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September 10. 2018

Teacher Tip: 4 Steps to Cope with Testing Demand

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.

September 3. 2018

Teacher Tip: Storage Suggestions for Student Work

As the school year begins, you will need places for students to store work in progress as well as finished work that will be used to assess their progress. Some suggestions are: 

  • Writing folders for each child with resources fastened in the center brackets and work in progress in pockets. Store folders in a labeled tub or file in the writing center. Children should be able to easily find their names, clearly printed at the top. We suggest using four different colors for folders as children can find theirs easily, or four different children can distribute them at writing time. 
  • A plastic crate with hanging files for finished writing work and/or portfolios (or scan and keep electronically). 
  • A rack for storing personal poetry books so that the decorated covers can be displayed. (Students thoughtfully decorate the covers after they have collected and illustrated a few poems.) 
  • Students may have sketchbooks, handwriting books, or other small items. You can use covered cereal boxes, cut in half, as files, and they can be placed in the middle of tables. 
  • A personal box of books to read for each child. You can also use cereal boxes for these. Ask parents to send them in! 
  • A basket for reader’s notebooks. You might place four different color stickers on the upper-right corner and have students place them in four baskets. They can access them more quickly and you can review a pile with a particular color each day.
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.

August 27. 2018

Teacher Tip: How to Organize Your Fountas & Pinnell Classroom™

If you're starting to unpack Fountas & Pinnell Classroom™, here are some practical tips on organizing your classroom for each instructional context.

Interactive Read-Aloud: Interactive read-aloud takes place in the whole-class meeting area of your classroom. It is ideal to have a bright rug or natural barriers, such as bookshelves, to mark the area. Children sit on the floor, so arrange your chair and an easel to give all children an unobstructed view. As you finish with a book, you can move it to a bin in the classroom library or display it on the easel or bookshelves, offering children the opportunity to choose to read it independently. Keep interactive read-aloud lessons, books, and supplies in your resource area for easy access.

Shared Reading: As you arrange your classroom for shared reading, be sure to accommodate children so that every child can see the big book or chart. Store texts and tools nearby for easy access. 

Texts: 

  • large print books 
  • projected texts 
  • shared/interactive writing texts 
  • small copies of large texts 

 Tools: 

  • easel plain pointer 
  • Wikki Stix® 
  • word cards 
  • highlighter tape 
  • magnetic letters 
  • whiteboard pocket chart 
  • word masks of various sizes markers 
  • correction tape and sticky notes computer and screen, or document camera, to project an image

Reading Minilessons: Many of your lessons on management, skills, strategies, and literary analysis will flow from observations you make during interactive read-aloud and conferring with children during independent reading. When organizing your classroom for reading minilessons, designate wall space near the meeting area to display anchor charts with principles that children are currently learning and applying.

Guided Reading: Your guided reading area is best located in an area of the classroom that accommodates a table large enough to seat 4-6 children and yourself. A kidney-shaped table is ideal. Arrange the table so you sit facing the children and classroom, allowing you to monitor the children working in independent work areas. Ideally the lessons and books are arranged by level on shelves behind your small-group table, allowing you to easily retrieve and return instructional materials.

Phonics, Spelling, and Word Study: When you present phonics and word study lessons, you will need a pocket chart; picture, letter, and word cards; and chart paper. Store your lesson folders, Sing a Song of Poetry, and Ready Resources in your resource area to streamline planning and the gathering of materials. For more tips on organizing PWS, refer to this Phonics, Spelling, and Word Study System Unpacking Document.

Independent Reading: Choose a place in your classroom to create a classroom library. Shelves that accommodate book bins are ideal, with bins organized by genre topic, author, and interest for easy access and browsing by children. Organize the conferring cards in your resource area, so that you can quickly pull the appropriate cards to support your conferences with readers.

Book Clubs: Book clubs can take place anywhere in your classroom where there is room for small groups of children to sit, either in a circle of chairs or in a circle on the floor, and discuss books together. Designate a shelf in your resource area where you can store the books and discussion cards together for easy access.

From the 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.

August 20. 2018

Teacher Tip: Work Actively to Create Inclusion

It is not enough to create acceptance; you also have to work actively to include students. Take the attitude that all students in the class have much to learn from each other; they have the responsibility and opportunity to help their peers learn. 

Walk into your empty classroom. Does it extend a welcome to every student? Are their names prominent? They should see themselves and their work on the walls. Work hard to pronounce their names correctly. Ask also for their name in their native language. They will enjoy helping you, and in the process, you are communicating not only that they are important, but also that you value their languages even if you cannot speak them. For example, if you are reading aloud or talking about a new word, ask students how the word would be said in another language (like Spanish or Urdu). You can easily put common phrases like “please and thank you” or “good morning” on the wall in every language represented in your classroom. All students will enjoy using a bit of another language.

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.

August 14. 2018

Teacher Tip: Establish Routines in the Classroom

From school entry to the end of elementary school, they key to teaching students to make good choices is to establish and teach routines for each activity in the classroom. A routine is a set of actions or steps that you repeat for accomplishing something. Don't have too many routines and don't make them too complex because even intermediate or middle-level students can find it difficult to remember a long list. During the first week of school, demonstrate and teach a few routines to get started, and then use them over and over.

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.

August 6. 2018

Teacher Tip: 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.

July 30. 2018

Teacher Tip: 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.

July 24. 2018

Teacher Tip: Selecting Books for Guided Reading

In order to select books for guided reading, start by looking through your set of leveled books. The level helps you narrow your choices. Think about the appropriate level and look at the variety of books available. Consider books that will delight the readers of the age group. Think about the variety of topics, themes, and genres they have experienced. If the students are processing the text well and are finding new learning opportunities on a particular level, the selection is probably about right; however, there are more factors to consider.

  • Are the concepts in the book familiar to students or can they be made accessible through the introduction? 
  • Is the topic one that will engage the students’ intellect or curiosity? 
  • Is the plot interesting? Will it appeal to this group of students? 
  • Is the setting important? 
  • Does the text provide opportunities for this group of students to use what they know? 
  • Are some words in the book known to students? 
  • Are other words accessible through the readers’ current ability to use strategic actions such as word analysis and prediction from the language structure or meaning?
  • Does the text offer a few opportunities to problem- solve, search, and check while reading for meaning? 
  • Do the illustrations or graphics support the reader’s search for meaning? Do they extend the meaning of the text?
  • For emergent and early readers, is the text layout clear? Is the print clear? Are there an appropriate number of lines of text? Is there sufficient space between words? 
  • Is the length of text appropriate for the experience and stamina of the group?

Obviously the book’s levels of support and challenge will not be the same even for all students in one guided reading group. They bring different experiences and control of language to the book, so they will search for and use meaning and language structure in different ways. Nevertheless, with effective teaching and social support, all members of the group can process the new text successfully.

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.

July 16. 2018

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

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 9. 2018

Teacher Tip: How to Provide Opportunities for Processing Texts

Comprehending the fullest meaning of a text is the goal every time we read anything. We do not teach comprehension by applying one strategy to one book during one lesson: we help students learn how to focus on the meaning and interpretation of texts all the time, in every instructional context, each instance contributing in different ways to the same complex processing system. Below are some suggestions for you and your colleagues to provide your students with opportunities for processing texts:

  1. Bring together a cross-grade-level group of colleagues to think about text experiences. You may want to have them work in small grade-level groups and then share as a whole group. 
  2. Use large chart paper divided into columns. As a group, consider (1) processing orally presented written texts; (2) processing written texts; and (3) acting on the meaning of texts after reading. These three actions occur across instructional contexts. 
  3. Have each group use their weekly schedules to discuss a week of instruction in their classroom. Make a list of all the processing opportunities students have in each of the three areas in the three columns on the chart paper. 4. Review the charts. Have the whole group participate in a larger discussion of how these opportunities can be expanded. Emphasize that there are specific ways of teaching for comprehending in each of these settings. 
From Teaching for Comprehending and Fluency: Thinking, Talking, and Writing About Reading by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (c) 2006 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.