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September 19. 2017

6 Steps to Building a Community of Readers Across the Grades

Schools can be places where competition is more common than collaboration, and students are tested as much as they are taught. This is why it's important for students to feel a sense of community in the classroom. Here are a few tips to start building a community of readers across the grades.

1. Meet with a small group of colleagues to self-assess your school and classroom as a community. You might involve the leadership team and/or grade-level colleagues. Or, you might just work with a colleague.
2. Try to see your school from the students' perspective as you walk through the school, your classrooms, and the library. Ask:
  • Is there evidence that students' homes and neighborhoods are valued?
  • Does the school reflect the cultural and linguistic diversity in the school?
  • Is there evidence that student work is valued?
  • Do you see order, cleanliness, bright color, and a welcoming environment?
  • Is there evidence of good management?
  • Are there signals to students that let them know what to do and create predictability (guides, directions)?
3. Chances are you will find many positive aspects; but look hard for areas of improvement. Work as a group to identify some short-term and long-term goals. There may be one or two goals that you can accomplish right away.
4. Now do the same for your own classroom, for example, ask:
  • Are there clearly designated meeting areas?
  • Is the meeting area attractive, comfortable, and functional?
  • Does each student have an organized way of keeping personal items and supplies?
  • Is there evidence that the classroom reflects students' homes, languages, and culture?
  • Is there evidence that student work is valued?
  • Is the room orderly: Are supplies well organized and labeled? Are work areas designated?
  • Is there evidence that students have been engaged in collaboration? In inquiry?
  • Are the students' names posted and used in a variety of p;aces (e.g. cubbies, name charts, and folders)?

5. Again, define some short-term and long-term goals.

  • Create a short-term plan for at least one idea that you can implement right away.
  • Start to think about next term or next year and make a plan for creating a community environment from the beginning.
6. As you work toward developing your classroom environment, it will help to invite a friend into the room to walk about and then just tell you his first impressions.

From Guided Reading: Responsive Teaching Across the Grades by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2017 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.
September 12. 2017

How to Design Your Classroom to Build a Strong Community

Your classroom is a place where students learn how to read, write, and expand all of their language skills, but it is much more. It is a laboratory where they learn how to be confident, self-determined, kind, and democratic members of a community. The design of a classroom supports the building of community. Although the materials and organization of space will vary from grade to grade, here are 6 characteristics of classrooms that build strong communities.

  1. Welcoming and Inviting. Bright colors, beanbag chairs, and lamp all help to create a welcoming space. The intention is not to fill the room with furniture, but you do want to create a pleasant, comfortable place for students.
  2. Organized and Tidy. Clutter increases stress. The more organized the classroom, the more independent your students will become, the less of your time they will require, and the more time you will have for teaching. Materials should be clearly organized and labeled, and the work that takes place in each area should be visible at a glance.
  3. Rich with Materials. Fill your classroom with books, writing tools, art materials, manipulatives, references, computers, tablets, and other technological resources. This can be difficult criterion to meet because it depends on the resources of the school district. But, at least where books are concerned, you can increase their richness by visiting garage sales, checking out books from libraries, asking parents and friends to donate, writing for grants, and appealing to the business and social community.
  4. Includes Group Meeting Space. If you want to form a community, students must have a place to meet together and talk every day. For young children, a colorful rug with space enough to accommodate the class sitting on the floor in rows or in a circle. Older students can also sit on the floor in a circle or they can move chairs from their tables to make a circle in the same area.
  5. Includes Personal Space. Instead of individual desks, many teachers use tables or desks that can be combined in flexible ways. But students also need a personal space. If they do not have a desk, they can have a cubby or personal book box where they keep personal documents like a reader's notebook, writer's notebook, independent reading books, etc.
  6. Shows What is Valued. A classroom must be alive with student work. You can start the year with relatively blank walls because your students are going to fill them with a variety of products that show student input and student wrok. The greatest motivation you can give your students is to display their work. Change displays as the year progresses. And at the end of the year, let students take them home. You'll be starting again with a new group.

From Guiding Reading: Responsive Teaching Across the Grades by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2017 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

September 5. 2017

5 Tips for Conducting an Assessment Conference Efficiently

A key to an efficient conference is being organized, knowing where to begin the assessment, and moving the assessment along at a good pace. Here are some tips for conducting an assessment conference efficiently.
1. Make a schedule. It is a good idea to make a schedule for conducting your assessments. Be proactive. For example, plan to have two or three assessment conferences a day and complete all the assessments within two to three weeks. Don’t let the assessments drag out for weeks.
2. Find time by partnering up with a colleague
. Consider partnering up with a grade-level colleague so you can release each other to administer an assessment or two. For example, take turns reading aloud to both classes or taking both groups out for recess time. Think together about other opportunities that could enable both groups of students to engage in meaningful work together while you gain time for assessment conferences.
3. Organize materials for efficiency. Think about how to organize yourself for an efficient administration. Some examples are:
  • Organize the books by level in a pile.
  • If you are using paper, make several copies of each Recording Form, so you can quickly pull the form you need.
  • Have your Fountas & Pinnell Calculator/Stopwatch ready.

  • Make a list of start levels for each student. Use the student's reading information from last year to know where to start. You might also talk a minute with the student about what books he read over the summer to get a level indicator.
4. Go paperless. Using the Fountas & Pinnell Reading Record App will save you time and paper.
5. Move the conference along at a good pace. To do this, be sure to read all the books before you begin. Collect one book while handing over the next. The more assessments you give, the more familiar you will be with the prompts and the more efficient you will become when conferring.

Above all, plan ahead for efficient administration, and share these tips with your colleagues. The more you administer the BAS, the more efficient you will become.

August 29. 2017

4 Steps to Cope with Testing Demands

Students in school are tested continually, and their success is most often measured by their performance on paper-and-pencil tests. The stakes are also high for teachers because their performance is judged by how many students meet the criteria for success. The demand for accountability is intense and has the potential to reduce the language and literacy continuum to a very narrow set of exercises. If we care about our students, we need to make sure test taking has positive outcomes.

While we cannot ignore tests, we cannot let them control our lives and the lives of our students. We need to find ways to cope with the demands of the testing environment and still help our students have happy, productive, and satisfying literacy experiences. To cope with testing demands:

  1. Analyze the genuine underlying skills that students need in order to be able to perform well on comprehensive proficiency tests.
  2. Create an ongoing curriculum to help students develop the genuine reading and writing abilities that will provide a foundation for good test performance (as well as all the benefits of a literate life).
  3. Analyze the ways of reading, writing, and displaying knowledge that tests require.
  4. Familiarize students with the ways to display knowledge and skills that will be expected of them in test performance.

Without the first two steps, the others are ineffective. Being a competent reader and writer is basic to performing well on tests.

From Guiding Readers & Writers by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2001 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

August 22. 2017

Track Student Progress with Literacy Portfolios

Portfolios are a popular way to present students' work over time so that progress is evident. Many assessments can be part of a writing portfolio. The goal is to guide the process carefully so portfolios don't become unwieldy and time-consuming collections of "stuff" that no one examines or uses to inform teaching.

You will collect reading data and writing projects throughout the year. Many teachers keep all products for the year, selecting materials for the “pass on” portfolio in the spring. Others identify particular times when the portfolio is examined in conjunction with the child; some pieces are sent home and others remain in the portfolio. Some general considerations for the type of the information to include in the portfolio follow:

  • Include a list of the books the student read and the writing projects he completed.
  • Feature “best work” or a range of writing projects and poetry (e.g. several pieces that you and the student have selected for a particular reason).
  • Document the level of texts the student read during the year as well as the range of the genres he attempted.
  • Illustrate the student’s growth and progress through a thoughtful selection of writing samples.
  • Include writing projects of investigations that demonstrate the student’s ability to use knowledge in content areas.
  • Encourage self-reflection by asking the student to write rationales for his portfolio selections: Why he chose to include writing samples, how he chose books to read, and his reflections on his growth as a writer and reader.
  • Feature writing samples from all the genres the student studied and explored in his own writing.
  • Weave in written evaluations by the student about his growth as a reader, writer, and learner.

From Guiding Readers & Writers by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2001 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

August 8. 2017

How to Test Students' Knowledge of Vocabulary

While the best measure of students’ ability is to observe them while reading continuous text, you can also learn much about their word-solving strategies by having them read individual words. Certainly students should be able to recognize frequently encountered words automatically and unconsciously. You can create your own informal assessments to detect whether students can recognize and/or pronounce words in isolation.

You can also create inventories that will provide information about their knowledge of vocabulary. To begin:
  1. Create a list of words. Use a graded list, take words from a basal series, or pull words from content areas.
  2. Ask the student to read each word, use it in a sentence, explain the meaning, or provide a synonym or antonym. For a written test, you can have them match words with meanings, synonyms, or antonyms or provide multiple-choice answers.
  3. Look at the results. What do students know about words? What kinds of connections do they make? What can you learn from partially correct responses? The answers will help you plan your word study program and inform your work with students in guided and independent reading.
Keep in mind that there are many ways of knowing words, and any test of words in isolation can only provide limited information.

From Guiding Readers & Writers by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2001 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.
August 1. 2017

4 Tools to Support Shared Reading Instruction

Every teacher needs tools to support their instruction. In shared reading, the following key tools will be helpful to support your lesson as you read and teach from an enlarged text on an easel. You may wish to store these materials nearby for easy access.

  • Plain pointer: A thin dowel rod with the tip painted red or with a pencil eraser on the end works well for drawing children’s eyes to the print and features that you are discussing.
  • Wikki Stix®: These sticky plastic sticks can be formed into letters or used to underline or circle words or letters. They adhere to the pages of a book, are easily removed, and can be reused.
  • Highlighter tape: You may wish to have several colors of tape to help readers identify various elements of print. For example, you may wish to use different colors to draw attention to various spelling patterns or types of punctuation.
  • Masking card: Available in Online Resources in various sizes, masking cards bring sharp attention to words within continuous text. The mask places a frame around a word so that children can isolate and concentrate on it.

For a complete list of tools you may wish to have on hand, see page 26 in the Fountas & Pinnell Classroom System Guide (available Fall 2017) or pages 65–66 in Guided Reading: Responsive Teaching Across the Grades.

From Fountas & Pinnell Classroom System Guide by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2018 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

July 25. 2017

7 Ways to Effectively Teach Phonics to ELLs

You are likely to have many children in your class who not only can speak one language but are learning a second or even a third language. And that is a great thing. If English is an additional language, then it will be important that you understand
and value the child’s expansion of both home and school language. You will want to adjust your teaching to make sure that English language learners (ELLs) have access to your teaching about sounds, letters, and words. Often, these adjustments are minor and easy to implement, but they are necessary to promote essential understandings on the part of these learners.



Here are some ways you can support ELLs in Phonics and Word Study:
  1. Use many hands-on activities so that children have the chance to manipulate magnetic letters and tiles, move pictures around, and work with word cards and name cards.
  2. Be sure that the print for all charts (ABC charts, name charts, shared writing, picture and word charts, etc.) is clear and consistent so that children who are working in another language do not have to deal with varying forms of letters.
  3. Make sure that English language learners are not sitting in an area that is peripheral to the instruction (for example, in the back or to the side). It is especially important for these learners to be able to see and hear all instruction clearly.
  4. Provide a “rehearsal” by working with your English language learners in a small group before you provide the lesson to the entire group.
  5. Use real objects to represent pictures and build concepts in children’s minds. When it is not possible to use real objects to build concepts, use clear pictures that will have meaning for children. Picture support should be included whenever possible.
  6. Be sure to enunciate clearly yourself and accept children’s approximations. If they are feeling their own mouths say (or approximate) the sounds, they will be able to make the connections.
  7. Accept alternative pronunciations of words with the hard-to-say sounds and present the written form to help learners distinguish between them. Over time, you will notice movement toward more standard English pronunciation.

From Phonics, Spelling, and Word Study Lessons, Grade K by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2018 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.

July 18. 2017

Teacher Tip: How to Make More Time for Language and Literacy Learning

With ILA behind us, now is the perfect time to reflect and focus on your own professional development. It's not always easy to find time for literacy instruction in the classroom, so here are some suggestions for making more time for language and literacy learning.

1. With your grade-level colleagues, design a daily schedule that includes two-and-a-half to three hours of language and literacy teaching:
  • If you encounter problems, think "outside the box:" integrate subjects previously taught separately, rearrange your planning periods, reexamine how you incorporate special areas like music and art.
  • If you have departmentalization and cannot change it, work on a plan for allocating time for reading, writing, and word study, and for regular communication with other teachers so you can make connections over content areas.
  • Compare the time you have allocated for reading with the time you have set aside for writing. Writing is often shortchanged.
  • Talk about ways to incorporate more social studies and science into your literacy blocks.
  • Discuss ways to be more efficient. Could the first fifteen minutes of the day become part of the independent reading block?
  • Try out the schedule for one month and then revise it based on your experience.
2. Reevaluate the existing organizational structures in your classroom. Can some of these be changed? Can you find ways to incorporate some of them into the language and literacy framework?

3. With a group of colleagues, discuss changes you plan to make in terms of time, instructional approaches, classroom structure, or content.

From Guiding Readers and Writers by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2001 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.
July 11. 2017

Teacher Tip: Don't Miss Fountas and Pinnell at ILA 2017

If you are attending the International Literacy Association (ILA) 2017 Conference in Orlando, Florida, here are some tips to make sure you don't miss out on all things Fountas & Pinnell.

1. Attend Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell's sessions:

Teaching for Coherence, A Design for Literacy Instruction
Saturday, July 15, 3:00pm-4:00pm

Responsive Teaching: Four Keys to Effective Decision Making Within the Guided Reading Lesson
Sunday, July 16, 2:00pm-3:00pm

2. Visit the Heinemann Booth #723 to get a sneak peek of all of the new products coming out this year, including the NEW Fountas & Pinnell Classroom™, Leveled Literacy Intervention K-2, Second Edition, and Phonics, Spelling, and Word Study System. We're also giving away a FREE messenger bag on Saturday and Sunday, while supplies last!



3. Follow @FountasPinnell on Twitter and Tweet at us using the hashtags #FPLiteracy and #ILA17.

Hope to see you there!