So I interviewed my niece and videoed it for presentation later. She has been in the field for several years and has a real heart for kids.

I learned so much from talking with her. But one statement really stuck with me. She said,

"Teachers are our best ways to help protect kids. Their students spend more time with them during the school year than some do with their parents. Our referral numbers are way down in the summer."

She went on to explain that child abuse doesn't slow down in the summer but the teachers who interact with their students daily are no longer making calls about suspected abuse or neglect.

Teachers-you may be the lifeline for one of your students this year. You may be the only adult who is recognizing the signs of abuse.

If you have any questions, this handout, Mandated Reporters Resource Guide will answer the questions of what to look in children who may be abused.

Monday, August 20, 2012

3 Ways to Read a Book for Middle School

Three Ways to Read a Book was first posted on this blog in February 2011. I've had many requests for the Powerpoint that went along with the lesson. I am happy to share it with anyone who would like to see it.

I'm not sure how to post it as link, so just email me and I'll send it right along.

I would love to hear about your experience with Daily Five & CAFE Menu in the middle school age group. So in return for my Powerpoint, briefly tell me how you are using Daily Five-if you are.

Thanks. Let's work together to help our students grow in skill and their love of reading.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Countdown Begins

Finding books in a student's interest area is important to the success of my reading program

Good afternoon to all,

If you are like me, the days from the middle of August until Labor Day are always filled with apprehension. Here in Michigan, we cannot start school until after Labor Day. This is to help our tourism industry but assuring that families are still available for travel through the end of August.

But teachers start their work long before Labor Day. Most school districts have teachers report the last week of August. Many districts conduct their professional development days during this time. In fact, I'll be presenting to Wayland Middle School, Wayland, Michigan on the use of the Concept Mastery Routine which is part of the Strategic Instruction Model from the University of Kansas.

I've received several emails this summer from middle school teachers who are implementing Daily 5 this year. Every one has questions about how to do this.

I will share what I have done in 2 years of use of Daily 5 in grades 6 - 8. But I'd love to hear from you-questions you have about Daily 5 in middle school and stories of success and challenges you have faced as you seek to implement Daily 5 & CAFE menu in these crucial middle grades.

Looking forward to hearing from many of you.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Reading more brings stronger readers. I want to shout it from the rooftop.

This past week we completed our universal screening instrument for all our middle school students. It takes considerable time and dedication of personnel. But the results allow us a snapshot of how our students are progressing. It also helps us be proactive with students and make certain they are offered an intervention when their progress is not what we would like it to be.

The results have been very encouraging for our Reading Essentials Class students. The average gain for the Reading Essentials students was 2 - 3 times the average gain for each class.

I am so happy for our students. I had assured them that if they followed my suggestions, their reading levels would improve. And it did!!

Reading more brings stronger readers. I want to shout it from the rooftop and now I have the data from our school to prove it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 Book Review

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I haven't read a more powerful book for a long time. The story is skillfully woven by Sal, a thirteen-year old girl who is facing some of life's most difficult situations.

The surprise ending combined with the understanding and acceptance the characters had for each make this a must-read for all middle school students.

I would especially recommend this for children dealing with loss and grief because of the honest way in which each character reacted to life's hard moments.

Monday, May 7, 2012

DISSECTing a Word

This week we have been studying the Word Identification Strategy and applying it to words we find in our daily reading. The Word Identification Strategy is designed to help adolescents read the multi-syllable words that are found in Social Studies, Science and Math classes. We are learning to take the words apart or DISSECT them. We found many words in Hunger Games, which is a popular choice of many of the students. These words include:

We then moved on to look at Social Studies words including conservation, conversion, accurate, accumulate. I'm asking the students to located words in their own reading for us to practice reading. I"ll let you know what they come up with this week.

Monday, April 30, 2012

DISSECTing a Word

Today all three classes worked on putting the DISSECT strategy to work on some words that they didn't know. We took our words from The Hunger Games-page 22 & 23. That story is full of hard words and several students weren't understanding them as they read.

Here are the words missed by a student as she read orally to me from Hunger Games-Page 22 & 23:
tribute synonymous
corpse pained
recognition occasion
huddled presented

We looked for prefixes and suffixes to dissect off and then examined the stem (root word that is left).

The students did a good job breaking the words down to be able to pronounce them. But they need more practice using skills to determine the meaning of words. Here are two words that they learned the meanings for today: redolence & kin.

Vocabulary is going to be our focus this week especially using the context to help look at word meanings.

Look for words that are difficult as you read. They add so much to your reading.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Satisfied Customers

I have been compiling the data from our second session of Reading Essentials Class which was held from Nov. 30, 2011 to January 29, 2012. The results were very encouraging.

Our students made great gains in both comprehension and fluency.

The average gains for comprehension and fluency were nearly three times the expected growth/benchmark score for all three grades-6th thru 8th grade.

The students did the work. I provided an opportunity for them to read and gave them reading material that they were interested in-all of this was done in a non-threatening environment where reading is valued.

They believed me when I told them that if they read more, they would become better readers. I believed it, and in turn, they believed it and then saw that it worked.

We've had 4 students ask to be part of Session 3 because they saw that Reading Essentials Class helped them become better readers.

There is no better gauge of success then satisfied customers. I couldn't ask for more.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf

Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf by Jennifer L. Holm has caught the imagination of the 6th graders in my class for reluctant readers.

I suggested Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf to a 6th grade boy last week. He said, "No thanks" at first look. "It looks like a girl's book." But when I opened the book and started talking about it, his curiosity got the best of him.

He finished the book today and had high praise for it. "It wasn't a girl's book", he commented to me and cheerfully told me the story of Ginny and her trials in middle school.

I don't think there is higher praise for a book than that.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Newbery Challenge

I have always enjoyed reading books that have been awarded the Newbery Award.  The Newbery Award is given annually "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children". It is the premier award for chapter books.  Looking over the list of winners since the inception of the award in 1922, there are many titles that I read to my own children.  So I know that I've been reading Newbery winners for years.  But this year I'm getting serious and I've joined the Newbery Medal Reading Challenge.  I learned about it with my new 'friends' who blog and tweet about books for children.  

I am going to try and read all of the Newbery winners and honor books from the past 90 years.  I don't expect to finish in one year.  The Challenge is billed as being 'stress-free' so I can't set unrealistic goals and I'm not going to beat myself up for not going fast enough.  

I will keep you updated on my progress.  I picked up three Newbery winners this morning at the library used book sale.  

If you are interested in joining the Challenge with me, go to Watch.Connect.Read.