Welcome Back To School, 2018!

Wait… is it really October already? We’ve been back for a month already? It feels like we just started! I was very excited to return to work this fall after being out last spring on maternity leave. And boy, did we hit the ground running!

I am a SPED Literacy Coach, and I support about 15 staff members spread across 4 buildings. Part of my back to school fun involved traveling around, checking in with the teachers I support, and delivering treats 🙂

Sorry-not-sorry for the cheesy pun 😀 So grateful for Pinterest!

Our back to school PD this year had several foci, and I was thrilled to finally be getting ‘into the weeds’ with many of these topics. Trauma Sensitive Education. Word Study. Science Inquiry. College and Career Ready IEPs. EXCITING STUFF! All of it directly impacts student learning, which is incredible.

I hope you all have had a successful and smooth transition back to school, and that you are enjoying building relationships and getting to know your students. That, essentially, is the cornerstone to trauma sensitive education. I’m really enjoying meeting all the new students and reconnecting with the teachers I support to kick off an exciting new academic year!

How has back to school been for you? If you could summarize it in one word, or three, what would you say?

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WSRA 2018!

If you’ve been following my blog, you know just HOW much I look forward to attending the WSRA Wisconsin State Reading Association each year in February in Milwaukee, WI. I find it so uplifting, invigorating, and reaffirming to rub elbows with the top experts in our field, attend sessions that expand my thinking, and be surrounded by such passionate, knowledgeable educators. Then I always come back to my blog to share the cutting-edge research and educational materials I discover. See my previous posts below if you’re curious!

This year was no exception. Such careful planning and TLC go into making this conference the best in the nation. And this year, something extra special – I got to be a presenter! Proposals need to be submitted almost a year in advance, so I had no way of knowing that my idea for “Fake News” would grow to be such a popular, trending topic by 2018. But I was thrilled at the high level of attendance and participation at my session. Educators from middle and secondary classrooms expressed to me a heightened need for media literacy and critical consuming awareness and education in their classrooms. They hailed from social studies, language arts, journalism, english, and history classes across the state. I’m so thrilled that we, as educators, see ourselves at the front line in preparing and equipping students to be the critical citizens that can intelligently shape their own futures. Presentation Link


Of course, I also had the honor of attending the keynote and several other sessions that day.

Our 2018 Keynote speaker was Alfie Kohn, an author, lecturer, and expert on education, parenting, and human behavior. He was so incredibly engaging and humorous – a great way to start the day! His presentation, entitled “How to Destroy Children’s Interest in Reading” was a perfect summary of classroom teacher’s frustrations and instincts regarding encouraging and maintaining a student’s love of reading.

Alfie had 8 was to certainly kill a child’s joy of reading:

  1. Quantify reading. Tell them how much or how long to read
  2. Force students to analyze, summarize, and otherwise digest their reading.
  3. Make reading a solitary activity. include copious amounts of independent homework.
  4. The teacher decides everything about the reading process. What a student reads, where s/he reads it, with whom, when, and under what circumstances.
  5. Frame everything as test prep.
  6. Make everything about reading strategies and phonics practice instead of just enjoying the experience.
  7. Force students to read at their own level and practice a narrow band of skills, regardless of what they find interesting.
  8. Give them a reward for reading. When you offer rewards, you change what, how, and why a student chooses to read.

Next, I had the privilege of attending a session held by none other than Jan Richardson herself! This presentation was entitled “Moving Forward with Guided Word Study.” Let me tell you, it’s a once in a lifetime experience to see an intervention or curriculum demonstrated by the creator, herself. She had many videos of her working directly with students, which she still does today. She clearly explained word study and its correlation to reading at each level, A and up, and demonstrated what it should contain and look like. The fear here is that teachers don’t always spend time on Word Study, seeing it as optional, and instead focus on reading comprehension and strategies.

Jan reminded us that sight word study should be part of Word Study at least through level I (2nd grade-ish), and that the goal is not to memorize words, but rather to learn to look at and recognize words. I loved the following process she used with a group of 1st graders.

  1. She chose the word ‘here’ from a reading they just completed (connected, not random word choice, and a focus after authentic exposure.
  2. She showed them several permutations of the word ‘here’ and asked them which letter(s) were missing. h-re, he-e, -ere, etc.
  3. Next, she gave them magnetic letters and asked them “mix and fix” or shuffle the letters and reset them several times.
  4. Third, she asked them to write the word with their finger on the table, then on the whiteboard (kinesthetic, tactile). They practiced writing it several time, mixing in some previously known words in between.

This activity reallllllly made me want to get some magnetic letters and a tray! It was so concise, scripted, engaging, and hit on so many different learning styles. And again, to her point, it wasn’t about memorizing the word ‘here,’ but rather about learning to manipulate and recognize the word several different ways.

Jan reminded us that Word Study should be multifaceted and contain:

  1. Picture sorts to learn the sounds
  2. Making words to learn to apply the sounds to reading
  3. Sound boxes (aka Elkonin Boxes) to learn to apply the sounds to writing.

All three of these components are important!

She also introduced us to a new method of analytic phonics that is remarkably different in essential ways from Words Their Way. If you are familiar with WTW, you may often hear the complaint that students learn to visually recognize the patterns but don’t always master “hearing” the patterns. Jan’s answer to this is an auditory approach to analytic phonics. For example, if she were teaching students the “ick” and “ike” pattern, she would have them write down “sick” and “like” on either half of the page. From there on, every word would be dictated orally, and students would add them to the correct side of the page by listening and spelling by analogy. I loved this!

So those were my 2018 WSRA adventures. If you attended or have questions / comments, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

 

 

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Update: Classroom 2018!

This update has been a long time coming, but I am finally done with my room! As a coach, I don’t get a ‘classroom,’ but I do get to place my office in the building’s book room. This is a room where we house our Calkins Units of Study books. Even if it is a glorified warehouse, it’s still “my” room, and it needed some flare. So, at long last, here is my office space!

And where are all these books, you might ask? Here they are!

See the post below for Before Pictures. That 70s yellow was just too sad for me, and I had to brighten it up with more white. I covered my desk in contact paper, covered the walls in white butcher paper, and added as many pops of color as I could. The wall is also covered in book jackets of my favorite elementary read aloud books. I hope you enjoy this fun makeover!

If you have a blog with before/after pics or brag pics of your classroom, I’d love to see! Please link in the comments below 🙂

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My new office – a world of potential

Welcome back to school! For many traditional school year teachers in the U.S., this week is either professional development week or your first week back with students. I hope you are all surviving the transition and ready to get back to the critical, valuable, honorable calling of education.

I am starting this school year in a new district, in a new position. I am the Elementary Literacy Coach for Special Education in a district outside of Milwaukee, WI. There are a LOT of transitions for me! This is my first year in a role as a coach. I am so excited to be able to support teachers and help them with the ‘behind the scenes’ work that we all do. I will be helping teachers to better understand and address the literacy needs of their students. This is also a big transition for me to dive into the elementary world, since the vast majority of my teaching experience has been with middle / high school adolescents. I have so much to learn, which means a lot of potential to grow professionally (go growth mindset!).

I’d love to show you the BEFORE pictures of my new office. It’s not a classroom, since students will not use this room. I share this room with 2 other literacy coaches. It is also our book room for the elementary school at which I am housed (I serve all 4 schools in the district, but this is my home base). As such, I know I won’t be spending a TON of time here, but I do want to make it welcoming and inviting. I have a lot of work to do, but I am up for the challenge!

If you have any fun, exciting, new decorating ideas – PLEASE SHARE! I have a blank canvas inviting me. Stay tuned for AFTER pictures soon!

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Back to School Freezer Batch Cooking – Whole30 and Paleo!

Most teachers I’ve met are born planners and organizers. That is exactly how I would describe myself as well. This past summer, I dove head first into the world of Whole30 (an anti-inflammatory way of eating that centers on healthy, lean meats, vegetables, fruit, and some nuts and healthy fats – basically, no dairy or grain). I LOVED how it made me feel: strong and healthy. More than that, I loved how I DIDN’T feel anymore – no more bloating, GI discomfort, headaches, feeling sluggish. Even mosquito bites didn’t bother me as much any more, as if to say my body was healing and better able to fight.

I wanted to be able to continue eating Whole30 (W30) throughout the school year. However, as you know, time is a precious commodity, and W30 does require a lot of cooking. Armed with my favorite kitchen appliance – my Instant Pot – I spent a good amount of time this summer batch cooking and freezing for the fall. When I made dinner for the family, I’d double it and freeze half. By the end of the summer, you can see below what I amassed. These recipes include W30 as well as paleo items, as I am now in W30 maintenance and slowly adding in items that are permitted in paleo (i.e. honey) but not in W30.

In this picture you see:

  • 4 sweet potatoes slightly cooked, peeled, and diced to be added to hash – W30
  • Golden Chicken – paleo
  • Banana Porridge (Against All Grain Cookbook) – paleo
  • Salmon Cakes – W30
  • Tikka Masala – W30
  • Kalua Pig – W30
  • Texas Brisket – W30
  • Mint Chip Ice Cream (Against All Grain Cookbook) – paleo
  • Chicken Zucchini Poppers – W30
  • Frozen banana slices with almond butter – paleo
  • Pumpkin Chocolate Chip bread – paleo
  • Chocolate Chip cookies – paleo
  • Pulled chicken – W30
  • Stuffed Pepper mix – W30
  • 2 giant bags of frozen veggies from Costco

My first stop to prepare for this endeavor was Costco. There I was able to purchase bulk meat at a discount. Next, I treated myself to a jar of minced garlic to save me a step. I purchased a giant bag of almond meal from Amazon for the paleo recipes.

Not pictured here are the things I will make weekly, including:

  • Keto overnight oats
  • W30 Egg breakfast
  • A dozen hard boiled eggs
  • Paleo cereal

In addition, I have purchased a lot of snacks to keep in my desk, listed below:

  • Dried apple rings
  • Roasted Plantain chips
  • Rx Bars (Chocolate Sea Salt and Blueberry are my faves!)
  • Larabars
  • Fruit and veggie pouches
  • Unsalted Mixed Nuts

In the fall, I plan to warm up these items fairly quickly either by thawing them in the fridge the night before, or throwing them directly in the Instant Pot to sauté and warm up.

If you enjoy following my food journey, you can find me on Instagram! I am MightyKeka

Did you do any food prep this summer? I’d love any tips or tricks you can share!

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On To A New Adventure!

It is with mixed emotions and a heavy heart that I close the door to my classroom this week. I have decided to embark on a new adventure with a new school district. In the fall, I will be a Literacy Coach for another suburban, low income, small school district near Milwaukee. I will specialize in supporting teachers in closing the 5th to 6th grade reading gap. It sounds exciting and terrifying all at once! Am I ready for this? I’ve never been a coach before. I’ll soon find out!

To prepare for my new role as literacy coach, I will be reading the following resources this summer.

 

My main goal for the first few weeks is going to be watching, listening, and learning, as well as encouraging and supporting teachers. While I am extremely saddened to leave my school district ‘home’ of 10 years, I’m also very excited to meet new teachers and make new friends. I’ll also be shifting my perspective from working with 6-12th grade adolescents to now elementary students. It will definitely be an adventure!

Fluency Practice That Actually Works

This year, I administer a decoding intervention to students in Tier 2 & 3 reading interventions. We work on decoding, spelling, vocabulary, and phonological awareness. Our goal is to read more quickly and accurately over time (fluency). This is an essential prerequisite for comprehension, because students who struggle to read fluently often lack the cognitive resources to dedicate to comprehending, which is the ultimate goal of reading.

Every week, I administer the AIMSWeb R-CBM probe, a 60-second running record that records students’ CWPM (Correct Words Per Minute) and errors, to each of my students. The hope is that through our weekly word study, students will show evidence of their learning by being able to read more quickly and accurately. However, I’ve always felt I was doing a pretty inadequate job with improving my students’ fluency. We practice reading out loud in class every day, but our gains in fluency are slow and hard earned. Most of my students’ AIMSWeb graphs are nearly flat, like the picture shown below, meaning very little growth is evidenced.

And yet, I see their growth in so many other ways every day. I see it in their confidence, their decoding abilities, vocabulary knowledge, and spelling – none of which is measured by AIMSWeb. But the question remains – how can I improve their fluency so that it is reflected in their scores? 

I don’t know why I thought just reading more and more often would help my students. I had no systematic, direct approach; I just relied on sheer volume. We read interesting new texts every day and forged our way through the tough words together; and there was negligible improvement. I needed to find a way to speed up our progress.

I recently learned about a few fluency concepts that sounded really exciting and easy to incorporate into my curriculum, and I dove right in. Important concepts for improving fluency:

  1. Students need to read the same text multiple times (repeated oral readings)
  2. Students need to analyze and improve on their own miscues.
  3. Students need to understand why fluency is an important skill worth improving.

It seems simple enough, and yet why didn’t I think of it sooner?

I began by choosing very short, leveled passages for us to work on. I work with groups of 4 students, and this activity should only be done individually (you don’t want students to hear each other, which will impact their own readings).

Next, I created a worksheet that allowed students to see and improve on their own miscues, keep track of their progress, and set goals for future improvement.

Here is my copy of the worksheet, which I put in a sheet protector so I could write on it with dry erase marker for each student.

Each of my students got their own copy of the worksheet, which they used to track their progress.

As you can see, this student clearly progressed between her Cold Read and her Warm Read. In the first read, she made 4 errors. We took the time to go over them, decode the words, discuss their meaning if necessary (especially with ‘turnstile’), and then I gave her individual work time to practice or reflect. On her second, warm read, she made only 1 error AND read faster! *NOTE: she did not repeat any of her initial miscues! In the end, I asked her to note any words that she felt were tricky for her and worth future practice. She chose ‘amid,’ which we have now decoded and made into a flash card. All of this took about 5-6 minutes total.

EACH and EVERY one of my students today said they *liked* this activity, and they felt it really helped. They asked me to please keep doing it, and to pick another interesting passage for tomorrow. They eagerly took on the challenge, enjoyed competing with themselves, and were thrilled to see their own progress. Yes – ACTUAL noticeable progress. I’m so glad we are incorporating this into our daily word study routine!

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Spelling with Sand

Have you had an experience with multimodal writing/spelling? There are so many great ideas out there on Pinterest, from writing in shaving cream to making impressions in bags of paint. The beauty of this idea is that it is a) engaging for students b) gross motor skills (no worrying about holding a pencil) c) kinesthetic and multimodal (do, say, hear) d) easily replicated over and over until mastery e) memorable. Students can get in a lot of fun practice with language rules without the exhaustion and monotony of pencil/paper.

This practice is typically done in elementary schools, but I say NAY! Our middle school students deserve some fun as well! And since we were reading a book called The Cay in which (SPOILER) the 2 main characters are stranded on a deserted island and must write “HELP” in the sand to flag an airplane – well this gave me the idea that we could do our word work in the sand as well!

Our word study focus for this lesson was on the tch/ch rule. To begin with, we reviewed all of the short vowel sounds, making them in the sand and saying them repeatedly to brush up. A-apple, E-edge, I-itch, O-octopus, U-up.

After this practice, we learned the tch/ch rule – that the final ‘tch’ sound only occurs after a short vowel. We practiced with the word ‘batch’ – do you hear a short vowel? Yes I hear a-apple. That means that the /ch/ sound must be made by a -tch at the end.

We continued with several other words for practice:

  • lunch
  • teach
  • fetch
  • match
  • screech
  • itch
  • notch
  • splotch
  • snitch
  • notch

I didn’t so much care if they correctly spelled ‘teach’ with an ea and ‘screech’ with an ee, just that they recognized that the ending needed to be ‘ch’ instead of ‘tch.’

As you might expect, playing in the sand was a huge motivator, and at times distracting. In between words, I asked students to put their hands in the air. Once they were done spelling a word, I held up the cue card for them to cross check their spelling.

Overall, this lesson was a big hit. It was on theme, engaging, and appropriate for our word study sequence. The next lesson will be similar, on the ‘dge/ge’ ending (‘dge’ only occurs after a short vowel).

Would you try sand spelling with middle or high school students?

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I’m a Newsela Certified Educator

Did you know that Newsela offers professional development opportunities? A plethora of useful tutorials can be accessed through their PD Resources page. I recently completed the training and assessments required to become a Newsela Certified Educator – oh yeah! If you are interested in learning more about this opportunity, here is their run-down. The benefits include:

  • A certificate for completion of 5 hours of professional development and training.
  • An official certification badge to share on professional platforms.
  • The ability to represent Newsela at conferences, training sessions, and lesson plan collaboration.

The 5 hour time estimate is actually pretty accurate, because even though I breezed through the tutorials and quizzes, I spent a long time on the final assessment. The final step is to create a lesson plan that incorporates Newsela PRO features such as a text set, annotations, etc. I am pretty proud of the product I created! Just for fun, I am going to link it below. You know what a fan I am of the novel Spite Fences, so I created this lesson plan as an introductory activity about barriers in society for the novel unit.


Lesson: Barriers in our Society

Teachers: Mrs. Dembroski

Subject: Humanities (ELA and SS)

Grade: 8

Featured Newsela Article: Beyond Barbie: New toys show girls a path toward science and math

Essential Question: What are the ‘fences’ or barriers in our society, and how can we begin to overcome them?

Objectives

  • Students will understand that there are invisible barriers in our society that influence our lives.
  • Students will be able to read for a purpose and highlight evidence.
  • Students will be able to make connections between text selections.
  • Students will be able to cite evidence to support their inferences about a text.    

Standards

  • RI.8.1 Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • RI.8.3 Analyze how a text makes connections among and distinctions between individuals, ideas, or events.
  • W.8.2.B Develop the topic with relevant, well-chosen facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.

Assessment – Create a concept web of the barriers in our society and evidence of those barriers as discussed and cited from the Newsela text set articles.

  • 3 (Meets) – Student has included at least 4 accurate barriers in society and appropriate textual evidence that connects to and supports the barriers.
  • 2 (Progressing) – Student has included at least 4 accurate barriers in society and has included some textual evidence that connects to the barriers.
  • 1 (Limited) – Student has not included a minimum of 4 accurate barriers in society and/or the textual evidence is missing or does not support the barriers.

Outline / Schedule

Day 1 – Novel book walk, introduce “barriers” activity, and model with first article in small and

           whole group

Day 2 – Individual work – students read, annotate, and respond to prompts for 3 articles in the

           text set

Day 3 – Discussion, begin concept web, adding evidence from articles.  

Day 4 – Complete concept web, adding evidence. Submit for assessment grade.

Text Set: Barriers in Society / “Spite Fences – Trudy Krisher

  1. Growing up multiracial in Seattle
  2. Inventors and Scientists: Neil deGrasse Tyson
  3. Giving kids with special needs a sporting chance to form friendships
  4. Beyond Barbie: New toys show girls a path toward science and math
  5. With a new arm, a young war victim finds her artistic talent
  6. Defense chief tanks military’s last barrier to women in combat
  7. For these police in Kansas City, child hunger is Public Enemy Number 1
  8. Working-class neighborhood feels division of Olympics
  9. Polarity is no shield against school bullies
  10. U.S. says transgender students get to use restrooms they choose
  11. What are civil rights?
  12. En pointe and on top of world: Ballerina, film star breaks color barrier
  13. Law states that California students must learn about LGBTQ history

Lesson Plan

Background – Before reading our novel “Spite Fences” by Trudy Krisher, we will do a book walk and discuss the front and back cover, especially the picture of a fence on the front. We will discuss how a fence is a symbol for division. Fences are physical things in our world that divide us, but there are also ‘invisible’ fences that create barriers in our world, influencing how we behave, what we do, and who we (think we can) become.

Learning Goal – The goal of our Newsela experience is to gain some background knowledge on some of the barriers that exist in our society today. Our essential question is, “What are the ‘fences’ or barriers in our society, and how can we begin to overcome them?”

Activities

  1. We will begin by reading one article together as a model: Beyond Barbie: New toys show girls a path toward science and math. Students will be seated in groups of 3-4, and will be instructed to read the article out loud to their small group.

Annotation instructions:  

Highlight in blue evidence that indicates what problems toymakers noticed and tried to solve by reinventing their dolls.

Discussion Afterward, they will discuss the following 2 prompts:

  1. What problem are toymakers trying to solve by reinventing dolls and changing their appearances?
  2. What barrier(s) in society does this article show you?
  3. How does this barrier affect what people think they can do and/or who they think they can become?

Then, we will come together as a class and discuss our responses. I will model and guide students in understanding that gender expectations are a major barrier in our society, and they can impact what careers or interests people choose.

  1. Next, students will be instructed to work individually and select 3 more articles from the text set. Each article will have the same 2 writing prompts, as indicated below.
  1. What barrier(s) in society does this article show you?
  2. How does this barrier affect what people think they can do and/or who they think they can become?

Annotation instructions: Highlight in blue any evidence you find of barriers in society mentioned in the article.

  1. Once students have completed their reading and writing prompts, we will come together as a class and make a giant web of all the barriers in society we have noticed through reading Newsela articles (gender, race, ability, identity, financial status, etc.). I will model and guide students in adding evidence from their Newsela articles to the web. Their individual webs will be turned in for an assessment grade. This activity will set us up for further discussion throughout our novel unit of how we can begin to address and break down those barriers.

Accommodations

Though this is an individual assignment, some students (emergent readers) will be encouraged to work in pairs. Others (emergent writers) will be offered the opportunity to verbally discuss their writing prompt responses with the teacher instead of typing them up. Finally, others will have assistance from a paraprofessional with all aspects of the task, and may work with the para in groups of 1 – 4.

Extensions

As an extension, I will encourage stronger readers to read more than 3 articles, and/or to find additional articles throughout Newsela that address the barriers in society. I’d also invite them to highlight in a second color (pink) how people have attempted to address these barriers.

Reflection

This assignment will help students in learning about barriers in society that may affect them or others in their lives. We all confront barriers at some point, but we don’t often think about the barriers that impact others. This activity will help students learn to think beyond themselves. It will also set us up for our novel unit and for exploring ways to overcome those barriers. We will return to the articles after we have finished the novel unit to make a new concept web of ideas, solutions, and inspiration for overcoming barriers in society. We will also brainstorm action steps we can begin in our own community for beginning to break down those barriers and make our world a more inclusive space. We will also connect this learning to the main characters in Spite Fences (Maggie Pugh, George Hardy, Zeke), who pushed against and fought to break down barriers in her own world.

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Dystopian Genre Literature Circles Reading / Writing Unit

Hello everyone! I’ve got a great new unit to share with you, posted on Teachers Pay Teachers. It is a Dystopian Fiction unit, which will fit into your curriculum nicely as Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop. As a Literature Circle unit, everyone will begin by reading the same anchor / mentor text (I suggest “The Giver,”), then each student can select his/her own second novel from the selection provided. This self-directed unit was designed for my Gifted & Talented 7th graders, so I think this unit would be a great fit for grades 7+. The goal is to independently explore the Dystopian Science Fiction genre, then come together to discover and discuss the genre features.

This 5-6 week unit combines Reading and Writing Workshop into a Literature Circle Genre Study of Dystopian Fiction and hits on a wide array of reading, writing, speaking, and listening standards.

This unit has been classroom tested and student approved! My students really loved this unit, largely because dystopian / science fiction is of major interest to them, and because they got to pursue their own reading selection and reading style. This unit helped us to discover how literature can be used as a critique on society and a metaphor for our deepest fears and dreams.

Included:
* Detailed Lesson Plans
* Independent Reading Checkpoints
* Cooperative Genre Study Activity (Dystopian Fiction Formula)
* 2 Essay Options including:
* Model Essays
* Scaffolding
* Rubrics
* Optional / Alternative assignment: Book Trailer

Click here if you want to download the lesson plans for free as a product preview!

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