Mead Middle School Special Education Teacher Amanda White outlines how she approaches helping all students access complex, grade-level texts.
With almost 450 sq. miles of district, it can be difficult to get to everyone and answer everyone’s questions. In an attempt to provide greater access and increase communication, the ELA office will be starting online office hours. Any SVVSD teacher with questions or ideas about English Language Arts in the district can jump in and get assistance or share an insight during office hours.
Details are below, followed by screen shots for those new to Hangouts.
When: First and Third Thursdays August – October, 2:30 – 4 PM
Where: gChat in your email page or hangouts.google.com, search for Zachary Chase
What: Any question, idea, or collaborative need you might have about helping our students improve as readers, writers, and communicators.
- Head to hangouts.google.com
- Click “Sign In” in the upper-right corner of the page.
- Log in with your SVVSD credentials.
- Click on “New Conversation.”
- Type chase_zachary and select my email address when it pops up.
- A chat window will open. Start typing, hit enter, and the conversation will start.
While I’m setting up these office hours to have dedicated time to respond to teachers across the district, Hangouts are always operational and a speedy avenue for reaching out an getting answers as questions come up in your classroom.
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.
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.
While we aren’t all English teachers, it’s unlikely to find a teacher whose students wouldn’t perform better if they had more tools for reading content across all disciplines. The FYI website not only provides curated current articles aligned with standards and other English curriculum resources, it provides clear tips for helping students access, analyze, and apply information within authentic non-fiction texts. These articles and tips can be accessed in a moment’s notice to ask students to find a piece of interesting and relevant content for evaluation.
The Whole Story
Somewhere between the middle child or second cousin of HMH’s Collections curricular resources is their FYI website, a curated collection of current event articles aligned with the topics and content students explore as they move through units of study in SVVSD’s secondary English classes. The content is pulled from CNN to Science Daily, from the White House to The Columbus Dispatch.
Teachers helping students learn content and skills from any discipline would be hard-pressed to go poking around FYI and not find something relevant to their classrooms. And while timely content is already a plus for secondary schools, it’s the help in improving reading skills teachers outside English classrooms might find most helpful.
FYI’s “Reading Tips” tab includes a sidebar with help in navigating “Key Ideas and Details”, Craft and Structure”, “Integration of Knowledge and Ideas”, and “Research” – each with its own subsections.
A science teacher hoping to help students access the latest climate change study from Nature could draft some quick questions for investigation and point students to the relevant pages for tips on making sure their answers hit the mark.
History teachers helping their students understand political systems in post-colonial countries around the world could help students draft a list of questions they’re curious about and then help them review the relevant reading tips to help make sure their answers are top-notch.
Algebra teachers looking to help students pull out the most pressing details from a complicated word problem might ask students to take 10 minutes to find a reading strategy that could best help them unlock a barrier to understanding.
How are you helping students access materials to unpack non-fiction texts? Leave some examples in the comments.
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.
- For a fascinating consideration of the tone and content of parent conferences, check out Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot’s The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other.
- For a framework for thinking about the needs and possibilities in family and community partnerships, consider the Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships (PDF).
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.
Key Things to Know
We are pleased to announce that Turnitin®, now known as Turnitin Feedback Studio, has a redesigned user interface within the myWriteSmart tool in Holt McDougal Online (my.hrw.com). The new Feedback Studio provides a more streamlined user experience and allows quicker access to key features, modes, and panels.
After logging in, you will receive a brief, guided tour of the new layout. Should you wish to access the old view, now known as “Turnitin Classic”, you may revert to it at any time by clicking “Return to Turnitin Classic” at the bottom of your Feedback Studio screen. To return to Feedback Studio, simply click on “Try the new Feedback Studio” at the top of the Turnitin Classic screen. Rest assured that your comments and class data remain intact and no work will be lost when switching between views.
To better assist you, our Feature Release Guide contains visual aids to show the differences between the two interfaces and how to switch between views. In addition, this brief, helpful video explains the key differences between Turnitin Classic and Feedback Studio, as well as how to navigate the new interface.
Please note that the new Feedback Studio interface will become the standard display in the summer of 2017. As a valued Collections customer, we are providing you with advance access so you may familiarize yourself with the layout and functionality over the next year.
Our Technical Support Group will be happy to assist you with any questions you may have regarding the new Turnitin Feedback Studio. Please do not hesitate to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, 800.323.9239, (+1) 973.368.0392, or through our online service request system.
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