Reading Fluency and Common Core

I have this love hate relationship with reading fluency. My building uses DIBELS for all our primary students but only use the DRA decoding rubric for the intermediate students. Both of these assessments have speed ranges are the bare minimum of how fast students need to be reading.

Now factor in Common Core. Fluency is addressed starting in kindergarten with standard RF 1.4 RF.K.4 with students reading emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding. And the standard changes in first grade with RF.1.4 where students have to read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension. It remains the same through fifth grade. Common Core doesn't address in detail what that looks like. The key in reading fluency is finding that perfect balance of accuracy and understand what is being read. Common Core wants students to understand what they are reading and then have meaning deep conversation about what they are being taught. This is a hard balance and a tough shift this year for me.

It's the readability and the depth in which students have to understand material that really counts. This has more to do with Lexile Measures than DRA or Fountas and Pinnell levels than anything else. This makes for some very fun shifts in what students have to read and what they need to be able to read. The focus needs to stay on text just slightly harder than their independent reading level (at 96% to 98% accuracy and 90 to 125 wcpm) to have a conversation with the depth needed for them to demonstrate that they really understand what they are reading. The shift is in the text complexity. Check Common Core Appendix A for more information on what the Lexile expectations look like.

I'm not sure this is a huge problem for my student's who struggle with reading fluency but I do know that if they can't read fast enough, they won't finish the test. Students should not see difficult material for the first time on these tests. They have to be prepared to closely read, examine, decode, and digest material that is not within their “fluency” or comfort range.

I'm not sure if the best way to accomplish this is by giving them more challenging texts or by guiding students through have a more in-depth conversation about what they are reading.  If students can talk about what they are reading, then they can write about it.

Close Reading where students markup the text is a great way to support students. I have had student do this but I'm having problems with them transferring this idea outside of their time with me. Plus, our new assessment will be on the computer. No marking the text. Markup the text has helped them find the evidence to support their thinking which is I've been told is way more important. They need to work on telling why they picked that specific chunk of text though.

Why Fluency is important:

As great as close reading of complex text maybe for instruction, we should not measure independent reading. Also from Appendix A (p.4):

Students need opportunities to stretch their reading abilities but also to experience the satisfaction and pleasure of easy, fluent reading within them, both of which the Standards allow for…. Students deeply interested in a given topic, for example, may engage with texts on that subject across a range of complexity.

It's the reading easy material that a student enjoys a book and builds fluency. For independent reading recommendations, students need to read and enjoy whatever they choose, at whatever level for independent reading. That is how to build lifelong readers.

Multiplication Accommodations and Instruction Ideas

My third grade students are going back to multiplication after Christmas Break. This will be the second time they will have had the content. This time I have to get them to mastery. These guys have a working foundation of the meaning of multiplication through creating models to represent equations.

What are Accommodations for Multiplication?

These are suggestions for mathematics learning accommodations based on specific learning disabilities. These learning accommodations have been proven successful with many learning disabled students. Not all of these learning accommodations are usually needed for most of the learning disabled students. Even using all these learning accommodations may not circumvent every student's learning disability. However, in every case the learning disabled students must be taught math study skills to help compensate for their learning problems.

Visual Processing Speed/Visual Processing

  • Note-taker
  • Re-Work notes
  • Tape Recorder with tape counter
  • Large print handouts
  • Large print copies of important textbook pages
  • Taped textbook
  • Turn note book sideways
  • Take notes in different pen colors

Short-Term Memory/Auditory Processing

  • Note-takers
  • Re-work notes
  • Tape recorder with tape counter
  • Physical proximity Math video tapes
  • Tape record important tutor explanations

Fluid Reasoning/Long Term Retrieval

  • Note-takers
  • Re-work notes
  • Tape recorder with tape counter
  • Handouts
  • Math video tapes
  • Fact sheets (flash cards)
  • Color coded problem steps
  • Tape record important tutor explanations
  • Strategy Cards for Higher Grades
  • Calculators
Anchor Charts that will help these guys understand the relationship between repeated addition and arrays. Both of these will be perfect. They have to master a least one strategy to solve multiplication problems. 

Division is new for them, so I will have to teach them a couple of strategies as well. This one will take them some time but will practice I'll get them there.

Have a wonderful Christmas Break and a great break. Safe travels to all who are traveling. 


Common Core and Shifting the Cognitive Load

Since, coming back from Thanksgiving Break, I have worked to shift the cognitive load in my small groups. This has not been as easy as you may think. Why?? Well, mostly because of the rubric I'm evaluated and I do most of the work. My students will never be able to tackle more complex text, if I can't find ways for them to take that load on.

The Common Core State Standards have changed the way I look at teaching reading. I have had to shift my focus to increase the rigor and cognitive load on my students to gathering evidence, knowledge, and insights from what they read. In fact, 80-90% of the reading standards in every grade require text-dependent analysis — being able to answer questions only by referring back to the assigned text, not by drawing upon and referencing prior knowledge and experiences. This is the first year where 90% of everything my students has read has been informational text.

The hard part getting students to talk more about the text without my direct support--ie; me needing to talk way, way less. But this means that they have to take it having the conversation about the book at a depth that is meaningful and with a high level of rigor.

Gretchen Owocki's book has some many strategies to support reader and show the progression of rigor from kindergarten to fifth grade for the Common Core Standards. My students have been working on Reading Anchor 1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite textural evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text. (Key ideas and Details)

Students have to read closely, to determine what the text says to find the evidence to support their thinking. Easier said than done. This can be seen in what students need to be able to do on their own at the end of each reading level. One way that I have been able to build my student's ability to talk about books has been to use Accountability stems. These sentence frames have scaffolded my student's as they move towards these benchmarks.

I have many factors to keep in mind how I introduce students to the advanced language of informational text analysis because they don't have the skill set necessary to access more complex text or the relevant terminology to be successful without direct support.. Informational and narrative text features, organization, genres, comprehension questions, and constructed response tasks differ strikingly.

Accountability talk is one way that I'm able to increase the cognitive load on my students because they get to do all the talking. I have included a sample of the sentence frames I use with my students.

The ultimate goal is to ensure that students are more familiar with the text structure and content. This also gives all students daily opportunities to communicate using more sophisticated social and academic English. The more they talk the better. Have a great week.

Subtracting the Common Core Way

The beginning of the week started by teaching my 3rd grade math group subtraction. We worked on addition before leaving for break--I was amazed that they remembered how to do addition after getting back. With addition using unifix cubes and drawing the pictures out had them adding within minutes.

Common Core Standards highlight building number sense with third graders.  To build number sense, we have taught several strategies for addition and subtraction: using a hundreds chart, an open number line, and place value blocks.  

This anchor chart shows how to subtract using an open number line.  The hardest part for the students is using the skill of counting backwards, especially when going back over a ten-mark. We struggle with remembering friendly numbers.

Here is my anchor chart for using place value blocks to subtract when there is no need to regroup. We started with real place value blocks.  Then we moved to the picture model.  After a bit of modeling, my kiddos really caught on to this strategy well. When subtracting without regrouping, this method tended to be especially easy for them. 

Ultimately, the boys decided on the standard algorithm for problems needing regrouping. This poem helped them remember to regroup.

A great online manipulatives resource is from the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives. They have base ten blocks for addition and subtraction. This can be used from a SMART board--my students would do the problems from the board. They also have Number Pieces. This app is free and is easy for the students to build the problems and solve them.  Both work great to provide students with practice. 


I hope this gives you some inspiration on how to help students master subtraction. Common Core has many twists and turns. It's important that whatever strategy students find and have success with that they are able to explain their thinking and tell is the strategy they choose is effective and efficient.  

Boardmarker's Symbolate Feature

I have spent the better part of my break trying to figure out how to increase student access to text without changing the depth of knowledge. Easier said then down. Well almost--until I stumbled okay fell into a feature in Boardmarker that can be found in 6, Studio and plus-symbolate. Talk about a blessing--a whole lot less cutting and pasting and more learning.

Symbolate in a nutshell adds pictures to words in a sentence. It was so excited to share that I created my first video. I'm going to try it next week with a student with autism to see if it helps him answer questions after he has read. What started this was this student who does better when pictures are attached to what he needs to do. So, knowing that answering basic who, what, when, where questions is tough on a good day that perhaps adding pictures would help him understand and answer comprehension questions after he has read. I can see doing this for other things too like a unit math test--not to change the work but to increase access to the text.

This quick and easy adaptation to text is an instructional accommodation. As an access accommodation that provides access to the core curriculum and doesn't affect the mastery level expected of students.

I've included a couple that I have created to use when I have the student in Wilson. If these work for him than I can see using it for other things like math.

Don't forget that everything in my store will be on sale Monday and Tuesday (12/2 and 12/3). Have a great week!

Parent Common Core Website

We have all familiar with Common Core but our parents well that's a whole different thing. If your parents are like mine, understanding Common Core is more than a challenge.  Explaining what it is and how it will change things is hard if not close to impossible. Early this week, I came across a wonderful website that breaks it down for parents. The Parent Toolkit was designed to help parents track and support their child’s progress from preschool to graduation from High School.

NBC News and education company Pearson have come together to form Parent Toolkit, a plain-talk, grade-by-grade digital guide to Common Core and benchmarks for each grade. Parents can drill down by grade to see what the math and English language arts requirements are, and get sample problems that illustrate the concept.

Since parents are also their children’s teachers, the site provides ideas for everyday ways to support what your child’s learning at school. For instance, if he’s working on fractions, give him a real-world lesson by dividing a sandwich. The site is also planning to add social and health and wellness milestones for each grade in 2014.

A heads up I'll be throwing a sale at my Teachers Pay Teachers store the beginning of next month.

Ideas to Move a Stuck Reader

I have a couple of students this year that have not moved much in the last year or so. At our weekly, team meetings we talk about about these guys. As a group we try to figure out why they aren't moving. It tends to be asking lots of why and right when you think you've got it; you ask why again. Sometimes we need to come back and collect a specific data point. Other times a plan is hatched and put in place. Think of these as questions and does the evidence show that the student has it.

If the student decodes the first few letters or syllables and makes up the rest, confuses simple words like we're and there, or has trouble recognizing high-frequency words than:

Word Recognition: word recognition is a broad term for being able to access print.

High Frequency Words: are words that occur often in written language. Students need to be able to recognize these words quickly. Under 5 seconds fast!!

Sight Words: I think most teach use sight words and high frequency words interchangeable, meaning sight words are words students should know by sight, without sounding them out. Others use sight words to mean high frequency words as words students cannot sound out or don't play by the rules such as have or give.

Decoding: this refers to understanding sounds and letters. 

Phonics: this refers to the rules that govern the English language.

As a rule of thumb, the student's most current DRA or Fountas and Pinnell is used. Digging deeper is key when needing to find a new way to move students. The team is always surprised when talking about High Frequency Words because my buildings kindergarten to fourth grade agreement that all students will known the building list. Student move in and sometimes its just forgotten but not everyone has mastered "the list."

Going into a week after receiving news that I'm now a National Board Certified Teacher, I wish to thank my mom for her ongoing encouragement and faith in me. I also wish to thank my readers for I hope you find what I share informing and useful and even something you can take back to you class and team. If you are traveling this week--I wish you safe travels and a have a restful and fabulous break.

Addition Strategies for Small Groups

For the last couple of days I have been teaching addition strategies for adding 2 digit numbers with something could be called success. These guys have a hard time remembering the steps--which makes moving on to regrouping tough but yet they have a couple of strategies that have helped them. The basic strategies they have built on to help them work to find the answers. I would love, love if they would memorize the basic facts but getting a correct answer with another strategy is all that matters at the end of the day. Even if its not the most efficient. It has to be efficient and effective for them--not me the teacher.

Though mastering the basic facts is one strategy its not the end all be all. It is equally important that they make sense of number combinations as they are learning these facts. Here are some strategies to help with this understanding.

Adding Zero
Model adding zero (with younger students) or review it with older students. If a child understands that when you add zero you add nothing, he/she should never get a basic fact with zero wrong. Make sure this understanding is in place.

Adding One (Count up)
Adding one means saying the larger number, then jumping up one number, or counting up one number. This happens every time you add one. It never changes. Never recount the larger number, just say it and count up one.

Example: 6 + 1 = say 6 then 7
44 + 1 = say 44 then 45

Adding Two – Count up Two
Adding two means saying the larger number, then jumping up or counting up twice. Again this is always correct and never changes.

Example: 9 + 2 = say 9 then 10 then 11
45 + 2 say 45 then 46 then 47

Commutative Property:
You also have to teach or review the commutative property. The answer will be the same regardless of the order you add the two numbers. 9 + 2 = 2 + 9 Order
doesn’t matter.

Adding Ten 
Adding ten means jumping up ten (think of a hundred’s chart). The ones digit stays the same but the ten’s digit increases by one. Students must understand this. Using a hundreds board to teach this works well to build understanding. Have students actually count up the ten and write down the result. Then affirm with them the pattern and explain why it works every time.

Example: 5 + 10 = 15

10 + 7 = 17
For older students you can relate this to higher numbers:

Example 23 + 10 = 33
48 + 10 = 58

Double Numbers
To add double numbers there are a couple of strategies that might help students.

When you add a double you are counting by that number once.
For example: 4 + 4 = think of 4,8 … counting by fours
Practice skip counting by each number in turn:
4-8 etc. This gets harder with the higher numbers but skip counting is an important skill for students to have.

Doubles occur everywhere in life.
For example: an egg carton is 6 + 6
two hands are 5 + 5
16 pack of crayons has 8 + 8
two weeks 7 + 7 =

Do a variety of activities with double numbers and have students determine and explain which strategies help them remember. Each student should look at each fact and relate to a visual image or counting by strategy that works for them.

Near Doubles 
To use the near doubles strategy a student first has to master the doubles. Then, if the double is known, they use that and count up or down one to find the near double.
Example: 4 + 4 = 8 5 + 4 = 9 (count up one)
Or: 4 + 4 = 8 so 4 + 3 = 7 (count down one)

Adding 5
Adding five has a strategy that is helpful but not completely effective as it is a bit tricky. You can decide if it is helpful or not.

To add fives look for the five in both numbers to make a ten then count on the extra digits.
Example: 5 + 7 = (10 + 2) = 12

5 + 8 = 5 + 5 + 3 = 13

Students who can see the five in 8 should have no difficulty. Students who can’t visualize numbers will find this hard. Most students can be taught to do this with some extra work.

Math manipulatives are an important bridge to help students connect the concrete to the abstract in mathematical learning. Math manipulatives allow students to see, touch, and move real representations of conceptual ideas. Numbers on a page are brought to life when students can model with representations. Concepts such as decomposition, place value, and fractions benefit from the visual and kinesthetic aspects of manipulatives. Challenging and multi-step problem-solving activities can be made more manageable when students are able to use tools like manipulatives to compute and represent various parts of the problem. Practice in choosing appropriate manipulatives deepens student expertise with identifying the correct tools for solving a problem.

Explaining and critiquing mathematical reasoning are important skills in understanding mathematics. Manipulatives help students discuss and demonstrate their methods for solving problems. This type of collaborative communication builds precision in language as well as procedure. When students can demonstrate the how and why of a math concept, they build connections and prepare for more advanced skills. Manipulatives also provide students a tool for testing their theories and the theories of others. And, manipulatives can assist English language learners, who are still building their vocabularies, demonstrate understanding of math concepts.

Manipulatives are great for concrete, visual learners who need to see the problem to solve them. Unifix cubes moved my math group from having no clue on how to add two digit numbers to having a working strategy that they can use with confidence. For showing their work they just draw what they created. This list is full of great ways to help students to solve addition problems. I hope your students find one or two that help them solve addition problems efficiently and effectively. Have a great week!

Giving Feedback

What is Feedback?

W. Fred Miser says, “Feedback is an objective description of a student’s performance intended to guide future performance.  Unlike evaluation, which judges performance, feedback is the process of helping our students assess their performance, identify areas where they are right on target and provide them tips on what they can do in the future to improve in areas that need correcting.”

Grant Wiggins  says, “Feedback is not about praise or blame, approval or disapproval.  That’s what evaluation is – placing value.  Feedback is value-neutral.  It describes what you did and did not do.”

“Effective feedback, however, shows where we are in relationship to the objectives and what we need to do to get there. "

“It helps our students see the assignments and tasks we give them as opportunities to learn and grow rather than as assaults on their self-concept. "

“And, effective feedback allows us to tap into a powerful means of not only helping students learn, but helping them get better at learning.”

~ Robyn R. Jackson

For those of use who are evaluated on rubrics like C. Danielson's, giving student's effective and meaningful oral and written feedback is huge. It becomes part of how you use formative assessments during a lesson and how you determine if students "Got it" or not. 

I think its important to remember what good feedback looks like:

  • The more delay that occurs in giving feedback, the less improvement there is in achievement.
  • As often as possible, for all major assignments

  • What students are doing that is correct
  • What students are doing that is not correct
  • Choose areas of feedback based on those that relate to major learning goals and essential elements of the assignment
  • Should be encouraging and help students realize that effort on their part results in more learning 

Specific to a Criterion
  • Precise language on what to do to  improve
  • Reference where a student stands in relation to a specific learning target/goal
  • Also specific to the learning at hand
  • Based on personal observations

Focused on the product/behavior – not on the student

  • Did the student understand the feedback? 
  • Opportunities are provided to modify assignments, products, etc. based on the feedback
  • What is my follow up plan to monitor and assist the student in these areas?
I think of how I give feedback during a Wilson lesson, "I heard you read red correctly. How might you fix this word?" To shift the thinking back on the student to make the correction. This means I'm only focusing on one thing at a time. Not everything that needs to be fixed. I find its hard in guided reading, when the student stumbles over several words--deciding which ones to give and which ones to have them fix on their own. It's finding that balance and shifting the cognitive load from me to the student. That way the next time they see the word or get stuck they can independently use the strategy.  It's hard to find that balance and demonstrate that you are using feedback as a formative assessment. But that's what it takes for students to self-monitor. Some thoughts to add to your daily practice. Have a great week.

Response to Instruction

 It's that time of year, when the kid talks and problem solving teams start getting together. This year, my team started last month. It was not as bad as I imagined--it always helps when teachers come to these meetings ready to talk and with current, relevant data in hand. This is a challenge when in between benchmarks.  My team gets together for kid talks (the first step) every four weeks with follow up every six.

This is where the team helps the classroom teacher, create a SMART goal that they will monitor until the follow up. How did we get to this place? Well, it was lots and lots of clean up last year and building capacity with data collection. The team spent last year tackling the students who never seemed to leave RTI--either they went through the special education or made progress to be on par with their classmates and were sent back to tier 1. 

One thing that the team and our building has embraced is collecting the data and doing something with it. As teachers we are swimming in data and many time it either sits and gathers dust or it's used to drive instruction. Using it is what makes students grow--no mater where they start. For example I have a students no has many bad habits including talking when not their turn or off topic, not attending to the task at hand or the details. She wears you down to where you can no longer keep up and give in. Over the last three years she has grown little but using the data showed that she had been getting the intervention. This year, I focused the intervention to comprehension and decoding strategies. In the six weeks, she has started to attend to the details while she reads. She rereads and reads for meaning. (HEY) These are firsts.

The success that she has had has drive conversations with her teacher and our ELL Resource teacher.  We have aligned our instruction to focus on a couple of targets and not worrying about everything she needs to do. And yes it's a very long list as a fifth grader. I have hope that these early successes will drive her to herself and take a more active role beyond self monitoring. Without data, I would be doing the same tier three that she'd been for the last two years.

I created a document that has helped me keep track of the goals and data for students no matter what tier they are in. I hope you find it useful--I know my student look forward to weekly progress monitoring and seeing their growth. Have a great week.

Language Disorder Accommodations

This year, I have a couple of students who have significant Expressive Language Disorders. In their case language skills almost 4 years behind their chronological ago. This makes it tough as these guys have begun to move into the intermediate grade. This is a list of things that I have share with classroom teachers so that they can keep in mind as they plan and incorporate into your classroom in a meaningful way.

Expressive language refers to the use of spoken language. A student with an expressive language disorder is unable to communicate thoughts, needs or wants at the same level or with the same complexity as his or her same-aged peers. Students with an expressive language disorder may understand most language but are unable to use this language in sentences. Difficulties with the pronunciation of words may or may not be present. Expressive language disorders are a broad category and often overlap with other disabilities or conditions.

These guys have difficulties with word-finding difficulties, limited vocabulary, overuse of non-specific words like “thing” or “stuff,” over reliance on stock phrases, and difficulty “coming to the point” of what they are trying to say.


1. Modeling
When asked a question, a student with expressive language disorder may provide you with an incomplete sentence. If you were to ask what they saw at the zoo, the student may respond with "tiger." The best thing to do is to model back a full and correct sentence, such as "I saw a tiger." You do not have to have the students repeat the sentence; just hearing the words in the correct order will help.

2. Choices
When you are asking students with expressive language disorder questions, instead of asking them to form their own sentences, give them choices. Following our zoo example, instead of asking "what did you see at the zoo?" you might ask the student "did you see the lions or the tigers when you were at the zoo?" This takes the stress off of the student to make up their own sentence from scratch.

3. Visuals
Place visuals around your classroom to help remind students of words that they could use. Students with expressive language disorder have difficulties remembering words, so seeing them posted may help.

4. Slow down
This is for you and the student. When you are speaking, slow down and model good speech for the student. When the student is speaking, remind them to slow down and make sure that their sentences are complete. This should increase the students self monitoring skills.

5. Time
Let the student know if you are planning on calling on them. This will give them time to think of a response. When the student is talking, allow them the time that they need.

6. Accommodations
Students with expressive language disorder may require different accommodations. If your student is more comfortable with writing their assignments, or with verbalizing the answers, you should allow them to do this. Try things like word prediction software.

Implications for Instruction
  • Repeat back what the student has said, modelling the correct pronunciation, word form or sentence structure. It is unnecessary to ask the student to repeat the correct form after you; what is important is that the student hears the correct form.
  • Provide the student with choices of correct grammar, sentence structure or word choice to help them process the correct form or word to use. For example: “Is it a giraffe or an elephant?”, “If it’s a boy, is it he or she?”
  • Be patient when the student is speaking; not rushing a student who has expressive language difficulties will reduce frustration levels.
  • Use visuals to support expressive language skills. Pictures or written cues can be used to prompt the student to use a longer utterance or initiate a phrase within a specific situation or activity.
  • Help build the student’s vocabulary by creating opportunities for focusing on language processing skills, such as sorting and grouping, similarities and differences.
  • Help students connect new words and information to pre-existing knowledge.
  • Use visuals, symbols or photos to help students organize and communicate their thoughts.
  • To facilitate students’ speech intelligibility and expressive language skills, encourage them to slow down while speaking and face their communication partner.
  • Provide descriptive feedback for students when the message is not understood. For example: “You were talking too fast, I didn’t understand where you said you were going after school.” This will also improve the students self-monitoring skills.
Implications for Planning and Awareness
  • Meet with the student and parents early in the school year to discuss how the school can support the student’s needs. This could include finding out about: the student’s strengths, interests and areas of need successful communication strategies used at home or in the community that could also be used at school.
  • Learn as much as you can about how expressive language affects learning and social and emotional well-being. Reading, asking questions and talking to a qualified speech-language pathologist will build your understanding and help you make decisions on how to support the student’s success in the classroom.
  • Review any specialized assessments available, including the most recent speech-language report and the recommendations listed.
  • Collaborate with the school and/or jurisdictional team to identify and coordinate any needed consultation, supports such as speech therapy, or augmentative communication and assessments.

Unfortunately students with expressive language disorder may only experience social problems because of they cannot effectively communicate their ideas and feelings. Here are some strategies you can use as a to help students with expressive language disorder.

1. Conversations
Students with expressive language disorder may need to be reminded to participate appropriately in conversations. Things like greeting people, answering and asking questions, starting or maintaining a conversation are all things that you may work on with your student.

2. Skills
There are certain communication skills that we may take for granted that a student with expressive language disorder may struggle with. Teaching these students to do things like read body language is important. Role playing can be used, or story telling.

Implications for Social and Emotional Well-being
  • Engage the student and parents in planning for transitions between grade levels, different schools and out of school.
  • The student may have difficulty with social and conversational skills. Teach the language to use in specific social communication situations, such as:
    • greeting people and starting a conversation
    • asking and answering questions
    • asking for help or clarification.
  • Explicitly teach social communication skills, such as how to read body language and expressions. Use direct instruction along with modelling, storytelling and role-play.
  • Provide support in transitioning from one activity or place to another. Cues, routines and purposeful activity during transitions may be helpful so that the student clearly understands what to do.
As a teacher who has had student graduate from Lakewood High School, I have to share their wonderful Lip Dub they created this year. Way to go Tigers!! There Roar will put a smile on your face. Have a great week

Lakewood High School Lip Dub 2013 - Roar from Lakewood High School on Vimeo.

A Timer and a Freebie

The last month or so I've had a wonderful time reviewing a produce from SmileMakers. I use timers for everything. I have a stash. Everyone laughs because I often have two or three timers out for groups-one for me for the group time; one for a specific task that they do daily like sounds and letters; and a third should a student need a minute or two. This year I have several students who need visual support to manage time. I reviewed the Time Tracker
Visual Timer & Clock.

I loved:
  • 3 colored lights and 6 sound effects that alert children to time remaining
  • Helps students learn to manage time 
  •  Viewing and a large, easy-to-read LCD display
  • Time break down: 80%, 15%, and 5%
Some challenges the timer has:
  • Poor directions; not easy to change times
  • The main drawback is that the controls are awkward
  • Engineering is horrible
  • No AC Adapter and to use 4 AA batteries
There is both a manual and an automatic mode, but they are both pretty similar. "Manual" means you set the amount of time for each phase, along with the optional sounds. "Automatic" means you set the total time, and the percentage of the total for each phase. Once you have a standard one set, you can reuse it but if you need to change it you have to do some button-pushing.

My students love when I use the timer. It has helped students manage their time for projects and settle my students with autism. With the programming challenges, I would only this product if you always want to use the same time span. I say this because you can set a default time which is relatively easy to reuse. Once set, I added voice warnings to tell students when the colors had changed. This is probably my favorite feature of the timer. When I'm working with students, I'm not always in sight of the timer and can hear it and check in with students from wherever I happen to be in the room. I love that SmileMakers has a program designed with a teachers budget in mind.

I love that SmileMakers offers Teacher Perks, added savings, just for teachers. Teachers will receive free shipping with any order of $49 or more or $4.99 flat rate shipping with any order of $48.99 or less. Teachers will also get special private sales & free gift offers. You don't even have to bother with a coupon code: if they're teachers, they will qualify for the free shipping offer!

It's been a while since I've had a freebie. This one is two closed syllable real and nonsense words and fluency work. These cards can be used for Wilson, Just Words, or small group syllable practice.

Spelling Apps

I was not a good speller growing up. I was never given strategies to help me just list after list and sentence after sentence in the hopes that I could become a great speller.  I think it was when my family bought our first computer did I begin to see some light. But I still had to work at it. Even today, I type everything, but that does little when it comes to teaching spelling. I have created a list of spelling apps that I use with students to help them practice spelling.

Phonetically Regular, One-Syllable Words

Sound Beginnings by Preschool University

 This app matches pictures at the beginning, middle and ends of consonant-vowel-consonant words and by matching letters to sounds. By touching the letter, the user can hear the associated sound; touching pictures allows the player to hear the name of the picture.

ABC Spelling Magic Short Vowel Words by Preschool University

The Word Building game includes only the three letters needed; the Moveable Alphabet includes all letters. Consonants are in red; vowels are in blue. Touching the letters reveals the sound. Touch the picture to hear the word; then drag letters into the boxes under the picture to spell the word. Incorrect spellings won’t stick! The letters of correctly spelled words blend into the word.

ABC Spelling Magic 2 Consonant Blends by Preschool University

ABC Spelling Magic, Spelling Magic 2 focuses on beginning and ending consonant blends and double letter spellings (e.g., ff, ll, ss). Touching the picture reveals the oral word; touching the spaces below the picture reveals the sounds; touching the letters reveals the corresponding sounds.

ABC Spelling Magic 4 Silent Final e by Preschool University

In the Short/Long Vowel game, the CVC picture and word appear first (e.g., cap). When the player drags the final silent e into place, the picture changes (cape) and the corresponding word is spoken.

Simplex Spelling Phonics 1

Students learn how to spell the words on the given lists and also learn common patterns in spelling, which will help them spell words that aren't included on the app's embedded lists. The voice commands are clear and helpful, as are the color clues and clearly laid out spelling rules that pop up when players choose to get a hint on the words they misspell. This app supports multiple users, so it's easy to keep track of progress for each student. The app comes close to matching Wilson Reading Systems scope and sequence.

Phonetically Regular, Two-Syllable Words

ABC Spelling Magic 3 by Preschool University

This app builds two-syllable words with 4 – 5 letters. Most are closed syllables, but a few examples have open syllables.

High Frequency Words

English Words 1-300: Everyone Learns by Teacher Created Materials ($8.99)

This app offers seven interactive games and four learning activities designed to read and spell 300 of the most common high frequency words. Touch the robot to hear the word; then write the word below. Then tap the check at the end of the word to hear the word pronounced and spelled. Instant feedback will not let you make a mistake. At any time, the player can easily access oral instructions and tap the words to hear them pronounced. Images and sound are professionally produced.

Customized Word Lists

 SpellingCity by SpellingCity

Although the provided word lists are not particularly useful for increasing spelling achievement, one can easily create customized lists to suit any purpose. This is particularly useful for students learning to spell advanced words. On a PC, the adult creates an account at Then one can easily create a new list with a specific focus. After the words are entered, one selects definitions and sentences or creates original text. Once done, users can play a game on the iPad or computer.

These are the ones that I have tried-some I love and a few my students dislike but I have seen their spelling improve over time. I'd love to hear of others--please share. Have a great week.

Fluency Goal Setting

Today, was an early release day. On these days, the Intervention Team doesn't meet with groups but with teachers to talk about any concerns they have about students. One common theme from today's meeting was setting meaningful, attainable, but growth producing SMART goals. I was surprised that of the teachers I talked with today, setting these types of goals was very foreign to them.

In the past we have done SMART goals but I think it was the fact the goals had to have real teeth and challenging but reachable as well. This is a balance that even after ten year of writing IEP goals, I struggle with. I wish someone had taken the time way back then to teach me how to do it without needing tons of time to get it done.

So, how do you set short term meaningful and attainable goals that also growth producing. Very carefully. The key is to compare apples to apples and not apples to oranges. For example: if looking at reading fluency then the goal needs to include comparing the student to their same grade level peers. Take a third grade student whose DIBELS grade level oral reading fluency is well below benchmark then the student needs a goal at grade level comparing them to their grade level peers.

Why??? Is this how you begin to make a case that the student may need to be looked at for special education.

With that grade level information you can now create a SMART goal that has punch. As a general rule of thumb, I like setting mine in 4 week blocks and then create a new goal.

In most cases, I set fluency goals with a 2 more words a week growth. When I set the next goal, I may not use the same number--I usually increase the number. All of the students that I progress monitor for fluency works, I do so at grade level. Over the years, I have been told not too that I should progress monitor off level but then I not no idea if what I was doing was working. These days its standard practice.

I wish classroom teachers would understand its okay if they don't make it--it helps build a body of evidence. In my state that means that the things teachers do and the data they collect is way, way more important than what happens after talking about special education.

Wilson Reading System New Thoughts

This year, I'm starting with two groups of Wilson Reading Systems. For ALL of them they have been through more than a year of it and have MANY bad habits. One group, is starting back in Book 1, page 2 for at least the second because they can't read and spell the words fluently. These guys have only two strategies to decode words--tapping and sounding words out. The thing that makes Wilson a great reading system in cutting students off from using those strategies.

So, this year I have cut them off. No more tapping or sounding CVC words out. Yes, that's right no more! But this means I had to give them a new strategy to use. Well, that's been "Chunky Monkey." Those of you familiar with Book 1 page 2--you know it starts with short a and only a handful of letters. That's all you need to rhyme. When I started on Friday with this strategy, they were very shocked that I was taking the security blanket away but by the time we were done Friday they were beginning to believe me--they didn't need it.

Finding the balance between having them tap and sound out when first moving into a new substep and when to cut them off if very hard. These guys couldn't move on to reading more difficult material because they didn't know what else to use. Will, "Chunky Monkey" always be the answer no but as they move through (I hope) the other steps they will learn other strategies to decode words they don't know.

Besides charting and encoding work, how do I know they are "getting it." Simple. All my groups have learning targets and as part of that target is a quick self-assessment. This group uses Robert Marzano's Assessment for Student Learning. Each student has a clothespin and on their way out the door they put their clip where they think it should go.

 I can then go back later and record they responds. Currently, I'm using Easy Assessment. So far, after I have put the groups and kids plus my rubrics in, I can track how they are scoring themselves and share the information with others. Last year, I used Google, I had problems when it came to sharing the information with others and seeing how students progressed throughout lessons and over a month.

This version of Marzano's Assessment for Student Learning, is available here at my TpT Store for purchase. It has both the wall version but also posters.

I hope everyone is off to a great school year. My thoughts and prayers go out to my fellow Coloradans up north. We have blue skies and warming up before winter comes knocking.

High Frequency Words

The last two weeks have been NUTS. Pulling schedules together at the beginning of the year is always crazy but in the last two week I had days where both mine and my para's schedule changed twice before lunch. Really-I have to say--I just want to get started and not deal with that mess. But I think it's finial all worked out and I can get down to business.

When my building does flext testing, one things that all students kindergarten to fourth grade are tested on the 500 High Frequency words. The hope being like with phonics instruction that ALL students know all of them and it becomes a non issue when students move through the RTI process. This year, I have taken that insane list word words and broken it down into groups of fifty and color coded them. Creating Super Hero High Frequency Words.

Each fifty words is a different color with word cards, graphes for reading and spelling, and labels to for students to brag about their accomplishment. I have added two of my favorite fluency building games one with dice and the other uses a timer and can be built of specific student needs. This packet is perfect for RTI and small groups. You can find at my store here.

I'm giving away three to the first three people of leave a comment on my blog. Make sure you leave your email address, so I can send you your freebie. Have a great week. Stay cool!!

Assessing without Language

A little background-This year, I have a student with autism who has limited verbal skills. This poses a small problem when being assessed on the DRA. As all my fellow teachers know the first part of the book is read aloud (depending on the level some more than others) with the comprehension either completed verbally or in writing.

In small group, he has had great success when he has prompts like the 5 "W's" or when he does his retell in pictures. But because the district has said, it must be administered as per the directions-which don't provide accommodations for these sort of things. My team and I have been working on coming up with ways that we could get a better idea of where he is truly an independent reader. Even though we have to us the DRA as written, we can create a way that takes the verbal piece mostly out of the picture and use that to drive his instruction.

My hope is that I'll have a product that will drive instruction and not just a DRA number. The student I designed this form has been out sick. So I'll have more to share next week. Have a great long weekend.

Beginning of the Year iPad apps

Throughout the previous school year, I collected 200 plus apps for student use. The problem-well-there is no way we would use all of them. So I had to come up with a plan on how I wanted to start the year off. That plan had to include attacking SAMR.

With the exception of a couple, I went with apps that I had students use the most. These should get use up and running. All the apps are on the first page with folders containing math games, off limits stuff, and apps that can be used later on. The ones on the first page are the ones we used the most last year. I'm hoping this will make it easier to find apps, and easy to add and change out as I need to. I love using the flowchart (below) to help me plan and make decisions on using iPads. Stay tuned for how I have students use them as the year begins. Have a great weekend.

Back 2 School Sale & Freebie

I reported this past Monday. Things have been nuts. I have a new team mate and new leadership again this year. So I'm little CRAZY right now. I've spent my week in training but I have a little freebie to help out your classroom teachers know a little about their IEPs. Yes, they should read the IEPs but we all know how nuts those the first week is.They don't have time to talk, since they have to get rooms ready before Back to School night. But knowing something of them as they are getting up and running is huge. I leave this with them and get back to them by the end of the first week. By Friday they are a little less nuts.

Everything in my store will be on sale Sunday and Monday. Make sure to check out the Special Education Binder (it has all the forms you you need and is editable) the first 2 units for 1st Grade Math Investigations Units are backwards planned and ready for daily lesson planning and

My fellow Colorado Bloggers and Pinners are also selling on TpT have some great products that you should check out:

Jean Martin's best selling novel study for Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  It is is wonderful book and teaches kids of all ages about tolerance and acceptance for kids who are different. Also promotes the understanding that who we are on the inside is what really counts.  This is a 5-8 novel study.

Kristy Morris's kindergarten one and second grade writing journals are a big hit with her students.

Naomi O'Brien's Common Core Main Idea unit is perfect for 1st and 2nd graders. Main Idea can be tricky for some kids! I used these sheets for morning work and had my kids confident about knowing what the main idea of a story was. 

Kristin Holmquist's "Find Someone Who" Math Bundle. Is perfect for 2nd to 4th graders.  It's a great way to review math concepts at the end of the unit, or as a "refresher" anytime throughout the year. The best part is kids are up and out of their seats, working together, and learning from each other. 

Cecelia's, First Grade ELA and Math Common Core Morning Work. This is one of my top selling products.  It is so easy to use and assures teachers that students will be working on many Common Core Standards. For Math, it addresses 1. O.A.,1. N.B.T, I.M.D. and 1.G and in language arts,  the Common Core ELA Standards this morning work addresses  are 1 L.1, 1L.2, 1 R.L. 7, 1R. F. S. 1, 1R. F. S. 2, 1R. F. S. 3, and 1R. F. S. 4.  The product is is mostly back and white, so it will cost less to print. This 24 page product is what you need to keep kids busy while practicing skills so you can do all that you need to in the a.m. without interruption.

To save money, you can purchase the entire year's worth of morning work at a 10% discount {not including the TPT Back to School Sale discount of 28%}.  So on August 18 and 19, using code BTS13, it will be an amazing 38% off:

Pamela Kranz's Math Games Galore Bundle.  It's a collection of my favorite math computation, order of operations and place value games.  I love these games because they're easily differentiated, work well in a variety of learning situations (centers, solitaire, team challenges, whole class, homework), and are easy to leave for a substitute once the class knows how to play.  They're appropriate for grades 4-8.

Brenda Martin's language review week to week is aligned with Common Core.  It is an interchangeable bulletin board that helps students practice skills in a center type style. I really like this product because it covers so many standards and is so easy for teachers!

Wanting ice cream, then Ashlyn Ellsworth's states of matter pack fits the bill. I love this product because first off I use it with my first graders and made this because there wasn't much out there to meet my science needs! The pack is easy to use and the kids love it. The science experiments are great.

Have fun shopping. I have a great week coming up and looking forward to seeing my students again. Enjoy the end of school and getting back to school.

Teaching Above the Line

I'm sure I'm not alone when it comes down to downing apps with the promise to play with them all later. Figure out which ones will work best for what and which ones are not so good. So in the ten months since I received my iPads I figure I have downloaded close to 200+ apps. Some great and others I wish I got remove from my cloud.

I prefer having my apps organized by Bloom's thinking which they have been since the beginning. (I talk about that in an earlier post there.) The problem was that keeping them all organized was tough. This year I'm moving to more SAMR thinking, so the apps that I want my students to be need to provide more than one way of thinking. Many are student favorites like Explain Everything and Haiku Deck. Others are plug and play like magnetic letters and all the math practice apps.

The plan this year is to "Teach Above the Line" when students use technology.  The apps I have pulled together represent a couple from each bubble with the plan being that these are the apps students will use the most and are now easy to find since they are not buried.

With hope, I will not take students to long to understand how we use apps when they come and I get some great products.  I'm back to school soon. Keep an eye out for my up-coming sale at my Teacher pay Teachers store. Enjoy summer while it lasts.

Common Core App

I have to share  a new app that I stumbled upon last week that I LOVE. Now I'm not one to pay for apps let alone twenty dollars for one. But I have to say Mentoring Minds Common Core K-12 Math app had everything I was looking in one place. The app is broken into three pieces: the K-12 Math Standards, Strategies and Vocabulary. 

 The standards are color coded and are broken down for easy navigation. From this menu, I can open up the standards to the specific grade level targets.

 The piece that I really love is once I open the specific target are the strategies. They provide other ideas in how to work on the target. From there I have the option to enter notes, precursors and successors for that target. I love that fact that I don't have to go looking to for the information what skills they should have mastered todo the grade level skill. And if students have mastered the grade level skill how to push the skill to the next level. I can send the task to classroom teachers with the share button. Mentoring Minds highlights if there is something they don't need to  know at a specific grade level. (Love this!)

The second section Strategies  has tons of information from accommodations and management to RTI and Critical Thinking. Each one has a page of ideas that can be easily implemented. Think twenty books in one place-makes planning with twenty books to one app. Just like there flipped charts in all right there. No more trying to remember where my Depth of Knowledge chart is or where the question stems are Bloom's.

 The last section Vocabulary covers all the common core math words that students need to know. I wish that there were pictures to support the words. But having short and simple definitions makes planning word walls easier.

I was very unsure when I bought this app that it would have everything I was looking for. As you can see you get tons for the twenty dollars.  I have bought the ELA app as well but have not played with it but understand it is set-up the same way. I'm cheap when it comes to buying apps but I love this one just for the simple fact that the strategies and what comes before and after the target are outlined for me. Its less stuff to find or to bring home when I'm planning. This app has been helpful when planning math for one of my tutoring clients. I can't wait to use the app when school starts.

I'm enjoying the last days of my summer break. Happy End of Summer and Beginning of the School Year.

About Me

Welcome to my all thing special education blog. I empower busy elementary special education teachers to use best practice strategies to achieve a data and evidence driven classroom community by sharing easy to use, engaging, unique approaches to small group reading and math. Thanks for Hopping By.

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