“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”
― Attributed to Groucho Marx
This week's Friday Freebie continues the literacy theme. Last week's Friday Freebie was a template for marking and tracking students' writing and using it as assessment for learning and assessment of learning. In this article, I am sharing with you a template for tracking your Guided Reading Groups. As with last week's template, this one can be used with students of any age, but will require modification to suit your needs. You can find the Guided Reading Group template by clicking here or the link below.
To use this form, you need to fill in each section with the relevant details. I include the level of the book being read in the section with the students names. In the text title section for my more advanced students, where we are not reading a whole book, I also include what page we read from and read to. The orientation to text section is where you would record the phrasing you use, words or phrases you need to remember to include because they are high-frequency or challenging. The key words/phrases section is where you might record the focus word/phrase that you are focusing on. The observation section is fairly straight forward.
The bottom section is where you might make the most modification depending on the age. The word work section is where I record the phoneme that I am focusing on from the book and what I will be doing with that phoneme. For example we might be working with the /tʃ/ phoneme (as at the start of chair or the end of catch) and I might record that we are focusing just on the (ch) variation and so would record some words there to use with the group of students I am working with. The questions after reading section allows you to plan ahead for what you will be asking to check for comprehension. This allows you to plan for your differentiation ahead of time as you can plan the questions based around the needs of the group of students. For example, with students who are struggling, you might ask more literal style questions, with an inferential question at the end. However, with more advanced students, there might be none or one literal question and the rest are inferential or connection questions.
The response to text activity allows you to tie your reading to your writing by asking students to write something based upon the the story and can be adjusted to suit the focus in the class at the time. This could be as simple as describing the images in the story, or to write a recount of what happened, to write about a time the student did something from the story. With more capable students, you could ask them to retell the story from a different characters perspective, or as a different text type.
The response to text could also be adjusted vis-a-vis what the mode of response takes. It could be to create an artwork or sculpture if that fits with a unit of learning you are completing with students, to engage with a science experiment if that is appropriate, to research something from the story, to transform the story into a dramatic play or to compose some music to fit the story. These options would be used with older students.
I do also include, in each section, an indication in the margin as to what day my notes correspond to, regardless of whether it is a different book each day, or the same book being read over a few days.
Please feel free to share with your network and to adapt to suit your needs.
“10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer
Write even more.
Write even more than that.
Write when you don’t want to.
Write when you do.
Write when you have something to say.
Write when you don’t.
Write every day.
― Attributed to Brian Clark
Teaching students to write can be both incredibly painful and incredibly rewarding (and rather amusing!). The process of knowing where to next can be somewhat daunting, and determining how to manage each student's progress so that everyone is having their individual needs addressed, but that everyone is moving forwards can be quite challenging.
One method that works quite effectively is to use the writing sample that a student has created today as the basis for what you ask them to work on tomorrow. For example, if Jill is in Year Two, then when marking her sample at the end of the day, you would look for a pattern of things that need to be addressed and have her focus, in the next writing session, on rectifying the issue that is the most important. Professional judgement is required to determine whether it is letter formation, capital letters, full stops, spelling, grammatical issues or for older students, structural or thematic issues.
Across the class, however, there will be some clear groupings of issues. You would have students sit in groups during the next writing session, and let each group know what it is that they need to focus on. The issue will vary depending on the age and the context and a range of other factors, however, there will typically be four to five groupings around common writing areas.
This week's Friday Freebie is a template that I have been using this year for this purpose. In the topic/focus column, you record what the topic and focus for the writing samples you are marking was. Then, in the other columns, you create groups based upon trends you see in a student's writing. In the partially completed example I have included below, you can see that I identified five common issues. These are based upon your professional judgement as to what the most important area that needs development was. For some students it was using capital letters and full stops. For others, it was purely about length, that they need to write more in order to allow a judgement to be made on what they need to work on.
You do not have to have five groups, however, you need to allocate each student to a group based upon what you identify in their writing as being important. The next day, when you send students to do their writing task, you have group one sit together and tell them that they need to focus on capital letters and full stops and you have an explicit teaching moment. Then you move to group two and give them their explicit teaching moment and so on until you have spoken with each group. At the end of the day, you go through the process again, and your groupings, both the students in the groups and the area that group needs to focus on might be the same or it might be different.
The table on the second part of the page allows you to record, from the writing sample, a word that they need to practice spelling. This could be anything from a sight word to a theme word and it will vary depending on the age and needs of the student.
I have uploaded the blank template as a PDF to my Public Resources folder on Google Drive for you to download and edit. Alternatively, you can download it below.
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
– Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
I have tweeted a few times recently about doing an activity with students called quick writing. In this activity, students are told that they will have fifteen minutes to compose any text type they like; poem, recount, description, short story, introduction to a longer story etc., using the supplied image as the writing prompt. I have presented this task to students across years three to six thus far, and all students have enjoyed it, and engaged with it honestly and wholeheartedly.
I have been doing a fairly simple Google Image search, using writing stimulus year x, where x represents the year group of the students. The activity’s primary purpose is to stimulate creativity and encourage students to use their imagination, and students have, on the whole, engaged with the task at higher rates than I thought I would, and created, without prompting from myself, a silent classroom filled with the sound of pens scratching across the paper and the hum of the computer projector.
The other way that I have been utilising this task is to provide students with an opportunity to practice typing, by using either the school bank of laptops or their own tablet, and, again, all students have engaged honestly. I was concerned that students would spend time playing around with font types / colours / sizes but that proved to be unfounded as students dived right into the task.
I have included below two samples of the writing that have been composed in this fashion, both from year six students. Students have given their permission to put the writing online, and I would ask that, while reading these texts, that you remember that these are off-the-cuff compositions that have not been edited or proof-read at all.
Zmaya and Callum created the following compositions using this writing prompt.
The House by Zmaya
It all started the day I went home
When I saw a huge dome
I loved the look
so I went and took
The thing that it belonged
I was wrong
To do what I did
Now my house flew to a bridge
Then to a rock were I now live
I have a boat to go to school
I live near an island
I live on an island
In my house
I have a pet mouse
I love the view my sky high
I love my house you should to
Random Story by Callum
My mum bought a new house on the weekend and I went to have a look but I couldn’t get in because it was on top of a little island than I saw a person in a little dark door way at the bottom of the mountain and there was a ladder on the bottom tide to a boat. They started waiving and it was my mum.
When she stopped waiving someone puled inside she started screaming so I was stupid enough to jump out of the boat and swim to her safety but I was to slow she was gone in a flash I was scared but l had to be brave to run after her. I herd her screaming but could not keep up with her.
Suddenly I has getting pulled back by something and I yelled whos there [time ran out here].
The other technique I have heard of being used is to provide a range of images and allow students to select three or four images to use to link together as part of their story. I would very much like to hear from anyone who has used this method, and hear how you have found it as a literacy tool.
“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”
― Attributed to Mark Twain
Today’s professional development day opened with a session about Focus on Reading. Part of that discussion was around the drop-off in students’ engagement with reading, the so-called fourth grade slump and what we, as teachers, could do to re-excite and reengage students with reading.
There are, I believe, a number of things that we can do. Some of them are simple, and others will take a little more effort, while some will open up doors for lessons or discussions that you would be doing or having, at some point any way.
The first idea is, I think, fairly obvious. Select texts that will engage readers. You may have a text that you have been using for the last ten years with every cohort you teach. Look at retiring that text and trying something new and more contemporary. Consider the cultural context withing which that book was situated when it was published and taken up as being a quality text and ask yourself if it is still relevant. I certainly am not advocating removing all old books, just suggesting that we be more selective about the texts which we ask our students to engage with.
When doing class reading, or readers theater, encourage, strongly, the use of expression, or where appropriate, character voices. My supervising teacher whilst I was on my internship was reading The Hobbit as the class text. It was an over and above novel deliberately chosen for the complex language structure, the rich vocabulary and imagery and as something separate to all the learning that was going on, as an enjoyment read. When Gollum had dialogue, the students were required to read it in their impersonation of Gollum’s voice, as made famous by Andy Serkis in the Lord of the Rings movies. Expression and character voices can liven up the often monotone sounds of class readings.
Another option is to ban a word for a week (or a different time frame appropriate within your context). For example, I might ban the word said for a week. The word is not part of the permissible vocabulary in writing or speech for that week. This then requires a conversation about what are our alternatives – synonyms and antonyms, and understanding what the various words mean and how they can be used, and why whispered and muttered are not the same, even though they are both synonyms of said. Create a word wall, or have students create their own word wall in the back of a writing book or somewhere similarly easily accessible.
I wrote recently about using newspapers in the classroom. They are also tools that can be used to increase engagement with reading, and some of the strategies I discussed in that article will be relevant here.
I would love to hear from people about what ideas they have about how we can excite our students about reading. Please leave your suggestions in the comments section.