Teaching Tip: Learning to Apply What You Have Learned

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Phonics has been in the news a lot lately. It’s very important that we teach phonics. I don’t think any teacher disputes this! But phonics is not a goal in and of itself. We teach students phonics—or how words work—so they will learn how to decode unknown words while reading and how to encode unknown words while writing.

I learned so much about phonics and the importance of teaching students decoding skills when I was a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader. I also learned how important it is to be able to teach students how to apply these new decoding skills to authentic reading and writing situations. This intervention program has results unmatched by any other. In a Reading Recovery lesson, students read several books, write a story, and are given a brief, highly targeted “phonics” lesson. Throughout their lesson, students are instructed how to immediately apply the phonics skills they have been taught to real-life situations.

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January Office Hours Webinar

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Please join Jan Richardson and I next Tuesday, January 14, at 4:00pm EST, when we’ll be holding our free Office Hours webinar. Our topic will be Guiding Writers: Teaching with Intention and Intensity.

Including guided writing as part of your guided reading lesson extends comprehension and improves students’ writing skills. We will begin January’s Office Hours by sharing a short presentation on how to enhance students’ understanding of character traits, motivations, and feelings through writing. After the presentation, Jan and I will be available for a Q&A session on guided writing.

Visit the Pioneer Valley Books website for more information on this free webinar series, and click here to register for the January webinar!

Teaching Tip: More about Word Study

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Word study is an important but very brief part of a guided reading lesson.

In November, Jan Richardson and I hosted our first webinar, where we attempted to answer a range of questions about word study. It has been posted here if you haven’t had a chance to watch it!

We had many questions we couldn’t get to, so I’ve picked a few to answer here.

Erin’s question:
I have a kindergartener who speaks Chinese in the home. She has mastered her letter names when tracing but is struggling with picking up sounds. Any recommendations on how to support her in this learning?

Children beginning to learn English as a second language may experience more challenges with the word study part of the lesson. As you know, Chinese is a very different system from our English system. Can your student hear the sound but not identify which letter it is? Doing more lessons with picture sorting will help. Also, students can get confused if in the classroom the teacher uses an ABC chart with one set of pictures and then in an intervention setting uses a chart with a different set of pictures. Pick one and stick to it: A-apple or A-alligator, but not both!

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Michèle and Jan’s Office Hours Webinar

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I’m pleased to announce that Jan Richardson and I will be holding office hours for 30 minutes once a month to talk about how the amazing tools from Pioneer Valley Books help you teach literacy in your classrooms, and to answer your questions about how to improve your own use of these tools. The free series launches next Wednesday, November 20, at 4:00pm, and focuses on Word Study.

Visit the Pioneer Valley Books website for more information on this exciting new webinar series, and click here to register for its debut!

Teaching Tip: What Are the Other Kids Doing?

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One of the biggest things that gets in the way of implementing guided reading is keeping the other students appropriately occupied so guided reading lessons can be taught without interruption.

I had an opportunity recently to listen to Debbie Diller, a guru on this topic, at the International Literacy Association (ILA). She has some great ideas for how to make this work. I suggest reading her book Literacy Work Stations: Making Centers WorkView Debbie Diller’s Simply Stations series.

Debbie says teachers are spending too much time creating activities for centers. We focus too much on the “stuff” and instead need to focus on what we want students to learn. She sets up what she calls SIMPLE literacy stations that run all year and provide students with opportunities to explore and practice what they are learning. Students read, write, listen, speak, or work with words. Materials are changed to reflect students’ new reading levels, strategies being taught, and topics being studied.

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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.

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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.

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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!