Saturday, April 25, 2015

Searching for Guided Reading Materials!

Welcome to the first of my "Guided Reading Tutor" blog posts. I struggled for years (many) trying to get guided reading right! As I started my search I talked to teachers in my building, only to find out they were as lost as I was. SO...I went to classes, workshops, read everything I could find, and talked to teachers who seemed to have the whole thing down pat.  In the end I had LOTS of bits and pieces, but no clear step by step plan. I like step by step, and really needed a wholistic plan. SO... I took everything I had learned and assembed it in a coherent teaching plan that worked for me. I can tell you, once you reach the stage where it all fits together, reading instruction goes much easier, and kids learn tons more! I shared what I had learned with other teachers and had such good feedback that I decided to make a guided reading resource for Teachers Pay Teachers. The feedback that I received for that resource told me that LOTS of teachers are struggling with getting guided reading just the way they want it! 

SO....I have decided to start a series of guided reading tutor blogs to address a number of different areas that can drive teachers to drink (coffee of course!).  With that in mind, here is my first guided reading tip. 

Finding Guided Reading Materials

Many schools give teachers lots of materials to use with their guided reading groups. Other schools, well, not so much. Even if you are in a school that is loaded with great materials, the time will come when you want something different, something special, and something that will really grab your kids' attention. 

The first thing you need to do is determine the reading level of any outside material.  There are readability indexes on the Web that are great to help you with this task, and makes it pretty easy. I always use them when I make reading resources for my TPT store, and they are perfect to level a resource you would like to use with a reading group. All you do is type in a paragraph or two of the reading section, and the reading level will pop up. Here are two of my favorites:

1.  Okapi Readability Statistics and CBS Reading Probe Generator: 

When the page  comes up just click on the Okapi pop-up page in front of you. If you are leveling grades 1-3 leave it on the Spache index, if it is for grades 4 and up click on the Readability Formula space to use the Dale-Chall index. Type in your text, then hit "Run Readability Analysis". I like this one because it underlines the words that make it more difficult.

I've started using this one a lot more because once you type in your text and hit the space bar you get 5 different readability formulas, plus the average grade level.  You will find that the Coleman-Liau index is WAY too high most of the time, so I ignor that one. Readability indexes can be all over the place, so find one or two that you trust and go with them.

Now, where can materials be found?

1. Many school districts keep some of the older reading and social studies text books. If you have access to these books, they can make great sources for guided reading. Just copy off the selection you want to use, level it with the readability resources above, and you're good to go.

2. Chapter books can be used in two ways:
a.  Using an exciting chapter from a great chapter book not only engages your guided reading readers, but is a great "advertisement" for reading the book. Copy enough of the same chapter for each member of the group. This is great to get kids thinking about what could have come before in the book, to lead to this chapter. It's also a great writing assignment!
b.  Use the entire chapter book. Go chapter by chapter and enjoy!  HOWEVER...what I discovered was if students were allowed to keep the chapter book in their desk, they would read ahead, often finishing the book shortly after I introduced it. Instead of allowing students to keep the book in their desk, keep it in a basket at the guided reading table. Students can only read the next chapter when at guided reading. This makes it special, and makes instruction possible. Of course, rereading is a big part of guided reading, so for seat work assign a previous chapter with a task. For example, ask students to reread chapter two and explain how the main character has changed in the last five chapters. Reread chapter four, and find hints that helped the reader predict what was to come, and so on. Once the task is completed, the book comes back to the basket.

3. Use magazine articles from magazines kids love. I liked to find a fun article, copy enough for the group, and use it for informational text standards. When doing this, it is really important to level the reading for each group. There are lots of free resources on the Web. Here are a few to get you started:

a.  Time For Kids (for older students)

b. National Geographic for Kids  (This site takes some looking around, but there are great articles that would be terrific for guided reading here.)

These three sites actually give you articles for your students that are already leveled, and some includes Common Core alignment. In my opinion, these are "don't miss" sites!

c. NewsELA This site is PERFECT for fourth grade and up! LOTS of great articles on not only the latest news, but science and more. Sign up is free.

d. Think Cerca This site was made to help teachers navigate the Common Core and assessments. It has standards-aligned, differentiated close reading lessons. Be sure to check this one out!

e. ReadWorks This site is amazing. Flat out amazing! it provides research-based units, lessons and leveled non-fiction and literary passages FOR FREE. You do have to register, but it's free.

4.  If you are a frustrated writer, write your own material! It's actually fun. The trick is to make it short, fun and leveled to the reading level you need. With Okapi and Readability Score you can't go wrong leveling your material! There's an added benefit for writing your own guided reading materials now and again. Kids LOVE it! They see that their teacher values being a writer, and that spurs them to write more too. You don't have to be the next Dr. Seus, just enjoy the process!

Plus if you find out your kids have a particular interest, it can always be Googled and great articles come up. They always have to be leveled. Sometimes I've found out a great article was too hard, and rewrote it taking out the difficult words and substituting more appropriate words for the reading level.

There are many generic worksheets on line to use with kids that will fit with any fiction, or nonfiction book. I have a free resource that includes one free worksheet for each grade 1-5. Most can be used in more than one grade. If you think that would be helpful see: Guided Reading Freebies

If you have other resources for free guided reading materials, be sure to comment on them below!

This is the first in my series about guided reading. You may want to check out the others by clicking on the titles below:

Lesson # 2: Don't Hide from Running Records
Lesson # 3: What are the Other Kids Doing?
Lesson # 4:Creating A Guided Reading Schedule that Works!
Lesson # 5: Here Comes Guided Reading!
Lesson # 6: Take a Closer Look at Guided Reading

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Creating Better Writers

So...How do you get kids to write better?

I can't even tell you how many times I've asked myself that question! I've gone to seminars, classes, and talked to teachers who seem to have the "gift".   With the help of some very gifted teachers,  I have discovered some ideas that made a big difference in my classroom. With the Common Core standards, it's even more important to make sure kids can express themselves in writing. Here are some ideas that worked for me!

1.  Use your own writing as a model for kids. Write and think aloud as you write a sample of the new assignment in front of the class. It really helps kids to see how another writer thinks through the task. Allowing students to see you write, watch how you change your sentences around, think about grammar, and make sense while writing are all important characteristics for students to observe. Many kids have no idea how the writing process works. Watching a teacher go through the process is like a light going on.

2.  Spend a lot more time writing. Learning how to be a good writer is like learning how to do anything else well. It takes lots and lots of practice. One study found that only 15 extra writing minutes per day in grades 2-8 produced better writing. In fact, 78% of studies that tested the impact of adding extra writing minutes to a daily routine showed that writing improved. There's even a bonus for that extra writing. Many studies have found that reading comprehension gets better as students write more. That only makes sense to me. As student write they have to think about their own understanding, make sure they are making sense, and struggle to spell correctly. That's why writing in social studies, math and science is so important.

3. Do some of that writing on a computer. It's much less cumbersome than writing by hand, plus it's easy to edit. Technology has changed how we write. We text, send applications through the computer, e-mail, in fact most of our writing as adults is done on some type of device. It only makes sense to allow students to use this powerful tool as part of the writing program.

4. Use writing as an opportunity to teach grammar. Once you have read enough writing by students, it becomes obvious which grammar lessons need to be addressed. Address one area thoroughly until it is mastered.

5. Allow students to draw pictures to go with their writing. I ask for writing to be done first, then pictures can be drawn. Pictures are great motivators for kids, especially for reluctant writters.

6. Give students the opportunity to share their writing. Some students are very shy about that, so they may like to read their writing to a friend. Some students are more than ready to read to the class, they should have that opportunity when possible. I found that if I asked students to choose their best paragraph to read aloud, they really put some thought into it. That's also a good time to point out strong words used iun the writing, good use of images and the like. I never used this time to point out anything negative, after all this is in front of other students. If there is an issue it can always be addressed privately later.

Happy writing!