Sunday, January 31, 2010

It seemed like the BEST idea at the time!

It's the end of January and 31 days of posting. I want to say good bye for the month by sharing my favorite photo - a teacher feature, if ever there was one! When you're discouraged, overwhelmed, frustrated, and tired, grab a hole-puncher and POUND THE HECK OUT OF IT!

"I feel MUCH better NOW!" growled Cynthia Vandermeiden as she tried to beat a hole-puncher into submission in a fruitless effort to free the overhead transparency.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Professional Learning Communities: BEST Model to Bring About Change

WoW! I'd be so excited tonight about this being January 30th and my second to last post IF I still didn't need to finish two partial entries in addition to this one. BUT I am committed this to the challenge and want to finish up the month with 31 tips, ideas, or reflections. Tiring as it has been, I have enjoyed it and learned A LOT! Today was no exception!

While most of my colleagues were busy washing, cleaning, or grocery shopping on their Saturday, I joined the faculty at Majestic Elementary to learn about Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).  Dr. Kerrie Naylor conducted the teachers' training, and we curriculum consultants and sprecialists observed so that we could make Dr. Naylor nervous and also assist in teaching future workshops.

Without going into the history of PLCs, it is important to understand the objectives of this model for change. Richard DuFour brought about mighty changes and incredible results when he established  PLCs as superintendent of Chicago's Adelai Stevenson School District - a school so large it constitutes its own district. Briefly, I want to share the Big Ideas we studied yesterday. (Some of the included information is from a DuFour article that appeared in Educational Leadership, May 2004, "What is a 'Professional Learning Community?'")

Big Idea #1: Ensuring that students LEARN: This idea in and of itself generated a huge shift in philosophy. Educators stopped thinking that teaching students was enough and turned to the notion that we must ensure that students actually LEARN. No more excuses like, "I TAUGHT them not to split infinitives!"

To make this happen, 3 driving questions pave the way:
  • What do we want each student to learn?
  • How will we know when each student has learned it?
  • How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty in learning?
DuFour notes that a school's response to the last question is what separates a professional learning community from a traditional school.

Big Idea #2: A Culture of Collaboration: Many schools pay lip service to the IDEA of collaboration and some may work together to build a program centered on "discipline, technology, or social climate." PLCs centered on student learning, however, work together to analyze student work and their own instructional practices. They put aside egos and personal agendas to examine what their students need and how they can improve their practices to fulfill those needs.

Big Idea #3: A Focus on Results: "Professional learning communities judge their effectiveness on the basis of results." Instead of establishing goals like "We will adopt an audio book program," or "We will expand the number of portable computer labs," a PLC goal might state, "We will decrease the percentage of students failing science tests by 50%."

Teachers create and review formative assesments throughout the school year and then adjust instruction to improve student learning. As the team examines the students' work, they look for those who do well, and if one teacher's class performs better than the others, they discuss details of  his or her instruction to determine what may have created the difference. Once that practice has been identified, the teachers incorporate it to see if that helps their students.

While PLCs are not new, they are NOT a passing trend that is likely to go away. The current demand for improved student performance, as well as the positive results demonstrated by schools using this model with fidelity are entrenching the PLC movement. And the teachers at Majestic Elementary are willing and eager to work together to support their students' learning. Here are a few fun photos from our Saturday School!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Among the BEST Teachers: 3 Poetic Dedications

Oh my, but I am winding down, down, down. I still have lots 'o topics, but diminishing energy. On Fridays I like to write up something light, and so I went in search of another of my favorite "teacher" poems - one written by Bill Strong, formerly of Utah State University. Once the lines were safely framed behind glass and hung on a wall in my study, but one day something knocked against the wall and down came the favorite poem. Now scratched and covered in shining splinters, I tucked it in a safe place until I purchased another frame. I know it's in a file somewhere.

Then I thought, "Surely I can google the poet and/or poem for NEARLY anything ever written lies hidden somewhere in cyberspace. If I find just the right combination of search terms or phrases, I'll stumble upon it." I was right. BUT - and this is what I LOVE about searching the Internet - I found a couple of additional gems along the way - treasures I wouldn't have uncovered had I reframed his dedication to a teacher he once knew. And now I will share my discoveries with you!

Here is a version of William J. Strong's poem "I Knew a Teacher Once." The teacher was female in my copy, but this rendering was included in a tribute to the late Dr. Charles Mazer, former director of the East Texas Writing Project. I also believe a few other lines have been revised to better describe Bill's friend. I think I like this version better.

I knew a teacher once

With words as soft
As moths on summer screens.
Brittle bright and
Cruel was not his style.
As others barked,
His whispers touched the dark
Inside your soul
And seemed to echo there.
The way was sure.
He always took the time:
Refused the rush
Of world report for poems–
And pushed aside
The weight of dusty tomes
To scratch his nose
And pass around the mints.
He seemed alive.

You couldn't put him on.
He'd take a book
And make it yours and his
In magic ways
That made your breath come quick.
His wink was slight.
The eyes were bright and clear,
A hush of greens.
You'd watch the pause of smile,
A patient blink
That let the question hang.
His tease would make
You more than eyes and ears.
It often made
Your insides twist and think.
I guess he liked
His work enough to make
It play for us.

2. Before I found Dr. Strong's poem, I was surprised by this poem, also titled "I Knew a Teacher Once," but penned by Erin Marie Cosen. At first I thought the young poet may have plagarized my old Utah Writing Project instructor's work, but as I read the lines, I decided she used his poem as a pattern. AND I wouldn't be surprised if she composed her tribute while attending a writing project workshop! Read on, and tell me what YOU think!

I Knew A Teacher Once
I knew a teacher once
with the sweetest voice
Her always caring words
spoken in precious
melodies. Never a
harsh word did she speak,
and reflected in her
joyous eyes, was the
music of her voice. Though
her smile was quite
lopsided, that only
made it all the more
radiant. Tinkling
was her laughter, like
sleigh bells on Christmas Day.
She could have been a
Dancer, so graceful was
her every movement.

It didn't matter if
you were good or bad
She loved you just the same.
We visited the
jailhouse, and raced across
the country for a
taste of balanced breakfasts.
She sympathized and
cared then, as well as now.
And she could give out
courage and confidence
as though they came in
neatly wrapped packages.
Never will there be
another teacher like
Mrs. Dreibelbis.
Like a crystal snowflake
there is only one.

3. This last find is NOT a poem, but the prose is poetic. I can't credit the author because this is an introduction to thesis # 91 in a collection of 100 theses. I do know the author is English, and the title of this essay is "Teachers: Professionals or Parrots," but I can't locate the title of the entire collection. It is interesting that the three pieces, saved as a PDF file, could serve as blog posts, and the author's goal was to write 100 of them. And NO, I'm not going to change push MY finish line from 31 posts to 100! Here is treasure #3!
I had a teacher once ...
I had a teacher once… no oil painting he, with sagging
stomach, Roman nose and Hapsburg chin. He taught us both
‘A’ level history and English, but he was equally passionate
about cricket, medieval art and music. We never knew
what would happen in each lesson, he simply fascinated us
and sent us scampering away to ask a thousand questions.
Good night now, Friends. Hope you enjoyed reading these offerings as much as I enjoyed finding them!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

BESTING Our Efforts to Improve Vocabulary

May I tell you how thrilled I am that tonight is January 28th, and I am wrapping up this month of posting EVERY day for the past 31 days? As promised, I am going to share a little bit about Tim Rasinski's vocabulary building. First I want to share a video from Teacher Tube to introduce this topic. Unfortunately, this is a little like an advertisement, but it shows a mini-clip of how elementary students can benefit from learning vocabulary through learning Greek and Latin roots.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

From Better to BEST

Writing one sentence last night was probably a "cop-out" of sorts, but I really had a rough day. I knew it was by the number of chocolate stars I consumed. (Remember that confection, created by Brach's Candy, from the olden days? I used to think the chocolate always tasted like it had gone way beyond its shelf life, but not the ones in Amanda Hansen's candy dish! YUMMY! I grabbed 2 or 3 every time I walked by, and as afternoon neared, I traveled the long way through the office just so I had an excuse to meander past the chocolate stars!)

Now that I've thoroughly "obscured" tonight's topic, I'll try to find it again. On January 27th, eight teachers joined Leslie Thompson and me in our Inquiry professional development class. We were thrilled that the class carried and even happier that they enjoyed the fast-fleeting 2 hours.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Inquiry: BEST Way to ENGAGE Students

Why does inquiry-based learning engage students?
From our infancy, inquiry is the way we make sense of the world around us. Humans are naturally curious, and as we seek answers to questions or resolutions to problems, we construct new knowledge. Successfully doing that is motivating. Furthermore, inquiry suggests there is more than one right answer which encourages risk-taking, does it not? Operating in a low-risk environment is also motivating, and when students are motivated, they are engaged.
Why is inquiry-based learning so important to students' education?
Back in the day when our economy was based upon agriculture or unskilled labor, education's purpose was to learn/memorize information. The Education Broadcasting Corporation states that today's society is
faster paced, globally networked, technologically oriented, and requires workers who can problem solve and think critically. ...  Inquiry learning can turn information into useful knowledge. It stresses skill development and nurtures the development of good habits of mind. Information, lacking a useful context, often has limited applications beyond passing a test.
Inquiry is the Language Arts Core Curriculum's third standard, and it is the least understood. Today 8 teachers from our district participated in the Secondary Literacy Institute, sponsored by our partnership with BYU, Alpine, Nebo, Provo, and Wasatch School Districts. Dr. Jeff Wilhelm directs the Institute and today all attending participants shared their inquiry units with each other.

On January 27th, JSD will hold our first professional development class for teachers interested in learning more about Inquiry-based Learning. I will be assisting our instructor Leslie Thompson of Copper Hills High. Leslie earned her master's degree in IBL and uses this model to conduct all her classes - including her mythology class. We are thrilled that the class carried, and excited to facilitate the great learning that is sure to occur. In the meantime, take a peek at the good times teachers enjoyed today at our own Valley High School.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Hello All,

Tonight I am passing along a request from Kylene Beers, former NCTE president and author of When Kids Can't Read What Teachers Can Do, one of MY favorite resources. Kylene is researching ways that educators teach novels to struggling readers, and she wants our input. Here is her request:Please consider helping Kylene Beers and Bob Probst with research that stands to benefit us all when the results come out. Here are the details. The online survey takes only a minute:
Bob Probst and I are looking for some information on how teachers teach novels to struggling readers. We’ve created a survey on survey monkey and will keep it open through January 30. Here’s the post I put up on Twitter a few hours ago:

Beers/Probst survey for tchrs gr 4-12 re novels for struggling readers. Ends Jan 30. Survey link:

Would you each spread the word about the survey through your own twitter accounts, Nings, Facebook page, or email distribution lists? Some of you might even actually talk face to face with teachers. That’s also an acceptable word to encourage folks to participate. Those of you with college classes of inservice teachers might encourage them to respond.

We’ll post results on my blog site ( in a couple of weeks.


You were all so great to respond to my survey about reading aloud that I felt you would be willing to respond to this request as well.

Thanks again,

Sunday, January 24, 2010

It's Really BEST to Know the BRUTAL Truths

Dear Colleagues,

As I researched information about the Direct Writing Assessment, I discovered a PowerPoint presentation uploaded on the USOE website. As I reviewed the slides, I saw that Education Specialist Jeannie Rowland's November presentation reiterates Mike Schmoker's keynote address at last fall's USACD conference. I like both slide shows; Mike's ties in math more than Jeannie's, but I am creating links to both for you.

I know your time is limited, but I highly recommend that you review one or both of these presentations because they emphasize what we REALLY need to do to improve our schools and better prepare our students.
  • Mike Schmoker's "The Opportunity: From 'Brutal Facts' to the Best Schools We've Ever Had," click HERE
  • Jeannie Rowland's "Practical Assessment Tools," click HERE
Some points I suggest that you review are as follows:
  • What are the "BRUTAL FACTS?"
  • What is the "TEACHER EFFECT" and how does it impact student learning?
  • What can we do as educators to support students in being "college ready" and/or "life successful?" 
  • How would increasing the amount of writing throughout the school day affect college readiness? What are some examples of how we can do this?
  • What other kinds of writing and reading should be emphasized?
  • What kind of school organization can make this happen?
Please share your responses to these comments. Some are VERY pointed. What do you think?

Best wishes,

Saturday, January 23, 2010

More "BEST Ideas for Preparing Students for the DWA"

Dear Colleagues,

On Thursday I wrote about the long and winding road that brought our state to this juncture - an online writing assessment, scored by artificial intelligence. Because the road has been a long one, the post grew in length as well, and I didn't share some of the best ideas I've discoverd for preparing 8th graders for this journey.

I created a PowerPoint presentation - I know it's the 21st century version of a black/white board, but it helps me stay a little more focused when I'm teaching. Because the PowerPoint includes several links to some excellent resources, I thought it might be helpful for educators who drop by Link2Literacy. (Click HERE to review the PPoint.)

Before sharing some other good ideas that came out of Friday's class with about 30 eighth grade teachers, I want to reiterate that the DWA is an UNTIMED test. It's difficult, but it's important that schools allow students to complete their essay in ONE SITTING but also be allowed to work on it AS LONG AS THEY NEED TO.

Testing results are COMPROMISED if this is NOT allowed. For example, two schools in our district consist of similar student populations as far as social economic status (SES) and standardized test scores are concerned. But one school consistently scores several points higher on the DWA test. I pondered over that because I know that both schools boast of exceptional teachers as well as involved parents. When I learned that one school administered the writing test as a TIMED test, limiting it to about 45 minutes, while the other followed USOE's guidelines of setting it up as untimed, I concluded that the differences in the scores MIGHT BE attributed to the timing differences.

Furthermore, the validity and reliability of the results is compromised if some schools are timing the tests and others are not. The fact that ALL students throughout the state cannot take the test at the same time also affects test security AND test results. The test may very well be flawed, but it's all we have, and it can still provide data to inform our instruction.

Now what are some tips for making this a good experience for our kids? Here are just a few ideas gleaned from Friday's DWA workshop.
  • Acknowledging that writing assessments are a genre in and of themselves, we also want to stress that students will encounter writing assessments in the "real" world. Several teachers shared their experiences of writing to a prompt as part of job interviews. The most interesting was the teacher who once applied for a position in the banking industry and had to answer the question, "If you were an animal, what would you choose to be?" She wrote about being a race horse. Interesting.

  • We also discussed the fact that in the "Fake World" of the testing situation, students will not be able to research expert opinions and so they will have to "make up" data, direct quotes, and authorities to support their claims. As ludicrous as this is, it does serve a couple of purposes: 1) it teaches students HOW and WHERE to include this type of documentation; 2) it is engaging for students to create important sounding monikers and impressive data. We just hope they don't follow the footsteps of individuals who find this process can also be applied to doctoring up resumes.

  • Because any type of assessment can be stressful, let's not turn the test PREPARATION into something traumatic, too. Let's remember that writing well is a great life skill and the persuasive essay, letter, proposal, etc. requires higher order thinking and descriptive, logical, and clear writing. Some tips on building engaging instruction include ... assigning students intriguing prompts that they can relate to; requiring them to take a stand one day and refute that opinion the next; allowing them to orally debate the questions; organizing them into collaborative groups to tackle topics; giving them some choices of prompts; letting them create prompts; and providing opportunities for "authentic" persuasive writing.
Before signing off, I want to tell you that if you are worried about students' typing skills, there is a link on the  PowerPoint where students can go to practice. There are also links to lesson plans, model papers, and PowerPoint presentations that can be shared with students.

Best of luck, Friends.

Friday, January 22, 2010

BEST Laugh is the LAST Laugh - right?

Dear Friends,

It's Friday, and so I'm again taking the easy way out as far as a posting goes. Because I've been focusing upon the DWA this week, I want to share this "fun" YouTube video that I think exemplifies some of the craziness of testing. So, it's the end of the week - ready for the  LAST LAUGH? Enjoy!



Thursday, January 21, 2010

BEST Ways to Prepare Students for the Direct Writing Assessment (DWA)

Good Evening,

Tomorrow I am meeting with 8th grade teachers to review ideas that will help prepare students for the Direct Writing Assessment (DWA). This is an interesting situation in that Utah is doing what no other state in the union has done - ever!

"And what's THAT?" exclaims Joe the Plumber,  a relative of John Q. Public, who recently lost his job due to the downturn of the housing industry. Because he's been busy filling out unemployment forms, he hasn't heard about the big change in this year's writing assessment. In fact, Joe just learned last Tuesday Jordan School District no longer includes schools on the east side of the Salt Lake Valley; so it's little wonder that he doesn't know that his 8th grade daughter's writing will be tested this year.

So what's the big deal with this DWA? No, it's not part of President Obama's stimulus package, nor is it a program resurrected from the era of the Great Depression - like the CCC or the TVA. Spawned during the NCLB climate of accountability, Merit Software provides a little background about our summative assessment of writing - 
The Direct Writing Assessment (DWA) is a criterion-referenced test designed to assess the writing skills of Utah students in grades six and nine five and eight. This writing test is an element of the Utah Performance Assessment System for Students (U-PASS). It was first administered statewide in the spring of 2002.
The DWA is scored using an analytic rather than a holistic scoring method. The scoring rubric, which is aligned with the Utah Core Curriculum for language arts, focuses on six components of writing: ideas & content, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions.
THAT was THEN; this is NOW -
  • Not quite a year ago, the state legislature created a LAW that stated ...
    • 8th grade, not 9th grade, students will write their persuasive essays online INSTEAD of by hand.
      • Switch to 8th grade was because law makers wanted to see a writing assessment in each level - elementary (5th), middle (8th), high school (10th)
      • Reason for switch: Many districts throughout Utah send 9th graders to high school, but 8th grade is in ALL middle schools.
    • 8th graders will write to a PERSUASIVE prompt even though the Core objectives and indicators focus upon NARRATIVE writing
    • Students' essays will be assessed by ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE as programmed by Measurement, Inc.  
      • THIS IS  .... interesting?  
    • EVERYTHING had to be in place by spring of 2010!!!! 
      • Request for proposals (RFP) to find a company to administer assessment
      • Review of RFPs and award to "winning" company 
      • Development by company of ALL criteria 
        • Formative assessment tool (Utah Writes)
        • Summative requirements - a TON of those!!!
      So, my friends, this is how we got to where we are. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. When the excitement is over and the dust has settled, I'll be happy to reprint any crazy stories you have to share.

      GOOD LUCK!!!! 

      Wednesday, January 20, 2010

      BEST Way to Start a Love for Literacy: Board Books for Babies

      "Board Books for Babies"
      Sarita Rich of Elk Ridge Middle School
      reads to her little one.

       Dear Friends,

      In January 2006 our sixth grandchild and third grand-daughter arrived at a hospital in Las Vegas. Our thrill quickly evaporated when we learned that she experienced life-threatening complications during the birth process. Our Mia spent her first week of life in a neo-natal intensive care unit while nurses and doctors treated her.

      It was very strange to see this 7 pounds-plus baby sleeping in an isolet next to a tiny, tiny baby who weighed 2 pounds, maybe. Both babies had tubes stuck, taped, and fixed to their heads, hands, and legs. Of course, Mia's size factored into her complete recovery, while her bitty roommate's low weight was definitely a detriment.

      As I watched attendants record their progress and administer to their needs, I marveled at the advances in medicine that so often save lives such as these. But the most amazing treatment I witnessed didn't come from any doctors or nurses; it came at the hands of the premature baby's mother.

      As I rocked my grand-daughter, I saw this young mother stand close to her little one with a large picture book in hand, and I listened to her quietly, but enthusiastically read the words to her baby. I can't even write about this without tears welling. I'll never forget that picture and the message it delivered - "Hear my voice, Baby Dearest. Listen to your mommy read these words to you and tell you about the pictures and colors on the pages. I know you can't understand what I'm saying, but you know what I'm sharing: my love and my dreams for you." 

      When editing today's post, I decided to scrap the original and write about an important service project sponsored by Jordan Council of the International Reading Association (JCIRA). "Board Books for Babies" was organized to collect new board books for "literacy kits" that we're assembling to present to new mothers at the IHC Regional Hospital that just opened in Riverton.

      We want very much to help young moms start their little ones on the road to literacy by giving them a book they can read to babies that very day. We'll also include a letter of congratulations that informs them of the importance of reading to their children from the minute they join their family.

      Reading to young children does so much to build oral communication, print awareness, and - most importantly - a bond between the reader and the little one. Print awareness, a term not familiar to many secondary teachers or parents, teaches children "how" to read a book in our culture: from front to back, left to right; and top to bottom. Print awareness also links words to pictures and to their own limited experiences.

      Whether or not you are a member of JCIRA, we invite you to donate one or more new books to our organization so that we can serve the littlest ones in our communities.

      You can ~
      • bring the book to our next meeting FEBRUARY 8 at 4:30 P.M. in the ASB building on Redwood Road, or ...
      • send it to RENAE SALISBURY (me) at the district office, or ...
      • call or email me to PICK IT UP AT YOUR SCHOOL, and I will!
      We want to wrap up this project by Valentine's Day. Thanks so much for considering this worthy cause in a year when there are so many.

      Best wishes,

      Tuesday, January 19, 2010

      BEST Change: ADDING a DIFFERENT 12 grade LA Core Curriculum!

      Good Day, All,

      Yesterday I reprinted some questions generated by Carol Booth Olson, and the first and most crucial one is this:What is missing from adolescent writing instruction? As I thought about this question, I realized my original answer is no longer a factor - at least in our state. 

      Until a few months ago, I would have said that technical writing is missing, but thanks to a number of individuals from several districts and colleges, Utah twelfth-graders can opt to enroll in Technical and Professional Communication: "Real Writing for the Real World." 

      For nearly a year, district language arts consultants and specialists researched various programs at universities and community colleges. After meeting with these instructors and professors, the group created a NEW core curriculum focused upon writing for the real world. And what does that mean? It means a VERY DIFFERENT set of standards and objectives.
      • Biggest difference - the Tech Communication class will NOT be literature based. That means teachers will NOT try to create a technical writing assignment connected to Pride and Prejudice. (ex. Write a memo from Bingley to Mr. Darcy informing him that he has covered Wickham's expenses for the past 3 months.)
      • The Tech Communication class will be "case-study based," meaning that students will read, review, and analyze this different genre to identify the problems and work out the best solutions. 
      • Teachers who facilitate these classes MUST complete the training as designed by the higher ed instructors. Educators from Jordan's four high schools joined with other teachers from throughout the state at the initial training on January 8 and 9. Depending upon enrollment, future trainings will be scheduled. 
      In addition to receiving an overview of the curriculum, participants were introduced to the Tech Writing blog where teachers will find resources, post lesson plans, and collaborate in furthering the vision.

      Attending teachers are enthusiastic about this cutting-edge opportunity to provide an alternative to the traditional language arts class. For those students whose interests and talents lie in the direction of technology-based learning, this change is a welcome one. It will be exciting to see how it all unfolds. 

      Till Later,

      Monday, January 18, 2010

      BEST WRITING Practices

      Happy MLK Day,

      It's foggy out this morning, but at least we don't HAVE to drive in it, do we? YaY! I hope you are sleeping in or doing something wonderful on your day off! I'm heading for the gym and my beloved treadmill in a few minutes, but I want to leave a short post for day 18 before I take off.

      I've written a lot about reading over the past 17 days, so I want to shift the focus to writing today. I received an email from The English Companion, a social network for language arts educators, asking for input on questions about writing in the secondary classroom. The purpose for the questions was to inform Carol Booth Olson, NCTE President, about educators' thoughts about this topic. These are the questions posed.

      Most important question:

      What is missing from adolescent writing instruction?

      Other questions of concern:
      1. What are proven and effective writing practices that should be in operation?
      2. What should students be able to do at the end of middle school in terms of writing?
      3. What should students be able to do at the end of high school in terms ofwriting?
      As happy as I am to pass on my thoughts, I would LOVE to hear your comments concerning these issues. I am thinking about creating a short answer survey to pass onto all of you since I received such a great response from the reading-aloud survey.

      In the meantime, I encourage you to visit Carol Booth Olson's Reading/Writing Connection site. Carol is best known for her research in this area and has published a best-seller on the topic. The aforementioned website includes resources from her book, and I have turned to it many times.

      Additionally, we just learned that she will be a featured speaker at next fall's UCTE Conference in October.

      Signing off for NOW,

      Sunday, January 17, 2010

      Good-bye AND Thank You to One of the BEST!

      Good Morning, Friends,

      It's Sunday morning - midway through the Martin Luther King weekend. I realized as I sat down at the computer to enter this post that I had only thought of these 3 days as a break from my professional work. (There is no break on the household front; wash waits for no one!)

      I reprimanded myself for forgetting the purpose for this commemoration, but my subconscious did not fail me. After reading of Miep Gies' death Tuesday, January 12, 2010, I decided I wanted to write about her contribution to history and to the literary world. And it's only appropriate that I write about her when Americans pause to honor a man who fought for human rights just as Miep protected the rights of a Jewish family during the Holocaust.

      Ask any eighth-grade English teacher who Miep Gies is, and he will know. The dramatization of Anne Frank's diary has long been included in anthologies for that age group, and so most middle school students also know of Anne's protector.

      Miep's place in history is not only secured because she cared for the Frank family and others hidden in the annex, but because she saved Anne's diary. Amazon describes the journal as "a modern classic, the living testimony of a Jewish girl caught in the nightmare horror of Hitler's Final Solution. Her extraordinary story can be read in over 50 languages, and millions of copies are in print in various editions throughout the world."

      I am so thankful that Miep had the forsight to save Anne's writings, and I am also grateful that the Nazis failed to take the treasure with them. I wouldn't doubt if they perused it, however, and completely overlooked its value. Oh, if they had only known the impact those reflections would have on the world!

      Miep was 100 years old when she passed away, and although she shunned attention earlier in her life, claiming she didn't do all that much, she became an active voice against intolerance for the past 20 years. The tiny hero was especially important to Erin Gruell and her Freedom Writers, as they brought Mies to California to meet and honor her. She was important to all who value human rights and tolerance.

      We are fortunate that Miep was so long among us, and now it's our duty to immortalize her further by respecting and exemplifying what she stood for. I often wonder what I would have done had I lived in a similar setting. Would I have had the courage to risk my life to help others. I don't have to do that today, but am I willing to inconvenience myself in order to promote tolerance and extend charity?

      We have the opportunity to do that very thing as we look to Haiti and her many many needs. And once food, water, and shelter are provided, will help disappear, or are we willing to rebuild the people as well as houses and buildings?

      Like Miep, we can't do it all, but we can do something.

      Saturday, January 16, 2010

      BEST Responses! Reading Aloud to Secondary Students!

      Good evening, Friends,

      Last Thursday morning I sent out a request for Language Arts teachers to complete a quick online survey about whether or not secondary educators read to their classes. This was in response to a request from KSL Radio host Mary Richards who wanted to chat about that topic. Since I had just written about that very subject, Carolyn directed her request to me, and I sent out the survey.

      I want to thank the 70 teachers who took time to answer the 5 questions. I predicted the results would demonstrate that a majority of teachers read aloud to their students, but the numbers quite surprised me! I didn't expect the majority to be so significant.

      I thought you would like to check out the numbers, too, and read over some of the comments as well. They are insightful! (Click HERE to view the summary.) Ms. Richards also appreciated the survey, and you can listen to her story - all 35 seconds of it - EARLY Tuesday morning or click onto later that day.

      Again, I thank you!

      Friday, January 15, 2010

      BEST Response to "Did I MISS Anything?"

      Hello Friends,

      It's 5:00 P.M. on Friday, and I've composed 15, yes 15, posts. I'm a little tired, so I'm closing out this work week with one of my favorite "teacher" poems. It lists a number of responses to that age-old question, "Did I Miss Anything?" Enjoy.

      Did I miss anything?

      Nothing. When we realized you weren't here
      we sat with our hands folded on our desks
      in silence, for the full two hours

      Everything. I gave an exam worth
      40 percent of the grade for this term
      and assigned some reading due today
      on which I'm about to hand out a quiz
      worth 50 percent.

      Nothing. None of the content of this course
      has value or meaning
      Take as many days off as you like:
      any activities we undertake as a class
      I assure you will not matter either to you or me
      and are without purpose

      Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
      a shaft of light suddenly descended and an angel
      or other heavenly being appeared
      and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
      to attain divine wisdom in this life and
      the hereafter
      This is the last time the class will meet
      before we disperse to bring the good news to all people
      on earth

      Nothing. When you are not present
      how could something significant occur?

      Everything. Contained in this classroom
      is a microcosm of human experience
      assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
      This is not the only place such an opportunity has been gathered
      but it was one place
      And you weren't here.
      by Tom Wayman, Poetry 180. Billy Collins Ed. Random House 2003

      Thursday, January 14, 2010

      BEST Ideas: FUN with FLUENCY!

      Dear Friends,

      Today I think I was the lone secondary educator in the Tech Atrium at Copper Hills High - until Carolyn arrived, anyway. I was SURROUNDED by elementary teachers, literacy facilitators, principals, and assistant principals.

      Holding tight to a microphone, Dr. Tim Rasinski belted out, "You're a grand old flag; you're a high-flyin' flag ...". From the JumboScreen, the song's lyrics shone down upon the rows of educators, and by the 3rd line, many voices joined in singing - including mine. At the end of the song, the volume had increased, and I couldn't help but applaud and holler, "Whoot, WhOOt, WHOOT!"

      Even in a room full of elementary folk, I was the only one thus inspired to cheer, and so I hastily slumped down into the plastic chair. As I thought about the incident, I realized it wasn't just the spontaneous community sing that stirred up my enthusiasm; it was interacting with a passionate, knowledgeable, AND entertaining educator/researcher! (A researcher ENTERTAINING? Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it?)

      Dr. Rasinski is a literacy ROCK STAR who sings the REAL, REAL oldies, and who is BEST known for his work in fluency and word work. Because of the correlation between both areas to comprehension, I was especially interested to attend the meeting arranged by JSD's Kathy Wittke and Scholastic, Inc.

      Peppering his presentation with the perfect balance of research information and great ideas, Dr. R. shared instructional tools that support students in building fluency AND vocabulary. Among these are singing, choral readings and poetry recitations, readers theater, word building, and word ladders.

      Back in the day, teachers required students to memorize poetry . I always thought the purpose was to scare the heck out of kids, but it was probably meant to help us appreciate poetry. I don't know if another purpose was to build fluency, but it also achieves that goal!

      When I taught The Outsiders, I assigned students to memorize and recite "Nothing Gold Can Stay." What I did NOT emphasize was reciting the poem with expression or prosody (a fancy "learning-to-read" word for "reading with expression.") I didn't stress that part of the assignment because I didn't realize how repeated/practiced reading and expressive recitation could help build fluency. AND I didn't know about the correlation between fluency and comprehension.

      Another reason I didn't push reciting with expression is because of the students who would rather die than recite poetry in front of their peers. So what do you do?
      • Assign students to work and present in pairs to other pairs or small groups that include the teacher.
      • Turn the poem or even the TEXT BOOK PASSAGE into a CHORAL READING just by having all or groups of students recite the words in unison - either formally or informally. (Dr. Rasinksi recommends content area teachers do this, too. Primary documents, biographies of great scientists, etc. can turn into some dynamic oral presentations.)
      • Opt for readers theater instead or in addition. These are popular with students, BUT one cold read is the same as round robin reading. AND you know how heartily I DON'T recommend THAT! 
      • To review how Dr. R. develops these lessons, click HERE
      Before the month is out, I will write about the word work ideas Dr. Rasinski shared. I CHEERED again when he plugged the importance of learning Greek and Latin roots, pre- and suffixes. Such study is REALLY a BARGAIN: students learn about 30 words for EACH root! So cool.

      I don't want to leave without sharing a link to "From Phonics to Fluency: Effective and Engaging Instruction to Two Critical Areas of the Reading Curriculum." Please don't let the word PHONICS scare you away. Yes, there are pages that definitely target the elementary teacher audience, but Dr. Rasinski works with middle school teachers and students, too, so peruse the pages, and you will be rewarded with lots of very helpful and engaging ideas!

      In the meantime, HAVE A TERRIFIC DAY today and EVERY day!

      Wednesday, January 13, 2010

      BEST Instruction, More Ways to Get at the HEART of the Core Curriculum

      Dear Friends,

       As we are discussing Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs), the heart of the curriculum, I want to share a few more specifics about motivating students. Because we want our students to have a greater appreciation for literacy and all it entails, we need to constantly work on motivating them to develop that attitude, and not with EXtrinsic motivators as they only work for a minute.

      The previous post suggested that teachers' attitudes about students, teaching, and the content are main ingredients in promoting the value of learning. Indeed, a teacher's attitude lays the groundwork. I remember that if I was the happy mom at home, hubby and kids were happy. But if I was grouchy, hubby was cantankerous, and the boys were down right vile!! I soon learned that the same situation, time 5, existed at school. That's why I fought to hang on to even a thread of a good mood - at home and school. I didn't want a bad day to get worse if I could help it.

      There are, however, several specific suggestions that we can follow to motivate students. Dr. Reutzel quoted Turner and Paris' article "How Literacy Tasks Influence Children's Motivation for Literacy" in The Reading Teacher (1995) to review six components related to motivating students to read and write. Let's take a closer look at these and reflect upon whether or not the 6 Cs are part of our instruction.
      1. CHOICE ~ Do we promote choice in reading and writing topics in our classes?
        1. Is EVERYTHING prescribed?
        2. "Students, you must read a book that is at least 250 pages; it must be on this topic; and you MUST create a diorama that has at least 50 of the 60 requirements listed on the rubric." THAT makes me love reading!
      2. CHALLENGE ~ Are students allowed to "modify tasks so the difficulty and interest levels are challenging?"  
        1. "Ms. Needlenose, may I FILM a scene from the book?"
        2. "ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Just do what the assignment says and DRAW it, okay?"
      3. CONTROL ~ Do you "show students how they can control their own learning?"
        1. That usually means modeling first, guiding them next, working with them until you can release the controls over to them.
        2. The "I do it; WE do it, WE do it, WE do it, WE do it; YOU do it!" model!
      4. COLLABORATION ~ Do you allow students to collaborate ...
        1. ... in groups of 2, 3, or 4?
        2. ... through flexible grouping?
      5. CONSTRUCTING MEANING ~ Do you give students the tools they need to construct meaning from text?
        1. Comprehension strategies
        2. Metacognitive strategies
        3. Writing to learn strategies
      6. CONSEQUENCES of the TASK ~ Do you include consequences to build "responsibility, ownership, and self regulation?"
        1. If you do ... "rockets' red glare will burst through the air!!!"
        2. If you don't ... "the world will end as we know it."
      As I read about motivating students, I see most if not all of these components, or a variation of them, listed over and over. There are more - environment, relevance of material, understandable examples, etc - but these 6 consistently make a difference.

      Take care!

      Tuesday, January 12, 2010

      BEST Instruction INCLUDES the HEART of the Core Curriculum: ILOs

      Good Day, Friends,

      One of the most rewarding experiences a teacher enjoys is hearing from former students who take a minute to say thanks. It is THE BIGGEST PAY DAY when it happens - at least for me. And I'm guessing many of you would agree. Over the years, I've experienced a few of those pay days, but never have I received a thank you note for helping a student achieve a dynamite score on a standardized test.

      I'm not saying that hasn't happened to someone; it just hasn't been MY experience. I have received email messages, however, thanking me for other applications of knowledge gleaned in my language arts classes. For example, a few years ago I found an email in my in-box from a former student who told me she learned to love writing in my classroom, and that writing literally saved her life as she worked through several psychological issues.  Housed in a rehabilitation center, she filled journal after journal with her thoughts, her reflections, her fears, and her hopes. Writing was therapeutic! And now writing is her career.

      That is just one example of "goal accomplished," as outlined by the "over-reaching intent of language arts instruction, grades 7-12: ... to understand and investigate the self ... ."

      Today we're going to look closer at the first detailed description of what students should take away from a language arts class, as found in the USOE Secondary Language Arts Core Curriculum.
      1. Demonstrate a Positive Attitude towards Language Arts and Processes.
        1. Develop confidence in the ability to access text.
        2. Enjoy the processes and outcomes of reading and writing.
        3. Develop confidence in the ability to express ideas, emotions, and experiences.
      As I read over this elaboration, these questions come to mind:
      • How many students have positive attitudes about Language Arts and processes? If they don't, why not?
      • What can I do to help promote a more positive attitude about this subject I love and the processes I value?
      • How many students enjoy the processes and results that come from reading and writing? Why do some students find them enjoyable and some do not?
      • What can I do to help students better enjoy and appreciate processes and results?
      • What does it take to support students in developing confidence in their ability to express ideas, emotions, and experiences? Why is that important? How can I help them value the ability to do so? 
      While I won't answer each question separately, I do believe there are some basic answers that apply to many of these questions, starting with LIKING KIDS and possessing a PASSION for teaching. I know there are 101 buckets of problems that are dowsing the fire we try to keep kindled. I read the JEA survey results that 57% responded that morale is lower this year than last year, but losing our passion while working with students will only make the situation worse. Instead, let the interaction with students be the refuge from the bickering over budgets and the policies of politicians.

      This post took a turn I didn't plan on, but I don't feel that we can get at the heart of ANYTHING if we LOSE heart.

      Best wishes,

        Monday, January 11, 2010

        BEST Instruction: REMEMBER Intended Learning Outcomes!

        WoW! That title is a grabber, isn't it? Uh, no! UNLESS the reader remembers what Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) are! Now most educators depend upon a definition that reads something like this:
        ILOs: Statements that describe what students should KNOW, UNDERSTAND, and be able to DO with their knowledge as well as what they FEEL and BELIEVE as a result of their LEARNING EXPERIENCES.
        While most teachers focus upon the knowing, understanding, and doing, many forget the feeling and believing. Why? Because the latter part of this definition - that "touchy-feely" part is NOT tested. Understandably so. How can test-makers create a standardized, summative assessment that measures how students feel and what they believe?

        After all, in this test-taking day and age, why should we worry about what WON'T be on the CRTs, the UBSCT, the ACT or SAT? As long as we teach the core and prepare the students for the season of testing, are we not doing enough?

        The answer is "no." ILOs are a part of the core curriculum, and are expected to be an important part of instruction. With added capitalization, I created my own Wordle  "word cloud" to quote this excerpt from the USOE Langugae Arts Core Curriculum Introduction:
        The OVERARCHING INTENT of language arts instruction in grades 7-12 is for students to VALUE, APPRECIATE, and DEMONSTRATE LITERACY through EXPRESSIVE and RECEPTIVE LANGUAGE skills, and to UNDERSTAND and INVESTIGATE the SELF, OTHERS, the CULTURE, and the ENVIRONMENT. The INTENDED LEARNING OUTCOMES (ILOs) describe the GOALS for language arts SKILLS and ATTITUDES. They are an INTEGRAL part of the CORE, and SHOULD BE INCLUDED as part of INSTRUCTION. PROCESS SKILLS in LANGUAGE ARTS domains are CRITICAL to the development of HIGH LEVELS of LITERACY and LEAD to UNDERSTANDING and INTERNALIZING ILOs.
        ILOs are sometimes described as the HEART of the Core. While the voice of the above elaboration may be rather formal, some words and phrases create the heart. For example, the verbs value, appreciate, and understand, along with the adjectives expressive and critical, as well as the adverb integral denote passion and importance. The objects of the verbs - self, others, culture, and environment - specify subjects worthy of rigorous study and deep reflection. Skills and attitudes imply physical and emotional characteristics needed to develop high levels of literacy. 

        As this is the time of year when goal-setting becomes a priority, it is also a good time to emphasize that ILOs describe the goals for Language Arts and that they should be included in teachers' instruction. But how long has it been since you reviewed the particulars of the core's Intended Learning Outcomes?

        Over the next couple of days, let's look at a few of the ILO's descriptors. As we do, note the verbs used and the broad ramifications of those we examine.

        Until tomorrow,

        Sunday, January 10, 2010

        BEST Practices: LAST Call for Round-Robin Reading!

        Dear Readers,

        Part 3 of this series asked the question "who killed round-robin reading?". The question rises from a similar query posed hundreds of years ago. "Who killed Cock Robin?" refers to Sir Robert Walpole, the first prime minister in Great Britain to occupy 10 Downing Street. The rhyme referred to Sir Robin's downfall, not his death, and has since been parodied to denote the demise of a plethora of programs, agendas, ambitions, etc. 

        In that spirit, this series has attempted to build a case AGAINST round-robin reading and BUILD a case for other options: Teacher read-alouds, think alouds/alongs, and paired partner reading. Today, we'll examine guided reading as it might look in a secondary classroom.

        In the elementary classroom, balanced literacy includes guided reading. While students rotate among centers created to emphasize comprehension strategies, writing to learn, word work, etc., teachers work with groups of children as they rotate. During this time, students will read aloud from their leveled books while the teacher assesses their progress in fluency, decoding, phonics, etc.

        Observers can find a similar model in secondary settings, but I'll wager that most of those circumstances center on expensive programs like Scholastic's Read 180. Some teachers, however, have tried to create their own centers so students have the opportunity to participate in small-group instruction.  Such an undertaking is labor and time-intensive.

        As I've contemplated this situation, I decided that incorporating a guided reading experience into a literature circle format might work without investing as much time and energy into the project.

        There are so many resources to support teachers in bringing lit circles to their classrooms, but I haven't found one that incorporates guided reading. I don't think it would be all that hard. Again, lit circles require intense training in the associated protocol if we want the groups to function effectively. Once that's established, teachers should be able to move from group to group to work on the needed areas of development.

        On occasion, groups could be organized according to reading level as determined by Lexile measurements. Teachers could differentiate instruction by moving among the groups to work with one group that might struggle with fluency issues and another with comprehension concerns. By the end of the hour or block, the teacher may have interacted with 3 to 6 groups.

        Books could be either the same or diverse titles, and instruction would be adapted accordingly. Currently, 3 teachers in our district are helping me create lesson plans for advanced readers. While all students benefit from this model, teachers can support students' needs by varying novels or assignments.

        I don't think I've ever blogged about literature circles, so perhaps I will do that during this month of 31 posts. If not, the guru of lit circles, Harvey Daniels is scheduled to present at Literacy Promise 2010 (Feb. 17-19), along with a dozen other OUTSTANDING literacy experts.

        Before signing off, can you answer who killed round-robin reading? Not the sparrow or the owl; not the fly or the kite. Hopefully, the strong practices shared here will bring RRR to its end!

        Best wishes,

        Saturday, January 9, 2010

        BEST Practices: Who KILLED Round-Robin Reading?

        Hello there,

        Are you tiring of these round-robin reading (RRR) posts? I'll wager that this will be the last of the series on this site! There is just a lot to say about this poor practice. The last post reviewed 2 instructional strategies that could AND should replace RRR: Teacher read-alouds and think-alouds/think-alongs.

        After I finished posting that last installment, I started thinking about the last teacher to read aloud to me: Mrs. Hanks, my 6th grade teacher. Right after lunch, we slid into our desks, all hot and sweaty from chasing around the playground. To transition us from playing to learning, she read novels to us. I vividly remember one book was Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, the little lady who, according to Abraham Lincoln, started the Civil War.

        The other novel was a mystery set in Quebec, Canada. I can't remember the title of that book, but I remember being riveted to every word Mrs. Hanks read. I loved listening to her and was among those students who always urged her to KEEP READING!

        Today's post will focus upon paired or buddy reading. Again, teachers need to decide what the purpose of this activity is. The experience provides students opportunities to practice fluency and can include timed readings where one partner reads while the other records the number of words read in the allotted time. It's also an occasion where peers can practice echo reading, although language arts and other content teachers may see these are both tasks that should take place in a reading class because it goes beyond the scope of learning content.

        Paired partners/buddy reading, however, does have a place in content classes. Perhaps you have problems with students failing to read the assigned pages even when you give them time to read in class. By partnering up students and giving them "during reading" work, the chances that students will read AND understand the assignment increase.

        For example, a teacher assigns 2 or 3 pages of a text book, dividing the pages into 4 to 6 sections. Students decide who will be Reader 1 and who will be Reader 2. Next, the teacher provides a list of tasks to perform after each section. Here are a few ideas:
        1. Reciprocal Teaching:
          1. After Reader 1 finishes his section, Reader 2 will ask any questions that came to his mind, and the two can discuss the answers.
          2. After Reader 2 finishes reading, Reader 1 will predict what might be covered next and discuss which text clues helped him form his prediction..
          3. When Reader 1 finishes the 3rd secion, both readers will confirm or reject the earlier prediction. Reader 2 will then clarify how he worked through any confusing sentences, words, or concepts found in the text.
          4. When Reader 2 finishes the final section, Reader 1 will summarize what was read in that section. The 2 readers may create a summary of the entire assignment if time allows.
        2. Question/Answer Relationship (QAR):
          1. After Reader 1 reads, Reader 2 writes up a literal question that can be found "right there"  in the text.
          2. After Reader 2's turn, Reader 1 creates a more complex question where the complete answer is found by "thinking and searching" the text to find parts of the answer in more than one place.
          3. When Reader 1 finishes reading her paragraphs, Reader 2 writes up a question that requires the reader to "read between the lines" or make an inference. This question is named "author and me" because students must look for clues from the author and fill in the gaps with her own background knowledge
          4. When Reader 2 completes her assigned reading, Reader 1 writes up a question that requires the reader to think outside of the text. For example, the text may be about taking risks, and so the questions might center on what risks the reader would be willing to take to get what she wanted. This is often an opinion question, and the answer is found "on my own." 
        Learning activities other than these two can be incorporated into paired partner readings, or by asking buddies to address just one part of either framework rather than require all questions. Reading together, followed by conversations, pulls in those students who do not regularly participate in whole group discussions. It is important, however, to pair up the right students. Do NOT pair lowest readers with highest, as that partnership can be embarrassing for one and frustrating for the other. Assigning students to others whose reading levels are a LITTLE above the other readers' is the ideal situation. Mixing up the partnerships on occasion is a good idea, too.

        Another worthy concern is about the noise level. It takes a lot of instruction and practice in  "routines and procedures" to teach middle and high school students the protocol of paired partner reading. When classrooms are small and students are big AND numerous, it seems like an impossible task. I do think this practice is important enough, however, to find a way to use it. Make arrangements with the media coordinator to allow students to sit in pairs around the center with sufficient room between duos so that they won't disturb each other. Or find another roomy area to adopt on pair reading days.

        Wherever the class is, the teacher must roam about, eavesdropping on conversations, even taking notes on and about the discussions. Plus, you must include some type of accountability and assessment tool - an exit slip, a template for recording their questions or answers, etc.

        I know I promised this would be the last posting on this topic, but today's entry is LONG, so I feel I should end now, and write up the final idea for next time. You can pick and choose what you want to read anyway, so you don't really mind, do you?

        Bye for now!
        Renae - and the question remains? Who killed Round-Robin Reading?

        Friday, January 8, 2010

        BEST Practices: Replacing Round-Robin Reading

        Hi All!

        It's Friday - WHEW! And most of you are hurrying down the halls and out the doors; heading for home and relief! Yesterday, I tried to "ruffle some feathers" about round-robin reading (RRR)! Seriously, this is a poor practice that needs to be replaced with better practices.

        Choosing the best replacement plan depends upon your purpose for oral reading in your classrooms. To be honest, I incorporated RRR into my curriculum for classroom management purposes. Some days it didn't matter to me if my students were bored, drooling, or asleep as their peers labored over words in the paragraphs. I was just thrilled that they were quiet! NOT the best of purposes!

        Part 1 of this blog mini-series also talked about a better way to assess for fluency. This post will share several practices that are better AND evidence-based.
        1. Read-Aloud/Think-Alouds
        2. Paired/Buddy Reading
        3. Guided Reading
        Read-Aloud/Think-Alouds ~ Both teachers and non-teachers are sometimes surprised when they learn that many teachers still read aloud to their secondary students. I read a recent article in Education Week on this very topic that touted the benefits of such a practice, along with a warning not to overuse it.

        Although there is little research on teachers reading aloud to secondary students, in 2006 Lettie K. Albright of Texas Women's University "summarized research showing that the practice builds middle school students’ knowledge in content areas, helps them have positive attitudes toward reading, and helps increase their reading fluency" (Reading Research and Instruction).

        Listening to a teacher read smoothly and with expression serves as a model of fluent reading that students don't often hear from their peers, and that's bound to keep them more engaged. Furthermore, when the teacher stops reading and assigns his students to continue on silently, the dynamic voice of the teacher is often the one they keep hearing in their head as they read.

        Teachers often read difficult texts aloud for a couple of different reasons. One is to help students understand what's being communicated. For example, a history teacher might orally read a primary source document and explain difficult words or concepts as she goes through the paragraphs.

        A second, and I think a more powerful practice, is using the "think-aloud/along" procedure to model how we as teachers and proficient readers create meaning from the difficult document, novel, text book, etc. The link embedded in this paragraph defines and details the think-along procedure, and I suggest the same cautions: don't go on and on and on, or you'll encounter the sleeping and drooling student problem; don't overwhelm students by using a million and one strategies; don't expect them to grab hold of this right away; and practice BEFORE you think-aloud in front of your student!

        After a FEW MINUTES of reading and thinking aloud, teachers should then ask students to try the same procedure by reading to a partner, stopping now and then to explain what he or she is thinking in terms of working out meaning. If classes are large, thus creating havoc when partners read and discuss, students can read silently and then have a "silent discussion".  (For additional information about how to use silent discussions/ written conversations, click HERE.)

        Regardless of the choice, if teachers in all content areas incorporated think-alongs into their instruction and taught students how to monitor their own understanding in the same way, comprehension levels would rise. As is often the situation, kids don't always know what they don't know. Let's help them figure that out and then learn what to do to fill in the gaps.

        Paired or Buddy Reading is the next topic! Until then, have a great day.


        Thursday, January 7, 2010

        BEST Practices: NOT Round-Robin Reading

        Happy Friday Friends and Colleagues,

        While reading the True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle years ago, I learned of a custom that sailors practiced when they had a grievance or when they were planning nefarious mischief such a staging a mutiny. The seamen signed their names on a "round robin" which looked like a wheel with spokes attached to a hub. Each signature was written on a spoke, and so the leader or the instigator was not exposed as his name was not at the top of a list.

        With such an ignoble beginning, I wonder how any positive derivative of the term has survived. While a round-robin tournament is an effective way to organize a sporting event, round-robin reading is the LEAST effective strategy to organize oral reading in a classroom.

        Round-robin reading is defined in The Literacy Dictionary as “the outmoded practice of calling on students to read orally one after the other” (Harris & Hodges 1995, p.222). And yet, it still occurs in far too many schools throughout our district, and from what I've read, throughout our nation.

        I was talking to my elementary counter parts, and they were very surprised that round-robin reading is practiced in a secondary setting at all. They thought it was only an elementary problem. Now, please know that I have been guilty of resorting to that routine as well, and I knew better, too. But it's really time we put that pathetic practice to bed for good.

        Research stresses that round-robin reading is not only ineffective, it is detrimental! And you can understand why just from your own observations because students are ...
        • NOT following along
        • texting
        • working on something else
        • bored
        • sleeping
        • drooling
        • embarrassed to read aloud or ...
        • overeager to read aloud, as in their hand is waving for yet another turn
        I used to justify the practice by telling myself that I could assess their fluency when they read aloud during round-robin sessions, but there are better and more effective ways to do that - ways that don't bore the dozens of other students in the classroom.

        One way is to conduct those individual reading conferences during silent reading as Dr. Reutzel suggests. This is how such a tete a tete might play out:

        Teacher (in a soft voice): Hi, what are you reading today?
        Student (in a too loud voice): I'M READING -
        Teacher: Shhhhh. Quieter, please. I'm right here and can hear you if you speak softly in my good ear.
        Student (in a softer voice): I'm reading The Road.
        Teacher: Show me a paragraph you just finished reading. (Student points to 3rd paragraph on page 29.) Okay. Could you softly read that paragraph to me?

        Student reads aloud.

        Teacher: What's happening at this point?
        Student: You know a nuclear bomb has gone off, right? Well, the father is trying to find food for his son, and he's left him and the shopping cart for a few minutes to follow some tracks he thinks might lead him to something.

        Depending upon the students' responses, the teacher can decide whether or not to ask the student to read a few more lines, predict what he thinks is going to happen next, make some connections, etc.
        An 8th grade teacher recently told me she conducted a similar activity with her students and was able to get around to almost all of them. "I really liked it," she said. "And I'll do it again."

        Tomorrow I'll share some other ideas to use instead of dredging up the wretched stand-by round-robin reading. Boo. Hiss.

        Take care, okay.

        Wednesday, January 6, 2010

        BEST Ideas: Reading DIFFERENT Texts

        Hello All!

        This little exercise is turning into a habit! But I'm really excited to bring you today's idea because it just dropped into my lap, and I think it has very cool potential for teachers outside the wonderful world of Language Arts!

        If you have attended one of the Content Literacy professional development classes over the past couple of years, you know that I share Dr. Roni Jo Draper's research about comprehending "texts" of every size, shape, and design. Dr. Draper reminds us that we "read" music; sea captains once "read" stars to navigate their way across oceans; hunters and trackers "read" signs along the trail; crime scene investigators "read" evidence. You get the point.

        Today my friend and colleague Becky sent me a link to a YouTube performance of an "essay" in the making. I know you're saying, "Oh, that sounds EXCITING! Let's all watch someone write up an essay worthy of a DWA knockout score." Au contraire, my friends! Be prepared to be amazed! Unless, of course, you are one of the 4,000,000 plus who have already watched this video. Nevertheless, think of how it can engage students!

        This"writer" creates her story in pictures - nothing new there, right? WRONG-O! This is NOT a story board, and her medium isn't pen and ink or colored markers. It's SAND! Okay, I know you've seen some sand art on commercials and maybe on YouTube, but this performance surpasses most others, and it crosses content lines in such a moving way that I had to pass it on.

        The following is a description of the performance as described by Mr. OR Ms. Anonymous - you know those people who pass on a million or more email messages about a million or more topics, and we have absolutely NO idea who these people are, but sometimes he or she sends us something worth perusing. This is one of those! As you check this out, think of ways you can incorporate it into your curriculum.
        The video shows the winner of 2009's "Ukraine's Got Talent," Kseniya Simonova, 24, drawing a series of pictures on an illuminated sand table. [Through her artistry, she tells] how ordinary people were affected by the German invasion during World War II.

        The images, projected onto a large screen, moved many in the audience to tears. Kseniya begins by creating a scene showing a couple sitting and holding hands on a bench under a starry sky, but then warplanes appear, and the happy scene is obliterated. It is replaced by a woman's face, crying, but then a baby arrives and the woman smiles again.

        The war returns and Miss Simonova throws the sand into chaos from which a young woman's face appears. She quickly becomes an old widow, her face wrinkled and sad, and then the image turns into a monument to an Unknown Soldier.

        This outdoor scene becomes framed by a window as if the viewer is looking at the monument from within the house.

        In the final scene, a mother and child appear inside and a man is standing outside, his hands pressed against the glass. He's saying good bye.

        The Great Patriotic War, as it is called in Ukraine, resulted in one in four of the population being killed with 8 to 11 million deaths out of a population of 42 million.

        An art critic said he finds it difficult enough to create art using paper and pencils or paintbrushes, but using sand and fingers "is beyond me." Bringing an audience to tears is the no bigger compliment, especially when the war is used as the subject matter.

        Teachers of language arts, history, geography, art, and music could engage their students through this visual, audio, artistic essay about war and its effects upon countries' citizens. Students could record their reflections, supply written words to describe the images, create their own pictures in different mediums, research the time period, write a poem, tell a fictional story. The possibilities go on and on.

        Let me know what you think, and SUPER-SIZE your day!,

        Tuesday, January 5, 2010

        BEST Ideas: Teaching Text Features

         Dear readers,

        I thought I updated this post a number of days ago, however, it seems I did not save it. The creator of the "Text Features" unit requested that I delete this post and access to the unit. Brenna has updated the unit and is now offering it on the "Teachers Pay Teachers".

        Please go to this website for more information: 

        Thank you, 


        Monday, January 4, 2010

        BEST Practices: More SSR Details from Dr, Linda Gambrell

        Dear Friends,

        In November I shared some highlights from UCIRA, using my notes as the main source. I tried to create a detailed summary with enough information that blog readers could try the suggested strategies in their classrooms. Fortunately, I recently received copies of Dr. Linda Gambrell's PowerPoint presentations, and so I am pleased to pass them onto you as they provide additional and important points.

        Dr. Gambrell, editor of Best Practices in Literacy Instruction, writes that her "current interests are in areas of reading comprehension strategy instruction, literacy motivation, and the role of discussion in teaching and learning" (p. v). As you peruse the slides of her presentation, you'll review how she uses discussion as a valuable post-silent reading tool.

        Here are some important points to attend to:
        •  How scaffolding influences motivation
        • The 3 principles of intellectual engagement
        • The benefits of social interaction
        • The components of Monitored Self-Selected Reading (MSSR)
          • Number of books students need during silent reading
          • Post-reading activity
        (Click HERE to review Dr. Gambrell's presentation:
        "Mission Possible: Reaching ALL Readers.")

        Additionally, the PowerPoint details "Text Cues: An Intervention Strategy for Struggling Readers" to improve reading comprehension. This strategy requires that teachers create text clues to support struggling readers in retelling what they have read. Note, however, that a gradual release of responsibility moves that task from teacher to students over the course of time.

        (Click HERE to check out this important intervention strategy.)

        REMEMBER: Depending upon the text, ANY reader can be a struggling reader! Hopefully, these resources can help you help your students. AND, if things don't work out the first time, don't give up. Successful implementation takes practice.

        Take care, All!

        Sunday, January 3, 2010

        BEST Practices: Rethinking Reading Motivation

        Motivating students to read is ALWAYS a tough challenge, and Dr. Ray Reutzel addressed this challenge at the UCIRA November conference. To review what we know about the research, click HERE to study his summary of research findings concerning motivation in general.

        Recently, I also introduced you to Dr. Ray Reutzel's research concerning the effectiveness - or lack thereof - of Sustained Silent Reading as it is REGULARLY practiced in most classrooms: students choose books; students read books or pretend to do so; teachers read books for 15 to 30 minutes. Dr. Reutzel's research resulted in recommending that teachers "scaffold" sustained silent reading in order to monitor students' progress.

        Today, I want to introduce you to another of Dr. Reutzel's studies that examines specific motivational "paths" teachers use to motivate students to read. Among the most popular are tracking the number of minutes, pages, books, AR points, etc. After completing the prescribed requirements, students are usually rewarded with prizes ranging from pizza to an assembly where the principal has is head shaved.

        Again, Dr. Reutzel conducted the research in elementary classrooms, but the results and recommendations are of interest to secondary teachers as many offer various extrinsic rewards to students who reach reading goals. In the past, research in this area focused upon the rewards rather than upon the paths leading to those rewards, Dr. Reutzel decided to examine the 4: number of BOOKS or PAGES, or MINUTES or GENRES read.

        As you examine the details of his study, note the effect size of the results, the limitations of the study, AND the benefits of the different paths. The following is a list of questions about both sets of slides. Can you predict the answers to these questions?
        • What can teachers do to help motivate the UNmotivated?
        • What, if any, are the most motivating rewards for reaching reading goals?
        • Which path had the largest effect size in improving Gates-MacGinitie Reading scores? Pages? Minutes? Books? Genres?
        • Which path had the largest effect size in improving attitudes towards recreational reading? Pages? Minutes? Books? Genres?
        • Which path had the largest effect size in improving attitudes towards academic reading? Pages? Minutes? Books? Genres?
        • What path offers the broadest benefits for supporting readers?
        • What do you think were the limitations of this study?
        (Click HERE to review the "Differing the Paths" study.)

        Accumulation of Accelerated Reader points was not researched, but there are some studies that look at this program. Finding research that is not an INhouse study is important in determining the effectiveness of AR. Concerns that any incentive program contributes to the "Matthew Effect" - good readers get better and poor readers get worse - is a the strongest complaint.

        Before I sign off, I have to tell you about South Jordan Middle School's WILDLY SUCCESSFUL incentive program implemented during first semester. Each student who reached their Accelerated Reader goals, earned a RUBBER DUCKY and had their picture taken with their little buddies. Kids LOVED the program! BUT rubber duckies cost money, and so the program is not being continued.

        While incentive programs may motivate students to read more over the short term, the lasting effects are minimal. My final question to you is this: How can we promote reading, instill a respect, if not a love, for reading WITHOUT counting pages, points, books, or minutes and WITHOUT dangling donuts, pizzas, or candy bars in front of our young readers and non-readers?

        Till tomorrow,