Archive for May, 2012

Getting organized

As I read the back of the book, What to Wear for the Rest of Your Life, I made a text-to-self connection: I woke up one morning and couldn’t believe my life. I had turned fifty…. Not only had my life changed, but my body was changing without my permission! I had to rethink the way I had been dressing for the last thirty years. It was time for a fresh start.”

Even if you’re not fifty (or more, like me), you might relate to these words! This book called to me from its shelf at Barnes and Noble. Soon it was sitting on my nightstand for bedtime reading. Not only did I read it; I also responded to the book by taking action. I “shopped in my closet!” I took an honest look at what I already owned.

All my friends know that I love organized stuff (almost as much as accessories)! This book just helped me kick it up a notch. I got to work in my closet. First, I created a “Feel-Good Closet” as suggested by the author, Kim Johnson Gross. She says that most of us only wear 20% of our clothes over and over again. So, I took the things I love and always feel good in and put those in a separate part of my closet. Then I added a good full-length mirror in good light nearby. I also folded all my tanks and ts and put them on a shelf (just like in the cute boutiques). I color-coded everything to make it easy to locate. (I had sorted my clothes by color before, but I’d mixed in things I rarely wore with stuff I wear all the time. Now that infrequently worn stuff is in another part of my closet.)

I love it! And it makes me feel good. I’m guaranteed to feel good by grabbing something from this section. Nearby, I have my favorite shoes in a Target-shoe holder. And I hung a few of my favorite accessories on a cute rack from Anthropologie. A while ago, I hung all my earrings on a screen from Lowe’s Home Improvement to make them easy to find, too. I’m ready for summer with my new “Feel-Good Closet!”

My “Feel-Good Closet” as response to literature!

Some favorite accessories hang where I can easily see them.

Earrings organized on a sliding window screen are propped in plain view.

Shoe organizer from Target displays favorite shoes to make accessorizing (and packing) easy!

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Here is a great poem for these lengthening days. Happy Poetry Friday!


Bed in Summer
Robert Louis Stevenson

In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer, quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.
I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people’s feet
Still going past me in the street.
And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?

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Every student can benefit from comprehension instruction. Essentially, every time I meet with a small group to read a text, comprehension is the ultimate goal. To scaffold them and help them be successful, I choose text where students have some basic comprehension.

Students who are good decoders but can’t tell you what they’ve read need extra small-group instruction on how to comprehend. If you’re using an assessment such as DRA or an informal reading inventory (IRI) and find the students decode on grade level but can’t retell what they’ve read, those students need small-group work with comprehension, too.  Likewise, if you’re using an assessment like DIBELS that does a quick measure of comprehension, use that data to form groups with students low in retelling for extra work on comprehension.

Often overlooked are kids who have some basic comprehension but don’t go any deeper with their thinking. These students will greatly benefit from small-group instruction with a focus on deeper comprehension, such as inferring. Above-level readers can also learn to go deeper in their thinking in guided small-group lessons with a focus on comprehension. Work with them on determining importance in nonfiction, understanding humor and deeper plots in fiction, and building background knowledge when they read texts for which they have little schema. I prefer to help kids think more deeply, rather than to keep pushing them through higher and higher reading levels once they are reading on grade level.

I also use writing to help kids comprehend better. Once they can write fluently enough that it doesn’t interfere with their reading, I often have them use sticky notes or graphic organizers to record what they’re thinking to help them retain
those ideas. Sometimes we write a response together after reading. I find that this helps them interact with the text—like having a conversation with the book as they read it.

Possible Focus for Lessons
There are many possibilities from which you might choose a focus during a small-group lesson for comprehension. The National Reading Panel (NICHD 2000) researchers recommend the following kinds of comprehension strategy  instruction to help readers become purposeful and active. Good readers use these steps, in combination, to make sense of text:

  • Understanding text structure. This is often overlooked in nonfiction but overused as an isolated review, or a check, after reading in fiction. I like to teach students how to think about characters, setting, problem, solution, and beginning/middle/end of a story before and during their reading, as well as after. Likewise, teaching them how to identify nonfiction text structures, such as cause and effect, description, question and answer, and time order and sequence, can improve their comprehension of nonfiction.
  • Asking questions. This comprehension strategy helps students learn to generate and ask inferential questions to propel their reading forward.
  • Answering questions. It’s important to teach kids to answer questions about the details and inferences of the text. I am careful to focus more on thick questions that require deeper thinking and have potentially layered responses rather than thin questions that require only one-word answers.
  • Summarizing. This is tough, since it requires kids to first have basic comprehension and also determine which ideas are most important. Here, we focus on helping readers learn to identify and remember the main things from the text read. While reading, students who use these steps improve their comprehension as they interact with the text.
  •  Using schema/making use of prior knowledge. This is often a good place to begin with comprehension instruction. Students make use of their personal experience and schema (background knowledge) to help them understand what they are reading. They often do this before reading as they preview the text as well as during their reading.
  • Visualizing/using mental imagery. As they read, kids who best understand form vivid mental pictures. They often see, hear, taste, smell, and feel what’s going on in the book. “I feel like I’m in the book with the characters” is how one third grader described this to me. Visualizing improves understanding and helps children remember what they read. In addition, students can be taught the following to increase comprehension:
  • Monitoring. It’s important to learn to stop and reread when your mind wanders or meaning breaks down. Successful readers think about their thinking and are aware when it’s not working so well.
  • Inference. Many teachers throw up their hands in frustration on this one. Students can be taught to think through modeling and expecting that they can and will infer. I’ve found it helpful to build on their knowledge when teaching inference. When you can help kids connect what they know to what the text says, they can begin to infer.
  • Graphic organizers. I like to use these as tools for thinking. When students have trouble comprehending, I often show them how to use graphic organizers as reminders and recording devices for what they’re thinking. Graphic organizers can help to “hold” their thoughts while they’re reading.
  • Deeper meaning. This includes higher-level thinking, including generalizing, determining importance, synthesizing, and analyzing what was read. Use of quality questioning will help push kids’ thinking deeper.

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Here’s some information to share with parents at conferences this year… Did you know that children who know 8 nursery rhymes by heart at age 4 will be among the best readers by the time they are 8? (Mem Fox in Reading Magic). This is because children who know nursery rhymes usually can play with language and its sounds and have developed phonological (and phonemic) awareness. Pre-K, kindergarten, and first grade classrooms should be filled with rhymes! How about this one for starters?

Higglety, Pigglety, Pop
by Samuel Goodrich (1846)

Higglety, pigglety, pop!
The dog has eaten the mop:
The pig’s in a hurry,
The cat’s in a flurry,
Higglety, pigglety, pop!

This is a nice nursery rhyme to use with young children learning to read because of the sight words, the, in, and a. Also, there are several CVC words that are easy to decode including pop, mop, dog, pig, and cat!

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There is still time to register for my Denver Institute! Learn how to teach “deep, not wide” to improve student achievement!

Thursday, June 28: “Math Work Stations: Independent Learning You Can Count On in PreK-Grade 6”

Friday, June 29: “Strengthening Vocabulary through Whole Group, Small Group, and Literacy Work Stations in PreK-Grade 6”

The registration fee is $189 per person, per day—you can attend one or both days. For details, including location, schedules, and a registration form, download this flyer.

You can also register online with a credit card or purchase order, for one or more attendees.

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Since I am visiting my daughter in the Caymans, an ocean poem seemed fitting. This one is from just-published Kate Coombs’ Water Sings Blue. The accompanying watercolor illustrations make you feel like you’re on the island! When I arrived, the first thing that caught my eye on the ground was a small hermit crab crawling over the sand. Love this poem!

Ocean Realty

My name’s Frank Hermit.
Here—take my card.
So you want a house
with a porch and yard?

I have listings for periwinkles,
whelks, and wentletraps;
turbans, tops, and moon shells;
a palatial conch, perhaps?

That one’s not available—
I’m waiting for the snail
to vacate his townhouse
and put it up for sale.

But this place has a deck
and a nice view of the land—
beachfront property
is always in demand!

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One of my favorite things to do at the annual IRA convention (which was in Chicago this year) is to look at all the wonderful children’s books for sale in the exhibit hall. This year I shopped with my daughter, Jessica, in mind. She is living and working in Little Cayman for 6 months. Lucky girl! It is for an internship she’s doing as a grad student at University of Florida where she is working on a Master’s in Ecology.

Part of the time Jessica works with students from ages 10-13 who come to LC on an overnight class field trip from the other islands. She introduces them to marine biology and conservation (and shows them the lionfish she’s studying). She is documenting her work here and just got a grant funded for an underwater video camera. I suggested she think about creating a science-related book with photos to use in her training with the kids here.

I could only choose a few books (because my suitcase in Chicago was already packed to the max), so I picked three:

·     The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonder by Mark Cassino with Jon Nelson, Ph.D.

·     Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems by Kate Coombs

·     Manfish, A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne

Fortunately, I was flying to Little Cayman to visit my daughter the day after IRA! So when I arrived, I shared these titles with Jessica. She can’t wait to use the ocean ones with her kids. The snow book will be used as a mentor text for her. Who knows? Maybe she’ll be the next award-winning science writer for kids!

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The past two weeks have been filled with travel and conferences. First NCTM in Philadelphia, then IRA in Chicago. It is always so nice to get out and meet with so many talented and passionate teachers and her so many inspiring presentations. Here is a picture of me signing books at the Stenhouse booth at IRA. See you again soon at a conference!

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Even with all of the great technology around us, sometimes you just have to get back to the basics. That’s what I did last week with my Stenhouse editor Toby Gordon when we locked ourselves in a hotel room in Philadelphia to figure out the final structure of my new Math Work Stations video. Post-Its did the trick! That’s me in the picture, taking notes. Stay tuned for more!

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