Pssst…. did you know that TpT is having a site wide sale today and tomorrow (2/7 – 2/8)? Time to shop! I know I’ve had a few things on my wish list waiting for this sale!
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Pssst…. did you know that TpT is having a site wide sale today and tomorrow (2/7 – 2/8)? Time to shop! I know I’ve had a few things on my wish list waiting for this sale!
644 total views, no views today
Leading up to the holidays, I wanted to create a fun school wide reading activity to keep students engaged right up until break. It’s realllllllly tempting to want to reach for a fun movie to watch or other ‘fluff’ activities in the last few days, but I’ve found that more often than not, this backfires. You want them to watch a movie so you can quietly get some work done (and not have to take any of it home for the holidays!), but they are full of energy and antsy, or completely bored into a coma because they are watching movies in every.single.class.
I created this quick little video, as well as a google form, which was really easy to push out to students via email or google classroom. They simply have to watch the video, then submit their response in google forms.
This is the message I emailed out to my colleagues: “Reading activity for ALL grades and subjects – here is a link to a school-wide reading activity that will be available for the next 2 weeks. This could be a great option for students who are ‘done,’ for the To Do List workday, for a pinch-hit or sub day activity, etc. All are invited to participate in ANY class! No prep required, just share the link with students (via email or Google classroom)”
The video was really easy to make – I just used Quicktime to record an audio file (on my desktop as “incoming message”) of just me talking. Then I used Quicktime again to do a screen recording, in which I played the audio recording (to give it that cool tin can sound). Just be sure to have all the pictures and tabs loaded that you’ll need. The final unnecessary touch was importing into iMovie to add the explosion and color screen in the end. From iMovie, you can upload directly to youtube. The whole thing took me about an hour.
What I like about this activity is that it encourages students to do some self-directed research. They can spend as much or as little time on Newsela looking around as they need. They get to practice their citation skills (article title) and summary skills. They also have to provide a pretty thorough argument as to why the article they chose should be widely read by our entire student body. And, the article they chose could have a real impact at our school! There will be a Part Two of this activity, once we’ve selected the top 3 student submissions (this part is still in the works). Students will have a chance to promote their own topics of interest and engage the whole school in a grass roots kind of way. Yay reading with a purpose!
If you are looking for some other meaningful, engaging, and powerful activities to do leading up to Winter Break, I highly recommend this article by John Spencer. Students are craving something engaging and meaningful to get them through these long days before a much needed break!
I’d love to hear what you are doing in your classrooms in these next 2 weeks. Please let me know in the comments!
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Okay that’s an exaggeration. I know we can’t really stop using AIMSWeb MAZE. For the time being, it is the best option we have, and there are no alternatives. But someone, PLEASE, make an alternative!
Let’s back up and do a quick overview of AIMSWeb MAZE, which you probably use in your school district if you have any kind of reading intervention program. AIMSWeb is a benchmarking and progress monitoring system used widely in schools across the nation. If a student is receiving an intervention, they are likely being monitored once a week with AIMSWeb to make sure they are on track and making gains. If they ARE making progress / gains, then this data is used to prove that the intervention is working. If they are NOT making progress / gains, then this data is used as evidence that the child may need a different (form of the) intervention.
Weekly data points are necessary to make sure everyone is staying on track. Think of it like weighing yourself every week you are on a diet. You don’t want to weigh yourself daily, because you will likely see too much variation. But on a weekly basis, you are more likely to see an accurate trend over time.
To track student progress in reading, AIMSWeb offers two types of progress monitoring tools. R-CBM tracks a student’s progress in reading fluency; the student reads out loud for 60 seconds, and we would record the number of correct words per minute (CWPM) and errors.
MAZE, on the other hand, is a tool used to measure comprehension. Comprehension is a much more complex construct than fluency. The following information is taken from the Pearson AIMSWeb Training workbook:
“Maze is a multiple-choice cloze task that students complete while reading silently. The first sentence of a 150-400 word passage is left intact. Thereafter, every 7th word is replaced with three words inside parenthesis. One of the words is the exact one from the original passage.”
The students in an intervention take one AIMSWeb MAZE probe ever week. They are given 3 minutes to circle as many correct responses as they can.
As the title of this post suggests, I am not a fan of MAZE. As part of my teacher education, I am trained to be skeptical of any assessment tool and analyze it for purpose, benefits, and limitations. When I see that a tool claims to assess comprehension, I am even more critical and skeptical. I know that comprehension is a complex, multifaceted construct that is nearly impossible to assess in multiple choice or scantron format. Comprehension should be a conversation, not an assessment. This isn’t a critique of just AIMSWeb, but of all tools that claim they can assess comprehension in just a few short, simple questions.
Unfortunately, I see only one benefit to MAZE: it is easy to score. The following are the limitations as I see them with the AIMSWeb MAZE assessment.
Putting the response choices within the sentence (as opposed to a question at the end of the sentence) interrupts the flow of reading. The student has to pause and consider all 3 options right then and there. If they choose the incorrect option, it will negatively impact how they comprehend the rest of the sentence or passage.
Consider the following: “Most mornings he just tapped a (all, bit, more) of food into the bowl…(6.26)” In this example, I’ve had students get confused and circle 2 answers (bit more) and read it that way, because the words occur together in line, and this made sense when the student read it out loud.
Now consider this example: “This is happening (in, to, for) you,” the fish proclaimed. (6.26).” In this excerpt, I personally think there are 2 options that make sense (to and for).
Some common and effective comprehension assessment questions include text-dependent questions, inferencing, close reading questions, questions about the text or author’s purpose. Never in the history of ever has Cloze Reading been considered an effective measure of comprehension. Cloze reading is a sentence-level, low level skill that does not require the reader to build a mental model and comprehend the meaning of the text.
MAZE allows 3 minutes. Imagine what our students could prove they know and understand if given a bit more time. Think of how many 504s, IEPs, and student plans you have read that have included ‘extended time’ as an accommodation.
If your intervention is guiding students with adopting and applying reading strategies, as so many good comprehension interventions do, then MAZE won’t give you any usable information to modify your instruction to meet student needs.
Students don’t actually have to comprehend the passage to answer the questions. If they have an adequate grasp of English syntax and grammar, then they can simply answer the questions by selecting the correct part of speech or most sensible option for that sentence or even phrase.
AIMSWeb claims that, of the 3 response options, 1 is the correct answer, 1 is a near distractor (a word of the same ‘type’ or part of speech), and 1 is a far distractor (randomly selected, dissimilar part of speech).
Consider this example from 6.9: (Was, Jim, Day) stopped playing and ran to the (root, door, thus). Do you think ‘Day’ and ‘root’ were appropriately challenging near distractors? And, back to points 1 and 3 above, this tells me little to nothing about my students’ ability to comprehend the text, and gives me little to nothing to go on to adjust my instruction to help them improve their scores.
So in all, you can gather that I am not a very big fan of MAZE. And yet, it is a piece of data. ONE piece. We need to be triangulating student data and making sure to never make high stakes decisions based on solitary data points. Consider classroom evidence, Fountas & Pinnell benchmarking, MAP or STAR scores, and any other data points you can to obtain a whole picture on a student.
I’d love to hear what you think of AIMSWeb MAZE. I understand that many, many teachers and administrators love it. What are your thoughts on this tool – good, bad, or other?
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Curious to learn more about dyslexia? I thought I knew what it was (switching b/d, right?) but I had a major education this summer. I created this 16 minute presentation as professional development for my colleagues. Enjoy!
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I have this awesome whiteboard stop sign that I place outside of my classroom door. I try to greet my students each day / hour with a funny pun. It’s turned into a truly remarkable experience for everyone this year. My students will let me know if the joke isn’t funny, and this often turns into a teachable moment where I can share with them a finer point of the English language, or a colloquialism.
What’s great about middle school students is that many are finally starting to understand sarcasm and double meanings, along with symbolism and metaphor. I get to watch their brains develop right before me! It’s an incredible honor. When they truly get a joke and laugh, it’s a gift for both of us.
This experience has brought many new students to my door – students who aren’t even ‘mine’ – just to say hi, thanks for the joke, or share a joke that they’d like to see on the board. Many colleagues stop by and let me know that they miss the joke-of-the-day when I am too busy to make it happen. I love this new tradition! Here are my faves so far this school year (I’ll try to add more throughout the year):
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This past weekend, I attended the Cardinal Stritch Fall Literacy Conference. It was a short but powerful conference with JoAnn Caldwell as they keynote speaker (heard of the QRI? Yeah that’s her!). I’ll keep this short and sweet, but here are some key takeaways I have from the conference:
The conference also had a panel discussing the major differences between the QRI-5 and the QRI-6. I own both, and I teach and use both, so this was very informative for me. I certainly can’t do the panel justice by replicating their wonderful Q&A, but I’ll summarize some key points I want to remember:
I truly enjoyed this conference, and plan to promote and attend again next year. I made a lot of wonderful new connections, and learned some invaluable concepts to enhance my classroom and university level instruction. And, I got to present my own research as well!
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Have you ever considered doing a read aloud with middle school students? This is an immensely popular practice in elementary schools, but I had never heard of it being done in my 6th – 8th grade building. Since I am providing reading interventions for students with learning disabilities and dyslexia this year, I decided why not give it a try? These are students who are highly intelligent, but for whom reading is laborious. If I could read an engaging text out loud to them, they could finally relax and simply enjoy being swept away in a story!
My first step in each of my 3 intervention classes was to pitch a pile of books and have my students vote on a favorite. Here were our selections:
After we selected our books, I selected goals for each grade level. These goals would guide our reading and discussion every day. Below are our learning goals for each grade level:
Then, we just began reading! I told my students to find a comfy place in the room and relax. Many closed their eyes. I have beanbags, lounge chairs, and office chairs for the students to choose from. Each day, we read for our allotted amount of time, pausing once per page to discuss or add notes to the board. My students never had to do more than simply listen or talk – no writing or assignments involved. I wanted this to eliminate any burdensome activities and simply focus on what we enjoy most. Here is how each grade level went:
My students had never heard of “Choose Your Own Adventure”, so I felt a social obligation to expose them. I had ordered quite a few of these for 75 cents each off of half.com, and we chose to start with Terror in Australia. The students – most of whom have been self- or peer-branded as ‘poor readers’ – really, honestly enjoyed this experience. They got to pretend they were the main character and make choices that impact the outcome of the book. Whenever we came to a decision, we democratically voted and flipped to the correct page to continue our adventure. When the students didn’t like how quickly the story ended, they requested that I go back to the beginning and make some different choices to steer us toward an alternate ending. This second round WAS much more fun, since we had a better idea of what was going on. Students even noticed how the two timelines of the simultaneous stories somewhat overlapped.
We finished this book in 3 days, so we then moved on to Scary Stories. I let the students select 2-3 stories a day, and we turned off the lights and sat in a circle as if we were telling ghost stories at overnight camp. They couldn’t get enough! Even though, as we agreed, the stories were cheesy and not that scary at all, they were still really fun.
For both of these books, vocabulary was a major factor in our conversations. We had to build background knowledge on so many things. What’s an undertaker? Why do cars need high beams? Who are aborigine people? Lots to discuss.
This class selected to read Sounder. It is a short book, however the Lexile level is over 900L. I did not steer them away from this book because, as I reasoned, we were going to slog through it together and discuss it as we went. We needed to activate (and fill in) quite a bit of background knowledge as we progressed through the book. First, we had to set the stage of the post-slavery South, with sharecropping and extreme racism. In fact, it wasn’t much better than slavery for so many. What really confused my students was how much the main character coveted books and wanted to read. We had a great discussion about how reading is power, and why that knowledge would be a game-changer for the main character (and anyone, really). We came across many vocabulary words as we read that prompted discussion. Occasionally, perhaps once per chapter, I would choose a very difficult sentence to break apart and analyze with the students. Here is an example from page 89:
“Feeling defeat in the midst of his glee because the boy had not run but stood still and defiant, sucking the blood from his bruised fingers, the guard stopped laughing and yelled at him…”
First, we would have to define defeat, glee, and defiant. Then, we’d have to discuss… WHO is feeling defeat? Who has bruised fingers? Then, WHY would the guard feel this way? Why would the boy act this way? These are text-based questions that are worth our time to stop and analyze.
Finally, I did find myself making a few text modifications as I read out loud, simply for clarity’s sake. I might switch the order of dialogue to make it clear who is speaking. For instance, instead of saying,
“Hello,” said the boy.”
The boy said, “Hello.”
In this way, it would be clear to the students who was speaking the dialogue right away. I’d also find myself defining words in context as I read. For example, I might add the part in parenthesis: “The men were stooped over white-washing (or painting white) the stones along the path.”
I was surprised at how much the students loved this book and requested it at the start of each day.
Since none of the chapters have titles, our reading activity was to name each chapter. This prompted a pointed discussion about summary and main idea, which was our goal. We couldn’t always pick our favorite title, so we recorded several for a chapter.
My 8th graders voted to read Bruiser. We began by reading the back of the book and watching a student-made book trailer on youtube. This helped to pique their interest and lay the groundwork for a somewhat confusing plot. We also leafed through the book and discussed how it is organized – each character (Tennyson, Bronte, and Brewster) gets sections of the book to tell from their own perspective. This means that the point of view or perspective on events shifts throughout the story. We discussed the benefits and limitations of this unique form of story-telling.
I personally LOVE this book for a read aloud. It’s very fun to read and act out – the characters are very vibrant and realistic. Their sassiness is perfect for 8th grade. They are very intelligent characters, raised by literary professors, so they often speak in advanced vocabulary and make literary references that require brief explanations. Yet, at the heart of all the verbosity are characters with very relatable emotions and concerns.
We have been mapping out characters on the board as we read, adding details that we learn along the way.
The other activity I have really enjoyed doing is creating a 3D character map for Brewster. Since he’s sort of a mystery, this has been perfect to record our unfolding knowledge. I rescued this little white board guy from a rummage sale for 50 cents – he was part of a Pictionary Junior game. We haven’t heard many physical details about him yet, but we will add them as we learn more (especially the physical injuries he displays throughout the story).
So, have you done a read aloud with middle school students? How did it go? What did you do? Was it well received?
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Tomorrow, the students will arrive. Not all of them, just the 6th graders. We are trying a new thing this year – slow integration and transition. The rest of my students, 7th and 8th graders, will come on Friday.
I am so excited for this new school year! So much is new. I have a new room, a new position (Reading Specialist), a new student population (6-8th grade, not just one grade level), and a renewed sense of drive and purpose.
I’d love to show off my new room! Flexible seating was a major goal this year. Usually, I have 8 table groups for up to 33 students. But this year, I’ll be working with about 5 students at a time. To honor their different learning preferences, I created different seating options within the classroom for them to choose what works best.
Building relationships is THE most important aspect of my teaching practice. I get to know my students, and I let them know that I love and appreciate them. Humor also helps.
Here is one flexible seating option in my room
Here is the second flexible seating option. I anticipate using this one the most with my groups of 4-5.
Here is a remake of my Instagram Reading Bulletin Board. It was such a big hit last year, I had to bring it back in the new room! By the end of the year, it will be filled with pictures of my awesome students being awesome 🙂
Here are our individual computer work stations. Each student has his/her own iPad, but as you can imagine, a desktop is preferable in some instances.
I am very proud of this new bulletin board: Fridge Worthy. Since my students (Tier 3 for Reading Interventions) need a major boost in confidence and a huge dose of love, I decided to incorporate this ‘praise board’ of sorts. They can post ANYthing they are proud of – it doesn’t have to be for reading. I’d like them to come into the room and have a feeling of pride and recognition.
Secondly, I have also posted my learning goals and targets for the year. I’ll have another set from which I will select the target(s) of the day and place them prominently on the front board. There aren’t many in my program, but they are all critical.
Oh, and you might have noticed that I chose a name for my new room: THE READING LAB. Zing. It’s gonna be a great year!
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As any teacher will tell you with a wide, genuine smile and a sparkle in their eye, summers are the best part of our profession (well no, students are the BEST part, but summer is a close second!).
Though I always look forward to summers, I was a little nervous going into this one. I mean, I have a 1-year-old now. This is new, unchartered territory for me. And thinking back to last summer with my newborn – that was scary. I was struggling with postpartum anxiety and depression, I had just moved into a new house, I felt socially isolated, exhausted, and I was plagued with all the new parent fears. I was scared to leave the house with my baby because it always took me 1-2 hours to get out the door, I was pumping, and I was afraid to leave the comfort of our safe, climate-controlled house with a baby. I was a wreck!
This summer was SO different. And it was honestly the best summer of my life! I feel like I am finally getting into a groove as a mom (which means life is about to throw me a curve ball, right?). I am not afraid to leave the house with my daughter. In fact, I insist we leave the house at least once a day, even if it is just to go to the post office. Anything can be an adventure!
To help ease the transition into summer, I made a bucket list. It was important to me to set goals for things we could do together, and things that I needed to do for myself. Of course, as I expected, the list was very ambitious and I wasn’t able to complete everything. The silver lining here is that I now have items to earmark for next summer!
We did have SO much fun. I loved seeing the world through her eyes, taking in all of the new places and textures and people. I learned that my daughter LOVES the water, and would swim daily if she could. However, she HATED the beach! All the sand was a total disaster, and she was miserable. I wish we had gotten to the animal farm, because she is obsessed with animals. When she sees any creature, from dog to goat to raccoon, this strange shriek of pure joy comes out of her – an alien sound I never hear otherwise.
I loved learning about my daughter this summer and making it my mission to help expose her to new experiences. I became her ‘summer school teacher.’ And all those naps and cuddles? BLISS. I felt like I had won the lottery every day.
I also set personal and professional goals for myself. I needed to keep my mind sharp, and I always need to be working toward goals. I didn’t manage to learn as much about AIMSWeb as I had hoped, but I have made it my mission for this first week back to school, our In-service and Professional Development days, to seek out the information I need for the school year.
I hope you had a wonderful, relaxing, purposeful summer, and that you are recharged and ready to hit the ground running this week for back to school! As a teacher, I am grateful for the summer time to re-center myself, thwart burnout, and be the best version of myself that I can for my students each year.
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Yesterday morning, we completed The Color Run as a family. It’s something we’ve always wanted to do, and this meant bringing along our 1-year-old baby/toddler (I’m not sure what to call her!). I thought I might share our experience, in case it might help others. I have completed (and LOVED!) The Color Run before, so I knew what to expect going in. It was a new experience with a baby, however, but I felt prepared.
Even though The Color Run peeps say the coloring is safe, I still didn’t want to expose my daughter to it. What can I say, I’m a paranoid First Time Mom. I was worried about it getting into her lungs and her eyes, so I knew I wanted to protect her as best I could. I asked around, and some people suggested goggles, face masks, hats, the whole 9 yards. I couldn’t imagine my daughter tolerating all that, nor did I want to deal with it, so I went the simpler (read: cheaper and lazier) route. I invested in a stroller rain cover similar to this one.
I did bring our Tula baby carrier, but it was much too hot to wear her for 5K (in cooler weather, I totally would have just worn her and saved quite a bit of hassle). We brought the stroller and kept the Tula in a garbage bag in the storage area (I couldn’t bear to see it ruined by color staining! But I wanted it just in case). As it turns out, I was actually able to avoid each of the color stations by going around them. I simply met up with my family on the other side. And as far as getting colored myself? I opted not to, because I wanted to be able to hold and comfort my daughter if she needed it, and I wanted to stay ‘clean.’
I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t this taking all the fun out of it? Why bother doing a Color Run if you’re just going to skate through and come out lily-white on the other side? Well, I did actually have a lot of fun. I enjoyed seeing my family members get messy and silly, and my daughter enjoyed looking at all the fun colors, bubbles, and clouds of color dust. The excitement is palpable, so much fun music, smiling faces, and lots of high fives! It’s a great atmosphere, and truly is the happiest 5k on the planet.
I know many other moms give their babies the true Color Run experience and have no problems, but I know that’s just not my personality, and I’m okay with that. You do you, and feel free to use the info in this blog post to make the best decisions for you and your family.
You should be aware that a very real hazard, much more dangerous than the color dye itself, was the loud volume of the event. In the start up line, there were booming speakers that made my daughter scream. And at the end, the after party was a loud, bumping base full of Zumba fun. I love loud music, and it was really fun, but it is also very dangerous for such young ears. I would say to do your best to avoid areas with large speakers.
A few other tips I have.
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