Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Reading "Log" Going Viral!

 Scary Mommy Facebook PostI am thankful that Scary Mommy reached out to me for an update about the reading “log” I created years ago. I blogged about the creation of it here  and here when I first freely published it for use in 2014. It is shocking how the "log" has supported families globally and generationally since originally sharing it with The Curriculum Corner.  

Christine Organ, the Associate Editor and Social Media Manager of Scary Mommy, tracked me down through Facebook Messenger and asked if I would answer a few questions about the reading "log" I developed. She masterfully condensed my response and wrote an amazing piece.  Her Facebook post has received an outpouring of positive feedback from educators and families!  

This Educator’s Unique ‘Reading Log’ Is Something Teachers, Parents, And Kids Can Get On Board With

I have included my full response to her Q & A below.

(1)               Please tell us a bit about your background.
I graduated from the University of Central Missouri on December 15, 2001. The month prior to graduation, I was hired on the spot at a conference table that said, “Come and Teach in Las Vegas.” It is nearly impossible to find a teaching position in Missouri midyear, so my husband and I decided to move across the country.  I started teaching 5th grade the week after graduation to a classroom of 33 students.  I taught 5th and 2nd grade before completing my Master’s degree in Literacy.  Upon completion of my degree, I became a Learning Strategist, Literacy Specialist, and Performance Zone Instructional Coach.  I am a published author with the International Literacy Association and have presented internationally.  Currently, I enjoy writing and presenting family engagement workshops for our district’s Family and Community Engagement Services (FACES). This rewarding position allows me the opportunity to share with parents, districtwide, some of the strategies I shared with teachers and use at home with my own growing children.   

(2)               How did you develop the alternate reading log?
Years ago, while working as a Performance Zone Instructional Coach, I was assigned to a school with a progressive principal that was adamant about implementing a new “no homework” policy school-wide. Reading homework is the best assignment to increase the academic achievement of elementary students, according to research. She asked me to develop a homework reading “log” that could be used in all grade levels (K-5th grade). The “log” needed to give open-ended and family-friendly reading ideas to encourage wide reading based on student choice. Additionally, the log could not ask students to record minutes (why put a limit on fun?) and could not include any pointless or mundane writing of book titles.

It was an attachment to the traditional weekly newsletter and served as a consistent accountability tool for teachers, students, and parents. We expected our elementary students to read each week and wanted to support families.  Our mission was simply to use the form as a clear, concise, and consistent communication vehicle of ideas and strategies that are not stuck in rituals.

It is an inventory, but it does not count number of minutes read, number of books read, or ask students to list the author or titles like a traditional reading "log." Additionally, the teachers were specifically trained not to offer rewards for completion or collecting the most tallies. The removal of these traditional practices was based on a phenomenal piece written by Donalyn Miller entitled - The 40 Book Challenge Revisited; and, the insightful piece directed to parents entitled - How to Trick Your Kids Into Reading All Summer Long. We want to use the 'inventory" to build the foundation and routines of life-long readers.

(3)               Have you found other teachers and parents to be supportive of it?
Unbelievable response!  Two years ago, Kindergarten teacher, Christina Hardeman, was the first person to give me feedback about using the log as a parent and classroom teacher. She told me that her kinder parents typically filled out the log and voluntarily wrote positive notes or comments in the available space each week.  She had parents, with multiple school-age children, thank her for not making her homework assignment a cumbersome process.  Other parents acknowledged that the flexibility of the "menu" of options helped when juggling a hectic schedule.  

When I joined the FACES department, I shared the inventory and multiple positive responses from classroom teachers and their families. Immediately, the FACES Director asked me to write a University of Family Learning workshop around the ideas of the inventory and have the ideas translated into Spanish.  “100 Waysto Raise a Reader” is the title of the workshop, and it has been presented to more than 120 schools in our district.  It is our most requested workshop!

During the one hour workshop, we present families with the research about the importance of reading. We also share a bank of ideas to demonstrate how to overcome the common excuses children give for not wanting to read.  The workshop slides are filled with pictures and testimonials of everyday families using the ideas. One size does not fit all. At the conclusion of the workshop, we ask families to choose just one idea that they can implement immediately that day and write it on an exit slip.  The responses vary and it’s exciting to see what a parent chooses as a goal.   Please visit our website (here) to view photos and download the ideas. Additionally, search the social media hashtag (#CCSDReads) to see testimonials and photos from families and schools in our district.

Parents literally rush up to us, at the conclusion of the workshop, with mile-wide smiles and hugs.  I had a father who shared that his kindergarten daughter recently wanted to try gymnastics and he has enrolled her in lessons.  He is excited to search for books about gymnastics and successful gymnasts to provide relevant materials she may enjoy! Parents that are overwhelmed with the technological distractions, are pleased to hear that audio books are acceptable, and usually available at no cost from their child’s school. Countless parents shared that they felt compelled to read with their children more, read consistently, and start providing choice in materials (even graphic novels). 

(4)               What do kids think of it?
Children love the ideas and active involvement of their parents.  I have had several children pick ideas like reading in the bathtub, reading with a flashlight, and reading with a family pet.  The responses that stick out to me the most are the children that are thankful for the opportunity to read with their parent.  As educators, we assume too often that this is occurring in our students’ homes.

(5)               How do you think this reading log promotes reading without turning an enjoyable activity into a chore, like so many reading logs do?
I believe that the simplicity of its’ function and design promotes reading.  We are simply listing habits of life-long readers and providing a choice. Life-long readers do not read for prizes, count pages, or write titles of books.  Rather, readers who read for pleasure enjoy reading on the go, select a variety of materials, enjoy sharing or comparing thoughts with others, and are always on the hunt for the next thrill.

(6)         What impact have you seen in students using this alternate reading log?
Based on feedback following our workshops, parents have shared that their children are more eager to read without prompting. I have seen students feel liberated to read.  Students who are eager to share their week of reading with their classmates and swap stories from their journey. From the Facebook testimonials of parents, I have seen reluctant students read with their parents for the first time. 

As a facilitator of a Family Engagement Center, I heard parents proudly speak about steps they have taken that will affect generations.  In our workshop, we encourage families to read aloud to their children in the language that they feel most comfortable.  This is astounding to many who have been silenced in the past due to fear of negatively impacting their child’s academic growth.  One Spanish-speaking mother left our workshop, grabbed a handful of books written in Spanish, and shared them with her husband.  She emailed a photo of her husband reading with their 3rd and 4th grade boys for the first time.  He had never read to them before and now felt safe to share a love of literacy.

I have noticed that my own children are reading more for their own pleasure.  For example, my son (who is not an avid reader) shocked me by choosing to read in the car and then continued reading at the doctor's office. Without my usual prompting, he chose to read something he enjoyed and sustained his reading much longer than the typical "required" minutes. It's moments like these that help me, teachers, and other parents know we are developing life-long readers.  This honest reading counts.

(7)         Is there anything else you'd like our readers to know?
How do we know if this inventory is accomplishing our long-term goal of developing students that independently choose to read?  Ask parents if they are noticing their children are reading more without being told or asked to "read for 20 minutes."  Ask them to give you examples, if possible.  Their response may give you goosebumps!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

6 Area Design Challenges

I was energized to create a family workshop simply by seeing examples from a 3rd grade classroom on TwitterMy recent CCSD FACES Family Enrichment Day workshop was inspired by a tweet I saw from Carrie King.  I was immediately drawn to the open-ended nature of the task card and wanted to build an interactive parent-child workshop based on her photograph.

Source: Carrie King 
I had to to think of what skills would be needed in order to access this project.  What would the parent and child have to already know in order to be successful?  I planned a series of quick and endlessly repeatable routines to build up to the final project!

Roll a Rectangle

I started the workshop, as I do all math workshops, by briefly explaining C.R.A. (Concrete, Representational, and Abstract).  I stressed that manipulatives are not just for elementary children. All students move through a developmental sequence from concrete to abstract, and many need the physical representations for a longer period than is often provided in schools. Therefore, we need help from parents to help provide additional support at home.  To demonstrate the developmental sequence, we started with modeling multiplication with square tiles - Roll a Rectangle.
Roll 2 dice. One dice represents the rows and the other represents the columns
The families were not allowed to take the square tiles home, but I showed them additional images of Wheat Thins and Cheez Its being used in a similar fashion. 
Roll a Rectangle with Cheese Its in Mrs. Jackson's 3rd grade class

Area Dice Game

After manipulating concrete objects I introduced the families to the Area Dice Game. The participants rolled the two dice and represented the area on white grid paper.   
(We offered support for our younger guests that are not quite ready for multiplication.)

I supplied the families with multiple pieces of extra grid paper to take home, but also showed them that these representations could be done outside with sidewalk chalk like Jaclyn Jackson's 3rd grade class completed one sunny afternoon!
Jacyln Jackson's 3rd grade class

Multiplication Table

 I modeled  how to use a handy Multiplication Table (drawn to scale).  I chose this table because it clearly shows what the abstract number represents in an array.  Many of the educators and attendees had never seen or used a reference guide like this illustrated example.
Multiplication Table (Color, with Numbers)

Choose a Challenge

Build a Robot
Design a City
Design a Community Playground
Plan a Dream Bedroom
Design a Petting Zoo
Design a Dream House
Explaining the directions to build a robot and using Carrie King's photos as examples. 
I quickly moved through several examples to explain the six tasks I imitated and innovated from the work of Carrie King. This is a natural progression from the concrete to the abstract.  Each of the tasks give a total square units and the learner has to create the object or design.  For example, the head of the robot is a total of 36 square units which means a child could construct a 12x3, 18x2, 9x4, 1x36 rectangle.  The dimensions allow for multiple responses!

Download the 6 tasks!  (FREE)

I also incorporated related books that are relevant to each of the six tasks, and encouraged families to link reading with the mathematics.  I mentioned that families could read I Wanna New Room and also incorporate writing with the "Dream Bedroom" project.  Parents could ask their children to write descriptively about the bedroom choices and layout.  For a visual example,  I showed the bedroom maps and opinion writing that I had students complete during a series of 3rd grade model lessons. 

Unfortunately, I had to present the workshop in a 35 minute session and did not get to see the projects and games fully completed. Completion was not my intention.  It was just a time to get their feet wet.

Regardless of the compact time frame, I believe I reached my goals with the assistance of the translators and volunteers.  A majority of the attendees are non-English speakers with varying levels of education.  The feedback was tremendous and positive. The parents appreciated the novelty of this approach and style of mathematics instruction. The children and parents were excited to take the extra materials home.

Ultimately, I wanted to give the parents and children just a quick taste of multiple ways to master multiplication facts at home.  I wanted to give them unique ideas and tangible resources (beyond flashcards and worksheets) that they could immediately take home and implement.  I wanted to provide experiences that were engaging and promote positive attitudes about math. I wanted them to feel safe to explore, question, and collaborate. I wanted to let them attempt the activities for just long enough to feel confident to use it at again at home.   

I am so thankful for teachers that freely share ideas on social media and keep me energized! 

I look forward to presenting this again in the future.  Stay tuned... 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Counting & Money in PreK - Kindergarten

Mondays are tough for family engagement workshops.  We have tried scheduling different topics to boost attendance.  After looking at the past attendance reports we are concluding that one workshop is more successful than most - Math Games and Projects (K-5th grade).  Today was no exception and the attendance exceeded expectations.  

I presented more than a dozen ways that preschool through kindergarten age children could begin investigating money through counting and other readiness skills.  I planned this topic because the most consistent guests have children in this age range, money is an important life skill, and counting to 100 is expected by the end of kindergarten. Participants took home the items created and manipulated throughout the interactive workshop to use with their children immediately.

Objectives of the workshop:

  • Know number names and the count sequence
  • Count to tell the number of objects
  • Classify objects and count the number of objects in each category

Here is a quick highlight reel of the session:


Enhance fine motor skills and attention to details
(The participant chose to add extra labels)

Sorting Mats

 I gave each participant card stock and coin stickers to design a coin sorting mat for their child.  
(Classify objects and count the number of objects in each category)

Coin Stacking

Roll a die and stack that amount of coins 
Repeatedly roll the dice until the stack falls

Vocabulary & Shopping

Use markers to add prices to the vocabulary cards made from newspaper ad clipping
(Each participant received two bags of 15 vocabulary cards I made in advance)
Bag 2: 11-20 cent items

(Bag 1:  1-10 cent items) (Bag 2: 11-20 cent items)

 Ask your child to “purchase” the item by
 counting the correct number of pennies. 

Bag 1: 1-10 cent items

Hundreds Chart & Counting

Extension: Skip Counting dimes 
I printed one of Donna Boucher's free 120 charts
Counting pennies

Counting Boats

How many coins can you put in the foil boat before it overflows or sinks?
We counted to 130 before the best boat spilled over!

Sources of inspiration for many of these fabulous ideas and dozens more:

I can't wait to hear personal stories from the attendees or present this workshop again in the future!  Stay tuned...  

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Seasonal Realia - Upcycling

I am a big advocate of using all sorts of realia in the classroom and in our family engagement center. I am still new in the facilitator role and I keep having epiphanies on how I can incorporate more and more tangible and thematic materials to support the Title I community. Currently, I am exploring how small additions of seasonal objects (splashed throughout the learning environment) temporarily add to the December cultural ambiance, enrich vocabulary instruction for the ESL population, and promote inclusive relevance for all guests.  I have decorated the family engagement center with tangible and authentic objects I have had for over 10 years, otherwise known as upcycling. Although the design was completed with money that I spent more than a decade ago, I find that the timeless realia is still applicable to elementary student families today!

Two weeks before Thanksgiving break, I searched and searched for a "turkey" read aloud for the early childhood parent/child class I teach on Fridays.  I could not find it in the boxes of materials I saved.  I looked through my children's bookcases and in the garage full of Rubbermaid tubs.  I knew I had several "turkey" books somewhere, but I was forced to choose another Thanksgiving book because I simply could not find it.  I decided I needed to get organized.

By simply thematically organizing my garage of teaching items/books (based on the months of the year) and upcycling ornaments I was able to bring some eye candy to the center.

The silver garland, old holiday cards (from former students), the Scholastic News poster, and books from my 2nd grade classroom library, now have a new purpose.  They are living and breathing again for families in the center.  This display is designed to show parents seasonal books for December read alouds.  They can read the books in the center and check them out in the school library!  My assistant and I also incorporate the books in our workshops and daily instruction.  
I trimmed the top of the front dry erase board with more silver garland and the ornaments from my home.  The nutcrackers are an excellent conversation piece and realia for informational text.   All of the objects are safely out of reach of our youngest guests (ages 0-5).

I brought my family's ornaments to the center and tied string to have them suspended from the ledge of the window.  I found multi-colored garland in my "December file" of teaching supplies.

I heard students gasp and make pleasant comments as they walked past the center!  I am so happy that they could enjoy it too. It's eye-catching from across the room and most parents immediately notice the subtle change.  

I added a couple strings of lights around our most prominent bulletin board to shine a light
on our University of Family Learning opportunities.  

I also added a bit of silver garland and old holiday cards around the door.  One final reminder
that children can write and send cards for the winter holidays (as presented in one of the parent workshops).

I am certainly not an interior designer, but I am an educator that likes to add purposeful sparkle to each day. I enjoy the creative aspect and the resulting social interactions.  It's the small things that can brighten a parent's day and in tandem expand their vocabulary acquisition and family dynamic.  I hope that families will feel a bit more connected and welcome in our center as a result of upcycling the seasonal realia.

I welcome your feedback and how you upcycle realia!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Learning From Our Students

It's Sunday morning and I just watched a video that moved me to quickly reflect.  Do I take the time to learn from my students?  How often do I take the time to learn a skill from my students? As you watch this brief video clip (click on the link below), ponder on your own humility, the structures or routines you provide for students to teach you something new, and the frequency of the opportunities (formal/informal).

After watching the video, I paused and
 mentally scrolled through my recent year of teaching in the family center and my most taught class - ESL.  My first recollection  of learning from my students was in May 2015.  I teach and schedule daily courses and workshops for our school community.  One of the major ways we measure our reach and impact is by charting our daily attendance. I wanted to boost the attendance at our center by scheduling workshops taught by parent leaders - instead of me or community organization presenters. I thought the unique topic, personal relevance, and peer advertising would attract new families. Two of my regular ESL students are skilled at crocheting and balloon twisting and I often heard them talking about it. I asked them if they would present a workshop and they agreed.  It was dynamic instruction!

It gave me an opportunity to sit back and learn from two of the ESL students.  I asked them to present the workshop in English and practice their conversational English skills.  It was a challenge for them, but the casual environment  made it less intimidating.   

They saw me struggle with crochet.  These ladies are extremely talented and have had years of practice.  I could not get my fingers and brain to coordinate the repetitive motion!  In fact, one of the mothers had to come over and help me hand-over-hand.  I was that bad.  Something so easy to them was torture for me and they had loads of giggles as they watched me plead for assistance.  

I was a bit more successful with the balloon twisting class.  I was able to twist a dog and several flowers.  I learned to be delicate with each balloon that unexpectedly popped.  My ESL student was patient and really used her intermediate English to teach us her weekend work.  

These are two formal opportunities I provided at my center; but, each day I have multiple informal learning opportunities. As I try to explain English vocabulary I hear Spanish translation.  In the parenting classes, I learn nifty ideas for parenting my own children from other parents.  I can always learn from my attendees, students, and colleagues. If I listen. If I plan opportunities. If I am humble to realize that... 
"Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don't." - Bill Nye

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Picture Word Inductive Model

Theme: School
I enjoy using photographs in the classroom daily! I find that photos are applicable to all age groups, realistically portray daily life, are high-interest or captivating to distracted students, relevant to content and the learner, and fit thematic pathways to vocabulary acquisition.  It is simple to find photos and does not complicate my planning process. Therefore, I was intrigued to implement the Picture Word Inductive Model (PWIM) recommended by Larry Ferlazzo.  

Theme: School
I have been gradually using the strategy and various implementation suggestions with my Adult ESL class.  I started, in September, by using PWIM to review the vocabulary presented in each of the picture dictionary themes - school, work, weather, holidays, etc.   Initially, I sat with the students and recorded all of the words the small group randomly pointed to and identified.  I quickly released control and let the students cooperatively annotate the photos.  Each student uses a marker and the small group works together to hit the target - 20 words. The student must verbally share his or her contribution before writing it on the paper. It's an exhilarating observation of rapid fire speaking, listening, reading, and writing!  

An example chart created by a student
We write simple sentences or questions after the lightning round of identifying details of the photographs. I ask the students to use the words we generated to write sentence captions for the photo(s). The students independently and silently write in his or her notebook first.  Our cooperative labeling experience provided an entry way to the composition and I do not want them to merely copy what an another student said.  I circulate, preview the sentences, and provide bite-sized feedback to encourage the range of writers.  Discussion and charting occurs after I have made sure everyone attempted to write something in the notebook.  I write on the board or type the sentences and questions offered by volunteers. This is my full circle opportunity to highlight and extend the grammar skills we have previously studied in isolation! 

I used the PWIM model the day before Veterans Day to prepare students for the vocabulary and significance of the day off from school.  Again, I observed rapid fire writing, reading, speaking, and listening. The participation rate has increased and the vocabulary target has been exceeded. The students' sentences are gaining in complexity, spelling has dramatically improved, and confidence is soaring!  
Veterans Day

Veterans Day

My next steps will include compare and contrast, paragraphing, and technology. Stay tuned!  In the meantime, be sure to read further background and the multiple suggestions from Mr. Ferlazzo.

The Best Ways To Modify The Picture Word Inductive Model For ELLs

y Ferlazzo: The picture word inductive model

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Prioritize Realia

"What is realia?"
At IRA 2015, I was interrupted with a teacher's question that I was not expecting.  "What is realia?"  I had assumed that every teacher knew the term realia and prioritized its usage as much as possible. Realia are the tangible or concrete objects and materials of real daily life. Too me, realia are what make teaching dimensional and dynamic.

Adult ESL
Since February 2015, I have been teaching Adult ESL at an elementary school in the Family Engagement Center. The course has tremendous potential and I am aggressively learning to subtly capitalize on its generational reach.  Four afternoons a week, I have the opportunity to teach English to the parents of our students and incorporate materials they can take home to use with their children.  I intentionally add realia that will boost their English acquisition and get them actively supporting their children's academic achievement simultaneously.  

At first, I was reluctant to use my toolbox of elementary materials and projects with adults.  I thought it would be condescending and boring.  I quickly found that these parents want to help their elementary children acquire the language and need time to feel comfortable using non-worksheet materials.   

Therefore, these ESL parents are eager to take the materials and supplies home after each lesson.  Many return to class the following day with pictures and testimonials about using the lesson with their children. (I'll share these in future posts.)

Board Games & Dice
This father has not missed a day of my ESL class since it started Sept.15, 2015. I heard him tell another parent that it was because he never falls asleep in my class. All of his other previous ESL classes put him to sleep and he got poked by those around him to wake up. 

Adult ESL does not have to be boring. Infuse free learning games and realia these parents can take home and use with their families. The classroom practice makes them comfortable to lead and replicate the learning experience at home. They will give you a thumbs up!

The ESL class is ready for the vocabulary of Halloween! They learned the body parts and bones, closely read and performed children's poetry, and debated "Would You Rather" Halloween questions. All students were able to take the free materials home to use with their children and families!  
Textures - smooth, rough, bumpy

Antonym Legos

I was spurred to write this post, months after IRA 2015, because of a comment I heard yesterday. On Fridays, I offer a course entitled - "My Family and Me."  It is an opportunity for parents to interact with their non-school age children and participate in early learning stations.  During the class, I had a mother and daughter (who attend my ESL class) come to use the computer lab.  They noticed all of the early stations and materials and quickly jumped in to participate (despite the fact they did not have young children with them).  Together, they worked on the poem -"Rain, Rain, Go Away" and the accompanying activities. I noticed them complete all four stations and giggle as they touched all of the realia - cotton balls, ribbon, shaving cream, hole punch, cue tips, paint, construction paper, glue.  

The daughter commented to me, "I never had a chance to use these materials when I was a child.  Look at my mother.  She loves it. This is new to us!"

Realia are invaluable to all learners, regardless of age or language proficiency. Adult ESL learners also value the opportunity to experience tasks that include tangible materials.  The real materials build background knowledge and ignite the senses. Don't underestimate the potential educational magnitude simple materials can generate. Find realia. Include realia. Prioritize realia.