Finding the Details

Notes from the Classroom

image2This year as a kindergarten team, we had to decide on a Professional Learning Community goal to enhance our instruction. We decided that we’d like to work on having students elaborate in their writing and illustrations, and include feelings in both.

Here is part of what we’re doing.

In the Beginning

In kindergarten we start off our writing instruction by telling oral stories. This is the perfect time to model the adding of details and feelings to one’s story.

We start off by saying, “I bought a toy,” and see if the students find this to be an interesting story. Of course they always want to know more! When it’s the students’ turn to share stories, we ask questions to elicit more details and to see how they’re feeling.

After a few days of oral storytelling with emotional details, we model a detailed illustration of the event discussed. We also phase in the lessons on labeling (i.e., names, label the items in the pic, feelings, etc.).

Just as you convince young readers they are readers, you also need to convince them they are a community of authors and illustrators. Constant praise and access to writing outlets is key.

Mentor Texts

Mentor texts also show students how authors and illustrators include details to make the story more interesting. When feelings are shown, readers can better relate to and understand the story.

Additionally, mentor texts lend themselves well to lessons on writing what are often referred to as small moments. These are moments that have happened to the students, which they would be able to write about in detail. Young authors often express they have nothing to write about; sometimes they just need a little inspiration, and mentor texts can help with that too!

Below are just a few of my personal favorites. I would love to hear a few of your favorite mentor texts in the comments below; I am always looking to expand my library!

  • Hug. This is a great example of something young authors could emulate, in order elaborate their feelings.
  • cover_gramandgrandpaBear’s Loose Tooth and Bear Feels Scared (really the entire Bear series). One way to use these texts is to inspire a story about when students may have lost their first tooth, or about a time they were nervous and had someone help them.
  • Llama Llama books. These books include wonderful descriptive words and the easy flow of the text is fun for children to hear. The descriptive words alone are a great thing to point out for students to add to writing. The storylines are also relatable and a great jumping point when working on details.

Cross-Grade-Level Writing

Something new I’d like to try with my kindergarteners this year is set writing time with our second grade buddy class. Our intention is that writing together will build the skill level of the students as well as the confidence of the second graders. This thought is in its infancy stage and I will hopefully be able to post more about it later in the year.

For now, my coworker and I would like to have the students work together on a book about a character who has struggled to learn and/or do something. They will create a fictional character or write about themselves. We will have lessons built around the details of characters’ feelings, both when they struggle and succeed. The students will work to reflect this in the illustrations and the words.

We will have them share these with each other and other classrooms when completed. The power of an authentic audience is also motivating when writing!

In The End

At the end of the year I know my classroom will be full of amazing authors and illustrators. I know this because I believe in them and because of the growth they’ve already shown in three short months. Most started at the beginning of the year with the creation of what I refer to as sun people–a circle with arms and hands sprouting from it, with a smile inside and no words.

Now they are drawing multiple people with bodies that are separate from their heads, details in the scene, and labels with the picture. Some are adding a descriptive sentence or more about what is going on. I am elated and know they will keep going because they are motivated and believe in themselves too!

image1Tricia Ziegler (Twitter: @axf96; blog: http://kindergartentreasures.blogspot.com/) is a kindergarten teacher at Loon Lake Elementary, in the Walled Lake School District. She is a part of the Walled Lake iCouncil (Instructional Council) team and is part of starting a coding club at her school this year. She is in her eleventh year of teaching, with nine in kindergarten and two in Second Grade. Prior to that she taught in the Walled Lake Great Start Readiness Program, which is a state-funded preschool program for at-risk students. Tricia attended Michigan State University for her undergraduate degree and specialization in Early Childhood. She then attended Wayne State University for her Master’s in Teacher Education.

Being Bilingual is Better

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project
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Students progress in their language learning by using Spanish in all subject areas

How many languages do you speak? Chances are, if you are like many native-born Americans, the answer is a resounding…one. Only English.

Students at Marquette Elementary School in Muskegon, however, learn in both Spanish and English in the school’s dual language immersion program. The idea is that by the end of 8th grade, students will be prepared to enter high school fluent in two languages, regardless of their native tongue. The results are astonishing.

Kids begin in kindergarten classrooms where 90 percent of the instructional language is Spanish and 10 percent is English. Slightly more than half of the students come from homes where English is the spoken language, while the rest are from families where Spanish is the parents’ first language. This model of bilingual education is known as an “additive model,” in that students “add” a language to their first language without losing the capacity to listen, speak, read, or write in their home language.

It works.

A Fraught History of Bilingual Education

Dual language programs have been in place in the United States since the late 1960s, when educators realized the power of language-minority communities to create language-additive environments for the benefit of all. Native English speakers could learn English and acquire a second language. Spanish speakers could retain their native language while learning English.

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Students from a variety of cultural backgrounds benefit from dual language immersion at Marquette Elementary

Historically, the United States has had a love-hate relationship with bilingual education—one that may mirror the immigration debate. There is no doubt that language itself carries a vast array of not only cultural but political implications. Few people doubt the cognitive benefits of knowing more than one language. The advantages of being multilingual and multicultural are self-evident from the perspective of the business world and the competitive marketplace.

At the same time, there are the voices of those who seek to build walls—literally and figuratively. These may hurt the enthusiasm necessary to create and sustain robust models to cultivate bilingual education.

A Vast, Untapped Potential

At Marquette, the community has seen the profound impact of the school’s dual language immersion program, which helps sustain a healthy school and attract students to the district. Principal Kristina Precious need look no further than the scores of families who see the value in her program and seek to gain entrance for their children.

“When you hear English-dominant children speaking Spanish without an accent, you know the program is working,” Precious says.

If you ask the kids about learning Spanish, they just tell you it’s fun. The “fun factor,” of course, is one of the reasons the program succeeds.

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Principal Kristina Precious with a kindergarten friend who will be bilingual by 8th grade

The dedication and passionate commitment of teachers make the dual language immersion program happen on a daily basis. They see the value of an approach like this, in which students naturally acquire language without consciously realizing they are learning a second language.

This is one of the essential differences that sets effective dual language immersion programs apart from much more common world language programs, where kids attend “Spanish class.” None of us are conscious of our ability to understand and speak our first language. By providing natural language learning environments, dual language immersion programs create a very authentic opportunity to learn a second language.

I truly believe we continue to have a vast, untapped potential of language learning in the United States, especially in communities where immigrants continue to arrive and provide access to native speakers. But for the kids at Marquette Elementary, it’s just how they do school.

rick josephRick Joseph is a National Board Certified Teacher and has taught 5/6 grade at Covington School in the Birmingham Public School district since 2003. Prior, he served as a bilingual educator and trainer for nine years in the Chicago Public Schools. Rick is thrilled to serve as the 2016 Michigan Teacher of the Year. Through Superhero Training Academy, Rick’s students have created a superhero identity to uplift the communities where they learn and live.

Executive Function Skills for Success in the Classroom: Recommended Resources

 The term ‘Executive Function’ is used to describe the skill set required for setting goals, carrying out organized steps, and modifying a plan to complete a task successfully, all of which are vital for academic and social success in elementary and middle school classrooms.  Strategies can be implemented in the classroom to improve the executive functioning of all students for task completion.  These strategies help students:
  • Increase their awareness and tune in to what is happening around them so they can understand how information, events and their actions will impact their goals and objectives, both now and in the near future.
  • Develop a memory for the future so that they can set personal goals and  use self-initiated organizational strategies to achieve those goals.
  • Improve self-awareness skills so they can “read a room” and use higher-order reasoning skills to “stop, think and create” an appropriate action plan with anticipated possible outcomes.
  • See and sense the passage of time so that they can accurately and effortlessly estimate how long tasks will take, change or maintain their pace, and carry out routines and tasks within allotted time frames.
  • Organize their homework space and personal belongings so they can create and use strategies to track and organize their materials.

 

Recommended Readings, Videos and Tools:

Smartbutscattered

Read a sample chapter by clicking HERE.

FallDown

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Poster

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Video Brief

Video for Kids

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Sarah Ward Resources:

Sarah Ward, MS, CCC-SLP, is a practicing speech-language pathologist and national speaker on developing and supporting executive functioning skills. Sarah has facilitated multiple educator sessions and a parent session at Oakland Schools to provide practical, hands-on strategies to build executive function skills for success in the classroom. This web page is designed to connect educators and parents with resources that support the strategies Sarah has shared in our county.

 

To hear Sarah describe some of her strategies for supporting executive functioning in students, check out these short video clips:


Strategies for Students

Tools for Middle and High School Students

Parent Tips

Resources for Parents

 

Oakland Schools Consultant Contacts: 

 

Power of Play

Notes from the Classroom

1Back in January an article came out that had the teachers in my building thinking, We’ve been saying that forever and finally someone is acting on it! The article was titled Turns Out Monkey Bars And Kickball Might Be Good For The Brain, by Christopher Connely.

The article focuses on Eagle Mountain Elementary School, in Fort Worth, Texas. The school has started a project where the kindergarten- and first-grade school day is modeled after that of a Finnish school day, where students have recess more often: four times a day, for 15 minutes each time. What a dream!

The Texas project was designed by Debbie Rhea, a kinesiologist from Texas Christian University. Rhea had visited Finland, which scores in the top or near the top in international education rankings, to see the differences in their education system, compared to the U.S.’s. She realized the largest difference was that the students had more recess.

The teachers at Eagle Mountain, using this Finnish model, are noticing that students are focusing more and are happier. And even with the extra breaks, teachers aren’t having trouble fitting in the entire curriculum. In fact, halfway through the year they were ahead of schedule.

How We’re Creating Extra Recess

Feeling more empowered by this article, several teachers at Loon Lake Elementary, including myself, started implementing regular breaks into their day. “Brain Breaks,” or just a break in the curriculum action, are something we had been doing for a while but hadn’t made as regular or well known.

When you have been conditioned to believe that you never have enough time to get through all of the curriculum, even small changes feel wrong. But our breaks are often as simple as a dance break, usually from Go Noodle, a yoga break from Cosmic Kids Yoga, playtime, or yes, even extra recess when timing allows.

We are trying to work in structured and unstructured breaks to reap the most benefits. The teachers in my building, like those at Eagle Mountain, have seen that after these breaks the students come back more focused and ready to go. We are also noticing that the gross and fine motor skills of these students are improving.

Beyond Kindergarten

3I am fortunate that in my district, when we started the all-day, every-day kindergarten program in 2008, the district stressed the importance of play in the classroom. I am also fortunate that my building principal supports this. We have free-choice play in my classroom every day; this is something that never changes and I hope never will.

I wish the importance of play extended beyond the kindergarten year, though. We as teachers know it is important, but is often pushed aside, with the implication that it isn’t as important, even though it enhances gross and fine motor skills. Play even helps children with their communication and problem solving skills.

Bob Murray, an Ohio State University pediatrician, is quoted in the article above as saying: “If you want a child to be attentive and stay on task, and also if you want them to encode the information you’re giving them in their memory, you’ve got to give them regular breaks.” So yes, play also helps with the learning process itself.

Mrs. Tisdall, a first grade teacher at my school, was excited to share a story about an extra recess with her students. Her students came running up excitedly with some white pebbles. They were in a debate about what they were: “Are they insect eggs?” “Are they rocks?” “What kind of insect could have laid them?”

The questions and debate kept going. Mrs. Tisdall just stood back and listened. She didn’t have to intervene; through the power of play and exploration, the students were teaching themselves. Then they ran off and started searching for more signs of insects.

I hope that people continue to research and share the importance of play and not just at the lower-elementary level. An even bigger hope is that educators themselves continue to recognize the importance of breaks and play, and give it a shot.

image1Tricia Ziegler (Twitter: @axf96; blog: http://kindergartentreasures.blogspot.com/) is a kindergarten teacher at Loon Lake Elementary, in the Walled Lake School District. She is a part of the Walled Lake iCouncil (Instructional Council) team. She recently won a technology grant from the Walled Lake Foundation for Excellence. She is in her tenth year of teaching, with eight in kindergarten and two in Second Grade. Prior to that she taught in the Walled Lake Great Start Readiness Program, which is a state-funded preschool program for at-risk students. Tricia attended Michigan State University for her undergraduate degree and specialization in Early Childhood. She then attended Wayne State University for her Master’s in Teacher Education.

Word Study

Executive Summary:
Helping Students Own Language Through
Word Study, Vocabulary, and Grammar Instruction

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White Paper:
Helping Students Own Language Through
Word Study, Vocabulary, and Grammar Instruction

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Members of the Word Study Work Group

Members of the Word Study Work Group

Welcome to the word study resource page! We hope you find these materials helpful. If you have word study materials that are teacher tested and approved that you would like to share, please email one of the consultants (email addresses to the right).

-Delia DeCourcy, Michele Farah, Diane Katakowski, Susan Koceski

Recommended Resources

District-provided Resources
Doug Fisher Resources
Mini Book Talk Books
Other Online Resources

Building Digital Portfolios

Literacy & Technology Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_170012141For the past several years I have been having conversations with different people in my district about having our students create digital portfolios. This effort is finally gaining some ground, though the way has been painfully slow from my perspective.

As a classroom teacher, I have been talking with my students about this, and having them create pieces of digital writing in different formats that they can retrieve in future years.

Why Digital Portfolios?

Ever since earning my Master’s in Educational Technology, in 2009, I have had a passion for the power of technology and its ability to transform teaching and learning. I have also recognized the untapped potential for our students in having digital archives of their learning journey. My vision is that our graduating seniors would have a website that they could use for job and college applications, one that would contain documents, videos, recordings, and other artifacts from their K-12 years.

While this vision is far from being realized, we are making some gains. The Media Specialist in my building has been working with our Music teacher to store voice recordings of our students from each year in elementary. She has also begun to have students store Google Docs in a folder that could someday be tapped for a full portfolio.

What Can I Do Today?

Here in my world of 5th grade, it might seem frivolous to have students thinking about digital portfolios. Not so, I say. There is such power in students’ revisiting their work from the beginning of the year and seeing growth, or revising a favorite piece to make it even better.

Every year I tell my students that when they go to middle school, they can show their teachers their websites that they created for informational writing. (I’ve had teachers e-mail me, so I know they do this.) Often, these students will be a bit embarrassed by the lack of content or the mistakes they’ve made, but this is evidence of growth!

shutterstock_118599142This project has also inspired students to create other sites about personal interests. Seeing the application of this skill in their personal life is exactly the kind of transfer we hope for, and the kind of artifact that students can highlight down the road.

Because I have my students blog on a platform that I provide, I have to archive the class blog each year. Before I do, I tell them to copy and paste their favorite pieces into Google Docs, so they can access them later. This causes them to really evaluate what writing is their best and what is worth saving.

An Eye to the Future

These are small steps toward a full portfolio—a vision I’m not sure will ever be realized. However, I can plant the seed of the idea and have my students begin collecting and archiving their best work. The more that technology integrates into our students’ lives, the more inclined I think they will be to continue creating their portfolios. At least I hope so.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

Online Writing: Beauty and the Beast

Literacy & Technology Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_348905468Each year I have my students engage in a variety of online writing experiences: blogging, Google documents, websites, and presentations. At this point in the year, I find that there are two sides to online writing, and finding a way to balance them is my greatest challenge.

The Beauty

I love having my students write online. Online writing is easier to edit, I can leave comments, and I don’t have to lug tons of notebooks back and forth. I can sit with my computer in my lap at night and toggle through a wealth of student writing. It is by no means faster (sometimes I feel like it takes a bit longer digging through my links) but I do love not having to worry about whether assignments were turned in, or if I left papers at school, or somehow something got lost.

Digital archive

Online writing allows me to have a digital archive of my students’ writing, which is invaluable at parent-teacher conferences in the spring. It is amazing to see the growth—or sadly sometimes the lack thereof—in student pieces. Because I give lots of craft assignments early on, I can easily show parents my assignment posts and their student’s writing in response. This allows for easier conversations about why a child is beginning, developing, or secure in his or her writing skills.

This encourages revision. With this kind of online portfolio, some students have asked to go back and revise and edit—a teacher’s dream! They actually want to do this? Sometimes I take screenshots of the “before” piece, so that I can have them to compare to the revised and edited work. This helps me when I confer with both student and parent.

Authentic audience

Establishing partnerships has been a beautiful thing as well. This year we are blogging partners with two 11454297503_e27946e4ff_h5th grade classes in Maine and we are participating in the Two Writing Teachers Classroom Slice of Life Challenge. My students are excited to log on each week to see what their long-distance partners have written, and to leave and receive feedback. In the classroom challenge, they are looking at writing from classrooms around the globe, which makes their own writing more purposeful. They grapple with their subject matter because now that they have an audience, they want it to be interesting.

Without fail, I have at least two or three students from each class who ask me what to write about. Convincing some of my students that they have moments that are writing-worthy is a constant challenge, but in spite of all this, I am finding every student engaged to a greater degree than they would be if they were only writing in their notebooks. That is beautiful.

The Beast

Of course, this all sounds great. What could possibly be a problem? Well…

Greater responsibilities for feedback

If I had the time each and every night to read and leave private comments on students’ blogs, life would be grand. But I don’t. So, I let the posts pile up, and pretty soon I am harassed by my students enough that I sit and power through countless blogs in one night.

I’m still not able to allow my students to comment freely on one another’s blogs, which means that I have comments to approve as well. All of this can become a monster to manage, and I confess that this year I have not done as well as I would like. Now that we have blogging partners, the SOLSC, and the interface on our blog has changed … it is very time consuming and at times, downright annoying.

Problems with technology

Every year, I have my students create individual Google Sites for our informational reading and writing units. For the units, we take notes, do our writing in packets, and then transfer our writing to the pages of our sites—my attempt to help them avoid plagiarism. Again, this allows for easy conferring on my part. It also unleashes a whole new animal.

Ten-year-olds often believe that they know more about technology than the adults around them. While this is frequently true, their tech confidence becomes a nightmare when working with certain programs. No matter how many directions I give, there is always that group of students that thinks they know better. (Or the group that totally misses the directions.) This leads to a lot of time spent undoing, re-doing, and re-teaching. Grr. My students discovered the hard way last year that copy-paste doesn’t work all of the time in Google Sites, even though someone had told them that. This resulted in many hours spent finding, downloading, saving and uploading pictures, not to mention having to create the citations all over again.

Happily Ever After?

At the end of each project, I find that I’ve learned something new that will help me (and my students) in the future. I also find new challenges with technology and the individuals who are in my classes. This is truly a never-ending journey, but one that I am still happy to be on.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

Kindergarten Research Project

Literacy & Technology Notes from the Classroom

061Yes, we have to do a research project in kindergarten!

Like it or not, the Common Core State Standards clearly require this work. For one standard, students must “participate in shared research and writing projects.” Another states: students must “use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.” And a third requires that, with guidance, students “gather information from provided sources to answer a question.”

Talk about stress—students who are just learning to read and write, who have to do research and write a report. It’s a challenge for everyone involved.

So last year we approached this differently than in the past, and ended up loving it.

Finding Animals

We began by choosing a handful of animals living at the Detroit Zoo. We pulled books from the library and magazines like Ranger Rick, and created easy-reader nonfiction books about these animals. We had these available in the classroom.

leopard_amur_01We also looked for kid-appropriate videos and zoos that had viewing cameras on the animals. The San Diego Zoo, for example, has a lot of great animal cams.

We started off the unit talking about the three things animals need to survive: food, water, and shelter. We had a deck of cards, with each card listing one of the needs to survive. Students took turns pulling three cards. If they didn’t have one of each need, they sat down. If they received one of each, they were able to get back in line for another turn.

When more than half the class was sitting down, we started discussing what they noticed. We then led the conversation toward the students’ understanding that animals need food, water, and shelter to survive. This segued into a discussion about endangered animals as compared to extinct ones.

Thinking Like Scientists

The next lesson focused on scientists. We talked about how scientists would do research and what they might need or want to know. The class came up with these questions and then it was game on!

  • What does the animal look like?
  • Where does the animal live (habitat)?
  • What does the animal eat?
  • What are some interesting facts?

As a class, we were researching an animal to practice how to find the information. The students also split into small groups and chose an animal.

Before we started our research, we wrote on a chart page what we already knew, or thought we knew, about our chosen animal. Then each day we chose one of the driving questions to focus on. As a class, we found the answer for our class animal, and then the groups split off and went to work.

Some groups wanted to watch the videos, while others hunted through the books. They had a packet to complete together with the information they found.

The culmination of this research project was my favorite part. The students had to create a model of the animal, its habitat, and food source. We encouraged them to incorporate the interesting facts they learned, too, and instructed them to label items. When they were completed, we recorded a video of each group showing us what they created and answering our driving questions. Students were so excited to share what they had completed, and they were so proud of themselves.

We celebrated a wonderful learning unit by going to the Detroit Zoo and teaching our chaperones about the animals we studied. Needless to say, the parents were impressed!

image1Tricia Ziegler (Twitter: @axf96; blog: http://kindergartentreasures.blogspot.com/) is a kindergarten teacher at Loon Lake Elementary, in the Walled Lake School District. She recently became part of the Walled Lake Teacher Leader Fellowship. She is in her tenth year of teaching, with eight in kindergarten and two in Second Grade. Prior to that she taught in the Walled Lake Great Start Readiness Program, which is a state-funded preschool program for at-risk students. Tricia attended Michigan State University for her undergraduate degree and specialization in Early Childhood. She then attended Wayne State University for her Master’s in Teacher Education.

Finding a Balance with State Testing

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_334073204As I write this, January is nearly over and we are starting to hear a little buzz about our state’s standardized testing. This buzz will likely turn to a loud roar as we get closer to April. In many districts, this testing is like a heavy weight that sits on the shoulders of students and teachers alike. Though I am blessed to work in a district that does not pressure us at all, I too feel the weight.

This year I am working on a webinar for Oakland Schools about Elementary M-STEP (our test), and it has caused me to think deeply about all of this: testing/not testing, prepping/not prepping, and my responsibilities as a teacher to my district and to my students.

First and foremost, I am here for my students. I need to provide the best education for them in ways that meet their needs as a diverse group of learners. I have a wealth of resources at my disposal, and I feel generally well equipped for the task at hand. I am able to teach my students about reading and writing in ways that push them to think deeply about text, and that move them to better understanding.

All of that comes first. Then I look at the test.

Here’s what I don’t do: I don’t consistently have my students read long passages of text online, where they have to scroll and scroll and scroll to complete it. I don’t have them read and answer questions by choosing the correct bubble. I don’t have them answer questions from screen to screen that connect to each other.

But maybe I should.

Why? It’s simply not fair to teach my students how to read and respond to text in long passages, but to never teach them how to read online and answer questions that are inferential. It’s not fair to give them copies of articles that they can read and highlight, along with graphic organizers to help them create a piece of writing, and then throw them into a test where they read everything online, and where they have a blank piece of paper to use in whatever way makes sense to them.

The teacher in me says I need to offer the best instruction for my students. But the teacher in me also says I need to give them exposure before test day to the format they will experience.

Prepping for the Format

shutterstock_142403371A colleague got me thinking about metaphors for all of this. The one that comes to mind for me is that we need to get students’ feet in the water, to ease them in before we throw them in alone and ask them to swim.

So, this year I will keep teaching our units of study and engaging my students in rich text. We will continue to have great conversations and write about our understanding and thinking.

But we will also go online and read and write. We will experience formats that are new and different.

On test day my students might not know everything, but when they look at the format, they will think, “Oh, I know about this. I can do this.” That’s the mindset that will unlock their best thinking.

To view the recent M-STEP Test Prep Webinar that Beth facilitated and to access the resources she shared, click here.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

The Importance of Reading at Home

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_221592391I am fortunate that both of my daughters absolutely love reading. They look at not having time to read as a punishment, one that’s equivalent to losing their favorite toy.

Maybe this is because my husband and I are both educators, and we’ve been reading to them since I found out I was pregnant. But we also do more with books than just read in a monotone voice.

I believe it is important to teach these habits to parents with young children. This can help build the connection between learning at school and at home, a connection that’s desperately needed. It can also make learning more interesting for students.

Setting Higher Expectations

I created a blog for my kindergarten classroom that is updated biweekly. This blog explains what we are doing in the classroom, and includes details on what we are reading. It also describes the stamina we are building as students read to themselves.

Parents are always amazed that my goal for kindergarten is that students read to themselves for 20 minutes or more. (Yes, this takes a while, since we usually start the year with a whopping two minutes!) Most parents can’t believe their child can sit that long and read.

But setting ambitious goals is not enough. I believe that, in addition, we need to explain to parents how we teach reading.

We want students to ask questions of themselves while reading. We also want them to predict what is going to happen next, and to make a connection to themselves or another book they have read.

We teach these skills in the classroom. But we also must encourage parents to do the same at home.

A Few Strategies that Help

How can we ensure that reading instruction continues at home?

One tool I have used is a reading strategy bookmark. In guided-reading book bags, which come home two times a week, we include this bookmark. This bookmark explains in simple detail the strategies we use to teach reading. It also has a page of questions parents can ask while reading with their child, like:

  • What do you think the author is trying to teach us?
  • What was your favorite part?
  • Can you find the word _____?
  • Tell me what happened at the beginning, middle, or end of the story.

shutterstock_158942981This kind of reading can be used during the daily bedtime routine. This makes the books more fun and interesting, and helps students retain more information about their books. Such a routine can also become a time the child looks at with fond memories, a quality time with his or her family.

There’s another conversation to have with parents, and it can be awkward. That is, emphasizing the importance of their reading, too, so their child can see them taking pleasure in it.

We know children learn by watching. When they see parents only playing phone games or video games, checking emails, or staring at the television, this becomes the norm. On the other hand, if children see their parents enjoying a good book, we can more easily expect that child to read at home. Homework also becomes less of a battle.

We as educators know the importance of reading. But while we establish the importance of reading in our classroom, we need to remember that parents can help us further the importance of reading at home.

image1Tricia Ziegler (Twitter: @axf96; blog: http://kindergartentreasures.blogspot.com/) is a kindergarten teacher at Loon Lake Elementary, in the Walled Lake School District. She recently became part of the Walled Lake Teacher Leader Fellowship. She is in her tenth year of teaching, with eight in kindergarten and two in Second Grade. Prior to that she taught in the Walled Lake Great Start Readiness Program, which is a state-funded preschool program for at-risk students. Tricia attended Michigan State University for her undergraduate degree and specialization in Early Childhood. She then attended Wayne State University for her Master’s in Teacher Education.