Early Emergent Readers: Learning to Self-Monitor

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One of the most important things for an emergent reader to learn is to check that what they read makes sense, looks right, and sounds right. This is called self-monitoring. Often the teacher does the monitoring for the student, but it is critical that students learn to check themselves.

One of the first ways that students begin to self-monitor is matching a finger up to words. When they don’t find enough words or they see too many, you may notice them going back and rereading to match the book’s words to their own. That is self-monitoring, and it’s important to praise this behavior. Try saying I like the way you went back to make that match! or something similar.

To be able to self-monitor, a student needs some footholds in the text. They don’t need to know every word, but it is very important that they begin to learn some. Children often learn to recognize their name early in their reading. That’s why I like to use level A and B BookBuilder Online stories, which can be personalized to include familiar names. A student’s name can provide that necessary foothold in print.

Students also need to use the first letter of a word. They can cross-check the letter sound with the image on the page. Is that picture a pony or a horse? It starts with a p-p-p sound, so the word must be pony!

I have lots of fun spending time with my four-and-a-half-year-old grandson Jaxson, who is in the very earliest stages of learning to read. His mother asked me, “Isn’t he just memorizing the stories?” Yes, a lot of Jaxson’s reading is memorized, but along the way he’s beginning to learn things about print. By arranging opportunities, he learns more each time we read together. Take a look at this video where he reads one of Pioneer Valley Books’ titles, Dad Is at Work.

Jaxson has read quite a few stories with the word dad and I have encouraged him to make dad (using a model) with magnetic letters several times. After reading the book, we wrote a short story about his dad on a sentence strip. Jaxson wrote most of the first letters in each word. His story is My dad is a dad. (A bit of behind-the-scenes trivia: Jaxson’s dad is my son Nick, who appears in many of classic Pioneer Valley Books stories such as The Pie and The Little Cousins Visit. Nick created the BookBuilder program and currently acts as the company’s IT Manager in addition to his all-important role as Dad!)

After writing the story on the sentence strip, I cut it up and had Jaxson put it back together. In the video, watch Jaxson read the book to Papa and then put the cut-up sentence together again. See how Jaxson uses the word dad to self-monitor.

As you work with emergent readers, consider how you might create opportunities for students to learn to self-monitor. Here are a few ideas:

1. Teach students a few very useful sight words they can use as footholds in the print. Make sure to use books where they will see those words again and again.

2. Encourage students to cross-check the initial sound with the picture. How did you know it says pony and not horse?

3. Praise students for noticing when something isn’t right, not just for getting it right!

Thanks for reading another one of my teaching tips!

Teaching Tip: Collecting and Using Data to Inform Teaching, Part Two!

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In my last post, I shared a video of educator, Amy Ferris, sharing about the data-driven teaching methods she is implementing at her kindergarten-only school in Richmond, Kentucky. My next data story comes from Julie Allsworth. Julie is a former literacy coach in Pinellas County, Florida, and also a Pioneer Valley Books consultant. She is currently working on her doctorate and regularly consults with school districts nationwide. Here, Julie shares her findings in her own words:

Julie Allsworth
Julie Allsworth in the classroom

“In my work with districts and schools in various states, I have found that the most successful students receive guided reading on a daily basis, and their teachers methodically utilize Literacy Footprints lessons. Students are instructed in reading strategies and behaviors, the appropriate level of word study, sight words tracked on the high-frequency chart, and scaffolded guided writing.

In addition, it is very important that students who read below grade level receive two daily doses of Tier 2 instruction; that is the only way to close their learning gaps. In addition to any other intervention the student receives, the classroom teacher also needs to provide daily guided reading for the struggling reader. Two doses of Literacy Footprintsper day will do the trick and close struggling readers’ learning gaps.

Data from the schools I have worked with shows the effectiveness of the Literacy Footprints program. In one rural Tennessee school, 75% of students came into kindergarten labeled ‘at-risk’; those students received two Beginner Steps lessons per day and completed the alphabet tracing routine daily. After one year of guided reading instruction, all of those ‘at-risk’ kindergartners entered first grade reading on grade level. At a Wisconsin school I advised, struggling readers received guided reading twice a day. After one year of using Literacy Footprints, the school reduced special education referral rates in kindergarten through second grade from 7–8% to just 1.37%.

My data also directed me to solutions for students who cannot be seen by an interventionist, Reading Recovery teacher, or a Title teacher for a second daily dose of reading instruction. In those cases, teachers should utilize the 10-minute one-on-one lesson plan. Data from that same Wisconsin school showed that many students eligible for Reading Recovery services who received the 10-minute lesson in place of Reading Recovery (due to limited resources) were able to reach grade-level reading proficiency by the end of first grade. These students received a second dose of guided reading daily from classroom teachers who utilized the 10-minute plan in a one-on-one lesson. Lo and behold, their learning gaps had closed at the end of first grade! Following Literacy Footprints and giving students two daily doses of guided reading lessons can undoubtedly help students to reach grade-level proficiency in reading and close their learning gaps!”

I hope these stories inspire you and your team to look at your data and think about what you can learn from it. What changes might you make to improve your students’ access to and knowledge of literacy? I want to know! Leave me a comment or connect with me on social media.

Teaching Tip: Collecting and Using Data to Inform Teaching

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Many years ago, I was sitting in the Columbus, Ohio, airport after presenting at the National Reading Recovery conference. I eavesdropped on a conversation across the aisle, and that’s how I met Maryann McBride, a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader from Virginia. She was showing Excel data about Reading Recovery students to a group of teachers sitting next to her. From that first encounter, I discovered that Maryann is an amazing storyteller. She can even make a spreadsheet sound exciting, and this particular one made a profound impression on me. Maryann was collecting weekly data on Reading Recovery students’ text level and writing vocabulary from all the teachers she supported in her huge district. Maryann had started to use that data to pinpoint students who might not accelerate, even though they’d been in their intervention program just a few weeks. The data helped her make decisions about when more support was needed. I thought this might work for my site. My geographically diverse western Massachusetts region ranged from a small disadvantaged urban district to tiny hill-town schools in the Berkshire mountains. I used Maryann’s techniques to help my team drastically improve our ability to support teachers.

The important thing about data is that we use it to help us make informed decisions. Too often data is used just to judge success or failure. Many teachers have shared their experiences with me over the years, and I’m excited to pass their data-driven methods on to you.

Let’s start with one from Amy Ferris, who collected data and used it to improve individual student reading and writing opportunities. Amy is a literacy interventionist in a kindergarten-only school in Richmond, Kentucky. A large number of their students come to school with meager letter knowledge. This past summer, Amy attended Jan Richardson’s and my Literacy Footprints Institute. Amy’s school also began using the Literacy Footprints guided reading system that Jan and I developed. In the video below, Amy shares the data that she and her colleagues began to collect this fall and the results they are getting using Literacy Footprints strategies. I love the outside-the-box thinking that Amy and her team are using and I think you will too!

If you’d like to see the letter tracing technique that Amy talks about, check out Jan Richardson’s demonstration of it on in the ABC Book video on literacyfootprints.com. You can also find the student-sized ABC book used in the video on pioneervalleybooks.com.

I hope Amy’s story inspires you and your team to look at your data and think about what you can learn from it. What changes might you make to improve your students’ access to and knowledge of literacy?

Teaching Tip: Cause and Effect in the Classroom

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Teaching students how to locate cause and effect in the text can help them learn how to analyze relationships between people, events, and ideas. To begin, introduce cause and effect to students using very simple stories. Familiar tales such as The Three Little Pigs can provide a great starting point. After reading the book, ask students, What caused the wolf to blow down the first little pig’s house? (They’ll be able to tell you that the little pig did not let him come in).

Once students read at level N or higher, you can begin to ask them to think of their own What causedquestions. Prepare your lesson by writing What caused on some sticky notes, then placing one on a few pages in each student’s book. After they finish reading a page, ask students to write a What causedquestion on the sticky note.

The video below shows a lesson from the new Literacy Footprints Third Grade guided reading system. Here you’ll see Jan Richardson working with a group of third graders in North Carolina using Trains, a level N book. This was the first time these students worked with cause and effect in their guided reading lesson. Notice how Jan models the cause-effect strategy on the first page. As students read, Jan supported them and had them create their own What caused questions on their sticky notes. As you can see, encouraging students to use this strategy as they read really helped. Each student had a better understanding of the text, which had many new or unfamiliar concepts.

For more about teaching cause and effect, see page 276 of Jan’s book The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading. To learn more about the Literacy Footprints Third Grade kit, visit literacyfootprints.com.

Teaching Tip: Learning to Cross-Check

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Beginning readers need to learn to check one kind of information with another; this is called cross-checking. Students might check meaning (via the picture) with visual information (via the first letter of the word). They also may check that the words they say match the number of words they point to. Cross-checking leads to self-correction or, at the very least, helps students to stop and notice when something isn’t right. This step is an important part of developing a strong processing system. As teachers, we need to set up opportunities for students to cross-check and then teach, prompt, and reinforce it.

Text selection plays a critical role in supporting students’ ability to cross-check. To help, I wrote Dad and Name Clean the House, a new free BookBuilder Online story that I hope you will find useful. Many guided reading books at level B have a pattern that includes two lines of text on each page, but this one works a bit differently. Each page shows something that Dad can do and then the next one demonstrates what the named boy can do. You can create your own version by adding a familiar boy’s name, and students can check the picture to know if it is the boy or Dad doing the cleaning. Students should be able to cross-check two early known words: the name and Dad. This will help them know if they are reading correctly and should give students a solid foothold in the text.

If a student makes a mistake, try prompting them for cross-checking as they read by saying, It could be _______, but look at ______. and point to the first letter in the word they misread. You can also ask, Were you right?, both when they are correct and when they’re not.

In a guided reading lesson at the emergent level (A to C), you might do a teaching point focused on cross-checking after students finish reading the book. Try folding back the picture, ask students to read the page, and talk about using the first letter to check. In this clip, watch literacy expert Jan Richardson show how this can work with the book Bella’s Busy Day.

Marie Clay tells us, When a teacher pays attention to cross-checking, the child is more likely to engage in it. Her attention to it shows the child that she values the checking behaviors. Jan’s work with these students provides a terrific demonstration of Clay’s words.

Wishing you a great start to the new year!

Need More Books?

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[This post is a guest post from our Marketing Coordinator, Rachel. Rachel handles lots of the marketing and social media business for Pioneer Valley Books. Today she’s sharing some awesome updates from a couple of their digital projects.]

At Pioneer Valley Books, we love doing whatever we can to ensure that teachers have as many quality books in their classroom as possible. We understand, though, that teachers can be constrained by budgets, as well as the physical space limitations of a classroom. Unfortunately, purchasing every Pioneer Valley Books title isn’t always realistic!

This is one of the reasons we have created BookBuilder Online (BBO), and now we’ve opened our Teachers Pay Teachers store (TpT). Through BBO and TpT, we’re able to offer free or inexpensive books that teachers can print out and use in the classroom or send home with their students. On both BookBuilder Online and Teachers Pay Teachers, our books can be printed out, either in black and white or in color, and easily assembled. Assembly instructions are included in every story.

Our BookBuilder Online stories can be customized, which is an excellent way to get kids excited about reading. Kids love reading their own names in a book! Even grown-ups enjoy printing out these books with their own names. (It’s one of the perks of the job. What can I say?)

From "Busy Name," a free story available on BBO now!
From “Busy Name,” a free story available on BBO now!

If you’d like even more books every month, I highly recommend purchasing a BookBuilder Online subscription. With a subscription, you’ll have access to 80 BookBuilder stories (levels A/1 to I/15), including stories with favorite characters like Bella and Rosie!

Until the end of September, you can get 20% off your BookBuilder Online subscription with the code BUILDER16. I hope you’ll take advantage of this sale and check out everything we have to offer.

You can learn more and subscribe to BookBuilder Online here.

Today on our Teachers Pay Teachers store, we have two new free books for you! Fall Is Here (A/1) and Fun in the Leaves (B/2) are both colorful, funny books, perfect for beginning readers. I think you’ll really enjoy them.

From "Fun in the Leaves," a new story available for download now from our Teachers Pay Teacher store!
From “Fun in the Leaves,” a new story available for download now from our Teachers Pay Teacher store!

You can shop our entire Teachers Pay Teachers store here.

To stay in the loop and always know about future sales and new products, make sure to follow Pioneer Valley Books on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

Happy teaching!

Marketing Coordinator at Pioneer Valley Books

Fan Mail of the Month: Thanks, Eliza!

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We love getting fan mail from young readers here at Pioneer Valley Books! Students write letters to all our characters, but Bella and Rosie are definitely fan favorites around here!

I especially loved this recent letter from Eliza to Bella and Rosie!

An adorable letter from Eliza to Bella and Rosie
An adorable letter from Eliza to Bella and Rosie

In the letter, Eliza writes:

Dear Bella and Rosie,

I love you, Bella and Rosie! What kind of dog are you? When I read your books they make a smile on my face. Everyday you sit next to me and help me learn. I want to meet you in person. How old are you? I hope you like my letter!

Love, Eliza

(P.S. I looooooooooooooooove you!) 


Thank you so much for this letter, Eliza! To answer your questions, Bella and Rosie are Bichon Frises! We actually have a book all about this breed of dog. It’s called “All About Bichons.” (Level F/10) Bichon dogs are small, white, fluffy, and very friendly! Bella and Rosie are very friendly and funny dogs! They are 16 years old, which is quite old for a dog!

"All About Bichons" (F/10) by Michele Dufresne
“All About Bichons” (F/10) by Michele Dufresne

We hope you’ll write us again, Eliza!

For any young readers who’d like to ask Bella and Rosie, or any of our other over forty characters, any questions, please write us! All information on reaching us can be found on the Contact Us page of our website!

Have a great week!

-Michele Dufresne

Get back into the school spirit with BookBuilder Online!

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It’s September, which in our world only means one thing: back to school!

Our BookBuilder™ Online tool is such a great resource for getting kids excited to be back in school. BookBuilder™ Online is a fun, easy way to personalize stories for young readers. Just insert the student’s name and the names of important people in the student’s life and print out an adorable new story! The printed pages are easily assembled into a small book.

Kids love reading their own name in stories! Personalized stories are a great way to get reluctant readers engaged. BookBuilder™ books can be printed off anytime, these books are easy to send home with kids so they can continue reading at home with parents or siblings.

We have two new cute stories for the early readers you’re working with this month!

“Busy” is a level A/1.


“Helping Out” is a level B/2.



This month, we’re offering a special 20% off subscriptions to BookBuilder™ Online! Through September 30, 2016, get 20% off your subscription with the code BUILDER16.

You can subscribe to BookBuilder™ Online here! 

Happy reading!

Michele Dufresne 

Our August BookBuilders!

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Every month, we create two free, printable books and make them downloadable via our BookBuilder Online. For August, we’ve got two awesome new stories for you!

Because August means back to school season, our first story is called “Back to School.” (Level 2/B)


Our second story this month is perfect for fall weather. It’s called “Delicious Stone Soup.” (Level 16/I)

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You can download these free books, and many more, here!


Our July BookBuilder Books for You!

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Every month, we create two free, printable books and make them downloadable via our BookBuilder Online. For July,  both of our stories are about summer vacation!

Our first story is “The Summer Book Report.” (Level 18/J) Kids can insert their own names into these stories to personalize them. Fans of Bella & Rosie will especially love this story!


Our next story is “The Surfing Lesson.” (Level 14/H) Kids will love this funny little story about learning to surf the waves like a pro.


You can download these free books, and many more, at BookBuilder Online.