As most of you know, I’ve started a new job….in a middle school. I was one of those teachers that always had the idea that I would hate teaching middle school. All those hormones, changes, attitudes…no thanks.
Well, here I am…2 months in…and loving it. These 7th and 8th graders are amazing. Yes, middle school is an awkward time for students, but these kids are out here every day, owning WHO THEY ARE. I’m blown away at the self-confidence these kids have; frankly, we could all stand to learn a little from them. Most of them have figured out what makes them who they are and they are rockin’ it. We even had one binary student volunteer to have the newspaper interview them, with the purpose of spreading awareness…and the student body embraced them without hesitation.
I don’t think we give enough credit to middle school students. They get a bad rep…but I’m here to say “don’t sell them short”. This generation is going to do amazing things…
In order to keep supporting them, we as teachers need to be ready to represent their student identities in all we do in order to help them continue to grow into their own person. Here are 6 ways to help you get started:
Look at your collection. Are your books representative of all your students? Inclusive of diverse authors? Inclusive of multicultural themes? Available in multiple languages?
Look around your classroom walls. Does your physical space make all students feel like they belong? Include culturally and linguistically diverse people and phrases? Promote equality and justice?
When planning and teaching, do you advocate for representation of your students when possible? Include mentor texts from diverse cultures? Use multicultural examples to explain current topics? Address biases in lessons?
When communicating with parents do you know what language they want to be contacted in? Know what technology parents are comfortable communicating with? Have resources to translate communication, if necessary?
Do the supplies in your classroom include puzzles, games, and toys that include all genders, races, etc.
When planning for guest speakers do you include students’ families as speakers and presenters? Discuss societal ad global topics? Include a variety of people from the community?
The idea of a close read isn’t new. It’s been around for a while, but yet there are so many different interpretations of what it actually entails. CCSS came out about 10 years ago, and the idea of close reads blew up! At the end of my post I have a FREE downloadable bundle of close reading passages and questions!
We realized that we needed to be teaching our students to read deeply and think analytically about a piece of text, and that we couldn’t wait until middle school to begin this.
The overall goal of CCSS is for students to be able to read a grade-level piece of text, independently. As we’ve seen through easy formative assessments, we are able to see that close reading is not something that we can afford to stop doing. However, that doesn’t happen instantly. As with anything else you teach, close reads need to be modeled and done together so students can learn expectations.
What is a close read?
Typically a close read is done in 3 phases, each phase serving a different purpose. In order for a close read to be successful, you need to find a high-quality piece of text to use. You can’t just randomly grab a book off the shelf and go. You need to preview the text to ensure there is enough quality writing in there that will lend itself to some deep thinking.
I’ve put together this poster that helps explains the three different phases of a close read. Click on the image to download your own FREE copy of it! After facilitating close reads for years now, I’ve noticed just how good students are at phase 1: the general understandings of the text. However, moving along to phases 2 and 3, students struggle and tend to have a harder time. The more we expose our students to this type of questioning, the easy and more natural it becomes for them.
Over the years, I’ve written a lot of close reads and I’ve finally gotten around to bundling them all together. Most of the text, I’ve pulled straight from the CCSS appendix and others are just text that I personally love.
Each text comes with three phases of questions for you to engage in with your students. I would recommend taking three days to get through one passage: one phase per day. For some of the passages, there are also extension activities to help continue to conversations. Below is one of the close reads from the bundle. You will receive the text passage, and then a separate document with all three phases of questions. All of these passages would be best for 3rd-6th grade. Click here to download the whole bundle FOR FREE with all 9 passages!!
Alright friends, you may want to sit down for this one…
Ready?? I think we need to take a break from guided reading….
I know, I know…huge, unpopular opinion. And now if you’ve worked with me in the past, you know what a huge believer I’ve been in guided reading. However, over the past few months I’ve been reading a lot of research and thinking about reading instruction differently. Experts believe that guided reading is happening in over 70-80% of the classrooms across the country…and…there isn’t much evidence to prove that it actually is increasing students’ reading abilities.
Even Tim Shanahan, one of the leading literacy experts, states in a 2011 article, “I have sought studies that would support the original contention that we could facilitate student learning by placing kids in the right levels of text. Of course, guided reading and leveled books are so widely used it would make sense that there would be lots of evidence as to their efficacy. Except that there is not.”
Why the change in thinking?
*Guided reading is absolutely a teacher-driven practice. Teachers hold the control in a guided reading group and do about 95% of the work. They decide who is in the group, what is being read, how many pages, where they’ll stop for discussions (that they’ve already preplanned). Students who are always finding themselves in the “low group” are seldom given the opportunity to read rich, and challenging books.
*Students aren’t becoming self-directed, joyful readers just because we’ve been prioritizing daily, guided reading groups. Students become readers, in every positive sense of that word, when most of their reading time is dedicated to uninterrupted, voluminous reading of texts they can and want to read.
*When you think “differentiation”, you naturally think about guided reading. Students are grouped with students at their reading level; it’s easy to feel like your differentiating for each student’s individual needs. However, we as teachers have a tendency to use similar discussion questions, graphic organizers, and activities for each group, regardless of ability level. For example, the popular strategy of using “Somebody Wanted But So Then” as a way to help build summarizing skills is completely appropriate for a level M/N reader when they’re working on identifying one problem. However, strategies like this are being used as a blanket for all readers; students reading around a Q/R/S, no longer need this strategy. They’re advancing onto more complex reading skills and continually using these strategies in a guided reading group are now hindering them from practicing the more complex skills they actually need.
*With so much on teachers’ plates these days, things are bound to “get cut out” throughout the day to accommodate the other things that come up. Unfortunately, guided reading always seems to be the thing that gets missed. Students already get very minimal one on one time with their teacher for support, understandably so. But if we keep engaging in a practice that we’re ok with skipping to get to the many other things, what’s the point of even doing it? Our time would be better spent ensuring our Tier 1 instruction is strong enough with scaffolds and supports for all of our students.
What to do instead…
“Ok, that’s great, Liz…so what in the world should I be doing instead??”
I get it…I’m challenging what we know, and what we’ve been doing for years. Trust me, it’s hard for me to even be writing this, especially because I’m also guilty of doing everything listed above. #whenyouknowbetteryoudobetter
*Place students in flexible groups based on deficits in certain skills or standards. Use timely and relevant data from classroom assessments. For example, if you’re teaching identifying the perspective of an author in your direct instruction, then use a quick check-in to help guide your next day small group work. Maybe some students need to be taught a strategy that will just help them learn how to identify what a perspective is. Others may be ready to learn how to weave their own perspectives into the text. Constantly switching up which students are in which groups not only is intentional teaching, but it also allows the “typical lower” students to have the chance to be in a “higher group”.
*Focus on 1-1 conferring during independent reading time. Students are engaged in their own self-selected books; you can use this time to bounce between your students and teach them a skill or strategy that is unique to their specific needs. This is by far my favorite teaching practice! I absolutely love hearing students talk about the books they have chosen for themselves!
*Put more of a focus on student-led book clubs, rather than guided reading. Let students choose their own books and form their own groups; this automatically ensures more of a buy-in from your students. Students can make their own decisions about how much to read, what to talk about, and when to meet. As a teacher, you can give each group a focus area for each time they meet. For example, in addition to their normal readings, maybe you tell them to identify the different perspectives of the author through the book.
Phew…that was a lot to take in. I’d love to hear your thoughts, too! ❤️
You’re all in for a treat today!! My next guest blogger is someone who I’ve followed on Twitter for a couple years now and continue to be inspired by: Tisha Richmond!
Tisha is the author of the best-selling book, Make Learning Magical, which unlocks seven keys to transform teaching and create unforgettable experiences in the classroom. She also is the host of her very own podcast, Make Learning Magical!
Enjoy this amazing piece about the “magic of game play”!
I grew up in a game playing family. I have vivid memories of playing games at my grandma’s house with my cousins or sitting around our dining room table. There was something magical about opening up the game closet and carefully selecting the game that would preoccupy our time for the afternoon. As I’ve become an adult with a family of my own, games continued to bring magic into our home. Though my kids are now grown, there is nothing I love more than playing games as a family when we are reunited. It’s pure joy to engage in laughter and fun with the ones that I love, but I’ve found that the attributes of game play go far deeper.
One of my favorite Netflix series to binge watch over break was The Queen’s Gambit. The series followed the character’s journey from childhood to adulthood as she became a world reknown Chess player. It was so fascinating to watch her childhood intrigue of the game grow into a passion as she learned the rules and game mechanics involved. The game didn’t come easy to her, but through consistent study and practice she developed her own set of strategies to master the game. I couldn’t help but watch the series from the eyes of an educator. Isn’t this what we want for our students? We want them to be challenged to persevere through the struggle and failure and be motivated to develop their own strategy to attain mastery. After watching the series I realized that Chess was a classic game that I never learned how to play so I went on the search to add it to our game collection. I was so excited to find an incredible vintage set and I had a wonderful time learning how to play with my daughter and her boyfriend over the holidays. Games are a wonderful way to challenge our students to push past the struggle to master content and skills. What games can we bring into learning to challenge our students to reach new heights?
One of our favorite family traditions is purchasing a table game for our family to play over the winter holidays. I love searching for the perfect one and wrapping it up to open on Christmas Eve. So many special memories are created as we gather around the game table as a family. The laughter and excitement that games bring bonds us in a special way. Everyone is completely immersed as they are collaborating and communicating to learn the strategies and rules of the game. Let’s think about this dynamic in our classrooms. Creating a sense of community is so vital to building a classroom where learning thrives. Don’t we want students to laugh and be excited about learning? What would learning look like if students were continually collaborating and communicating about how to master the content? How would it change the culture to have students that supported and celebrated each other’s accomplishments?
The Bob Ross inspired game “Happy Little Accidents” has become a new family favorite. In this game, players draw a random squiggle and then mix it up with the other player’s in the middle of the table. They are mixed up and picked at random. The lead of the round calls out the word on the card and then each player attempts to turn their squiggle into an illustration of that word. Once all the squiggle have been transformed into drawings, the players take turns explaining why the drawing is the best representation of the word drawn. The game is hilarious because players are required to think on their feet and come up with convincing arguments with very little time to think through what they are going to say. I love the creativity that comes out when players are challenged to do so in a short amount of time. I have noticed this same dynamic happen in my classroom. When students are challenged to take their skills and demonstrate their learning in a creative way, they blow my mind! Sometimes we put too many parameters on student learning. Give students challenging opportunities to be creative and watch them soar! Check out my blog post: Squiggle Your Way to Learning where I share how I remixed this amazing game for use in the remote or brick and mortar classroom.
Reflecting on all of the various mechanics in the games we played this weekend, made me realize how much critical thinking was required. Let me use our favorite card game Hearts as an example. In this game, players strategically play their cards to avoid collecting Hearts and the Queen of Spades. You are continually thinking critically about what move you are going to make next so you can end the game with the fewest points possible. In the gamified classroom students are also critically thinking about the content. In culinary, they are daily analyzing, evaluating, interpreting, and synthesizing the content and creatively thinking about how they are going to solve problems that arise. Students are not merely consumers of information, they are learning by doing; empowered to create their own learning adventure.
This winter holiday I thoroughly enjoyed engaging in gameplay with my family. I am grateful for the time of laughter and fun and the memories made. However, the experience went beyond that, and that is what I want for my students. The fun and laughter is important and what memories are made of, but students immersed in a rich learning environment full of challenge, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking is where the magic truly happens.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.“
-Martin Luther King Jr.
In the past, I always took this day for granted; I never resonated with the importance and sanctity of it. As a kid, I ignorantly appreciated it because it was a day off of school. As a young adult, I again, ignorantly appreciated it because it was an extension of my weekend.
Now, as a mom of two young kids, my views and thoughts about this day have drastically changed. I’ve done a lot of self-reflecting and learning since the events in the summer: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. I’ve committed to educating myself, and beginning to have those hard conversations with own kids. I now understand the importance of remembering Martin Luther King Jr., and all the other brave people that have fought so tirelessly for equal rights for all people of color.
As usual, my go-to is using authentic books to begin the conversations. Here are a few books to help celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. Please remember, books should not be the “end-all” answer. They are simply a door to get you started with some much tougher conversations!
I’m so excited for today’s post! When I first started thinking about guest bloggers, this person was at the top of my list! I’ve been following her work since graduate school, and still constantly reference her many books when I need new inspiration. Over the past couple of years, we’ve built a friendship as we began collaborating together.
Tanny McGregor, also introduced me to the idea of sketchnoting through her newest book, Ink and Ideas. Her sketches are absolutely beautiful! I’ve taken everything I’ve learned about sketchnoting and brought it into the classrooms. Giving students another way to connect with text has been so powerful for many of our apprehensive students. They feel confident about responding and thinking about books without the pressure of having to write their thoughts.
It’s the beginning of a new year, a clean slate. The possibilities seem endless right now and we’re all desperately trying to forget 2020 (even though 2021’s not starting off so well).
In the spirit of the new year, Tanny has made a beautiful sketchnote of her reading resolutions for 2021 for me to share with all my readers!
Doesn’t that just make you want to curl up with markers and a notebook?!? It’s so inspiring!
Seeing her resolutions has sparked ideas and excitement for me as I think about what I want 2021 to look like for me as a reader. I love the idea of sharing books freely; I’m definitely adding that to my reading resolutions. I use to be so good at sharing books on Twitter and I want to get back into that!
If you don’t already, go follow Tanny on Twitter (@tannymcg). She shares beautiful books and has amazing thoughts and ideas!
Tanny, thank you so much for taking the time to create a sketchnote of your 2021 Reading Resolutions and sharing it with us at Windy City Literacy! Grateful for you everyday!
For those of that have just been on the edge of your seat as just dying for a life update…here ya go!
We made it to New Mexico! We packed ourselves into our car with fully charged ipads and lots of snacks. It was a long 3 days in the car as we drove through the most boring part of the country…Nebraska and Kansas. For the last two days of the drive, we drove only on state and town roads..ugh!
After 3 long days, 3 hotels, 1 snowstorm, and way too much fast food, we finally arrived in our new town, Los Alamos! I honestly couldn’t believe (and still can’t) that this is our new home. There are huge, beautiful mountains on every side of us and the cutest little town right in the middle. When we first got into town, the first place we stopped was at the park right in the middle of town. It has a pond, huge playing area, and lots of cute statues all over. We knew the kids needed to run and get some wiggles out; plus we needed to introduce our crazy to the town.
Another big update that I wasn’t expecting to happen: I got a new job!! I didn’t think I would be working; I didn’t think I would find a job right in the middle of the school year, but I still kept checking our local district, just in case. I saw one posted for a middle school GATE teacher and thought, “why not?” I applied for it in the morning. A couple days later, I got a call for an interview, and then offered the job that afternoon!
Coming from an instructional coaching position, this job seems like the perfect role for my life right now! I’ll be the 7th grade GATE teacher and will have a caseload of about 40 students. I’ll also be working with teachers on differentiating their lessons for gifted students. I’m excited to be working in the same district that the kids will attend! Oh yeah…I start Monday!
Mason has started kindergarten with his new teacher and has been doing a great job! They’re all remote now, but they plan on starting a hybrid schedule on the 19th. I’m excited for him to see his new classmates and teacher in person and start making some new friends!
This town is perfect for him! He’s an active kid who loves being outside. Our backyard in the rental isn’t huge, but it does have a bunch of rocks that he loves climbing on. He’s insisting on being outside and wanting to see mountain lions and deer.
Zoey is her usual carefree self. She excited to be here and loves sharing a bedroom with her big brother. We found a new daycare for her and she will be starting on Monday. It’s the complete opposite of the daycare she came from; it seems to be a lot more “easygoing”. The daycare sits on 2 acres and they’ll spend a large portion of their day outside playing. If anyone knows Zoey well enough, you know she’s more of an inside person…so this’ll be interesting!
Steve’s office is literally right behind our rental house and he could walk to work everyday! Right now, he’s still working from home as we finish our self-quarantine since we came from out of state. He does plan on heading into the office in the next week or so.
Well, that’s about it over here. The invitation to come visit us is always open! Miss you all!
I love paper planners. Obsessed with them. I have an embarrassing amount of “planning supplies” that just make me so happy. On Sundays, I get my markers and stickers out with a cup of coffee and sit down to plan out the week! It’s my zen moment. I feel ready to take on another week and it makes me feel a little bit less of the hot mess I am, especially during this crazy time in our lives.
For the longest time I was an Erin Condren snob; I wouldn’t even think of ordering from another planner company. But then, it came out over this past summer that she did some super shady things surrounding the Black Lives Matter campaign and I can’t justify supporting her and the company anymore.
So then I discovered Plum Paper and loved it; you can customize your planner and add pages so that it makes sense for your life. I’ve been using my hourly planner for the school year and have loved it. I will definitely order from them again in the future!
However, now that I’ve quit my job to move across the country, my day-to-day will look much different than it does during the school year. I looked online and couldn’t find one that had everything I was looking for on one page. I also didn’t want to have to have multiple systems at once to keep track of everything, so I did what any normal person would do: turn to Canva and made my own!
(Links to download your own free copies are at the bottom)
Now, I know this is far from a professional planner, but it has everything I was hoping for. I wanted half hour blocks of time, especially as I will now be home everyday monitoring remote kindergarten. I knew I would need to write down what times all his classes are at so I don’t forget them.
I also included a little to-do list off to the side, a dinner box at the bottom as I meal-plan our weeks, and a large box for blog ideas. In the corner is the day of the week. I made one for each day and they all have a different quote at the top to help me stay motivated.
After I printed them out I realized I didn’t want to walk around with 365 pages with me for the whole year. I hopped back onto Canva and made monthly cover sheets, counted out the right number of pages I needed for each month, and stapled them together into a more manageable book.
These are by no means a professional product, but Canva made it super easy to create it how I wanted; their library of pictures and fonts made it easy for me to make it look just pretty enough to keep me inspired throughout the week!
Let me start off by saying I am in NO WAY an expert on the “science of reading”. I’ve been working on this post for a while now to try to ensure I have all my thoughts together! Over the past few months I have tried to read and understand as much as I can from people that are much smarter than me.
One thing I’ve realized while doing all my reading is just how unclear the conversations can get. Everyone has their own personal opinions about what they think is the best way to teach reading, so it’s difficult to navigate through the opinions and read just about the facts. My hope with this post is to try to clear up what people usually mean when they talk about the “science of reading” and share my own thoughts.
Whole language vs. phonics
A little background information is needed to help bring clarity around the “science of reading”. There’s always been a controversy in the reading world in regards to which is the “best” way to teach reading: whole language vs. phonics.
If you’re unfamiliar, whole language is a philosophy that focuses on making meaning from real reading and writing experiences. In a whole language approach, phonics rules are only taught in context. For example, you might only teach the different sounds “oo” makes when you’re helping a child read the words “mood” and book”.
In a phonics-based approach, the different spelling patterns are all taught in a systematic sequence which allows students to master easier ones, before moving on to the more complex patterns.
What exactly IS the “science of reading”?
The “science of reading” should be used to refer to all the research out there that includes all the aspects of reading – decoding, fluency, comprehension, etc. There is SO much more to reading than just phonics!
However, typically, when people use the “science of reading”, they’re talking about the importance of explicitly and systematically teaching phonics. One of the many arguments out there right now is that teachers aren’t providing enough phonics instruction, contributing to why we have so many students reading below grade level.
Another proponent of the “science of reading” also states that leveled texts and guided reading should not be used. Rather, students should be immersed in decodable texts that correlate with specific phonics patterns that they’re learning. Decodable texts contain almost only high frequency/sight words and words that can easily be decoded by using the spelling patterns they’ve already learned or are currently learning.
Some also go on to say that children should not be prompted to decode words by using context clues or what makes sense for the sentence, rather they need to rely on the explicit phonics instruction that they have had to be able to decode the word. For example, rather than saying “read on in the sentence and think about what would make sense”, experts urge that you say something like “look for spelling patterns or roots/prefixes/suffixes you know to help decode that word”.
I’m fully aware that there are many more theories/thoughts/nuances and I’m sure I’ve missed some important ones, but I hope you were able to find this a little bit helpful!
My own thoughts (in case anyone is still reading)…
As we all know, sometimes in the education field, things have a tendency to come back full circle. I’m nervous that educators are going to latch on to the new research and throw out all their previous reading practices. There are phenomenal reading practices happening in classrooms across the country that ARE good. Let’s not take all this new “science of reading” research and completely overhaul everything we’ve been doing. Let’s view this as a paradigm shift and begin to make shifts and changes to better serve our students.
I am excited to hear about how much attention the “science of reading” has been getting. I do think phonics instruction is starting to get the attention it deserves, and educators are getting the knowledge they need to be able to teach phonics to ALL of our students.
With all of this new attention to reading, I hope our students with dyslexia and other special needs, will get more of the targeted phonics instruction that will allow them to feel more successful with reading.
Some people are VERY passionate about their own beliefs, which is fine, however, it’s not ok to shame other educators out there for doing something different. We’re all here to do what we think is best for our students, not to dictate what others are doing. Practice understanding and take the time to learn from each other.
Take the time to read the research. There is so much information out there that it can be overwhelming to even know where to begin. And once you do start reading….it’s a rabbit hole!! My suggestion? Find one of your favorite literacy experts and read their thoughts about the “science of reading” and go from there. Also, join the Science of Reading Facebook group; it’s been invaluable for me!
Phew!! I think that’s it for now, but things are constantly evolving, so there may be another post in the future! I hope you were able to find something in here that was helpful to you!
One of my favorite things to do as an instructional coach is to create, and provide, teachers with easy-to-implement ideas for their classrooms. This one I was inspired to make after seeing something similar as I was scrolling through Instagram a couple nights ago.
I’m the queen of lists; I have lists for my lists. If you were to open my bottom desk drawer, you would be probably be appalled at the amount of notepads I own (that doesn’t stop me from buying more). I thought it would be fun to incorporate my crazy list-making skills into a reading activity.
After reading a book, or even just a chapter, students could create what they think would be on the main character’s to-do list. This simple, but fun task will help deepen your student’s character analysis skills. Students need to have a strong understanding of the character, including outside and inside traits, desires, challenges, and needs.
In addition to creating an anchor chart and creating a to-do list as a whole class, I’ve also created a digital version to accommodate our current “normal”. Click here or the picture below, to get your own editable copy that you can share with your own students!