Practicing Fluency Through Emojis

Happy, Sad, Mad, and Excited Emojis

Fluent readers are able to read with proper phrasing and know when to pause when reading a sentence. There was a meme a while back that argued for the importance of punctuation and how it saves lives with its captions reading, “Let’s eat Grandma! vs. Let’s eat, Grandma!” This meme shows the importance of commas and pausing when reading to maintain the author’s message. 

Fluent readers also read with accurate speed, intonation, and expression. This does not mean that in order to read fluently, a reader must read quickly, but instead that the reader can read accurately at a good pace. It’s important not to teach that fluent reading means reading fast as we do not want kids to read so quickly that pausing to read phrasing or with expression is missed. We also want to teach kids that when they read fluently, this helps them make meaning and understand the text. 

When teaching fluency, asking kids to “chunk” the text or “scoop up the words” are two strategies commonly taught. But, another strategy that can be implemented to teach fluency is to use emojis when asking students to read. My daughter is in kindergarten and is often asked to bring her poetry notebook home to practice reading. I decided to try something different with her when she practiced reading her poems to me. I began by asking her to draw four different emojis: happy, sad, mad, and excited. She created the emojis so that they were from her perspective rather than a generic version. After she had the emojis, we practiced speaking in each of the emotions and talked about how our voices changed when we read in a happy voice to when we read in a mad voice. Then, I asked her to read one of her poems in a happy voice. The poem was about things a bear likes, so the emotion fit the poem. But when she read the same poem in a sad voice, she stopped and explained that the poem did not make sense when reading it in this voice because the bear is not sad. By reading in a voice that did not match the text, she was able to decipher that the meaning was off. 

This lesson is an example of how fluency and meaning-making are connected because the way we read a text either maintains the author’s meaning or changes the meaning. In my daughter’s case, reading her poem in a sad voice changed the meaning of the text in a way that did not make sense to her. It is important to teach students to read with accurate and appropriate speed as well as intonation because we want them to enjoy the books that they are reading. We want students to laugh at funny parts in a text, feel upset at unpleasant parts, or feel excited when suspense is building. Because being able to make sense of and enjoy the books that are read is what keeps students engaged in their reading!

What are some strategies you are using to teach fluency to students? Leave a message in the comments below!

Classroom Solutions: Solving Problems as They Arise in the Literacy Classroom

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Today’s post is a question that I recently received. A teacher writes: 

I feel like all of the joy has been sucked out of teaching this year due to the restrictions and the increased emphasis on safety. For example, I feel like I am required to have the students wash their hands constantly over teaching them to read and write. What ideas do you have so that I like my job more right now?

Unfortunately, there are moments of any job and workday that are not pleasant and can be seen as highly annoying. One of my good friends always says, we are paid for the times that are not fun and enjoyable because it won’t be amazing 100% of the time. COVID has brought many challenges and changes into the classroom, which can lead to more work-related frustrations. More frequent hand-washing seems to be one of most recent teaching frustrations that has developed due to the pandemic. Though it is necessary to keep students safe, hand washing should not take the place of instructional time. In order to ensure that teaching is happening, one idea is to be creative with how and when the students wash their hands. Some ideas are to have the students wash their hands before they enter the classroom in the morning. This way, their hands will be clean before they sit down at their desks. Other than when students use the bathroom, I would also suggest having them wash their hands before and after eating lunch and snack. Otherwise, if permissible by your local district, consider using approved hand sanitizer and hand wipes while the children are at their desks or between lessons. Think about ways to make the new policies manageable for you and your students rather than let it overwhelm your whole day.

Though it is a stressful time right now, it is necessary to make the decision to include teaching moments into the school day – not just for you, but for the students who are in the classroom. They deserve to be exposed to content and learn new skills and strategies. One recommendation is to look at your schedule and plan when you will teach the different lessons for the curriculum. The teacher who asked this question teaches an early childhood grade level, I highly recommend including at least one read-aloud into each day. Make the books enjoyable and engaging so the kids are interested in reading and look forward to the read aloud time. A way to extend the read-aloud is to have the kids come together and do a shared writing on an aspect of the book – addressing specific skills and strategies that you want the students to learn and apply when reading or writing.

Teaching content, such as read-alouds or shared writing lessons are moments that can bring joy back into teaching because you are exposing the students to quality literature and authentic writing – two areas many elementary literacy teachers are passionate about! And, they are lessons that do not require manipulatives – and hopefully hand-washing!

Are you struggling to find joy in your teaching these days? If so, what are the challenges you are facing? Leave a note in the comments below.

How Do Kids Become Readers?

Photo: A Pete the Cat bedtime story.

My students are beginning to work with elementary children. They are planning and teaching reading and writing lessons. As they are beginning their time teaching, some are learning, either directly from the child or indirectly from the child’s parents, that the child does not like reading or is not a “good” reader. And, my students have been asking me the question, “How do kids become readers?” It seems that they want me to tell them the secret or the magic steps that they can implement in order to help the children become readers. Unfortunately, I do not have a magic potion that when taken will automatically have kids reading. My simple answer to their question is that in order for kids to become readers, they must read!

Reading is a muscle that needs to be used in order for it to be strengthened. Think about learning to read in a similar way as you would think about learning to ride a bike. You can’t learn to ride a bike only by watching someone else do the work of riding a bike or only watching videos about riding bikes. Instead, if you want to learn to ride a bike, you need to get on the bike and keep trying – even when you fall off! It’s the same for reading. If you want your students to become readers (which we all do!), then they must read. There’s no getting around doing the hard work. In order to support students and help them learn to read and enjoy reading, they need to be given multiple opportunities throughout the day to read and be read to. Here are a few ideas to get students reading:

Get Independent Reading Right

Providing the time and space for students to read independently is an important part of a balanced literacy curriculum. This is the time for the students to implement the reading work you taught in books that are “just right” for the child’s level as well as of interest to the child. You spent time at the beginning of the school year learning about the students who are in your classroom – learning about their interests and background. Don’t let that information sit in a folder – instead use it to help put books in students’ hands. If children are reading books that they enjoy, they will fall in love with reading. Independent reading has many benefits, such as building background knowledge, improving vocabulary, and providing time and space for children to practice the reading skills and strategies you have taught. In order to make independent reading a supportive time for students, provide them with teacher guidance and feedback. For example, meet with students and hold conferences with them about what they are reading and their understanding of the book. You can discuss what skills and strategies the child is using when reading or discuss new vocabulary words that the child is noticing in the book. Regardless, conferencing and providing the student with guidance will make independent reading time a more powerful opportunity to strengthen the reading muscle.

Plan Engaging Interactive Read-Alouds

Interactive read-alouds are one of my favorite literacy structures to implement in the classroom because they allow children to engage with a text that may be above their reading level and they get a window into how the teacher thinks about the text. Interactive read-alouds are not a time to just “read for fun,” but also allow the teacher to show details about the book that the students may not notice. For example, author and illustrator Mo Willems sneaks an illustration of Pigeon into each of his books. While some children may be familiar with the hiding Pigeon, others may not be and this is a way to teach the importance of reading the illustrations. The more you read to the students, the more exposure to different books and genres they will receive, which will help children learn about the types of books they enjoy reading.

Talk!

Kids are social beings who enjoy speaking with their peers. Talk is an essential part of literacy as well as an important skill for children to learn and unfortunately, there is not enough talk in classrooms today and this has probably been amplified during the COVID pandemic. If kids are reading independently in the classroom, a nice way to extend the reading is to create time and space for the children to talk to each other about what they are reading and give reviews of the book to their peers. This is a way to have the students become book salespeople – by promoting the books and authors! During COVID, children have been enjoying reading outside when the weather permits and by ending independent reading a few minutes early, students can sit in a socially distanced circle talking about what they read. This gives students the opportunity to share what they read as well as have time to connect with others in the classroom, which right now is so essential.

How are you getting kids to become readers? Share a few tips that have helped strengthen your students’ reading muscle!

The Connections Between Skills and Strategies

Photo of a Balloon Animal Made at a Birthday Party!

It’s about that time of the semester when I am asked two questions fairly frequently – “What is the difference between a skill and a strategy?” and “Where do we find literacy strategies to teach?” Both are common questions that I am asked by my students who are preservice teachers, particularly as they are beginning to move into teaching more reading and writing content. 

Skills are the WHAT of teaching. They are the actions that students take as they are reading a text or working on a writing piece. Sometimes, skills are applied automatically as students are engaging in reading and writing tasks, however, when the skill is not instinctive, strategies should be taught so that the skill can be practiced. I am often asked to name some reading skills, so here are a few: activating prior knowledge, predicting, sequencing, inferring, and summarizing.

Strategies are the WAYS of teaching and they can help students develop an understanding of a particular concept. Strategies are a step-by-step approach that when applied can help accomplish the skill. There are many different strategies that can be taught and implemented in order to reach the skill. For example, in order to teach students the skill of summarizing, strategies such as identifying the main idea and supporting details or determining what a character wants can be taught to students. 

In order to better demonstrate this distinction, I have adopted the following strategy to use with my students early in the semester. I ask my students to share one of their personal (non school related!) skills and then demonstrate a strategy they use to apply that skill to their own life. 

One of my favorite examples was when a student demonstrated a particular strategy that she applied to her skill of making balloon animals at family members’ birthday parties! She explained to the class that she stretched the balloons in a particular manner, twisting them to create notches which both allowed her to shape the balloons while also reducing the risk that it would pop. This activity allows students to see the connections between skills and strategies and how they work together. In this case, how creating the balloon animal (the skill) is aided by adding notches to the balloon (the strategy).  

So, what are some skills and strategies that you are focusing on right now in your classroom? Post a few in the comments section below!

Making Time for Longer Stretches of Work!

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September has been a particularly hectic month for many people, myself included. Like many people, I have been balancing remote teaching (and all the prep work and grading that comes with it) professional writing, and many, many Zoom meetings. 

Last week, I was reviewing my September calendar and I realized that the majority of my work time has been in shorter increments of time. For example, I will work for 30-45 minutes and then will need to join a Zoom call, after the call, I’ll go back to working for 45 minutes, only to be interrupted by an urgent call or email. While interruptions are inevitable, it is harder to get back into the work after a break, particularly a break that involves a Zoom meeting! So, while I have been able to get my work done, it has been fragmented which has not allowed for the deeper thinking that I would like to do. I didn’t think much of this until this past Saturday afternoon when I carved out a longer stretch of time to work. Before I began my work session, I had made a detailed list of what needed to be accomplished, turned on a coffeehouse music playlist, and got to work! About two hours into my work session, I noticed a difference in my thinking about my teaching and writing. I was more focused, which allowed for more careful and critical thinking about the content of my writing as well as the activities that I was using to teach. 

Due to the way life is right now, sometimes the work has to be done in smaller increments of time, but looking at the schedule and budgeting one or two longer work sessions, will allow you to appreciate the amazing feeling that comes from doing a good day’s worth of work!

How are you managing and scheduling your work time at the start of this new (and crazy!) school year?

Who are the Readers in Your Classroom?

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Modifications to a Reading Interest Survey During COVID

What do you do after you learn about the students in your classroom? And, how do you know where to begin in terms of reading and writing instruction? It is important to learn about what the children in your classroom are interested in and what they enjoy reading about so that you can actually provide them with opportunities to make choices about what they read. 

At the beginning of the year, I like to administer a reading interest survey, so that I can learn information about the books and authors that the students have read and either enjoyed or were not super interested in. I also include questions to learn about the  activities that students are doing outside of school. Here are some of the questions I tend to ask:

  1. Do you enjoy reading? Why or why not?
  2. How often do you read?
  3. What are some of the book titles you have read recently?
  4. What is your favorite book?
  5. Who is your favorite author?
  6. When you read, do you read books on an iPad or other device or do you read from an actual book? Which do you prefer and why?
  7. What are your favorite TV shows and/or movies?
  8. What games do you enjoy playing?
  9. What do you enjoy doing after school?
  10.  What sports do you like playing?
  11.  What are some of your hobbies?
  12.     List some of your interests and things that you enjoy doing when you are not in school.

This year, one of my students expressed concern about administering a survey to her first grade students – some of whom she is teaching face-to-face and others who are remote. She asked if there was a friendlier way to learn about book interests and hobbies, particularly when working with children in the early childhood grades. So, in an effort to make reading surveys more child and COVID friendly, I modified the questions down to three areas: This is Me, A Few of My Favorite Things, and Favorite Books. The order of the questions guides the students from beginning with a self-portrait and expressing who they are as an individual, to representing their interests outside of school, and finally sharing the books that they have enjoyed reading. The teacher can scaffold with questions to elicit responses from the students, such as:

  1. What do you enjoy doing after school? Can you draw and/or write some of the things you enjoy doing after school?
  2. Do you enjoy playing sports? Include some of the sports you like to play?
  3. What are some books that you read recently? [These can include books that have been read at school.] Which ones did you like? Include those on your paper!
  4. Do you have a favorite book? What about a favorite author?

In order to be inclusive to younger students, they can respond to the questions through a combination of illustrations and/or text. Here are the three pages and what they look like:

Once these questions are administered to the students, make sure you mark the date on each student’s paper and read through them! I like to have the students revisit these questions throughout the school year because interests in books change as the year progresses as well as changes in hobbies and after-school activities.

How do you learn about students’ interests in books?

How a Morning Message Upped My Zoom Teaching

Each week, one of my classes comes into the Zoom classroom muted and with their video off. I have (politely) asked the students to turn their cameras on, especially during the discussion portion of the class. Yet, many of the students continue to leave their cameras off. It has been a point of frustration to say the least. As I was finalizing my lesson plans, I was back and forth on what to do about the students who do not turn on their cameras and thus do not participate at all during class. 

Then, an idea came to me. When I taught 5th grade, I had a Morning Message on the SmartBoard each morning for the students, welcoming them into the classroom and giving them a morning assignment to work on before the day’s announcements. The 5th graders knew to read the SmartBoard and get to work. I decided to implement this strategy by leaving a Morning Message on the computer with clear directions for my students – the last one telling them to have their camera turned on by a particular time for an attendance activity.

It worked! The students came into the Zoom classroom, read the Morning Message, and a minute before the time I told them we would begin, the cameras started turning on. There was much more active discussion during the class and the students were also speaking with each other during class. 

A Morning Message is an authentic form of communication that is put up for the students before they come into the classroom. It is a message that the teacher has written to the class rather than a piece of writing copied from a teacher’s guide and it has something to say to the students. Whether a larger overarching message that guides instruction for the day, or something small and specific, like “leave your camera on,” it sets the tone and gets students ready for the day’s learning.  

At the end of the class, two students told me that the Morning Message was a calm way to begin the class. It gave them a few extra minutes to get ready before we began and they knew what to expect once the class began. So, if you are struggling with starting your remote instruction or even your face-to-face instruction, consider including a Morning Message into the mix – it may help with the beginning of the day or the beginning of class routine!