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Archive for the ‘Classroom tips’ Category

One sure sign of the beginning of the school year is when my local Target starts to stock back-to-school items in their $1 section. Some of these items cost $2, or $2.50, but they are still great finds for organizing your classroom. What bargains have you found this year? Share your story in the comments section and if you have a photo, send it to d.diller@live.com

Great for organizing pencils , markers, and other supplies at small group tables or work stations

All sorts of great bins and buckets — for books, for supplies, extra paper. The only limit is your imagination!

More great bins and step-stools — for stepping and sitting!

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While working with teachers in grades 3-6 recently, we took a close look at the observation station. First, we viewed a video clip from Stepping Up with Literacy Stations on this station as introduced in Lisa Gregory’s 3rd grade classroom. Then we brainstormed ideas of what students might observe at this station in their classrooms. We came up with many innovative ideas as listed on the chart below. This station can easily be linked to science and social studies standards. Materials can be borrowed from local organizations, such as a high school science lab, children’s or science museum, or even a regional education service center. Ask around to find out what might be available to you.

If you open an observation station in your classroom, send us photos and tell us a little about what students are doing and learning in this station. We’d love to see what your class is doing!

A chart of ideas for observation station brainstormed by teachers

A chart of ideas for observation station brainstormed by teachers

Kids observe guinea pig in 3rd grade

Kids observe guinea pig in 3rd grade

Fifth grade observation station in Denver Public Schools at Philips Elementary

Fifth grade observation station in Denver Public Schools at Philips Elementary

Second grade classroom at CMS in Denver has a tarantula (caged) to observe

Second grade classroom at CMS in Denver has a tarantula (caged) to observe

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Quiet, please!

A teacher-made Noise-O-Meter can help students monitor their voice levels

A teacher-made Noise-O-Meter can help students monitor their voice levels

I’ve been working in K-2 classrooms recently and one pattern I noticed  was the noise level when the whole class was working at stations… in every classroom I’ve worked in! It is still a bit noisy at times, as children are learning to monitor their voices. They still need our help in doing this. As soon as it gets too loud, we stop the children by using a chime or by clapping a pattern (which the kids repeat). Don’t yell to get their attention. Be careful what you are modeling. Then we ask the students why we stopped. EVERY time they say, “It was too loud in here.” They know it’s loud, but they don’t know how to get their voice levels down.

My favorite tool to use to help kids be on “noise alert” is a music wand from www.treeblocks.com. I have used these in every video we’ve made. Simply ding the wand and it’s an instant noise alert. With practice, children will learn to control their voices. But it does take practice… and support from us, their teachers. Another option is to use a tambourine, a bell, or a chime to get students’ attention.

Another thing you might try is a teacher-made “noise-o-meter.” This can be a visual reminder of our expectations for the class.

When using math stations, it’s really important to use a “math mat” or a soft mat to keep things quieter. Working with manipulatives can easily escalate the noise factor. I like to use soft, foam shelf liner cut in large rectangles as math mats. Or solid plastic placemats work really well too. Or even a rectangle of fun foam. You just need something to soften the sound of dice, blocks, etc.

You might use a tambourine to get students' attention quickly

You might use a tambourine to get students’ attention quickly

Another option is to gently ring a bell, like this 4th-grade teacher is doing

Another option is to gently ring a bell, like this 4th-grade teacher is doing

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Recently I visited a kindergarten teacher while her children were having rest time. We looked at her classroom and how to maximize her space.

As I was leaving, rest time was over. “Watch this,” she said. She reached into her desk and pulled out a button that she pushed. It played the Jeopardy theme song which was the signal for her students to put away their mats and move to the carpet for instruction. It worked like magic! She told me she’d gotten it at Hallmark a few years ago.

She then showed me her other buttons. She had one that plays James Brown’s “I Feel Good”. For small group, she has the famed “Easy” button from Staples. In fact, I have that one, too! Do you have any buttons you use in your classroom?

easy

feel-good

qabutton

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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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A group of 5th graders read short text and use graphic organizers on main idea to deepen comprehension

A group of 5th graders read short text and use graphic organizers on main idea to deepen comprehension

I worked with such a great group of teachers last week! We studied the power of small groups. If we can remember why we teach in small groups, it’s easier to carve out time for this important part of the day.

Teachers in 4th-6th grade brainstormed these as their top reasons for using small groups:

1. Increases comfort level for students

2. Immediate feedback can be provided to students

3. Students can’t hide

4. Allows the needs of groups of students to be targeted

5. Helps teachers observe student learning more carefully

6. Provides opportunity to individualize instruction

7. Instruction can be more easily differentiated

8. Allows teachers to match reading levels and interest levels to students

What are some of the reasons you use small groups? Leave your ideas in the comments section!

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I received some great classroom photos recently from Sharon Davis, a teacher in Scranton, PA. She sent these at the beginning of the school year and said that she will continue to make improvements and changes as the year goes on. What changes have you made in your classroom spaces now that you’ve been using them for a few weeks? What’s working? What’s not? Leave a comment or send photos to d.diller@live.com

This is the word wall above the writing station in Sharon's classroom

This is the new library complete with picture labels.Sharon is looking for the right rug.

Sharon made a skirt for the small group area. She loves using this place for small group and store all of her materials behind the table.

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