Teaching Tip: Teaching Test-Taking

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Fantasy, mystery, biography, poetry, and informational are some of the genres we use during guided reading. Often forgotten, or maybe not considered, is reading for test-taking. This genre demands different cognitive skills that need to be taught for both reading the passage and answering the questions.

To introduce this genre to your students, first download and print copies of the Test-Taking Strategies cards from Next Step in Guided Reading author Jan Richardson’s website. These cards outline the steps for reading the passage and answering the questions. Print the cards back-to-back so each student has a card to use in the lesson.

Strategies for Reading the Passage

Step 1. Before reading a test passage, students should use their background knowledge by previewing text features—such as the title, headings, illustrations, graphs, and/or charts—to make predictions. This preview sets a purpose for reading.

Step 2. As they read the passage, students should circle or underline one or two key words in each paragraph. This helps them maintain focus and attention. When students read with a pencil in hand, the result is an amped level of accountability and understanding.

Step 3. After reading each paragraph, students should use the key words they highlighted to orally summarize it. This helps them remember what they read, which will assist them when they answer the test questions.

Step 4. Once they read the entire passage, they can use their highlighted key words to retell the entire passage.

Strategies for Answering Questions

Step 1. The first step involves understanding the question. Here, you will teach students how to identify key words in each question. (Hint: these words often include academic language, such as compare, analyze, determine, etc.)

Step 2. Now teach students to paraphrase the question using the key words they identified in step 1. This helps students focus their attention and clarify the purpose of the question. Through paraphrasing, their processing is slowed down, providing time for students to comprehend what the question is truly asking. Students who struggle with reading tests often jump to the multiple-choice answers and look for something that may have been in the passage but may not answer the question.

Step 3. The next step is to have students decide if they should look back through the text. Once students know where to look, they can utilize the comprehension strategies you have taught them in guided reading. For example, if the question is asking for a comparison, students can think of what they know about answering yellow questions. Or if a question asks which statement would be included in a summary of the text, they can quickly use the Somebody-Wanted-But-So card for the text and choose the answer that best fits.

Step 4. Finally, it is important to teach students to evaluate all the choices. Students need to toggle with the answer choices by asking, “Does this choice answer the question?” or by concluding, “I think it is right/not right because …” Once an answer choice is determined, students should reread the question and their answer to be sure they’ve selected the correct response. Sometimes all the choices are lifted from the text but only one answers the question. In some cases, the question asks the reader to identify two correct answers.

Teach these steps during your guided reading lessons. Once these strategies are internalized, they will become second nature for students.

—Karen Cangemi, Literacy Consultant

Teaching Tip: Word Study Literacy Tip

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Utilize the Assess-Decide-Guide Framework to Ensure Effective Word Study Instruction: Meet Jacob!

As a nationwide staff developer focused on the implementation of customized guided reading, I am frequently asked how to best engage learners in effective word study. Jan Richardson and Michèle Dufresne have authored a timely publication intended to help us design and deliver developmentally appropriate word study and phonics instruction even more strategically. Let me offer steps to take based on the practices featured in The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics (2019) and The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading (2016), as well as my long-term work with students, including Jacob (pseudonym).

I began to work intensively with Jacob at the close of his second-grade year. His data revealed a struggle with skills, including digraphs. As suggested by Jan and Michèle, I led Jacob through a series of word study activities during his guided reading lessons. Across his journey of learning, I monitored Jacob to confirm he was utilizing his newly acquired word study skills when reading and writing.

More specifically, Jacob first engaged in picture sorting to help him hear sounds and link them to letters (The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics, p. 34). Once he accurately and confidently sorted pictures featuring digraphs, we then focused on making words, which challenged him to visually scan words to check for letter-sound accuracy (The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics, p. 36). As he demonstrated proficiency with making words, he then engaged in sound boxes with the intent of helping him hear and record sounds in sequence (The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics, p. 38). The sophistication of his word study activities increased as he displayed proficiency. I repeatedly witnessed the value of strategically embedding word study into his guided reading lessons. I celebrated as he applied what he was learning about letters, sounds, and words when reading and writing.

A summary of the steps taken to help Jacob become a more proficient word solver, which are presented by Jan and Michèle in their Assess-Decide-Guide Framework (The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics, p. 20), is as follows:

    • Assess:  Examine Jacob’s data to determine word study needs and strengths.
    • Decide:  Determine the word study activities aligned to Jacob’s needs.
    • Guide:  Plan and teach needs-based word study instruction.

Try Jan and Michèle’s framework. The results are invigorating and rewarding for learners and teachers alike!

Author: Carolyn Gwinn, PhD; Educational Consultant

Warm Up the Reading Muscles

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I took a month off from my BODYPUMP class this summer. When I got back, I found myself struggling with the weight I was used to lifting prior to my hiatus. I had to use smaller weights. And boy was I sore the next day! But after a few classes, I was quickly back to lifting my usual weight.

As you head back to school, you may find that many of your kids did not lift a book all summer—and their reading muscles need some warming up! If you assess these students right away, you may not get an accurate assessment of what they really can do. Instead, for the first few weeks, consider dropping them down a few text levels from where they were at the end of the previous school year. Warm up your students with these easier books, and see how quickly they get back into the reading groove!

What about a Spelling Program?

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Spelling is an integral part of word study. During word study, students will learn to spell words that will be useful to them in reading and writing text.

If you feel you need a spelling program that goes beyond what students are learning in the word study segment of guided reading lessons, we recommend the following:

  1. Reconsider using the same list of spelling words with all your students. If your students are reading at different levels of proficiency, they will be at different stages of spelling. You can differentiate your spelling by grouping students into small groups based on those high-frequency words that will be appropriate for learning and practice.
  1. Have students learn a few words that follow a phonics pattern used during word study. Here is an example of a spelling list for a group at Level D:

away
down
looked
sheep
ship
shut

This list includes three high-frequency words that often occur in Level D guided reading books, including one with the –ed ending. There are also three words that start with the digraph sh, which you might be using in word study activities. At Level D, we recommend teaching students digraphs; learning to spell a few words with the sh digraph will help students learn some useful words that include the sounds they are working on.

  1. Provide students many opportunities to practice their spelling words. This can be done during an independent center time. Have students make the words with magnetic letters, write the words on dry-erase boards, do rainbow writing, write on fun surfaces like sand trays, and write with finger paint. Have students write sentences with their words and draw pictures. Create some spelling games, such as word bingo and roll and write.
  1. Review words long after the spelling week. If you want students to retain their spelling words in their long-term memory, it is not enough to have them learn them and then never work on them again. Have students practice by dictating sentences that include the new words AND old words they have learned. Review the words during sight word review at the beginning of each guided reading lesson.

 

Spelling Activities

Tic-Tac-Toe

Materials needed:
Tic-tac-toe template, dry-erase boards and markers

Directions
Print out the tic-tac-toe template. Student 1 (o) reads a spelling word and Student 2 (x) writes it on a dry-erase board. If it is correct Student 2 can place an x on the board. First to get tic-tac-toe wins the game.

 

Spelling Word Race

Materials needed:
Paper and pencils

Directions:
Teacher or a student dictates the spelling words. Two players race to write each spelling word. The student who writes the word the fastest (and correctly!) gets a point. The student with the most points after writing all the words wins the race.

 

Roll and Write

Materials needed:
dice, paper, pencils

Directions:
Player take turns rolling the dice. Whichever player has the highest number gets to write one spelling word. Whoever writes all their words first wins the game.

 

Spelling Word Bingo

Materials needed:
Bingo cards with spelling words written on them, bingo chips

Directions:
Print out the bingo cards and write the spelling words on the board. Make sure the words are arranged in a different order on the bingo board. Someone calls out a spelling word or turns over a card with the spelling words. Players cover the word with a bingo chip. The first student to complete a diagonal line column or row cries out, “bingo,” and wins the game.

Teaching Tip: Partnering Up

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Some children learn to read almost effortlessly, and others seem to struggle endlessly. I recently started working with a little guy in first grade named Cayden. Halfway through the year, he had pretty much given up. While the other students in his class were engaged in reading and writing, Cayden had perfected the art of avoiding both as much as possible.

His classroom teacher said to me, “He just can’t remember!” His special education teacher echoed the same, saying, “I have been working on the same five sight words for three weeks, and he still can’t remember them.”

Here is a video of Cayden reading a simple level B book. You can see that he does not have one-to-one matching established, but he is using the pictures and for the most part is able to carry the pattern of the text.

How can we help Cayden?

It is almost impossible to teach a student to read if they don’t want to learn. But what makes a child not want to learn? They believe they can’t! Not only do his teachers think Cayden can’t remember anything—Cayden believes it too! He has told me so on many occasions. The first step is to find a way for the student to succeed. Teaching the same five words over and over again, with the student failing at learning each time, is not helpful.

After assessing Cayden, I found he did know a few words that he could write and recognize in print. Next I arranged for Cayden to see those words again and again, as I knew they would teach him how to monitor or check on his reading. Not all of the words showed up in his books (for example, the names Pop and Cayden), so we wrote some books together, and I used BookBuilder Online to make him some books. Here is a BookBuilder story called Hats that I used with Cayden. This little book provided a breakthrough: he started looking at the print! You too can personalize a book in this way for one of your students.

The other important message for Cayden and other struggling readers (and their teachers) is that there are ways to help students remember. Thinking about what would make sense and what sounds right helps. Also, making the first sound of the word helps call it up. We need to build on students’ strengths. Both teachers were using “decode-able” text with Cayden (a district requirement). But the books did not sound like spoken language, so Cayden couldn’t use his oral language to help anticipate what would sound right. And the weak story lines didn’t help him to think about what would made sense. Struggling students need to be given text that allows them to use all sources of information. The more we take away, the harder it gets!

As teachers, we need to be partners together in helping our students read. Cayden’s classroom teacher and special education teacher have begun to set goals together and work in tandem. It is most unhelpful for Cayden to work on one thing in his classroom and then work on something very different with his special education teacher. Consider the teaching of sight words. Yes, he really needs to develop a core group of words he knows, but for him to be successful, his teachers need to start with just one. Furthermore, all his teachers need to work on that one word until Cayden knows it.

To accomplish this with Cayden, we used Jan Richardson’s four steps to teach the word. Then we reviewed each sight word daily! Finally, we made sure each word we were teaching showed up in many of his books and that he used it when writing. To ensure success, teachers need to provide the same echoes across their reading lessons.

Cayden is making progress. Yes, that progress is slow, but he is no longer completely discouraged. He is enjoying reading and loves writing. Recently, he read Splashing Dad with me—a level C book. His teachers are collaborating, and both are seeing progress. I feel very hopeful.

I have been thinking a lot about how to help teachers better collaborate with each other. I am excited to announce the Literacy Footprints Intervention Partner that will be ready in April. A big thank-you to the schools and teachers who piloted the program and provided us with such great feedback and data.

In the pilot, classroom teachers used Literacy Footprints and the intervention teachers used Intervention Partner to provide struggling readers with books with similar characters, sight words, and language structures. The Word Study lessons provided an echo, with similar concepts being taught, which in turn helped those students consolidate new learning.

The data coming in shows us that there is great power in working together. Whether you are a Reading Recovery teacher, a classroom teacher, an ELL teacher, or a special education teacher, we all need to partner up. Together we can make a difference!

Teaching Tip: Organizing Your Classroom Library for Young Readers

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I, like many educators, cannot believe how quickly summer passes! Nevertheless, back-to-school time is here, and many teachers are putting the final touches on their classrooms for this year. I thought it might be helpful to answer a question we received on Facebook a few weeks back about classroom library and book organization.

Corey asked,

Classroom libraries for independent reading: sort by genre or grade level?

In this Teaching Tip video, I talk about my tactics for book organization and getting students excited about reading new texts. If you have questions or topics you would like to hear about in the future, let us know on Facebook!

Happy Teaching!

Michèle

Getting Ready for ILA 2018 in Austin!

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Jan Richardson and I are putting the final touches on our interactive session at ILA 2018—What to Do When Kids Just Don’t Get it: Prompting for Deeper Understanding during Guided Reading. A few days ago, Jan and I synced up on video chat and decided to share a bit about our session with you. Watch our video to hear more!

I’d love to hear if you are planning on learning with us on July 21 in Austin, TX! Tweet me @MicheleDufresne and Jan @DrJanRichardson to let us know!

Happy reading!

Michèle

Unboxing the Literacy Footprints Fourth Grade Kit with Co-author, Jan Richardson

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Earlier this week, I talked on Zoom with my collaborator, Jan Richardson and showed off the new books and tools from our Literacy Footprints Fourth Grade Kit. This kit has been a blast to work on together, and we are so excited to share it with teachers. Check out this video where Jan and I chat about this powerful new resource for literacy learning!

Pre-ordered kits started to ship out last week! To learn more about our complete system to support guided reading, visit the Literacy Footprints website.

Happy Teaching,

Michèle

Summer Reading — It Matters!

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We don’t need tons of research to tell us that some of our students lose ground over the summer because they aren’t reading. We see it in classrooms at the start of each new school year. Students from low-income families often experience the most summer slide because they often lack access to books during nonschool times (Allington et al., 2010). This can contribute to a large achievement gap after several years.

How can we make sure that all of our kids have access to books over the summer? Here are a few ideas for you to ponder:

1. Create a lending library. Put together packs of books for students to take home over the summer. You might be concerned that you won’t get the books back, but I haven’t experienced this. Record the titles, put them into a study bag, and they will come back, maybe even a bit worn from being read! If possible, have students help choose their books, but guide them toward picking texts they will be able to read nearly independently.

library drop box

2. Take a field trip to the library with your students, and see if you can get parents to join you. Once there, help students learn where to find books they can read and enjoy. During my first few years of teaching, I was lucky to be in walking distance of the library. I took my students there often and found that they learned to love borrowing books and became avid library users.

3. Create a book giveaway program. Many schools have gotten creative and worked with their local community and state to provide books for students to keep. Book ownership is very powerful and can make an impact beyond your students since reads often get passed to younger siblings and other family members.  Research has shown that book distribution programs can improve attitudes toward reading (Lindsay, 2010). This, in turn, increases the volume of reading.

4. Have a book fair. Students love selecting their own books. Take care of students who don’t have funds by arranging for donations to ensure everyone gets to purchase some books. However, make sure each student’s selection is only reading materials. I am always sad when a student uses their limited funds to buy a poster or other nonbook item.

5. Have a book swap. Get students to bring in old books they no longer want and encourage trading.

6. Make free BookBuilder Online stories at bookbuilderonline.com. This Pioneer Valley Books site lets you create personalized books for students that you can print and send home. The variety of leveled texts meets the needs of many early readers.

beach book bag

7. Send a letter home to parents with tips on how to encourage their children to read over the summer. I like suggesting that they keep baskets of books in the car, in the bathroom, and next to their child’s bed.

8. Call or send a postcard to students later in the summer. Tell them about what you are reading and ask how they are enjoying their books!

Most of all, encourage your students to have fun reading! Just like many of us often look forward to an entertaining beach read, our students need reading to be a pleasurable and easy experience that keeps them coming back to books!

Happy summer!

Michèle

 

Sources:

Allington, R.L., McGill-Franzen, A., Camilli, G., Williams, L., Graff, J., Zeig, J., Zmach, C., & Nowak, R. (2010). Addressing summer reading setback among economically disadvantaged elementary students. Reading Psychology, 31(5), 411–427.

Lindsay, J. (2010). Children’s access to print material and education-related outcomes: Findings from a meta-analytic review. Naperville, IL: Learning Point Associates.