Friday, May 25, 2012

How to make silent reading visible

How do you know if a student is really reading during silent reading time? They don't have to be sleep on their book to be tuned out! This has been a challenge for me this year.

You see, in the afternoons I work with a group of students who are all 2-5 years behind in reading. The average student was in 5th or 6th grade and started the year with me reading at the 1st grade level. It has been challenging working with this group of students, but very rewarding.

One of the biggest challenges has been overcoming bad learning habits. Most of the students had learned the following.
  1. If you tune out in the classroom, but are very quiet and don't cause a problem, you can get away with doing very little.
  2. If you work slowly enough, you don't have to do much.
  3. If you look at a book and are silent, no one will notice if you are reading or not.
 What I have started doing is making reading a more visible activity.

  1. I have students touch the words as they read them. (Yes, even 6th grade students)
  2. Sometimes students whisper read instead of silent reading
  3. If they are reading off of a piece of paper, I have them underline with a pencil the first time they read the text and underline with a pen the second time they read the text

The other big thing I did with my students was video tape them during silent reading time. After video taping them, we talked about what they noticed. Most students saw a lot of fake reading.  Some kids were turning the pages way too fast, other were looking around the room, some were clearly not looking at the book. Looking at the video tape and having a conversation about fake reading was quite effective in changing their behavior.

No more fake reading!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Renewing Ourselves, Renewing Our Teaching

If you are taking the course Renewing Ourselves, Renewing Our Teaching, here is the article written by Mike Seymour of The Heritage Institute.

Please click here to see this amazing article on the power of journal writing for teachers.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Stay Energized and Beat Fatigue

I have been thinking about how do I stay motivated and focused for the last few months of school. What do I do to keep my energy up? Having three children myself (ages 1 year, 3 years and 5 years), as well as teaching full-time, life is full. How do I take care of myself too?

Here is a list of my top 15 ideas and tips:

#15: Music - It is amazing how putting on some uplifting music can help me feel more energetic, alive and inspired. I now keep my iphone in my pocket and will put on the music at the beginning of the day in the classroom, while I am cleaning up the house with my kids etc.

#14: Walk with a friend - Sometimes after school, I will take a walk around the block with a friend. Yes, I then have 10 or 15 fewer minutes to plan and grade. On the other hand, I return refreshed and focused. On top of that, talking with a friend helps me relax.

#13: Getting a massage - My health plan covers massage. I didn't know that for the whole first 3 years I was on it. It also covers acupuncture. I try to schedule something once a month or so.

#12: 10 minute power nap - I put on the timer and take a rest. I will admit that every once in a while I even do this in the classroom during my lunch break. (Having a blanket in a cupboard makes this so much more comfortable!) A 10 minute rest can do wonderful for my energy level.

#11: Fruit smoothie - One of my favorite smoothies is frozen berries, water, protein powder and cranberry juice. A little healthy pick me up can do wonders. This is actually what I have for breakfast every single morning. It takes less than 3 minutes to make and gets me a few servings of fruit before 7 am.

#10: Dream about next year - I'm not sure why, but sometimes thinking about all of the fun things I plan on doing next year with my class gets my energy up.

#9: Plants - I love buying plants. All it takes is a $5 plant from the grocery store on my desk to make me a very happy person.

#8: 3 Minute Exercise Break - I do the plank position for 30 - 90 seconds. (I am around 40 seconds now, but I started at 10 seconds!) And then I do the wall sit for another minute. I stretch and feel fabulous. It takes under three minutes. I don't have to change my clothes and I feel great.

#7: Eat a cup of microwaved frozen spinach with an egg over easy on top - Protein, greens and health. What is not to love about that?

#6: Read a trashy magazine - I go to the store and buy something like People magazine and devour it.

#5: Turn off the TV, radio and especially the news - Life actually won't change if you take a media break for a few days, a week or more. I actually stopped watching TV (except for one trashy show a week) about 15 years ago. I don't miss it a bit. But, it can be great to take a break from the radio news and the newspaper at times.

#4: Take a bath - Before going to bed, run a nice bath. Add some bubbles or some aromatherapy. Ten minutes makes all the difference in the world.

#3: Write a thankful journal entry - Write three things that I am thankful for that have occurred recently in my life. Thinking about the positive makes me feel happy, refreshed and alive.

#2: Snuggle with my kids - Sit in bed, laugh, giggle, be silly and just act like a kid. It doesn't get much better than this!

#1: Smile - If all else fails, I just breathe in and relax my body. I breathe out and smile. Sometimes putting a smile on my face can light up my day.

Online classes I offer for teachers through

FIRST DAYS OF SCHOOL: From Stress to Success
SAVE TIME: Time Management for Your Teaching & Your Life

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Get your students reading this summer!

You know that many students loose reading skills over the summer! Of course, the students who have the weakest reading skills tend to be the same students who don't open too many books during the summer. Those are the same students who are the most at risk for falling even further behind.

So, what can you do?

Here are my top 5 suggestions:

1) Have students write down their goals. Have students write down when they are going to read, what books they are going to read, how many books they are going to read and what reward they will give themselves for reading. Have them share this goal with their parents and get it signed.

2) Make reading bookmarks that have information about online reading sites.  You might want to include Tumblebooks or some other free reading program online. Younger students can read with

3) Hold a book exchange. Have students bring in a book that they have loved, but no longer want to read and share it with other students in their classroom. Ideally, have students give a 1-2 minute book talk before exchanging the books.

4) Provide parents with a list of fun, enjoyable books to read out loud. Sometimes parents just need some help finding a good book for their kids to read.

5) Read students a Raphael story about summer reading. Sometimes a story is much more effective than telling students "you should read." Here is one of my Raphael stories: Raphael Stories

What about you?

I encourage you to read stories or books over the story to renew yourself and keep you excited about learning. Here is an online class from HOL on Renewing Yourself and Renewing Your Teaching.

HOL online classes I offer:

FIRST DAYS OF SCHOOL: From Stress to Success
SAVE TIME: Time Management for Your Teaching & Your Life   

Monday, May 7, 2012

Home library organized

This weekend the kids and I did a really fun project! We reorganized the library. I decided that it was about time I used the 2 sisters' techniques for organizing the library at my own home!

First we watched some videos online from The Daily Cafe on how to organize a library for children. (If you haven't seen the videos, they are amazing. You do, though, have to pay to be a member. Worth it in my opinion!)

The video got my five year old son Mateo in particular very excited and more than willing to help out! Then, we went to DollarTree and bought tons of bins to organize the books into. Mateo got to choose the bin colors. Natalia, the three year old, was in charge of the little stickers that we put on each book to label them. Rosa, the almost one year old was in charge of keeping the stickers out of her mouth. (Ok, actually, I was in charge of that part.)

The green sticker is for all of the board books - both on the bin and on the top of each book. The yellow sticker with the letter C in it is for each of the chapter books.

The library books obviously don't have any home stickers, just the library bar code.

Spanish is just a yellow sticker and Disney is a pink sticker with the letter D written on the sticker.

Here is one of our shelves. The large books go on the sides and most of the books out of the bins are parent books.

With the color coding and the stickers, even Natalia, my three year old, can put all of the books away in the correct spot. The labels are facing out (just like stores put cereal facing out, not by the spine) to make the books more attractive. The whole project of organizing 15 bins didn't take more than 2 hours and left me feeling quite accomplished! I'm thrilled to have an organized library again after moving houses a few months ago.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Gestures for Editing

Do you have a few students write like this

without any punctuation

or. instead they. put periods. and commas,  in random places (I call that the salt and pepper method!)

along with Some caPitals here or there?

I have finally realized that some of my students don't see the punctuation. It is like their eyes just glaze over the periods and commas as if they do not even exist. These tend to be the same students who are weaker in reading. My theory is that they spend so much brain energy focusing on the words that the punctuation is overlooked.

Is there a solution? I am sure there are many different solutions. I love the book Everyday Editing. Another technique I'm using these days is called air punctuation.  You can learn more about this at Whole Brain Teaching. (If you have not checked out their website, I highly recommend it!)

Step one: Periods
Start putting out a stop signal with a hand and say "beep" when you come to a period

  • For example: Take the sentence, "The striped cat sleeps on the couch." The students would say: "The striped cat sleeps on the couch beep (hand up like a stop signal)"
Step two: Commas
Add in the commas with the word "Zoop" and make the hand motion for a comma

  • For example: "On the couch, the striped cat sleeps." The students would say, "On the couch zoop (hand curves in the air) the striped cat sleeps beep (stop sign)"
Step three: Indent
For and indention, the students use the word "Vroom" and move their hand forward from their body. 

These three steps and my kinesthetic editing checklist have made a huge difference in their writing. I'll talk about that more later!