Sunday, April 27, 2014

Weekend Words: Hard is Okay

As teachers, we try to make hard fun.  But, sometimes hard is just hard.

I have seen students struggle and when I ask what is happening, he or she will say with great frustration, "This is hard!"

My response?  "And. . . ?" Said with a quizzical look as though I'm confused as to what the problem is.

My response is usually  returned with an equally confused look and again they blurt, "But, it's hard!'

Sometimes this is also followed with, "I can't do it. It's too hard."

My response?  "It might be hard, but that doesn't mean you can't do it.  It just means you have to work a little harder at it and not give up. And, I'm going to help you.  Let's look at it together."

Giving up because it is hard is never an option!

Instead, acknowledging that it very well may be hard, but you can do this, and I'm here to help you do it wins every time.

Hard is okay.

Being willing to tackle hard builds stamina, perseverance, and thinking skills.
Being successful at hard brings pride, knowledge, and a belief that you can do those hard things!

It makes that next hard thing a little less hard.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Vocabulary Instruction

I've been reading up on vocabulary instruction the past few months.  Vocabulary has been a concern for me this year as I notice more and more that my friends definitely need to expand theirs. It is something that my district is actually working on now to help our students across the board.

From my grad school classes, I knew a lot about vocab but wanted to read some more current work.  Earlier this week, I noticed a book had been added to a resource shelf in my school that I had actually read a couple of months ago.  It is Vocabulary for the Common Core by Robert J. Marzano and Julia A. Simms.  You can't really talk about vocabulary without having read some Marzano!

I have to say, I really like this book.  It is not so bogged down with technical terminology that your eyes cross after a while.  It's actually an easy read that is straight to the point with data to support their theories.  So, what follows is my take on what I read.  Your interpretation may vary!  Of course, I can't include everything the book covers, but I will try to highlight some of the key parts in each section.

The book is divided into three parts.  The first part has four short chapters and discusses the importance of vocabulary instruction, gives a six-step process for instruction, explains the hierarchy of words from the common core, and tells how to build a vocabulary program for an individual teacher or a school-wide program.  I am going to spend some time on Part 1 and just mention a thing or two about Parts 2 and 3.

I should note now, if you don't have a real interest in vocabulary instruction, you may find this all a bit blah, blah, blah. It is kind of long and all vocab, all the time! No hard feelings!  I get it!

Part 1: Vocabulary Instruction for the Common Core Standards

Chapter 1: The Importance of Vocabulary
This chapter goes into great detail discussing the importance and relevance of a student's oral vocabulary experiences to future vocabulary acquisition. It is amazing how significant the vocabulary gap is related to socio-economic status and how often parents speak to their children.  It creates a "cumulative disadvantage (p.7)" where this deficit of early oral language experience affects a child's ability to acquire new vocabulary in the long term.  There is data to support significant differences in vocabulary size and IQ at age 3 between children from professional families with frequent parent conversation and children from low socio-economic families with much lower parent conversation.  This isn't something we as teachers can control, so it seems to make the case for the importance of vocabulary instruction as a regular part of the school day.

Another interesting point was how having a larger vocabulary enables children (us!) to make mental categories of related words, which in turn allows higher level thinking where students note nuances in word.  This creates word choice that is more exact, expressive, and appropriate.   

The chapter ends with data supporting direct vocabulary instruction to percentile gains in assessments.  The key to this is that it doesn't support random vocabulary instruction, but the importance of "direct instruction about a targeted set of vocabulary terms. (p. 11)"  I'll come back to this point later because it is important.

Chapter 2:  A Six-Step Process for Vocabulary Instruction
This was a really interesting chapter, but one of the main points I LOVED is the difference between definition and description. I was literally saying, "Yes!" again and again as I read. Essentially it makes the point that sending children to the dictionary for a definition is often one of the least effective ways of teaching word meaning.  Yes! It is! I have always believed this. How many times have you had to explain a definition because the definition itself contains unknown words or is not relevant enough to be clear to your friends?  So, you say, "Well, it's LIKE this. . . " or, "It's WHEN. . ."  We define words by explaining and giving examples.  That is how our students usually come to understand definitions. I'm not saying the dictionary is bad at all, but it can't be the be all and end all of defining words. As noted in the book, the goal of the dictionary people is to define that term in the most succinct way they can to preserve room. They are not necessarily trying to provide the most easily understood definition or provide multiple examples to clarify meaning. This is why giving students a list of words to look up is so ineffective if we leave it at that.

The chapter focuses on a six-step process of direct vocabulary instruction with examples of how to do each step and suggested activities.  I would bet that most of us have done all the parts of this process at some point but not necessarily as part of a six-step plan of direct instruction. I think the biggest caveat to the whole process is finding the instructional time to do it all. It is well worth the time, but there is so much more we have to teach.  You would need to look at your literacy instruction time and see how it might fit.  Or, see how you can modify it to fit. My opinion is doing some of it is better than doing none of it!

Chapter 3: Vocabulary Terms From the Common Core State Standards
Oh, the common core!  It is everywhere!  Marzano and Simms review Isabel Beck's 3 Tiers of Vocabulary.  If you aren't familiar with them, THIS LINK will take you to a short Power Point created by Beck and her colleagues which explains it and provides information on vocab instruction with ELL students.  Essentially, Tier 1 words are the common words we all know: chair, dog, table, pretty, etc.  Tier 2 words are not so common in every day language, but we encounter them through experience and  in text and they become part of our language.  Tier 3 words tend to be content specific and used only in the context of the particular content, think science terms, math vocabulary, etc.  Essentially, this chapter explains how the word lists in Part 2 (tier 2 words) and Part 3 (tier 3 words) were selected.  They were words that came from the common core standards themselves and words previously identified by Marzano.  The book goes on to explain the hows and whys of the selection process.

Chapter 4: Building a Vocabulary Program
This was a very informative chapter if you are looking for a way to begin. This is where you create that "targeted set of vocabulary terms" mentioned in chapter 1. It provides a three-step process for individual teachers and a six-step process for schools/districts to use when selecting words for vocab instruction.   These are the word lists you would use in the six-step instructional model explained in chapter 2.

If I could identify one point from this chapter as significant, for me it would be the fact that teachers can, on their own, use the process described to select terms to teach, but "school or district wide vocabulary programs can be even more powerful. (p. 51)"  This is what I hope to see in my school.  Marzano does a great job of explaining how schools can form a committee to create a systematic word instruction model very simply.  It just makes so much sense to me to do it this way rather than have every teacher teach words they think are important with no correlation between grade levels and content. Marzano acknowledges that we can't teach all the words, and encourages the reader to select terms that are most relevant for them.  He even provides a ratings scale to use so that all member of a committee can rank words to really determine which they feel are most important in a more objective manner. This takes us to the last two parts of the book.

Part 2: Tier 2 Vocabulary Terms From The Common Core State Standards
This is literally a selection of words from the common core that are organized by the kinds of words they are (too much to explain here, but if you read the book you will know what I mean.) They are not categorized by grade level simply because they can appear at many different grade levels as they are those Tier 2 words that students may or may not be familiar with at different ages based on their word experiences.

Remember when I wrote about providing students with descriptions as well as definitions when defining words? Well,what I like about this section is that for each word it provides a math and language arts based description that the teacher can use when explaining a word.  This is where the nuances of words comes into play.  The connotation we have for a word in a math context may be very different for the connotation we have for the same word in a literacy context.

Part 3: Tier 3 Vocabulary Terms From The Common Core State Standards
Another list.  This time, they are those content specific tier 3 words.  Marzano took the standards and pulled related vocabulary that students need to know.  They are listed in a chart by the strands of the standards.  There is also a matrix that spans three grade levels for each word; suggested grade levels (based on the standards) for what grade the word should be introduced, practiced, and mastered.  It is an amazing list of common core words that bring order to all the academic vocabulary we need to teach.

Overall, this is a good book.  I think it is particularly useful if you want to bump up your vocabulary instruction but don't know where to start.  The lists in Part 3 are amazingly helpful if you are wondering what academic vocab you should be covering at your particular grade level. The six-step process for instruction is awesome but also time consuming. You would really have to think about how to make it work for you.  The book is not a hard read and can be read relatively quickly.  Of the 266 pages, the first 54 are essentially all of the text.  The rest of the book is almost all word lists.

I have to say, I read the heck out of this book!  If ever I needed an example of a book to show my students how to stop and jot when reading or do a close read, this book would be a perfect choice. I think it comes from being a lit major in college.  I feel like I tend to write more notes (and arrows and asterisks) than the author does text sometimes!

As I'm still knee deep in vocabulary thoughts, the book I'm currently reading is Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction by (who else?) Isabel Beck, Margaret McDeown, and Linda Kucan.
This was first published in 2002 but had been revised in 2013.  I vaguely remember reading it years ago but have forgotten enough to want to read the revised edition.  This one is slower reading, so it may be a bit before I can post about it.

So, that's where I have had my nose buried lately.  Brushing up on vocab. Do you have a specific model for vocab instruction in your school? What works for you?  I am planning on a follow-up post soon of some vocab silliness I always do with my friends that has always helped build vocab. Words can be fun!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Weekend Words: Procrastination is My Enemy

So, Spring Break.  This past week has been mine.  I left school on Friday with incomplete lesson plans and lots of papers to grade.  No Problem!  I have a whole week to get this done!  Easter next Sunday and no school until Monday?  Plenty of time to do it all!  I can do a little work every day, or maybe do it all this weekend so I can just enjoy the coming week off!  So much time to get it all done! I happily stuffed my teacher bag to overflowing with work and headed out the door full of optimism and plans!

Today.  I have today to get it all done.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The New Blog Design is Up and Running!

It's here! 
The new blog design is up, and I love it! 
Thanks again to Megan at A Bird in Hand Designs who was so nice to work with.  It is still a bit of a work in progress on my end, but the overall design is just what I wanted.  I love the colors, fonts, and overall look.

Let me take you on a little tour! 

I'm starting with two fun things I really love and am so happy I included:
  • A Pinterest hover button.  If you want to pin a picture from the blog, just hover a second and to the side of the picture a little apple will pop up to click on for an automatic pin.
  • "Return to Top" button floating on the bottom right side of the page.  I love this button on any web page I go to.  How many times have you scrolled down a ways and then have to scroll your way all the way back to the top?  I so wish Google had this button on their search page.
The Header:
  • I do love the header Megan came up with.  She was so patient with me as we went through a few different designs for it with colors, backgrounds, fonts, and images.  One thing I really like are the tabs at the top.  That's one of the areas that is still a work in progress on my end.  The "Home" tab is the regular blog page. 
  • On the "About Me" tab will bring you to a blank page for now.  I am going to be putting up a mini bio to introduce myself and a picture.  The "Hello" on the sidebar will be a welcome-to-the-blog type of thing directing you to the Hello tab if you want to know more.
  • There is also a "Freebies" tab.  I wasn't sure what to do with the third tab.  I needed one to just balance the look of the top a bit.  I decided that it would be "Freebies" and I will list on that page links to all the different freebies/printables I post on the regular blog.  It will be a sort of quick reference.  If my blog were a box of Cracker Jacks, that page would be the prize at the bottom of the box!

On the sidebar, there were a few things I wanted:

  • Buttons! Buttons! Buttons!   There are a few social media buttons:  There you will find a button to follow me on Bloglovin', and buttons that link to my Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook pages. All of which I am really just getting started with.  Megan also designed covers for me so that the look of those pages matches my blog.  One social media site I use and like is Instagram, and I totally forgot to have that put on.  I will probably go back and see if Megan can do it at a later date, but for now I think I have enough on my social media plate.  There is also a button that links to my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  As I wrote in this post, it is also a new endeavor for me which I probably won't be doing much with until summer.  However, if I do put something new up, I will post about it as an FYI. I also have a button for email, and now that I have linked it to my iPhone, I'm finding it so much easier to keep up with emails from readers.
More sidebar features include. . .
  • A button picture for the blog with a "Grab My Button" code. 
  • "Follow My Blog" which I'm not sure I need as I have a link to Bloglobin' for following the blog, so I have to look into this.
  • "Hello"  This is a little welcome intro that will (when I get a chance to do it) direct you to the "About Me" page.
  • "Followers"  That's links and pics to you! Thanks for following!
  • "Popular Posts" that shows the 5 most popular posts from the blog.  Right now it is all time favs, but I think I might change it to most popular within the last month. We'll see.
  • "Let's Explore!" which has all my crazy post tags that I am still working on cleaning up.
  • "Blog Archive" for searching by date.
  • "Search This Blog" Just in case those crazy tags and the archive aren't working for ya!
  • "TBA" a Teaching Blog Addict award
  • "Stat Counter"
I do need to reorder the sidebar items a bit.  Not really totally happy with the order I have them in right now.

Other Extras:
  • The blog now has post dividers that will separate each post with a line of apples.
  • I also now have a signature with my name and an apple that will appear at the end of every post.
I think that is pretty much everything.  I had no idea how much there was to take into consideration when designing a blog.  You really need to think it out and know what you want on yours.  If you are thinking of doing it, I would suggest looking at blogs you really like the look of.  What do they have in common?  Look at their backgrounds, fonts, and layout.  What do you like and not like?

Think about the layout of your blog.  Where would you want different parts to be?  For example, I had to decide if I wanted the buttons on the sidebar or up in the header.  Not something I even thought about before or even noticed.  Then I looked at other blogs and really noticed them. Everyone does it a little differently! 

Once you have an idea of what you want, I would even sketch out the blog layout to see how I want it to look. Or, you could just work with a great blog designer like I did who is patient with you while you try to figure all this out on the fly! :-)

As I wrote, there are still things to be done to clean up the blog on my end (finish cleaning up the tags, doing the About Me and Freebies pages, reordering the sidebar) but overall I'm just excited to see it up and running.  The procrastinator in my is also excited to see that I actually accomplished something on my 2014 Blog Goal list!  Now, on to the rest of that list. . .

Monday, April 14, 2014

I Did It!

I did it.  And, now I'm thinking, "Oh, my! What have I done?!"

If you read my blog, you know that a blog design with Megan from A Bird in Hand Designs is well underway.  You also may know that I set some blog goals this year, one of which was to create more literacy projects and dip my toe in the Teachers Pay Teachers site.

Well, Megan asked me for a link to my TpT store for the blog design.  What?!!!  You mean I actually have to have something going on there in order to have a working link? :-)

Since I had to have something ready to go, I decided to put the My Favorite Book bookmark that I created last August up as my first product.  It is still a free download, but it is now available in my Tpt store.  (Yikes!  I can't believe I just wrote that - my store!)

So, there it is.  I did it.  I finally opened a Tpt store.

Now, don't expect much for a while!  I had really planned to launch that whole project over the summer when I had more time to devote to it.  However, needing it ready for the new blog design got me moving now. I know I totally need to redo my "about me" blurb on the site, and I'm not sure if I will be ready to put anything else up for a bit.  I'm sort of baby stepping my way through this.  I should also mention that the store button does not reflect the new blog design just yet, but it will!

This is probably a good time to update the blog goals.  My last update was in February, so here's a quick one:

1.  Finish Blog Redesign - Sooooo close to being done!

2. Make at Least 6 Literacy Based Resources/Projects - Have some in the works, but nothing done yet.

3. Blog at least Twice a Week - Ummmm, no comment.

4. Step Up the Social Media Portion of the Blog - I'm trying!  There will be social media buttons on my blog to make it easy for you to follow, so I need to make a conscious effort to keep up with it all.

5.  Organize the Labels on Previous Posts - In progress!  Hoping to get it done this week!

6.  Connect with Other Bloggers - Not much progress here at all.  I love so many other blogs, but am still slacking on commenting.  I also need to make an effort to hook up to more linky posts that I can really add something to.  I don't want to link just for the sake of linking.

  If you have a Tpt store and have any words of wisdom for me, please share!  Or, if you buy from them, what do you wish sellers would or would not do? As I said, I'm sort of baby stepping my way through it all and would love, love, love any advice!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Weekend Words: Recognizing Strengths

Working with children reading 1-2+ years below grade level, I find this to be a mindful quote.  In a time where data drives all, we are constantly looking at data on our students.  
Too often I think we just note what they know, but focus on what they don't.  What do I need to teach?  What do I need to reteach?  Why aren't they getting this skill? 

Sometimes we need to step back and celebrate what they can do.  I find my students are often very well aware of what they can't do.  They know reading is hard for them.  They know writing is difficult.  They know they have difficulty decoding.  They know they can't understand what they read sometimes.  They know they can't always answer the questions teachers ask.  

What they don't often know is that there is a lot they can do really well.  There are things they can do better than other students.  Maybe they can't decode and have poor fluency, but maybe when you read with them and discuss the book they are awesome at inferencing. Maybe they can't spell, but maybe they are really pretty good at writing good sentences.  Maybe they struggle with higher order thinking questions, but have no difficulty with literal questions.

Yes, we want them to be better in those areas of need and of course we will continue to work on them.  But, we also need to take time to celebrate what our friends can do.  

Two of the ways I try to recognize my students' strengths include refrigerator papers and high-five postcards.  I had these postcards specially made via Vistaprint.  I thought I had posted about them, but in looking back for the post I realized I hadn't.  I'm on spring break now, but will write about them when I get back to school and can take a couple of pictures.  Essentially, they are postcards to send home when a student has done something to deserve a high-five from everyone at home.  

There are lots of ways to recognize student achievement, but this post is more about recognizing what what our friends do well but may take for granted or simply not realize.  While it is important for all children to realize what they are capable of, I feel it is even more important for my friends who struggle. 

To bring my friends' strengths to their attention, I want to take a day out and simply let them know exactly what it is they are rocking.  Just one day not focused on what they need to learn or do better.  One day to say, "Hey! Do you know you are awesome at ___________ in reading class?!"

I'm thinking of having a circus "Strong Man" celebration. I see a different group of children each period of the day, so it would have to be something small but powerful that I can do in 40 minutes. 
I'm still sketching it all out, but it involves creating a strong man themed printable that I can list all the literacy strengths that child has.  Something colorful that I can print on card stock and give to them to take home. It will be a way to build confidence and help my friends realize they are more capable than they know.  I thought this would be a great end of the year celebration, but if I can get myself moving on this, it would be awesome to do the week before our state testing begins in May. I won't go in to all the details now, but will post about it when it happens.  I have some fun ideas!

The point of today's Weekend Words is simply to say, don't forget to recognize all your friends CAN do when focusing on what they still need to learn to do.

Weekend Words is a new post I would like to do each weekend. 
It would be a quote or saying that I find interesting, powerful, or just funny. It may or may not be followed by my thoughts.  

Thursday, April 3, 2014

April Currently

Here's my April Currently courtesy of Farley of Oh Boy Fourth Grade!

Listening:  My friends in the Read 180 program record fluency passages on the computer as part of the program.  I can log in from anywhere, listen to their recordings, and grade them all online.  It is actually kind of cool. 

Loving: SPRING! I am so ready for some warmer weather after all the snow we've had this winter. The past two days I was actually able to leave with just a light jacket on in the mornings.

Thinking:  The blog redesign is underway!  One of my goals was to clean up the tags on my blog posts to make it easier to find posts on specific topics.  I actually thought I could sit down and do this fairly quickly.  Not happening!  It's not a terrible task, just time consuming.  Plus, I'm trying to figure out how to get Blogger to let me delete some tags I don't want to use anymore.  I'm so in awe of people who can do all these "computer things" with no effort!

Wanting:  It is 10:32 on a Thursday night as I write this.  I really wanted my lesson plans done before tomorrow so that I won't have to do them over the weekend. At this point, they are a bit more than half done. And yet here I sit working on a Currently. So, now I'm debating do I stay up late and get them done, get up super early and get them done, or just face reality and do it over the weekend.  Sigh. . . I have a serious procrastination problem!

Needing:  SPRING BREAK! I am so looking forward to it.  One more week to go until I have a full week off.  I'm so thankful that we were able to make up our snow days without losing most of our break.  I don't have any travel plans or any other big plans, but sometimes you just need a break from school stuff.  Not that I won't be doing some school work over the break, but I kind of love having the option of doing it all in my pajamas if I want to!

Hours & Last Day:  So, yeah those are my teacher hours - 8:35-3:20.  But, honestly it is so rare that those are my actual hours.  Most mornings I get in early, and I can't remember the last time I left at 3:20!  Not to mention all the work that still comes home.  And, I am sure I'm preaching to the choir here. :-) Only teachers truly understand the myth of "teacher's hours."  My last day is June 27th.  I know that seems so late to my southern teachers who are well into summer vacation by them.  It seems late to me, too!  I remember when I started teaching we would get out mid June.  It seems like out last day gets later and later as the years have gone by.  The biggest issue is the heat.  Our schools are not air conditioned.  In late June during a heatwave, it can be pretty tough to get kids to do anything in a hot, sticky, second floor classroom!