Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Reflections on Teaching High School

     It is hard to fathom that I have finished my first year as a high school teacher. I spent 17 years in the elementary school classroom and never once felt like there were greener pastures. Until I did. Then I knew, change might just be a good thing. I have taught students from kindergarten to 5th grade. Everything from having my own classroom (K, 1st, 4th), to EBD self contained (K,1,2), Resource (all subjects, K-5, both direct and collaborative) is listed on my resume. But then, several things happened at once. I got too comfortable, our administration had changed 5 times over the last 6 years (and I had survived them all), the trust in the building was low, and it started to be not so much about the students as about getting through another day with adults who had agendas, issues, and attitudes. Not all, of course! I have some life long friends and amazing, hard working teachers at my old school. But when I found myself being part of the adult world of drama rather than the student world of joy, I knew it was time to go.
     I had been thinking about a jump to high school for a few years. Not seriously, just toying with the idea. My husband teaches high school. When he talked about lack of motivation and under achieving students who were perfectly capable of achieving, I was challenged. Could I inspire them to do better? I am Suzy Cheerleader. I smile a lot, I laugh a lot, and I talk. A lot. I despise negativity and drama, but having fallen into both somewhat in my last few years in elementary teaching - I knew I needed that new challenge. I went on an interview (my first in 17 years!) to a high school that was Title I, 25 miles from my house (my current  school was less than 1 mile away), and that was 100% different both in socioeconomic and cultural make-up from where I was currently. I did not know one single soul there. Not one! Having been at the same school for the past 13 years, I knew every parent, every student, and every adult. Now here I was at a place that I had to Google to find, get on the interstate to get to, and had no idea where even to park. It was supposed to be a practice interview. I had no intention of actually working there. Until I did. I took the job offer on the spot. I emailed my husband when I got to school that morning (the interview was at 6:00 am, and we didn't start in elementary until 8:00), went to tell my principal to expect a phone call from my new principal, and floated on Cloud 9 all day long. That my friends, is a feeling we ALL need to revisit every once in a while.
     I am going to share my Top Ten reflections on this year. These are all student relationship related. After all, these kids are struggling to become adults. Same mentality as elementary students oft times, but bigger bodies and bigger concerns.

  • Laugh or Cry - You have heard me say this before. There are times when you want to cry. ALL teachers have those moments, and we are all only human. I don't mean cry because you are sad, although that is sometimes the case. I mean cry out of frustration/anger/overwhelmed/tired/stretched too thin crying. Next time you are there, laugh. It will all get done, the bell will ring and they will all leave, there are beaches on the horizon, and laughing looks prettier. All wins. Tomorrow is a new day. End today's with a laugh. 
  • Have a Plan - Do not waste their time. You can fool the younger students (sometimes), but teenagers know. They will call you out on it. It happened to me twice this year (I blogged about it!), and they were right. We all know students are much more productive and engaged when there is a solid, yet flexible, plan. I can't model high expectations and work ethic for them if I don't hold myself to the same standard. As it should be!
  • Be Relevant - Well, to a point. Do NOT friend them on Facebook, follow them on Instagram, Twitter, Kick, or Vine, meet them at Starbucks to catch up on their weekend partying, or text them. Keep those worlds separate. None of my above mentioned accounts have anything questionable at all on them, but the students' will. I don't even use my name on my accounts. I use my first name. Relevance comes from me knowing about these things, being able to discuss them with the kids (safety, proper usage, cyberbullying, etc.), and knowing the latest YouTube videos that are a hit with it still being appropriate and separate. Those lines in high school can blur quickly. (My relevance also comes from my shoe game.... Converse and TOMS. Who knew this could matter so much?)
  • Smile - Your bad morning/day/life is not their problem. Little ones know when you are "in a bad mood" but teenagers will again call you out. I have always been a stickler about this, and I promise I really do try to smile all the time. (Disclaimer: Unless they need a reality check and I have to get on them; I am referring to the moment they come in and daily interactions.) This became very clear to me about a month ago. I was having a situation at home that was preoccupying me in a huge way. I was trying to be my perky self at school, but was hearing things like: What's wrong Miss? Why are you so quiet? Something's wrong with her - she is never like this. Yep. Called out. And you know what? My EBD kids have more trouble with teachers who act one way one day and another the next than any other people in the school. All kids do. Which leads to my next point....
  • Be consistent - If you are the biggest witch in the kingdom, then Honey - embrace that witch and be it every single day! At least they will know what to expect and who they are dealing with. As an adult, I hate people that I have to gauge their mood before I interact with them. Who has time for that? Now, imagine being in the person's class! Moods change - I get that, and we are human -I get that, too. But be you. (Disclaimer: Unless you suck, then become someone awesome instead.) By being consistent, we let them learn how to deal with all kinds of people. That's a life skill, people. 
  • Find Your Kind of Crazy - Find people who will laugh with you, interact with the students the way you do, and support you in a positive way. Leave those nasty ones behind! They just bring you down. If it weren't for my department chair this year, I would not have had the kind of adult support I needed to be successful. She laughs. A lot. I love her for that. But she can also be real. See next point...
  • Be Real - Remember in elementary school when you would say things like: I like the way Johnny is standing quietly in line! And the whole class, eager to be showered with such glowing praise, would follow his example of line perfection..... Well friends, in high school - they do not play that way. Remember, they are almost adults. Treat them almost as such. When they are "actin' a fool" let them know. Give them options. Allow them a way out. Example: One of my favorite kids, who loves me and I love him right back, struggles a great deal with making appropriate decisions about his clothing. Pants always around hid mid thigh (I will never get that one), "legalize marijuana" bracelet, marijuana leaves on his socks.... you get the idea, he's a dress code nightmare.... He had on a shirt with the beloved Tupac pictured, smoking an item of indeterminate origin, and flipping the middle finger to the observer with both hands. I said to my student: Now why in Heaven's name is Tupac flipping me off in my classroom when I am having such a lovely day? Now the real part is not in what I said, I would never say "in Heaven's name" or "lovely day", that was the real humorous part. But I made my point without turning inside out and arguing with a student who would naturally shut that out. We had a great talk about why that was offensive and why he wore it. Just planting a seed for thought, people. I imagine I'll see that shirt next year, and he'll get dress code all over again. But - he wrote me the sweetest end of year letter. He listens to me, and I know it. Maybe, just maybe that seed will take. Now - I will also be real in the calling out of crazy! Just be real
  • Listen, Don't Try to Solve - If you successfully build relationships with teenagers, they will tell you everything. Some things you don't even want to know. They are dealing with issues that elementary kids don't. Pregnancy, suicide, drugs, gangs, alcohol, physical relationships - all related to finding their way in an adult world. Listen to them. Don't swoop in and tell them what they should do in every instance. (THIS IS NOT EASY!!!!) Let them talk it out, be a reflective listener, and guide them into thinking over their options and making a healthy decision themselves. Again - life skill, people! (Disclaimer: Obviously, report suicide attempts or talk and other life threatening or dangerous situation immediately. Know when, how, and where to get help in those types of situations.)
  • Build Trust - My kids know that I do not tell their business to anyone. I never talk about students, teachers, or any confidential situation in front of students. They ask me why someone is suspended, why someone is in jail, who did what, and my answer is always the same: That's not my story to tell. At first, it drove them crazy. They would beg and say they wouldn't tell anyone. But eventually, they all learned that not only were other people's situations safe with me, but so were theirs. They have come and told me numerous times about teachers trash talking other teachers and/or students in front of their whole class! What? Not cool, Robert Frost! - as Kid President would say. Model what it is to be a responsible, non mouth-running adult. Wouldn't the world be a better place? 
  • Mutual Respect - This is my big one. I have said before, I don't expect to get respect from students just because I wear a name tag. I'm the adult. I get that. Should I be respected by teenagers? Of course. Should I respect them? Absolutely. They walk into my classroom respected. I have to earn it from them. That's just real life. In the beginning, I would give my cabinet keys to different kids to get stuff out for me or get food for them. They thought that was amazing that I trusted them with that. I have always tried to show them that until you give me a reason not to trust or respect you, you will have that trust and respect. So they choose whether they keep it or not. I have only been stolen from once this year. And bless her heart, she never earned my trust and I never earned hers. The kids were shocked that she even did it. It was candy. They said: WOW! You would have given her the candy if she had asked! and Who steals from YOU? I had earned their respect and they knew I respected them. It was mutual.  Another time, two boys were posturing to fight in my classroom. They took it out in the hall because they didn't want to fight in my room. It would have been disrespectful, they said. Wow. Life skill, people. Life. Skill.

     Okay - way too long, but just my rambling thoughts on what I consider to have been an amazing year. I cannot wait for next year, albeit after a relaxing summer off, and look forward to new adventures and new challenges. I leave you with my finished precept board. I blogged about it on 10/19/13 if you want to check it out.

     Happy summer, Friends! I am reading Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller. Let me know what you think of it if you read it also!
     Mrs. Beck

PS: And remember......

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Differentiated Word Work in High School

     Wow! Testing is all that has been going on for what seems like forever now! In reality, it has only been 9 days, but as we all know that is 9 days of lost instruction, schedule changes, make-up tests, students pulled at all different times so you NEVER have them all at once, and all of the other end of year activities in high school  - WOW!!! Tomorrow we are back on schedule. That leaves me with 4 days left to teach and 3 days of Early Release/Finals. I will definitely get in one more post after this one before summer, but over the summer I plan to revamp my plans for teaching Reading full time next year. I am beyond thrilled, but somewhat intimidated by the task ahead. I want it to work for them so badly! So - reflection time!!!! That is what summer will be about. Beach-side reflection. Yes, please!
    This post will be fairly short and sweet. I promised a post on Word Work, and this is a quick rundown of how it looked. The timing is pretty good since I just did their end of year assessment to measure growth. I have only had these students since January, so it was only one semester that I could measure. Still, some made significant growth while others stayed pretty much the same in this area. I reflected on that and really feel like the difference came down to which students became more interested in reading and actually read on their own. The ones who didn't, not surprisingly had little to no growth in their spelling patterns because they simply weren't exposed adequately to how words look when spelled correctly and how the patterns come together. Additionally, some of these students have significant learning impairments that make spelling patterns a challenge no matter what. I have always said that I approached teaching these students in much the same way I taught the younger ones in many ways. It is what I know, and it works. I use the book Words Their Way because I have had great success with it for years. In short, you give the students a Word Inventory the first week of school. It assesses Spelling patterns starting with beginning/ending sounds, digraphs, blends and goes all the way to inflectional endings, syllables and affixes. It has never let me down as far as painting an incredibly accurate picture of them as spellers. But even more than that, it helps me see why they decode words in reading the way that they do. This way I can identify which sounds and patterns to target to help support their individual decoding. I can also tailor it specifically to their individual needs. Win-win!!
     In my current class of 9 students, the Spelling Inventory split them into three groups. (One group has 4 students, another 2, and the last has 3.) I had them tab a section of the journal and title it "Word Work". This is where we put all of the word sorts and mini-lessons on the concept taught. I have pictures from each group that I will share below. One of the beautiful features of this book is that it comes with a CD that has all of the word sorts, picture sorts, and games that you just print right off! At first, I thought they would all laugh me out of the room when I gave them paper, scissors, and glue sticks. Once I explained the purpose, they were fine an actually enjoy it each week. Here are the pictures....

This sort had them find the base word and determine the rule for adding -ing.  

This sort had them identify the base word and sort based on adding -ed. 

This is a picture sort for beginning blends. I always have them write the word to go with the picture. If you read what they write, you can totally understand why they struggle as readers with decoding!

Another beginning blend picture sort...

This consonant/vowel pattern sort used both their auditory sense and spelling  pattern knowledge to sort the words. 


This picture sort is based on long and short vowel sounds.

     The Spelling Inventory guides the groups, but they are fluid and easily adaptable based on need. And honestly - they never once (after that first day!) balked at cutting, sorting, and pasting. Actually I have had several students tell me how much they feel it has helped them. So, check out the book and give it a shot! It is easy to use, easy to learn, and most importantly incredibly beneficial to the students. I create my own assessments every once in a while just to check where they are. I guess about every three or four sorts I give them one, but they are mostly made up of me calling words based on the sorts they have done. I emphasize I am looking more for proper pattern usage than correct overall spelling. Although, spelling is important and tends to also improve dramatically as they go through the process.  Here are two different assessments I made. I give them two scores. One is based on Spelling and one on the patterns that were taught. I do not record these as grades. They just add them to their charts in the Word Work section of their journals to monitor progress. 

     So that is it in a quick nutshell! I hope everyone had a Happy Mother's Day! I leave you with my most prized possession - my two "children". They are 23 and 26 and the joy of our lives. This was the first time we had all four been together since last May! A whole year.... That is what happens when college and life takes them away. So proud of them!

     End the year strong, friends! Talk to you soon.
     Mrs. Beck

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

End of Year Panic, Plot Structure, and Characterization

     I have found myself in a bit of a panic lately over the impending end of the school year. That panic does NOT involve the carefree summer days at the beach, clearly! However, I can't even think about those days yet. I am in a panic over my Reading class. The fact that I only have 18 days of instruction left. Well - let's be clear... between standardized testing and finals, I only have 13 days of instruction left with them. I think my panic is due to the fact that I only had them for the current semester. Maybe if I had had them from Day 1 of the school year, I would feel a bit more relaxed. But as I taught today, I looked around and noticed several things. First, they were all engaged - (Okay,  all of them but one. Ya'll - I am desperately still trying to reach this one!) -engaged in meaningful and explicit practice of targeted skills for each of them on their instructional level. (I felt very impressive even typing that...Haha!) Second, they were all working at a higher level - some incrementally higher while others significantly higher - than when I first got them in January. And finally, the one student whose lack of progress, negative behaviors, and zero engagement inspired me to volunteer to take this class was: Progressing, Behaving, and Engaged! So what could be wrong? I am about to send them off into summer with this foundation we have all worked so hard to achieve in our classroom just barely in place. I still have not made progress with many of them in the area of independent reading. I can honestly say, I see in several that they at least no longer hate to read. They are willing to try and are authentic in their efforts. But for some others, they still hate to read on their own and are the best, most epic fake readers you have ever seen. Panic!! How far back will they have regressed when I see them in the Fall? Will they have read anything at all? Will they return to me, roll their eyes, and think: "Oh. Good. Lord. Not this crazy reading lady with all her dorky book suggestions!!" These are literally all of the thoughts running through my head this afternoon as I was watching them do their independent and partner work, and I was about to meet with students individually. And then, as if the Reading Gods heard my panic, one of the students said, "Can we do that thing where we make the words on our desks? I think that is helping me." And another replied, "We won't have time to hear her read Wonder if we do that. We can do it tomorrow. I want to hear Via's (main character's sister) side of the story. " Shut the front door. Maybe the foundation isn't so barely laid after all. Fingers crossed, we may just be able to start up where we left off. And until then, I will continue to plan purposefully, differentiate, and read aloud. And hopefully when they return, the hating to read part will not even be on their radar, and the "hey this isn't so bad it is actually pretty great" part will remain. Fingers crossed. After all, the willingness to try is the majority of the battle. attitude. And today, I realized that at least that much, we have accomplished.
     I will share quickly two things from this past week. With all of the standardized testing coming up (Ew.), I have tried to have mini-lessons that review literary features they will probably see and need to identify. Since Spring Break, I have done two days of literary feature mini-lessons and three days of reading strategy instruction and/or review mini-lessons each week. I have also done Word Work once a week and Making Words three times a week. This partnered with read aloud, conferring, and independent/small group practice make our class period seem pretty short and sweet.
     First up is Plot Structure. As a disclaimer here, let me say that I get many of my ideas off of Pinterest. I always give credit when I can find the source. I have looked and cannot find the original post for this Plot Structure idea. So my apologies to the sweet teacher who shared this originally! I am sad I can't find it, because her blog was amazing. Anyway, here is the anchor chart I made:

     I printed them all books based on their independent level off of the A-Z Reading site so they could practice identifying the parts of the structure. I also had them add the anchor chart to their journals. I didn't get a picture of the independent work. They shared it and I recorded it on the board. Here is a journal entry picture. 

     I wish I had a picture of their independent work. Ugh! We also did a foldable on Plot Structure. 

     Each of the flaps listed bullet points to further explain and give examples of each part. Again, this was a Pinterest find. I adapted the bullet points on the inside. 
     Next we did characterization. I outlined 5 basic questions to ask themselves about the main character in the same book that they had used to identify plot. They filled in a graphic organizer I threw together, and we discussed it. 

     We also discussed how thinking of these questions and answering them about the character as they read could lead to a great character analysis with textual support. Win-win! Here is an anchor chart we put together for the mini-lesson.

     We also did a FAST characterization strategy. FAST is an acronym for Feelings, Actions, Sayings, and Thoughts. I try to give them options so they can choose what makes the most sense and use what works for them. Here is the anchor chart after we analyzed Santa Claus.

     They then did a character analysis of someone they know and added it to their journals. 

     Okay - I feel like I inadequately explained the instructional part of this post. Don't judge. Ginger the Golden needs to go out for her walk and I am exhausted. It is pretty self explanatory, though. Look over my Pinterest boards (either High School Classroom or High School Literacy) and you will see links for support if you'd like. Or shoot me an email. 
     Have a wonderful week and make these last days count!
     Mrs. Beck

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Students' Priorities for Learning

     I have not posted in what feels like forever. Heaven knows it is not for lack of things to share, but lack of time. I know you know where I am coming from! We had Spring Break (aka: Heaven) week before last, and I had cheerleading tryouts this past week (aka: NOT Heaven). This will still be a short post - I have to get to the grocery store. The site I am sharing with you is worth a look though, definitely.
     I received three emails from teachers who said I am neglecting my EBD teacher friends by only posting about Reading. I am flattered that anyone even cares what is going on in my classroom!! So, this week I am posting a discussion lesson I did with my Affective Skills classes. Oh - and one Word Work story from Reading. It is partially inappropriate but will definitely make you smile. Welcome to high school....
    I came across a post on Pinterest (of course) that gave a link to a New York Times site that offers discussion prompts for teenagers. They are awesome and I have used many of them. The students enjoy the debate and we have had some amazing talks. I have used them in a debate format, a written response/opinion format, and an open floor-have at it format. The site is 200 Prompts for Argumentative Writing. The one I am sharing is entitled "What Are You Actually Learning in School?".
    (I should have written "not academically" in the parenthesis because it looks like I am saying they aren't learning academics, but hindsight and all that....) I always print the article and read excerpts aloud but also have the whole thing available so they can read it independently if they wish. Some actually prefer that. This is what they gave me during the discussion:
     The first three are things we do specifically in Affective Skills, so I asked them to branch out. When I asked them what they thought they should be learning, all of their answers made perfect sense and were very relative to their lives. Nicely done. Under the "should not learn" category, you can see where they went. And guess which one garnered the most lively debate? The dissecting of animals. That also made sense because honestly, we talk about relationships a lot in my room. There are literally 200 prompts/articles on that sight. I wish I had taken more pictures of examples. Check it out! Very thought provoking.

     Now for a little Word Work. I use the book Systematic Sequential Phonics They Use, which is an elementary resource. But I have found that my Reading class needs this type of support desperately. And honestly, once I started it I truly saw the need and the benefit. Most of them cannot spell using blends, digraphs, and inflectional endings. It works by giving them 5 to 7 letters. You then call out a word (let's say bat) and they write it. You continue calling out words and saying things like: Now, add a letter and make bait. Now drop a letter and add two letters that make one sound to create batch. And so on. They love the added challenge at the end of making one word that used all the letters. I turned that into a friendly competition. To do this, I have them write on their desks with a dry erase marker.

     It only takes a few minutes, they love it, it is valuable for them to see the spelling patterns, and I can knock out two a day. I don't do them every day, but usually we get to them three days a week.
     Now for the not so appropriate part. I apologize if this offends anyone, but if you know me - I am real. You do not teach EBD for this many years without learning how to laugh. This made me laugh! So.... when I introduced them to drawing these word study lessons on their desks, they were like elementary school kids. I was trying to get their attention and they were all drawing on their desks. (That made me laugh, too.) So, I went all early childhood on them and said, "I will set the timer for 5 minutes. You may draw anything you want for that five minutes. Then I get all of your attention." Ya'll! They were silent! They drew the whole time. Too. Funny. Remember: Same kids, bigger bodies.
     Okay - well, one of my students is adamant that he wants to be a stripper when he grows up. He does not in any way mean this disrespectfully, inappropriately, or trying to get a reaction from adults. For him it is a fact. He wants to be a mechanic during the day and a stripper at night. He has it all planned out and has since last year.  I know this about him, but we don't talk about it in class or anything. As I am walking around looking at drawings, this is his:
     I asked him to go run an errand for me so I could take this picture. I hope that made you at least smile. Remember, laugh or cry! I choose to laugh. (NOTE: I am voting for him to go the mechanic route, just so we are clear.) Again.... welcome to high school.
     Happy Easter, Friends! I have so much to share next time about identifying plot and also characterizations. I need more time!
     Mrs. Beck

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Close Reading and a Choice: Laugh or Cry

     I have always had a love-hate relationship with Close Reading. I mean, it is a challenge (read: often impossible) to get struggling readers to read, much less have them read dreaded material more than once. I know, I know - the benefits are innumerable. The thinking is deep. The strategies that can be applied in these opportunities are endless. But - if you hate to read it the first time, how in the world am I going to get you to read it a second time? Well, I am working on the "hate to read" part. Work. In. Progress.
     I introduced Close Reading to them this past week and went ahead and acknowledged the groans when they saw the "reread" direction. I started simple with some whole group practice and then gave them a chance to try it independently with a paragraph I had selected for each of them based on their level.
     I need to write a disclaimer here.... Teaching high school is a trip. I love it. I laugh every single day. These kids are a riot. I adore them. In situations at school, I very often say: Laugh or Cry!. That stems from years of teaching EBD students and enduring situations in which the choice of what to do is unclear. I also say: I choose to laugh! Because I usually do. Not in a laughing at them way, but in a laughing with them way. Besides, I am an ugly crier and my Mary Kay would run. That's expensive. So - it is with laughter that I share with you this situation with the post today. My paragraph had the word dam in it because it talks about flooding. Well, since these 17 year olds are basically 8 year olds in bigger bodies, when I read the word, they all fell out laughing. "Ooooo! You said dam!" "I'm tellin' my mama!" "You mad, Miss? Why are you cussin' today?" So of course, every time I read the word dam, I read it with passion. And we laughed. I took my pictures of the lesson for the blog, and we moved on. Fast forward to this morning and I upload the pictures to the computer and guess what. Ya'll - one of my darlings changed the annotation in the margin of my lesson to damn rather than dam. My first thought: How proud I was that they knew how to spell it correctly to get the desired effect. And I laughed. My second thought: "OH MY GOOD LORD! I left that on the board over the weekend! People are going to see it and think I did that! We may even have a church that meets there. More fuel to the "public schools are corrupting our children" debate!!!" Whatever!! So, I am not going to change it and retake all the pictures. Instead, you will just have to see it and smile. Or laugh. I did. (PS: This is by far the most tame thing I have laughed at all week...)
     The paragraph we read together is an excerpt from an article off of the site Reading A-Z. Note the spelling of dam in the paragraph....

     I then shared the anchor chart I made for what to do in a Close Reading. I adapted it to fit my kids better from some of the charts I have seen. They copied it in their journals.

     We read the paragraph together, and then I modeled the steps one at a time with their help. The board ended up looking like this:

     We only briefly discussed how to summarize because I am focusing on that a lot next week. I also like how they used their schema to support their thinking. They were able to apply the strategy of using context clues to define the word levee. We learned that last week. They relied heavily on questioning for understanding which we also learned together. It's so nice when they actually use what I am teaching. Am I right?
     I then gave them each a paragraph I chose for them based on their level of reading. All of these are 1st to 4th grade level texts. The sticky notes have their names on them, but I folded them up to protect their privacy in the post picture.

     I then had them put the paragraphs in their journal and go through the procedures as we had done.

     I worked with this student. He hates to read. He refuses to read. He cannot read, so go figure! I did the writing in the beginning and he wrote the summary. We discussed this paragraph a lot.

     Another mini-lesson I did last week was on visualization. I gave them a paper folded into 8 squares. We defined visualization and discussed how everyone's unique schema forms the support for their visualization. I then gave them the words: sun, flower, dog, and car. They had to draw a picture of each of these in a square. Afterwards, we shared them ans discussed the similarities and why they occurred. We also discussed the variances. Only one sun had clouds. Two were drawn in the corner. All were round. I then read a 4 sentence paragraph aloud that described a bug that uses it's large pincers to get ants. They drew that and we compared the drawings. All were eerily similar. Then I read my favorite paragraph from Charlotte's Web. You know the one - where she describes the smells and sights in the barn for the first time. They drew the picture they created in their mind. All were very detailed. Myself and another student had pictures that were almost identical because we had seen a barn. Every one else relied on drawing the animals because that is what they knew, having never been to a barn. It was a great example of schema and how it helps with mental images and supports comprehension. Here are a few of the end products. 

      All in all, the week in Reading was a success. I was going to share one of the lessons I did in my EBD class, but this post got lengthy so I will save it. Never a shortage of information, always a shortage of time!
      Here is to a week of laughing and NOT EVER crying, friends! We have Spring Break the week after this one coming up. Five days until it's beach time! Happy teaching, learning, and laughing.
      Mrs. Beck

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Introducing CAFE to High School Students

     One of the things that I wondered when I volunteered to teach this Reading class was: I say I can do this, I feel like I can do this, but wait - CAN I DO THIS?! Refer to the diving in head first post if you don't believe me! But as I also have said before, these teenagers struggle with the same things that younger, newer readers struggle with when attempting to read. Somewhere along the way, though the instruction didn't stick. Who knows why, and truthfully the reasons are all vastly different. But at this point, I am not in the business of their why. I am in the business of how, as in HOW CAN WE FIX IT? I had amazing success with younger readers using the The CAFE Book by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser. These sisters do a great job of laying out the basics of what most teachers of literacy know, but can't exactly articulate as succinctly as is done in the book. It also offers specific strategies, prompts, and ideas that are practical and immediately useful for students. It honestly changed the way I taught reading. All of that said - I wondered if it could transfer to high school students. Once I did my  initial assessments on them and discovered none of them were proficient readers above a third grade level, I started to look for patterns. Just as with younger readers, each of these students had their own specific area in which they struggled. CAFE is an acronym for Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, and Expand Vocabulary. If you look back to some of my original blog posts, you will see that I taught this as Starbeck's CAFE in younger grades to play on my name. (We also drank hot chocolate during Reader's Workshop, but that is a story for another day. It was amazing....!) I taught my high school students the CROP-QV (Connections, Reactions, Opinions, Predictions, Questioning, Visualization) first to give them strategies to fall back on immediately. It was harder than I thought because they were not familiar with any of them. Honestly - as I have checked in with them throughout the semester, they report that they are using the strategies and have been able to tell me when and how. That's a good sign. All of the CROP-QV strategies are listed on the CAFE menu, so the progression is seamless. I also introduce those first since they are fairly simple to grasp. Another plus is that when I give them the CAFE menu they are not overwhelmed with all we are going to learn. They can already mark a few off and have some familiarity even before we begin. It makes the task a bit more surmountable for them, if you will.
     I started by defining the areas of CAFE on the board, one letter at a time.
     We discussed what each of them meant, and I defined the level at which a proficient reader would perform. I did IRIs on each of them at the beginning of the semester, so I was also able to share with them their specific data. They were all floored when I said 120 words per minute, especially when they saw where they performed. (I have two who read 28 and 32 WPM on a third grade level text.) Later in the period when I read from our current chapter book aloud, I had them figure out my WPM. They were able to more realistically grasp how fluency at around 120 WPM would actually sound. One of them said, "And you sound like you always do, so that was real. You weren't playin' us." No, Buddy. I would never. Now let's get you right there with me!
     I gave them a CAFE menu and had them cut it apart into the four sections. They then added the definitions we had written on the board.

     We will highlight the ones we learn as we go. I gave them each their own Reading data (comprehension ranking, accuracy percentage, and Words per Minute) and let them decide which area they felt they needed to start with. The conversations were very honest. Some were clearly comprehension. Others felt that their accuracy was the reason their fluency was so low. (Thank you, Reading gods!) We recorded who was setting which goal, and low and behold... they all fell right where I would have put them. (Again I say... Thank you!!) We will continue knocking out strategies next week. Our CAFE is up and running.
     I also wanted to share a quick lesson I taught last week that was adapted from the amazing Strategies That Work by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis. I use this book all the time. You need to buy one if you haven't already. We have done a lot of work with making inferences, and this lesson tied in a lot of our previous ideas. We were trying to determine ways to figure out the meanings of unfamiliar words. I used an article that was on a third grade level so everyone could read it. It told the story of the sinkhole that formed under the National Corvette Museum. I chose it because it had several strategies that were obvious teaching points for inferring meaning for unfamiliar words. I had them read the article independently and circle words they didn't know the meaning of in the text. I then read the atircle out loud. They then called out the words which we recorded, looked for clues, and wrote the sentence in which the word was used. Only then did we go back and fill in the actual meaning. I had them record all of this on a four column foldable.
     I then gave them one of three articles that I had pre-selected for them based on level. They used the same foldable that was had used for the whole group lesson and just added their new words to the bottom. After we discussed which strategies they used, they added the foldable to their journals.
     I also made an anchor chart for reference. We will add to this as we identify new ways to determine the meaning of unfamiliar words.
     On Friday, we summarized all of our inferring strategies under the Inferring Umbrella. This is also adapted from Strategies That Work.
     Funny story about this... You guys know how I worry about insulting them with ideas, texts, graphics that are too elementary. I mean, they are already non-reading 17 year olds. I don't want to pour salt in the wound! When I wrote this umbrella on the board, one of my older boys said, "What is this? It looks too simple." Well of course I thought he meant babyish, so I asked him to bear with me and explained we were adding some higher level wording and it would make more sense. He said, "No. You need to add raindrops or something to make it look more real." Oh. Here I was thinking the dot bullets I was adding would be more grown up.... So, I dug up a blue marker, and raindrops we had! They really are the same struggling readers I had in elementary school, just in bigger bodies. I'll have to post a picture of his umbrella. It has raindrops, and it is beautiful.
     The only other thing I wanted to share is that I will be solely teaching Reading next year! I am doing this with mixed emotions because I do so love my EBD students. LOVE them. But - I also love to teach Reading. I'll still have plenty of EBD love available to share. Win-Win!!
     Have a great week, friends!
Mrs. Beck

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Needing a Nap, Questioning Strategy, & Determining Importance in Text

    The week before last was one of those weeks that left me in need of a nap. And by nap, I mean the kind bears take... also known as hibernation. For me that would look like a dark room, cool temp, comfy bed, and blissful silence except the subtle whirring of the fan.... All drama aside, we have all had those days (or weeks) at school. I think it's good to admit we need the break, but not good to actually take that break in class and let the kids down. I did not have a well planned week of solid, focused instruction.   Every time I teach staff development on classroom management, I reiterate how important the actual planning is and the role it plays in making life easier and more productive for the teacher. Obviously it is best for the student! But - we are human. We all have things outside of school that interfere with our ability to be our best. I recently had a situation just like that. A situation that threw me for a loop, totally out of my control, and throwing my A-Game out the window. I endured three days of poorly planned instructional time, and it left me frustrated, exhausted, and needing to hibernate. Aka: Avoidance. So, if I felt that way, imagine what the kids felt like! I wasted their time. Not easy to admit. Shameful, really. But remember: Teachers are also human. I noticed their behavior was worse (of course - they weren't engaged!), the days seemed to go on forever, and they noticed I was preoccupied. I heard: "Are you okay? What's wrong? Did something happen? Want me to beat somebody up for you? (yes, they asked me that...)" And as much as I tried to hide it, laugh it off, smile, and act like all was right in the universe, they knew. And it affected every aspect of the longest three days of school this year. So at the end of those three days, I came home and reevaluated. I went ahead and planned the last two days of the week with some solid lessons and vowed to make the next week count. Back on my A-Game. And of course, this week was much, much better. I guess it's good to revisit those lessons we all know every once in a while. It keeps us humble, accountable, and makes us refocus. And reminds me that I am way too old to let school make me that tired....
     This week, I want to share what I taught on using Questioning as a strategy to support comprehension and Determining Importance in text. I once again took ideas from Tanny McGregor and adapted them for high school and my students specifically. I started by asking the students if they had ever started reading an assignment, highlighter in hand, and at the end realized that they had highlighted everything in the reading. Of course, they laughed and admitted they had all done this and basically still do. I explained that determining what is important when you read helps get rid of extraneous information that takes up valuable space in your brain. I told them about when I was little and had to put away folded laundry. I hated doing it. I'm not sure why, especially considering how OCD I tend to be, but I would open the drawer, and cram - I mean cram - those clothes in there until it took all my might to squeeze the drawer closed, edges of shirts and balls of socks bulging out the top. I literally had drawers that the bottoms had come apart from my attempt to cram things in there. As an adult, I would look at that and say: Do you really need all those clothes? Do you even wear them all? Do you need bigger drawers? Can you leave some of those things out and make the drawer a more productive use of storage? Basically, prioritize what's important.
     I started the lesson by letting them listen to the song Smile by Kirk Franklin. I asked them to tell me what the song was about by giving examples of lyrics they thought were important (clues). They did a great job of filtering out repetitive information and getting down to what was important. I did not get a picture of the list they generated. Oops. Next, I defined the objective and had them add it to their journal. We then read an article together and practiced answering the stems I had offered on the board by highlighting information that fit them.

     After modeling the skill and discussing how it worked, I gave them each a copy of the Scholastic magazine for the week and asked them to choose an article and highlight the important information. I let them work with a partner. They recorded their facts on chart paper, shared with the class, and justified why they chose what they did as being important. This is how they turned out:

     I also had a partner. This is a particularly reluctant learner at times, and lately I have seen a crack in his tough shell. He asked me to be his partner, and I eagerly agreed. One on one instruction without them knowing = PRICELESS!!! Ours looked like this (he chose me as the recorder), but he chose the facts. Nicely done, Sir.

     You will see me use Scholastic magazines in class a lot. I paid for the subscription myself just so I could have solid text to use for them to practice skills I teach in class. You've heard me say it before - finding appropriate text for high school readers that actually read on early elementary levels is a daunting task. These articles are also short enough to keep their interest,usually  relevant to their lives, and leveled appropriately. 
     I revisited Questioning by showing them the poem Dreams by Langston Hughes. I asked them to tell me what they thought as they read the poem. We then recorded their questions. 

     We discussed how the questions caused us to dive deeper in to the meaning of the text and make us think further than what is explicitly written. For independent practice, I gave them a graphic organizer and an article from Scholastic. They had choices on which article to read, but I knew each of them would generate a lot of thinking and questioning. Here are some examples of what they turned in to me. 

He read an article on banning Rainbow Bracelets. He asked:

Is this even worth fighting about in school?
Why don't they just tell the kids to put them away?
Why do they let kids bring them anyway? This is school!
Does every school have his problem?

He read an article about a child who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness for Muscular Dystrophy.
He asked:

Is he doing this for people who have Muscular Dystrophy to get money?
Is this for somebody he knows or is he just a good person?

She read an article on segregation. She asked:

Why couldn't they attend the same schools?
Why weren't the conditions the same?
Why did the girl have to walk so far and her not be allowed to ride the bus?
Why did she go to that school if it was worse?
Why did the US Supreme Court say "separate but equal" if they never went to a white school and a black school to see if they were equal?

      You can see by these examples that the questions they are asking themselves will lead them to think more deeply about the text. It's a work in progress, but I really hit questioning a lot. It leads to some of their best thinking. We also did a lesson on how those questions get answered and that sometimes - they don't. More on that later. 
     I leave you with a picture of a basic lesson that many elementary school teachers have taught. I forget that sometimes these basic skills are lost on my students in this class. It started when I sent a student to get a book from the Media Center. He returned and I asked what he had chosen. He said, "I don't know. Some book, I think it is about baseball or something." Wow. Talk about a book he was excited to read.... NOT! I asked him how he chose a book. He said he goes to the shelf, looks to see if there is one with a baseball or sports picture on the side, and checks it out. Hmm. And I wonder why I have never seen him finish a book. I open it up, and I kid you not, it was on coaching strategies of college bowl game contenders. The type was microscopic, the dust cover almost put me to sleep, it had vocabulary in it that even I had to really think about (no schema on coaching strategies and maneuvers/drills!), and it was published in 1997. I said, "I think I want to do a lesson on how to choose books that you may actually read and enjoy." From the other side of the room, my reluctant learner said, "Yeah. I need that. I'm for real!" Thank you once again, Reading Gods. I'm for real, too. 

Have an amazing week, friends. 
Mrs. Beck