Thursday, July 1, 2010

Meet Teacher and Entrepreneaur, Ellen Richard - The Topic is Writing and Spelling

Via the Internet, I recently met an amazing teacher and innovative entrepreneur and she has some terrific ideas so I asked her to post a guest blog.  Here she is with her husband and their new baby (Ellen took a bit of time off from teaching when their baby was born and she put her educator energies to good use).  I've also posted similar comments on this subject at my blog for parents so feel free to share it with moms and dads, grandmas, uncles and other family members who interact with young children.  So without further adieu, here's Ellen:

I think we'd all agree as teachers that spelling is tough.  But, as a teacher from down in the trenches, I can tell anyone that demanding that kids write the same words over and over and over again is not the most productive use of your or the children's time.  Smart teachers have shifted away from rote memorization and endless tracing of inconsequential spelling lists and, instead, are spending their time figuring out ways to engage students.  It's my experience that kids who truly are excited about any subject matter learn more and learn it faster.  So how do we get them excited about spelling?

A Sidebar of Sorts

Before we talk about that, I want to digress for a moment and talk about students who have issues memorizing (there are many out there, not even counting those with identified learning disabilities).  You know at least one student like this I'm sure and they are in a real pickle.  There is no context for the words and there are no connections made.  Now, in all fairness, sometimes the spelling words provided by the textbook you use rhyme, but more often than not, they are just a group of words that a publisher of curriculum happens to think were appropriate for students at that grade level.  One size doesn't fit all.  There are so many kids whose brains just work a little differently and, for those kids, spelling can be a huge problem.

Now back to the question:  
How do we get them excited about spelling?

It starts with authentic learning experiences.

Kids need engagement in what they are doing.  They need to see how and why spelling is so important.   When we write something important, something we want to communicate, proper spelling is the common ground that helps our readers understand what we want them to know or feel or "get".  Tracing a list of words does not help students make essential connections that they need to make to learn how to spell words, or retain that information.   It doesn't help them be able to communicate clearly.

TRACING AS A TOOL

I believe it's just fine to have young kids trace words to help them learn how to spell but here's the catch -- the words have to be meaningful.  A list of random words is not meaningful.  A letter to a friend, on the other hand, often is.  A story written by the child himself is meaningful.  An article about the child's favorite sport or musician is meaningful.  It's our job as educators to find out what interests our students so we can help them make those connections.

You can certainly use the tracing idea and even get a few volunteers from among your parents to help you create the "traceable" letters with a handmade dotted font like you see in the photo below.  Students can dictate a few sentences or a short story and the volunteer or teachers writes what they say in the dotted font.  Then, when that student is excited about the story he has "written", allow him to trace over the dotted font to write his story and then have him read it to you.  He will probably want to do it more than once or even take it home to share.  Offer this as an alternative at times to standard composition.  Both practicing spelling and handwriting AND composing are important in the development of young writers.

TAKING IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL

While I was home on maternity leave this past January, I realized that I could turn a very simple idea I had used in the classroom for a long time (having children trace meaningful words) to help both with spelling and handwriting.  With a little practice and the idea of hand-written cards, I came up with Letter Learning.  I missed teaching and had a million thank you cards to write.  Because both of these things were on my mind, the idea for educational greeting cards was born. 

I remembered how my own students struggled often with spelling and handwriting, and knew how much they loved their family and friends.  I also knew that young kids love to be "like Mom" and since 80% of greeting cards are sent by women, so it seemed that greeting cards that help kids learn to write and spell was a long overdue instrument.  Here's an example of what one of my cards looks like on the outside:

With the fun colorful pictures on the front and dotted line guides, kids love them!

Thanks, Ellen, for the great ideas. 

NOW IT'S YOUR TURN

I'd love to hear how you work with young children to engage them in spelling and practicing their handwriting.  Do you have budding authors in your kindergarten classroom?   Preschool children who are just learning to print?  Students in first or second grade who are still learning how to spell many words? 

What are your most effective ideas?  Sharing them in a comment post will help us all be better teachers.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Summer Assigned Reading

 Calling All Teachers:  I Need To Hear Your Voice

Since the school year finished, I've been hearing lots of complaints from families about assigned reading taking all the fun out of summer experiences with books.  There are two camps:

1) the parents who kids love to read and will read all summer but feel "constrained" by a book list, required reports to "prove" their reading or assignments during the vacation months.  These moms and dads are telling me that making reading an "assignment" creates an environment where children see it as a chore rather than an adventure.

2) families who don't have a personal connection to the importance of reading for recreation during the summer to protect the reading gains a child has experienced during the school year.  For these families, reading is also a labor, not a pleasure, an assigned task that someone always seems to slip through the cracks with other time demands and distractions.

What Do Researchers and Experts Say?


There are several studies relating to this topic but one I find helpful in addressing our first group is from the American Library Association.   Their findings took into consideration both teacher and student perspective.  This study also provides insight into the use of technology. 

Did you know that there is a research brief on a website called Summerlearning.org?   These ideas began at John Hopkins and you'll find plenty here to raise your level of understanding.  And June 21 of this year, they are sponsoring a Summer Learning Day.  You can visit their website and share your ideas or read to the end of this blog where you'll find a free, grassroots way to touch a child.

Reading is Fundamental, so often in touch with the communities that surround our at-risk populations also comes through with an interesting article entitled A Primer on Summer Learning Loss.  What I appreciated in this article are not only the statistics about summer reading loss which we all know too well but the solutions framed from real schools and school districts.  Duplicating best practices for those who have gone before us AND been successful is one of the best resources we have.

Kids are making a splash with reading in Kansas this summer.  I think any student would find at least one activity at their local library that they would enjoy.

Even Michelle Obama is speaking up on this issue.  Regardless of her husband's politics, she's taking her stand against obesity and pairing it with the idea that summertime is reading time.  Learn more about her support of United We Serve's Let's Read, Let's Move initiative.

Here's a novel idea:  take the ideas from this research and make them a part of a short "mini-study" for yourself, a personal investment in your own professional development this summer.  It will put you in a position to positively impact the summer slump next year.  Set yourself up to start planning to prevent the summer slump at the beginning of the school year.  Make it your goal to not only teach all the strategies and skills but to help your children fall in love with reading and find the book that will get them hooked.

How Do We "Make" Them Want to Read?

I really believe the answers lie in the arena of motivation.  We must give children an authentic, a good reason to read when they are outside the academic arena.  That's why I love Donalyn Miller's approach during her instructional year (you can learn about it in her book, The Book Whisperer and her blog).  She begins working toward summer reading the first day of school by daily crafting her instruction so she builds that key motivation all year long.  She listens to their voices and learns herself how to more strongly motivate students from year to year.  Any student  is much more likely to read if he or she has been in the habit and found it enjoyable and stimulating throughout the school year.  Unfortunately, we seem to separate these key ideas more and more as we become more "curriculum driven" in the classroom.  Don't get me wrong: curricula are good tools but we cannot ignore the motivational piece of the puzzle.  We don't seem to think much about summer reading until it's time for the school year to end.

Answering the question: "why should I read anyway?" honestly and, for our more at-risk students, with a certain level of support, is essential.  Too many "checks" or "requirements" can take the fun out of reading and demotivate rather than motivate. 

But If We Don't Make Reading Assignments, How Are We Going To Know If They Read?

What is your answer to this question?  I'd love your take on your personal experiences with assigned summer readin's effectiveness and the research you have seen (if any) on this subject. What does your specific school or district do ? What would you say to one or both of these families when you send home the "required" reading lists?  Do we have an authentic answer?

A POST SCRIPT

If you are on Facebook, I invite you to visit The Literacy Ambassador's K-6 Summer Challenge cause page and take up the challenge of finding a child to turn on with a book this summer. 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Teachers - Light Your Spark with Families for the Summer Months

Let's Keep Them "In the Pool"

We all know how important the summer months can be for students.  With little stimulation or opportunity, they can lose more than 3 months' progress during the time they are away from school.  Today's post will share resources and information on how you can use these last few weeks to impact summer learning.

I'll begin with a wonderful list of articles, websites, and research from the the State Library of Alaska.  You will find familiar names like Dr. Richard Allington and Steve Kreshan and a few new ones there. 

Here are a few more tools for supporting and encouraging students to read during the summer:

Connect with your local library and other organizations that may be promoting reading with school aged children in your community (booksellers like Amazon and Barnes and Nobles are on board).  Find out what they are doing and publicize those activities and resources with students and families.   My own local library, Huntsville/Madison County Public Library (AL), is offering an End of the Year Summer Reading Party!


Make reading a social event.  Give your students a few extra minutes every day to talk about what they are reading.  Use colorful, florescent index cards or post its and create a cool "What's HOT?" bulletin board. 

Blog or text with your students about what you and they are reading (and viewing) this summer.  You'll need parent permission, but even a core group can make a difference.  I know that you want to be "away" for a while just like the students do but a small investment can yield big dividends.  Set a few guidelines such as how often to post and encourage the online conversation to weave between story lines and characters and what your students are doing during their summer vacation.  You might even see some text to self and text to world connections and squeeze in a bit of authentic writing practice!

Get Families Involved


Families may not understand what can be lost during the summer without reading and writing.  Be sure you share with them a few bits of information and some encouraging resources.  Check out Summer Reading to help moms and dads, grandparents, and caregivers tap into the joy, exploration and fun of reading.
 

Explore the Internet as a Source for Engaged Reading

Hook reading to the Internet!  PBS, Scholastic, and The Collaborative Summer Library Program (an initiative in Minnesota) have all provided online resources and fun stuff to connect to reading. 

ALERT!  Our Voices Need to Be Heard Now

Finally, I 'm asking families to support educators through my blog for parents this week   I'd encourage you to visit and see how you can communicate to your congressmen and representatives in your state about an important amendment being added to the current jobs bill.  It affects your directly!  Letters and sharing need to happen before Tuesday, May 25, as that is the day the amendment will be voted on.  Visit my parent blog and you'll find out more.  While you are there, share the link with families through your classroom newsletter.  They'll be a part of an important "voice of the people" AND find lots of family-friendly resources and ideas for encouraging reading with kids of all ages.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Reading Aloud: More Than An "Old Fashioned Event, If I Have Time" Event

Do you read aloud regularly with your students? 

It doesn't matter how old or young they are, reading aloud with students can have more impact than any other instructional event in your day.  It can be used to grow both reading skills and writing skills (i.e., I'm reading to my 7-8th grade writing class in the photo to the right).  The best part about reading aloud to students; they don't see it as instruction.  The trouble may be that your administrators may not see it as such either.  Here are solutions:

Plan read alouds carefully but deliver them with the instruction element hidden in a cloak of enthusiasm, drama and theatrics.

Pick books that hook, that connect to the experiences and the imagination of the students you will be reading to.  Plan a quick "lesson" document for each book so that you have that ready to draw out when your principal visits and says, "I don't see any teaching going on here."  Here are a few benefits to reading aloud that you can highlight in that lesson plan and connect directly with the instructional pieces you are teaching:

  • Reading aloud exposes and highlights new, rich vocabulary (or may even reinforce vocabulary you have taught in social studies or science if you select carefully), thus expanding the number of words a child knows.

  • Reading aloud gives students opportunity to practice comprehension strategies such as visualization, prediction and questioning, and recognizing a gap in understanding (especially when the teacher is modeling that strongly through a technique like Engaged Interactive Read Aloud).
  •  
  • Reading aloud builds background knowledge and strengthens mental schemata (the ability to take what they know and bring to a new experience or idea). 

Reading aloud also impacts fluency, phonological awareness, phonics instruction so you get a focus on all of the five key components identified by the National Reading Panel as the cornerstone of reading instruction today.

It also grows writing skills as you share writing together and then discuss whether it is great writing and why or why not.  I love to do this at the start of every writing class or event I conduct.  It turns the brain juices on!

Reading Aloud is an RTI Strategy

Did you realize that reading aloud is a strategy for the popular "response to intervention" approach to addressing the needs of every student?

R. David Freeman, Ed.S. says that "In order to read fluently, students must first hear and understand what fluent reading sounds like. From there, they will be more likely to transfer those experiences into their own reading. The most powerful way for you to help your students is to read aloud to them, often and with great expression."'

LIFT (Literacy Instruction Framework for Teaching) states:  "  that a teacher may choose a read aloud based on a specific teaching purpose, then give explicit instruction on that strategy, and models the strategy during the read aloud.  This is an opportunity for students to hear the teacher’s thinking.  This element offers the highest level of teacher support in the gradual release of responsibility and is the teacher’s opportunity to model.

Education friends Fountas and Pinnell in their book, Teaching for Comprehending and Fluency, Grades K-8,  write extensively about the role of the interactive read aloud.

You can learn more about effective ways to share  read alouds with students and still meet your instructional goals at TLA, Inc  If you are a teacher in preK or Kindergarten, you'll want to check out a more specific description of the Engaged Interactive Read Aloud technique in my new book, Before They Read..

A QUICK P.S.

While I was researching this topic, I found an incredible statement from these incredible researchers that I want to immediately share with you.  I hope you will share this with your colleagues, administration and media specialist (the latter of whom I believe will greatly relieved to hear this clarification of many of their "gut feelings" that over-labeling restricts reading growth.
 
"We recommend that you do not level or label the books in the school library or the classroom library. (You can find this recommendation in the text mentioned above and in Leveled Books, K-8: Matching Texts to Readers for Effective Teaching.) We would not want students to self-select books by level or to think of themselves as a 'level T reader,'for example. They need to be taught to choose books using many different criteria."

As always, I'd love to hear your comments and encourage you to share this blog with your fellow teachers.  We can grow the numbers of visitors and followers but only with your help!

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Quick Post to Share

Testing is over or will soon be for most of you.  Congratulations!  Now you can get back to what you love - teaching!


I recently was honored to speak at the AL Library Association conference and heard again from my friends who are media specialists and librarians that they would like me to do a blog for them.  Abracadabra!  This initial posting, entitled The Literacy Ambassador Club, is simply to solicit ideas for what media specialists and librarians need in a blog.  Will you please share this with the librarians in your life?

I'll be posting again for you in just a day or two but in the meantime, here's a couple of little gifts from The Literacy Ambassador:

a new resource for children's books, The Book Farm, from Blanchester, OH.  They have some good ideas for encouraging summer reading (it will be here before you know it).

secondly, a link to my a master list of all my columns for Educationworld.com.  Scan through and find the one that fits what you are planning for your next few weeks' teaching; there are bound to be several.  I also include ideas for summer reading in the article entitled Summertime Reading.


After you capture one of those quick and resource-rich articles, come back and post your response, your thoughts, your questions or what you're going to do with that spark of an idea you picked up.  I look forward to hearing from you!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A New Look for Book Reports AND An Opportunity to Combine Standards Across Strands

The Brochure Book Report

Do you get groans from students when you announce it's time to write?  Are you running out of ideas for teaching writing?

Now more than ever it is important for teachers to find authentic engaging ways for their students to write.  Otherwise writing becomes a "forced" activity with little perceived value to the student.  And when that happens, little learning is likely to occur and those standards we are so intent on teaching will not likely be internalized.

This past fall in my 10-week writing classes for 3-6th graders and 7-9th graders, one particular assignment became the most popular writing project.  It's a twist on the standard book report and one that your students are bound to find engaging and maybe even fun.

Before Any Assignment, Review Your State Standards

Take a few moments to review the writing standards for your state.  I have chosen to highlight writing standards from the state of GA, likely similar to the writing standards in your state:

ELA5W2:  "The student produces informational writing . . . "  and

chooses a speaker's voice,
develops a controlling idea that offers a perspective,
creates an organizing structure appropriate for the purpose and audience,
includes appropriate facts and details,
excludes extraneous details,
provides a sense of closure, includes appropriate word choice.

ELA4W4 focuses on the writing process and includes elements such as being able to appropriately plan and draft, revise, edit, and publish.


Guidance for the Teacher


One of the most important keys to writing instruction is to be a writer yourself.  Do you write articles for your state IRA affiliate's journal, do action research and document it, write for personal pleasure (a diary or journal, blogging, etc.)?  When you do, you can bring an authenticity to the writing experience. 

For example, I always say to my students early on that "I've been writing for 47 years and I'm not the best writer I will ever be."   Then I add that everyone in the class is likely to be at a different place as a writer but my goal for them is that each will move further down the reading road.  That first statement always surprises my students but it emphasizes the importance of making effort and growing.  The second encourages them and lets them know my focus and commitment to them.  With that approach and a true "writer's workshop" environment, I find that even reluctant writers leave my classes excited about writing and having the skills to be a more competent composer.


To Begin . . .

Ask each student to choose a book to read (choice is very important for students this age).  If they need assistance, chat briefly so you know where their interests lie and recommend a book that matches those interests. Set a specific but reasonable amount of time for them to read the entire text and set aside "snippets" of time (5-10 minutes on a regular basis) for them to read in class.

Once the students finish the assigned books, you'll be ready for the book report assignment,  but it doesn't follow your normal one or two page essay format.  Lakewood Public Library in Lakewood, Ohio has created an online student guide that highlights the main components in a book report of any sort.  The brochure format I've chosen to highlight here offers unique opportunities for writing instruction.

Before your students begin to write their own brochure book reports, bring a collection of locally available brochures (of any sort) to the classroom so students can preview formats, etc.  Allow them to help in collecting these samples as a cooperative approach.

Once they are collected, hand out the brochures to your students in a small group exercise.   Have them highlight together the essential elements they see commonly used in the various types of brochures.  This exercise helps your students identify specific formatting that is used for these types of materials and that they will want to incorporate into their own brochure. 

From this small group activity, take students back to whole group to create a list or even a rubric of essential elements or characteristic of brochure writing together so the entire class will have this at their disposal when they begin to create their individual book report brochures.  Here are a few important characteristics in the brochure format to get you started:

Short paragraphs.
Consistent formatting (paragraph indentations, etc.)

An engaging hook at the beginning that makes you want to read more.


TIP:  You may retain the best examples of commercially-produced brochures from year to year, and "samples" of the best of students' finished work.

Use A Template to Incorporate Technology

Microsoft Office or Word (or most other word processing programs) have templates of brochures that will help students visually organize their brochure book report.  Students may include their own illustrations scanned and inserted, plus photos of the author, etc.  Using the template helps students create strong writing segments with carefully chosen words to make the most of limited space.  Students also love using technology, although you may want them to begin drafting or planning on paper.  Decide ahead of time the point at which you want to introduce the technology piece.

Also use this writing project as an opportunity to review and encourage use of the writing process -- plan and organize, draft, revise, edit and publish (you may have slightly different terms).  Assign one portion of the process at a time, providing writer's workshop opportunities and consultations with the teacher throughout the process to maximize learning and progress.  You may even want to create a time line for each part of the process through which your students will move

The use of technology to create the brochure will also offer you an opportunity to evaluate the students' individual revision abilities if you have them turn on the "track changes" tool in their word processing program (which strikes through but retains anything deleted and highlights in a color any added text). If students are still writing on paper at this point, make sure they provide you with the draft as well as the first revision so you can compare.  This is a terrific tool for honing in on what individual students need to learn in the revision part of the process.

ICING ON THE CAKE

After students have created (and perhaps shared with the class) their brochures, add a unique final step (keep this to yourself until the end).  Your students will probably already be excited about sharing their brochures with one another, but now ask them to write the author a letter, sharing the brochure, and perhaps asking a question or two if the student would like. Have them enclose a copy of their brochure for the author to see.  Most authors are happy to receive a letter from "fans" and many will respond.  Make sure you use this lesson early enough in the year to allow for response time.

Students love this part because it shows them an authentic use for their writing.  They will also be thrilled to share responses they received from real authors and may even want to create a book or hall bulletin board as a class to highlight the responses received.  If you have students who have chosen an author who is not longer living, have them pen a letter "to the author" and ask a special services teacher (librarian, reading specialist, etc.) or public library or local author to respond on behalf of the author of their book (in the author's voice).

I hope this gets  your juices flowing. 
Have you used this format before for book reviews? 
What were your experiences? 
Do you have additional tips that you want to share for the benefit of your fellow followers of this blog (and me)?

I welcome your additions in the comments area.

Additional resources:


IRA/NCTE provides an alternative approach to writing brochures at ReadWriteThink.

Traci Keith, a teacher in the Gorman Independent School District (TX) , also shares an extensive study of the book Bud, Not Buddy on her district web page.  She includes not only brochures and pamphlets but games and other styles of reports.  If you are doing an in depth study over an extended period of time on this book, this is an excellent guide to a variety of activities.

Katherine Chapman who teaches fifth grade at a private school shares a number of genre book report ideas on her Upper Elementary Book Report Ideas posting. 

Finally, my columns for Educationworld.com recently included details about teaching the writing process.  My favorite part is revision where you can really see writers grow and develop as they put the polish, change, add, subtract and move around paragraphs, words, phrases, etc. to make their writing better.  If you use the 6+1 Traits framework and language, revision can be focused on through the lens of word choice, voice, sentence fluency and even organization.

Don't forget: I'd love to hear from you and know your experiences with this unique approach. 
Happy teaching!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spreading the Revolution! Food for Thought

Hello, friends,

This will be a quick post to highlight a few celebrations of literacy and early childhood education you might want to know about:

The entire month of April is School Library Month.  Kiss a media specialist for all she or he does for you (or at least take a few minutes to send a "thank you" email or, better yet, a sincere "I appreciate" note to that person's supervisor (principal, school administrator, district media and information services director).

Barnes and Nobles Bridge Street in Huntsville, AL is hosting a special event to kick off  Week of the Young Child (see below).  It's April 10 from 12:00 until 3:00PM.  (Don't worry if you see "Kathy Miller" in the announcement at this link - it's a typo that's being corrected - it is me!) 

If you live nearby, come join us for fun interactive activities for both parents of 3-6 year old children and educators from preschool AND kindergarten plus giveaways for teachers and book signings.  After the tea, we'll be having a book signing for me and other authors.

Don't live nearby?  See if your local bookstore might do something similar with local literacy advocates, authors, librarians, teachers, etc.  Either way, email me at tla@readingisforeveryone.org and you can receive a flyer to distribute about our event (or copy to create your own).  Be sure to include APRIL 10 FLYER in the subject line.
 
April 11-17

This year both the American Library Association's National Library Week and NAEYC's Week of the Young Child fall at the same time.  You can find tons of resources on these organization's websites to help you celebrate.

April 12 is Drop Everything And Read Day.  If your school can't devote an entire day to this event, try giving every teacher a kazoo, a whistle, or a bell and encouraging each to designate 3-5 times during the day (not announced ahead of time to the students) in which they will signal it is "drop everything and read" time.  You can set up the "watch for the signal" earlier in the week so students bring ANYTHING they want to read.  Involve parents if you like.

On the very day, be sure to have some juicy reads for those who "forgot" theirs, re-announce the "watch for the signal" (how your day will run), surprise them with a quick 5 or 10 minute break to read several times during the day.  Let the last "drop everything and read" be an explosion of sharing where as many read the best part of what they read (only a sentence or short paragraph each) and see how many you can squeeze into the designated time.  Be sure to capture the titles your students are reading so you can create a list or bulletin board to extend the excitement of the day.

You might also be on the lookout for the annual state of library's report (to be released April 13) and check out last year's plus a few quotable quotes on libraries.  Most of us dread April 15 because of tax day but did you know that it is also Teen Literature Day?

Let your students check out their favorite author's birthdays in April at http://kids.nypl.org/reading/childrensauthorbirthdays.cfm.

Do you know of other reasons (and dates) to celebrate reading (or writing) during the month of April?

If so, post them here or share your own ideas for any of the celebration days above so we can all learn and celebrate reading together!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Little Engine That Must: Inspiring Young Readers

I just spent a terrific hour talking with J. Renee Gordon of the BlogRadio show,  
Empowering Educators.

We talked about

- the importance of early childhood learning in both preschools/child care centers and at home

- what is essential for kindergarten readiness (and partnerships that foster that) and

- placed a special focus on literacy for children ages 3-6.

Whether you joined us live on the show or want to listen to the podcast later, you'll find information and resources right here.

Findings of The National Early Literacy Panel (2009)

Six early skills predictive of later literacy achievement

1. Alphabet knowledge
2. Phonological awareness
3. Rapid automatic naming of letters or digits
4. Rapid automatic naming of objects or colors
5. Writing or writing name
6.  Phonological memory

Five early skills modernately predictive of later literacy achievement

1. Concept of print
2. Print knowledge
3. Reading readiness (usually a combination of alphabet knowledge, concepts of print, vocabulary, memory and PA)
4. Oral language
5. Visual processing

Studies conducted by Hart and Risley (1995) showed that three-year-old children of professional parents had larger vocabularies than children of parents on welfare.  This finding is less shocking when considered in light of another:  children in professional homes heard 382 words an hour while children raised in welfare homes heard an average of 167 words an hour.  There can be a gap of as much as five times greater in vocabulary between these two groups by the time children reach kindergarten.  This doesn't have to be economically driven, if we can help families, in a supportive way to experience literacy with their children.  If you'd like to do more reading on this research, check out this summary of Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children or find the book itself (a good choice for staff development discussions at your school.  .

On average, according to the American Association of Pediatrics, preschool children watched 2.6 hours of TV on weekdays and 2.7 hours on weekends.  This association, however, recommends that children under 2 years old watch little or no TV.

Here are additional resources to check out on these topics:

PreK Now is an advocates of high quality early childhood experiences for young children

Harlem Children's Zone - 100% of their children are ready for kindergarten for the 7th consecutive year!


100% of third graders at Promise Academies I and II tested at or above grade level on the math exam, and in the English and Language Arts (ELA) over 93% of the Promise Academy I third graders tested at or above grade level, outperforming New York State, New York City and District 5 peers.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children addresses the needs and education of children ages zero to eight.

Want to be inspired?  Visit Inspiringteachers.com.  You might start with The Power of Teaching

Don't forget to visit Share A Story:  Shape A Future.   Whether you are a parent or a teacher or just someone how loves children and wants to share the incredible gift of literacy with a child, you should visit this live, week-long (March 8-12) virtual event sponsored by my friends at
The Reading Tub.

While you're on the inspiration channel, join my revolution!   

Whether you are a parent or an educator, you CAN make a difference with your child (or children) when it comes to reading.  The first step is to ENGAGE them, reach out to families and schools and children with the message that reading IS for everyone.  These tools will help you do just that.

Educators, librarians and parents can all benefit from this annotated list of over 180 picture books that can be used with 5-18 year olds to introduce knowledge as a base to understanding textbook contents in science, history, art, math, etc.

Extensive indexing gives educators, librarians and parents a variety of ways to use a picture book a day with great results. The 1-180 listing also provides a convenient "one picture book for each day" approach that follows many familiar themes (such as Grandparent's Day, winter holidays, etc.) throughout the school year.
Available through Inspiringteachers.com


Two guidebooks, designed to be used in tandem, one for preschool and kindergarten teachers (Before They Read) and the other for parents of 3-6 year olds (Anytime Reading Readiness).

Here's what others say:

“If you want to turn your preschooler into a lifelong reader, you need Anytime Reading Readiness. It skillfully guides parents as they create a pressure-free love of language and learning in their child.” – Susan Newman, Ph.D., social psychologist and author of Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day

“This book is chock full of great suggestions for helping children learn how to read. It includes all you need to put together a wonderful research-based program—a must-read.”
—Susan B. Neuman, former U.S. Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education

Final Words

In closing let me invite you to post your own comments about these topics and to share my parent blog full of fun, practical ideas and information, as well as this teacher blog, with those you know who play those roles. 

One question to ponder that arose during the show:

Does coloring have anything to do with literacy development?  Is there research out there to address this question?

My sense was that it is certainly a pre-writing experience that builds muscles in the hands.  I also know the importance of eye-hand coordination in coloring and in reading, so I see some anecdotal connections there.  If you know of any research, please share it.  Here's a good article about how learning across many spectrums works in early childhood, from ReadingOnline.

Are you inspired?   

A Quicky: Engaging Students - What Does That Have To Do With Literacy?

Yesterday, I was talking with a friend of mine who related 
a simple story to me which bears repeating.

As a storyteller, my friend often visits schools with no more than her voice and her body, charged with the task of entertaining and engaging students with stories for 30 minutes.  She is superb at what she does and, after her presentation, she overheard this conversation.

"I just don't get it," said one teacher to another.

"What?"

"We have all kinds of bells and whistles, quick response exercises, hand and sound signals, technology and yet our kids are always all over the place.  This lady comes in with her voice and a story and suddenly then are mesmerized.  What's with that?"

What is Engagement?

Now certainly familiarity may be a part of this equation but I believe the question is worth pondering.  I also see it, not so much as a judgement of tools, but as a question - how do I engage my students?  Certainly with our tech savvy children of today, our various technology tools are important.  But there is something deeper behind whether those tools work in classrooms or not.  The real questions are


"What authentic teaching can I do that will capture their interest?": 

"Am I so much on the "delivery" channel that I've forgotten the power of teaching?"

The topic is certainly a bit broader than literacy but I see literacy as the doorway to engaging students. What about you?

Michigan State University's National Center for Research on Teacher Learning attacks the issue with some important information:  "Faced with the concerns for classroom time and "effective" use of it, can put difficult demands on teachers.  What it often comes down to is how good are we at helping students construct meaning, including having time to discuss and explore?

Take that back to literacy.  

Are we so into "drill and skill" - repeat the rule back fast - that we forget that education includes thinking?  I've met children who are compliant word callers and decoders but they don't have a clue of how to use reading as a tool to get information they need, to analyze and synthesize what is presented in the text.  Here are a few literacy-related questions to think about in your own teaching:

1.  Do you use read-alouds daily to engage and foster thinking about text?  Engaged Interactive Read Aloud techniques, covered in my new book Before They Read, are a most efficient means of exposing to student what great readers do when they read).

2.  Do you let the size of the class keep you on the "controlling" channel instead of the learning, exploring channel with students?  Professor Deborah Ball shows us how to avoid this pitfall. 

3. What is your goal for any literacy lesson you teach?  The goal MUST always be to nurture and foster the growth of an independent, thinking reader.  It can never simply be what I call "reguritation of facts" even when we are teaching facts.  What do those facts mean?  What is their significance?  Those are much more improtant questions..

4.  What does your writing instruction look like?  Writer's Workshop is a terrific approach to that authentic, engaging, interaction that needs to happen when students are creating text.

Introspection Improves Teaching

Dr. Deborah Stipek of Stanford University says,

 Teachers can motivate students only if they themselves are motivated.  They can make students feel valued and secure only if they feel valued and secure; they can foster enthusiasm for learning in students only if they are enthusiastic about teaching. The school culture can make or break a teacher in the same way that the classroom culture can support or undermine students' efforts to learn.

This thought-provoking paragraph is from her book Motivation To Learn:  Integrating Theory and Practice.

Why not use these questions as a basis for a staff or grade-level meeting?  They really boil down to whether we as teachers are sending learners to the next level or out into the world or whether we are so focused on them passing the "eternal test" that we end up providing only short-term memory/learning.  These questions also tie to the reality of the most common subjects of those meetings: 

how do we get more students to "benchmark" or pass the assessments?

Are you motivated?  If not, how do you change that?

Engagement for both students and teachers is key.

How do you motivate yourself for the challenge of the daily classroom?  How have you equipped yourself with a mastery of the subject matter so you have the freedom to engage your students and teach?  Share your secrets.

Your comments as the authentic voice in the classroom every day is essential on this topic.  I look forward to reading your posts.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Literacy As A Doorway for Family Engagement /Parent Involvement

I'm a regular follower of Dr. Catherine Snow's work at Harvard's Family Research Project.  When I talk with everyday teachers, I always hear strong feelings that family engagement might be a good thing but who has the time with all the other requirements and pressured placed on educators.  Do you feel like that?

Let me suggest a different perspective. 

Consider that every time you effectively engage families in their children's learning, you lessen your workload.  You expand the horizons of a student and, especially among those who are termed "at-risk", you foster an extra level of intervention; you find a new resource for helping you bring more children to competency in the standards you are required to teach and in benchmarking those important assessments.

The secret is not to expect the parent to do what you do.  Meet them where they are, not where you want them to be.  That mostly just takes a little thinking time.

Families have important but unique roles, especially when it comes to literacy.   Early elementary school teachers have a special job since they are often the first face of education new parents in the school meet.  Take a little time to get to know your students' families early in the year and resist the temptation to write off those who don't come to the first open house.  Find out through a simple survey or a brief 1-2 minute chat what questions they have about their children's learning and what their goals are for their child.

A tiered, systematic approach works best, no matter what grade you teach.  

Tier #1:

For those that come to the school regularly and are comfortable, all you really need to do is to provide resources (books, a BIT of information about what assessment results mean and areas that they might help their child with at home).  They will take that information and run with it.

Tier I 2:

Send a personal note to every parent who wasn't able to attend.  You can get inexpensive, custom designed postcards or even business-card sized notes from Vistaprint (they even run specials where you can get as many as 100 postcards free, only paying shipping). 

In that note, voice your genuine regret that they were not able to come and share some small tidbit of information that they can use at home. It might just be that the family wanted to be there but they had a sick child, couldn't get a ride to the school or had to work.  Don't assume that an absent face is an uninterested one.  You're beginning to build a positive face for your classroom and your school.  Remember that busy or stressed families need regular encouragement to move them toward engagement.

Tier #3:

Determine that you will continue to send positive encouraging messages, even when you get no response, on a regular basis.  Schedule it into your calendar and stagger the notes so that you are only sending out a few a week or certain times of the month. 

An absence of response is not a "get away from me, I don't want any part of this" like we can assume too often.  It more likely reflects a negative experience with authority or schools on the part of the parent (either as a mom or dad or as a student when they were young), an incredible personal struggle just to put food on the table and a roof over their family's head, or some other personal barrier.  In a national study by Projectappleseed.org, fewer than half of all parents had been formally asked by schools what assistance they might need to be more involved in their child's education.  That's a place to begin.

Literacy As the Doorway
 Every family has literacy in some form; it just may not be the formal, academic literacy we focus on in school.  Hook on to that literacy, at whatever level you find it.  It may not be reading with their children, the traditional place we want families to start.  If that is not a part of their everyday lives, finger wagging and nagging them to do it is not going to be effective.  We have to start at a place that connects more to the current experiences of that family.

The National Center for Family Literacy has a wealth of information and ideas to help you get started.  Here are a few additional examples:

 Building on Parent Strengths to Promote Literacy is full of ideas that reach out to families.

Start at a level where parents are comfortable.  One principal in California began a storytelling festival at his school which eventually led to his students documenting their parents' stories and writing them down for a school-specific book that could be shared over and over again.  Everyone has at least one story to tell.  Think baby steps to move families a little closer to understanding your challenges and standards in the classroom.

The Council for Exceptional Children has an excellent, brief article with even more ideas to get you started.  Consider taking this resource and others you find here to your principal and asking if you can devote at least part of a staff meeting to discussing this important issue and what might work at your school with your population of families.  Not possible or the administrator not on that "channel"?  Take it to your grade level meeting and start there.

Involve your PTA/PTO (they support family involvement).  But ask them to think off the volunteer and fund-raising channel.  The voices of parent peers can sometimes be more effective than educators and they often know their communities, especially in these days where teachers may not be living in the neighborhoods where their schools are located.  If you aren't a member, join.

Ask the more involved parents, PTA/PTO or not, to reach out to a specific number of families (maybe only one other, or maybe two or three, as their time allows).  The ripple effect of this personal contact, without taking time away from your teaching, is an untapped resource.

Finally, if you have parents who are computer-savvy, send home a few assignments that create learning together opportunties at home. 

Thinkfinity.org
FunBrain.com
and Adprima's resource list of free websites that are child and family friendly

The main consideration that educators often ignore is that presenting literacy in the light of real-life skills rather than an academic exercise is more meaningful to parents.  Think about literacy activities that will promote communication and relationship with their children, are fun and interactive, and connect to their everyday environment.

As you try these resources, I encourage you will also share your own through posts to this blog. 

Don't forget to visit Share a Story: Shape A Future  this week and share this family-friendly resource with the parents and caregivers you interact with.  It's a virtual blogging tour talking about all kinds of connections with reading and writing, brought to you by the Reading Tub.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Do You Know The Reading Tub?

Come to the Author Showcase at the Reading Tub

Those of you who are regular visitors to my blogs have heard of the Reading Tub.  I'm pleased to let you know that I appear in their author showcase this month.  You'll not only find the interview with me but archived interviews with other authors.  At the Reading Tub, you'll also find a blog (I'm also featured there), book lists and reviews and quality articles of interest to both educators and parents. 

In the interview, you'll learn a bit more about the Literacy Ambassador but, as usual, I'm also sharing resources (wonderful picture books for older readers, advice for parents, references to quality book lists, and an announcement about a special kit Maupin has created from my latest books called The Home/School Literacy Partnership Kit).  You can also watch my new Youtube video through a link on the blog (playing the game Rhymin' Simon).

Practical, Use in the Classroom Tomorrow Ideas

Even as school district budgets tighten, we all know the importance of continued quality in-service training/staff development.  Here's a unique spin for preschool and kindergarten teachers:  Check out the free facilitator's guide for a book discussion of Before They Read, my new title at Maupin House Publishers.  Invite your preschool colleagues to join you in discussions that will build bridges and help young children be ready for school.  You'll also find a sample activity, the table of contents and other excerpts from the book on the book page for that title.

If you'd like to plan a day with the Literacy Ambassador which could include staff development, a parent meeting, opportunities for students to group write with the Literacy Ambassador, contact me through this blog or TLA's website for more details. 

Next post we are back on the teacher channel, providing even more inspiration and resources for honored educators.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Gettiing Back on Track

The new year has started and well on it's way so I realized it was time I came back and started posting more frequently to this blog.  Please forgive my absence; we have some exciting new resources to share with you!

TEACHER RESOURCES

This past weekend I was privileged to see my friend, Dr. Steven Layne, at a conference here in Alabama.  Many of you may know him if you are members of IRA.  Wow! 

I never cease to be inspired by Steven's passion for literacy.  The fact that a partnership to produce a book and the related friendship helped draw him from the brink of death is an amazing story.  In addition to all the wonderful picture books and books for young adults Steven has written, he now has a great new book out entitled Igniting a Passion for Reading, for teachers.  In it, he asks an important question:  "how can we teach the 'how' without the 'why'?

Perhaps at no time in history is that more important to ask as our literacy requirements and the definition of literacy expands and the motivation to read seems to get so little attention.  If we do not give children authentic, meaningful-to-them reasons to read, then they will not choose to be readers.  And what a limitation that puts on the future of our world.

My question relating to this topic is:  are you as a teacher a passionate reader?  Do you read yourself?  Do you share that passion in the middle of decoding and fluency lessons with your students?

I just finished Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer, which is another title I would heartily recommend on this neglected subject.  Miller is a 6th grade teacher in Texas that takes what some might consider a quite unorthodox approach to teaching reading and social studies.  Yet, in this world of "teaching to the test" she has incredible results on her student's state assessments without doing so (in four years ALL of her students have passed the state reading assessment - not one failure to meet "AYP"!).




Both these books send strong messages:

MOTIVATION HAS A PLACE                 INSPIRE!

We must pay attention to the motivation of our students to learn to read and to sharpen their reading skills.  Dr. John Guthrie has been studying motivation of students for a very long time and, if you need research to back your attention to this element, and to "justify" its inclusion to your administration, he's the one to reference.

Teachers can include both instruction in the mechanics AND create a strong rich environment that draws children of all ages and of all backgrounds to the reading table. 

Of course, it is challenge to do more than deliver a script, teach a lesson or assess our students, especially with the varied and heavy responsibilities all teachers face.  Many educators can get easily frustrated, discouraged or dulled by ignoring the part of them that drove them to be a teacher in the first place. In fact, what brought you to teaching in the first place was the same thing that we are talking about - a spark, motivation to make a difference, a love of learning. 

I encourage each of you to read these resources and others and recapture that spark in your teaching.  That is when we will have children benchmarking assessments, we'll have the wisdom to know how much assessment is essential and how much is counterproductive for our students, we'll get to know the needs of our students, have the standards stamped in the back of our minds and go out and teach.

RESOURCES FOR STUDENTS AND FAMILIES

Now that I've given you a few resources for yourself, I'll list a few ones for your students (and their families):

The Reading Tub, a family and educator-friendly nonprofit, is adding more and more book reviews and resources (for children of all ages). 

You can subscribe to their Scrub A Dub Tub Blog to get a regular dose of what's available.

Do you know that they have an Author's Showcase (which I'm excited to be participating in this week!)? 

They also have community projects you can involve your students in like Read it Together and Use Your ABCs?  And a newsletter called The Wash Rag?

Adlit.org (from the same people who bring us Reading Rockets) has terrific book lists for those teaching tweens and teens. Don't forget that among your "assigned" readings, you need to give your students at least a snippet of time to read something of their choice.

You can meet authors of nonfiction (how many kids do you have that like to read the real stuff) and get their insight into teaching and using nonfiction books at I.N.K.'s blog.  They share even more resources for using nonfiction to teach at their INK THINK TANK.

Don't forget your parents. 

If you teach kindergarten through 3rd or 4th grade, you have quite a bit of engagement and involvement from at least a core group of parents. 

1.  Encourage them to play a unique role with their child's literacy development (not the one you do with lessons and worksheets, etc.). 

2.  Help them learn to help their children use reading and writing in authentic, everyday situations. 

3.  Let them know it's OK not to like a book and to choose another. 

4.  Surprise them by telling them that you want them to have fun with reading and books, play games, and use the time they have with their child to strengthen their relationship (real chats with their children can do that and grow vocabulary).

If you teach 4th grade or above, children are becoming more independent and many parents don't see a role they have in continuing to support their child's literacy development.  Certainly the "snuggle and cuddle" bedtime reading doesn't work for many of them any more. 

Again, go back to that theme or authentic experiences.  Every family has to grocery shop, pay bills, do laundry and run errands.  Literacy is right in the middle of all of that.  Making lists, reading labels, checking figures and reading statements, checking labels so we don't shrink shirts or turn underwear pink, reading street signs, maps and billboards - that's the stuff real-life reading is made of. 

A CAVIAT:

It's easy to make the mistake of trying to teach parents techniques, strategies, etc. that you have learned are effective in the classroom but you will limit the number of parents who want to be engaged in that.  If we are going to help our most at-risk and struggling students, we provide more than rigorous classroom instruction.  We must draw families into the experiences that will create life-long readers, writers and learners.

For more authentic ideas for families, 

1)  share my blog for parents which fluctuates between postings from that "sit with your child and read" stage to the support of independent older readers. 

2)  If you teach children in kindergarten, Anytime Reading Readiness, my new book for families of children ages 3-6, is chocked full of quick, easy, ready-to-use ideas.  It's partner book, Before They Read, is a guidebook for teachers in preschool and kindergarten.

3)  The National Center for Family Literacy has a free newsletter for parents

4) Even if you choose to use "educationese" with your families (and they are receptive to that), make sure you translate that into family-friendly terms and activities.  The South Shore Regional School Board in Canada has put together a guide to do just that with parents who have K-6th grade children.  

5) The Peel District School Board has put together a rare guide for parents of independent readers in middle and high school that you must check out.  It's one of the best I've seen.

THIS BLOG NEEDS YOUR VOICE

This blog is established as a sounding board, a collaborative tool, a chance for a community of teachers to find resources AND communicate questions, comments, encouragements and challenges. It will only improve with your input.   Feel free to share your comments about this important subject.

Invite a teacher friend to follow the blog and add their input as well.  If each of you do this, we can grow this community and spread important messages.  I can't do it without you!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

More on RTI

PART II


The second point that jumped at me from the IRA Guidelines for RTI is that RTI is a framework, not a specific program or model.  I like that because it brings the leadership back to the teacher.  How will you use these tools in your classroom to maximize service to your students?    If you need help, did you know that there is an organization (the National Center on the Response to Intervention), funded at two universities (Vanderbilt and University of Kansas) that can offer you free resources and support?  They can provide support to your center or your district.  Check them out!

RTI is about modifying the standard classroom approach if it doesn't work for a group of or an individual student.  Again, in my mind, that goes back to a renewed respect for the professionalism of teachers and educator-teams.  What a refreshing idea.  But with that renewed respect, comes a great deal of responsibilty.  Responsibility to stay on top of what works, best practices.  Responsibility to connect to your fellow educators and experts in the field and keep up with research.  Responsibility to take that part of your job seriously.  When I travel the country, I hear teachers tell me they are fed up, up to their eyeballs with the wrong type of staff development:  boring, etherial approaches without "take back to the classroom" tomorrow ideas that are confirmed by the experience of the teachers.  One more part of the responsibility of a professional is to communicate what you need.  Here are a few print and Internet resources to get you started:

Evidenced Based Reading Practices for Response to Intervention, a book that includes the voices of respected reading researchers speaking to the subject.

RTI Actual Network's Blog.  Every teacher needs a place to speak her mind and share her ideas, ask questions.  One of the greatest things I've discovered about blogs and listservs and online groups is that you can learn so much from that virtual community and contribute your knowledge at the same. For those of you that live in Florida, specifically, there is a blog on literacy from your state DOE.  Other states may offer the same type of interactive format. 

Webinars.  Tired of professional development that you don't select?  Try a webinar.  The IRA has listed a February event which will talk specific about RTI.  Hurry and you can get in on Missouri DOE's free one.


My friend, Emma McDonald of Inspiring Teachers (who just happens to be the publisher of my e-book, Powerful Picture Books), is on the same channel.  Her recent newsarticle on Tiered Instruction fits well into this list of resources. You'll notice that she created a personal copy of my newsletter but you just need to scroll down a page or so to find the article.  She brings an interesting idea: considering Montessori methods within the context of differentiated instruction.  I found it fastinating and it immediately gave me an idea. 


I always encourage teachers to look for those activities during small group time that work with students on a variety of levels.  For instance, in preschool or kindergarten when you have children on different levels of phonological awareness, activities that fit the range of the spectrum from not understanding rhyming, to being able to read rhyming pairs and recognize rhyming patterns in print.  Think about pulling activities from that range.  There's a great little puzzle I found called Find The Rhmye: A First Rhyming Puzzle.  I'm not into "advertising" but this is a great little tool.  I'm sure you know of plenty of other sets of materials or ideas that will work with a variety of students.  Organizing them by skill level is key to being able to pull them quickly to meet the needs of your particular group of students for a given year.

If you know of other resources you have found beneficial, please share them with a post to this blog.  If everyone shares a bit of what they find, we'll have a tremendous resource built on the subject.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Last Post of the Week: RTI

It's the end of the week and now we have one more chance to look back at IRA's Commission on RTI.

The last statement that struck me was "instruction and materials selection must derive from specific student-teacher interaction and not be constrained by packaged programs."  What does that mean to you?

In many cases, I see that we have become curriculum driven rather than student driven.  Getting back to the idea identified by IRA's expert commission is a challenge.  It reiterates the idea that we have all heard so often (and know to be true):  that there are "many roads to reading" - Dr. Peter Hannon, University of Sheffeld, England.  Rebecca Novick's new book, Many Paths To Literacy, is also a good verification of that sage statement.

Our friends in the educational publishing world (no names please) have become so expert at telling us that their product is the "fix all, end all" for instruction that it may have blinded us to this important fact.  I recently read this excellent article about supplements and alternative approaches that work well for students whom the curriculum "doesn't fit" and hope you will find it just as helpful.

Let's narrow in on literacy for a minute, down from the broader subject:

Reading Rockets (I hope you know this site) recently published an article entitled "Best Practice for All Students" and included a reference to a familar term "differentiated instruction".  This article emphasizes that Tier I instruction must be exemplary and not just "delivery of a stock curriculum".  It must include adaptations which include small group collaborations to address differences in skills such as fluency, vocabulary, or comprehension.  This article also correctly clarifies the distinction between groups in Tier I instruction and a Tier II level group.

Betty Hollas, author and veteran educator, provided a session at the last IRA conference in Phoenix, AZ (February 2009) entitled Differentiating Literacy Instruction for Intervention and Advanced Students in the Same Classroom.  What I love so much about Betty's presentation handouts are that she included useable tools like the Literacy Contract and a connection to Bloom's Taxonomy which helps level questions asked about literature or stories read.  She's also the author of several excellent books on the subject.

We've come to the end of our postings for this week.  I hope you've found valuable ideas and I encourage you to come back and visit us again.  And remember postings from you make this blog better so post away!

Resolutions and RTI

When I think of new year's resolutions, I often think of teachers.  You now have a good handle on the personalities, hot buttons, learning styles and capabilities of your students.  The second half of the year will fly by before you know it and you are already back in the middle of it all. 

As I was thinking about my own resolutions, I was reminded that the International Reading Association's Response to Intervention Commission has published their Guidelines (and a working draft of guiding principles).  These guidelines focus on several important keys for today's teachers and move us from a restrictive, repetitive approach to teaching which relies too heavily on curriculum (to the neglect of other important factors).

The next few blogs this week will address each in turn.  I solicit your comments about your experiences, what your school is doing with RTI, and how you'd like to see teaching change (for the better).  During your implementation of RTI, what have you learned?  There are even books such as Beyond the RTI Pyramid which have study guides to help you work through those answers.  After all, our resolutions (at least some of them) should be on behalf of our students and their families.

RTI is first and foremost "a prevention model", according to the Commission.

Are you seeing the form of RTI being implemented in your school or district as "just more work"?

Or, is it resulting in less referrals to special education, extensive intervention and diagnosed learning disabilities?

One of the purposes of RTI is to prevent unnecessary referrals (and perhaps premature ones) to those programs.

What a grand idea!  Giving students what they need in order to succeed.  Here's hoping that it makes its way from these high ideals down to the everyday classroom.  The National What Works Clearinghouse gives some guidelines of their own that can help make sure that happens.

One of the best ways I've seen for doing that is for the entire school staff to be on the same page:  literacy coaches/ reading specialists, librarians/media specialists, other staff specialists and classroom teachers, along with administration.  You may have heard of a "problem solving model" for RTI.   Is that happening where you are? How is it working?  What problems have you encountered in getting the end results you want?

Another way schools can insure proper implementation of RTI is to include parent education as part of the solution. There is a great resource to share with parents from NH's Parent Information Center which explains  RTI in a family-friendly format.   It may be that this helps you understand RTI better too.

When I talk about involving parents, I don't mean lecturing to parents about what they "ought to do".  That's counterproductive.  Instead I mean a genuine respect for what they can bring to the table in terms of authentic "in the real world" applications to what is being taught in the classroom. After all, what motivation will we give students of any sort to succeed and learn if they do not see any meaning for their lives?  That is nowhere more important than in the area of literacy.

Parent involvement as a part of RTI also means giving families information in a format that is friendly to them.  For some of you, that will be during parent/teacher conferences, for others through a website posting or email blast.  Think about your parent base at your school before you plan how to make them a part of RTI.  Your job of evaluating and identifying students, helping them at the various tiers will be easier with the engagement of families.

More later this week - add your comments and stay tuned!