Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

Pax is one of the prettiest, emotional  & hopeful middle grades book that I have read in a long time.  This book also works for High School students and is one I would recommend for kids who are not yet confident readers with chapter books.  This is told from Peter and Pax's viewpoints making the story unfold in an engaging manner.  The depth and complexity of language along with the comfortable 760 Lexile level make it a novel that can be comfortably read.

Synopsis from http://www.sarapennypacker.com/pennypacker-pax.htm:
Pax and Peter have been inseparable ever since Peter rescued him as a kit. But one day, the unimaginable happens: Peter's dad enlists in the military and makes him return the fox to the wild. 

At his grandfather's house, three hundred miles away from home, Peter knows he isn't where he should be—with Pax. He strikes out on his own despite the encroaching war, spurred by love, loyalty, and grief, to be reunited with his fox.

Meanwhile Pax, steadfastly waiting for his boy, embarks on adventures and discoveries of his own.
It takes me a long time to put together a literature unit that is thought-centered so students can best draw meaning from their reading.  I finished this book with my son (5th grade) and took oodles of notes about what we discussed.  

What kept occurring was the discussion about Peter and Pax and how we learned so much about Peter through both Pax and Peter’s eyes.  This brought me to address the topic of character change.  Second, the obvious conflict in the story was discussed over and over.  Each chapter has a new type of conflict and is the PERFECT book to discuss all four types.  Third, the beautiful language used by Pennypacker was an obvious choice to discuss as we read.  Several times, I stopped and reread aloud specific lines and quotes to either hear the language or discuss the inferred meaning.  I have purchased 25 copies of Pax by Sara Pennypacker to use with our seventh and eighth grade intervention reading students. 

 The interactive format allows for teacher modeling and flexibility of thought as students read. 

Here is an example of the matching anchor charts:

Here are the directions:
Put together the entire interactive notebook with students before you start reading.  Each pocket has mini books that contain the same information as the large anchor charts.  This way, students can reference ideas as they read.

I would introduce and MODEL my thoughts using the I.C.E. strategy as noted in the anchor chart under sentence frames.  Students practice in partners and then individually.
Order of introduction: (Introduce all three areas to notice by the time 1/3 of the book is read.
1.Sentence frames and Author’s Language
2.Types of Conflict
3.Characters Grow & Change

Allow students to share their ideas in small groups as you read this novel. 
The first page of “What Did You Notice Today” is for students to copy your “exemplar” model.  I would run off 6 additional pages for students to use for writing their responses.  Model each area to notice by modeling “exemplar” writing as much as possible. Writing should not be required every day because you want extended READING to happen first.
The back cover is where kids write about Peter’s “truth” and what he learned through his experience.
You will absolutely love this book!


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Using The Reading Strategies Book with First Grade WIN (What I Need) Groups

One of my favorite responsibilities as a Reading Specialist is observing and coaching all grade levels.  This year, I started with differentiated WIN (What I Need) literacy groups.  We have a 40-45 minute block daily that changes quarterly depending on student needs in English Language Arts areas.  This block of time is based on student Fountas and Pinnell levels, Words Their Way levels and metacognitive needs. Teachers are asked to use the three areas of intervention flowchart to target anchor charts and strategies from The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo.  I purchased one copy of this text for EVERY teacher at our elementary school and ALL ELA teachers at our middle school.  I truly believe in the strategies and foundation of literacy in this book.

{LINK} to flowchart

I asked teachers to create a visual template, one page only for the 8 weeks that they are teaching.  If you read through these lesson plans, all three teachers are targeting word study utilizing Words Their Way.  Fluency at this level either targets sight words or paying attention to sentence endings/prosody.  Comprehension skills range from utilizing what word repeats to Look and Think all the way to writing a basic somebody-wanted-but-so-then paragraph.

Our lowest students receive  hybrid Reading Mastery and LLI instruction.  Borderline kids receive Leveled Literacy Instruction as well.  Our higher students may receive instruction using LLI odd books only or utilize tradebooks depending on student needs.  At the beginning of the year, teachers usually pick Leveled Literacy Intervention because all students need a little more structure.

Teachers USE these anchor based on The Reading Strategies Book charts daily.  Kids practice daily.  Kids read books at their level to develop stamina daily.  Teachers conference with students daily.

This is teaching at its finest!

Happy teaching!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Teaching Students About the Importance of Signal Words

I am so thrilled with using Content Literacy: Lessons and Texts for Comprehension Across the Curriculum  by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis!  Our next study skills lesson in 8th grade is focusing on signal words and phrases.  I downloaded Ladybug's Teacher Files Transitional Words and Posters as a starting point. I HIGHLY recommend this purchase!  These posters made an anchor chart of signal words and phrases.
After looking more closely at what I wanted to teach, I added my own anchor chart to make sure temporal/time as well as basic conjunctions that signal change or importance when reading.

One of my teacher friends introduced me to the Google extension, Kami, so I incorporated this into my lesson as well.  Kids will hilight the signal word, underline the sentence and use the comment box to tell what the signal word means.    I have an example below.  This tool is so easy to use.  I sent my teenagers a text to add this onto their computers at home!

Credit:  Content Literacy:  Lessons and Text sfor Comprehension Across the Curriculum by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis

Finally, gradual release of responsibility is planned.  The first page of the article is going to be demonstrated.  Kids will work in partners to annotate the second page of this article.  Finally, students will be placed in small groups to choose an article from NEWSELA to annotate and share with the class.  I think this lesson will last 3-4 days as this is being taught during our 30 minute WIN (What I Need) block of time this year.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Close Reading and Parallel Annotation with Middle and High School Students

This school year, one of my goals is to work with Middle and High School teachers to develop their strategy file for student comprehension of text.  Heinemann Publishing has a Comprehension Toolkit that includes an incredibly useful text for professional development on disciplinary literacy titled, Content Literacy (Intermediate) Lessons and Texts for Comprehension Across the Curriculum by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis.

I will be using five of these strategies outlining professional development for grades 8-12 this year. The first strategy includes parallel annotation that is clearly outlined in the book.  I have chosen to add close reading in conjunction with this strategy because it will make it that much more effective across the curricular areas. Below are the anchor chart process poster that I created for teachers.

 I absolutely love the idea of marking your thinking on one side of an article or text and marking you reactions and comments on the other side.  This is such an easy organizational system to engage readers!

Here we are as middle and high school teachers learning this strategy.  We have a beautiful, progressive team of teachers working together!

I highly recommend this book for your professional library and for use with professional development in disciplinary literacy.  I purchased 15 copies and expect that I will need more!

Happy reading!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Main Idea and Supporting Details with Nonfiction Text ~ Freebie

We are working hard in fifth grade to read an article and identify the main idea. The question that keeps running through my mind is, "Why is this SO HARD for kids?"

I keep coming back to a strategy in The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo that talks about helping kids find what words repeat.  This is used for younger kids, but I started thinking that this might be the missing link for our older kids as we analyze Nonfiction text.

Think about it:
1.  What words repeat?  That would be identifying the topic.
2.  Answer the following questions to create your main idea:

  • Who is the article about?
  • What is the big idea?
  • Where did the event(s) occur?
  • When did this happen?
  • Why did this occur?
  • How or how come?
3.  What information tells more about the main idea?  You now have supporting details.

If we use the close reading process, it would look a little like this:

First Read:  Circle words that repeat.  Identify the topic.

Second Read:  Answer the "wh" questions to develop your main idea.

  • Write who, what, where, when, why, how/how come in the margins as information is identified.
Third Read:  Annotate for supporting details.
  • Draw an arrow next to ideas you think are supporting details.

I created this graphic organizer to help kids after close reading.  It is free to you for classroom use.  I hope this process helps your students better understand main idea and supporting details.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Marking Our Thinking for Deeper Connections

Our sixth grade team has truly embraced annotation as a form of deeper thinking and connections for students to share their thoughts about universal and differentiated texts.  This anchor chart takes up an entire wall in one of our teacher's classrooms.  It is a clean yet powerful point of focus in his classroom.
Think marks have evolved over the past several years to include:

  • Reactions to characters or story events
  • Metacognitive strategies
  • Figurative language
  • Grammar focus 
The fact that our team has incorporated all of these focus areas into one visual aid allows students to integrate all ideas so that reading, writing and grammar are viewed as a "whole" and not separate components in these classrooms.

Interested in Nonfiction thinking marks?  Click {HERE}.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Teaching About a Character's Feelings

We have spent quite a bit of time these first two weeks of school developing growth mindset, validating each other as classroom team members and developing classrooms of safety and kindness.

Our first book in fourth grade that teachers and students have read as their universal text is titled, Dexter the Tough by Margaret Peterson Haddix.
From Peterson's blog:
"I'm the new kid. I am tuf.  This morning I beat up a kid."
 "It's only the first day of school for Dexter, but he's already mad at the principal, and the secretary, and the janitor, and the kids who laugh at him.  When his teacher tells the class to write a story, Dexter writes about how toug he is-and how he's already gotten into a fight.   Is any of Dexter's story true?  Why was the other boy crying before Dexter hit him?  And why would the other boy still want to be Dexter's friend?  Even Dexter  doesn't know the answers to some of those questions  But as he deals with family problems, a persistent teacher and a boy who's strangely interested in floor wax, he discovers many surprised hidden in his own tale.
Although there are many layers to teaching about characters including feelings, traits, thoughts, actions, reactions, internal and external characteristics, talking about and identifying feelings of characters was the main focus to start out the year.  We develop all of these other areas as the school year progresses.

As students read a series of chapters, they were asked to record their ideas about Dexter's feelings as well as Robin's feelings. (Dexter and Robin were the two main characters in this story.) The anchor chart we used to introduce characters is above.  We also sprinkled in character change as this is fundamental to Dexter the Tough and his growth throughout the story as well as establishing growth mindset in the classroom.

Kids recorded their ideas in journals while working with partners.

I also found {THIS} anchor chart when I was working on our anchor chart, which would be the next layer in citing text evidence.  I think we will incorporate it into our next book.

Happy new school year!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Professional Development ~ Running Records and Determining Student Needs Part 2, Intervention Lessons

After learning to take running records AND looking for patterns of reading behavior, we dig a little deeper into student skills.  Running record indicators were discussed in {Part 1}.  

There is a hierarchy of student literacy development.  I use the Qualitative Reading Inventory-6  to pinpoint student literacy needs AND follow the three part format as outlined in Interventions to Follow Informal Reading Assessment by JoAnne Schudt Caldwell and Lauren Leslie  in that each intervention lesson has three parts:  Word Study, Fluency and Reading For Meaning.  Based on their recommended three areas, I developed a flowchart of skills development.  

Teachers use flowchart below to further evaluate students and determine specific areas needed of remediation.  We then use materials that most closely match student needs.

Note:  Students that need digging into Phonemic Awareness are also screened with the PASS:  Phonological Awareness Skills Screener, which is a  criterion based assessment.

Students who demonstrate difficulty with phonemic awareness receive intervention using Heggerty materials along with nursery rhymes, songs and finger plays. {Example}  Our teachers have also embraced integrating lessons from 40 Reading Intervention Strategies For K-6 that are research-based and just plain BEST Practices!

Our K-6 team has completely embraced Jennifer Serravallo's, The Reading Strategies Book as a way to present strategies that need to be targeted.  

Sidenote:  Students who have not developed decoding strategies AND are two or more years below grade level, receive intensive intervention with Corrective Reading or Reading Mastery Materials through McGraw-Hill Education.  This is in addition to at least 60-90 minutes of literature-based universal reading instruction.  

Our Elementary School has seen strong growth in students using all of the strategies and approaches. I feel that we have a menu instead of a one-size-fits-all option for literacy growth.

Best wishes! 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Professional Development ~ Running Records and Determining Literacy Needs Part 1

I just finished the Power Point for Professional Development tomorrow with 17 teachers.  Tomorrow's focus is on coding running records, looking for observable patterns of reading behavior AND interpreting results to determine literacy needs.  

I like to start with an easy ice breaker to determine the level of teacher needs and fluency with coding running records.  This is the first of many anchor charts that will be used throughout the day.

I have taught these skills for many years as a Reading Teacher, Reading Specialist and as Adjunct Faculty; the most important message that I can convey is HOW to look at patterns of reading and WHERE to dig deeper.  This post shares the basics of miscues and their meaning so that teachers have prompts of where to dig into student reading difficulties.

Everybody has slightly different accuracy levels.  Our district keeps our cut-offs a little more tight so that we can catch any fluency patterns that are not mastered.  We use Words Their Way for word study, which is very effective with the decoding aspect of fluency.

I created a running record/miscue analysis form for teachers that is color-coded so that patterns easily identifiable.  I see many of these forms in the color printer and they are well worth the extra cost!

One of my favorite articles on learning about taking running records is at this {LINK}. I have used this article for several years with teachers as it is so easy to understand!

Part Two of this post will cover determining student needs and resources for working with students depending on their literacy areas.

Thursday, August 11, 2016


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Middle School Historical Fiction Novels & Literature Circles

I have spent quite a bit of time focusing on early intervention this year as that's how different groups of kids have panned out this year.

Half of my day is spent at our Middle School where we have an amazing, literature-rich literacy program grades 5-8.  Up next is historical fiction literature circles in grade 6.  We have a historical fiction universal text at each grade. 

    Our universal texts include:

After key comprehension skills are taught with each universal text, students are given choice of literature circles in which to apply these skills.  I have purchased OODLES of best practices literature circle texts this year and our students are so very engaged in these!

In sixth grade, students just finished Moon Over Manifest focusing on characterization, marking our thinking (Thought Jotting), elements of historical fiction, and digging deeper into factual events that occurred that were incorporated into the story.  What is neat about Moon Over Manifest, is that it is filled with flashbacks to World War I while being set in the time period during the Great Depression.  We were able to really delve into both time periods with examples of real historical facts.  The characters were very layered, making this an excellent text to discuss characterization.  The figurative language and literary techniques included similes, metaphors, flashbacks and foreshadowing and symbolism.  I cannot say enough about this book.  It is a MUST for any middle school teacher.

Below are my FAVORITE Middle School literature circle books. We offer historical fiction and/or true factual stories for choices. I added my favorites from all grades as we keep them separated with a wide variety of lexile levels at each grade so ALL students can  be successful!

City of Orphans by Avi
Sophia's War by Avi
Navigating Early by Clare VanderPool
Paperboy by Vince Vawter
One Came Home by Amy Timberlake
Bomb by by Steven Shienkin
Lincoln's Grave Robbers by Steven Shienkin
Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac
Just Juice by Karen Hesse
Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin
Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith
Prisoner B8087 by Alan Gratz
Iron Thunder by Avi
Imprisoned by Martin Sandler
The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb
Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
Lily's Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff
A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck
Hannah's Suitcase by Karen Levine
My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier
The Fighting Ground by Avi
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
Countdown by Deborah Wiles
Sounder by William H. Armstrong
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

I created a literature circle writing book for students to use during their literature circles to help solidify these ideas.

Please share your favorite historical fiction books in the comments below.