Last Saturday, Ruth Hanna and I facilitated the last of our Saturday Mid-Year Check-In courses. Over the course of 4 Saturdays, around 50 elementary school teachers gave their time to sit down and reflect on their practice and plan together for the second half of the school year. Across each course, we had rich conversations about what it means to help support a culture of reading and writing at the elementary level and how to better help all students chart pathways to reading and creating complex texts.
While we were pleased with the turnout each Saturday, we also appreciate the sacrifice of giving a Saturday to plan for our classrooms.
If I’ve been to your classroom or school over the last few months, you may recall me saying this is the “what” year of implementing our new elementary literacy resources and next year is the “how” year. Well, we wanted to make sure there’s space for thinking about the “how”.
We invite you to join us Tuesday, May 30 from 8 – 4 at Timberline pK-8 for and end-of-year check-in. Folks from across the district will be sitting down together to reflect on the close of our year and plan for how to improve our practice and learning next year.
If you can manage it, I encourage grade-level teams to come together and take a day to say, “What do we want to remember for next year?”
The course is open for registration right now through OPD – bit.ly/svvsdcheckin.
The more students read, the better they get at it. Winter break is a chance for your children to access many district library books.
The Whole Story
One thing research has show – the amount of reading your student does over the course of their time in kindergarten through high school has an effect on how well they comprehend complex ideas, vocabulary, new concepts. St. Vrain Valley Schools are working hard to make sure our students have access to quality books no matter where they may be.
You kids have three specific ways to access books through the District.
MyOn – For elementary and middle school students, the myon library has a wide selection of digital books students can read on their own or listen and read along with. Many schools in SVVSD run challenges trying to get their students to read as many minutes in MyOn books as possible during the school year.
Physical Libraries – Every SVVSD school library has a wide selection of physical books your children can check out over break. During the last week before break, consider challenging your kids to check out new books to read as a family over break.
The SVVSD District Digital Library – If you have a computer, tablet, or smartphone in your home, you have a device on which you and your students can access and read books from our district digital library. Everyone from our youngest readers to adults can find a high-interest book in the library.
BONUS: Your local public library will be ready, willing, and excited to welcome you and your children to browse and check out physical and digital books over winter break.
Take on a family winter reading challenge. Visit your local public library or your children’s school library and set a reading goal for winter break. Maybe it’s a family goal for the whole house. Maybe it’s a per person goal. Maybe it’s a competition to see who can read the most pages. Either way, set a goal and track progress. The refrigerator is a great way to keep track of reading progress.
Does your family have any special reading routines? Share them in the comments below!
Two factors that can help kids improve their reading and thinking about reading: 1) Having role models who help them see the skills they’re working to develop, 2) Having opportunities to question and answer questions about what they’ve read. Family or neighborhood book groups can help your children get these opportunities and build their skills and identities as readers.
The Whole Story
The idea here is not an unfamiliar or complex one. The steps to follow are:
Pick a book.
Set a time.
Read the book.
Discuss the book.
Some key variations to consider are:
Rotating the selection of the book across family members.
Make it larger than the household. If you’ve got extended family or grandparents who might want to join the group from afar, think about tools like FaceTime and Skype to help them connect. Also consider adding neighbors or family friends to the book group to show your kids they are part of a community of readers.
Brainstorm some standing questions. If you’re worried getting conversation started might be difficult, sit with your children to think about how you might jumpstart a book conversation.
Consult with your kids’ English or language arts teacher on key topics, book suggestions, or language you might try to incorporate to show school learning has a place in the home.
Make it about conversation and enjoying the book. There will be plenty of time for lessons on reading.
Goodreads has this list of popular family book club books.
With school conferences in progress, families across the school district are getting a chance to meet their children’s teachers face-to-face. Asking questions about what you can do to help your kids prepare for the learning that will be happening between now and the next few months is a great way to find out how to build connections between home and school.
The Whole Story
It’s easy to sit down at a parent teacher conference and be drawn in by grades and progress reports. And those are certainly important pieces for understanding how your child is progressing in their classes. If you leave the room only with an understanding of grades and how they got that way, you’re leaving some important information out. To get more out of parent teacher conferences, consider shifting your thinking from that of a meeting between a service provider and a client to that of a team meeting. When you think about it, other than your child, their teachers and you – their family – are the key players in making sure learning is happening and supported across home and school.
So, other than questions about grades, missing assignments and attendance, how can you get the information you need to make the most of your parent teacher conference?
Ask about reading. Ask your child’s teachers what is being read in class, what they’d recommend your kid reads at home, and what you might consider reading as a parent. Ask for specific titles, authors, and topic areas.
Ask what you should be asking. We know the trope of asking a student what they did at school only to hear, “Nothing” in response. A conference is a great place to get material for specific questions:
What are the names of some key characters they’re encountering in literature?
What are some key words I could use when asking them about school work, no matter the content area?
What’s something you’ve seen my student get very interested in that I should bring up to help them see school as a positive experience?
Ask how you can help pave the way. Parent conferences are often about the past. By asking what you can be doing, viewing, talking, and thinking about at home around the dinner table or during family time, you can make sure your child has experiences with key ideas, books, etc. so they feel on top of things when they come up in class.
Ask about drive time. Time in the car – heading home, to practices, to rehearsals, to dentist appointments – can be time spent making connections to what students are learning. Ask your child’s teacher if they have suggestions for conversation topics, skill practice games, podcasts to listen to or any other content you might bring up during car rides.
Take time, no matter the grade level of your child to read aloud or have them read aloud to you. This can be in the car, waiting in line, before bed, or anywhere a book will travel. Read alouds help build your student’s ability to pronounce new words and models the habits of a good reader. Pausing every once in a while to ask what they thought of what they heard or asking for a summary can strengthen the experience.
The Whole Story:
This one may seem simple at the face of it. Reading aloud to children is a frequent occurrence in many homes right before bedtime. Unfortunately, the bulk of parents cease the tradition before their children have finished developing as readers. Reading aloud to your child need not be relegated to the hour immediately before bed, either.
Here are some quick, easy ideas on how and when to bring read alouds into broader family time.
Keep a book with you at all times. Whether waiting in line, at a restaurant for a meal, or in a doctor’s waiting room, take those extra minutes to fit in some family reading time (instead of texting time).
Use time in the car as a chance for your child to show off their reading skills. For older students who may be able to read aloud, switch the roles of a read aloud and ask them to read to you while you drive. If your child can’t read on their own yet, check your local or school library for an audio copy of whatever book your reading and have your child follow along.
Similar to the above, use moments at home when you might be busy – preparing a meal, loading the washing machine, etc. – to ask your child to read aloud to you to pass the time and get in some practice.
Pull in other family members. Read alouds can be about helping your students learn to read, by including other family members as readers or other listeners, you can help your child see good models of listening and engaging in conversations about reading as well.
Making the Most of Read Alouds:
Question. This can either be to ask questions to check to see if your child is comprehending, find out what they think/feel about events in a book, or ask them what questions they have about what’s happening.
Model. Especially for readers in elementary and middle school, you can be a great model of reading by thinking aloud as you read or are being read to. Thoughts like, “That’s a difficult word, let me try saying it one piece at a time,” or “That character is similar to another character in the last book we read,” help your child to hear how readers experience texts.
Take turns. Whether it’s selecting the next book, reading the next paragraph or deciding when to pause to talk about what you’ve read, take turns with your child so that they can own the reading process as well. If you’re going to model as suggested above, this is a great way to help your child get practice thinking, speaking, and acting like the reader you want them to be.
Balance your reading diet. While books of all types are important for your child to investigate, think about many different types of materials to include. If you find an interesting story in a newspaper or online, practice reading aloud with that. Let your child see the variety of reading opportunities available to them.
Writing summaries has been shown to improve memory, comprehension and reading in general. Writing letters, postcards, emails with your child can be a great way to help them write with a real audience in mind while also practicing their summarization skills.
The Whole Story:
Few experiences hold the same joy as going to the mailbox to find a letter, note, or postcard waiting for you. From a literacy standpoint, few practices bring the same kind of comprehension and retention as writing summaries. With these two ideas in mind, this week’s family literacy recommendation is to sit with your child and write letters on a regular basis.
By asking your child to write a letter to a friend or family member about their day, their week, or an important event in their life, you’re asking them to practice the skill of summarizing – a skill research has repeatedly show to aid in comprehension and memory.
Brainstorm with your child a list of possible letter recipients. These could be friends or family (near or far). As you’re brainstorming, think about prioritizing those recipients who are most likely to reply to your child’s letter. Part of the fun of sending mail is the prospect of receiving mail in return.
Build a tradition of letter writing into family trips and events. If you head to the park to play, discuss the trip with your child on the way home and write a letter together describing the trip to friends or family. Keep up the same thing for major school events, family vacations, etc.
Write to your child if you’re traveling for work or even having a good day, writing a letter to your child can help to model the practice and shows them you were thinking of them.
Make it hyper-local. Set up your own inside mailbox in your home. Make a habit of writing letters to other immediate family members. Ask your child if they’ll design family stamps, decorate family envelopes. Especially in busy households, an in-house mailbox can be a way to keep people connected.
Go electronic. While handwritten letters are enjoyable, typing emails to friends and family can be a way for your child to communicate with many recipients in a short period of time. For younger writers, ask who they’d like to email and then help them to find the appropriate keys or offer to type for them as they dictate. As you type, put down their thoughts verbatim and then read what they’ve said back to your child, asking them if there are things they notice and would like to change.
For those working with older students, researcher Robert Marzano has this helpful article about approaching the task of summary writing.
The Real Life at Home blog has this thoughtful post about the importance of summarizing and how parents of younger readers and writers can build the practice into family routines.
For more research on the importance and approach of summarizing, see this article from Valerie Anderson and Suzanne Hidi.
Ask your child what their vocabulary words are and what they mean. Then, attempt to use those words appropriately in a sentence. Ask your student to tell you whether you’ve used them correctly or incorrectly and how you might improve your usage.
The Whole Story
Similar to last week’s suggestion of Quick Writes, this week, we’re looking at how family literacy practice can put school vocabulary into practical use. This week, we’re considering how families can help students think about what it means and sounds like to use new vocabulary in spoken conversation. How can you structure these conversations?
Ask your child to share an individual vocabulary word with you and share what it means in their own words.
Follow up by asking questions for clarification such as, “What’s another word that has a similar meaning?” “Who might use this word?” “What kind of things would I read to see this word?”
When your child thinks you’ve got a good grasp on the word, ask if you can try to use it in a sentence to see if you’ve got it right.
Speak the word in a sentence and ask if you’ve used the word correctly.
Either way, ask your child to explain why they think you used the word correctly or incorrectly.
Try to see how many sentences you can each say using the word in new and appropriate ways.
A word of caution not to bombard your child with all of their vocabulary words in one sitting. For one, this will make otherwise fun, playful conversations feel like a learning trap. For another, the goal here is high-quality conversation and use of words, not zipping through all of them.
While Quick Writes and Word Walls can necessitate fixed locations or stable writing surfaces, these Comprehension Conversations can be had while waiting in line, riding in the car, or anywhere you can hear one another talk.
The final added benefit is the reversal of roles. When having Comprehension Conversations with your child, work to be the student and allow them to be the teacher. If they send you in a direction or offer a meaning you don’t think is exactly correct, model what you’d hope they’d do when they have a question – ask if you can look it up and see how the answers compare. The goal is conversation and learning together.
For more on the importance of children hearing vocabulary in the home, you might check out this article from Linguist William O’Grady.
Similar to Word Walls, Quick Writes are just what they sound like. They include taking a few minutes, wherever you and your family are to – stop, think, write, and share. For an added challenge, consider incorporating your child’s most recent vocabulary words into each family member’s quick write.
The Whole Story
Now that you’ve got your family Word Wall up in the kitchen, dining room, or other shared family space; the question is what to do with those words and how to help your child start using and building their vocabulary. One easy answer is putting Quick Writes into your family routine. According to the West Virginia Department of Education:
A Quick Write is a literacy strategy which can be used in any content area to develop writing fluency, to build the habit of reflection into a learning experience, and to informally assess student thinking. The strategy asks learners to respond in 2–10 minutes to an open-ended question or prompt…For example, students are asked to write about what they learned, problems they encountered, what they liked (or did not like) about [an activity], questions they may have and about how well they understood the concepts…[T]he integration of reading and writing reinforces meaning construction as both activities use similar processing skills.
While longer, edited writing is important to help your child develop literacy skills, Quick Writes, too, can bolster ability and confidence. Here are some tips and suggestions for how you can use Quick Writes to support family literacy:
Keep them fun and the pressure off. Come up with family Quick Write challenges with goals like using only words that start with certain letters or Quick Writes that describe something in the room without naming it.
Build it in. Find a place in your day or week as a family where a Quick Write might make sense. If you find yourself constantly asking your child what they did or learned in school each day only to receive “nothing” or “stuff” as the reply, make time as a family to write down the highlights of each of your days and then share what you wrote.
Pull in vocabulary. Perhaps using your family word wall or most recent vocabulary from class, ask your child to explain a few key words from the list and then complete a Quick Write as a family attempting to use each of those words correctly. When done, ask your child to help you decide whether each person used the words properly.
Go beyond writing. Part of complete literacy instruction is helping students attach pictures and images to their understandings of words. Pick a word as a family and then have everyone try to write two sentences using that word, and draw a picture that explains the word.
Assign a Quick Write captain. If you’re having a day together, out to dinner, or running errands; assign one family member the Quick Write Captain and give them the power to announce a Quick Write up to 2-3 times over the course of the event.
For children who think writing is only a onerous task to be completed for school work, Family Quick Writes can be a way to show writing can happen anywhere. By participating as a family, you’re also modeling for your child that everyone is a writer.
The excellent site ReadWriteThink has this lesson on Quick Writes. Pay particular attention to the second page.
When navigating change, it can be incredibly helpful to look to those who have gone before us to find the way through. This first post of Notes from the Classroom comes from 3rd-grade pilot teacher Susan Tatum who shares what she’s doing in her classroom and how she’s using ReadyGen to support reading and writing for her students.
Thoughts on the New Year
Right now, at the beginning of the school year, you don’t need to worry about the small group element of your reading block. ReadyGen is whole-group-centered, so spending your time getting comfortable with that aspect of the program is essential in the beginning of the school year. The teacher’s manuals have great routines in the resource tab at the back of the book.
Spend time getting your students comfortable with the close reading strategies and how to talk and write about their reading using academic language. Make sure ALL students in your class have access to the anchor texts. Get familiar with the scaffolding strategies in your Scaffolded Strategies Handbook so you can help all students feel successful with the text.
In My Room
I’m spending time with my kids teaching them how to be deeper thinkers about their reading.
Rather than just the typical Think Pair Share, they are using sentence starters such as, “I agree with what you said about ___________.” and “I understand your point about __________, but I think _________.” This is a routine found at the back of the Teacher’s Manual.
I want my kids to talk about their reading in more meaningful ways. I’m spending the majority of my Whole Group time working on these strategies. Eventually, we’ll take these strategies into a small group format where the students will be guiding their own discussions based on questions I have given them. Taking the time to firmly get these practices into place will pay off a great deal in the whole group and small group settings.
Have a Note from the Classroom you’d like to share on the Language Arts Blog? Send it to Chase_Zachary@svvsd.org.
This post is part of a series to support SVVS families as they help their children grow as readers, writers, listeners, and speakers.
Establishing a word wall in your home using your child’s school vocabulary words and others can be an easy way to help support their growth as readers and writers.
As you’ve visited your child’s classroom, you’ve probably noticed a wall or a section of a wall covered in large words, maybe hand-written and pasted on pieces of construction paper. These are word walls, and they’ve become a foundational practice for teachers working to help students get as many opportunities to interact with language as possible. All of this aligns with the National Council of Teachers of English’s 1997 Resolution on the Importance of a Print-Rich Classroom Environment.
Building a home word wall can be a helpful way to support your child’s reading and learning. Here are some simple steps, along with some suggested activities for making it useful:
Start collecting words from the vocabulary your child’s classes at school. This could be suggested vocabulary sent home in newsletters by teachers or by collecting the bolded or unfamiliar words encountered in school reading. Add to these words by keeping an eye out for interesting and new vocabulary you encounter during family reading or out in the world.
Select a space in your home where you can post and keep your collected words. This could be a blank wall, the refrigerator door, or any other shared space. While it may make sense to put the word wall in your child’s bedroom, choosing a shared space sends a signal that reading and writing are family activities.
Either handwrite or type and print your words to be posted to your word wall. Be careful to make sure your words can be read from afar, so you don’t need to move too close before you have a conversation about what they mean.
Talk about and use the words on your wall in regular conversation or using some of the applications recommended below.
Visiting Word. After you have worked on a word wall for a substantial period of time, add a “visiting” word. This encourages your child to do a review of the word wall as they hunt for the new word. Present the visiting word as the new word for the day. (E, M)
Word Pictures. Divide the family into teams. Each team select one of the words from the word wall and illustrate it on a piece of paper. The opposing team gets a point for a correct guess and illustrates another word. (A)
Categories. Work as a family to create categories and group the words from the word wall to fit those categories. Set the number of words that are allowed in a “miscellaneous” category and create a maximum and minimum number of categories that can be used. This activity could be done individually first; then share and compare your categories. Each family member can share their groups of words with the family who guess the principle behind the sorting. (M, H, A)
Word of the Day. Choose a “Word of the Day.” Have everyone in the family use the “Word of the Day” meaningfully throughout their days. When you are back together in the car, at the dinner table, before bed, take turns talking about where you used your word throughout your days. (A)
Unfolding Five Words in a Story. Family members are given a word wall word every two-minutes for ten minutes (five words in total) to incorporate into a story they are writing on a topic of their choice. When a new word is given, everyone works that word into their story immediately. Encourage everyone to write continuously and quickly during the ten minutes. Family members share their stories. For new writers in the family, consider paring them with more mature writers. (A)