Monday, January 26, 2015

Foundations of Fluency: Fluidity

Welcome back to another installment of my Foundations of Fluency series! :)  I have posted three other times in this series.  The first post related to comprehension.  Read it HERE.  My second post related to expression.  You can read that by clicking HERE.  My most recent post was on developing rate.  You can get to that from HERE.  I am really excited about this particular post because--similar to rate--this is an area that I think is most misunderstood as it relates to fluency.

Fluidity is the quality or state of being fluid. When a student is reading with fluidity, the words are easily understood and are enjoyable to the listener.  This is a key part of a student's overall fluency.  Students increase in rate dramatically with improved fluidity.
I teach first grade, and usually once a student starts to read about 60-70 words per minute they start to try to read more quickly and they are not as smooth.  You can support their reading with decodable text. 
This is when I start to play with the levels of their reading so that even in practice, I force students to slow down while they are reading.  It's also important to note that most studies indicate that conversational speech is somewhere between 120 on the slow end and 150 on the high end.  When you are reading with younger children, even 80 words per minute is still a really great rate for your student to show fluidity and start to add expression.  
I've had teachers ask me about kids in second grade who read at 250 words per minute and if I have longer passages for them.  The truth of the matter is, once a student is reading faster than a conversational level...they are without a doubt reading TOO QUICKLY.  Remember the end goal of reading is COMPREHENSION.  If they are reading outside the bounds of conversational speech, you need to slow that student down. Increase the passage level until they are reading within the bounds of conversational speech.  They will build stamina and learn to read for meaning rather than to read for speed. 

When students are fluid, that's where the magic happens!  You can do so much more with them when they are able to attack the passage and not worry about the decoding constantly. Especially when it comes to practice, don't be afraid to give students something on a lower level to read so that they are smooth.  They will enjoy reading more and will feel more confident!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Foundations of Fluency: Rate

Happy Monday to you all! :)
If this is the first week that you're joining me, welcome! This is the third installment in a series of posts on building fluency in primary readers.  The first post was on comprehension.  You can view that by clicking HERE.  The second was on expression.  You can view that by clicking HERE.  This week's post is on building your reader's rate.  Rate has to do with the speed with which a student attacks the words on the printed page.  A student can develop speed without comprehending what they are reading.  So, working on the rate of speed too early or too often with a primary student may be damaging to long term readability. As I thought about my own practice, here are some things that I've worked on over the years that have been instrumental in helping me with this facet! :)


I can't emphasize enough the importance of daily practice.  Whether that is something you do in a small group setting, or with an assistant, or even a parent volunteer...it is a must for long term success.  I am lucky to be in a school where the majority of my parents will practice with their children at home...but I will tell you that it is becoming increasingly difficult with the amount of 'stuff' kids are doing at a younger age that is taking precedence over homework.  Make sure what you assign for practice is something that they can tackle.
This took me a while to work on.  Some of you might be like me.  You have all these great ideas, and not enough time in the day to implement them all, so, by mid year, stuff starts falling off your radar.  Learn from me!  Make it manageable from the start! :) If it seems 'too easy' to put together...you're in the right spot! We're too busy these days for chaos!  Your fluency folder should be something that you can follow up on.  Progress monitoring with fluency is everything!


This can be accomplished in many different ways.  I've seen teachers with younger students do a few single words a week.  I've seen teachers hand out a year's worth of sight words on the first day of school and have parents practice throughout the year for an end goal.  I've also seen teachers move from single word practice to phrase practice.  All of these ways can work.  Any of them are options.  In my classroom, I do single words from our basal in two week bands. I send home the list in my weekly update with two weeks worth of words. I drill them a lot on the first week, and then start assessing on the second.  Many of the students in my class are ready by the following Monday, but students who need more time can keep practicing with me until Friday! :)  Works out well.
As a primary teacher, this is a pretty big deal.  Students need time to practice decoding.  If they are great decoders, they're rate goes up because they have the tools necessary to help themselves read difficult words.  If you have a basal phonics program, this will help.  If not...create lists of words that follow the same progression.  Some teachers like to work with the ending sound.  I prefer working with the beginning sound.  If my readers are reading left to right, it makes sense to make the initial sounds be similar.  This helps my readers who are still working on print concepts remember where to start reading the words.
This has helped my lowest readers make the most gains! :)  I hope you'll consider this method!

This is huge!  Set goals for how much they KNOW not how fast they do it.  The worst mistake we can make in a primary classroom--especially with our highest achievers is to let them think that they are a good reader because they are FAST.  They are a good reader because they KNOW a lot FROM their reading!  Give them fun charts and graphs to track their progress on how many words they can read.  Don't time them on it.  With practice they will gain the speed.  At the beginning its just important that they recognize words.
This is a piece of the puzzle that I am working out for myself a bit more.  I have always felt that I am pretty good with progress monitoring, but...self reflection...especially with six year olds can kind of be hard.  I think I'm *almost* at a place where I feel like how I'm approaching it is pretty painless.  I just HATE when my class time is taken up with things that I am not sure my kids completely understand.
Currently, my self reflection sheet looks like this.
Want a copy for your class? Click HERE.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Combining the Content with the Cute: Gingerbread Edition

So, some of you may know that for the majority of my career I was an intermediate teacher.  When I started TPT, it was my first year back in first grade after a loooong absence.  When I got back down to primary, I became really passionate about setting the proper foundation for my students.  I realized a few things in going from primary to intermediate, and back again. Just because it's hard, doesn't mean it's rigorous.  Just because it's a craft...doesn't make it meaningless.  Trying hard says a lot about a student's character, but is rather irrelevant as it relates to a physical grade.  An A in intermediate usually means exceeding grade level...sometimes, for a primary teacher it means achieving grade level.  No one really told me this stuff...I just figured it out bouncing back and forth.  So, I'm in a unique position to chat with you about my take on rigor and content related issues.  As someone who still *kinda* sees them self as an intermediate teacher in a primary world...here are a few things that I think will help you bridge the gap between the two.  
Step 1: Know your standards. It's not enough to just *think* you know what kids on your grade level are supposed to know.  If you are really going to take kids to the next level, you need to be able to quote those puppies verbatim.  #realtalk  Over the summer, break them down...parse that language.  I have a few posts on this under the heading 'Common Core Chat'.  If you're interested in 'getting deep'...read them. :)
Step 2: Teach with the end in mind. What is your overarching goal in reading, in writing, in math?  The BIG IDEA.  I want my kids to....what?  If at the end of a thematic unit your kids can spout off really cool random facts about the theme...that will only get them points playing Trivia Crack...but it will NOT be enough to get them to the next level.  As primary teachers, sometimes, we've got to look a *wee bit* beyond the sizzle, and get to the meat.
Step 3: Gather relevant data.
Of all the areas that I think I was the LEAST prepared for when I went up to intermediate for the first time was the data collection. Here's something that you don't hear in intermediate: 'Well, I *feel like* my kids are reading well'.  Intermediate teachers don't feel...they count data points. #realtalk  In intermediate, you felt something based on DATA...not based on years of experience...DATA.  Sometimes, rookie teachers with fresher ideas are doing better by the numbers...because their ideas are more in touch with a younger audience and their energy is infectious.  Primary teachers, we need to not be AFRAID of data, we need to simplify it.  Make it approachable.  It can't be some beast...then you'll never use it to drive your instruction.  It will just be paper that you push around.  It's relevant though...I promise! :)
Step Four: Integrate different content areas.
This is HUGE when it comes to crafts.  I will put in a disclaimer here.  I hate crafts. More specifically, those of the construction paper variety. :/ There. I said it...it's out there.  I really don't enjoy them.  Probably because with a six year old, they take FOREVER, but mostly, because I just don't see the use for them most of the time.  I mean...after a while, they will probably be in a trash heap somewhere--and I spent all that time helping the kids make them look great! Two years ago, I just said to myself, if it's not integrated with a content area, I'm over it.  And that began my emotional reinvestment with the construction paper craft.  In my class we call them craftivities...because it's a craft and a LEARNING activity.  I still don't *love* them, but I can deal with it a lot better if I know that on the other side of it, I'll get actionable data that will drive my instruction.  If you follow me closely, you'll know that most of the writing crafts that I do have a rubric grade on the back! :) I have posts on this too! :)  Look under rubrics.
The point of this particular post is to show you how I take non-standard related topic: GINGERBREAD, and I make it a content driven and fun unit with some great resources from my dear friend Amanda's store! :)  Let's take a look at a few of them! :)
Kids need to know that they are going in the right direction when they are writing.  Anything that I can use to help them self-monitor, I am a fan of!
I am so excited that I connected with Amanda this fall at the New York TPT meet up!  She's so wonderful!  She has a passion for writing as well, and has a self-monitoring tool that I am so crazy about...there are just not enough words!
At our school, we teach with a basal.  I don't use ALL of what's in there, all the time, but...for this particular week, I liked the stories and I used them.  The finished product for our exploration of the topic was to write a poem with our firsties.
Here's a few of the steps I went to in crafting my gingerbread unit!

Step 1: Since one of the standards based objectives of the unit was to work on rhyming words, we looked at several folktales that featured rhyming.
Step 2: We read a variety of fiction texts that had to do with gingerbread.  We responded to that text in writing using some of the wonderful printables in Amanda's Gingerbread Printables Pack.
Check this out HERE.
Step 3: I used Amanda's self-monitoring system to help my students progress monitor themselves.  Then, I developed a rubric based on the intent of the standard.
Step 4: I tied in the writing component and some other fun activities that were math related for the afternoon!
So...the heart of Amanda's idea is to have a piece of the gingerbread man...or girl...represent a task that the student must complete for the sake of the writing assignment.  Her pack is designed for narrative writing.  It's just such a great blend of making students accountable for their progress and tying that to content! :) Really...I'm kinda giddy about this whole thing!
Click HERE to watch Ashley.
Click HERE to watch Logan.
But...I digress...Can we have #realtalk?  This was my last piece of chart paper.  The very. last. one.  This is really a checklist.  Not a rubric...but I didn't have any more chart paper, and #aintnobodygottimefor whiting out all the word rubric.  So, folks...I just told the kids...it's a checklist and they were like...'okay'. LOL!  Also, we don't have any more brown construction paper.  Not. even. one. sheet.  So, there was not a little gingerbread body to spare for the bottom of my rubric checklist.  Hence, your clip art. :)  Supplies are low folks. #thestruggleisreal  Sorry...this blogger is NOT perfect and does NOT even attempt to be. #enoughsaid
So...after tons of mentor texts and a few class poems, we were ready to go it alone! :)  The kids did super great! I was really proud.  All of them LOVED this idea from our new friend, Mrs. Richardson!
Here's the rubric that I used for my kids! :)
Want this for your class?  Click HERE.
Here's how I grade with this.  I put a check mark next to everything that the student earned.  So, one check is a 60, two would be a 70, three an 80, and 4 a 90...even if they are not sequential. Then I add points based on advanced spelling, vocabulary or sentence complexity.  I take away a points based on independence related to the task.
I hope that you enjoyed this post on combining content and cute! :)  It brings me such joy to know that I'm still making learning FUN for each of my kids with engaging, standards driven activities that set a great foundation for them going forward!