Writing Grows Reading - K-2nd

I love learning from Natalie Louis at Teachers College Reading Institute.  She was a kindergarten teacher in Harlem, NY and knows her stuff.  Not only that, she is funny!  And real!  I feel like I know her because every time I go to one of her sessions she shares a little of her life.  This year I was lucky enough to get into her session about "Writing Growing Reading" in primary grades.  Here's what she said:

Top Ten Ways Writing Teaches You to Read

1 It’s YOURS - What early readers struggle with is figuring out the code. (MSV-meaning, structure and visual cues ) It’s not making sense of the picture, it’s not language, it’s really the visual symbols that are all the problem.  What writing does is- I already know the M, I can use the S, to get to the V.  In reading, how will they start to read conventional books? It’s someone else’s meaning. In writing, it’s mine and I can make meaning and I care about it. meaning and syntax make you work harder at V.

2 Writing is the game and Phonics is the practice.  Most kids will do writing workshop even struggling right away.  They like drawing pictures and talking about pictures.  If you played sports, you know you didn’t play to go to the practice.  The letters part is not fun it’s the practice for the writing which is the game.  When it’s time to write about what you really want to write you want the phonics to get it right.

3 Writing is the slowest of the 4 literacy skills - literacy, speaking, writing, reading.
So what that does is it makes you go slow.  Which is what you need for beginning reading.  The code is the hardest part in the beginning of reading.  When you sound out hold the sounds exceptionally long for the kids and make them do it too.  That slowness when you sound out words to put on the page makes you really think about what you are doing. 

4 Writing reveals the taking apart and building up potential of the code.  When they read they think you are just supposed to know it.  When they write they learn that you put them together and take them apart to make them in different ways. You pay close attention to this while writing.  In reading saw and was look the same because they aren’t paying attention closely  In writing you look at it over and over and wouldn’t make that mistake.  Practice making letters with gross and then fine motor the correct way.  Handwriiting really matters for fluency.  If you push instead of pull in writing you are going to tear your paper a lot and it s more frustrating.If you don’t fix it in K and 1 no one is ever gonna fix it.  Writing highlights forming, clusters and grouping of letters too.

5 Readers and Writers use the same sources of info. MSV (meaning, syntax, visual) they use them to make their stories and then they will use those sources to read a story. 

6 Writers go from sound to print.  Readers go from print to sound. That’s why phonemic awareness is so important (ability to hear sounds in words).  So if you are doing that work of "say a word and put it down" and then in reading you see that symbol and can much easier generate a sound.

7 Kids go from letters to labels to phrases to sentences in writing.  After they draw a picture for their story, she taught them to write blanks next to all the objects and actions in the picture (story).  When they can they learn to label and then phrase.  Don’t write just slide next to the drawing of the slide, teach them to write “hot slide” “fast slide”.

8 The power of the pointer finger.  Your finger helps you keep track of where you go when you are writing. When you teach the pointer finger make sure you say to them:  first point to the middle of the word and then the first letter of the word.

9 Make sure reading and rereading happens constantly in the writers workshop.  That way that behavior is second nature in their own reading.  Have a “rereading emergency” and have them stow their pencil behind their ear and only reread for a minute.

10 As many times as you can make the reading and writing connection explicit.  Point out everything to them so they begin to make the connect. 

Side note about keeping your mini lesson mini:  To train myself for time in mini lessons when the timer goes off I would just say off you go!  It doesn’t matter what other amazing thing I have to say if no one is listening.  I learned to keep to my time. 

Love that tip!  Thanks Natalie!

Outgrow Yourself as a Reader - Lucy Calkins

Lucy Calkins - Summer 2014 Reading Institute
I was so fortunate to be accepted to return to the Summer Reading Institute this month at Teachers College in NY.  It is truly so inspiring and packed with learning it supports my entire year as a literacy coach as well as grows my personal knowledge and understanding of literacy.   And there is no better way to start the week than a keynote by Lucy Calkins.

So much of what she says I cannot capture in words but I thought it important to share the gist of her message and there is just no way to paraphrase it.  Much of this is direct quote.  It's a message that never occurred to me.  Which is how I know it will really change the way I look at my teaching and learning... and reading this year!  I hope it resonates with you as well.

You know that song, “I Hear the Earth Move, Under My Feet...”?  What times these are in education! Times of pressure, times of intensity,...
We live in an information age. Technological knowledge doubles every 2 days. All that knowledge is at kids’ fingertips. It used to be the teacher’s job to convey knowledge to the uniformed, to carry crucial content... and now anyone can access any information with one click.  The teacher’s job therefore is to no longer deliver the information because information is like air, it’s everywhere!  The job now is to help kids actively construct coherent meaning from the deluge of information.  As literacy educators, we’ve got our work cut out for us.

Some people think our work revolves around helping kids tackle more complex texts, and it’s true that some of things that were expected at the end of fourth grade are now expected at the middle of second grade. And those expectations of course, build over the years. But the far bigger challenge is that kids are expected to read with incredibly high levels of comprehension and to write with enormous skill.  The challenges in today’s world does require the lift in expectations. After all, this generation will be the ones to figure out how to keep New York City and other coastal cities from being damaged by floods that are sure to come and other world calamities and illnesses...

The most important thing I can say today is that study after study shows that YOU ARE  what makes the difference in students and achievement.  And I’m worried about this country, I’m worried that this nation is trying to accelerate student achievement by spending seven and a half million on tests and seven and a half million on the technology for those tests and saving nothing for teachers.

The first thing I want to suggest, is that to lift the level of your teaching you need to work on your own reading. I would like this institute to be a turning point for you as a reader.  Come to the institute thinking I’m going to gather knowledge and I’m going to really work on my reading, I’m going to reach for more. I’m going to try to outgrow myself as a reader. You might be thinking you don’t really need to work on your reading. Yet at the start of every writing institute most of us resolve to improve our writing and do get goose bumps at the prospect of writing.  Because we realize….there is writing and there is writing…. we know that writing better as a writer is demanding, deeply personal and intellectual work.  But I want to suggest that if you think of reading well as merely getting the words right, or following the plot or figuring out the theme of the story then you are teaching a reading that is unimagined.  If learning to read well is kid stuff, that will show in what you do.  The kids will learn that learning to read better is kid stuff and teachers just bribe and trick kids into doing it and that in real life skilled readers don’t think about what they read and don’t work on outgrowing themselves as readers.  But you can say to yourself today, “I’m going to try to outgrow myself as a reader. To set goals and to work deliberately toward those goals.” If you do that you can become a reading mentor for your kids and your colleagues. The thing is…to get better as a reader takes resolving to do so. 

Malcolm Gladwell says that to become an expert at anything takes ten thousands hours of practice.  The problem is that it takes ten thousand hours of deliberate practice.  No matter what it is you are trying to get better at it’s not practice makes perfect.  Perfect practice makes perfect. Deliberate practice makes perfect.

So let me ask you, for how many years of your life have you been reading?  And for how many of those years have you been deliberately working at outgrowing yourself as a reader?  What is the shape of your learning curve as a reader?  My suggestion is to resolve to accelerate your curve. 


My initial reaction to this message was hmmm, let me think about that.  I don't know if I can outgrow myself as a reader!  I mean, if you know me you know that I am an obsessive reader.  I read while drying my hair in the morning, while waiting for my kids at dance/soccer, every evening before bed and anytime I get the chance. I even "time myself out" from reading when I have other things to get done! 

And I get that I can be a "plot junkie" rushing through to what will happen next...but learning that about myself has made me a bit more reflective and this last year I have slowed down and tried to look at my reading through different lenses. 

So how to improve now?  Because Lucy says if I am not learning I cannot model and be the best reading teacher I can be!  Mentally I am stopping and rereading to ponder things that would have previously slipped through my mind.  I am actively trying to build theories and determine author intention through text evidence (instead of personal experience).  I'm trying to actively keep my ideas within the text.  Does that make sense?  It might not sound like much but it has really changed my reading!

Will you be outgrowing yourself as a reader this year?  I would love to hear what you will be doing!

Cross posted at LIVE from the Creek

My School is Special - #TeamRebecca

My school is special.

I'm sure many educators say this and mean it, but not enough.  I am lucky enough to work at a school where we abide by these 3 founding principles:


It's the first that make the last two possible.

We have many special and fun traditions that build relationships such as activities around our school theme, end of the year fun and awards, team building activities, teacher of the year celebrations, pep rallies, celebrating authors we love, Native American Pow Wow, Fish Fry, and the list could go on...
but unfortunately we added a new tradition several years ago when a faculty member discovered she  had breast cancer.  We did all of the traditional things when a "family" member needs your support:  hugs, notes, dinners, filling in...but we wanted to something more visible to remind her we were behind her the whole way through treatment.

Every year, our school theme decides the color and design on our school t-shirt.  That first year, in honor of Betsy, we all got an additional school logo t-shirt in solid pink to show support by wearing it every Friday.  That simple visible weekly show of solidarity and support meant so much to her.  And she beat that stupid cancer!

We are sad to have to bring back this tradition, but a teacher at our school recently discovered she has osteosarcoma.  She had immediate surgery and is undergoing intense chemotherapy.  We are doing all of the traditional support pieces but immediately knew we wanted to have a spirit shirt for her.  We found out the ribbon color for support of a patient with this cancer is yellow so we all began wearing our yellow shirts last Friday.

The unfortunate thing about Rebecca's cancer is it is keeping her in the hospital and homebound a lot.  I felt like I wanted to send her a visual to "show" her the love and thoughts we were sending her way.  And even though my Chets Creek Elementary family may roll their eyes at me from time to time when I show up with a camera they are always willing to participate and boy did they!  Here is our virtual hug from #TeamRebecca.  Please help us by keeping her in your thoughts and prayers as well.

Kindergarteners Use Their "Magic Pencil" in order to Reread What They Write

After using the Lucy Calkins Units of Study for Teaching Writing K-2 for over 10 years now at our school, we were SUPER excited to receive the new Units of Study for Writing that are grade specific.  We didn't receive them until after the year started so we are just now truly beginning to jump in and implement them with fidelity.

Kindergarten teachers began the Narrative Writing for K Unit a few weeks ago. The new units are so meaty with good information for teacher schema and understanding behind how students may respond and actual dialogue the teacher can use or paraphrase during the lesson, but my favorite thing about these lessons is that little bit of "writer's secret" or "magic trick" sprinkled in.  It's funny how you can say the same thing with a special tone of voice and it is received very differently. 

When Maria Mallon knew she would be teaching this lesson when I came in with teachers to observe we sat down and read it together.  We had to stop reading, back up and read it out loud like it was being taught.  Because it just sounded ridiculous in print!  As soon as I read it out loud the first time I felt the magic.  No pun intended!  The Magic Pencil of rereading what you already wrote to remember the big picture of your story.  The lesson actually calls for you to pass out pencils for them to practice "writing in the air".  I thought, "Oh my, 36 kids....someone is going to put out an eye sitting that close together."  But the only way you will know these lessons work is if you do them the way intended.  Don't limit your kiddos!  Maria was game, she was all in...take a peek in with us to her classroom and enjoy!

Strategies for Historical Fiction

As the new year begins, our 5th grade classes are continuing their Historical Fiction Units and our 4th grade classes are just starting.  It has been a fun challenge for me as the literacy coach to try to offer new ideas or strategies to teachers in both of these grades.  I know that what they are already doing is masterful and more compacted than they would like so I want to offer ideas that are worth making a part of their well oiled plans.

The first thing I wanted to reinforce was the importance of having the routine of "stopping and jotting" in place for students to collect ideas and build theories as they read.  Many teachers are having students do this in their Readers' Notebook while they read aloud as well as doing it either there or on sticky notes in their own books they are reading independently.   The key is making the stopping and jotting guidelines relevant to the genre (each one could be a mini lesson as it's introduced) you are studying as well as conferring with students as often as possible briefly to help them notice patterns or lift the level of their thinking.  Here are some suggestions for stopping and jotting while reading historical fiction:

Good Places to Stop and Jot
*I noticed a perspective change in the story
*Ideas are repeated across text
*Unexplained gaps in time (subplots)
*How a character responds to a challenge

*A change in the story's mood/tone
*What symbols can be found?

*How does the symbol help you understand the story?
*Noting historical tension
*Character response to challenge

Remind them what is NOT a good place to Stop and Jot
*Your 1st thought
*Copying exactly what the text says

Use visual text whenever possible to bring particular periods in history to life.  The Write Around strategy is perfect.  Google will net you photographs or drawings from just about every era.  Look for historical video clips if available.  We were able to even find some audio clips from World War II on Discovery Education resources (subscription needed).

Having a literacy timeline in your classroom can be critical for students to build permanent understanding of where things fall in history.  Any time you have a conversation about personal experience from your family history, add that there as well.  Their understanding will develop as they read, hear you read aloud and ask their family questions about history.  Having this visual in your room all year will help keep it in their own mind all the time.  Make it your own with large year markers and fill in the events with notings, book covers of books read, historical pics from activities and that are back in current news...there are no rules...do what makes sense.  Your learners will guide you.

Fifth grade teacher, Jennifer Scarola, was kind enough to allow me to come film a lesson in her classroom to give a visual of some of these things I have mentioned.  This lesson is about noticing historical tensions along the way as you read.  She is reading aloud the book Irena's Jars of Secrets.  You will notice the students stopping and jotting as she does and she gives them time to talk about it with each other.  As Readers' Workshop continues the students do the same in their own reading and during the share at the end you can see some specific examples of student learning.  Enjoy your visit to Mrs. Scarola's classroom!

Learning from Lucy - Implementing Rigorous, Coherent Writing Curriculum

As the Literacy Coach here at Chets Creek Elementary, I have been fortunate enough to hear Lucy speak a few times.  Each time is different, powerful and packed with so many tidbits that I cannot ever manage to capture in notes.  Each and every one of the teachers' notes that were shared in the previous post were much more coherant than the notes I manage to capture. I have learned to audio record and spend hours savoring over the audio.  Since so much of this is completely Lucy's words it is in italics.  Please enjoy learning from her as I do:

Lucy answers teacher questions during break
Units of Study:  Implementing Rigorous, Coherent Writing Curriculum
Lucy Calkins

Lucy talks a lot about how we convey the information we learn, as teachers or staff developers. You listen differently for each and …

I need you to be storytellers to others, because the information about writing needs to be told. Who could have ever predicted these changes in education? Who could have ever imagine that tests would be developed where we were told that two-thirds of our third graders would be labeled failures…and that is the plan. This has happened in New York City.  And the people leading that, do they understand what it is like for an EIGHT year old to be told that the big official important label for you is failure.  In times of your life when you were called a failure, what that does to your dedication, your sense of power.  It is debilitating.  And we are grown ups!

And even though today is about writing, I just wanna say about the common core:  It may well become the makeshift Titanic that goes down. This big and grand thing that goes down because of a fatal flaw.  The flaw will be implementation.  Part of the flaw is that people are trying to tell us how to implement the common core. And the people who are telling us are nuts! I mean, I am so committed to helping kids move toward reading more complex texts.  That IS the really huge work.  We are NOT going to get there by getting on the strict diet of texts they can’t read.  It’s just not gonna happen so these people that think you can only discuss text based questions. I wanna ask, “Have you ever been in a school?”  “Have you ever tried to engage a kid?” You can’t talk about the learner?  Dave Coleman, who calls himself the author of the common core literally is quoted online as saying, “What kids need to learn is no one gives a s_ _ _ about you.”  It’s quoted!  It’s all over the internet!  Really?  If you even just read the business stuff about how to make people work harder in business and one of the first things is creating a culture where everyone knows that every person matters.  And we are supposed to tell kids no one cares and devise a curriculum that reflects that.  I’m not saying common core, I’m saying what some are doing in the name of common core. 

Well, we are here to talk about writing.  Let me start by saying the world has begun to pay attention to writing.  There’s a good reason for that.  One is the common core.  But you should not institute any change in your school because of the common core.  You have to institute changes in your school that you believe will enable your kids.  That will take them toward being more powerful and build a stronger community.  There are so many mandates you can’t possibly do them all.  I was talking to Mike Fullen who says, “Over decades of work in school reform I am convinced that one of the most critical problems in our schools is not resistance to innovation but the fragmentation, overload and incoherence the results from teachers and principals adopting too many innovations in an adhoc, superficial way.”  Mike has been studying school reform for years.  Doug Reeves says that innovations adopted to a low or medium degree of fidelity show no results.  They do not lead to improving achievement at all.  It’s only innovations that are adopted with a high degree of fidelity that impact achievement.  It’s like me saying I was on a diet before and after I had that muffin.  That muffin made all the difference when it showed up.  You can see what it does to a diet.  That’s low implementation.  We need to think of ourselves as investors.  People come at us with all this stuff and we have to make decisions.  Warren Buffett says, “What’s my secret as an investor?  My ability to say no. You say yes to the things that are exactly right.” 

I hope today that you will say YES to the serious reform of teaching writing. I’m not interested in you doing writing workshop poorly.  It will make sure it doesn’t work. 

Why is writing such a big deal now?  Technology has made sure that we are all living and breathing writing.  We write as we drive, we wake up writing, we go to bed writing.  560 websites are being developed every minute.  60% of companies have blogs.  The fact that everyone is writing all the time means that everyone has a voice in a way that they never had.  The internet has given the lowly citizen a microphone.

It used to be that it mattered if you had knowledge.  Now you can google them faster than your memory.  Having knowledge is no longer a big deal.  It’s being able to synthesize, organize and talk back to knowledge and writing is great for that. In this day of accountability one of the most profound changes we have to go through is that how the kids do is how we do.  In learning writing, we have a kind of contract with kids.  We say, if you work hard your product will get better in 2 weeks.  If you listen to what I say and do your best….actual visible growth in your work. You should see the difference in dramatic visible ways.  When kids do what you say in writing you should see the difference right away.  And the kids see it and they see what it means to be a successful “learner”.  That’s why this is such a powerful subject to teach. 

When I work with states or cities or towns, I usually begin with what is the bill of rights you give your kids in the teaching of writing.  The non-negotiables every teacher buys into.  New kids come to your class and what is the promise to your kids? It has to be reasonable that everyone would do.
#1 Writing is a subject taught every day K-5 in other words, the kids are literally producing a volume of writing every day.  Kids will never write well if they never write LONG. 
#2 Kids should know what they are working on: personal narrative, song, poem, nonfiction.  They need to know the genre of their writing so they know what they are trying to do.  All of the authors and texts in your classroom are teachers as well.  Kids need to have author celebrations over and over.  It changes their perception if they have “readers” of their writing.  Writing for readers transforms the whole enterprise of writing.  Words on a page made a nation!   Kids need to understand that words can make something as big as anything they can imagine.  Words matter.
#3 Ways to get their work published.  Explicit instruction matters.  Not turning down the lights and saying, “Write..”  Good writing is not in their DNA, they need instruction, modeling.
#4 Only way writing is a tool to be used across the curriculum is if they become fluent writers.  Sentences of thought not words and then paragraphs. 
#5 Relationship and Feedback accelerate achievement.   The relationship between the teacher and student is that the teacher believes the student has capacity to grow in dramatic ways.  If the teacher cannot do then the child won’t be able to do.  The learner has to have a crystal clear goal.  Observe the learner working....observe them changing with a compliment of their growth. Then show them the next step they should take. 

I don’t know the story of your lives, but if I invite you to write or share the turning points, the causes in your life…all of a sudden there is an intimacy.  Avi said -  If you’re going to teach me to write you’re going to have to love me.  John Hattie’s research shows that only two things really matter in accelerating achievement and the first thing is the relationship between teachers and students. Think of your own life and the teachers that mattered to you.  Those are the teachers that knew us!  They SEE you they GET you.  You are all writing about different things but the things I teach you can all be used in any different story.  Things that are about YOU.  The teacher must believe the student has the capacity and can outgrow themselves in dramatic ways.  So relationships are the first thing that accelerate achievement, the second is feedback.  In order for them to get good feedback, they have to have a crystal clear goal.  What their next step is from the last point of feedback… The learner notices what they are doing when you point it out (feedback point one) and then next step (feedback point two) teacher shows or takes them to someone else doing it. If it doesn’t work…the teacher needs to see what they are doing wrong.  It’s not them, it’s you. 

We have to be able to take the talent base in our school and socialize that intelligence.  We cannot all of us be best at everything.  We have to do some “things” to get a more cohesive approach in our schools. 
Structures that need to be in place
#1 Doing units together makes it cohesive, share student work
#2 Must write daily for x amount of minutes.
#3 The way a writing time goes needs to be extremely predictable. 

Health of the school depends on the white elephant in the room.  What are people talking about behind closed doors?  If you are going to add instruction, you have to say what will they not do.  There is not extra time.  But don’t waste TIME!  We used to be able to kick out social studies and science but now we can’t.  You need to talk about it.  About time and how it’s spent.  If you can’t do something, don’t skip days, skip a month.  Deep work has to be done daily. 

When kids begin writing don’t start conferring.  Move around the room first and make sure they are going.  Then small groups.  It doesn’t have to be long small group work.  It’s about pulling them out of their chairs and pointing something out and then leave them working.

* See kids thinking they are “finished” not writing....Mid lesson teaching point, “Writers, when you think you’re done, you’ve just begun.”
* Instead of turn and talk:  Turn to your neighbor and write it in the air.
* Pick and model a moment for your kids that is a moment they can relate to.  Dialogue or small action....(Common core says begin with an orienting phrase.  Don’t do that.  That comes later. Start with dialogue or small action.)
* When you read these pieces that the kids have written you have to read them like they are golden.  It makes a difference.  Taking the heart of the story and stretching it out. 
*Write with precise nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs.
* Strategies for generating thoughtful entries or ideas or thought patches, take one and write it long

Essay writing strategies … think of a person that matters to you and 3 ideas and pick one and write it long.
or…idea that matters to you and 3 ideas and pick one and write it long

Writers- three ideas and write long about one  (helpful starters)
I’m realizing
for example
all in all I’m realizing
in other words
that is
the surprising thing about this is
from this day forward I’m going to
the important thing about this is
this is giving me the idea that
this connects to

The idea being helping them to reach for something where there is no words to really explain.

Information Writing
We watched a video of Amanda Hartman teaching students to get their topics down for their informational writing.  She says: “I’ll come back long and strong and write more about this later”.

Here are some tips for this genre:
* Spend extra time on structure and elaboration
* Qualities of good information writing:  write with structure but with central idea
* Text features, diagrams, ideas, captions, pop out the central idea
* A lot of books they read are off topic distractions, they need to know good authors stick to central idea
* Information and ideas, you have to ask questions and maybe you don’t have answers

Writing Pathways - in units, in all grades, we ask you to begin year as on demand writing and day after celebration of unit they do another on demand write.  You do that to see the growth.  This reminds you that you aren’t trying to improve the kid’s product, you’re trying to improve the kid. And having that starting piece is also an accountable way of saying to the child, ”Look back at that piece you did in the beginning, your writing should be worlds better!”  If you don’t do this their writing may even go down.  The on demand piece is an assessment and they know it.  They may do their best only then.  Hold them accountable to doing their best always.

When you give kids checklists you have to preach to them about checklists, toward the end of the that unit of writing.  That pilot that landed the plane on water and saved lives, he followed the emergency checklist.  Tell them that!  When babies are born, they go through a checklist of what they should show and when they don’t see it that find out what’s wrong!   Checklists are what people do when things are complicated and important and you don’t want to forget. Talk it up with them constantly.  It helps you be in charge of your own writing.  You are the boss and coach of yourself with this.  Famous, great coaches are hard on their players.  You have to be that person for yourself. 

Today is a beginning.  The teaching of writing is a big subject.  You really can’t do this alone.  Most powerful thing a school can have is a contagious learners, in the company of others. One of the easy ways to learn a unit of study is to have a teacher teach it to other teachers in 3 min of the heart of the lesson and then have them write for 5 minutes.  Great strategy.  Is your school doing to many things not well instead of less things with depth?  Innovations adopted with no fidelity have little impact. 

Professor at Harvard has popular course on Happiness.  Your happiness level, very few things affect it.  You get sick, win the lottery and you get sad and depressed but you go back to your normal level.  Very few things make people happier.  One of the only things that does increase happiness is when a small group of people with you work on a cause bigger than you.  Think about a time in education when your work was the best it’s ever been.  It probably wasn’t a time where you came in late and left early.  It’s probably a time where you and your colleagues worked harder than you have ever worked.  You had a common cause and worked for it.  If a well informed person came to you and said, ”Change or you are going to die” and most don’t change. People continue not eating well, exercising or smoking…. 20% that do make change are the people that have a support group.  The secret to having professional capital is that the building has social capital.  Not just getting together to have fun.  Plan together, visit each other’s classrooms, share student work….LEARN together.  Let’s think together and lift each other’s thinking. 

Cross posted on LIVE from the Creek

A Song a Day...

A Song a Day...Keeps Non-Fluency Away!

Ok, I'm pretty sure that's not a word...but I couldn't resist.  The idea of singing a song a day to build reading fluency came from Tim Rasinski and this article from TIME.  It seems like a simple thing to do...how could it really make a difference?

The article explains in detail the physical reactions you have from singing, but basically, it creates endorphins which decrease stress and increase happiness!  You don't have to be a good "singer", you just have to join in and sing and it builds a closeness or sense of community with your group as well. 

Now transfer these ideas to the classroom setting, by singing one song daily with your class (less than 3 minutes of your day) you are building classroom community, decreasing stress and creating an atmosphere of joyous learning which we know has the most transference....now let's add in the part that attacks fluency:


Put the lyrics in front of your students and ask them to keep their eyes on the text the whole time they are singing.  Do a new song each week, or every other week and when they kids are fluently singing that song (able to mimic the intonation and speed of the lyrics) without struggling, it's time to move on to a new song.  Even after moving on to a new song you can have a "request" day to revisit an old one they sang before. 

Tim Rasinski says if you do this with fidelity, your students' fluency will improve!  So I challenged my teachers, try this with your kids...if you do nothing else every single day...sing one song with eyes to text and let's see what happens. 

And so it began....
I suggested they might try some pop songs the students may have heard but don't know the lyrics (you have to be careful to pick an appropriate song for the age), because I thought they might hear it outside the school day and be singing along.  Also, some older songs that the teacher may know that are fun but the students hadn't heard.  You don't need to buy all this music.  Most songs can be found on YouTube, just play it hooked up to speakers and they can hear it and sing along!

My favorite thing about this activity is that EVERYONE can be successful.  Even students that are below level will learn the repetitions in the song and feel some immediate success and some of the higher readers that can have the worst intonation while reading, this forces them to slow down and feel the words.

The first response I got from teachers is: MY KIDS LOVE THIS!  They said the kids were excited about starting their day with a song, unmotivated kids were finally excited about something and the teachers were loving the fun time together.  Wow!  All that from a few minutes of the day?  I can't wait to see the results we reap from this fun strategy!  

If you are a visual learner like me, you might need to "see" what this looks like for different ideas of rituals to use but you mainly have to make sure that they always have EYES to TEXT:

Fluency is such an important piece of the reading puzzle, give it a try!

Lifting the Level of your Reader's Thinking

When kids are stopping and jotting, the goal is to grow their thinking and thoughts as the story develops.  Sometimes that takes modeling and demonstrating how that actually "looks".

In this lesson I explained to these third grade students that they needed to support their thinking with evidence from the text when they stop and jot while reading.  I was actually teaching this lesson for a group of third grade teachers to see so I reviewed the lesson from the day before about "what" to stop and jot at the beginning of the video. 

Rubrics are key.  Not only demonstrating what meeting or exceeding the standard "looks" like but showing them how to do it and then leaving a visible model up for future reference.  They need to be able to hold their work up and see where it matches.

The kids seem to be doing very well with this!  Let me know what you think: