Sunday, April 23, 2017

Growing Literacy Center Leaders

Sometimes, desperation leads to inspiration.

It’s true. 

Think about the last time you were looking for your car keys before school.  You looked around, first rather casually, then a little more intent, and just as you started to reach real panic mode - heart racing, cold sweats, you know the feeling – you suddenly remembered where you tossed them the night before.  Of course- they were in the tote bag of grading still sitting by the door (that you didn’t touch, but should have last night).

You offer up a quick, “Thank you, God!”   And you’re off.

I had just that feeling (and that exultant prayer of thanks) a few weeks ago.  Not about my keys, but about my students.  I love it when my inspiration is about them. J

If you have read some of my other posts about our Literacy Centers (here and here), you know that I take them very seriously.  I put a lot of thought, deliberate planning, and time into our system.  It is very important to me that students use this time to their full advantage- my centers are not full of fluff or busy work, they are full of rich, meaningful, engaging practice in all areas of literacy.

Which is great.

And makes me feel like I am doing my best for my kids.

But it takes some time to pull together, if I am honest.

Some activities come from our weekly phonics focus.  Others come from our science/social studies theme.  Still others, like the Sight Words center, have multiple options that I rotate out on a regular basis to keep students from getting bored.

So when it is time to get the next week’s centers ready, I am pulling from at least 3 files, 6 drawers, and 3 cabinets of materials.  And let’s be honest- if it is Friday afternoon, my energy and my focus are shot. 

I usually have a student teacher in the fall semester, so that gives me either some extra time or an extra pair of hands to pull it all together. 

After Winter Break, though, I am on my own.

So there I was, two weeks ago, deep in a pile of assessments that needed to be graded, emails that needed to be returned, field trip permission slips that needed to be sent out yet again to a few parents, and so on. 

You’ve been there.  I know you know what I’m talking about.

Suddenly, I realized I hadn’t pulled together the centers for next week.  Ugh.  And I really needed to because, to be honest, I had only slapped in a few phonics activities for the last few weeks and called it good.

But I was tired. I was definitely not motivated.  I had no energy left, and the truth was, I was starting to get discouraged about making it through the rest of the year. Two more months?  Could I really make it?

As I sat there reflecting, I realized my students had been less engaged than usual in their center work (and therefore more likely to be off task), and I could see why. I hadn’t fulfilled my end of the bargain.  They really needed some fresh activities to keep them engaged and learning. 

And then in happened. 
Like a lightning bolt, a thought occurred to me. 

What if I wasn’t the one responsible for the literacy centers?

What if I had a few of my students take on that job?
They had other leadership jobs in our classroom that they ROCKED, so why not add this into the mix?

As I thought about it, I started adding things up and realized I had 20 drawers or centers that needed to be taken care of each week, and I have exactly 20 students in my class.


I furiously started writing down my centers and assigning a student to each. Some centers are easier than others- the letter writing center, for example,  just needs to have copies made each week, and the list writing center has just a few pads of paper to choose from.  I gave those centers to certain students, and others I assigned to my real go-getters.

I created a visual chart that had their name, the picture icon associated with the center, and a description of where the activities and materials could be found.

This is what it looks like:
literacy-centers-leadership-first grade

On Monday morning, I told the students about our new plan, and while some were confused about what to do, others were wildly enthusiastic.  I took time showing each one where to find the activities for their center, and how to fill it.  They enjoyed getting to choose the activity for their center- I just opened the file for the next week and they chose the activity!  If they needed copies made, I showed them where to put the original so I could make copies at lunch.

It worked pretty well.  I was cautiously optimistic.

The REAL MAGIC happened the next week, though.

The next Monday, I told the students to check their centers.  We discussed the fact that some centers needed fresh activities, while others may be able to keep the same activity for a few weeks. Still others just needed to be checked to see if they needed a few more copies or materials. 

The kids got straight to work, and it really only took about 15 minutes for everyone to get their center ready.  (That’s only week 2.  I can’t wait to see what happens in another month!) I loved hearing them justify their choices.  “Mrs. Seigel, we need more copies for the Squiggle Story center, because everyone really likes doing those.” or, “I think we can leave Marshmallow in the Listening Center another week because it is still close to Easter.”

But then….

One student had loaded a brand-new activity into her drawer, so I asked her to explain it to the group.  Then, suddenly, each student wanted to get up and explain their center.  It only took a few minutes.  Each student really only spoke a sentence or two, but they said it with such authority and conviction that there is no doubt that they OWN that center.  They are the experts in that center.  I will no longer need to answer questions, worry about refills, or try to teach students how to use the tape player.  The experts have that covered, and they can read our chart to figure out who that is for each center.

My friends, I have graduated. 

No longer will I worry about center management.  I get to sit at my guided reading table and worry about teaching my students to read and that’s it.  They are taking care of the day-to-day business of running our centers, and I couldn’t be more proud. 

My desperation led to inspiration, and I am so, so glad that it did.  Sometimes you really do need to hit rock bottom to bounce back. 

And I am BACK, my friends.  Energy and purpose renewed, ready to push through this last two months of school with fresh motivation- a motivation that my students share, I am happy to say.

We’re going to make it after all!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Pot of Gold $400 Giveaway!

Hello friends!
Are you feeling lucky this week?
I've teamed up with some blogging friends to make SEVEN lucky winners very happy!  (And that's no Blarney!)

Simply enter this Rafflecopter giveaway as many times as you can to increase your chances!  We will randomly select SEVEN lucky winners at midnight Tuesday night (so you only have two days to enter!)

Best of luck to 'ya!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

16 Insanely Simple Word Work Tricks You Need to Know

I have an embarrassing confession to make.  Not long ago, (I won't say just how long ago or I might give myself away), I had a big secret.  It was one of those secrets that kept me up at night, kept me searching for solutions in books and on the internet.  I would have loved to just ASK someone for help, but I couldn't bring myself to admit this secret out loud.   No matter what, I couldn't let my coworkers know.  I couldn't let my students know.  I couldn't let my classroom parents, and I certainly  couldn't let my principal know. 

 I was a fraud.

I didn't know what I was doing.

I had no idea  how to teach students to read.  

Lord, that is hard to say out loud.

Did I just lose you?

Are you so shocked at my secret that you stopped reading?  I hope not, because I have learned over the years that I WAS NOT ALONE. 

There were other teachers out there that struggled with the enormity of this responsibility and felt completely unprepared for such a task.  As a first grade teacher, the thought that I might fail my students terrified  me.

Because it is important.

Especially in first grade.

Reading is THE most important thing we need to teach our students in first grade.  This is the year that makes it or breaks it for a lot of kids.  Either they are set up for success in future grades, or they struggle.  For years , many of them.  My ability to teach them how to read in 10 months would determine their success in school for the rest of their lives. If I failed to do my job, they might think that they were the problem.  They were not smart.  They  just weren't cut out for reading.  Their parents might know better, my principal might know better, my coworkers might think of me as the weak link on the team, but my students?  They would not blame me for failing them this year.  
They would think the problem lied within them.

And I couldn't stand the thought of that.

It kept me up at night, believe me.

You see, when I was struggling with this, there were no teacher blogs.  No PLC's.  No Facebook groups or instructional videos on the web.

It was sink or swim for me.  And my students.

Don't get me wrong- I learned about reading in college.  I student taught in Kindergarten and 3rd grade.  I learned about teaching letters of the week, shared reading, literature study groups, and all of the theory behind the teaching of reading.  But the day-to-day "Do this, not that"?  For first grade?
I had no idea what to do.
No experience with guided reading.
No idea what that really was or looked like, if I was honest.

And so I went on a quest.  I read as much as I could.  I searched high and low for answers to questions I didn't even know to ask.  And then, I dove in.  I got started.  I just TRIED.  The easiest thing to start with was Word Work.  Yes, yes, I also used books with my groups, but I didn't feel confident enough yet to make the READING the concentration of my guided reading time.  I knew that if I could strengthen my students' ability to read words and word chunks, sound out words, see connections between words they know and those they don't.... I knew that would help them as readers.  That much, I knew.

So I started with Word Work.  I only had a few ideas in my back pocket at the time- only a few things that I knew to do with my students at the table, but gradually, my bag of tricks grew.  And I grew more comfortable with what I was doing.  Simplicity was the key for me.

I tend to stay away from cute gimmicks at my table- you won't see adorable finger lights in my room, for example.  Not that there is anything wrong with finger lights and other cute tricks that engage readers.  It's more about my preferences.  I'm just a simple gal, myself.  I have a drawer of magnet letters, Upwords tiles (from a garage sale find), whiteboards, and my supply of word cards (from my Chunky Monkey Phonics series), and that's enough for me.  Simplicity is the key for me.  I need to keep things simple or I get overwhelmed with the planning and searching for supplies and I end up not enjoying the whole process.  

Maybe you are like me, maybe you are not.  Maybe you came out of college super-prepared to teach the mystery that is reading to young, impressionable minds.  If so, you probably don't need these tips.  But, if you are like me in any way, if you have ever felt inadequate to handle this huge responsibility, you might be thinking, "I could use a few more ideas, myself".    

All I can say, friend, is welcome aboard.  I am glad you are on this journey with me.  It's no fun to be up at night worrying alone.  I want to share with you some of the word work activities I do in my classroom. Take what you can, try some of these ideas in your own classroom, or don't.  Hopefully you will come away with at least one new strategy to try with your students.  I am in no way an expert, obviously.  This is just a compilation of ideas I have found elsewhere.  Very few of these ideas are original.  Some activities are designed for early emerging readers, and others are more advanced for my emerging or developing readers. I don't discriminate, though.  They usually get to try them all out at some point through the year.  

 Sometimes I do the same activity with each group but use different words.  Sometimes each group does a different activity with the same word chunk we are learning that week.  We like to mix it up.  Keeping to these 16 activities and simple materials means I can provide variety and differentiation for my students without making myself crazy.  

So, without further ado, 16 simple word work activities for guided reading:

Match 'Em Up
Have students match the picture cards to their word cards.  For additional challenge, add in word cards that don’t have pictures, or use two different sets together.  You can just lay them out on the table or play a game of concentration to match up the cards.

Why it works: Students practice reading words with word chunks they are learning.  Matching words to pictures gives them support and builds their confidence.

Sound Sort
Using two or more sets of cards, have students match the picture cards with the headers.

Why it works: Students have to really sound out the words and hear the vowel sound or sound chunk in order to be able to place the picture correctly.  This helps strengthen their auditory discrimination.

Word Sort
Using more than one set of cards, sort the words by their phonics/spelling pattern.

Why it works: Students practice visual discrimination- really checking all the way through the word to sort the cards correctly.

Super Sort
Use several sets of cards and sort them all!

Why it works: Students practice visual and auditory discrimination simultaneously to sort the cards correctly.

Sound Boxes
Sound box cards have specific words or spelling patterns students are working on.  Start with the cards that only add the targeted sound and then progress to the cards with all blanks. Use magnet letters or dry erase markers to fill in the missing sounds.

Why it works: Students focus on the target sound and/or combining the target sound with other letters to create whole words.

Onset/Rime Foldables
Practice getting started with blends, etc.  Use index cards and write the words, then fold them in half after the onset.

Why it works: Students practice getting their mouths ready-focusing on the onset before blending it with the end of the word.  This is especially helpful for students who struggle with getting started with unknown words.

I Can Top That!
Build and change words using Upwords tiles.

Why it works: Students practice changing letters to create new words- they focus on word similarities and differences.

Word Work Warm Up
Practice writing three words they know how to read.
”Is that the way it looks in a book? Check it"

Why it works: Writing words is the reflective opposite of reading them- being able to do both cements the word and makes the reader feel more confident when encountering the word.

Sound Box Practice
Write/spell words using blank sound boxes on whiteboards or paper
“Check it.  Does it look right/  Does it make sense?”

Why it works: Students practice writing the letters and/or sounds in a word in each box.  Providing the number of boxes gives them support.  The student practices segmenting the word into sounds/letters.

Mix It & Fix It
Give students only the magnet letters or letter tiles needed for specific words.  Have them repeatedly mix up the letters and fix them up to spell the word quickly.

Target Practice
Write  the target word on a whiteboard.  Review several times with students.  Erase some letters (esp. at end of word).  They will tell you how to finish the word. Pass out magnet letters for just this word. Have them Mix it and fix it fast 3 times. Have students write the word on the table with their finger, then write it on their whiteboard.

Why it works: Students practice building the words quickly to develop fluency and search for missing letters or word parts to develop visual discrimination.

Anchor Words
List two easy words at the top of a whiteboard, then list bigger words that use those sounds.
(i.e. CAR & SEE- star, keep, parking, steep, etc.)

Why it works: Students work on identifying common elements in words, especially targeted phonics chunks.  They also get to practice adding word endings and exchanging letters to make new words.

Word Connections
Similar to Anchor Words, have students write a simple word on their whiteboards (i.e. jump).  See if they can use the small word to write bigger words (bumping, dumped, etc.).

Why it works: Students practice adding prefixes and suffixes, identifying rhyming words, etc.

ABC Order
Have students put word cards in alphabetical order and record their work using a recording sheet or whiteboard.

Why it works: Students work on isolating beginning letters (and second or third letters, if necessary) and putting words in alphabetical order.  This helps them develop reasoning and logic skills.

Mystery Word
Write down the first two letters and see if students can guess the word.  Add one letter at a time until they get it (use Word Banks, Challenge Words, or a sentence for context clues).
Why it works: Students practice making predictions based on beginning sounds.  As more letters are added, they must choose whether the visual evidence supports or discounts their predictions, and they should be allowed to change their predictions as new letters are revealed.  

Quick Change
Give two words from a word bank.  See how many steps or transitions it takes to get from one word to the other (adding or subtracting one letter is one step).  Students can work together at first, eventually working toward indepedently creating a "word ladder".

Why it works: Students practice letter substitution and connections between related words.  They will naturally distinguish between real and nonsense words.

Okay, okay.  I know you may be thinking, "How does she keep track of all of these activities?"
It's simple (remember- that's how I like things!).  
I keep a handy list of them close by:

If you would like a copy for yourself, all of these activities are listed
for your convenience in my freebie, 

I simply keep the print-outs handy in a basket and pull it out if I am looking for fresh inspiration for my groups.  It is more automatic for me now, though.  I feel more confident teaching reading.  My knowledge base and experience have grown and grown, and I have several years of successful first grade graduate readers to show for it.  I've learned how to tackle the other aspects of reading, too, which I will address in future posts.  But word work was first.  It was my baby.  It was my beginning.  It was the first stage of my own growth as a teacher of reading.  And so it has a special place in my heart.

There is still a lot of magic in teaching reading for me- when those students suddenly have everything "click" and take off.  Or when a student struggles with every task you put before him but then starts to be more successful with word sorts or sound boxes and it transfers to his reading.  Wow.  Magic.  I kind of hope I never get so used to the process that I fail to be amazed when that happens.  Those are the highs for me.  The moments that make all of this effort worth it.  

That let me sleep at night.  

That let me know "I have not failed them."  

I hope that never goes away.

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