Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Chocolate Milk, Por Favor! Blog Tour and Giveaway!

Extra!  Extra! Read All About It!

My favorite author released her newest book, Chocolate Milk, Por Favor!

Maria Dismondy is an award winning author, a former teacher and a mom who writes books that empower others and encourage us to celebrate diversity.  I've known Maria for a few years and have had the pleasure of hearing her presentations several times in my school.  My own children have also been empowered by her message when she visited their schools.  She is a fabulous presenter and I can tell you from experience that her positive message sticks with children and adults.

I've read and enjoyed all of Maria's books in my classroom and at home with my own children. Her new book is the story of a two boys, Gabe and Johnny.  Gabe speaks a different language than the other students in his new school and Johnny struggles to accept Gabe at first.  Throughout the story, Johnny learns to celebrate diversity with empathy.  Chocolate milk plays role in the story as well!

Chocolate Milk, Por Favor! sparked conversations at our house about important topics like ways we can make people feel welcome, getting to know more about people to honor the differences among us, celebrating diversity instead of pretending we are all the same and having empathy for others.  In our family, we want our children to do more than accept others.  We want them to learn from each others differences, accept each other without the expectation that we should all be the same and encourage others to be the best they can be.  I tried to teach the same to the children in my classroom. Chocolate Milk, Por Favor! is a book that I will definitely be recommending to teachers and parents for years to come.

I have a great deal of respect for Maria Dismondy's work and the positive messages she shares.  I am honored that she asked me to create a reader's guide for Chocolate Milk, Por Favor!.   The reader's guide includes activities that are aligned with the common core standards (but will work with any standards) for teachers and parents to use as they enjoy the story together.  You can read more about this book (and her other books) and download the reader's guide for free on Maria's website by clicking on the image below.

As part of the blog tour, Maria is allowing me to giveaway a signed copy of Chocolate Milk, Por Favor! to one lucky winner!  The giveaway ends on April 11th at midnight.

Congratulations, Maria!

Another fabulous book!
Another powerful message!
Looking forward to filling our shelves and our hearts with more of your stories in the future!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Currently April

No joke - it's time for Currently!

I received a call toward the end of the day today saying my son got sick at school.  Poor thing!  I would much rather be sick myself. This time we are both sick with different things.

Our spring break begins on Friday.  We really, really need a week to slow down and disconnect  a bit for some family time.  I opened the windows the get rid of the germs today.  That's what we do when it hits 45 degrees in Michigan. Ha!

I need to pray more.  I'm not sure if it's because I went to a Catholic school or because I sometimes struggle to focus my attention, but I need total silence to pray.  A nun told me when I was little that you need to "be quiet, so the big guy can hear your prayers".  Total silence doesn't happen often enough, so I need to work on that.

Fingers crossed that my son feels better soon and that my daughter stays healthy.  In the meantime, I'm bringin' out my Windex!  (Hello - Windex Marketing Department, I am your biggest supporter!  It's time to contact me.)

I lost my voice last night.  It was nothing more than a whisper all day today.  I am pretty sure the folks I work with enjoyed the peaceful day.  However, this chatty gal is hoping to be able to talk again very soon.

Ha!  I decided on a name before I was sure I was going to start a blog. That was years ago...and now I work as an instructional coach.  I miss 1st grade and especially my students, but love the collaboration in my new position.  Changing the name of my blog seemed like too much work... so I didn't.

Head over to visit Farley to find out what the rest of the world is Currently doing!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Good Comprehension, But Not So Great Accuracy

There is one question that people ask me about teaching reading that is more frequent than any other question.  It actually usually starts out as a statement.

"He has great comprehension, but he makes lots of errors with word accuracy on the assessments."

Here are the steps I recommend for addressing this problem.

1.  Name It
Talk to the student about what you are noticing about his/her reading accuracy.  Name the problem by telling the student that you notice they are having difficulty with word accuracy.  As teachers, I think it is important for us to give purposeful feedback to students to help them improve.  I am definitely from the camp that believes that it is hard for students to improve something if they do not have specific feedback.

2. Explain It
Explain why word accuracy is important to the student.  Even though some students may have good comprehension with decreased word accuracy at first, their comprehension will likely decrease when they encounter more complex texts in the future.

Some struggling readers are used to being challenged by word accuracy.  They constantly need to use strategies to decode words.  Around 3rd and 4th grade, the children who tend to struggle with word accuracy are often those who had no trouble learning to read in previous grades.  These are the children who did not necessarily have to use strategies at first. Words just came easy to them and when they begin to encounter multisyllabic words in 3rd and 4th grade, they have difficulty decoding the words.  They often tend to only focus on the beginning portion of the word.

3. Check for Discrimination
It is important to determine whether or not the student can discriminate when someone else makes errors as they read.  If they can't tell when someone else makes an error, then it will be hard for them to self correct their own errors.

To work on this, I give the student a copy of a book at their level and I read a few paragraphs  (or pages if the text is short) from another copy of the same book.  I ask the student to track the print and either knock on the table or ding a bell (just because that is more engaging) every time they "catch Mrs. Gillow" reading a word incorrectly.  Taking the focus off the reader, but asking them to focus on my reading accuracy helps me determine if they are able to discriminate the correct vs. incorrect words that I read.

I practice this for the first few minutes each day during small group instruction with students who have good comprehension, but reduced word accuracy.  Then I simply remind them about the importance of word accuracy and continue on with their small group instruction for the day.

4.  Reverse Roles
Once I know the student can discriminate word accuracy in someone else's reading, I reverse the roles and practice the same routine with the student doing the reading and me knocking quietly on the table.  Competitive students often beg me to ding the bell, but I only use the bell if the student requests it.

5.  Try Tracking 
Over the years, the single most effective strategy that my readers have used to improve their word accuracy is tracking the print.  I encourage my students to use their finger (since it's always with them).  From time to time, I give students a color overlay bookmark to help them track the print.

I disagree with the folks who have recently recommended that students should stop tracking print at level D.  As an adult, I sometimes track my print to help focus my attention.  If it works, you are never too old to track the print.

Now off to walk my doodles!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

March Currently

March - what?!?  How did that happen?

March is an exciting month at our house!  Here is what is happening...

It seems like every month when I finally have time to sit down to work on my currently post someone is snoring by my side.  This time it is Kalli, my youngest goldendoodle.  She is 4 years old and sleeps on my feet every single night.

March is birthday month at our house and it is full of family fun!  Within the next two weeks, we will celebrate my son's birthday, my daughter's birthday and my husband's birthday (and his twin's birthday). His twin does not live with us (anymore). Ha!

In January, my husband and I did Whole30.  At first, Whole30 was something that I figured I might as well try because nothing else seemed to work.  Now, I am a firm believer in the benefits.  It really worked and we are still eating about 90% clean as a result.

Between my new job, lost of presentations, grad school, baseball, soccer, dance and a few big projects that I'm working on...I'm looking forward to crossing a few things off my list this month.

It's been extremely cold in Michigan.  I actually like winter, but I am looking forward to the days when I can take a nice long run with sunshine and warmer temps.

We're staying local this spring break for the most part.  I am planning a visit to the Vera Bradley outlet sale with my mom and my daughter.  Other than that, we're staying here to take care of something top secret.  I'm one of those people who thinks it is a bad idea to announce big things...just in case something doesn't work out in the end.  I am hoping to be able to share more in April.

Now, I really need to go to bed.  Looking forward to reading through the Currently posts as always.

Head over to Farley's blog to check out the party!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Finding the Good in Assessment

With the temperature at -26 degrees (and a windchill even lower) my district had "cold" weather days for the past two days.  Our instructional support team (which I am now part of as an instructional coach) braved the cold to attend the annual Michigan Assessment Conference.  The conference covered the changing face of state assessments, common assessments, formative assessments and growth models.

A new teacher in one of the sessions I attended told me that she was shocked to learn that assessment can be useful to teachers.  I was shocked by that statement, at first.  Then came the realization that in general the majority of our new teachers are coming out of teacher prep programs with a negative feeling about assessment.

Since I doubt our state governments or the federal government are going to ease up on testing anytime soon, I choose to accept whatever useful information the results give me to improve instruction and ignore the negativity.

It would be sad to me if the negative press around testing prevented our teachers from opening their minds to using formative assessments in their classrooms.  The information we gather about student learning from formative assessments can and should be used to guide our instruction.  As teachers we need to do everything we can to work smarter. Working smarter maximizes student progress and that progress is faster when we've developed clear learning targets based on assessment.

 As a teacher, I often thought about why the nuns always gave me a pre-test and a post-test in elementary school.  Turns out that even "back in the day" they were working toward specific learning targets.   I sure wish they would have told me what the learning targets were...but that is another post.

By comparing formative assessment results and summative assessment results, we can identify student learning trends and adjust our instruction in ways that address the real student learning problems.

There are two purposes of assessment: enhancing student learning (ex. formative assessments) and verifying achievement (summative assessments).  In my mind, this kind of eases some of the negativity.  The tests that are being required by so many states are simply a snapshot in time that help us identify student learning trends.  Based on those trends, we can do additional assessments to help us identify the student learning problems and adjust our instruction accordingly.

from Improve Assessment Literacy Outside of Schools Too  by Rick Stiggins

If you look hard enough, you can find the good in anything.  Assessment can be powerful and so can the way we use it to improve our instruction and student learning.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Why Do You Love Teaching?

Our state department of education is encouraging teachers to share what we love about teaching this week.  Please consider sharing what you love about teaching too!  If you have a blog you can post about it there, share it on Instagram, tweet it or post about it on Facebook.

The number one reason I love teaching is!
When your day is filled with this kind of enthusiasm, it is hard not to love your job.
It is easy to feel lucky.
It is easy to feel loved.
It is easy to feel like you have a chance to make a difference.

Education is a gift.
We give and receive the gift of learning each day as teachers.

Since I started a new job as an instructional coach this year, 
I am able to collaborate with  teachers about instruction and student learning every single day.

working together = more brain power = increased learning for adults and kids

Not gonna lie. I also love organizing things, which is a constant process for this teacher.

As a teacher, my world is full of words.  Some people love numbers. I love words.

As a teacher, I can share my love of schedules with students (and now teachers).

 "Is that lady reading a book in her kayak in the middle of the lake?"
It's easy for my family to explain - "She's a teacher. She has a book with her everywhere she goes."

Another reason to love being a teacher...
you get to purchase a back to school outfit and an open house outfit.
(My personal stylist from Stitch Fix chose these for me.)

When you are a teacher, your days and your life (and your goal spreadsheet) are filled with...

This year, I am part of the Instructional Support Team in my Dexter.  
I love my new team!
I am learning so much from each of the talented members of our team.  
One is a data expert, one is a technology expert and one is the dynamic leader of our team.
I love teaching because now I have this opportunity to learn from my team.
Together we are excited, challenged in a positive way
 and on a mission to be as supportive as possible.

There is so much for teachers to celebrate at the end of each year!

And...still we feel like this when someone says that summer is almost over.

Then...the backpacks fill up. 
Buses arrive.
The bell rings.
We welcome back the little ones 
who count on us to LOVE teaching 
and LOVE each of them 
as we learn together.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

March is Reading Month Themes

February is the time to do 2 important things.

Eat chocolate and prepare for March is Reading Month, right?

Two of my favorite themes to do with my students for March is Reading month were the Information Highway, which my whole school did last year. I made this Information Highway unit to guide my students through a month of focusing on informational text.

Here are a few pictures from our month long journey on the Information Highway.

My all time favorite March is reading month theme is Camp Read a Lot!
It was a student (and parent) favorite as well.  I liked it so much that last year I did the Information Highway theme for the whole month and we still visited Camp Read a Lot for a week.  Over the last couple years, many teachers have sent me pictures of my Camp Read a Lot unit being used as an end of the year unit as well.

Back to the grad school assignment that I've been avoiding while I watch Downton Abbey.

Have a great week!