5 Suggested Steps for Elementary Teachers Moving Grade Levels

What to how with arrow pointing from what to how.

As I said many times last year, this second year of implementation of our new elementary literacy resources will have the benefit of being the “How?” year, after the ups and downs of last year’s “What?” year (as in, “What are all these things and what do I do with them?”)

For some teachers, though, this year might feel as though it is starting out as a smaller version of a “What?” year. I’m talking about teachers teaching a new grade level of students this year. The good news is the overall structure of the ReadyGen resources and sequence is largely the same from one year to the next. This provides students with common experiences and expectations and does a bit of the same for teachers as well. Still, the content of each year is certainly a shift.

This post is meant to highlight a suggested path and resources to consider in preparing to help a new grade level of students improve their reading and writing this year.

Getting to Know Your New Grade

  1. Talk to others. This might seem obvious, but it can be easy to forget when we’re starting to fill overwhelmed with content. Seek out your new grade-level team members and ask if they will share their planning documents from the beginning of the previous year. Yes, you’ll make them your own, and they’ll also give you a firm place to start understanding the sequence of learning for this new grade.
  2. Understand the scope and sequence. Taking a look at this document will help you understand not only the scope and sequence of content and big ideas within your new grade level, but put it into the context of all elementary grades as well. The outline will also familiarize you with the flow of your year and give you an at-a-glance look at what kinds of writing your students will focusing on throughout the year and when.
  3. Consider unit plans and standards. With a general overview of your year of learning and teaching you’re ready to take a look at your new grade’s unit plans and standards. The unit plans can be accessed via the Curriculum Resources page. For an understanding of the where and when of standards, take a look at the resources starting on page 62 of your grade’s ReadyGen Implementation Guide. These resources include a Scope and Sequence, Unit Overviews, and Common Core Standards Correlations.
  4. Investigate your modules. Now that you’ve got a broad understanding of the unit plans, take a look at the module planners in your ReadyGen Teacher’s Guide. These can be found on pgs 6 (Module A) and 156 (Module B) in the K-2 manuals and pgs 6 (Module A) and 206 (Module B) in the 3-5 manuals. They will provide an overview of where your students’ learning will be headed regarding each module’s performance-based assessment and a suggested, editable path of focus for each module’s lessons.
  5. Plan your performance-based assessments. Within each grade level’s Scaffolded Strategies Handbook in “Part 2: Unlocking the Writing” is a wealth of resources for planning your students performance-based assessments. You’ll find help there from everything from understanding the prompt, to checklists for self-assessment. Remember, these resources are suggestions for those looking for a place to start. Only you know the choices and resources your specific classroom of students need to be successful.

Other Resources

  • The What’s in ReadyGen? document includes a listing of the materials received by each classroom and a brief overview of the basic use of each.
  • The Expectations of Practice document is meant to help teachers consider how they might structure individual, small, and whole group time to meet students’ needs.
  • This collection of templates is meant to help interested teachers plan their performance-based assessment and lessons to make sure students are prepared for success.
  • This document includes links to presentations with images of the covers of each title across all grade levels and suggested prompts for getting students talking about what they’re about to read.
  • This document lists all titles included as anchor texts and within Text Collections across all k-5 classrooms.
  • Here, you can find the levels of all titles included in the ReadyGen Leveled Text Library across all k-5 grade levels.
  • Following the Fall assessment, this i-Ready Instructional Grouping Template can serve as a tool to organize and shift students across small group instruction based on diagnosed areas of need.

Elementary Literacy Rubrics – FEEDBACK REQUESTED

One of the most consistent questions regarding the shift in our elementary literacy practices this year has been around rubrics and assessing student writing. Given the number of resources at teachers’ disposal, it is understandable to have questions. This post is designed to help delineate the materials available as well as seek your input on how we fill the gaps.

Rubrics in Grades 3-5

Task-Specific:

  • Performance-based assessment rubrics. The can be found within each unit’s Teacher’s Guide.
  • End-of-Unit Assessments. For the short- and constructed-response items, you can find task-specific rubrics in your Assessment Book Teacher’s Manual.
  • Reader Response Questions. The rubrics for the Reader Response tasks can be found here and listed in the “Rubrics” section of the unit plans.

Non-Task-Specific:

  • PARCC ELA/Literacy Scoring Rubrics are recommended as baseline templates for teacher-created tasks. A teacher can then take that basic rubric and add details and areas of focus specific to the writing task students are completing.

Rubrics in K-2

Task-Specific:

  • Performance-based assessment rubrics. The can be found within each unit’s Teacher’s Guide.
  • End-of-Unit Assessments. For the short- and constructed-response items, you can find task-specific rubrics in your Assessment Book Teacher’s Manual.
  • Reader Response Questions. The rubrics for the Reader Response tasks can be found here and listed in the “Rubrics” section of the unit plans.

Non-Task-Specific:

Finally, all of this work will be added to a new “Rubrics” section within the grade-level unit plans for easy access.

Family & Community Literacy: Literacy as Memory Making

Image result for memories

Guest post from SVVSD Elementary Literacy Coordinator Sandra Vasquez.

Break, weekend, afternoons, and evenings are all great opportunity to spend time with our children and make memories that can be cherished for a long time. Whether traveling or staying at home, reading books is the perfect way to spend quality time with kids while setting a good example, learning new vocabulary, and enjoying conversations with them.

Memories are powerful intangibles that link us together.  Treasuring our children’s stories, chats while cooking together, singing favorite songs, or watching funny movies on a Saturday night forms connections across generations.   

Talk to your children about anything they are willing to talk about.

As a parent, I admit I sometimes do all the talking; nevertheless, I know they listen. One of my favorite things to share with them is stories about my mother’s cooking recipes.  I do this while we are preparing dinner.  I talk about the food my mother used to cook for my brothers and sisters, and why it is important to continue family traditions.To engage them, I ask questions such as: “What’s your favorite meal?  Why do you like it? Which family traditions would you like to continue when you grow up?”

To engage them, I ask questions such as: “What’s your favorite meal?  Why do you like it? Which family traditions would you like to continue when you grow up?”

Whatever you decide – reading books, singing songs, reciting nursery rhymes, or watching TV – make sure you are leaving a footprint, something you would like them to remember about the time they spend with you.

Let’s Get Together – Elementary End-of-Year Check-In

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.

See you there!

Family Community Literacy: Winter Break Reading

woman and child reading together

The Gist

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Suggested Activity

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!

 

Family & Community Literacy: Book Clubs

Cousin book club

The Gist

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:

  1. Pick a book.
  2. Set a time.
  3. Read the book.
  4. 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.

Additional Resources:

Family Community Literacy: Making the Most of Conferences

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The Gist:

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 readingAsk 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.

More Resources:

Family Community Literacy: Modeling with Read Alouds

Reading

The Gist:

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.

Family and Community Literacy: Write Letters

letters

The Gist:

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.

Possible Approaches:

  • 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.

More Resources:

  • 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.

Family and Community Literacy: Comprehension Conversations

Conversation

The Gist

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?

  1. Ask your child to share an individual vocabulary word with you and share what it means in their own words.
  2. 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?”
  3. 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.
  4. Speak the word in a sentence and ask if you’ve used the word correctly.
  5. Either way, ask your child to explain why they think you used the word correctly or incorrectly.
  6. 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.