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January 25, 2023

A Routine for Explicit Vocabulary Instruction

Closing the gap between the language rich and the language poor is of upmost importance for educators.

A proven way to shrink the literacy gap between the "rich" and the "poor" is by explicitly teaching vocabulary words.  Research supports that teachers should be directly teaching 3-5 words per text selection and teaching them in a way that students "own" the words.

Owning a word means you have a deep understanding of the word.  You can pronounce the word.  You understand it's meaning.  You have the ability to use the word during conversation and in writing.  An owned word is one that is a member of your personal lexicon. 

Vocabulary instruction is important for all kids, but it is vital for students who have under developed vocabularies. 

Teaching students vocabulary terms should happen before a text selection is read, and should be done using the following routine. 

1. Pronounce the word, write it and read it. 

Always introduce a word orally first.  Kids need to know how to correctly pronounce the word. Say it, and have them repeat it back to you.  If the word is multi-syllabic, talk about the syllables and say the word in syllable chunks.

Next, write the word.  Say each sound, or each syllable as the write the word for all students to see.

Example:   Our new word is plain.  Class, say plain.  How many syllables does plain have? Lets clap the syllables in plain.  How many sounds does plain have? Lets tap the sounds in plain. There are two spellings for the word plain.....plane and plain.    We are going to learn about plain, spelled p....l.....a....i.....n.  Plain is an adjective (which means it describes a noun).

2. Tell students what the new word means

Use a student friendly definition of the new word. This ensures that students understand what the new word means. However, after a student friendly definition is given....don't be afraid to elevate a student's vocabulary by giving a more technical or advanced definition.

Additionally, talk to the students about word origin.  Point out prefixes, suffixes or any base words that may exist. 

Finally, give students a more concrete way to grasp the word by showing pictures, video clips, demonstrating an action or providing a hands on experience.  It is always best to find real images to share as opposed to clipart images.

Example: Plain means ordinary.  Something that is plain is not flashy. Plain looks like this:

3. Say more about the word and give examples

 Once students have an understanding of the new word's meaning, use the word in several sentences.  These sentences should help students further understand what the word is and what it isn't. 

Example: If I wanted to use plain in a sentence, I could say: My outfit is plain today because it doesn't have a lot of colors.  Or, I enjoy eating plain yogurt that is only one flavor and doesn't have any mix-ins.  

4. Ask Questions about the Word's Meaning

Ask students yes and no questions about the word to really help the meaning sink in.

Example: Students, are the outfits you are wearing plain?  Is your bedroom at home plain?  Do you like plain food, or food that doesn't have a lot of spice or ingredients?

5. Provide opportunities for students to use the word

To help students truly "own" a word, they need ample opportunities to use the newly acquired term. Encourage students to use the word in writing and speaking activities. Have students write sentences using the word, or share a sentence verbally. 

Example: Students, I want you to think of a sentence using our new word plain.  After some think time, have students hand up, stand up and pair up to share their sentence with a partner. 

Interested in seeing the vocabulary routine in action?  Check out the following clip of explicit vocabulary instruction taking place in a kindergarten classroom. 

Make sure to check out this article from Reading Rockets, A Multidimensional Approach to Vocabulary Instruction: Supporting English Language Learners in Inclusive Classrooms, for eight more instructional tips regarding vocabulary instruction. 

January 13, 2023

How to Select Vocabulary Words to Teach

As teachers it is our job is to close the gap between the language rich and the language poor.  Check out the previous blog post, Do you have a language rich classroom? where I provided EIGHT ways to make your classroom literacy rich!

One of the eight ways to make your classroom environment rich with literacy is by teaching VOCABULARY!  

Vocabulary instruction includes selecting the right words, explicitly teaching them and then giving students ample opportunities to use those newly learned terms.

We are going to take a deep dive into vocabulary instruction with the next few blog posts--taking it one step at a time.

First, lets explore how we select the right words. 

Determining which words to teach our students can be tricky.  There are just SO. MANY. WORDS!

Leading literacy experts (e.g. Archer & Hughes, Beck, Graves, Stahl & Nagy) all agree on the following five rules when selecting vocabulary to explicitly teach.

1. Choose words students probably don't know

There is no reason to spend time teaching terms students already know.  To gauge whether a student knows the meaning of a word, see if they can correctly use it in a sentence.  Or, have students rate their own understanding by giving you a fist to five whether they know that word or not. 

2. Choose words that are crucial for text understanding

Select words that critical for understanding the text.  Students need to be taught the words that are needed to understand the central theme or main idea of the text selected.  

3. Choose words that students will encounter often

Select high utility words--words that students are likely unfamiliar with, but will see often in future lessons or in a variety of contexts.  For example words like detest, muttered and hurl are better choices than metamorphosed or longhorn beetle. 

4. Teach words that are difficult to learn without explicit instruction

Select words that would be hard to understand, unless explicitly taught.  Many times words that have multiple meaning are perfect words to select.  For example words like calculating or transparent have multiple meaning depending on the context in which they are used.  Explicitly teaching these words helps student's fully grasp all of their meanings. 

5. Select 3-5 words for each text

It is best practice to only teach 3-5 words per text selection.  You may determine to increase that  depending on the needs of your children.  Beck and her colleagues recommend a goal of 400 words per year for teachers to directly teach.  For those 400 words, Beck recommends a minimum of 10 interactions per word. 

If you are looking for more information on how to best select vocabulary words to explicitly teach, check Choosing Words to Teach by Isabel Beck, Margaret McKeown and Linda Kucan published on Reading Rocket's website.  These ladies are the true guru's of teaching vocabulary!

January 8, 2023

Teacher Recommended Books for Growth Mindset

When I return from winter break, not only do I review routines and procedures....but I also review the topic of growth mindset! 

What is growth mindset? 

Growth mindset describes a way of viewing struggles and setbacks.  Individuals who have a growth mindset believe their skills and abilities aren't set in stone.  Even if they find something difficult, they believe their skills can improve over time.

Carol Dweck, a leading researcher on the topic and author of Mindset, defines a growth mindset as:

"In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work--brains and talent are just the starting point.  This view creates a love of learning and a  resilience that is essential for great accomplishment." (Dweck, 2015)

In contrast, a person with a fixed mindset thinks their skills will not improve over time--no matter how hard they try.  They believe their skills and abilities are set in stone and will not change. No. Matter. What. 

Dweck defines a fixed mindset as:

"In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them.  They also believe that talent alone creates success--without effort. " (Dweck, 2015)

Why does growth mindset matter?

Whether a student has a fixed mindset or a growth mindset significantly impacts their learning.  

If a student holds a fixed mindset--they give up when they can't solve a problem.  Their productive struggle is non-existent.  A fixed mindset is detrimental to learning and creates very limited growth.

If a student holds a growth mindset, they continually work to find a solution or improve their skills.  A growth mindset student leans in to productive struggle leading to success and ultimately greater growth. 

How can you encourage growth mindset in your classroom?

One way to encourage students about growth mindset is through children's literature.  These growth mindset books show characters using different strategies to achieve their goals. They undesrstand they can improve their abilities if they try.  Exactly what we want our students to learn.

Check out the SEVEN books below that illustrate productive struggle can be positive. 

This wonderfully illustrated story tells the tale of a talented artist who grows up immersed in the joy of creating art until he is injured at war.  Very patiently, and with great determination, he slowly regains some control of his right arm and is able to create art again.  He goes on to become a celebrated artist. 

When Sophie Thinks She Can't..... by Molly Bang 

Sophie is frustrated when she can't solve a math puzzle and shouts, "I CAN'T DO IT!"  Thankfully Sophie's teacher steps in and teaches the class about the power of YET.  By the end of the story, Sophie uses her new technique (growth mindset) to help her prevail through struggles. 

Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats

Willie is determined to learn to whistle so he can call his dog. Although learning to whistle is hard work, he doesn't give up and eventually succeeds.

Brave Irene by William Steig

If there is a will, there is a way.  Irene Bobbin is determined to deliver a beautiful ball gown her mother made to the duchess.  In order to do so, Irene must defy the the blistery cold wind, snow and feelings of wanting to give up.

Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae

Giraffes can't dance....or can they?  Gerald is determined to take part in the annual Jungle dance and while all of the other animals laugh he shows perseverance and determination to follow his dream. 

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Jabari is determined to jump off of the diving board, but as he nears the ladder his confidence shrinks.  His dad reassures him that is okay to be scared.  With a new sense of determination, Jabari climbs the ladder and jumps. 

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty 

Rosie Revere dreams of becoming a great engineer.  Rosie constructs amazing inventions from a hot dog dispenser to helium pants, but she is too afraid of failure to share them.  When Rosie's great-great-aunt Rose visits, she explains to Rosie that a flop isn't something to fear--it is something to celebrate.  One can only truly fail if they quit. 

Are you interested in more books to encourage growth mindset?  Check out this list from We Are Teachers, or this list from the Children's Library Lady

For ideas beyond books, check out American University's 10 strategies for fostering growth mindset in your classroom.

December 26, 2022

What is your ONE WORD for 2023? πŸΎπŸŽ‰

 Have you picked a word of the year before?

2021 was the first year I selected a single word to guide my goals for the year.  Last year's word was flourish.  I wanted to my professional life to thrive as I soaked up new knowledge, and I wanted my personal relationships to grow stronger. 

As I reflect back on my 2022 one word goals; I can say with confidence that I selected the right word.  I jumped into new learning  (hello going back to grad school for my educational leadership degree). I also made the most of spending time with loved ones. 

I love the simplicity of choosing one word to direct your focus for the year.  Instead of selecting multiple specific goals to try and achieve, choose one word to be at the forefront of your mind.  

This one word will be overarching, allowing smaller goals and accomplishments to fit within it.

So what is my one word for 2023?  

I am selecting the word fearless

The definition of fearless means free from fear.  B R A V E.

You see.......I am ready to be fearless.  I choosing to not let worry, anxiety or fear stand in my way of anything--personally or professionally.  

If there is an opportunity--I am going to take it!  

If there is an adventure--I am going on it!  

I plan to be bold and courageous!

Need help selecting a word of the year? Check out this post from blogger Elizabeth McKnight.  She gives some great inspirational word examples and a more in-depth explanation on the benefits of choosing one word to guide your focus.   

What will be your word?  I would love if you would share!

Have a happy new year!  Stay safe and healthy!

December 20, 2022

Winter Break Bucket List (for teachers!)

How ready are you for winter break?  Teaching is such a taxing and exhausting (yet rewarding) occupation.  When teachers FINALLY arrive at a long break....They. Are. Ready! 

All too often winter break seems to quickly slip through our fingers, and we arrive at the beginning of January and wonder how the new year arrived so quickly.  

Breaks are elusive little things, aren't they? 

In order to take full advantage of your time off, I urge you to make a Winter Break Bucket list for yourself!  Bucket lists are a great ways to ensure that relaxation, fun and meaningful moments happen. 

By the end of break I want to look back on the the two weeks and have something to show for it---and I want that for you too!  

Click the image below to download this free resource!  Included in the download are multiple bucket list bingo boards.  There are two pre-filled bucket boards with lots of fun options!  You don't even have to think of your own fun--just print and start enjoying life.  Ha!  

I truly hope you find this Winter Bucket List for teachers helpful and that you have an opportunity in these next few weeks to take time for yourself.  Winter break is the perfect time to slow down, take a deep breath and breathe fresh perspective into your life.  

It is SO IMPORTANT that you fill your cup, so that you are ready to tackle the rest of the school year.  Remember that self care doesn't mean me first, it just means me too! 

December 14, 2022

Holiday Gifts for Students (that don't break the bank!)

 Almost every teacher wants to buy a holiday gift for each of their students--but with classes of 30+ kids......it just gets too darn expensive!

As a reading interventionist I service around 60 students, so I am always on the hunt for something festive and inexpensive. Thus....I use treat tags! Treat tags are a wonderful option--simple, relatively low cost and fun! Click the image below if you would like download the Elf Kisses treat tags FOR FREE! I simply staple the treat tag to a ziplock back with a few Hershey kisses inside! You don't have to use Hershey kisses....you could really do any treat!


Need a holiday treat tag for your students?

Using treat tags are a perfect way to put a smile on the faces of your students without breaking the bank!

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      In the past, I have also gifted my students with "rudolphs."  To make these adorable reindeers, you use tootsie pops and a printable pattern.  Click  here or the image below to take you to the blog post--it will give you directions and the free printable pattern to use!

      If you just want to celebrate with your class, but not purchase gifts there are lots of festive party ideas to do!

      • Hot Chocolate Bar-- Set up a hot cocoa drink station with fun mix-ins (candy canes, chocolate chips, whip cream, marshmallows, etc.)  Let the students sip the hot cocoa as the color, watch a movie or play games.
      • Build Gingerbread Houses-- Have students build their own gingerbread houses using graham crackers, icing and various candy materials.  Students could also work in teams to complete the structures.
      • Cookie Decorating--bring cookies and decorating supplies and let the student's creativity fly!  Students could enjoy their baked creations as the watch a movie or play games.  For an extra layer of fun--make it a cookie decorating competition! 
      • Holiday Sing-A-Long--create a playlist of your favorite carols and have a class sing-a-long party.  
      Looking for even more ideas? Check out this list from Teacher Lists or Coffee and Carpool!

      Want more holiday treat tag options? Check out these treat tags on TPT . For under three dollars, you get nine options for festive fun!

      Happy Holidays!

      November 18, 2022

      Do you have a language rich classroom?

      We know that some children arrive at school already behind because they come from a home that is language poor.  Language poor environments are homes where children are exposed to minimal printed words, have minimal conversations, a limited opportunity to acquire background knowledge and do not  hear academic language spoken. (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1997, 1998)

      As teachers, it is our job to help close the gap between the language rich and the language poor.  

      One of the ways to do that is by creating a classroom that is literacy rich!  Check out the EIGHT ideas below to make your classroom a literacy rich environment

      1. Read aloud to your students daily

      Reading aloud to your students everyday creates a strong foundation for literacy development.  Students are able to hear phrased, fluent reading and are exposed to a myriad of new words that aren't often used in everyday conversation.  

      Typically, listening comprehension of students is much higher than their reading comprehension, which allows teachers to select books that stretch the listener.  Teacher read alouds also level the playing field....less able readers are exposed to the same rich and engaging books that fluent readers can read on their own.  Students of all ages benefit from hearing experienced readers share stories.  

      Check out this article from Reading Rockets, which discusses the power of read alouds! 

      2. Create a classroom library with variety

      Fill your classroom libraries with variety!  Make sure to include fiction, non-fiction, picture books, graphic novels, poetry, magazines--basically any printed material you can find.  The more materials students have available--the more likely they are to read. 

      3.  Encourage your students to play with words.

      Find ways to have fun with words.  Kids always seem to be more engaged when you attach the word "game" to a lesson!  During indoor recess, or even during centers allow students to engage in games like Scrabble, Bananagrams, Bogle, Balderdash or Apples to Apples.   Or, check out some of the literacy games I have available at Mind Spark's store!  These make great additions to literacy centers!

      4. Get your kids writing

      Writers often have an expansive vocabulary they use to deliver the message of their script.  Teachers can help students develop their personal lexicon by having students write daily!  Students can journal, answer exit tickets or engage in creative writing exercises. 

      Check out more writing ideas and ways to write across all subjects in this article from Edutopia, Why Students Should Write in all Subjects. 

      5. Read Poetry

      You don't have to wait until April (National Poetry Month) to read poetry to your students.  You should be sharing poems, and sharing them often.  Poets have an amazing way they play with words to create magic! Check out a previous post, Top 10 Poetry Activities to Use in Your Classroom, to inspire you to start using poetry in your classroom!

      6. Directly teach vocabulary words

      Research supports that teachers should directly teach 10 to 12 vocabulary words per week.  Directly teaching doesn't just mean providing the definition of the word and moving on....but using an explicit vocabulary routine to help kids own the word!  Check out this blog post from Voyager-Sopris to give you an explicit vocabulary routine and tips on selecting the right words! 

      7. Use unusual words 

      Challenge yourself to use 10 dollar words with your students. Ten dollar words are precise, descriptive and uncommon.  Use these "ten dollar" words over and over again, until your students start incorporating these words in their everyday vocabulary.   For example, instead of saying, "That makes me sad," you could say, "That fills my heart with sorrow."   

      8. Create opportunities for students to converse 

      Communication requires students to use all of the language that swirls around in your classroom.  The language you have been working really hard to help them acquire.  Create opportunities where you dialogue with students, and time where students are able to converse with one another.  Cooperative learning strategies (think, pair, share or think, write, pair, etc.) are great ways to incorporate conversation into your classroom.  

      Now that you have a handle on how to make YOUR classroom language rich, how might you help parents?  Check out this post, which gives FOUR simple strategies you can share with your parents to make their home language rich!