Monday, April 30, 2012

My Traditional Mother's Day Gift

First of all, if you are the mom of one of my students, you'll have to click out of this screen.  Sorry, you can't see this until after May 13th!  (Or you'll just have to be really, really good at acting surprised!)
Now that I've made that clear, I can tell you about my traditional Mother's Day gift.  It's something I've been doing every year for at least 15 years.  It's one of those activities that's a win-win-win for everyone involved!  I love it, the kids love it, and the moms love it.  Plus, there's some learning going on!

Every year about this time I go to the gardening store and buy a flat of impatiens.  I usually get a variety of colors, and I make sure I have more than enough.  I brought my flat of little plants to class today just to "wet their whistle".  I think every single kid in the class asked about them.

Later this week, I'll sit with small groups and repot them.  I get right into the soil, asking them to loosen all the soil around the roots before repotting.  There are some great conversations around the table during this process!  It's always interesting to see which kids are afraid to get their hands dirty!  I typically use peat pots (see link/ image to the left) because they can go right into the soil. Paper cups can be used as well, but must be removed before going into the ground.

Once all the plants have been repotted, the kids keep the plants on their desk until it's time to bring them home.  Yep, that's right, the potted plants stay on their desks, beside the flags, beanies, water bottles, and once in a while, some work! 
I love to watch their faces... they come in first thing in the morning, and check the plant right away.  They tend to panic if a leaf has fallen off (They know just how many leaves the plant has!)  After a while, they catch on that leaves falling off is part of the process, and new leaves will appear.
There are always a few minor disasters.  They all know where the dustpan is kept, and they all know how to use it.  Impatiens will endure just about everything the kids can do to a plant, except a broken stem. Then it becomes another learning experience.  I've learned to keep several extras for a couple of reasons:
  1. Those "learning experiences" can be too distressing without a back up plan!
  2. I love growing impatiens in my own garden.  I usually keep the extras in the classroom for most of the year, but I do take them home and put them in my yard... they're great to grow!
I send home this information sheet on impatiens with the children the day the plants go home.

The parents really seem to love the plants, and the kids love preparing them.  It's one of those activities that works so well I keep coming back to it every year, and it's a delight each year.  It's definitely a win-win-win... with some learning on the side!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

You've Given the QPS, Now What?

My last post was about using the Quick Phonics Screener to find where students have reading deficits.  If the QPS doesn't show any deficits, that's fantastic! The next step would be to work on accuracy and fluency in reading.  (That's another post!) 
 More than likely, if a child was already struggling in reading (as indicated by DIBELS scores or by teacher observation) something will show up in the QPS.  That's where to start!  Quite often, there will be others with the same deficit, and you can group these kids together as a phonics "break out" group.  Of course, with older kids, it's best to use fancy words like "word study group" or even "linguistics".

There are TONS of free resources on the internet that will help you out.  

One of my favorites is from University of West Virginia. (West Virginia - Reading First)  This site has complete lessons from the warm up, phonological awareness/ articulation, letter/ sound correspondence, blending routines, word work, dictation, and reading text that focuses on the skill.  They also include word lists and texts for practicing!
Another great site for resources is The Florida Center for Reading Research.  I could spend hours on this site exploring everything!  Once you've figured out which skill needs work, just find an activity to go with it, and there you go!  
There are also tons of materials on Teachers Pay Teachers as well as Teachers Notebook.  I'm sure you'll be able to find plenty of ideas on Pinterest as well.  Here's a link to my Pinterest board on Word Work.
Don't forget these important parts of any phonics lesson:
  • Goal
  • Review
  • New Concept
  • Word Practice
  • Dictation
  • Word Meaning
  • Text Reading 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Top Teachers Giveaway Galore Winner!

The Top Teachers Giveaway Galore is over, and we have a winner for the Baseball Antonyms Game!

The Random Number Generator picked the 27th comment... Congratulations Kimmie!  Check your email for the Baseball Antonyms Game.  I'm sure your kiddos will enjoy it!  (My little boys love it!)

Thanks to so much for everyone who participated!  There's more fun stuff in the works!  In the meantime, enjoy my series of blogs on Improving Reading Instruction!


Assessing Reading Difficulties

How do you find out what the children need for Reading RTI (Response to Intervention) time?

Our district gives the DIBELS three times a year:  In September, January, and May.  As long as the children are working at grade level and showing growth, there is no need for additional assessments.  If the children are working below level, or are not showing adequate growth in reading skills, they are followed more closely by Progress Monitoring, accompanied by additional instruction or alternative instruction.

DIBELS will help figure out which kids need help.  Then what?

Quick Phonics Screener can help you find a deficiency in decoding skills more quickly and more specifically than DIBELS or other assessment tools. It's a one on one assessment, and can be done in a couple of minutes. (Click here for a free copy of a QPS.  Scroll 1/3 down and click Quick Phonics Screener.)

I prefer QPS uses nonsense words, but I'm unable to find a copy online. This gives a true measurement of how the child does at "sounding out" the words without relying on the visual memory.  (I've known more than one reading deficit that was masked by a strong visual memory!)

I keep my QPS materials in a folder with the child's copy laminated and plenty of record sheets in the pockets.  If I notice a kid is not showing the desired growth, I'll find a couple of minutes to pull the child and guide them through the screening.  There is no "set way" to record what the child does, but generally I try to write something so I'll remember the mistakes the child made.  (That's often a key for teaching!)

Looking closer, you'll see the QPS, you'll see the order of subtests is in a logical order:  letter ID, letter sounds, cvc words, cvc words with blends, cvce words, r controlled vowels, cvc with digraphs, vowel pairs, words with prefixes or suffixes, two syllable words, and multisyllabic  words.  The QPS suggests if a child misses 5 or more in a section, that's the skill needed.

My next post will give more suggestions on what to do with the information from the QPS!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Happy Pay it Forward Day!

I found out that today was "Pay it Forward Day"!  

I found out when I read Laura 's blogpost on Corkboard Connections about it!  She's also having a Math Centers Linky Party, so be sure to check that out!
I thought I'd Pay it Forward to my wonderful readers by sending them off to other sides to do more reading.  I've been blogstalking for a long time, and I've found some great blogs out there.  Here are some you will definitely need to visit:

PhotobucketOne of my very favorite bloggers, Rachel of Minds in Bloom just happens to be having a linky party right now on one of my favorite topics:  Using movement in the classroom!
Rachel of Sub Hub is having a giveaway on her blog for a teacher cart!  I couldn't live without mine! (I just can't carry a whole lot of weight, and still have a little trouble with balance since I had a stroke 2 years ago, so I use it to help keep my balance as I walk across the parking lot, plus, it carries my stuff!)
Raki's Rad Resources
Heidi from Raki's Rad Resources is having a "Fresh Start Giveaway" since she revamped her blog.  Be sure to check this one out!

Kindergarten LifestyleJeannie of Kindergarten Lifestyle is having a giveaway for a $10 Walmart card.  Who couldn't use that?

If you haven't found these two websites yet, you're in for a treat!  Nothing but freebies, all the time, on both boards!  Enjoy!

Classroom freebiesClassroom Freebies Too

Don't forget the Top Teachers Giveaway Galore!  You have until tomorrow night to visit all the blogs and enter all the contests!  (Plus, you get to visit some awesome blogs!)

Here's one more "Pay it Forward" for my readers:  If you leave a comment with your email, I'll send you your choice of my Mexican Go Fish Suffix game or my Spring Flower Prefix Go Fish game.  This offer hold true until midnight tomorrow night  (Friday April 27, 2012) at midnight EDT.  I hope you like my two newest games.  They each have a $2 value, but you're getting them free!

Maybe you can Pay it Forward to someone else!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

New Blog! A+ Collaborating Teachers and Other News

A+ Collaborating TeachersDid you know there's a new blog out there?  It's a combination of several fantastic teachers sharing what's on their own blogs!  Be sure to check out A+ Collaborating Teachers Blog to get links to several other quality teacher blogs.

Yes, I must say it's an honor to be one of them!

This is the same group of teachers with whom I've joined  for my Top Teachers Giveaway Galore. (You have until the 27th to hop to all these blogs and enter lots of great contests!)

We also have our own Pinterest Board.  It has almost 1400 followers so far... you could be next!

My other piece of news is that I'm officially a dot com!  Yep, I've purchased my own domain, and this blog address is officially   You can still get here on the old address, too,  ( but for some reason, that whole dot com stuff makes me feel important!  We all could use a bit of that!

Monday, April 23, 2012

More Random Tidbits About Our Language Reading Teachers Should Know

I'm sharing more ideas that I learned from my LETRS (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling) workshop from a couple of weeks ago.  The instructor, Carol Tolman, was brilliant and inspiring!  She really knows her stuff!  Here are more of the things I learned from her:

1. First grade Reading/ Literacy Instruction should be 40% Word Work. The other 60% should be Guided Reading, Writing, Oral Vocabulary, Oral Comprehension,  and Handwriting.  The word work percentage goes down slightly through the grades as the children get older.

2. Handwriting is 85% linguistics and 15% fine motor skills.

3. Fifty two studies have proved that phonological awareness is essential for reading success.  Quite often we need to back struggling readers up to this point.  (Phonological awareness are the skills that we could do "in the dark", before we start matching sounds to letters.  This refers to "Which word has the same sound as a in hat?" or "Which word rhymes with log?"

4. No word ends in a single s unless it's plural.  That's why words like horse and house have the silent e.  If house were spelled hous, it would mean "more than one hou".  I honestly can't think of any exceptions to this!

5. Words never end in j or v either.  That explains the spellings of words like have and huge.  Final e has several purposes, besides making a vowel long.

6.  The spelling tch occurs after a short vowel, with ch coming after a long vowel or "vowel team".  There are a few exceptions like such and much, but most words follow this pattern.  I never knew this, and I had a tch in my maiden name!  (After a short vowel, of course!)

7. Phonics should be taught through 6th grade (or later, if needed).  After 3rd grade, kids respond better when it's called Advanced Word Study or Linguistics, but it needs to be taught daily.

8. When "air writing", have children start with their shoulders, not arm or hand.  This makes a bigger neuron trace in the brain.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Random Tidbits About Our Language Reading Teachers Should Know

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a 4 day LETRS training session.  Letters stands for Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling.  The recent 4 day session was the second of three sessions.  It's exhausting and overwhelming stuff, but it's amazing and quite valuable to know as a teacher of reading.  See this link for more information about my LETRS training.  Here are some interesting pieces of information I learned from some of the training.

1. Vowels are open, unconstricted sounds.  The English Language has 18 vowel sounds:  5 short vowel sounds; 5 long vowel sounds; 3 r controlled vowels /er/ (spelled er, ir, or ur), /ar/, and /or/; diphthongs /oi/, /ow/; and the vowel teams /aw/, /oo/ (as in book) and /oo/ as in (as in pool).  This doesn't include the schwa sound, which takes on a short u or a short i sound in unaccented syllables.

2. The English Language has 25 consonant sounds:  /p/,/b/, /t/, /d/, /k/, /g/, /m/, /n/, /ng/, /f/, /v/, /th/ (unvoiced, as in three), /th/ (voiced, as in those), /s/, /z/, /sh/, /zh/ (as in pleasure), /ch/, /j/, /y/, /wh/, /w/, /h/, /l/, and /r/.

3. Fifty percent of words have short vowels.

4. The English language isn't as unpredictable as people think:

  • 50% of words are predictable by rule
  • 36% of words are predictable by rule with 1 error, usually a vowel
  • 10% of words will be predictable with morphology and word origin taken into account
  • Fewer than 4% of words are true oddities.
This is just the beginning of what I've learned from this training.  See also THIS POST.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Twelve Strategies to Get From Working Memory to Long Term Memory

I had a delightful group of teachers at my after school workshop today on Using Brain Research in the Classroom.  We shared lots of ideas and there was lots of enthusiasm on the topic of the brain.  I had several key points I wanted to make, which I think came through successfully.  You can see these main points on this post:  Seven Brain Based Learning Principles.

Although I got through most of these points, (we really didn't get to the last two, after all, it's only an hour workshop!)  But the one that's stuck in my mind is the third one:

The working memory can hold 2 to 4 chunks of information at a time, usually in about 4 - 8 minutes.  After that, the brain needs time to process, reflect and review in order for those chunks to move to the long term memory.

In a world where we're given large amounts of information to dish out to the kids in a short day, it's tough to give out just 2 to 4 chunks of information at a time, then allow the time to process that information so it can go into the long term memory.  Here are some suggestions for this enormous task of taking information from the working memory to the long term memory:

1.   Get them moving!  I like to make movement and physical action part of the learning experience by using gestures and having the children mirror what I do.

2.  Give time to review.  I find the use of whiteboards work well for review.  They are easy to use, very forgiving, and the kids love them.  They are easy for a teacher to check for quick assessments.

3.  Use hands-on activities. Math manipulatives and science demonstrations work well to get the students interested and involved.

4.  Minimize directions.  Break larger lessons into smaller parts, making connections between parts.

5.  Use a timer.  After about 4 - 8 minutes, stop for a brain break, then return for a few more minutes, then another brain break.

6.  Pause after a few pieces of information and give the students time to reflect and/ or ask questions.

7.  Allow the students to draw pictures of what they're learning.  I'm a firm believer that drawing internalizes information.  (I use it a lot for vocabulary.)

8.  Use graphic organizers to arrange ideas so they can be revisited and understood.

9.  Use "think pair, share" type activities where the students talk about what they just learned.

10.  Use music.  Putting important information to a simple tune that the children already know really helps them remember the information.  Some simple tunes that everyone knows:  Twinkle Twinkle, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, or This Old Man.

11.  Have a gimmick.  Do something clever or unique to get their attention.  Tell a joke or hook them in with something clever.

12.  Get their emotions involved.  Emotions are very  much tied to memory.  (I'll bet you remember those very emotional events in your life:  like your wedding or giving birth!)  For some, getting up in front of the class will get the right amount of emotions going.  For others, a game will do the trick.

Do you have any ideas to help those chunks of information get into the long term memory?  Please include your ideas in the comments section below!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Seven Brain Based Learning Principles

I've been fascinated by Brain Based Learning. I've made a point to learn a lot about how the brain works. Here are some of the important points

1.  The brain needs to make patterns and associations in order for new material to make sense.

2.  Humor decreases stress and  increases learning speed.

3.  The working memory can hold 2 to 4 chunks of information at a time, usually in about 4 - 8 minutes.  After that, the brain needs time to process, reflect and review in order for those chunks to move to the long term memory.

4.  Music boosts brain organization and ability.  It affects our moods and emotions.  Music goes hand in hand with math.

5.  The brain is a parallel processor.  It needs to activate more than one process at a time. This is why lecture-type teaching doesn't work.  Try combinations, such as listening and moving or watching and listening.

6.  Practice does NOT make "perfect".  Practice with appropriate feedback makes "better".  Feedback should be honest and immediate, if possible.

7. If children are engaged cognitively, physically, emotionally and socially, learning will happen.

The more I learn about how the brain works, the more fascinated I am!

Want some resources?

Click the blue "learn more" button for a link to a previous post on Brain Based Learning Strategies.

Click the orange button for a link to Eric Jensen's blog.

Click the Pinterest logo to see my board on Brain Research.

Enjoy your reading about Brain Based Learning!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Freebie ABC book

There are so many types of ABC books! The ABC theme can be tied to content areas. For example, a student could make an ABC book showing what they've learned about Plants through an ABC book. Another could write about the Government with an ABC book. The possibilities are endless!

Here's an ABC book that's ready to go! If you run off the pages back to back, then fold, the pages will be in alphabetical order for you. Then the children just have to fill in the information. Just click the image or click HERE to download your ABC book freebie!

There are so many wonderful published ABC books to use as examples, just read a couple, then let the kids do their own!  Here are some examples:


What other ABC books would your students write?
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