Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Student Portfolio Conferences

I've been waiting on pins and needles for my turn to post because I'm just so excited to share my student portfolio conferences with you!

At my school, we have two conferences each year.  The first is where we'd like all parents to attend and is your typical parent-teacher conference.  The second conference is held in February and is on an as-need basis.  We are contracted to stay from 3:30-9:30.  Last year, out of the 7 conferences I scheduled, only 3 actually came.  This left me sitting around in my room trying to kill time for what seemed like forever.

Over the summer, I had the idea of having student portfolio conferences, where the students were to present some work that they'd share with their parents.  These portfolio conferences would allow the students to talk about their schoolwork and goals they have set and accomplished.

I got busy creating items that we could use to help take these portfolios that I had envisioned to the next level.  I made some general pages that allowed to students to reflect on their work.  For each item that the child included in his/her portfolio would have a tag stapled to it.  Each tag has a different sentence starter and attempted to have the student make a meaningful reflection on the item.  Now, when I mean meaningful, I don't mean "Next time I do this I would....color better."  It took a lot of modeling to get my third graders to dig deeper into their reflection.  Perhaps the older students would be able to pick up on this the first time...not the third, fourth, or fifth time.  :-)

On the first week of school, I requested the parents send in a 1" binder with a clear plastic sleeve on the outside.  We created Wordles with adjectives and words that described each student and used this as the cover.  I made sure that each kiddo typed their name at least 3 time more than any other word to make it  stand out.

Then, the tricky part.  Collecting artifacts.  I did save a few items for all students that I wanted in their portfolio such as first math tests, first reading tests, and some writing assignments.  The students were also able to select what they wanted to include.  I tried to emphasize that not everything in the portfolio should be 'A' work because I wanted them to see how they could improve on some items and reflect on what they could do to grow.  I placed each type of reflection tag in a manilla envelope with an example tag glued to the outside.  I tried to set aside a few times a month where the students would spend tagging and reflecting.  It's probably a lot easier to do this as you go instead of a mad rush right before conferences!

The days leading up to the conferences, I had the students practice presenting their portfolios to friends in class.  They really loved pretending their partner was "Mom" or "Dad".   We worked on good presenting techniques and pacing.


In order to make this work, there was no way I could schedule the typical 10-15 minute conferences.  There was just too much to share in that time.  So....I decided to make this a casual event where I scheduled 3 families to come during the same time slot.  Each slot was 30 minutes.  This would allow for all my students to spend enough time with their families.  The children were responsible for walking in, grabbing their portfolio, and starting their conference.  I circled the classroom and checked in for a few minutes with each family.

Overall, I think the night went off flawlessly!  The students and parents all really enjoyed this and now they have this great portfolio to keep for memories.  Here are some pictures I took of the night.  Unfortunately, I wasn't thinking and didn't take pictures of the actual contents of the portfolios, but this is how my room was set up.  Let's take a tour!

This is the welcome sign I created with my Silhouette Cameo.  The scalloped bunting was downloaded from their website.  The letters are actually of a font I created and had the machine cut out for me.  My students loved it so much that they requested I keep it up for the rest of the year.

When the families walked in, the students picked up their portfolio from the tables I placed near the door.  You can see the Wordles that they made as a cover.

Here is another view of the entrance of the room with the inviting goodies I have laid out.  The students helped me set up and were eyeing those cookies behind my desk all day.

I wanted to make this as inviting as possible.  The punch was just Hawaiian Punch mixed with Sprite.  Most of my students hadn't had this before.  When I explain it to them, they weren't too sure about it, but they absolutely loved it!  I also had students whose parents NEVER came to anything this year.  I didn't meet them until Portfolio Conferences because their child wanted to come so badly for the treats!

Here is a view of how I set up my room.  I told the students how to arrange the desks.  Then I gave each group a tablecloth to lay over the desks.  As families came in and grabbed something to eat, they would sit at a group and start.  I scheduled 3 students per conference, but made sure to have extra groups available incase some ran over...which they did...and I needed all 5 groups at one point.  So glad I did that!

Also, if you'd like a copy of the tags, reflection pages, and letters to the parents, I have it listed in my TpT store as Student Portfolio Conference Binder Materials.  

This set contains:
- Parent Letter
- Behavior Checklist
- Goal Setting Sheets
- Top 10 Things About Me page
- Instructions for Tagging
- 14 Tags to reflect on artifacts
- Binder Section Dividers

Please let me know if you have any questions about this process and I'd be so happy to help you!

Stay Connected!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Free For All Linky Party...Again!


It's that time again! Another awesome linky party for grades 3-6 full of FREE resources for you to download and use immediately!

Link up your freebies below and grab some freebies from others! Link up a blog post or the TPT product page.

After you link up, make sure you follow the rule of 3! Leave comments on the two posted before you and then come back and leave a comment on the one after you.

One more thing...don't forget to promote this linky on your blog, twitter, facebook, or pinterest!

Happy Linking!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Another day, Another set of goals...

As many of you know, I have changed positions recently and with that came a whole new way of making things work for not only myself but also for my students. Let me give you a little bit of background.

I work with Texas Virtual Academy as a Special Education Teacher. I have a caseload of 25 students (19 7th graders and 6 8th graders) who all are in Special Education for one reason or another. It is my job to make the virtual education work for them and meet their needs of their IEPs as well as meet the standards for our state testing. Easy, right?

Well, as many of you are aware Special Education students have varying needs and are all at varying abilities. It so happens I have a few that really need my organizational skills to help them get through their day. Enter our PLAN OF ATTACK.

There are 10 different assignments on the Plan of Attack and this is my student's plan for the day. I include any assignments that he/she must complete. I made sure to give them a place to be able to mark the assignment as DONE as well as a place for them to write notes about the assignment.

Since I have implemented this with a few of my students there has been a miraculous turn around in what they are able to accomplish. The numbers don't lie! We are going from getting maybe 1 activity a day complete to now getting between 80-90% complete each day!

What happens to what they don't finish? It goes on the next day's list as an assignment all lumped in one! Yep, sometimes we have to catch up but the success is paying off ten-fold!

And as an added bonus, I am sharing a blank Plan of Attack for you to use! It's a great way to accommodate for learners who just get frazzled by too many things incoming. I know that I made lists when I was in school just being the OCD self that I was and marking them as complete made me feel a sense of accomplishment.

Click here to download your own Plan of Attack!

So, how can you use this in your classroom? What is an accommodation that you use with your students that has proven to be successful?

Looking for more? Check out my blog, my Facebook Fan Page, or my TpT store for more items related to Math, Special Education and More!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Response to Reading ANSWER method

In Massachusetts, our standardized test is the MCAS, and in 4th grade, one of the challenges our students face on their reading test is the Open Response question. We've been gearing up for the test because it starts in mid-March this year, so test taking strategies have been at the forefront of my mind. 

We spend time every week pouring over past MCAS selections to help our fourth graders become more familiar with test taking language, as well as the stamina for an independent writing task for a topic they are probably seeing for the first time in printed form.  The kids have weekly homework practice, and I have an MCAS Practice Tips letter to parents that I posted on my blog.  Teaching the kids to use a graphic organizer for pre-writing, and analyzing the question (such as with the QAR method) is something we've done for years.  But this year is the first full year that we've implemented the ANSWER method.  And I think it's been working VERY well for this specific purpose.

The acronym is from the Keys to Literacy, who have provided a number of professional development trainings for my district, and if you ever see one offered in your area, I HIGHLY recommend you check it out (the vocabulary one was another fantastic experience).  I only tweaked it slightly by adding a bit to the "E" (originally the acronym read: "Analyze, Notes, Scan, Write, End by Rereading") and of course the explanations are my own rewording according to what's been working for my class over time.  Because as my students would tell you, I do my anchor charts in pencil, and that's only after I've written them on the white board with them first, until I'm feel that I've answered all of their clarifying questions and I'm happy with the exact wording.  They actually tease me, "You really ARE a rough draft kind of gal!"  I like to think this helps to instill a sense of importance of the revision process for them!

Each component of the ANSWER method is a lesson (or two) in and of itself, but by this point in the year, nearly every kid (as of last week, every kid, yay!) in my class knows what is expected of them when it comes to preparing and composing a written response to writing.  Along with a goal setting sheet each week, they know that when it comes to formal assessments, they don't just write about the story; they have to ANSWER the question!

How do you prepare your students for standardized test reading responses?

Amber Thomas's Classroom Favorites on Teachers Pay Teachers

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Number of the Week for Upper Grades

As the school years goes on, my third graders are getting deeper into learning about fractions and other higher-level concepts. Year after year, I've watched as their basic number sense begins to slip during this time of the year. For example, I'll ask something like, "Who can tell me if this number is odd or even?" And then my students will look at me as if my horn is showing. Instead of continuing to pull my hair out, this year, I've tried a more direct approach to tackling this issue and it's been really successful so far! 

Number of the Week

I've always thought of "number of the day/week" as being something just for the younger grades. However, it's been a lifesaver this year in my third grade classroom! Every Monday, I give students a mystery number problem to work out. Once they have solved the mystery number problem, they use that number as the number of the week. 

I give them a packet with a page for each day of the week. The pages cycle through math topics that wouldn't necessarily be hit in my regular problem of the day or "Do Now". 

Here are the skills reviewed, broken down by day:

Day 1:
Standard/expanded/word form
1/10/100 - More/less
Draw it with base 10 blocks
Value of each digit
Sum of the digits

Day 2:
Place value chart
Add/subtract groups of 10
Double the number
Multiple patterns 
Number line

Day 3: 
Multiple patterns
Addition/subtraction equations
Greatest/least possible number

Day 4:
Fact families
Trick of the zeros
Next 3 even/odd numbers
Round to nearest 10/100
Multiplying 3 or more factors

Day 5:
Write a word problem
Free space

Now, ask me how often I cycled back to these skills BEFORE I started using the Number of the Week and that's not a questions I'll want to answer! We spend 10-15 minutes on this each day, and I know students are getting that quick practice that they weren't getting before. In order to hold MYSELF accountable for reviewing these skills, I needed the more "formal" structure of the Number of the Week to ensure that it would happen. 

I've seen some great number of the day/week posters on Pinterest that can be posted on the wall for students to record in their journals. (Search for "Number of the Day" on Pinterest and TONS of goodies will appear before your eyes!) Personally, I like for each student to have his or her own packet for the week. This makes it a little easier for me to assess where each student is, not to mention it makes the whole process a little quicker each day. 

I have my "Number of the Week" packet available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Click here to check it out! It's got 24 mystery number pages, along with 5 review pages to be used with any number. 

I'm posting 2 of the mystery number pages here for free for anyone who is interested! 

How do you promote number sense and review basic skills in your classroom?? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

Happy teaching!

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Power of Podcasting!


Greetings Friends! I hope that this finds you enjoying your holiday...that is if you were given today off. This is the first time we have had this holiday off for a few years and it is nice to have an extra day added to my weekend.

 Today, I wanted to share a brief post about pod-casting in the classroom.

Probably four years ago, I used some of my yearly allotment of supply money and invested in headphones with microphones for each of my then, 15 students. The headsets were about $4 each, and I felt something that I could easily afford. (I bought more last year and the same sets were now over $10 each- holy inflation Batman!)  Here is what I bought:
Apparently right now they are back to $7- so not as bad. Anyways, armed with the hardware, I asked our computer tech to arm us with the software for recording. She found some great free software that was easy for the students to use. I can not for the life of me remember what the program is at this moment, but if you do a search for FREE PODCAST SOFTWARE, you will get quite the list. I have used Audacity before, and it works great, just a little more involved for the recording.

After we were armed with our hardware and software, it was time to begin. Over the past 4 years, I have done several pod-casting sessions with my students. Some classes can handle doing 3-5 pod-casts in the given year, some can only handle one. But, I will tell you that the requirements that I give force them to use their reading, writing, fluency, and technology skills at a high level, and challenges all ranges of students in my classes.

The first podcast I have my students do is ALWAYS their favorite book. This is great because my low readers have to think of a book they have finished and my high-level students have to carefully select from a long list. Those middle-level students are happy because they simply have a book or two to choose from and share. For an example of what those sound like click HERE. Students had to meet specific criteria to earn top marks. At least 30 seconds but not more than a minute, had to mention the author, number of pages in the book, short summary of the book, and their favorite part (that wouldn't ruin the ending). As you will see on the link I shared, some made it, some did not.

However, the process of writing a script, reading it to a partner, refining the script, reading it again. Timing themselves, editing their work, double checking to ensure all components were met, and then finalizing a master script were ALL worth the time. I didn't give them much in-class time to work. A ten minute block here a 5 minute block there. When the day came to record, every student was ready to read SOMETHING!

The recording process is something that is a bit more complex, but doable. I gave my students a visual demo in the classroom and then walked them through the program in our computer lab. You only have to do this part once, the first time you record. After that, most kids remember what do to for the next time.

This is where the FLUENCY PRACTICE pays off- students had to record their entire podcast in one recording. I wasn't going to teach them to edit their audio files- AND they needed to be pushed to read fluently for 30 seconds. Some students did it in 3 tries, some took over 17 tries. I was afraid they would get mad and quit- but they didn't. They kept hitting that record button. Another victory in that even my lowest readers, who struggled with this, didn't give up.

This year, I have only managed ONE pod-cast so far. But I have more planned. This is my dream schedule of topics each year:
1- Favorite Book
2-Science Topic
3-Social Studies Topic-
4-Book Report Podcast
5- Health/Anti-Bullying Podcast
6- End of Year- Favorite Memory/Event

We never get to all of them. Realistically it can take several weeks to accomplish just ONE podcast. Once the students have their BEST podcast recorded, I upload them to our class wiki to share with the world.  Knowing the anyone with internet could hear them, makes them even more serious about recording well.

So, now that I have rambled on, I hope that it made sense. Pod-casting might be outdated, I don't know, but the skills that could be covered are amazing. With test prep looming on the horizon, you could have students make pod-casts about review topics and more.

Be inspired, be creative, and continue to BE AMAZING! Thanks for joining us here at All Things Upper Elementary.

-Mr. Hughes

Friday, February 15, 2013

Teaching Students to Justify in Math

Hello friends! The weekend is almost upon us!

Today, I wanted to share with you an answer chart that I saw in a middle school classroom that I was in a few weeks ago for professional development. This chart was fantastic for scaffolding the students through justifying their work in math. Take a look!

I loved this chart because it broke down justification into looks like/sounds like. This shows the students in an explicit manner how justification should look on their paper and should sound when they discuss it with a partner or whole group. Students have to be explicitly taught how to justify their work in any subject. I found this to be an excellent approach to teaching them how to justify that will carry over into any subject. It includes social norms, a little procedural norms, and some excellent scaffolds for making sense of their work...all three things that all students need!

How do you teach your students how to justify their work?

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Science Notebooking

As requested, I'm posting about my science notebooking. Last year our district adopted FOSS kits for our science curriculum.  FOSS has notebooking imbedded into their curriculum. We took what they had to offer and adapted it to the needs of our district.

Just like the math notebook, the students make their cover page.

Table of Contents

We start each unit by making a page for a word wall / word bank.

Following the word wall is a double page spread that has a concept map.

We work on the concept map together and when we are satisfied with what we have as a class, they students put it in their notebook. The word wall and concept map replace the vocabulary index and definitions that we have in our math journals.

We tape our lab sheets and any data we collect inside the notebooks.

 We have readers that go along with the kits. I have questions that the students answer in their notebooks.  Sometimes I have a strip of paper with the questions or a full sheet which we tape inside.

We add diagrams and notes with each unit. 

Sometimes we even add color pictures.

Do you use science journals?  What works for you?

Did you try notebooking after my math notebooking post? Tell us how it is going. Do you have more questions now that you have started to notebook?  

Please feel free to share your successes, questions or concerns you might have about notebooking.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Guest Poster: Teaches Third in Georgia

Hello everyone! This is Randi from over at TeachesThirdinGeorgia. I am so excited to be guest posting today. For just a little background knowledge, I thought I would let you know a little about me. Right now, I'm a third grade teacher in..you guessed it! Georgia! I absolutely LOVE my job and all the fun that comes with it.

I am an avid educational technology lover! If it can be used in a classroom, I'm the first to buy it! I use all sorts of techie gear in my room..IWB, document camera, iPods, an iPad and whatever else I can get my hands on!

This past week, I went to an EdTech training and learned about an awesome iPad app called Puppet Pals. It is a wonderful storytelling app in which students can use puppets to tell a story and record it to play back as a video, it works great for my ESOL students! Writing is a very difficult task for my kiddies. I have some students that are unable to write more than a paragraph. However, when asked to verbally tell a story, they really shine!

This app is SO much fun! In class, I have students use the app to tell a story. Once their story is told, they can then go back and listen to and write their own story! It's almost like dictation! My kids beg to use it during writers workshop. It really helps with generating ideas and keeping a story organized.

As a special treat, here are some stories created by a student in my room. If you are looking for a great addition to your toolbox, look no further!

Aren't they fun? The app is free and comes with a few characters but the downloadable content is fantastic! I hope you find the app as fun as I do!

Best wishes,

Make sure to check in at my blog as well! I'm always posting the fun stuff!
And pop in to my TeachersPayTeachers store for even more!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Calling Guest Posters!

All Things Upper Elementary
When Jennifer Findley posted on Teachers Pay Teachers about the creation of a collaborative blog dedicated to sharing upper elementary resources, the response was overwhelming.  It was an idea that was long overdue! 

Each one of us, the 14 collaborators here on All Things Upper Elementary, is touched by the support you, our followers have given us as we have started sharing some of our favorite educational tips and resources in our first month of posting.

Now that you've gotten to know each of us a little better, it feels like the perfect time to take our collaboration to the next level.  We want YOU!  What is your favorite teaching tip or resource? 

If you have something you'd like to share with our growing audience of nearly 250 upper elementary teachers, please fill out the Guest Contributor Form (see "Want to Guest Post?" in the tabs above).  Your contact information will be kept private. 

After we take a peek at your TPT store and blog, you can expect an Email from one of us.  Once you are selected, we'll give you a date and tips on how to make your post great.  At that point you can decide if the date works for you, and if so, we'll help you through the process. 

Once your post goes live, you will not only have the satisfaction of knowing you shared your ideas with educators around the internet; you will also receive a very snazzy All Things Upper Elementary Guest Poster badge for your blog. 

So if you love blogging and you're looking for an opportunity to network, fill out the form above.

Thanks for reading,

P.S., Stay tuned tomorrow for our first guest contributor's post!  Many of you will recognize this teacher from the TPT forums, and the post contains a great online resource that many of your kiddos would enjoy!

P.P.S., If you've already filled out the Guest Contributor Form prior to 2/10/13, you should have already received an Email confirmation from me this week.  If you didn't receive an Email, please resubmit if you are still interested, and include your Email address so that I can contact you.  Thanks!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Fun 4 All Linky Party: Love is In The Air

Welcome to another fun Linky Party here at All Things Upper Elementary! This week's Linky Party is for you to share any product that you have for the month of LOVE!

Now you ask, does it have to be themed? Nope! Can it be something I personally LOVE? Yep! See how easy that is? Simply link up your products (yes, products- limit yourself to 3, paid or FREE), give a grade level and put a $ or FREE to indicate in the title.

Example: Valentine's Word Problems (Gr. 4-6) $ or Spoons Game for Prefixes and Suffixes (Gr. 3-5) FREE

So, what are you waiting for? Add your links! And don't forget, we all love Comments and Feedback!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Close Reads

We are super pumped to share with you one of our favorite strategies to use with our students while reading, and the coolest part is that you can do this during science, social studies, math, or reading time! If you haven't heard of Close Reads yet, please let us introduce you!

What are Close Reads?

Close Reads is an instructional strategy that focuses on the "four corners of the text". Students have to read a selection of text carefully, reflect, and answer questions that require a deeper level of thinking. The answers lie solely in the text itself, without the students having to possess prior knowledge. Would prior knowledge make it easier to answer the questions? Possibly, but if the questions being asked can be answered using the text itself, then students who lack that prior knowledge will not be at a disadvantage. Close Reads can be used not just during reading, but during science or social studies. If you know the Common Core Reading Standards, then you know how important integration is. If you have always wanted to bring your science or social studies into your reading block, Close Reads will make the transition easier! As you begin using Close Reads, you will find that it becomes more of a discussion about the text. Close Reads go beyond what is written on the pages of the text. It includes all facets of a text, which is what the CCSS Anchor Standards are.

How Do You Use Close Reads?

Close Reads can be done whole group or small group depending on the purpose. You can choose to give your students a copy of the text or display the text on a white board. You can choose to have students read the text independently, with a partner, or you may want to read it to them and they follow along. If you want to see assess your students' listening comprehension, then you can read the text to them to take away the potential obstacle of having to read the text themselves. Close Reads can take anywhere between 20 to 45 minutes, depending on the age level of your group. There are also different ways for students to respond to the questions. I have had a class discussion by writing the question on chart paper or the white board and then recording student responses, had students write their answers independently, posted the questions on sentence strips in a pocket chart and give each student a sticky note to write their answers on and then stick in the pocket chart, or place 2-3 pieces of chart paper around the room with a different question written on each one and have the students travel to each question in a small group and write their answers/add to the answer already written. By mixing it up, students don't get bored, and they are constantly being challenged. You could also give your students the opportunity to write the questions themselves. You can give them question stems that guide them in the direction you want them to go, and then let them finish the question. So many possibilities!

How Do You Select the Text?

Well, that depends on your purpose. Are you wanting to integrate science or social studies? Then you might choose a scientific or historical text. Are you wanting to focus on a specific reading skill such as character analysis? Then you would choose a text excerpt that has a strong character and is rich with details that can be used to analyze that character. I ask myself this simple question: Why am I using this particular text? If my answer is, "I already have it in the basal"...well, that answer is not validating why the text should be used. Always ask your self, "What is the purpose for the Close Read?" and "Does this text fit this purpose the best?" So many times teachers reach for that stand-by text that has been read every year, or the story of the week from the basal. Not saying there is anything wrong with that, but if that is your reasoning, you may want to look for another text to use because clearly that text is not a good fit for your Close Read. Some teachers like to select the text first and then find or write questions that can be used. I think it's easier to look at what standards I am teaching, pull out questions that would fit the purpose of teaching those standards, and then look for a text that would be a good fit. You can't just whip out a book and grab some questions to ask. You MUST read the text before hand and really think about what questions are most appropriate for the purpose you have chosen.

How Are Close Reads Different From What You Already Do?

Chances are, you already have your students reading and answering questions about a text. I have found the biggest difference to be the quantity of questions I ask and the depth at which my students go. In the past I use to have my students read a passage, and then I had several questions I would ask. When my students gave me an answer, I would ask them to read from the text the clues or the sentences that gave them that answer (you know, prove your answer!), and then I would move to the next question. With Close Reads, you want to continue to have your students dig into the text. Having them share where in the text they found the answer is only the BEGINNING! Asking "How did that inform your answer?" or "Why do you think the author used those words?" are only two of the many questions you can continue to ask. We know the CCSS are rigorous, and to really get the students to think deeply requires asking them the right questions....questions that may stump them, and will most likely need to converse with other students and you in order to determine the answer. Often times one student will give an answer, and another student will add, and so on. Many times I end up only getting through 2 questions in a 30 minute segment because of how deeply we discuss the text. Another big difference is the wait time. Don't jump in to save your students! Allow them time to think and then share. Waiting can be the hardest part because we don't want our students to struggle, but giving them time to fully think about what to say lets them know that they don't have to rush an answer. I have modeled several Close Read lessons for the teachers at the school where I teach. Almost all of them have told me that it isn't that much different from what they are already doing, but those key differences are the ones that are always brought up. I myself have found it hard to dig deeper into the text, but with Close Read questions, it becomes much easier!

Eventually we want students to be able to answer Close Read questions on their own, but until my students are ready, I am using the gradual release model. At the beginning of the year it was a lot of me modeling for them the thinking that I have while I read, the types of answers I am looking for, and then we transitioned to them working in small groups with the questions, and now we are at working with a partner. My goal is that by March my students will be answering Close Read questions independently and successfully! It certainly hasn't been an easy path...most students aren't used to being asked these types of questions or having to dig deep, but like all things, with practice and guidance, it becomes more natural and easier for them, and for you!

How Do I Know What Questions to Ask?

Purpose, purpose, purpose! Are you noticing a trend here? First you must know what your purpose is. What is the focus of your lesson? Then select the text that will most readily lend itself to teaching those skills. Finally you can write questions that will guide students toward the discussion that you would like to have with them. Usually I look at the specific standard and the text, and then I write the question using the language of the standards. There are 3 domains in the reading CCSS: Key Ideas and Details, Craft and Structure, and Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. You may want to choose a question that will address each domain, or you may want to stick with one domain at a time. Again, it depends on your purpose and your students. 

We Can Help!

We have a product called Comprehension Question Stems for Literature, Informational Texts CCSS. This product contains over 60 question stems that you can easily use to help you write those Close Read questions. The question stems are color coded by domain, labeled with the anchor standard (since all K-12 reading standards originate from the anchor standards) AND they include the Bloom's Taxonomy Level of thinking. There is a literature set and an informational set. Some of the question stems are the same depending on the specific standard, but the frames for each type are different for organizational purposes. There are also recording sheets for tracking your students progress during Close Reads. There are recording sheets specific for EACH grade level. There are recording sheets that have all the standards on one page, and there is a set that is domain specific. Many ways to choose how to record your students' performance! This is a paid product. Please click the link for additional information.

Need More Information?

Here are some of the sites we used to learn more about Close Reads. Check out this YouTube video to gain more information on Close Reads and the CCSS, and then watch this video that gives an example. Once you are ready to begin planning, www.achievethecore.org provides some great information and tools (for not just reading but also math!) You can check out Close Reading Exemplars if you need ideas of types of texts you can choose, or the Common Core's Appendix B for additional text excerpts that you can use. You can read guidelines for writing questions if you want to create your own. 

We know that once you begin using Close Reads, you will fall in love just like us!

Don't forget about our All Things Upper Elementary Blog's First Paid Linky Party tomorrow! Make sure you stop back here tomorrow to either link up or find some awesome resources by some amazing teacher-authors! There will be activities for V-Day and other February themes, activities teachers just LOVE, and more! We hope to see you here!

Until next time,
2 Brainy Apples

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Checking 'Under the Hood' for Students' Reading Strategies

Processing information while reading is such a complex task!  I compare it to my car.  I know there are a lot of things going on underneath the hood when I start my car up and send it into reverse.  There has to be a highly elaborate system for what seems like a simple thing for me to do.  For me, starting my car is easy; I have even been having my 13 year-old start it in the morning because it’s been so cold out and I don’t want to do it!
But, as simple as it is for me, I know that there was a lot of engineering, trial and errors, research, and testing conducted by others so that my 13 year-old could easily turn the key and be able to automatically assume the car will start.

Just like starting a car, I think we can ask our kids to read and then we assume they are reading and understanding.  But, there are a lot of things going on ‘underneath the hood,’ that we need to make sure are working properly.  We can think of ourselves as the engineers, conducting trials and errors while listening to students read and asking them about their thinking.  We can test their skills on specific reading strategies so that we can be sure that what we don’t see ‘under the hood’ is happening every time they open a book!
Here is a list of questions we can ask our students to check for understanding as we conference or meet with students in guided reading:
1. Tell me what you are thinking about as you are reading (or after you finished reading).
2. What questions do you have as you are reading (or after you finished reading)?
3. What are you wondering about?
4. Is there a part that doesn't make sense?
5. What surprised you as you were reading?
6. What did you notice?
Asking these types of open-ended questions will give you a good snapshot as to what the student is thinking.  If the student answers with limited information, you can continue to press for information by saying things like:
1. Tell me more...
2. What else...
3. What makes you think that?
4. What do you mean by...?
As you are listening to students respond, take some notes on what each student is thinking.  Their responses to these questions will guide you in your future instruction.  You will easily be able to see if there is a lot of thinking going on 'under the hood' or not!
The best way to teach students that reading is more than just following words across the page with your eyes is to model the process by thinking aloud as you read.  Reading to students every...single...day, and sharing your thinking as you process information is the very best way to encourage thinking while reading.
Please visit my store to see more resources for asking comprehension questions.  I have several resources, including the following comprehension question cards. 


 I hope everyone has a wonderful week!!!
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