Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sidewalk Chalk Math & I'm Flattered!

Two of my fourth grade classes are taking a math test on Friday.  We thought today we would do a fun review.   This means going outside for sidewalk chalk math!  I should mention that we are having a mini heatwave.  The temp outside today was 93.  My partner teacher and I were tempted to stay inside and revise our plans, but it turned out to be cooler outside in the shade and breeze than it was in our NOT air conditioned classroom.  I'm not sure I'm going to make it to June 27th if this heat keeps up!

Sidewalk chalk math is something I have done with my students every year once the weather gets nice.  It involves getting a bucket of sidewalk chalk and a math page covering the skills of your choice.  We paired up the kids, and took them out to the shady area of the blacktop behind our school.  The kids solved the review sheet by showing all their work on the blacktop.  Simple!

Yes, there are two #4s on the sheet.  
We just penciled in an A and a B. 
Problem solved!

My other class was unable to go outside, so we just switched it up a bit.  Sidewalk chalk math became magic marker math.  This time I gave each friend some chart paper and two markers.  They solved all the problem on the chart paper using magic markers.  Turns out it was just as fun as sidewalk chalk math and a lot less messy!  In the past, I've actually done math this way on occasion and it is amazing how a couple of smelly markers and big chart paper that's all your own to write on will immediately engage your friends.

This is actually a good way to do on-the-spot assessment.  No student was given a red magic marker.  Red just happened to be the teacher color marker today, but it could be any color that your friends don't use.  I know some teachers don't like the whole "red pen" thing.  Having a color maker the kids didn't have allowed my partner teacher and I to wander the room and put a big check, C, or star on each problem answered correctly. As we walked, we could easily see the red and know right away who needed checking.

If we saw a friend struggling with something, we were able to crouch down and provide a little one-on-one instruction.  As this was a mixed review for a test, it enabled us to really focus in on those that needed specific help with specific skills. I mention that I did this with a partner teacher, but it is very manageable with only one teacher in the room.  I have done it that way many times.

I guess the point of this post is to show that just switching things up a bit by changing the scenery, method, etc. can make a huge difference in student engagement.  All my friends in both classes were practicing finding the volume of prisms, identifying faces, edges, and vertices, working with positive and negative integers, and much more.  All my friend were actively engaged and very receptive to help.   What they didn't do was complain that we had a math review or lay their heads on the desk and complain about the crazy hot temps in our classroom. Everyone actively participated, prepared for the test, and nobody complained.   I consider this a success!  How do you switch things up in the classroom?

And, then this happened. . . 

A few months ago I was interviewed for an article in the Summer 2013 issue of  Scholastic's Instructor magazine.  I had done a post a while back giving some tips on how to pack up your classroom for the end of the year that got a little notice. Written by Julia Martin, the article is called 10 Tips for Packing Up Your Classroom.  I was happy (and beyond flattered!) to contribute some of my thoughts.  It was nice to see some of my ideas in print in a magazine I actually subscribe to. The article includes many more great idea by other teachers that I totally plan to borrow!  If you get a chance, click the link above and give it a read! 

Thank you, Scholastic!

By the way, Scholastic's Teacher express has extended their Dollar Days sale for two more days.  So, obviously the sale ends two days from the date of this post.  If you aren't familiar with their Dollar Day sale, take a look.  They provide a ton of different teacher resource ebooks that you can purchase for just $1.  They are digital downloads of the actual books you would normally buy and use as black line masters, etc.  It's a great way to gather some new resources without cluttering up your bookshelves.  Click HERE to visit their sale page.  You can browse by grade level.

*This is not a sponsored post in any way.  I would have told you all about the Scholastic Dollar Days sale even if they hadn't included me in their magazine.  I am sure they don't even know I have posted about it!  But, it is too good a sale to not share with you! 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Close Reading - Scratching the Surface

As a member of the International Reading Association, each month I receive a copy of their journal The Reading Teacher.  If I had to name one professional journal that most impacts my teaching and thinking, this would be the one.  Perhaps one of my favorite issues is from November 2012.  It was replete with articles that directly relate to what I am doing in the classroom. I find myself going back to this issue and rereading often.  I thought I would share some information and thoughts I had on a couple that were particularly relevant.  Today, I'm thinking about the article Close Reading in Elementary School by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey.
                                      Reading Fluency

The article defines close reading as, "an instructional routine in which students critically examine a text, especially through repeated readings."  Until the common core put a spotlight on the importance of comprehension of complicated texts, I'm not sure how many of us were doing it in this manner.  We certainly have our students go back and reread to locate information, confirm predictions, etc.  However, I don't think the strategy of rereading a text in its totality two or three times to make meaning and synthesize their thinking is used regularly in elementary classes.

Fisher and Frey make a lot of compelling points in the article and if you were looking for more information on why you should and how you can incorporate close reading in your class, I would recommend reading the article. I've provided a few thoughts on some of what stuck with me.

Use short, complex passages for close reading.  Immediately, I thought of the social studies and science text books we use that have pages and pages of complex text that we often expect our students to understand with one reading.  If we took the most significant passage from that text and used it in a close reading lesson, it would provide our students the opportunity to know, not just read,  the information.  They would be making meaning in a purposeful way that actually makes sense to the student.  Using those content subject texts in reading is a great cross-curricular way to teach more material. However  the texts need to be complex and short.  If it is something they can understand in a single reading, it is not something to use in close reading.  It needs to be short so that enough information is given, but students are not overloaded.  It also needs to be manageable for rereading in a timely manner.

Limit the Frontloading.  This really made me think.  Don't we always want to activate schema prior to reading?  Don't we sometimes provide anticipatory sets to help preview the material?  Don't we often explain unknown and difficult vocabulary prior to reading?  This idea of not providing this type of support to the nth degree prior to reading was something to think about.  Fisher and Frey make the point that sometimes we can  provide too much information.  Ideally, we might highlight really obscure reference or vocabulary, but we don't need to prepare them so much that we almost remove the need to read the text.

Another reason Fisher and Frey like the idea of limiting the frontloading is that our students will often hijack (my word, not theirs!) the introduction you provide with connections to personal experiences that actually take away from the text.  So true!  If we are going to talk about Florida, when introducing the topic I know I would have four different students telling me how they rode a horse on vacation in Florida and went really fast or how they went to Disney and rode a roller coaster. That's all fine and well, but if my intent is to teach about the climate of Florida my students are not really making relevant connections.If connections are made after an initial reading of the text once the child has more information, chances are the connections will be more relevant and become even more so after repeated readings. Also, in my frontloading, if they are going to run into the unknown word of humid, rather than tell them what the word means I could just say be on the lookout for this word and see if you can figure out what it means.  I may need to explain the word after one reading, but it just may be that I don't.  That they were able to figure it out requires the application of reading skills, and I didn't remove that learning experience by telling them.

Guide the readings with text-dependent questions.  Fisher and Frey write that these questions are "specifically focused on the text and allowed students to consider evidence from the text."  I believe this is a critical component of close reading.  The article goes on to give six different categories of text-dependent questions: general understanding, key detail, vocabulary and text structure, author's purpose, inferential, and opinion/intertextual question.  For examples of each, you should read the article.  It explains how to use them across all grade levels.

One reason I found this to be a critical component because it directly relates to the standardized tests our students take.  If they are to do well on these tests, they must have the experience, skills, and knowledge of how to answer text dependent questions.  Practicing with shorter passages that your have had a chance to reread is a great way to practice this skill.  But more importantly, using text-dependent questions to guide student reading and thinking provides that scaffolding, that focus that our students need to make meaning of more complex texts.

Read with a pencil!  I know I've posted before on how my students are taught to annotate text as they read. I've even gone so far as to have custom ordered sticky notes to help guide my more struggling readers.  If you could see my copy The Reading Teacher, you would see that the articles are all marked up.  I underline important information, I circle words I don't know, I make notes next to the text, I write down questions I have while reading.  It's not something I think about.  I do it automatically because I know it helps me to understand the text.  My notations guide me in rereading the text to areas I didn't understand, or help me locate information I know is important.  Well, isn't that what we want our students to be able to do? It's a learned practice that can easily begin in the elementary classroom.

While I've shared some thoughts on the close reading article, there is much more to it than I have mentioned.  Please read the article if you have the opportunity.  It is well worth the read.  What I have here barely scratches the surface on close reading.  If you want more information, below are a few links I like:

  • Here are two short videos, part 1 & 2, by Douglas Fisher himself.  He explains a bit more about close reading and CCS.  They run about three minutes each.

Part 1
Part 2

  • Educational Leadership, a journal published by the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development, has a very nice article called Closing in on Close Reading that further explains the concept and provides examples of questioning.  You can see the article by clicking HERE.

  • Here is a video introduced by Lucy Calkins that shows the close reading of a non-fiction read aloud in a 4th grade classroom.  Now, what happens in this text differs somewhat from the type/style of close reading given in the Fisher and Frey article.  Students do not have a copy of the text as it is a read aloud, and students are provided with other texts and maps to help them synthesize the information.  One of the things I like about the video is the accountable talk the teacher requires of the students   She does ask them several text dependent questions and the students comments and answers are all relevant.  This video runs about ten minutes.   Click HERE for this video.  For some reason I couldn't embed it.  (For those of you who viewed this post earlier, please note this link has been edited.  I initially had a different video linked.  It wasn't until after I posted that I realized it wasn't the exact one I had meant to link to.)

  • Of course, there always Pinterest!  THIS LINK will take you to their page of Close Reading Boards.  If you know Pinterest, you know anyone can pin anything so I can't verify how reliable the information is.  However, more often than not I find some very reputable links and great ideas.
Are you using close reading in your classroom?  
Any thoughts on the topic?