Thursday, December 1, 2011

Speaking of Blooms...

Have you thought about your questioning strategies lately?
As teachers, we have no problem asking questions.
Sometimes we rapid-fire questions at an amazing rate!
Stop and think, though...
How much time are we spending crafting these questions?
Are they designed to encourage critical thinking?

Are they planned in advance or fired off the top of our heads?
Do we give the students time to form thoughtful responses?
How's your "wait-time?"
As a reflective teacher, this is certainly worth pondering.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Bloom's Taxonomy

Bloom's Taxonomy was first published in 1956, and guess what?  It hasn't gone out of style yet!
Must be something to it, huh?  Following are some visuals you might like:

Now I'm going to create something!  Have a wonderful day.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Love Your Students

In Lucy Calkins' book,  Building A Reading Life,  she remembers the author Avi's words to teachers: "If you are going to teach me to read and to write, first you need to love me."

"So," she reminds us, "Our first job, as teachers, is to fall in love with each and every child - right away.  that is not always easy at the very start of the year, when we are still mourning the loss of last year's kids, but the truth is that youngsters know when they are surrounded by positive regard.  They know when they are in a place in which they can take risks, reveal their vulnerabilities, aspire toward big goals."

Go, spread the love...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Question Stems

If we want to take our students to deeper levels of
comprehension, it is important for us to plan in 
advance to ask higher level questions, and to 
encourage conversations that utilize critical thinking skills.
I sat with a group of dedicated 3rd grade teachers
today who created question stems to encourage
their students during interactive read-alouds.
Here are some of them:

What are some possible events from the past that
would influence the characters' decisions?

Would you have made the same decision?  Why/Why Not?

If _______ happened, what might the ending have been?

The information in this section suggests what?

Based on what the characters have done so far, what might happen next?

In what ways is _______ important to the text?

Go ahead.
Help yourself.
You KNOW you want to use at least one of them!
Then again, why stop at just one?



Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sir Ken Robinson

If you haven't heard about Sir Ken Robinson, and you have an interest in the future of education,
you need to get to know him.  Do you have 12 minutes? Take a listen to this.  You'll thank me!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Word Chunks

There are many roads to good word study.  Most include great visuals.  These can be quite inexpensive!  See my dollar store paper plates and puzzle pieces?

Don't forget your Greek and Latin roots when working with your older (4th grade and up) students' vocabulary.  Knowing one good root can give students the ability to determine meaning for a whole list of additional words.

Off to look for my dictionary!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hands-On Learning

As a child, remember how much you wanted to touch everything in the store while you were shopping and your parents always told you not to touch?  Well, your students are no different!  Bring artifacts and concrete examples of items that are discussed or read about in the classroom.

While reading, "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane," I realized that as the author talked about the china rabbit, that my students probably had no point of reference at all for what a china doll was.  So I brought this one in, let the kids touch it and get a good look up close.  I've brought in record players, brooches, and other objects that are much better to show than simply tell about.

As you plan your lessons, think about what you have that might make a good teacher show and tell!

Off to the attic...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Summer Reading

Summertime is time for a good book!  Are you reading a good book this summer?  Are the kids in your life reading?  Found some information about kids and summer reading:

picture from the 2006 Summer Reading Program in Suffolk County, NY.

"Public libraries, through their summer reading programs, put books in the hands of children.  This is the best antidote for the 'summer slide' in children's reading achievement.  Access to books and library programs over the summer results in more reading which, in turn, results in improved reading skills."
-- Assistant Commissioner for Libraries and New York's State Librarian Bernard A. Margolis

Goals of Summer Reading at New York Public Libraries

  • Advance literacy and academic performance by engaging children and teens in reading and reading-related activities during the summer months.
  • Foster a love of reading through public library programs and services.
  • Increase successful reading experiences through librarian-supported, self-selected, voluntary reading.
  • Involve parents and all family members in the library summer reading experience.
  • Improve children’s access to library materials and activities, which will encourage them to become lifelong library users.
  • Increase the number of children and teens participating in public library summer reading programs.
I'm headed to the library now for my next book!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Close the Learning Gap in Reading

This might not sound exactly profound to you.  But it feels profound to me.  I've spent a lot of time reading the research over the past couple of years on how to close the reading gap.  What do we do with students who are significantly behind in reading? and can they catch up?  Two findings come up repeatedly. Students need to increase their volume of reading, and their reading needs to be on the appropriate reading level.

This past year I was working with kids who were struggling to catch up.  I decided to embrace these two items...GETTING MY STUDENTS TO READ MORE and making sure that their books were on their "JUST- RIGHT" LEVEL. This doesn't sound very new does it?  But it's important for me to point out, that I didn't just offer this SUGGESTION to my students.  I made it my MISSION!  Not only did I instruct my students to read a minimum of 30 minutes per night, sent home a daily reading log, helped my students choose their books, and offered prizes.  It was our CONSTANT conversation and focus.  It got to the point that when kids would see me coming, they would shout out, "I read last night Miss McCrary!"I could FEEL it becoming a habit with some of them who had only pretended in the past to read as part of their homework.

Some students jumped on board more readily than others, and of course, some had parents following up at home.  The result was, that most of the students improved and showed significant growth.  But those who really seemed to BELIEVE my advice, read with such dedication, that they improved by as many as 7 reading levels.  I was so proud of their efforts.  It has me thinking there might be something to this theory.

Will it solve all reading difficulties?  No, I'm afraid not.  There are a variety of hurdles to fluent reading that require additional interventions, but if you are looking for something to help your struggling readers, perhaps this is a good starting place?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Hang on!! Summer's Coming.

Teachers, I Feel Your Pain!  Literally.

It's time.  We are MORE than ready for a break in the action.
Things are flying by at a fevered pitch.  Final grades, and grading.  
Parties and field trips.  Awards and ceremonies.  
Yearbooks and autographs.  Warm weather moving in.  
Your room looks like a tornado hit.  
You might even be packing up for a classroom move, new position, 
or maybe even the brass ring...retirement!!

 At the same time, it's moving too fast.  
If only we could hit the pause button every now and then.  
 In the meantime...Think happy thoughts... Look to the future... 
Picture your happy place!
My personal happy place involves a cool breeze, a hammock, and a good book.  
On an island would be nice.  
Come on.  Join me.
One day at a time baby!  
One day at a time.

Going to put on my water wings.  :)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Text Structure

It's not always easy to explain to students the concept of text structure.  Students focus on the content of the story as they read and work to comprehend a book or passage.  Noticing the structure of a story, requires stepping back and actually noticing how a story was put together.  This requires critical thinking skills that for an untrained eye can be complicated!  There are other skills, as well, such as noticing the author's purpose for writing or point-of-view which require similar thinking.

I've started using a chart to explain this to students which asks them to think about the differences between reading skills that are used for what happens INSIDE a story versus skills that happen OUTSIDE a story.  One requires looking into the story itself...while the other requires this step back to consider what the author had in mind.  With the students I actually write the skills inside the open book that are INSIDE the story questions, such as: characters, plot, setting, inferencing, and other "right-there" type questions.  Around the outside of the open book we write the question types that we would find OUTSIDE the story by thinking about how the writer had in mind when they WROTE the piece.

This type of introduction can then launch a teacher into the deeper teaching of TEXT STRUCTURE and other OUTSIDE the story skills.  Try it!  I'll be using it with 4th graders tomorrow.

Hang in there!  Summer's coming!

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Don't let the recently passed Valentines "season" be the only time we tell our students that we care!  Encouragement is so important for all of us.  There is no better way to get all-out effort from your students than to let them know we BELIEVE in them!  This week is an important one for Texas 4th graders, as they will take their state writing test.  I've come to a school this year that has so many standing traditions in place to encourage their writers.  Besides the excellent instruction the students receive from their dedicated writing teacher, there has been a writers' conference complete with guest speakers, as well as a Valentines writers tea.  But I think my favorite activity so far is the way each school employee from cafeteria workers to administration "adopts" 1 or more 4th graders to which they will write an encouraging note.  Just before the test, each 4th grader will receive more than one friendly message from an adult they respect telling them, YOU CAN DO IT!  Admit it.  We ALL need to hear that from time to time!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Leveling Books


Studies show that the best way for a student to improve their reading level is to dramatically increase the volume of books they are reading at the level that's right for them.  At my school, we use the Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment.

The tricky part is for teachers to monitor that kids are truly reading on their independent level and not carrying around the latest greatest series, that is 4 levels above which they can comprehend, because it makes them look cool.

This isn't always easy.  Especially since we want our students to be able to choose their own reading materials.

One way to make it easier in your classroom is to level your classroom library.  You might not have the time or energy to arrange your entire library from A-Z, but you can arrange your books in at least 3 sections (Easy, Medium, Hard).  I arranged mine as groups A, B, C and allowed my students to choose within their section.  It's not always perfect but getting closer.  There is a website that I've used to level my books:

I've found this site easy to navigate.  Check it out.  You can also google your book titles along with the words, "Guided Reading Level," and find several locations such as Scholastic and sometimes Amazon that will give book levels.

Hope this helps you get your students on the level.
Off to look up another title...

Monday, January 31, 2011

Reading Workshop in a Nutshell

You might just have yourself a top-notch reading workshop in your classroom if...

You have a quick mini-lesson that makes a strong teaching point in 15 minutes or less.

Your students have 40 minutes to quietly read books on their level.

You take time to confer with some students one-on-one each day.

You meet with 1 to 2 reading groups per day offering a strong guided reading opportunity.

You frequently gather for a teacher or student share time at the end of the workshop.

You read-aloud to your students in and out of the workshop daily!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Show Students Your Love of Reading!

Do you LOVE to read?  Share your love with your students. As your students are reading quietly during class,  do you ever take a moment to join them?  Let your excitement about your latest book show. Demonstrate the joy that's possible by getting truly LOST in a book.  It's contagious!  Like
a good yawn...Now stop yawning and go grade another paper.  Better yet...Plan a great lesson!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Fresh New Year

Most of us enjoy a fresh start!  Isn't this what appeals to us about a NEW YEAR?

As a teacher and office supply nut, I enjoy a fresh, untouched piece of paper.  And who can resist a sharp new pencil?  Put the two together and the possibilities are endless!

What's your preference? Opening a new book?  First to dig into the peanut butter?  Or perhaps a walk on untouched snow?

Even though you've had your students (most likely) for a few months already, you are still entitled to a fresh start in the classroom!  In fact you know a little about what you are dealing with and can set more specific goals for yourself.  If you are so inclined.  Just saying.  We have been "handed" a fresh new year!  What will you do with it?

May your 2011 be FULL of opportunity and growth!