Ep 009 – Libraries at the Heart of the School

Sunset Middle School Instructional Librarian CeCe Balman talks about the road to transforming her school’s library and her continuing efforts to make the space the heart of the school.

Sept ’17 – Elementary Literacy Show: Small Groups

Jessica Evans Video:

  •  ReadyGen
  • i-Ready lessons for reading and math- Ceran, Educators
  • W.I.N Time (What I Need time) – Grade level intervention/extension time
  • Sounds and Letters by Jane Fell Greene (out of print)
  • Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI)
  • WIDA Resources by Ruth Hanna
    • General resources here
    • WIDA Can Do Descriptors page
    • WIDA ACCESS Scores and Instruction here
    • WIDA Literacy resources here

Resources Mentioned by Sharon, Kathi and Travis:

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.

Family Community Literacy: Read – Talk – Repeat

family reading togetherThe Gist

Set aside one evening a week for the family to read together. Turn off all devices you’re not reading on. Set aside time before bed for everyone to talk about what they read that night.

The Whole Story

Maybe your family is still noodling over setting New Year’s Resolutions. You want something manageable while still being impactful. For you, I recommend Read – Talk – Repeat.

  1. Set aside the same time one evening each week where the entire family will power down, avoid other plans, and make sure they’re home. An hour might be ideal. Keeping the same night and time each week will help to develop habit and routine.
  2. When you’re all together, pick up whatever you’re currently reading and start reading. If you’ve got younger children, you may want to read aloud to them. Consider also the possibility of giving them a stack of picture books to work their way through during the reading time.
  3. Stop reading with enough time for everyone to share what they’ve read and to ask each other questions.
  4. Repeat this process each week without interruption.

While the whys of this process are largely self-evident, a few might not stick out to you. By committing to privileging time reading – no matter if it’s newspapers, magazines, or books – you are sending the message to your children that reading and being readers is important in your household. By making time to talk about what you’ve read and ask one another questions, you’re signaling to your children that reading can be a social activity and part of the joy of reading can be discussing the stories and ideas you encounter. Allowing everyone to read whatever they choose also gives you the chance to model a balanced reading diet that mixes fiction and non-fiction, short and long-form, current events and classics. Perhaps the best part? No planning required. Put it on the family calendar, and read.


If you and your children know you’re going to have some time to read each week, it’s a great catalyst to visiting your local public library to browse and check out new books. This is also an easy way to access texts without worrying about your family’s budget.



Where’d My Spelling Lists Go?

Emily's meant to be doing her homework!

If you are like me (and I’ve spoken with enough people about this topic to guess that you are), you remember your spelling lists from school. Starting sometime in elementary school and lasting through high school, they were a weekly occurrence. If memory serves, they started with about 5 words apiece, then 10, then 20 words per week.

The quizzes were simple – lined paper, teacher reading the words two times each, asking if we needed repeats, and passing the papers forward. Those words were never explicitly heard from or about again. I’ve been trying to think of the words I was taught as part of spelling instruction. For all of the what must have been hundreds of words, only one – ennui – is still in my head. The reason? Spelling lists were how I was taught to spell, but they were not how I learned to spell. Instead, I learned to spell by reading, writing and discussing words in context. Any word I know how to spell now or use correctly grammatically is a result of the need to learn that word as a reader and writer.

So, when thinking about the shift St. Vrain elementary teachers are making in their literacy practices, it makes sense that we would move to support our students by giving them learning experiences rather than “being-taught” experiences. Isolated spelling tests show limited-to-no transfer of skills. Students can ace a spelling quiz and then immediately misspell any of that same list of words on a piece of writing for class (Loeffer, 2005).

While we may remember with fondness (or at least sentimentality) our experiences with Friday spelling tests, quite frankly, we can do better for our kids by giving them the tools they need to study, decode, analyze, and determine the meaning and spelling of the words they encounter and want to use.

We Can’t Catch All Words “If schools started with five [rare vocabulary] words for every school day in kindergarten, students would be 100 years old before all of the words had been covered,” write Elfrieda H. Hiebert of TextProject and University of California, Santa Cruz and P. David Pearson of the University of California, Berkeley (generative, 2016). There are simply more rare words out there than our teachers could ever hope to include on weekly spelling lists. Additionally, attempting to anticipate which words individual students will need is a Sisyphean task.

Students Need Vocabulary Tools. Recognizing the lack of evidence that isolated spelling instruction improves students’ phonemic awareness, St. Vrain teachers are utilizing a number of instructional practices to help students decode and analyze words, their meanings, and their possible uses. All of this is part of a comprehensive approach to vocabulary instruction. This includes helping students understand word families, developing key phonemic awareness, investigating root words, and examining word structures. These approaches to learning and teaching vocabulary have proven to be effective (Wallace, 2006) at not only helping students learn the words in front of them, but helping them be better prepared to learn words they will encounter when they leave the classroom and are reading on their own.

Where’s the Spelling? If we are thinking about vocabulary instruction, what happens to the spelling lists I mentioned above and we all likely remember from our childhoods? To be frank, spelling lists and spelling in isolation are instructional practices of the past. A 2014 analysis of studies of spelling instruction (Graham, 2014) found that such practices had little or no effect on students actually learning to spell. This doesn’t mean spelling is irrelevant. In fact, it means quite the opposite: helping students to think about how words are spelled and asking them to explain what they notice about the spelling of words they are learning is a component of improving students’ vocabularies.

Where Do We Go, What Do We Do? Teachers across St. Vrain Valley Schools are shifting and building upon existing practices to help students think about the many tools they can use to analyze and find meaning from the words they encounter and use as writers. A key piece with the addition of the new ReadyGen curricular resources to existing vocabulary resources is putting multiple tools in the hands of our teachers to help create personalized pathways to improved vocabulary. But teachers are only one component of students’ literacy. What can families do to support their children’s learning?

  • Throughout the year, the language arts office will publish a Wednesday blog post with a weekly strategy for building family literacy practices. You can subscribe to those posts or follow them here.
  • Talk to your school’s literacy and classroom teachers about what vocabulary words and strategies they are using to support your child’s learning, and ask how you can support those strategies at home.
  • Visit your local public or school library with your child, let them choose books that look interesting, and read. Across the board, studies have shown families that read together produce children who have much better literacy skills than their peers who had little-to-no experience with family reading. Better yet, as you are reading, have your child point out words they think are new and interesting. Then, have conversations about what those words might mean.

Committing to Text-Based, Meaningful Experiences. While it’s tempting for me to say our students should experience spelling lists and tests because it’s the way I (and likely you) remember school, the fact is we know more than my and your teachers knew or understood about language instruction when we were growing up. Because of that, we owe it to our children to give them the contextualized, meaningful experiences and tools we know help them to learn and be more successful as readers, writers, and thinkers. Besides, all those lists ever brought me was ennui.


Loeffler, Kelly A. “No more Friday spelling tests? An alternative spelling assessment for students with learning disabilities.” Teaching exceptional children 37.4 (2005): 24.

“generative vocabulary instruction – TextProject.” 2014. 25 Aug. 2016 <http://textproject.org/assets/library/resources/Hiebert-Pearson-Generative-vocabulary-instruction.pdf>

Wallace, Randall R. “Characteristics of effective spelling instruction.” Reading Horizons 46.4 (2006): 267.

Graham, S. “Does spelling instruction make students better spellers, readers, and …” 2014. <http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11145-014-9517-0>

Notes from the Classroom: Starting with ReadyGen


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.

Family Word Walls

Math Word Wall

This post is part of a series to support SVVS families as they help their children grow as readers, writers, listeners, and speakers. 

The Gist:

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.

Whole Story:

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Talk about and use the words on your wall in regular conversation or using some of the applications recommended below.

Application (E=Elementary, M=Middle, H=High, A=All)

  • 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)

Other Resources:

Longmont Rotary Compassion Writing Contest

Don’t Forget!!  Student submissions for the Longmont Rotary Compassion Writing Contest are due this Friday, April 1st, by 3:00 PM.  Open to students in grades 3-12, the winners are honored at the annual Compassion Luncheon May 10th and receive a financial prize as well.  Get those entries in now!  Details below.

Longmont Rotary Compassion Writing Contest Forms

Longmont Rotary Compassion Writing Submissions Due

Don’t Forget!!  Student submissions for the Longmont Rotary Compassion Writing Contest are due this Friday, April 1st, by 3:00 PM.  Open to students in grades 3-12, the winners are honored at the annual Compassion Luncheon May 10th and receive a financial prize as well.  Get those entries in now!  Details below.

Longmont Rotary Compassion Writing Contest Forms