Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Building Trust

I have a student in my sixth and seventh period class. He is a senior and has struggled in school. According to his test scores, he is on a second grade level. Since the beginning of the school year I have spent a good amount of time getting to know him. I asked him to take the same test he took last year to assess his reading level, and this time he came out on a sixth grade level. How did he make such a remarkable change??? He actually tried this time on the test. He understood why I wanted him to take the test, and that was enough motivation for him to do well. This reminds me how important it is to build relationships with students in the classroom.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Let the Year Begin!

As another school year begins, I find myself in a new role (for the 3rd year in a row) This year I will be teaching self-contained English and Reading. I am so sad to leave my coaching job, and pray that it will someday come back once all the budget issues in NJ are straightened out, but for now, I am back in the classroom.
I greeted each class with a huge smile and assured them that we are in this together. We are a community of learners, a community that needs each other to grow. Some of my students looked excited, eager to sink their teeth in and begin a new year. Others wanted to pick up right where they left off last year - defiant, withdrawn, unwilling to participate. I am going to take the next couple days to build community and get to know my students, and I pray they all participate and take an active role in their learning this year. How do I motivate these kids? How can I set each one up for success? I can't wait to find out the answers to these questions! Let another school year begin...I am ready for the challenge!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I feel like a child waiting for Santa to arrive on Christmas morning. The waiting is finally over for the third installment of the Hunger Games Series. I preordered the book, just like I did with the Harry Potter Series, but, much to my dismay, amazon has let me down. All day yesterday I found myself peeking at the window in search of the small brown cardboard box. I went as far as unlocking all three locks on my front door just to be sure the box wasn't hiding somewhere I couldn't see from my window. No book. So, my waiting continues. Part of me loves the feeling of anticipation, and the other part just wants to delve into the book to see what happens to my friends in Mockingjay. Even though I will not be able to devote an entire day to reading this book, I still can't wait to hold it in my hands and unlock the adventure of this book.

I love to read series of books. I become attached to the characters in the stories, and consider these fictional people my friends. I love to walk in the shoes of characters in the stories, and most of all, while waiting for new books to be published I love to predict what will happen. I have to admit, the release of this book is not at a good time with the start of the school year, and transitioning back to work, but I am sure I will find time to finish this captivating series!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A snowy night and great time to Follow the Yellow Brick Roads

It is snowing outside - the most snow I have ever seen in my lifetime! My poor husband has made numerous trips outside to shovel, and I have spent the time inside curled up with Janet Allen's Yellow Brick Roads (2000). I have used ideas from this book in the past, but have never really taken the time to read the book in its entirety.
WOW! This book is incredible. There are so many ideas and resources in this book that I can't wait to share with the teachers in my school. Here are some of my highlights...

Chapter 1 - Looking for the Wizard
"I like to remind myself of T'sai Ken Tan's words: ""Water that is too pure has no fish it in."" I hope my words provide a path, not a program - a path that gives support while still leaving room for the strengths and challenges unique to you and the students in your care" (p8)
Janet Allen is real. She spent many years in the classroom, and only offers suggestions, not a complete overhaul to what is already occurring in the classroom.

Chapter 2 - Places for Wonderful Ideas: Establishing Environments That Support Reading Diversity
I was reminded in this chapter of the essential component of a read aloud to begin or end class. When I taught Reading Workshop, I began everyday with a read-aloud. I tried to read novels over the course of several days to my students, but Allen suggests reading excerpts of novels, short stories, poetry, and using other sources to hook in readers. This year I have been pushing for more independent reading in classrooms, but I have neglected the power of the read aloud.
Allen also discusses the importance of allowing students various means to respond to reading. Writing is not the only avenue. She suggested interviewing students, and recording the interview. I think technology could easily be integrated, and we could use voicethreads, digital video, and even cell phones to record responses to reading.
"Students need to read, write and speak in the presence of those who can give them honest and consistent responses as to how they are doing at being persuasive, thoughtful and engaging...Environments that support wonderful ideas have at their core the belief that all children can learn if appropriate conditions, resources, and support are available...students can unlearn a sense of failure and replace it with a sense of wonder and possibility. (p30)

Chapter 3 - What Gets in the Way of Reading Success?
4 Reluctant Reader Categories
I Can't Readers - Readers who choose not to read, or can't read...Allen suggests recommending short, engaging stories to them
I Don't Know How Readers - "reading is a passive activity. They don't engage in an active reading process." (p34) Allen suggests providing more explicit instruction for these students
I'd Rather Readers - students who encounter success, but can't seem to find a right fit book...Allen suggests using nonfiction and the students' personal interest to hook them into a book
I Don't Care Readers - can be the most difficult students in the classroom. Allen suggests making a unique plan with this student. (DIFFERENTIATING!!!)

Chapter 4 - Life is Short - Eat Dessert First! The Value of Read-Aloud Beyond the Primary Years
  • "Reading aloud is like any other instructional approach in that practice improves fluency, timing and expression." (p44)
  • "The time when someone else reads to us is magical, at least in part, because the act of decoding is done by someone else. This allows readers to carry out the cognitive task of forming pictures in their heads as they listen to the words." (p46)
  • Need to justify reading aloud in your classroom? Allen has a great list on p 47-48
  • Make sure you have clear expectations of your students during read aloud sessions
  • Prepare and practice read aloud ahead of time
  • Choose a consistent time to read aloud
  • Read aloud time should be risk free for students...keep it that way

More to come...