Monday, July 10, 2017

Three Ways to Rock Your Read Aloud

 A read aloud for an elementary teacher is one of the most powerful strategies that you can implement in your classroom.  As a rookie teacher, my read aloud was one of my favorites parts of my day.  It was relaxing opportunity for me to share my favorite books with my students.  Unfortunately, I was missing so many chances for powerful instruction.  I only had one purpose which was to share my love for reading and for that particular book.  While that is still the basis for my read aloud time, I have broadened my playbook.  I am going to share three strategies so you can teach powerfully with your interactive read aloud!

Three strategies to help make your read aloud lessons more effective for elementary students.

Book Selection
The most important part of a read aloud is your book selection.  An ideal read aloud is a book that is too difficult for almost all of your students.  The themes should be something that is engaging for the age group you are reading to.  The text difficulty is important because the teacher is doing the work of the text but the students and the teacher are doing the work of constructing the meaning.

Some questions to ask when selecting a read aloud text:

  • Is the reading level of the book too difficult for almost every student? (If it is not, you might want to use the book during shared reading.)
  • Will my students be engaged throughout the text?
  • Are the characters relatable for my students?  You want a mix of characters with some being just like your students and some being very different (on the outside) but then they discover that they have many of the same problems.
  • Have I chosen from a variety of genres?  We often think that read alouds are primarily fiction.  Can you pair a non-fiction text with a fiction text to add more meaning to both books?
  • Are there wonderful classic books I can choose?  Is there an author that you could read many of his or her books?

While it takes valuable planning time to pre-read and prepare discussion points for your read aloud, your time reading to students will be infinitely more valuable.  The most important thing to remember as you prepare is that you need to limit your teaching and discussion so you don't interrupt the flow of the book.  Remember your purpose is to teach children to enjoy and make meaning of a text.  Stopping every other page to discuss something can stop the flow of the story so students do not enjoy or understand the text.

Some tips for preparing a read aloud:

  • Try to stop only at planned interruptions. (This is difficult for me)
  • Try to anticipate where students are going to need support with the text.  This could be with vocabulary, a difficult concept, background knowledge, or where there is a great deal of inference needed to understand the text.
  • Plan a couple of places where you ask more open-ended questions.  I like to use question stems:
    • I wonder ...
    • I wish...
    • I think ...
    • I noticed...
  • If my purpose is a skill or strategy I save the teaching for the end.  I try to see if the students somehow use the strategy or skill first so I can reference that in my teaching.  
Three strategies to help make your read aloud lessons more effective for elementary students.

The Read Aloud Lesson
Your job when reading aloud is to do all of the work required to read the words.  By doing this you free up the minds of your students to concentrate on meaning.  This is so important because many times if a student has not been read to at home, they have missed this component.  When students come to school and have not been read to since birth, they think that reading is about letter sounds.  They have missed out on years of vocabulary and concept development.  As students move to upper elementary they need to be read to in order to introduce them to higher level concepts without them having to navigate a complex text to read it.

Tips for reading aloud:

  • Read with prosody.  This is a fancy way to say you need to read with a great deal of expression.  Your students will work to imitate your prosody when they read.
  • Stop only at the times you have planned.  This will help the students to easily follow the story or information of the read aloud.
  • Stop and add support or information to help them understand the text but this should not happen too often.  If you have to frequently stop then the text might be too hard.
  • Invite the students to comment on the text rather than you driving the discussion during the read aloud.  The less teacher talk there is, the more the students will talk.  The goal is for the student discussion of the text to construct the meaning rather than a teacher dominated retelling of the book.
  • Gently bring the discussion back to the book if student's discussion leads them away from the meaning of the book.
  • Let your read aloud time be a joyous part of your day.  Your enthusiasm about the book and reading will be contagious.

I hope these tips help you make your read aloud time even more productive.  For more information on read aloud strategies, Who's Doing the Work? How To Say Less So Readers Can Do More by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris.  The entire book is wonderful and they have an entire chapter devoted to helping students do more thinking during a read aloud.  Please leave a comment with your favorite read aloud tip!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Five Ways to Foster a Love of Reading in the Classroom

Creating a passion for reading in your students is tough.  Some children enter the classroom and you can see in their face that they love to read.  However, there are other students that reading seems to be almost a burden to them.  Well, you are not alone in wanting all of your students to love reading!  In this post, I explore five ways that teachers can foster a love of reading in their students.

1.  Read Aloud Often
Many children who come into our classrooms as readers were read aloud to frequently as children.  I always say that reading comprehension instruction starts on our mother's (or father's or grandmother's) lap.  That is where we learned to enjoy books.  It is where we learned to pay attention to the story line and developed a longer attention span.  Print awareness also started during this story time.  When students do not come from print-rich environments, then we must provide this for them. In Primary classrooms, read alouds should happen multiple times each day.  Even our upper elementary students need to be read to on a daily basis as it helps them to absorb complex concepts and vocabulary.

2.  Talk About Books
A classroom where books are freely discussed helps students have better comprehension and more engagement.  Conversations around books need to be both formal and informal between students.   The discussions you have during read alouds or guided reading groups are great.  Book talks by you and your students are another way to add excitement.  When students share what they have been reading in a book talk, it creates an excitement to the reading block.  Their book recommendations are taken very seriously by their peers.  Informal sharing can be a structured sharing time where students freely discuss what they are reading with peers.  This should be modeled for students so they learn how you talk to peers about books.  Also including sharing time into your partner reading time can also yield great benefits.  Create routines in your classroom where there is time to talk about books daily.

3.  Student Choice
A classroom where students get to read something they choose every day is essential to igniting a passion for reading.  This is not to say that this is the only reading that students do because as teachers we need to expose students to just right text and different genres.  Students do need instruction on choosing books that are a good fit for them.  Students need to pick books they want to read, can read the words, and understand the text.  These conditions are what makes reading enjoyable for kids.

4.  Access to Books
In order to learn to love reading, kids need access to books.  They need a large classroom library as well as time to check out books from the school library.  Many students do not have this type of access to books at home, so being able to easily pick a book off the shelf is essential.  My own children go back to read beloved books over and over again.  This can only happen with access to books.  Create classroom procedures so students know how to checkout books and what the expectations as to how they take care of them.  Students will be much more likely to interact with your classroom library if they know the routines. Follow this link for a great article about setting up a classroom library here.

5.  Share Your Enthusiasm about Reading
Your attitude about reading truly makes a difference for kids.  Sharing your love of books and how you read, it makes such a difference with your students.  If a student does not have a parent or family member who loves to read, they have no idea how to fit reading into their life.  So read in front of kids.  Talk about the reading you do and why you read.  Make connections between what you read and the world so students can see those connections.

I hope that my five ways to foster a love of reading in the classroom were helpful. Please share your tips for building a passion for reading in your classroom.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Improving Reading Fluency with Repeated Readings

When I first started learning about reading fluency, the initial materials I found were assessments.  My assessments gave me lots of useful information  but on Monday when I started a new book with my reading group, my instruction looked very much the same as it had before.  I quickly realized that assessing fluency was not enough to really help my kids.  Luckily for me, I came across the book The Fluent Reader by Tim Rasinski and I gained a lot of practical knowledge to help me teach fluency.

Automaticity and Prosody
One piece of information from the book that impacted me was the understanding that fluency is really two separate entities: automaticity and prosody.   Automaticity is where you work on students becoming automatic readers.  The sight vocabulary becomes more automatic and there are fewer pauses.  Students also become more proficient at strategies to figure out unknown words.  These skills lead to quicker, smoother fluent reading.  Automaticity helps to build better comprehension because students have the mental energy to think about the text as they read.  The second part of fluency is called prosody which is the expression we use to read.  When students are able to read a text using appropriate expression and observing punctuation, it greatly increases their ability to understand and have deeper comprehension of a text.

My Favorite Strategy for Automaticity
If your main fluency goal for your students is to improve automaticity, then this is the blog post for you.  Today I want to talk about one very effective strategy call Repeated Reading.  First introduced by S. Jay Samuels in the 1970's, the research indicated that a student's fluency increase with subsequent readings of the same passage and their errors also decreased  This result was not unexpected.  However, what was surprising was that on subsequent cold reads, their words per minute kept increasing, even when the text was more difficult.  Their errors on these first readings also kept decreasing.  They found that repeated readings had an effect, not just on the text they were reading, but on the the next text a students read.

Repeated Reading Tips
The best part of this strategy is that it is so easy to implement.  If you use it just a few short minutes each day, you can see progress.
  • Pick a poem, song, or short passage to read with your students.  
  • Day 1 - The students read the passage aloud for one minute.  This is their "cold read" and when they stop reading, they can draw a line after the last word they read.  After this, it helps to work on comprehension of the passage.  As a class, read the entire passage  and discuss any  vocabulary that might be unfamiliar.  This step takes about 15 minutes.
  • Days 2 -4  Days 2 through 4 are practice days.  The students practice the passage everyday in pairs or small groups.  Some students read together and other times students take turns reading the text.  Also, students can also choose to read the passage during their independent reading time. This step takes about 5-7 minutes.  
  • Day 5 - At the end of the week, we time their reading again for one minute.  This is their "hot time" and the smiles I see at this increase are always exciting. This step takes about 3 minutes.  
One caution for this type of reading.  If you are working on oral reading fluency, I feel students need to whisper read as they practice the passage.  In the same way that I practice a speech or a reading for a church service to insure fluency in front of an audience, students need to practice aloud too.  It  helps all readers, but it insures that my reluctant readers are practicing.

We measure oral reading fluency every other month at our school, in grades 1st through 4th using EasyCBM  oral reading fluency probes.  We also use the Hasbrouk and Tindal Oral Reading Fluency norms to help decide our benchmarks for each grade level.  You can find these norms here. When implemented with fidelity, our reading fluency scores climb for almost every student.  Once students read with enough automaticity, we begin to focus on improving prosody, which I will save for another blog post.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Picture Sorts for Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic Awareness needs to be directly taught in Kindergarten and 1st Grade.  At my school, we try to teach the skills both universally to the whole class and then in small groups during Guided Reading groups.  This small group instruction is very important because it gives teachers a chance to assess students and deliver instruction that is just right for the student's reading level.

One strategy that works well to develop Phonemic Awareness in small groups is Picture Sorts.  This engaging activity is hands on and the students love it!  Picture sorts can be used with sounds in all positions of words such as the beginning, middle, or end.

Beginning Sounds Picture Sorts

Levels of Picture Sorts

 According to Jan Richardson in her book The Next Step in Guided Reading: Focused Assessments and Targeted Lessons for Helping Every Student Become a Better Reader, certain picture sorts are appropriate for certain levels of text during Guided Reading.  The graphic below shows the recommended picture sorts for each Guided Reading level.  Picture sorts are ideal for Guided Reading Levels Pre-A through F.

Short Vowel Picture Sorts with Word Cards

Tips for Sorting Pictures
  • Give students pictures that represent two very different sounds as they begin sorting.  As students become more proficient, then the sounds can be more similar.  
  • Tell students the sounds they are sorting.  I use a sorting mat but you can also use a white board or just put some headings on the table.  In the Levels Pre-A through B, with early phonemic awareness, you need to use pictures as well as letters.  Later, the letters will be enough to indicate the sounds that students are sorting.
  • Tell the students the picture.  It wastes time to have them guess and that is not your objective.  Phonemic awareness, which is hearing the sounds, is always the goal.
  • Have the students say the picture.
  • The students then stretch the sounds in the word.  When the student is segmenting the word, they can use dots, fingers, their arm (shoulder, elbow, wrist).  The student stretches the word to hear every sound (ie. B-A-G). 
Dot Cards to Help Students Stretch Words
  • The student decides what sound they hear in the position on which you are working (initial, medial,or final).
  • They put the picture in the correct place.  
  • The teacher needs to scaffold as necessary.
  • I like to add word cards once children are starting to read and blend letters together.  I start adding word cards with my Short Vowels Picture Sorts around Level C, and I think this helps students transfer knowledge to their reading.
Initial Blends Picture Sorts with Word Cards
Solutions for Your Classroom

Picture Sorts are a great strategy to add to your Guided Reading groups for beginning readers.  Phonemic Awareness is a crucial component for beginning readers and writers to develop.  Without this underlying instruction on how sounds build together to make words, students become sight word readers and struggle to apply phonics to both reading and writing.  I always equate Phonemic Awareness in reading to Number Sense in math.  I might know the number 5 by sight, but until I have number sense I have trouble using 5 with any power.  

I wanted to make sure that the early primary teachers at my school have the tools they need so I developed seven sets of Picture Sorts.  I have beginning sounds, long vowels, final consonants, short vowels, digraphs (initial and final), initial blends, and final blends.  You can find the individual Picture Sorts here.  If you have a wide variety of needs in your classroom, I bundled the sorts together and you can purchase the Picture Sorts Bundle for Guided Reading here!

I hope Picture Sorts are a hit in your classroom!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Phonemic Awareness in Reading

I am embarrassed to say that when I started teaching, I had never heard the term phonemic awareness. Sure, I knew what a phoneme was and we studied phonics instruction in my reading methods class. By golly, I even remember a phonics workbook in 1st Grade.  But phonemic awareness was a new term, and I learned that it is powerful for teaching students to read.

Phonemic awareness is to reading, what numeracy is for math.  The ability to hear and manipulate phonemes is the most basic and underlying skill of reading.  However, phonemic awareness begins with other pre-reading skills that are part of a broader area called phonological awareness. When working with other teachers, I often say that this set of skills was learned on our mother's laps.  These skills are part of a continuum and the phonological awareness continuum is what helped me to understand the progression.

  • Rhyming - matching the end of the word - cat, hat, mat, sat
  • Alliteration - matching the beginning of the word - Sally sips soda.
  • Sentence Segmentation - sentences are made of separate words - The cat ran. (3 words)
  • Syllable Segmentation - segmenting words into syllable - can-dy
  • Compound Words - blending and segmenting compound words - rain/coat becomes raincoat
  • Onset and Rimes - blending and segmenting the initial consonant (onset) and the vowel and consonant after it (rime) - /b/ /ake/
  • Phonemes Blending and Segmenting - Blending phonemes into words and segmenting words into sounds  /bat/ segments to become /b//a//t/ or /k//i//t/ blends to be /kit/
One caution I remember my mentor telling me is that you can't do a phonemic awareness worksheet. Once you add print or letters to the equation it becomes phonics.  This made me laugh but it is true. You can use pictures to practice hearing sounds, but looking at letters and saying their sounds is phonics.  Phonics instruction is essential but you also have to make sure that students have phonological and phonemic awareness skills because deficits in these areas can truly hinder a child's ability to learn to read.

Once I understood the progression of skills, it became easier to help students who were at various places in their learning, especially those who were struggling.  If I had a student who was not hearing beginning sounds, I would look back at this continuum and try to pinpoint the earlier difficulty.  Can they rhyme or can they hear alliteration?  Finding a correct starting point on the continuum helps to fill in gaps.  For many kids who have been read to at home, they come to school with these skills already developing.  Conversely, when students have not been read to this continuum becomes even more important.  As teachers, we must make sure our universal instruction gives students rich experiences with read alouds, poems, and songs so they can develop this sound and print knowledge.

Phonemic awareness is at the very end of the continuum. It starts with blending and segmenting compound words, then onset and rimes, and finally phonemes.  Students need to understand how sounds blend or segment a word before they can blend letter sounds together to read.  It is also important for students to be able to segment words when they begin writing.  It is crucial for beginning readers and writers to have a great foundation in phonemic awareness!