Monday, April 1, 2013

"April Fools Day" Lesson

Today, I was reminded of the importance of creating and maintaining a good classroom culture.  Since it was April Fool's, my supervising teacher and I planned out a joke to play on our 5th grade students.  Upon arriving today, the students were told that the teacher was at a meeting and that the substitute was running late, so that the lesson plan of the day would be given to a student to be in charge to guide the class through the day until the substitute arrived.  When the students asked me to be their substitute for the day, I'd simply state that I was only there to observe that day and that we should follow the supervising teacher's instructions.  While I remained in the room to address any "chaos" that might arise, the supervising teacher was in a different room of the building and could be contacted instantly if necessary.  The students followed their normal Monday routine schedule in general and also had a few presentations.  The class found the situation a little strange but went along with it anyways and to my surprise, the class seemed to run itself.  They performed their tasks as they normally would, finished and started activities on time, and were well behaved generally.  They knew what was expected of them and they did it.  They managed themselves from the beginning of school at 7:30am to lunch and recess time at around noon, when the supervising teacher returned.

The overall culture and feel of a classroom can be beneficial to a student's development and learning.  As an educator, I would hope to create a respectable and productive learning community for my students such as the one mentioned above in which the students take ownership over their own learning in a safe, respectable place that promotes positive student engagement and interactions with one another.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Interactive Read-Alouds

Interactive read-alouds allows teachers to model the reading prcess through think-alounds and discussions as they help readers engage with the books in a safe, risk-free environment because children's listening and receptive levels are mush stronger than the level of books they can read independently.  Below are some types of books to consider and purposes for selected texts:


  • Texts by favorite authors.
  • Recommendations from other teachers.
  • Online sites and blogs.
  • Orbis Pictus award winners.
  • Books relating to curriculum topics.
  • Reviews in magazines, professional journals, or newspapers.
  • Newbery or Caldecott medal or honor books.
  • Allows for think-alouds to guide strategic strategies such as inferring, questioning, and visualizing.
  • Allows for text to text connections.
  • Allows for character, setting, or plot developments.
  • Builds classroom community.
  • Helps develop content-area curriculum.
  • Helps students discover ideas for writing.
  • Allows for study of topics of interest such as genre, author, or topic.
  • Provides examples of playful language.
  • Expands on students' vocabulary.
     During these interactive read-alouds, it is also important to allow students time to talk with one another and discuss what they've just read or heard.  This aids in their reading comprehension because it forces them to think about the text.  This time also allows educators to gain the opportunity to see what readers do and how the students think and to design their instruction to efficiently establish a solid foundation for children as they become independent readers.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Inferences Today

Readers make inferences when they combine the words of the author with the background knowledge to draw conclusions while the act of summarizing involves determining what's important enough to remember.  What educators need to realize is that our students already have the concept of inferring and the ability to do it without ever knowing a term for it.  While in the past, educators have named and defined the strategy of inferring, introducing the concept now involves with a modeled demonstration while thinking aloud about a piece of text.  

As educators, we should strive to be more aware about the concept of inferring, allow even the youngest readers many opportunities for inferring within their books, and share and model ideas to illustrate the importance  of summarizing.  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Representing Miscue Analyses

Educators use miscue analysis to reveal whether students are flexibly using syntactic, semantic, and graphophonic systems for meaning-making with a text by asking four essential questions:
  1. Does it sound like normal language?
  2. Does what they say make sense?
  3. Does the reading change the meaning of the sentence in a way that matters in the whole text?
  4. Are the miscues graphophonically similar to the text?
A spider or radar chart shown below is a useful visual representation that easily depicts the strengths and weaknesses in strategies the child is using.  Try it below! (Be sure to enter values between 0-100)

Here are also some signs to look out for that may demonstrate a preference in strategy that a child may be using:

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Leveling - A Double Edged Sword

Upon reflecting on Glasswell & Ford's article, "Lets Start Leveling About Leveling," I'm reminded that while leveling is based off the idea that children need to spend time with texts that can help them grow and develop as readers, an unintentional orthodoxy has been observed that has resulted in a focus on inflexible implementation of the "one right way" to engage and address that goal.  It is observed that a teacher's judgement has diminished in the leveling process and lists and numbers increasingly replaced those judgments.

As educators, it is necessary to remember that leveling systems are unable to assess whether a child is reading in an emotionally safe and comfortable setting and that they only acknowledge reader factors that can quickly be assessed and interpreted.  This method of quick, efficient assessment has unintentionally masked the complexity of the text factors at play in determining why a book is considered more difficult than another for any given reader on any given day.

We should be reminded that the job of the teacher is to stay attuned to those complex influencing factors when choosing texts for our students and to be more flexible in thinking about a reader's needs.  The selected texts should be both age appropriate and engaging for the reader in order to stimulate the reader's thinking.  In the end, a teacher's professional judgement still remains the critical factor in planning and implementing successful reading instruction.

For the original source & article, Glasswell & Ford's article, "Lets Start Leveling About Leveling," can be found in the journal: Language Arts, Volume 88, No. 3, January 2011.

Monday, February 11, 2013

It Happened "Auto-schema-tically"

Last Thursday, I was sitting in my Art Methods course and the professor read a passage called "The Great Peace."  While I didn't know it at the time, the passage was taken from an old Iroquois Legend about The Peacemaker and the Tree of Peace.  The passage spoke of a tree whose roots spread into the four directions: one to the north, one to the south, one to the east, and one to the west:

"Into the depths of the earth, down into the deep under earth currents of water flowing into unknown regions, we cast all weapons of strife.  We bury them from sight forever and plant again the tree.  Thus shall all Great Peace be established and hostilities shall no longer be known between the Five Nations but only peace to a united people."

"We have completed our power so that we the Five Nations Confederacy shall in the future have one body, one mind, and one heart.  If any evil should befall us in the future, we shall stand or fall united as one man."

After reading the passage to the class, the professor asked us to draw an image that represented our interpretation of the passage.  Many of my classmates began drawing beautiful and creative drawings of trees.  However while I was listening to the passage, it did not occur to me that the passage was truly about a tree, and thus I was viewing it from a symbolic perspective.  Therefore, I began to draw in my sketchpad the Shield of Achilles (which I've never seen) based upon a text-to-self/world connection.  I remember watching a movie in which the argument was posed that the scenes of normal life depicted on Achilles' shield suggested an alternative to war.  I thought that a shield is something in which weapons are cast upon.  A shield could have a cross pointing in all directions as a compass.  A shield could be called a tree since it's made of wood.  Lastly, it could be divided into 5 sections to symbolize the Five Nations that was mentioned.

This particular experience made me realize and further understand the concept of schemas and how we automatically use our background knowledge and what we already know to make sense of what we experience.  As educators, it is important to note that students also learn and make sense of things by starting off with what they know.  By utilizing this natural tendency of our students, we can hope to increase their understanding beyond the text through the many connections that they can make to the text.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Does "Sounding It Out" Work?

Try "sounding it out" is a phrase we've all encountered in the classroom culture during our elementary days in the United States.  But what does that really mean?  Can an individual really decipher any word by simply sounding it out, especially when there are countless exceptions in the English language in which words are not phonetically consistent?

As educators, we should strive to instruct our students to not only depend on phonics to solve unknown words, but to use all the sources of information available to them.  The chart on the left depicts three sources of information with which we use to "decode" words - Meaning, Structure, and Visual.  When students learn to integrate and balance meaning, structure, and visual information, they can continue to develop into proficient readers. While it is important to pay attention to make predictions based off of the three sources of information, students need to also take on the responsibility of checking for themselves and waiting for someone else to monitor their errors for them.  

Sunday, January 27, 2013

How Do You Spell...?

The year was 1996 when I was forced to sit at home and study for my first grade spelling test the next day.  My parents had forced me to write each spelling word 20 times before I was sent to bed.  The method usually worked for me and my scores were for the most part perfect.  On the few occasions in which I did misspell a word or two, I was required to re-write those words 50 times at home as a punishment.  As the year progressed, I grew weary of the study method that I was forced to endure and I found a way to cheat and get it done faster by writing the words one letter at a time in an assembly line fashion.  As a result, the study method did not help since I didn't complete them the way they were meant to be done and I began to struggle on the spelling tests since I could no longer rely on motor memory or determine whether my spelling "looked" right.  However, this also opened up a whole new world of writing for me.  Since I was no longer memorizing the accepted correct spelling of a word, I was paying more attention to letters and their sounds.  My mind began to do what it was naturally designed to do - look for patterns.  I began to notice similar patterns of spelling within different words and eventually led to my ability to use "chunks" to figure out longer and more difficult unknown words.  After a short amount of time, my scores were comparable to when I memorized the spelling of individual words and I had developed a far more efficient way to spell out words.

Oftentimes, parents have such high hopes for their children's academic success and attempt to accelerate their children's academic development by implementing practices such as the one described above.  However, these practices may actually stunt  the child's development in the long run because it may take the fun out of writing and learning.  Thus, as educators, it would be beneficial to proactively inform parents and guide them in seeing their child's struggles in a positive manner rather than with a deficit attitude.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Digging for Literacy

The Oxford dictionary defines literacy as the ability to read and write.  However, the idea in actuality is the ability to see relationships, patterns, and connections to make meaning of the world.  During the past week, several colleagues and I went out to a French restaurant on a "literacy dig" to observe the presence of literacy in a public restaurant.  Just to be on the safe side, the name of the restaurant and its location will not be mentioned.

They physical layout of the restaurant was simple and orderly with a dark, yet warm atmosphere.  The walls were plain with few decorations.  The only text that could be found in the restaurant were the "M" and "W" labels on the bathroom doors, the drink menu listed on a chalkboard at the bar, two small wall decorations at the front of the store, and the menus.

Upon entering the restaurant, the customer is greeted, directed to an available table, and provided menus.  A member of the wait staff introduces him/herself in a professional manner and answers any questions about items on the food and drinks menu.  Communication between the customer and the wait staff is the dominant form of literacy observed.  "Restaurant language" such as gluten-free and vegetarian options are commonly used.  In addition, many of the dishes on the menu have French names and correct pronunciation is also expected of the wait staff.  

For this particular setting, I suppose the important thing to note is the differences in conversation between customers with customers, customers with employees, and employees with employees.  There are differences in the language and tone used to convey meaning for each situation.  Just as this was observed in the restaurant, the world and environment around us operates in the same way.  

Monday, January 14, 2013

Constructivism in a Nutshell

"Constructivism is a model in psychology that characterizes learning as a process of actively constructing knowledge.  Individuals create meaning for themselves or make sense of new information by selecting, organizing, and integrating information with other knowledge, often in the context of social interactions." (EdPsych Modules, 2nd Edition)
There have been multiple occasions throughout my graduate studies in which the theories of Piaget and Vygotsky were mentioned when discussing students and their cognitive development.  But what are these theories and how can they be applied or observed in the classrooms? 

While both individuals may have different approaches when it comes to cognitive development, both would agree that 1) learning is a process of actively constructing knowledge, 2) cognitive development is an interaction between heredity and environment, 3) a symbolic system is needed for development, 4) internalized language is needed for conscious thought, promotes reflection, and helps plan, and 5) play is important.