Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Differentiating Spelling

I differentiate instruction in Spelling by using different spelling lists and using a spelling contract.  All fifth graders learn words from a grade level spelling list. Some students work with ten regular words. Others do fifteen regular words.  Another group has the original ten regular and ten high frequency words. The rest of the students have twenty regular words.  All students have "Challenge" words from curriculum units for the week.  The number of challenge words also varies from four words to twelve words.  I also allow students to "test out" of a list of words, and the work for the week with a pretest given on Monday.  This has created more work for me, but adjusts the work to the students' needs. We take a pretest on Monday, practice words on Tuesday with worksheets/activities, take a practice test on Wednesday, have a game on Thursday, and a final test on Friday. Students that earn above 90% on the practice test are exempt from the final test.  Students scoring 100% or more (challenge words add to the total) are eligible for a pretest for the following week.  Students scoring 105% or more on the pretest are exempt from the spelling work for the week.  They may have additional vocabulary or enrichment work to do during spelling time.  The work for the week is a contract.  The contract has been adjusted over the last ten years. The original source was a differentiating instruction conference, but I don't remember the presenter's name.  I have tweaked the contract almost yearly to reflect changes in students and requirements for the grade level.  Last year's contract added different learning style to the activities.  This year brought the biggest changes  to meet the needs of all fifth graders when spelling was added to my list of departmentalized responsibilities. Some activities incorporate Spelling City, which is a limited free site. More activities use iPads. If you would like to use my contract, please give me credit.


Sorry the picture is not the greatest! Will try again later.

If you would like a pdf of this, post a comment or email me

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Question Posed During a Program Audit

We recently had a Title I, RtI, and 31A audit.  This visit required an extensive survey and an intense team interview. Although the audit is one of those hoop we must jump through to get the money needed for our at risk students, I looked at as a way to see what we do well and what we can do better. I was involved as building improvement co-chair and a district team member. During the interview we were asked "What do you do to motivate reluctant readers?"
I've been thinking about this a personal note. Typically, reluctant readers are boys that haven't been successful in reading, or find it difficult to find a book that interests them.  I thought about some of the children that have been "hesitant" readers in the past.  Many of them had identified learning disabilities.  Others were unsuccessful in reading because they didn't have books at home, or weren't read to as early learners. But, another group, liked reading non-fiction books and devoured any curriculum support book I had, but struggled to read a novel. Still others struggle to find books of interest. What had I done to foster a love of reading for each of them?
Over the years, I have been purchasing books for my classroom. (see other post on my library). I have 1,800+ books of my own, and access to classroom sets of over two dozen novels. I have a diverse collection including numerous popular author, most children literature genres, and books from picture books to early readers to high school levels. Most students can find a novel, but if they appear to struggle I can give them a title to fit most areas. I 've add more non-fiction science and social studies books with a grant from our Foundation for Excellence in Education awarded me a mini-grant.  This includes books about the Revolutionary War, Civil War, both World Wars, and numerous other history or science topics.  A former teacher was gave me an extensive science support library. These book have appealed to the non-fiction fans. Having a wide range of levels makes it easy to find a book for most readers. I also use Accelerated Reading to motivate, book contracts and reading response journals to ensure students read. I talk about books I am reading myself (usually Children's Literature) and buy the "hottest" selling books from the book clubs to share with students. I encourage students to "sell" the latest read book, do videos of book talks, and host lunch discussions of literature circle novels. Having an occasional all day reading days with blankets, pillows, slippers and stuffed animals also goes over well. The most important thing I have learned is that to motivate most fifth grade reluctant readers, I need to stock multiple copies of "Diary of Wimpy Kids" and "Captain Underpants" books. These series have helped me get even my most hesitant readers to read.  They love to discuss them in our "Lunch Bunch" literature circles.  Give some of these ideas a try.


Discussing Cabin Fever after reading it in 5 hours!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dr. Mary Howard - Literacy Coach and RTI Guru

Our staff had the opportunity to hear Dr. Mary Howard at an in-service in August, before school started.  We previous read her book RTI from All Sides as a summer professional development opportunity. She has taught for forty years as a special education, Title I, and Reading Recovery teacher, as well as being a reading consultant and literacy coach.

We learned last week that she was heading back in our direction for a conference in Detroit.  She wanted to stop by our school on Monday, November 7 to observe lessons and take pictures to possibly include in her new book. My principal asked for volunteers to teach a high quality literacy lesson, not from the basal. I was quick to volunteer, not because I thought I had a high quality lesson, but because I welcomed the chance to meet with Mary.

I spent all day Sunday planning, pitching, and planning again.  I over thought what I wanted to do.  In the end, I ended  up teaching a great lesson on using post-it notes to teach schema.  I had an anchor chart that was not bad, and a great group of kids.  I was using Chris Van Allsburg's Just a Dream to introduce our new unit "My World and Yours." (Also my kick-off to my Van Allsburg author study.) The kids shared ideas on what they thought the unit was about.  I introduced the word "schema" that was also a challenge word for their spelling contract. Students were right on target with their connections. They jotted connections and used thinking stems to tie their schema to the story. Avery caught Dr. Howard's attention with her detailed jottings.
Except for the P.A. announcements during the lesson (to tell about another indoor recess) things went very well.  Dr. Howard came back 30 minutes later to discuss the lesson.  (Kudos to my kids for keeping things quiet during recess, while Dr. Howard shared her thoughts on the lesson.) She gave great feedback and offered an idea for an unused whiteboard, that I am putting into action.
Dr. Howard is an amazing woman! The amount of literacy knowledge she has is unbelievable. I am glad I volunteered!  I was also pleased that the first thing she noticed was my organized library.  See my previous post about it.


My Schema Anchor Chart

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Book Contracts

One way I differentiate is to use book contracts.  Students set reading goals with me at the beginning of each marking period.  They can choose between reading a number of books, or they can read a certain number of points for Accelerated Reading. The number of points they need is determined by their Z.P.D.  Their Z.P.D. was determined on the STAR Reading test, which is given as Pre-test, mid-year, and as a post test. 
Some students will set a goal of 10 points because they struggle to comprehend lengthy text.  Most of their A.R. books will be half point values.  Many students will choose a goal of twenty points because they read at grade level.  Others have a lofty goal of fifty points or more.  I usually don’t publicize point totals often, but the students will discuss their totals as a way to compete with their friends.  
Students sometimes choose to read a specific number of books.  This allows students to read books that are not Accelerated Reading, or because they are reading a few very lengthy books or they do not take tests well and are afraid they will not earn the points necessary to complete another goal.
In addition to the points or books, all students must either complete a book talk (oral book report), a written book report, or a “Lunch Bunch.”  The “Lunch Bunch” is a group discussion of a book all members have read.  Students eat lunch with me and we talk about the book.  Students enjoy the relaxed setting and the opportunity to eat in the classroom. The problem with this option is finding a group of four or more to read the same book you like. Last year, I had a group of girls that read well beyond their requirements because they loved to do “lunch bunches” with me. This option also works well for the quiet/shy student that may be hesitant to talk in from of the class. I love it because it gives me the chance to get to know students on a more personal level.
I have one other option that we trying this year. Two pairs are doing a talk show format.  I’ve adapted an idea that Mary Blow shared on the Scholastic’s Teacher Blog last year. One student is asking questions about the book, while the other is sharing the book information.  We are going to video tape these with our Flip Camera to post online.


Adapted from P. Charlefour

Adapted from P. Charlefour


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