Showing posts with label reading. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reading. Show all posts

Why Unlocking Vocabulary is Key to Bridging the Gap for Students

The hard thing about waiting three months for iReady's classroom diagnostic data is not knowing how students will do after 10 weeks of intervention.

My state and building use iReady diagnostics three times a year for READ Plans and intervention data. (more on come on iReady-both loves and dislikes)

As a special education teacher, I only use this data to compare students to their peer group and see what kind of gains they had over the year. (I have a whole blog post coming on how my building uses iReady.)

My building relies on this information to make predictions about State testing outcomes and interventions.

For me, I look at the overall gains my students make on the five categories assessed each time. This year, I made a huge shift to building and creating a solid foundation in phonemic awareness and phonics. 

The macro data showed students made huge gains when using both Heggerty and Yoshimoto Orton-Gillingham. We lived in controlled decodable and built vocabulary through morphology. 

What didn’t improve???

Student’s vocabulary 

On iReady, students’ scores either dropped or maintained. 

I’m the first to tell you that you should never, ever make significant instructional decisions on a single piece of data. It could take you off a cliff.

But if you layer in IEP goal data and it shows everyone either made or is on target to meet their goals well within their IEP cycle …

Could layering in something, not a change continue that growth????

Could it support and build students’ vocabulary and not have all the growth drop off???

Why Focus on Vocabulary

When I explain the five reading components to parents, I use a pyramid. Phonemic awareness and phonics are the base of the pyramid. With vocabulary and comprehension coming after. Fluency is needed across all. 

To get to the top of the pyramid, word-level comprehension is needed before moving to sentence, paragraph, chapter, etc. You see where it goes. 

But what happens when you have weak word-level vocabulary????

What then? Let me explain how I landed here ...

All my phonics kiddos were placed in Orton-Gillingham. As the year progressed, the pacing of these groups slowed. In some cases stopping for a week or so on a concept, or phonogram or just working to get them unconfused. (English is so confusing.) 

As lessons got more complex and the more layers students had to work with the more, I noticed other holes. Looking back at my lesson notes and comments about student progress within lessons it became more obvious that vocabulary was one thing students were struggling with.

To be clear, I'm not talking about Tier 3 subject-specific words. I'm talking about Tier 1 words--like chair, boil, broil, etc. (here is my previous post on Vocabulary Tiers)

Yes, about half of those I pull for OG do receive pull-out language support from a Speech-Language Pathologist.

The funny (or head-banging) thing about all their iReady Vocabulary score was the “can dos” all said to teach 5 words and all through read-aloud. (This is a great idea for classroom teachers; not so much for specialists.)

What Does the Research Say

The Science of Reading (SoR) is an evidence-based approach to teaching reading that is grounded in research from cognitive psychology, linguistics, and neuroscience. It emphasizes the importance of systematically teaching foundational skills to help students become proficient readers. One crucial aspect is phonemic awareness, which involves recognizing and manipulating individual sounds in spoken words. 

By explicitly teaching students to understand the connection between letters and sounds through phonics instruction, they can decode words and read fluently. It's essential to provide activities that engage students in segmenting, blending, and manipulating sounds in words to strengthen their phonemic awareness and phonics skills.

Phonemic awareness refers to the ability to identify and manipulate individual sounds in spoken words. It is a critical skill that helps students understand the connection between letters and sounds. Phonics instruction teaches students the relationship between letters and sounds, enabling them to decode words and read fluently. Teachers should provide explicit instruction in these skills, using activities that involve segmenting, blending, and manipulating sounds in words.

Scarbourough's Reading Rope Model of Reading
Fluency is the ability to read accurately, quickly, and with expression. It is developed through repeated practice and exposure to a wide range of texts. Teachers can support fluency by providing opportunities for independent reading, modeling fluent reading, and using strategies like echo reading or choral reading. Vocabulary instruction is also crucial for reading comprehension. Teachers should explicitly teach new words, provide context clues, and encourage students to use strategies like word analysis and context to understand unfamiliar words.

Comprehension involves understanding and making meaning from text. Teachers can support comprehension by explicitly teaching strategies such as predicting, questioning, summarizing, and making connections. These strategies help students engage with the text, monitor their understanding, and make inferences. It is also essential to promote metacognition, encouraging students to think about their thinking and monitor their comprehension. By incorporating these strategies into instruction, teachers can help students become active and proficient readers.

What Does this Mean

SoR and Scarborough's Rope Model of Reading bring a new light to an old question surrounding phonics and vocabulary. The question is how to layer something in that doesn’t take away from the gains students have made.

I don’t know why this group of students have a weak vocabulary. I could blame COVID–these students were remote and hybrid during COVID. It could be the lack of direct, explicit instruction surrounding Tier 1 and Tier 2 vocabulary. Or it could be the lack of helping students make connections to previously taught vocabulary to new words.

Coming this semester, I’ll share how I plan to attack this and build students’ Tier 1 and Tier 2 vocabulary. I hope to find actionable, tangible ways for students to make gains that don’t take tons of time to get the most bang for my buck as a special education teacher all while doing my job as their special education teacher. 

Chat soon-

How I use games to increase students' phonics word level fluency

I sat with my grade level team, reviewing this month’s oral reading fluency data and they could not stop asking me how I moved my group. 

In a word – games. 

The team had decided to work on accuracy instead of words correct. (I’m not sure there is a great way to increase reading fluency but okay I’m in.) Sometimes starting small is way better than not starting at all and this group has never ventured into the world of using one's data for anything. 


This year, grade-level teams are working with our Coach to create monthly data-based goals. We just started using Benchmark Advanced, so teams are looking at all the reading data and making a decision on a long and short-term plan. (For most of the teams I work with–this is the 1st time they have really looked at and done anything with their classroom data.)

This one, as much as I’m shaking my head, I can see a place where I can layer in additional fluency work at the word level with their students and not sacrifice fidelity.

Over the years, I have moved the oral reading fluency scores in a variety of ways. I have never found something that works with most of the students I support for reading.  From repeated readings to focusing on specific words, nothing works for all the students in a group. 

All my reading groups this year are OG. I live and breathe OG, which means there is a precise lesson plan and very little room to add “other” things. I’m not sure how many really get this. This year, teachers want me to fix everything. 

I use Yoshimoto. I really love the flexibility it gives me. I dislike the amount of flexibility it gives me but I can lay out each group's scope and sequence and add my “others” as I need to. Mind you within reason. 

Last year, I began working in very specific game days to target word-level fluency. These days tended to be on Fridays (aka Fun Friday).  When a Game Tub in tow, students played Crocodile Dentist and Squeaky Squirrel.

Slowly, the sounding out loud stopped. The confidence in the learning target increased. Slowly, the syllable understanding increased. And then the accuracy scores changed. Then the big daddy of them all, the iReady Phonics scores started to move. 

Now, was this all by adding game time to their practice do this. I have no way of knowing. But what I do know is that if students are engaged and motivated then everything falls into place.

Reflecting on this growth over the summer, led me to add phrases and sentences based on the skill being taught. You can find my game pieces in my store to begin building self-confidence, language skills, and word-level fluency in your students.

My students do have their favorites but I make a point to rotate them about every month. 

The cool thing about all of the game pieces is that it is super easy to differentiate the cards depending on who is in the group and what each student needs to work on. 

Nothing like being able to stack the deck. lol

ROAR–CVC, CCVC, CVCC is built using pictures to support the words from Smarty Symbols but you also get cards with no pictures.

You can play with just CVC or CVCC with and without pictures.


When I have a group working on Five and Six sounds. I pull out Melt. Then students can work on real and nonsense words. You can add easier words to build fluency or a couple of compound words to make it more interesting.


If it’s a Monday after a long weekend, I like to play Crocidle Dentist. You have to set a timer or the whole time is gone before you know it! It’s a great way to build just fluency before he closes his mouth. This game is perfect for a quick push to help students move from sounding words out aloud to a more grade-appropriate strategy.

Click on any picture to check them out for yourself. Your students will love any of them. 

What games do your students like to play?

Chat soon,

Evidence Based Practices and the Big 5

Remember the Elementary Secondary Education Act defines evidence-based practices as those “effective educational strategies supported by evidence and research”.  When teachers use evidence-based practices with fidelity, they can be confident their teaching is likely to support student learning.

Evidence-based practices in education are the same.  They are backed by rigorous, high-standard research, replicated with positive outcomes, and backed by their effects on student outcomes.  EBPs take the guesswork out of teaching by providing specific approaches and programs that improve student performance.  There is frustration in teaching when you cannot find a way to help your student learn.  You try one thing and then another and another and they are not having positive outcomes for your student.  EBPs have proven outcomes on students’ performance and can make finding and implementing an effective practice less frustrating.

Using evidence-based practices (EBPs), with special education students especially, is a critical feature of improving their learning outcomes.  When teachers combine their expertise as content knowledge experts with explicit instruction and practices and programs backed by research, the likelihood that a child will grow academically is increased.

A quick history lesson

We all love or hate the Big 5. 

BUT..... without them

Congress appointed a National Reading Panel (NPR) in 1997 to review reading research and determine the most effective methods for teaching reading. The NRP reviewed over 100,000 studies and analyzed them to see what techniques actually worked in teaching children to read. The group only looked at quantitative studies, which gathered data in a numerical form and through structured techniques. Qualitative studies, which gather data through observations such as interviews were not included. In 2000 the NRP submitted their final report. The results became the basis of the federal literacy policy at that time, which included “No Child Left Behind.” We still base our understanding of evidence-based reading research on the NPR, but sadly, some of their major recommendations have been largely ignored. So what were their findings? They concluded that there were five essential components to reading, known as “The Big Five:”

  1. Explicit instruction in Phonemic Awareness.
  2. Systematic Phonics Instruction.
  3. Techniques to improve Fluency. These include guided oral reading practices where the student reads aloud and the teacher makes corrections when the student mispronounces a word. A teacher can also model fluent reading to the student. Fluency includes accuracy, speed, understanding, and prosody. Word calling is not the same as fluency. 
  4. Teaching vocabulary words or Vocabulary Development. 
  5. Reading Comprehension.
Teaching a student to read is like building a house, and you need to lay a foundation first of all. Without the foundation, the building is unstable and will eventually fall down. That foundation is Phonemic Awareness. Phonemic awareness is the understanding that all spoken words are made up using a subset of about 44 individual sounds, called phonemes. Mastery of the skill of phonemic awareness has to be to the point of automaticity in order for fluency to be developed. 

On top of this comes systematic Phonics. Children learn that the sounds in spoken words relate to the patterns of letters in written words. Not just mastery of the skills of systematic phonics, but automaticity in those skills, is also necessary for fluency to develop. 

With these two layers in place and developed to the point of automaticity, techniques to improve Fluency can begin to be effective.

Vocabulary Development can be built next, including learning the meaning of new words through direct and indirect instruction, and developing tools like morphemic analysis, to discover the meaning of an unknown word.  

Then Comprehension Skills can be added. Comprehension skills are the strategies a reader can use to better comprehend a text. 

This is the foundation of reading, but it is also the foundation of education generally. Every subject is dependent on reading, and mastery of these subjects depends on developing a strong foundation in these early literacy skills.

As I continue to explore Evidenced-Based Practices, I will use the “Big 5” to share how they can be developed, and provide some resources that you can take back and use.

Chat Soon,

Have to Teach Phonics? How???


Ask a teacher about teaching phonics and a look of dread washes over them. For many of us--we never learned to teach phonics while in our teacher education programs. For others, it was a literacy coach who brought over "the box" and said teach it. 

What's the big deal?!

Phonics has become the cornerstone for young readers. Phonics instruction has become the most controversial of all areas of reading education over the last ten years. Once the only aspect of reading instruction, it has now become one of five important components of reading education (with phonemic awareness, reading comprehension, vocabulary instruction and fluency building making up the other four areas).  {thinking decoding strategies such as "Lips" and "Stretchy the Snake.} Grab my FREE Decoding Strategies posters here.

The goal of reading is making meaning from text. So, how is phonics related to comprehension?

Phonics instruction plays a vital rule in helping students understand what they are reading. Phonics instruction helps the child to map sounds onto spellings. Decoding words aids in the development and improvement in word recognition. The stronger a student's decoding skills mean they are reading more and have a great word recognition bucket to pull from. In turn, increasing their vocabulary skills and reading fluency.

To learn words by sight, it's critical that students have many opportunities to decode words in a text. The more times a reader encounters a word in a text, the more likely they are to recognize it by sight and to avoid making a reading error.

Reading fluency improves reading comprehension. When students are no longer struggling with decoding words, they can devote their full attention to making meaning from text. As the vocabulary and concept demands increase in a text, students need to be able to devote more and more attention to making meaning from text, and increasingly less attention to decoding. If students have to devote too much time to decoding words, their reading will be slow and labored. This will result in comprehension difficulties.

What order should phonics be taught?

I teach phonics based on the 7 syllable types. I also make a point to teach spelling at the same time. I don't move on to the next skill until students demonstrate mastery in BOTH reading the words fluently and spelling with at least 90% accuracy. 

Start with Closed Syllables--Consonants and a Vowel {CVC} plus at least 50 sight words
Still working with Closed Syllables--add digraphs and continuing to add sight words
After digraphs move to Doubles, then Consonant Blends, and ng and nk patterns

As students master 3 letters move them on to other Closed Syllable Patterns: CCVC, CVCC, CCVCC, and don't forget about compound and multi-syllable closed {sunset or napkin}

Once students have mastered Closed Syllables move on to Vowel Consonant Silent E.  Work through this syllable type on vowel at a time--make sure students have masted one before moving on to the next. Make sure to work through mixing the vowels up before moving onto multi-syllables {fireman or pothole}

Then moving into Open Syllables such as flu, my, sky

Vowel Teams, I find are the tricky ones. I brake them into small pieces and teach like sounds together and then mix them together as students master the pairs. 

R-Controlled and Diphthongs, I teach the same way I do Vowel Teams--in very small chunks.

The last syllable type of C+le, I don't always get to (since I only have them for a couple of years), I start small with words they know and grow their list from there.

I teach phonics much like to teach guided reading. I do, we do, and you do. 

What about my students who struggle with reading? What can I do?

For students who struggle with decoding, often too much is taught too fast. Work at a pace that allows students to achieve mastery. Remember, the goal is teaching to mastery rather than just exposure. And provide loads of decodable text reading practice. Students can never get enough opportunities reading easy texts that contain many words with newly taught sound-spellings. Repeated readings of these texts will also be helpful.

Other things I do to help students achieve mastery is playing games. I provide students with syllable specific word games. Check these out. My students beg for more time to play and they are designed to be extra practice and can easily be added to literacy centers for students to play on their own!!  You can find them in Teachers pay Teachers Store.

Chat Soon,

Learn to Read: Giveaway and Giftcard

Learning to read is an exciting time for children and their families. For many parents, helping their
child learning to read established a pattern for their involvement in their child's education.

Parents can help their children with the reading process by providing high-quality educational materials, establishing a pattern of daily reading, instructing through guided reading activity, creating a rich language environment, discussing a child’s progress with teachers, and following up on their recommendations.

Learning to read is the culmination of a great many learned skills and developmental processes. Learning to read is a long-term program.

Just as children start with tee ball before playing baseball, there are specific steps in learning to read. Trying to teach the steps out of sequence can inadvertently frustrate your child (and you). For instance, prior to successfully learning phonics, the child should master a set of pre-reading skills including understanding basic print concepts, discerning the sounds, understanding that words are made up of sounds which they need to think about as interchangeable parts, and memorizing the alphabet. To help parents understand the steps in learning to read, Hannah Braun has created that with her new book "Learn to Read: Activity Book"

Her 101 lessons are created for you to involve all the children’s learning styles and modalities.
"Learn to Read" can serve as a supplementary curriculum for children learning to read.

Hannah Braun's "Learn to Read" Activity Book, does just that. It's perfect for teaching students to read starting with fun and interactive lessons. The short: over the 101 short lessons you move through explicit lessons that clear instructions that review previously taught material.

Start at


  • Lessons are broken into 3 sections--I do (things you model), We do (things to do together), You do (things the student does on their own).
  • Built-in Review every 5 lessons
  • Students learn not only the vowels and consonants but also word families and blends
  • Directions for each lesson are clear and to the point--anyone can do it!!
  • Ideas for where to go next when you are done
  • Whole word practice

What I Wish

  • The pages were perforated for easier gameplay and instruction

You can enter to win your copy of Hannah's new book "Learn to Read" and a $25 Gift card from Teachers pay Teachers below. A winner will be chosen by April 10th and notified by email. (Disclosure: I was compensated for my review with a free copy to review and use with my students.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Until Next Time,

Appy Hour Tuesday: Reading Fluency

We all have a love-hate relationship with reading fluency. Though all students benefit from fluency work, focused activities like repeated reading (for the millionth time) especially help struggling, word-by-word readers, word callers, and readers who sound fluent but lack comprehension. (Does your need some freshening up like mine?--KEEP READING)

As a whole--struggling readers have spent more instructional time learning decoding skills at the word level than reading connected text. Meaning??? Because of all hard word put into accurate word-by-word reading readers are using all their mental energies during a first reading, struggling readers benefit from activities that require them to do a second, third and even fourth or fifth reading. Hence why repeated reading are so important but get soooo boring for students as they focus on the sound of the language and the meaning. In this way, their reading becomes smoother and they continue to build comprehension skills.

Repeated readings also help word callers--readers who are skilled at decoding but do not focus on reading words in an expressive way to show what the text means. Having them practice the same text, their mindset changes from just getting through the reading to actually making sense of it through presenting it aloud in a meaning way.

What does this have to do technology?

Well?? What it is: 16 cute faces that react to sound, for example by opening their eyes and mouth wider, varying their reaction to correspond to the volume of the sound: The louder the sound, the greater the reaction from the faces. The length of the reaction also corresponds to the sound: The longer the sound, the longer the face is held in reaction mode. This app is free and it works on iPhone, iPad and iPod-touch.  Oh and it's super fun to watch the faces change in response to sound!

Some specific examples (not an exhaustive list):

  1. After going over intelligibility strategies of putting stress on each syllable and exaggerating each sound, practice a word list, starting with some automatic ones like days of the week, with the goal of getting maximum reaction from the app's faces for each syllable (not trailing off). Accuracy can be measured by how many of the words got equally strong reactions from the app's faces for each syllable.
  2. Practice phrases and mark the stressed elements with prolongation and increased volume, as measured by the reaction from this app. The list of phrases could include ones. The emphasis on the word different words should be apparent from the Bla | Bla | Bla app's reaction to volume and duration. 
  3. And repeated reading

Check out the poetry work using Bla Bla Bla by my students this year

Visual indicator of volume and speed can help pace and shape prosody. Affecting these characteristics of speech has been shown to increase fluency (using metronomes and delayed feedback all provide auditory feedback on pacing and affect prosody, but visual feedback, in the form of pointing to a word being read for example, has also been shown to be effective). Therefore using visual feedback such as this app to increase awareness of prosody and pacing to shape fluency is within supported reason, so to speak.

Want more AppyHour to use with your students?? Check out my FREE Email AppSmashing Course.


Until Next Time,

P.S. Did you grab your FREEBIE--it's perfect to use with Bla Bla Bla!!

Reluctant Reader? Here's Some Ideas

Every parent and teacher wants their children to be avid readers. Because we know the benefits of reading we want our children to embrace it as we have. While a good many students do become excited and engaged in reading, some are reluctant and disinterested. While a student may not show a natural interest in reading, this does not mean they cannot become a skilled and even enthusiastic reader. There are a number of things you can do to help engage reluctant readers.

For many students, reading just doesn't come easily. Some have difficulty connecting letters and their corresponding sounds. Others have yet to discover a special story that sparks their imagination and shows just how fun reading can be.

For all readers, though, being at ease with letters, their sounds, and words is an important foundation for learning throughout life.

What is a reluctant reader?

A reluctant reader is anyone who does not show interest in reading. There is a wide range within the category of reluctant readers. A reluctant reader may simply be a student who needs to be coaxed into reading texts. It may also be the student who vehemently refuses to read. Reluctant readers sometimes hide their ambivalence towards reading using other behaviors. A teacher may notice that a certain student always becomes the class clown when it is time to begin independent reading. When students mask their negative attitudes towards reading by using other behaviors parents and teachers need to do a little “detective work” to identify the root cause of the problem.

While any student, young or old, male or female can be a reluctant reader the largest number of unenthusiastic readers are adolescent boys. Research shows that a good number of boys who were avid readers in the elementary grades become disinterested in reading during their middle school years.

Try these other simple ways to help them become eager readers:

Start with a student pick. Comics or joke books may not be your first choice to boost literacy, but the reality is they can be very motivating. You will be amazed at a students ability to read something that they really want to read.

Don't worry that these texts may not be substantial enough. They can help students understand some fundamentals. They also help build vocabulary.

Sometimes electronic books (e-books) can help get reluctant readers reading. When a student's become interested in a book, regardless of the format, help make connections between the story and your child's own life.

Read and Reread. Many student's reach for the same books over and over again. That's not only OK, it's a good thing! Through repetition, students learn the text and eventually read it with ease and confidence. Each new reading of the book also may help them notice something new and understand the story a little better.

Read Aloud. Reading aloud to your kids helps them build their vocabularies and introduces new concepts, facts, and ideas. You also show that you enjoy reading for fun, and help them connect sounds with letters on the page. Reading aloud provides together time that you'll all enjoy.

Create opportunities to read and write beyond the pages. Provide kids with many chances to read every day. Write notes and leave them in a lunchbox or in a pocket.

On road trips or errands, play word games that strengthen language skills. You might try "I Spy" or games where you pick a category (like "food") and everyone has to name foods that begin with a certain letter.

Until Next Time,

Inspiration Needed to Innovate??

One of the podcasts I listen to regular is John Spencer from The Creative Classroom. His podcast from last month "We need to Trust Teachers to Innovate" had me thinking about other ways to bring in Design Thinking.

As with previous years, I only see students for 30 to 40 minutes. This means I don't have time to do a full Launch sequence with students. (John Spencer co-created "Launch" with AJ Juliani) We tend to do Design Sprints hitting pieces of the process (check out my Instagram for more). This last one creating a Jack O'Lantern. This lesson was more about feedback and using that feedback to create multiple prototypes before the final version was due.

Getting back to John Spencer's podcast, it got me thinking about how I could innovate reading fluency. It got me thinking about how I could take our choice board and think outside the box like many of my 3rd graders were wanting me to do. As I was thinking about this idea could it really live within my fluency group?

The thing a really like about John is that he is a teacher. He understands everything that goes on within our walls but is ideas push traditional thinking. My takeaway--Innovation of the little things, give voice & choice and take learning outside of the box and off road! My Fluency Choice boards give students a chance to be author, filmmakers, artists, and engineers I'm giving them voice & choice in how they want to build their reading fluency.

Its a blind leap based half in data and half in something needs to change with what they are doing to improve their reading fluency. I'm also stepping into the unknown as I experiment with this idea.

This image John helps me visualize and rationalize my idea in the hopes that I'm not in the weeds. "But here’s the thing: innovation requires you to step into the unknown. If we focus all of our attention on best practices and codify these ideas into tightly packaged curriculum, we will inevitably fail to experiment."

So, I ditched what most would consider a fabulous Tier 3 Reading Fluency technology based Reading Fluency trial based on the fact the data didn't support going and asking for the money to buy the licenses to continue using the program. Talk about being stuck between the data and the need to change my intervention--I went with innovation.

The Choice Board I created uses technology because it will force my students to think outside the box and will make them become artists and filmmakers. And I don't have a problem with this as it fits my students' strengths while they work on their weaknesses. (A bonus in my book!!)

Most of these apps they have used to support reading comprehension, others are new but with a tweak all with tackle fluency. All I added was a dice. Students will roll the dice at least twice over the 30 minutes I have them. All their work will be turned in to Seesaw each day.

One thing John points out is "Have your students publish their work to a real audience. For all the fear surrounding social media, we make a mistake when we say, “avoid this” without saying, “try out this.” Too often, the goal is to avoid a digital footprint at all cost rather than finding ways to create a positive digital footprint."

I have been toying with the idea of having them podcast--going back to Launch. I'm wanting them to see the purpose so they need to launch it to an audience other than me and mom. But I'm not sure.

As I move to paperless with groups, I'm finding ways to bring a touch of innovation to each group. It's the baby steps and knowing its ok to fail. My students and I embrace our mistakes. We use them an evidence that we are learning and work to learn from them. We are all learning to grow from feedback--just like they did with the Jack o'Lanterns.

In both cases, I wanted and found real audiences for my students. This needs to happen for reading fluency. I just have to keep looking. What can you give students voice & choice with to help you innovate in your classroom? Try something... and play!!

Until Next Time,

6 Early Literacy Skills Predict Reading and Writing Success

Its that time of the year when I start planning and thinking how to support incoming preschoolers to kindergarten at the Big Building." These are the ideas I share with parents are they visit my program and get ready for next year.

Early literacy is everything children should know about reading and writing before they can actually read or write. Literacy skills begin developing in the first 5 years of life with a toddler holding and chewing on a book, to wanting a favorite book read over and over, to becoming a preschooler or kindergartner who loves to “read” a story to you from memory.

According to research performed by the National Reading Panel and other experts, young children entering school with specific early literacy skills have the greatest opportunity to become successful readers and writers. Early literacy skills include Vocabulary, Print Motivation, Print Awareness, Narrative Skills, Letter Knowledge, and Phonological Awareness. These important foundational skills are the building blocks for learning to read and write. Children having been exposed to, or having most of these skills, will benefit more from the reading instruction they receive when entering kindergarten than the child with fewer skills or no exposure at all.

Some think their child’s success in reading and writing depends on getting the “right” first grade teacher, but their success really depends on how much they learn at home about reading and writing before entering school. Early experiences with books and language are most critical for future success in literacy. Skills that should be promoted at home:
•             Print Motivation — is taking an interest in and enjoying books. A child with print motivation loves being read to, plays with books, and pretends to write. Trips to the library are fun, motivational, and FREE! Exchange books with other parents with children of your child’s age. Encourage print motivation in your child by making reading a special shared time with you. Make books accessible to your child. Let your child see you enjoying reading. Talk to your child about how we use reading and/or writing almost every minute of the day.
•             Vocabulary — (knowing the names of things) is the most important skill for children to have when learning to read. By the time your child enters school, he/she should know between 3,000-5,000 words. Help develop your child’s vocabulary by reading and rereading a variety of books (fiction and nonfiction) and teaching the names of all the objects in your child’s world.
•             Print Awareness — is a child’s ability to point to the words on the page of a book. It includes learning that writing (in English) follows rules: print moves top to bottom and left to right, and that the person reading is someone that knows what all the letters and words say. Point out and read words to your child everywhere you see them: on signs, advertisements, labels, stores, candies, products, etc.
•             Narrative Skills — help a child understand and tell a story and describe things, like what happened at a birthday party or about a trip to Grandma’s. Parents can help strengthen their child’s narrative skills by asking him/her to tell what is happening in a story or book, instead of always listening to you read. Ask your child to tell you about things he/she has done or will do that involve a regular sequence of steps: getting ready for school, what your family did/will do on vacation, how to play a particular game, etc.
•             Letter Knowledge — is the ability to recognize and name letters (upper and lower case) and produce the sounds they make. Develop your child’s letter knowledge by using lots of fun reading and/or writing activities: pointing out and naming letters in a book, on a sign or on a label; drawing letters in sand or shaving cream; painting letters on paper with brushes, etc. Talk about letters and how some are similar in shape (l, H, F, E, and T or W, M, N, V). Teach the child how to write the letters in his/her name (one letter at a time) when he/she begins using a crayon to draw or “write”. As your child learns each letter, have him/her practice producing the sound the letter makes.

•             Phonological Awareness — is an understanding of hearing and manipulating sounds in words. Phonological awareness includes the ability to hear and create rhymes (bat, cat, gnat, hat, mat, and sat), say words with sounds left out (bat without b is at), and put two word chunks together to make a word (fl + at = flat). Most often, children having difficulty with phonological awareness have trouble learning to read. An understanding of phonological awareness begins with a child’s exposure to and practice with the previous five steps. Phonological awareness is one of the final steps in preparing children for actual reading instruction that begins in kindergarten.

I hope you find these strategies helpful. I'd love to hear how you help parents understand the foundational skills needed to be successful.

What is Effective Comprehension Instruction?

It is Explicit, Intensive, persistent instruction. I do mine in small and large groups.  Small groups allow me to focus in on the specific skill the groups needs. I find this is a great easy way to differenate students because each student does not need to be in the same reading material--they are grouuped to practice the specific comprehension skill. 

To become good readers, most students require explicit, intensive, and persistent instruction. In explicit comprehension strategy instruction, the teacher chooses strategies that are closely aligned with the text students are reading. The teacher models and "thinks aloud" about what a given strategy is and why it is important, helps students learn how, when, and where to use the strategy, and gives students opportunities to apply the strategy on their own.

Modeling is followed by practice, guided by the teacher, who works with students to help them figure out how and when to use the strategy themselves. As students read, the teacher provides feedback and engages them in discussion. In subsequent lessons, the teacher asks students to apply the strategy on their own to other texts.

Students are encouraged to plan before reading so that reading has a clear goal or purpose, to continually monitor their understanding during reading, and to apply repair strategies when breakdowns in understanding occur. To improve self-monitoring, the teacher may model for students how to do one or all of the following:

·         think about what they already know before they start reading and during reading;
·         be aware of whether they understand what they are reading;
·         employ strategies to identify difficult words, concepts, and ideas;
·         ask themselves: "Does this make sense?"; and
·         be aware of how a particular text is organized.

One of the most important features of explicit instruction is the teacher's gradual release to students of responsibility for strategy use, with the goal that students apply strategies independently. However, teachers do not ask students to work on their own until the students have demonstrated that they understand a strategy and how and when to use it.

The Primary Comprehension Toolkit from Heinemann (grade K-2) allows me to teach specific comprehension skills in a sequence that makes sense to the reader.  The student does the work--I have to listen to how they are applying the strategies to text.

My students LOVE expository text (non-fiction). Most of the reading students do throughout their schooling — indeed, throughout their lives — will involve expository text. Without an understanding of the organization of such text, students often have difficulty understanding what they read. Unlike a narrative, an expository text has no familiar story line to guide students' reading. To read expository texts successfully, students must learn that authors may use a variety of structures to organize their ideas, including cause-and-effect or compare and contrast relationships, time-and-order sequences, and problem-solution patterns. Indeed, students need to know that authors may use some or all of these structures in any given chapter or section of a text.

They need to learn that expository text can differ from narrative text in the way it is presented on a page. For example, expository text may be organized by means of text headings and subheadings, and may contain extensive graphics, such as tables, charts, diagrams, and illustrations. Instructional practices that facilitate students' understanding of expository text include helping them learn how to:

·         chunk information in a text by grouping related ideas and concepts;
·         summarize important information in a text by grouping related ideas and concepts;
·         integrate information in a text with existing knowledge;
·         apply information in a text to real-world situations;
·         interpret and construct graphics such as charts, tables, and figures;
·         synthesize information from different texts; and
·         develop presentations about the text

We have been working monitoring comprehension and knowing when you have fallin' off the road. When reading this lesson in the Primary Comprehension Toolkit, I was thinking no big deal, they've got it. Well for students how have never been asked to really think about what they are reading this was a huge shock. I found that sentence stems and tons modeling and shared reading was needed to move them on. 

and this one show two examples of the sentence stems.

My hope in using the Primary Comprehension Toolkit is to have student's think more critically about what they have read to in turn create new works that show how they created meaning strategically in reading and writing. This set of strategies being tied to their Personalized Learning Plans. I hoping to see great products but I'll have to wait until next week to see what students do.

Ideas in Selecting "Just Right" Books

One of the hardest thing to help students understand is choosing a "Good Fit" book. Here are some ideas how I work with students and parents to have students in a "Good Fit" book more times than not.

Students choose books for independent reading for many different reasons: “I just saw the movie,” “I like the pictures,” “My friend just finished it.” Students usually choose books that appeal to them visually. The front covers are designed to capture their interest and emotions. However, many students do not choose a book that they can actually read independently and with success.
A teacher or parent can provide feedback by matching the book to the reader. This can be done by having the student read aloud while the teacher listens and records the miscues. Typically, I count the errors on a page. If it’s more than five-the book is too hard.

If the book is too difficult, it will lead to frustration; too little of a challenge will lead to boredom. So the book needs to be “just right.” A just right book is one that provides a little bit of a challenge for the student. It should be a book that the student finds interesting and can be read with a small amount of assistance with the text. Spending time reading just right books during independent reading time will help students become stronger.

It would be acceptable, occasionally, for a student to choose a slightly difficult book they are interested in a specific subject and finds a difficult book that centers on this subject. However, providing a steady diet of books that are too difficult for the student will cause more harm. The student needs to understand and enjoy the book for reading success. Many students who choose hard books give up on the book out of frustration.

Reading lots of easy books will build confidence and fluency. Pattern books, predictable stories, and familiar books will provide the student with the opportunity to work on building a level of comfort and self-reliance. Reading fluency and comprehension are linked. Students who spend a great deal of energy on decoding lose all meaning of the story. A student who has difficulty with fluency may have been reading at a frustration level for quite some time. Finding the right level of books for this student is essential. Matching the book to the reader will provide an opportunity for the student to read with comprehension and relative ease. Reading is about gaining meaning, so students should be reading manageable texts and understanding what they read.

Easy books allow students to focus on the meaning and think deeper about characters and plot. However, too much easy reading will not promote growth in reading. This is when teacher input is vital. Observing the students closely and monitoring their progress will give the teacher the information to move the student gently to more difficult books. As the student moves to just right books, he or she will continue to develop reading skills. The text should be challenging enough to allow the student to work out problems or learn a new strategy.

What to do:

Children need to learn how to choose a book. Giving them the opportunity to choose from a small group of books is a beginning. Modeling how to look through a book--looking at the cover, flipping through the pages, and scanning the illustrations--will provide students with an excellent example. Many teachers explain the five-finger rule to their students. This rule reminds students to count on their fingers every time they miss a word in a particular book. If they miss five words, the book may be too hard. If they miss three words or fewer, it might be “just right”.

A just right book is a book the student finds interesting and can confidently read and understand with
a small amount of support. These books also make the student stretch a little bit so that they have opportunities to apply the strategies they have been learning and to experience new vocabulary and different genres.

Another way to help students choose an appropriate book is to teach them about the “Goldilocks” strategy. This strategy has three categories: Too Hard, Just Right, and Too Easy. The students answer several questions for each category. If the answers are “yes,” the book probably fits into that category. Modeling this strategy for students will help them understand before they have to apply it independently. This strategy has been modified from its original to meet the needs of primary students.

Too Easy

  • Have you read it lots of times before?
  • Do you understand the story very well?
  • Do you know almost every word?
  • Can you read it smoothly?

Just Right

  • Is the book new to you?
  • Do you understand a lot of the book?
  • Are there just a few words on a page you don’t know?
  • When you read, are some places smooth and some choppy?

Too Hard

  • Are there more than five words on a page you don’t know?
  • Are you confused about what is happening in most of this book?
  • When you read, does it sound choppy?
  • Is everyone else busy and unable to help you?

Developing criteria with your students for choosing a just right book is an additional effective activity. Students develop the guidelines along with the teacher. This can be accomplished during a shared writing activity. Students naturally include enjoyment and understanding as items on their list. The criteria can be listed on a chart and kept in a prominent spot as a reminder.

Choosing books that are just right for students and teaching them how to choose for themselves is an essential piece of a successful reading program. Struggling readers as well as successful readers need to have the opportunity to practice what they have learned. Teachers have the opportunity to make this happen in their classrooms. Choosing books that are appropriate for students involves many various considerations. Student interest, reading purpose, and reading level are just a few of those considerations. Independent reading combined with read-alouds, shared reading, and guided reading can provide students with a variety of experiences. Students benefit from daily opportunities to read books they choose for themselves for their own purposes and pleasures.

Back to School Blog Hop plus Freebie

My top 10 must dos for each back-to-school tips I do to emphasize communication, organization, and a focus on student success.

1. Organize all that paperwork
Special educators handle lots of paperwork and documentation throughout the year. Try to set up two separate folders or binders for each child on your case load: one for keeping track of student work and assessment data and the other for keeping track of all other special education documentation.

2. Start a communication log
Keeping track of all phone calls, e-mails, notes home, meetings, and conferences is important. Create a "communication log" for yourself in a notebook that is easily accessible. Be sure to note the dates, times, and nature of the communications you have.

3. Review your students' IEPs
The IEP is the cornerstone of every child's educational program, so it's important that you have a clear understanding of each IEP you're responsible for. Make sure all IEPs are in compliance (e.g., all signatures are there and dates are aligned). Note any upcoming IEP meetings, reevaluations, or other key dates, and mark your calendar now. Most importantly, get a feel for where your students are and what they need by carefully reviewing the present levels of performance, services, and modifications in the IEP.

4. Establish a daily schedule for you and your students
Whether you're a resource teacher or self-contained teacher, it's important to establish your daily schedule. Be sure to consider the service hours required for each of your students, any related services, and co-teaching. Check your schedule against the IEPs to make sure that all services are met. And keep in mind that this schedule will most likely change during the year!

5. Call your students' families
Take the time to introduce yourself with a brief phone call before school starts. You'll be working with these students and their families for at least the next school year, and a simple "hello" from their future teacher can ease some of the back-to-school jitters!

6. Touch base with related service providers
It's important to contact the related service providers — occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech/language therapists, or counselors — in your school as soon as possible to establish a schedule of times for your students who need these services. The earlier you touch base, the more likely you'll be able to find times that work for everyone.

7. Meet with your general education co-teachers
Communicating with your general education co-teachers will be important throughout the year, so get a head start on establishing this important relationship now! Share all of the information you can about schedules, students, and IEP services so that you're ready to start the year.

8. Keep everyone informed
All additional school staff such as assistants and specialists who will be working with your students need to be aware of their needs and their IEPs before school starts. Organize a way to keep track of who has read through the IEPs, and be sure to update your colleagues if the IEPs change during the school year.

9. Plan your B.O.Y. assessments
As soon as school starts, teachers start conducting their beginning of the year (B.O.Y.) assessments. Assessment data is used to update IEPs — and to shape your instruction — so it's important to keep track of which students need which assessments. Get started by making a checklist of student names, required assessments, and a space for scores. This will help you stay organized and keep track of data once testing begins.

10. Start and stay positive
As a special educator, you'll have lots of responsibilities this year, and it may seem overwhelming at times. If your focus is on the needs of your students and their success, you'll stay motivated and find ways to make everything happen. Being positive, flexible, and organized from the start will help you and your students have a successful year.

Click the apple to visit Reflection & Resources with TarheelState Teacher.  Below is a freebie perfect for putting reading progress monitoring in one place. Have a great beginning of the year.

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Phonics--Are They Important?

Anyone who has been to school has learned phonics. Phonics is the basic reading instruction that teaches children the relationships between letters and sounds. Phonics teaches children to use these relationships to speak and write words. According to a study by the Partnership for Reading, the objective of phonics instruction is to help children learn and use the "alphabetic principle"-the systematic and predictable relationships between written letters and spoken sounds. Knowing these relationships through phonics helps young readers to recognize familiar words accurately and easily "decode" new words.

The Progressing Stages of Phonics
  • Realize that sentences are made up of words.
  • Realize that words can rhyme. Make your own rhymes.
  • Realize that words can be broken down into syllables. Start breaking down words into syllables.
  • Realize that words can begin with the same sound. Practice these first sounds.
  • Realize that words can end with the same sound. Practice these ending sounds.
  • Realize that words can have the same medial sounds. Practice these medial sounds.
  • Realize that words can be broken down into individual sounds. Practice these sounds.
  • Realize that sounds can be deleted from words to make new words. Practice these.
  • Start blending sounds to make words.
  • Start segmenting words into component sounds.

What To Look For
  • They list the following behaviors that indicate children's growing mastery of phonics.
  • Know consonant sounds
  • Know that a, e, i, o, and u are vowels.
  • Know sounds of digraphs. Example: /sh/ in shell.
  • Know sounds of consonant blends. Example: /bl/ in block and /str/ in string.
  • Know short vowel word families. Example: at, an, op, on, it, in.
  • Break words into syllables.
  • Find familiar words within unknown words. Example: mat in matter.
  • Substitute or add letters to make new words. Example: When asked to take away the letter t in the word tan, can the child say the word is an? Can the child put the letter t on an to make the word ant?

Things to do at Home

Learn Phonics with-Letter-Sound Cards

Make personal letter cards with each child. Write the upper- and lowercase form of a letter on one side of an index card. On the other side, help children draw, paste pictures, or write words that begin with the sound. For example, on one side write Bb. On the other side children can write, draw, or paste a bat, bee, or boat.

I Spy-A Fun Phonics Game

Invite children to play a guessing game. Without revealing it to the child, select an object in the room and provide phonics clues to help the child guess what it is. For example, "I spy something that begins with the sound /t/." Keep offering clues until the child guesses that the object is a table.
Learn About Phonics by "Sorting"

Create a stack of cards with pictures that represent words beginning with two initial consonants that you would like the child to work on, for example l and t. Have children say the word and match the picture with the correct initial sound. Invite them to think of other words that might be included in each stack.

Hunt for Letters

Who knew learning phonics could be so much fun? Turn old magazines and catalogs into phonics activities that develop your child's comprehension even further. Pick a letter and spot everything in the catalog that has the same phonetic sound.

Grab the scissors and cut those items out of the pages. Together you'll make a customized flash card as you learn the letter and its sound. Kids will have the visual of the word, such as alligator, along with the letter you're studying. You only need a few household items to get started.

Teach Phonics Through Picture-Taking

Tap into his creative mind when you hand him a camera and send him on a phonics adventure. Help him spot objects that navigate him from A to Z through photos. He can snap pictures of everything from an anthill to a Zamboni. Continues with your child makes his own alphabet book with his pictures. The activity never gets old and can be used to capture a field trip, vacation or regular day with mom or dad through his eyes.

Spell Phonetically as He Writes

Help him practice writing skills as you spell words for him phonetically. Once he knows the phonetic sounds of the alphabet (aah, buh, cuh, etc.), he'll be able to spell and comprehend all of those words he sees in his storybooks.

Get him a notebook and help him create lists that cover everything from his favorite toys to games he likes to play. Sound out every letter so he can write the word himself. For example, if he likes cars, sound out cuh so he'll write the letter C, then aah for the letter A and so on.

Play Alphabet Ball
Burn some of your child's endless supply of energy. Play phonics activities that teach him letters, letter sounds and words. Alphabet ball is a multifaceted game that grows with him and can be adapted to fit a variety of school subjects. There are three levels of play -- one for toddlers, one for preschoolers and one for school-age children. To get started all you need are a ball, marker and a child who loves to play.

Happy play!!

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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