Thursday, June 30, 2011

How Do You Help Your Struggling Readers?

In the past two weeks, I've posted a few things about how I help my struggling readers.  I had lots of questions about how I changed my schedule to try to maximize "just right" reading time for my students throughout the day.  If you click on the image below, you can view a sample of my schedule.  My schedule looks different each day of the week and this is just an overview of one day. It's not perfect, but I'm a lot closer to my 90 minute goal than I was a few years ago.

I display the schedule in a pocket chart in my room for students to refer to throughout the day.  The words I use in my scheduling chart are available at my Tpt store.

You can find a post about how I assess my struggling readers here.

Here is the post about my tops 5 tips for working with struggling readers.  After this post, I had several emails about how I teach the difference between magic "e" and silent "e".  The image below is the best way I could explain it.

Practicing at the "just right" level is critical for young readers (especially those who struggle). You can find a post about the books I use during my mini-lessons about "just right" books here.

A while ago, I also posted the leveled book lists that I use to help my parents find just right books for the children. You can view that post by clicking here.  You can download the lists and the instructions that I made for using the Scholastic Book Wizard by visiting this post.

I would love to hear about the things other teachers are doing to help their struggling readers.  Please consider linking up to share your ideas!

This linky party is being added to TBA's ultimate linky party!  Visit TBA to check out other teaching related linky parties by clicking on the image below.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Just Right Books

Spending enough time practicing with "just right" books is closely related to the amount of progress students make. During the first two weeks of school, I start my reader's workshop lessons (and add my first strategies to the CAFE menu). Here are two of my favorite books to use during my mini-lessons about "just right" books.  Love Goldie Socks!  She tries really hard to find a book that is "not too easy, not too hard, but JUST RIGHT".  You can click on the image to check it out on Amazon.

I use this book during mini-lessons for two strategies. First, I use it during my mini-lessons about just right books.  The bears in this story are also in search of a "just right" book.  Again, you can click on the image below to check it out at Amazon.

Then after I finish my mini-lessons on just right books... I use this book again.  I reread it with the book below to introduce text-to-text connections. 
Later this week, I'll be hosting a linky party about helping struggling readers.  I'd love to hear about your ideas for helping struggling readers.  So organize your ideas and get ready to link up later this week!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

More Math Work Station Freebies

I'm lovin' all the fabulous ideas and activities that so many teachers are sharing as a result of reading Debbie Diller's Math Work Stations book. I'm all caught up on my reading, but my list of things to do/make is out of control. So... here are a few place value mats that I will use with my students this year. I'm going to enlarge the one with hundreds on it on the copier, so my students have more space to work. You can click on the image to download them.

I was fortunate enough to participate in a graduate level math class this year with several of my colleagues.  During our class, we had the opportunity to observe some of our peers teaching math lessons in their classrooms.  One of our kindergarten teachers taught an inquiry based math lesson and I learned so many things in just one hour in her classroom.  One of the things that I will take away from her lesson is the power of giving kids their own number lines to use.  I confess... the number lines I gave my kids in the past were mostly store bought, laminated and "not to be taken home".   The students in her kindergarten classroom had access to paper copies of number lines (as many as they needed) to do their problem solving work.  Many of them wrote on their own copy of a number line to explain their thinking and even brought it to the front of the room to show the class under the document camera during the discussion. The students were able to take their number line home to explain their thinking to their family too. When the students had access to their "own" copies of the number line to write on or draw on they were more likely to use it (and practice it) as a strategy.

I made these number lines for my students to use this year.  I will not laminate them... I will not laminate them... I will not laminate them...  but I will use them to motivate my students and to help them develop their mathematical thinking skills.  Feel free to click on the image below and download them to use with your students however you wish.

I am working on a few math games to share, but with all this sunny weather the pool is calling me (and my kids).  So, it's slowing my progress a bit.  Enjoy your day!

Friday, June 24, 2011

My Top 5 Tips for Working with Struggling Readers

This is my 2nd post this week about working with struggling readers. My focus today is a list of my top 5 tips for working with struggling readers.

My Top 5 List
1.  repetition

2.  specific order for teaching vowels

3.  strategies

4.  long vowel survival rules

5.  time

#1 Repetition
Kids who struggle with reading need repetition, repetition, repetition.  My favorite reading researchers suggest that our struggling readers need lots and lots of repetition to be successful.  In my experiences working with struggling students and their teachers, we often don't give struggling students enough repetition in the classroom.  I suspect it is for two reasons. We either feel like what we are doing is not working, so we try something new when a student probably just needs more repetition.  The second reason is that the rest of the class/group has "moved on" and it's difficult to dedicate the time needed to provide our struggling kids with repetition.

When I work with struggling readers, I do a handful of specific games/activities over and over.  The games/activities stay the same, but the words, the focus, or maybe just the clipart changes.  That allows my students to feel successful right away when they sit down at a center or activity.  Reading might be hard for them, but they say things like, "Oh, I know how to play this!" or "I love doing sorts!".  It also prevents me from having to spend my limited amount of time with my struggling readers teaching new rules to games each day. We do lots of sorts (which are suggested in the most current reading research), games and activities that provide lots of repetition. The trick is to have the students do the activity and to make sure I take the time to listen to the student read the words from the activity/game and/or explain why they sorted things a certain way.

I just posted a new set of short vowel centers on Tpt this week.  The product includes several word family sorts, games, word family crosswords.  I used a variety of clipart to create the activities that could be used at any time of the year.  So many times, I want to use an activity or game with struggling students, but the clipart matches a specific seasonal theme because that is the time of the year when the "rest of the group" used that activity.  I don't want to give my struggling students a word sort activity with pumpkins on it in January, but the reality is that they might not be ready for a specific vowel pattern until January.  You can click on the picture below if you'd like to check it out.

#2 Specific Order for Teaching Vowels
When working with all of my students (in my 1st grade classroom and with my struggling reader groups), I teach the vowels in a specific order.  We even recently revised the spelling list in our building to match that order to help our struggling readers.  Let's face it, strong readers and spellers will do well no matter what order we present the words.  But, our struggling students need all the help they can get.

We start with short vowels and teach them in this order:  a, i, o, e and u.  Why is e not right after a?  The sound for short a and short e are so close together, that most at risk readers really struggle with differentiating between the two.  In our 1st grade spelling program we teach 4 new dolch words each week plus a word family of the week that contains the vowel pattern we are working on.  We start with a few weeks of specific short a patterns, then move to a few weeks of specific short i patterns and so on.  When we finish the short vowel patterns in our program, we move to long vowel patterns in the same order (long a, long i, long o, long e and long u).

I also have two different packets of word sorts (short and long vowel) on Tpt.  I use these for extra practice with my struggling readers.  I made them so I could either have the students cut out the words and glue them in the appropriate column or write the words.  When each student is finished with a word sort, they are expected to read the words to one friend, to one adult and then take it home to read to an adult at home.  You can click on the image below if you'd like to check them out at my Tpt store.

#3 Strategies
While lots of the strategies that teachers teach are the same, we tend to all use different language from classroom to classroom.  The most important strategies for struggling readers are the things that I call "good reading habits" and the decoding strategies.  The "good reading habit" strategies that I want my students to use include: pick a just right book, touch the words and cross check (cross check - Does it look right?, Does it sound right?, Does it make sense?).  Some of the decoding strategies that I teach my struggling readers include:  say the beginning sound, look for chunks or parts of the word that you know,  hop over the word to read the rest of the sentence and reread.

#4 Long Vowel Survival Rules
I just made that title up... I'm referring to the two long vowel rules that are critical for beginning readers to know and common for them to struggle with.  Those two rules are magic "e"  and 2 vowels go walking.   I also teach them the difference between magic "e" and silent "e" - which I could post about if anyone is interested... but this post is already way too long.

#5 Time
Current reading research suggests that teachers in general are spending way too much time talking/teaching during their "reading time" and not providing enough time and opportunities for students to actually read at their just right level.  As I was preparing for a presentation for the Michigan Reading Association a few years ago, I came upon some research by Richard Allington that suggests that elementary age children should spend (brace yourself...) 90 minutes each day practicing reading at their just right level.  I wasn't quite so alarmed until I pulled out my schedule and started reflecting on the actual number of minutes I was providing time for my students to read at their just right level.  Then I started to freak out.  The classrooms in my school have a literacy block, but the amount of time students are actually reading at their just right level when you take out some of their center work, transitions, discussions and small group instruction is usually no where near the recommended amount. It forced me to rethink the way I was spending my "guided reading time" with students and reorganize my schedule to provide multiple opportunities each day for kids to read.  I really see a difference in my students now that I have made some changes in my own classroom. Our struggling readers need even more time...

Oh dear... sorry this was so long.  Hope it was helpful to someone.  Thanks for taking the time to read it.  Happy Friday!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

It's the Grand Opening of the TBA Blog Shop!

Dear Santa,
Please tell my family and my students that I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE any of the amazing products at TBA's new blog shop for Christmas (and my birthday and the end of the year).

Ok, fine... I guess it's not polite to send a list (at least to my students). But seriously... this stuff is super cute! You can click on the link below to shop till you drop (or even just to check it out). So cute!

I'm workin' on another post about struggling readers.  Sometime between swimming, dance, dog walking and dinner with friends I will get that posted (right after I do some blog shoppin!).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Struggling Readers

I've been promising to post a few things about working with struggling readers. The problem is there is just so much to say. I've worked in a split position as a 1st grade teacher/literacy intervention specialist in my building for the past few years, so my entire day was spent teaching reading. Spending my entire day teaching reading (mostly to struggling readers) and doing lots of reading about research based best practices has taught me a lot about working with kids who are at risk readers.  I'm obviously not an expert, but I'm happy to share some of the things I've learned and/or noticed.  My experience is with students who are in grades pre-K through 2. However, I'm sure some of the same things apply to students who are older, but are reading a grade level or two behind their peers.

I will do a few posts over the next couple days about this topic, so I don't have to make one incredibly long post... plus sitting here that long would mean I would probably eat this entire bag of M & M's.

When I do training with teachers in our district or do presentations at conferences, there are certain questions that come up over and over again. Some of the most popular questions I get...
1. How do you assess your struggling readers?
2. How do you know what to focus on first?
3. Can you recommend specific books/resources that give you practical strategies/activities to use with struggling readers?

How do I assess my struggling readers?
(Here are the assessments that I do.  They are done in this order with each student.)
letter identification
letter sounds
phonemic awareness
developmental spelling inventory (I use the Ganske version.)
running record (to determine their independent and instructional Fountas/Pinnell level)
Dibels - This is done district wide and is used as a universal screener.  I don't find it very useful, but it is required.

After reviewing all of the assessment data, I determine specific goals for each student.  If a student knows all of their letters, then I work on the sounds.  If a student knows all of their letters and sounds, then I work on any of the phonemic awareness skills they may be lacking.  If they have the phonemic awareness skills down, then I examine their developmental spelling inventory results to find a specific area of need within that assessment.  I use the sheet below to give myself a snapshot of my entire class (or caseload) as I determine the targets that I should focus on from the spelling inventory. I simply write each students name in one of the boxes depending on their individual goal.  Then I can group students more easily for word work while I am planning.

Finally, each student is assigned an independent reading level for practicing at home and during independent reading time.  I provide instruction at their instructional reading level while they are working with me in a small group.

Here are my favorite books for professional reading about working with struggling readers.  You can click on the image to read the description from Amazon.  The 1st book really describes the importance of giving specific attention to struggling readers and talks about the research based best practices for helping struggling readers.
  This book gives specific information about strategies and activities to use with struggling readers.  It also has a copy of the developmental spelling inventory and gives you information about each stage of development within the inventory (plus suggested activities for each stage).  This book also talks about the importance of doing picture sorts, sound sorts and word sorts.

Ok... I ate way too many M & M's already. Tomorrow, I will post about my Top 5 tips for working with struggling readers. 

Blog Stalking Linky Party

Clutter Free Classroom is having a blog stalking linky party! If you have not visited Clutter Free Classroom you should really check it out. It's a blog full of management tricks, organizational tips and classroom theme ideas. You can click on the link below to visit Clutter Free Classroom and find a list of new blogs to stalk this summer!

You should also check out TBA (Teaching Blog Addict) blog if you haven't already...  TBA was designed by the fabulous Tamara for teaching blog addicts to connect and share ideas/resources.  On the TBA site, you can find lists of blogs by grade level, summer workshop topics, books study discussions, tons of freebies and a a whole lot more!  TBA is  a must "stalk" resource for classroom teachers, homeschoolers and parents!  If you haven't been there yet... it's time!    You won't be disappointed.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Another Review of Best Books for Boys

If you read my post about Pam Allyn's new book Best Books for Boys, you should also check out the review that Melissa posted on her blog (F is For First Grade).  After reading her post, I'm going to try (which is not easy for little old me) to be more flexible with Daily 5 in my room.

Coming soon... more math station freebies, a post about the things I've learned about working with struggling readers and a short vowel literacy centers packet that I'll be posting on Tpt soon.  Oh, how I love summer!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Math Work Station Freebies

In between playing with my kids in the pool and walking my dogs, I've been enjoying Debbie Diller's Math Work Stations book like so many other bloggers out there.  I have changed rooms 6 times in the past 6 years.  All the moving I've done has helped me "clean out" (in fact I'm sort of famous for throwing things away), but it also leads to "last minute stuffing" when you have to rush to move out and rush to move into a new space.  So, my project for the next few weeks is going to be to reorganize my math cupboard and set up my math work stations. Remember I have not taught math in a few years, because of my "split" job.  Between the graduate level math classes I took this year, this book and all the fabulous ideas teachers are sharing in the book discussion... I can't wait to get started!

Here are some story mats that I use with my students.  You can click on the picture to download.  The clipart is from

And... these are the numbers I am going to use on my math work station bins.  The font is from Lettering Delights.  Once again, you can click on the picture to download.

Hope these are helpful to someone (other than me)!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book Shopping to Motivate My Boys

Yesterday, I posted a book review for Pam Allyn's new book. Her book is called Best Books for Boys.  Today, I went shopping at my favorite local bookstore (Nicola's Bookstore).  I was looking for comic books, joke books and poetry for my first graders (and specifically my boys).  I found some great books that I think my boys are gonna love! 
Joke Books
 A Ripley's Believe It or Not book
 A National Geographic Kids book

Here are the titles and authors in case you want to check any of them out.   The last two are not exactly "leveled reading" material, but I know my boys (and girls) will be drawn to them.

Silly Street by Jef Foxworthy
Dizzy Dinosaurs by Lee Bennett Hopkins
My Parents Think I'm Sleeping by Jack Prelutsky
Dirty Laundry Pile by Paul Janeczko
Knock Knock Jokes by Victoria Fremont
Kids' Funniest Jokes by Sheila Anne Barry
Ripley's Believe It or Not Curioddities
National Geographic Kids Human Footprint by Ellen Kirk

Next, I'm off to scrounge up some baseball cards for my reading corner. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Best Books for Boys

Are you always looking for a way to motivate your boys to read? I was recently asked to review the book Best Books for Boys by Pam Allyn. For the past 3 years, I worked in a split position as a first grade teacher and the Literacy Intervention Specialist in my building. I've done lots of reading about motivating struggling readers (and specifically boys).

I was hooked on Ms. Allyn's book when I read the words "we are not giving boys the books they want to read". Most of the research I've read about motivating boys to read includes tips such as giving boys "choices" of a variety reading material and making non-fiction texts more available in the classroom. Ms. Allyn's book gave me lots of new ideas that I can't wait to use in my classroom next year!

I love reading professional books that leave me with "oh-my's"! You know... "Why didn't I think of that?" and "Wow - changing that next year for sure!" and "Oh good, I knew there was a reason I did that."

Here are my oh-my's...
1. Consider what, where and how boys read in your room - Reading this book left me with lots of new ideas for reading material for boys. Here are just a few of the ideas from the book.
non-fiction (I have a huge variety available to my readers.)
comic books (oops - not so much)
baseball cards (oops - great idea!)
video games/computer games (I'm honestly having a hard time selling this idea to parents/administrators and myself - but I'm thinking about ways to point out to my students how much you need to read when playing video games.)
magazines (I have some, but not nearly enough.)
sports pages (oops - another great idea!)
online resources (I let my kids play specific games, but want to "hire" a parent volunteer next year to monitor the computer area so I can have kids do more specific things there.)
poetry - (I need more poetry at the level that kids can read.  Any poets out there?  We need more poetry that our youngest readers can enjoy.)
Ms. Allyn talks about devoting a special place to reading in your classroom.  She gives tips on everything from lighting to having boys and girls give input about what is important to them in their reading environment.
 This book gives lots of helpful tips for how to help boys feel more comfortable with reading and to help them celebrate their reading progress.  Ms. Allyn describes the importance of providing enough time for boys to read, allowing them to reread (especially struggling readers) and allowing them to see men reading as role models.  She even gives tips about how to help boys who get distracted and/or highly active.

A major portion of Ms. Allyn's book is dedicated to a large list of her "Best Picks for Boys".  It is a book list divided into categories that include everything from action/adventure to math/numbers.  The list includes suggested titles in each category for emerging, developing and maturing readers.  Each title includes a brief description of the book.

The things I'm going to change as a direct result of reading this book:
1.  look for more magazines
2.  "borrow" some baseball cards from around my house
3.  start a boy's book club and a girl's book club in my room (and find a parent to lead each)
4.  go get my puppet theater out of storage (I know my boys are motivated to read certain stories when I have puppets and props to go with them.  I confess...unfortunately, I tend to close the "theater" and put caution tape around it when I boys start bonkin' each other on the head with my precious puppets.)
5.  invite our male staff members and dads to be guest readers each month
6.  write a grant for some comic books (which I don't really like... but it's not about me, right?)
7.  reconsider the poems my kids use in their poetry books and include more poetry to motivate my boys
8.  reconsider my reading environment to give my students more choices
9.  make "I Can" charts with my students about our reading spaces in the classroom

If you would like to purchase your own copy of Best Books for Boys, you can click on the image below.  It's currently only $14.45 on Amazon and eligible for free super saver shipping. Check it out!


One final thought from Ms. Allyn's book (which is one that I often have when working with my struggling readers)... "do we, in our classrooms, only accept a narrow range of behaviors we deem "normal" and, therefore, suitable for school?".  Hmm... something to think about while I walk the dogs on this beautiful summer day.

Now... who will be follower #300 on my blog?  Happy Wednesday!

Monday, June 13, 2011

My Favorite Things Linky Party

Mrs. Coe at Little Miss Kindergarten is having a linky party about "favorite things"! Here are a few of my favorite things...

1. My kids... Marissa (8) and Donavon (5)!
2. Petoskey, Michigan - We spend two weeks there every summer. (Yep, my kids wear sunglasses by the campfire cause they hate to get smoke in their eyes. How funny is that?)
3. Dt. Dew - I really have to have one every morning. It's my coffee.
4. Sharpies!
5. lacrosse - I am one of the coaches for our local high school girl's lacrosse team.
6. brightly colored flowers - Tulips are my favorite.
7. lists - I love lists (or maybe I just love checking things off my list).
8. mexican food
9. books - of course
10. bloggin' - I'm obviously addicted and lovin' every minute of it!

Stop by Little Miss Kindergarten to link up to share your favorite things!
Happy Monday!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Summer How To Writing Book

This summer, TBA is having a series of workshops for teachers. This week, the workshop is about Summer Learning Fun. Here is my contribution... it's a how to writing book with a summer theme. It's an easy and fun way to keep kids writing and thinking over the summer months. If you click on the picture below, you can download the whole book. I hope you like it!

Stop by to visit TBA to check out the other summer learning fun ideas!

A Visual Schedule for Your Classroom

So the fact that my husband decided my first day of summer vacation was a perfect time to rip up the carpet in our bedroom and install hardwood floors delayed my plan to sit around and be lazy for just one day... but I did manage to finish (finally) the daily schedule words that I've been working on for Tpt. The picture below shows a preview. I'm going to laminate my set on white cardstock and display them in a pocket chart. I already have a visual schedule for my kids, but it's not nearly as cute. Why no pictures? I like my students to focus on "reading" the words. After only a few weeks of school, my first graders are very proud to be able read the words on our daily schedule. Just click on the picture below if you'd like to check them out on Tpt.

By the way, I think my husband is a little jealous because he is a teacher too and he has 5 more days of school. But, I must admit... I love the new floors and my handy, hardworking husband!

Coming soon... I was recently asked to review a book for a publishing company.  I'm so excited to share a bit about it with you in the next few days!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Thank goodness!

It's official... my assignment for next year is 1st grade! I am so excited to be returning to my "normal" life in 1st grade! For the past three years, I have had a split assignment so I could work as the Literacy Intervention Specialist in my building. I worked as a classroom teacher in the morning and worked with the most at risk readers in the building in the afternoon. That meant job sharing, having 2 jobs, way too many kids and moving my classroom every summer. I learned a lot about working with struggling readers (which I'm going to do a few posts about this summer). I also learned a lot from my teaching partners and from my staff, but I'm excited to return to "normal" and enjoy 1st grade all day. I will also be welcoming a student teacher into my classroom in the fall. So much to look forward to!

In 3 more days (when school is out), I have a plan.  My plan includes waking up to drink my diet dew in the chair (that I haven't sat in since winter break) and digging into Debbie Diller's math station book.   I've been following the blog discussions and can't wait to start reading and planning for next year. Notice the fancy pillow... thank you TBA!  I won it as a Tag You're It prize a few weeks ago. :)

Monday, June 6, 2011


Thanks for visiting today! I have 4 1/2 more days of school left! One of the teachers on my team keeps reminding me that it means we have 4 1/2 more opportunities to teach the children. I'm up to my eyeballs in assessments, unfinished memory books and report card data.

I have a list of things I'm really excited to post about, but that will have to wait till I'm finished with my 4 1/2 more "opportunities".  Here is a page from my memory book.  You can see the whole memory book at my Tpt store.  If you'd like to download this page to use with your students now or at the beginning of next year, just click on the picture below.

Thanks for stopping by to visit today!