July Currently

I love linking up every month with Farley for her Currently. Here's mine:

  • Every weeknight at 10:30 is Perry Mason time. Love these old reruns.
  • I went to a beautiful wedding in Corpus Christi Saturday. The daughter of one of my dear friends got married in the Texas State Aquarium. It was such a unique setting and we had a blast.
  • We needed that wedding to take our minds off some bad news we received. A friend was killed in a motorcycle accident Friday. 
  • I need to lose weight but I don't want to work at it. Surely I am not the only one.
  • I am excited to go to the first Teachers Pay Teachers conference. I am having trouble deciding what to wear!
  • We always grill for the fourth and hang out here at home.
Go visit Farley and check out the other posts in the linky. If you join, don't forget the rule of three!


Notice and Note Book Study Part 8

Welcome back for part 8 of the Notice and Note online book study. I am so excited to be hosting!

Today we are looking at the following:

Our Generalizable Language

The authors point out that it is important for teachers to make signpost lessons explicit by using the generalizable 
language when doing a think aloud with students. They give us the generalizable language they use on p. 85 - what a great "cheat sheet" for teachers!

They also point out that it isn't important to use the same specific names for signposts that the authors use. We should use the label that works for us and our students. What is important is to notice the signpost and think about the anchor question.

Explaining the Sign Posts

The authors give some great tips to consider when we begin explaining the signposts to our students.

  • Decide upon an order for teaching the signposts. They recommend starting with Contrasts and Contradictions, Aha Moments and Tough Questions. These seem to occur more frequently and are more easily identifiable. Next they recommend Words of the Wiser, especially as it relates to theme. Then move to Again and Again and Memory Moments.
  • Set aside time to teach each signpost lesson. These are not mini-lessons, so be prepared to spend 30-40 minutes on each.
  • Teach each signpost lesson with a text that illustrates the targeted signpost. The authors provide suggested texts to use in the mentor lessons in the book and give tips to consider when selecting our own texts. It is very important to choose something that can be read aloud in 10-15 minutes.
  • Recognize that the model text you want to use might be one that is not at a student's independent reading level. That's ok as long as the students can deal with the content.
  • Use a gradual release model. Demonstrate first, then turn part of the task over to the students, and finally, have them do it on their own.
  • Think about the generalizable language you will use. It is important to plan what you will say. Create an anchor chart for the signpost as you teach and hang it on the wall for students to refer to.
  • Experiment. Try a different approach to teaching the signposts.
One reason I love this book so much is that the authors give us all the tools we need to teach our kids. I know that the first time that I teach a new concept, I tend to script my lessons. That is something I would need to do here as well.

I am also so excited to have another way to approach theme with students. This has always seemed a difficult concept for my third and fourth graders to grasp.

What are you thinking?


Signed, Epstein's Mom

I've been absent for a while. Here's my excuse:

This is my sister and her two grandchildren. Aren't they cute? They are here visiting, so I've been very busy coloring, swimming, watching movies, and talking. Lorraine will be in first grade next year and Peyton will be a Kindergartener. Such a fun age!

I'll be back on Thursday to host section 8 of the Notice and Note book study.

Notice and Note Book Study Part 5

Welcome back for part 5 of the Notice and Note online book study. Today we are looking at the following:

How do I Judge the Complexity of a Text?

My school district recently moved to requiring teachers to level our classroom libraries according to Lexile levels. We were to use those levels to instruct students after testing the kiddos to find their Lexile. I understand matching books to readers, but I had a problem with this idea. The Lexile does not take into consideration the content of the material. The books Monster and Speak deal with very mature issues, yet have Lexile levels of 670 and 690. Those levels are suggested for approximately grades 3-5. If I recommended them for my fourth grade students, parents would be very upset with me and rightly so.

I think it is important for teachers to read the texts we are using with students first to be sure it truly matches what we plan to use it for. We cannot rely simply on a leveling system to make those decisions. It makes me sad when I hear teachers say they don't like to read. If we aren't readers, how can we model a love of reading for students?

Are We Creating Life-Long Learners?

It seems to me that we are not creating life-long learners these days. Instead, we are creating test takers. I tried to fight that trend while I was teaching. I wanted my students to love learning, to be readers, writers, and thinkers. Those are skills that transfer over to real life. But the focus on passing high-stakes tests has killed the love of learning for many teachers and kids. I wish I knew how to make that better.

Go visit Meg at The Teacher Studio and Tammy at Teaching FSL to link up and read more thoughts on these questions!


Notice and Note Book Study Part 4

Welcome back for part 4 of the Notice and Note online book study. Today we are looking at the following:

Do Text Dependent Questions Foster Engagement?

In Texas, as in most states with high-stakes testing, students are taught to be text dependent when answering reading comprehension questions. This is because the questions are designed to try to eliminate bias since all students do not have the same background. These questions lead to a predetermined meaning, established by the people who write the tests.

Do your students seem engaged when answering those types of questions? Mine didn't. The difference in student engagement during testing type situations and a genuine discussion of our reading in class was palpable. 

I confess to leaving testing type materials for students to complete when I was out and had a sub. In my district, you seldom knew who the sub would be and whether they had any experience teaching. Even if they did, it was rare for them to understand the workshop approach I subscribed to. When I returned from being out, I often heard students complain that the sub didn't let them really read. They hated answering those types of questions, yet they loved real discussion and debating questions they asked each other.

In this section the authors give suggestions for ways to develop their own text-dependent questions, facilitating more engagement. When students develop the questions, it's because they truly do not know the answers. It generates a completely different type of engagement.

Must Everyone Read the Same Book?

I confess that I have been at both extremes of the spectrum on this issue during my teaching career. I started out teaching with a basal. I knew no other way to teach. I later read a book that inspired me to start reading workshop with my third graders. When I started the workshop approach, every student read books of their choosing. I found it so difficult, though, to teach certain concepts required by the state standards when all my students were in different books in different genres. I came to see that we needed to be in a common text at least part of the time. Not just because I needed to teach certain concepts, but also because I believe that there are certain books that all students should read and they might not if left complete freedom of choice. I stayed in this middle ground through much of my career.

What are you thinking? Go on over to Primary Inspired and link up. Or leave comments here. I'd love to hear from you!


Notice and Note Book Study Part 3

Welcome back for part 3 of the Notice and Note online book study. Today we are looking at the following:

What is the role of talk?

The authors point out the difference between monologic talk (presuming that the listener should learn from and agree with the speaker) and dialogic conversation (where the speaker and listener take turns being speaker and listener a give and take). They believe (as do I) that both student and teacher are responsible for the discussion in the classroom. 

They point out that teachers are the ones usually asking the questions, and they know the answers already. That is monologic talk.But when students ask the questions, they are authentic questions and promote true conversation.

I was fortunate enough to hear Richard Allington speak at a conference I attended. He said, "We need to move from interrogation to conversation in the classroom." That stuck with me and, I think describes exactly the point the authors are making. They provide great tips for improving student-to-student discourse in the classroom.

Students need practice in asking questions. One tool I used to promote student questioning is these dice. Click the picture to find the source. (I made my own with one inch wooden cubes and a sharpie marker.)

What is close reading?
Close reading is not just attending closely to the text and nothing else. Instead it is bringing the reader and the text together, so that they notice elements of the text that might be surprising or confusing and then pause and take note, think carefully reread, and analyze. We don't do this with every single text we read, only those that invite re-reading.

True close reading involves the following:

  • It works with a short passage.
  • The focus is intense. 
  • It will extend from the passage itself to other parts of the text.  
  • It should involve a great deal of exploratory discussion.  
  • It involves re-reading.  
I hope you'll join the discussion. Go visit Melissa from Dilly Dabbles to link up and read the other posts.


Notice and Note Book Study Part 2

Welcome back for part 2 of the Notice and Note online book study. Today we are looking at the following:

Where does Rigor Fit? 
The authors state that rigor does not lie in the complexity of the text we read, but rather in how we interact with the text. Simply selecting a difficult text does not make it rigorous. Instead, we must choose texts that are engaging to students so that they are willing to think in ways that are complex and challenging. I think it is important for teachers to keep abreast of the latest in children's literature and know what type of texts will capture students' attention. I also believe we need to rethink the traditional literature studies that are the simply "read and answer the questions at the end of the chapter" format. I don't think that is truly rigorous.

What do we mean by intellectual communities?
Beers and Probst contend that an intellectual community ought to be a place where teachers want to work and students want to learn; where student engagement is high; where students accept the challenging work that is offered. But today's high-stakes testing environment in directly in conflict with that type of intellectual community. Instead, students are taught to be test passers. Too much valuable curriculum is not addressed because it isn't on the test. I believe that students who are taught to think and question deeply will have no trouble passing tests.

This section is being hosted by Heather at 2 Brainy Apples. Go there to check out her ideas and add to the link up!

Notice and Note Book Study Part 1

Today is the first day of our online book study on Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst.

The first big question posed by the book is "Is Reading Still Reading?"
I think that reading has changed over the years only in that we read so many different formats now. When I was in school, we only read from textbooks and novels. Students today read books, magazines, web sites, graphic novels, and many do so on digital devices. Some of these formats require very different skills in order to process the texts. We as teachers have to embrace these formats and make sure we equip our students with the tools to be successful with these types of texts.

The second big question is "What is the Role of Fiction?"
There is certainly a push by the new standards adopted by many states for students to read more expository text and less narrative. We certainly see that push on state tests. I know that I most often choose narrative text to read for pleasure. There is such fun to lose myself in a good story. And with such a variety of characters and problems in fiction, I know that I could always find a book to appeal to even the most reluctant reader. We also start new readers out in fiction because the sense of story is so powerful

Yet, it is extremely important to teach how to understand nonfiction. Our students will need those skills to be productive in life beyond the ELA classroom. When I first started teaching, it was so hard to find age appropriate nonfiction for my classroom. But I knew that I had to provide materials to hit those kids (usually, but not always, the boys) who were so interested in nonfiction. I brought in maps, menus, magazines, instruction books, and so forth to fill the void. Now there are so many publishers offering wonderful books at all levels to appeal to any reader. And the newer narrative nonfiction provides the best of both worlds.


June Currently

It's always exciting when it's the first day of the month. Some of us stalk Farley's blog waiting for her to post her Currently linky. I may or may not have had this post written and ready to go as soon as she put up that post. (And I don't think I'm the only one.)

Listening: I love these old sitcoms. My southern accent always comes out when I watch the Sugarbakers.

Loving: WNBA season has started. I have a great group of friends I go to the games with. Our San Antonio Stars have had a rough couple of years - so hoping they get to the playoffs this year.

Thinking: I've been ordering from Bountiful Baskets to get more fruits and vegetables into our diet. We've received some interesting varieties that I've never cooked with before. It's a lot of fun to be surprised.

Wanting: I don't need a puppy. Maybe if I say it often enough, I'll believe it. Darn those friends who keep sharing pictures of their adorable golden retriever babies. There's nothing cuter!

Needing: We are planning to go to Seattle to catch our team play on the road. Checking another item off the bucket list! Do you have any places or restaurants that are "can't miss" to share?

Summer Bucket List: Go on that trip to Seattle and finally get to cleaning out that Room of Doom! I'm also going to the TPT conference in Vegas in July. Can't wait to meet all the bloggers I admire.

Now go visit Farley at the link below - just click on the picture. And don't forget her rule of 3!

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