Friday, July 18, 2014

Becoming a Wild Reader- Update and LINKY!!

Happy happy Friday!!

I blogged earlier in the month about Donalyn Miller's amazing book, Reading in the Wild and shared how my goal was to work on becoming more of a wild reader myself in order to serve as a more knowledgeable reading mentor for my kiddos. So, here's my evidence that I have actually been working toward some of those goals! 

These are the books I have read in the last three-ish weeks. Besides the typical "teacher" books, I managed to read some books from my classroom library (one big benefit of having my entire classroom in my dining room!) that I normally wouldn't read- Goosebumps being a prime example. On that note, I am proud of myself for facing my fear, but I just have to say that I feel incredibly silly for being so afraid of them. I mean really, really silly. I'm not sure what I had imagined in my head, but an infestation of worms was not quite what I was expecting! I'm sure this means I'm ready for some Stephen King- NOT! Baby steps....

Besides the Goosebumps books, I read a Captain Underpants book that literally made me laugh out loud, an A-Z Mysteries book that I thoroughly enjoyed and that actually had great examples of foreshadowing, and a Magic Tree House book that taught me some things I never knew about the Civil War! I read James and the Giant Peach for the very first time (no judgements allowed), Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, which I absolutely adored, and the first book in the Puppy Place series which left me wanting to read more just to find out if the family ever gets a dog of their own!

I continued to read my professional books, but also read Finding Alaska, another book by John Green, who I fell in love with after reading The Fault in Our Stars, and Sphere, a Michael Crichton book that was totally outside of my comfort zone but I loved and couldn't put down.

I've had so much fun reading the books in my library. I have lots of books on my to-read list and I can't wait to expand my reading horizons even more- just no Stephen King quite yet!

The idea of "edge time" really stuck with me after reading the book. I've tried to be better about sticking some paperbacks in my purse before I leave the house. I took some along with me when I went to get my hair done and I had the perfect opportunity to sneak in some great reading time. What did people think when they saw a grown woman reading A-Z Mysteries in a salon?? Who cares! I was able to tune the world out and tune in to my book and the time that normally creeps by so slowly was enjoyable. And yes, just in case you're wondering, I had to swallow my pride and ask my stylist to take a picture of me in action. I explained that my plan was to show this picture to my students loudly enough so the strangers giving me the "what-in-the-world-is-this-girl-doing" look could hear. I'm telling ya, the things we do for our students!!

I joined goodreads! I'm loving it! I'm still not quite sure what all I can do with it and I'm still exploring, but it's super easy to use and I love that I can see what my friends are reading now, have read in the past, and what they plan to read in the future. It's a great way to keep a log of my reading and keep me motivated to read new books.

Now on to the linky part!! 

Taking the picture in the salon gave me the idea for this linky. I'm thinking that for the rest of the summer I want to try and take pictures of all the "wild" places I may read, especially when it's seizing an edge time opportunity.  That made me think about how cool it would be if I could show my kids pictures of my teacher friends doing the same thing!!!

So here's what I'm hoping: if you are willing to take a picture of yourself reading "in the wild" and you feel comfortable sharing those pictures with others, I would love for you to link up!! I'm hoping to compile the pictures into a PowerPoint to show my students. Remember that this is for kids, so if you have the habit of reading in the bathtub or some other place that would be inappropriate to snap a picture of, please keep those little photos to yourself! I am so excited to see pictures of other teachers reading and I can't wait to see how my students respond!

If you are not a blogger but still want to participate, no worries! Simply leave a comment describing how you utilized your edge time or where you read. You could also e-mail me your picture if you are comfortable with that. 

So wild readers, let's link up!

If you are on a journey of becoming more of a wild reader yourself, I would love to hear your thoughts! If you have any great book suggestions - any genre - I would love to hear those as well!

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Building Academic Vocabulary- "Brick and Mortar" Words

Earlier in the week I attended a training based on the book 38 Great Academic Language Builders by John Seidlitz and Kathleen Kenfield. I learned a TON of great information and some fantastic new strategies, but one particular discussion served as a huge Aha! for me. 

We were discussing the importance of developing academic language and how critical of an issue it is not just for English language learners but for all students. Even as adults we encounter new academic language in various contexts that we must internalize to continue to be successful- think mortgage, annuity, etc. An analogy was made regarding academic vocabulary that made so much sense that I just have to share it with you.

Susana Durto and Carroll Moran, two educational researchers focused on English language development, coined the term “brick” and “mortar” to describe types of academic vocabulary words. They use the analogy of building a house to explain the importance of both types of words.

Using this analogy, imagine building a brick house. The bricks are very important, of course. Imagine if I stacked bricks, one on top of the other, to make a wall. I may have a temporary shelter in the form of a wall, but what would happen if I leaned on it? Yikes! Without the mortar holding the bricks together, my beautiful wall I worked so hard to build would fall over.

Now imagine the “bricks” of my wall are the academic vocabulary words that I pile on my students day in and day out. Durto and Moran describe “brick” words as words that are specific to content. These words would be bolded in articles or show up in your key vocabulary word boxes in a textbook. These are the words we are focused on throughout the lesson and work hard to make sure students understand. So, in my case because I teach third grade language arts, my bricks would be made up of words like plot, character, theme, detail, main idea, you get my drift.

So here I go piling on brick after brick. We’re discussing the words, they’re on the word wall, we’ve written about them in our reader response journal, we’re on a roll and I’m feeling good that my kids understand. I then give them this task: Write a sentence describing the relationship between the words ‘characters’ and ‘plot.’ How successful would my kiddos be at completing that task? Think about this task through the lens of an ELL or a struggling reader.

If you’re like me you’re probably imagining all the creative responses you might get. The point is, in order for my students to connect those two content terms and to fully demonstrate their understanding, they have to use other academic words to do so. All of these other academic words besides “characters” and “plot” would be considered “mortar” words. Durto and Moran describe “mortar” words as basic and general utility vocabulary required for constructing sentences. Your students' familiarity with and knowledge of “mortar” terms will vary.

Going back to the task I mentioned earlier, one possible response could be something to the effect of: Characters are related to plot because they drive the story with their actions. If I take the two “brick” words out of that response, look at what is left: _______ are related to _______ because they drive the story with their actions. Look at all of the language that has to be supplied by the student! But for others, whether English is a second language or not, this task would be frustrating. They may know the terms 'plot' and 'character' in isolation, but describing how they are related is equally important. Students must have familiarity with both “brick” and “mortar” words in order to communicate successfully and deeply cement their understanding. I want them to have a solid, strong house! 

In our world of STAAR, these academic “mortar” words are significant. Here is a sample question from the 2013 STAAR. As you examine the question, keep the “brick” and “mortar” analogy in mind. What words appear to be “brick” words and which would be considered “mortar?”

This question is assessing TEK 3.13(b): draw conclusions from the facts presented in text and support those assertions with textual evidence. Based on this TEK, the only “brick” word in the question is “supports” or you could include the entire phrase, “supports the idea.” Looking at this question from the lens of an English language learner or a struggling reader, look at all the other academic vocabulary words that must be known before the question can be answered! Depending on your kids, you might include other words in the "mortar" column that I didn't. Scary! 

Not all of the STAAR questions are so heavy on vocabulary, but even some of the straightforward questions still include important "mortar" words and phrases students need to know. Take a quick look at this question:

In this question, the only “brick” word is “problem.” Academic mortar words would include “according,” “selection,” and “bothered.”  

Knowing about these “mortar” words is hugely important to me. I can plan the best lessons, but if my students aren’t familiar with the language used on the test or they struggle with "mortar" words, they will be unsuccessful and I will be left feeling frustrated. Imagine an English language learner or a struggling reader just learning and owning the term “problem” and then imagine having to learn those additional mortar words as well. I cannot simply focus just on the content objectives; I must also focus on and strategically plan the language I will use to teach those content objectives.

Luckily, the authors suggest that “mortar” words do not have to be directly taught like “brick” words because there are simply too many of them! In no way could I possibly cover all of the “mortar” words floating out there in the world. Instead, what they suggest is to scan assessments and assignments students will be completing, pull out the “mortar” words and strategically use them in your instruction.

When I question, I will still use higher-level mortar words like “according to” and “represents” but I may have to clarify the meaning of those words. However, once I’ve explained the word or phrase I will go right back to using it and expecting students to use it too. The “mortar” words aren’t being directly taught in the way “brick” terms are, but students will still have plenty of exposure to them and they will eventually become part of the natural classroom dialogue.

To sum up:

If you have any thoughts or Aha’s! or strategies for increasing academic vocabulary or for using "brick" and "mortar" words, I would love to hear them! 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Behavior Reflection Quick Post!

I recently attended a Thinking Maps© training. I guess I have lived under a rock because I had never heard of or seen these before, but I loved learning about them! Does anyone use these in the classroom? If so, I would love to hear ideas! 

One of the maps is used specifically for cause and effect and when I Laura Candler's behavior reflection form utilizing a similar format, I just had to share!

I love how this allows the child to reflect on WHY they behaved the way they did and also think about the consequences of their actions. I also love that it leaves space to make a plan for improvement.  This is a great visual and more clearly shows the child the chain of events based on their actions.

I can’t wait (well, I’m not rushing misbehavior!) to use this with students.  I’m interested to hear their thoughts about the process and work with them on being more proactive. I like this option much better than anything I have used in the past.

Click the link below the picture to get your free copy from the Laura Candler! This form is part of her Creating a Caring Classroom series.

Have a great day!!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Reading in the Wild- Aha's Abound!

I went to a PD session last week and the presenter asked us to come with our "Aha's" and "Amens" about the book we would be discussing. I loved that phrasing! When I read "professional" books, that pretty much sums up my reactions- I either have an Aha! moment of new learning or a realization or I'm affirmed in what I already thought and want to say a big Amen!

So when my new teammate and friend, Lillian, surprised me with my very own copy of Donalyn Miller's new book, Reading in the Wild, I was ecstatic! Not only because she thought of me and I had my very own copy of the book and someone to share my reading obsession with, but I also had a new book to read and document my Aha's and Amens!

So this past week while vacationing in South Padre, this was my view as I read through the book. Nothing like reading in the semi-actual wild!

I read and absolutely loved Donalyn's first book, The Book Whisperer (you can read about that here) so I knew I would love this one as well. I love her ability to be frank and honest about what hasn't worked in her literacy instruction as well as offer practical solutions and strategies to try. The fact that she's from Texas doesn't hurt either! Today I want to share just a few of the major Aha! moments I had during my reading.

Before I get into those, I want to share with you the definition Donalyn has for being a "wild reader." In her words, wild readers are "readers who incorporate reading into their personal lives along with everything else that interests them." My goal is to develop myself and my students into wild readers.

Research shows that children who read the most will outperform those who don't read much. Wild readers don't read because someone told them to or to answer questions on a quiz, they read because they truly enjoy it and benefit from the experience reading offers. If that is the goal, how do I get there? Donalyn and her colleague, Susan Kelly, polled adult wild readers to gain insight into their reading behaviors. Those findings provided the structure of the book. Now, with their help, we can identify those behaviors and help design our instruction to foster the development of these habits.

In my Aha's, I'm only sharing the things that spoke the most to me as a fellow reading teacher. Although the book is overflowing with great quotes, fabulous ideas, and useful tools, my Aha's are just that- mine. They may seem trivial or obvious, but they resinated with me long after my eyes left the page. My hope is that maybe some of my Aha's will resinate with you, too.

This one hit me right in the gut. I love to read. I have read lots of books over the last few years. I read stacks of books over the summer. I call myself a reader. But can I call myself a wild reader?  What happens when school starts? The same chapter book will sit on my nightstand unfinished for several days... weeks... ok, ok, months! My primary goal is to instill a love of reading that will last a lifetime, not just for the short amount of time my students are in my classroom. Along with that comes teaching and developing the habits of wild reading. If I am not a true wild reader and "cannot" find the time or energy to read during the school year, is it fair to expect that from my students? Of course not! I am the reading mentor. I have to start walking the walk.

In the book Donalyn cites study after study that prove the positive effects of having a teacher who reads. I know the feeling that I get when I read steadily- my imagination is piqued, my vocabulary is expanded, my knowledge base grows, I feel less-stressed. Why would I give this up during the year? Yes, I'm tired, have long days, the list of excuses goes on. But as Donalyn stresses in the book: wild readers make time to read. If I'm going to serve as the lead reader for my students, reading must become a priority. I have to make time to read. No more excuses.

Connecting right back to what I mentioned in my first Aha!, if I am the lead wild reader, I must also model and teach behaviors that support being a wild reader. I love that Donalyn calls the time in between the main events in our life "edge time." She heads this section of the book "Reading on the Edge." What a great way to think about it! And how true! I hate when I find myself sitting somewhere with nothing to do- getting my oil changed, waiting at the doctor's office- all of those precious moments that could be spent lost in a great book just simply wasted. I'm fairly good about remembering to bring a book along with me when I know I'll be sitting somewhere for a long period of time, but I need to be better about keeping books with me in the car and even in my purse. I never know when those unexpected delays will pop up.

The biggest moment of clarity came when Donalyn discusses how wild reading consists of behaviors and habits that require teaching and discussion. Kids can be taught how to take advantage of this "edge time" in their own lives. I had a student last year who had mastered the art of reading on the edge. I practically had to pull her nose out of a book so she would avoid walking in to a wall! But most of my students did not have this skill and it never crossed my mind to bring it up.

Donalyn shares a story about a student stating that he just didn't have enough time to read because of his sports practices and other responsibilities. When Donalyn asked if he could read for a few minutes in the car and then read a few minutes before bed his reply was, "You would let me do that? Reading a little bit here and there counts?" Reading that pained me. How many of my students felt that way about the reading time- all or nothing? I never imagined that they would think of reading as a time distinctly set away from the rest of their day. If I thought that reading time only counted when I was alone in the house and in my favorite recliner, I would never be able to fulfill a twenty minute a night requirement! I never discussed with my students that wild readers read at all different times during the day, in all kinds of places, for different amounts of time. Reading on the edge will become one of the many topics for discussion within the first few weeks of school from now on!

So...ask me how many Goosebumps books I've read... go ahead... I'm sure those of you who know me well will already know the answer... NONE! Pitiful. I have a bin overflowing with Goosebumps books, kids who read the entire series and beg for more year after year, and yet I couldn't tell you a single thing about them. Why don't I read them? I'm a scaredy-cat! Plain and simple. I go out of my way to avoid anything remotely sinister and that just so happens to include the bin of R.L. Stine's beloved books. This is a shortcoming I have shared with my students in the past. Reflecting back on that now, I want to shake myself. What kind of example was I setting for my students? The same students who I pass book after book to with the (what I thought of as) encouraging message to "Just try it! You never know, you may end up liking it!" are watching me purposefully discard a reading experience that could be quite exciting. 

I have my go-to genres and my not-so-favorite ones.  But if I have the mindset that I want to be a true reading mentor, a lead reader for my students, I simply cannot be that mentor if the only knowledge I have of the books they may potentially read comes from the front cover and blurb. As Donalyn says, "We must push ourselves to read widely in order to best serve our students- as role models who read for diverse purposes and reading advisors who know a lot about books that appeal to all types of readers." If this was a test, I would have failed miserably. 

I'm setting a personal goal for myself this summer. I'm going to read books from the genres I typically avoid- graphic novels, fantasy, and yes, even horror. I may be sleeping with the light on some nights or pep-talking myself to finish some of the books, but I will at least be able to engage in authentic conversations with my students who love them. I want my students to see me as a true member of their reading community instead of an outsider who offers inauthentic recommendations. 

I love talking about books with others. I love the conversations that ensue. I love hearing what another person took away from a book especially when they bring up a point I hadn't considered. There's a certain joy that comes with sharing the reading experience with someone else that fuels my desire to read even more so I can discuss even more! I read books based on recommendations from others and love seeing what my friends are reading. There's nothing quite like sipping on a hot cup of coffee and chatting about a book with a dear friend. That social factor of reading is a huge one for me. If I didn't have a circle of people around me to share and enjoy books with, reading would not be the same. 

So what am I doing in my classroom to set students up to experience this same joy of sharing books with others? Besides the standard book club meetings and book talk sessions, how am I exposing students to the rich benefits of being a member of a reading society? Donalyn states, "We are all social beings who seek affiliation with others who share common values and interests. Readers need other readers." I want to be around people who enjoy reading. I want my students to be surrounded by other readers so they are immersed in a culture of reading and are inspired to continue reading regardless of where they are on their "journey to become a wild reader."

Wild readers do not only read books for a book club nor do they write a review of every book that they read. I do not want my students to see reading as a chore or as an activity necessary to satisfy another requirement like a book report or quiz. So how do I promote wide reading? Donalyn discusses ways to use "epicenter readers," those students who are experts in a particular genre or author, as mentors for other students. She provides ideas like decorating a reading door, setting up a wall for "reading graffiti," and reading community-building read-alouds to help foster a community of readers. I'm going to critically examine how I structure my classroom and incorporate a variety of ways for students to share books with each other and help create a comfortable reading home for all types of readers.

This is the culminating idea. What do I do in my classroom day in and day out that fosters my students' growth as wild readers? Do my current practices align with what wild readers do? If not, what needs to be changed or removed? Do my instructional practices help develop the habits that transform my students into wild readers? This is going to require some critical thinking, but it must be done.

 I'm going to reexamine every aspect of my classroom from entry procedures, lesson design and each moment of edge time in between. I'm not going to do this part alone, however. Another great perk of being a teacher is that I'm surrounded my amazing people who have wonderful ideas and who push me to reflect and improve. I can't wait to sit around and chat (with a hot cup of coffee, of course!) with my colleagues about how I can improve my instruction to support the goal of developing every student into a wild reader.

So now I forge ahead- rethinking my instruction with wild readers in mind while I work on developing those wild reading habits myself. As I type the Goosebumps books beckon....

If you have any ideas for how to cultivate wild readers or any other comments about Donalyn's book, I would love to hear!