Are You a Teaching Champion?

front row logo and title

Roughly two years ago I began using an amazing website,  It is a website that will help you meet the diverse math and ELA needs of your students.  In upcoming posts I will be guiding you through the website and all of the amazing features.  However, the focus of this post is on the Teaching Champions section of the website.  I wish I had known about this feature earlier. I found it by poking around the site.  I’m glad I did.  It is a way the creators reward you for using their site.  Oh, and did I mention, I have recently become a Front Row Ambassador?  Through this program I will help spread the word about a resource I believe in and to share what I have learned about the program by using it with my own students and the new features that are constantly being added.

Front Row Teaching Champion

As I said, this is the section of the website where they reward you for using the program and sharing your successes as well.  Click here to view a video that I made to walk you through how to access the Teaching Champion section, what you will find there, and how to use it for your benefit.
Once you sign up for, and log-in to the website, you will find the Teaching Champions tab on the upper left side.  Click on it and you will find a variety of ways to earn points that will move you through the bronze, silver, and gold levels.  Each level brings benefits for you.

I look forward to posting more about this wonderful resource.  Future posts will focus on explaining the different parts or sections of and how I am using them with my students.

Who Knew a Dictionary Could Bring So Much Joy?

I know what you’re thinking.  Who still uses an actual, physical dictionary?  After all, there are many good dictionaries readily available on the Internet and mobile devices.  I admit I use online and app dictionaries all the time.  Yet, there’s something about holding the physical book in your hands, perusing the guide words on each page, and the joy of discovering a word you’d never before come across.  Imagine my surprise when my tech-savvy fifth graders felt the same way.

Two weeks ago, tired of the same old spelling and vocabulary practice, I introduced my class to a game we call Dictionary Races.    Over twenty years ago, at the beginning of my teaching career, I used this game as a way to have my students practice alphabetical order and using guide words in a dictionary.  As a new teacher at the time, I’m pretty sure I found the idea in Mailbox Magazine, which at the time was my go to resource.  My students loved it then, and my fifth graders love it now.  So, once I “liberated” a few more dictionaries that I found not being used, we were ready to play.

To play, I partnered up students to share one dictionary. You could easily have students compete on their own, but I didn’t have enough dictionaries and they really enjoy partner games.  Then, I wrote a spelling word up on our whiteboard.  Students raced to locate the word.  Once located, the first team to find it read the definition and scored a point.  If we were using the same dictionaries, I would have the team locating the word first to also call out the page number.  Since we don’t have the same dictionaries, I make sure the winning team loudly reads the definition. We played until either time ran out, or we were out of words.  This could also be used to look up new content vocabulary as well.

My students were one hundred percent engaged with this activity.  No prep or worksheets involved.  I just needed a place to display each word and dictionaries.  There were groans when we ended the game for the day.  On the flip side, there were shouts of joy when I announced this week it was again time for Dictionary Races.  This time around more teams made the scoreboard. There was also more competition, and then bewilderment at how fast some teams could locate the word.

It’s amazing how something so simple as a race to find a word in a dictionary could spark so much excitement.  So, just remember that no matter how much we love our technology and want our students to be adept in using it, there’s still something to be said about going low-tech to create a sense of excitement in learning.





The Core Six Essential Strategies for Achieving Success with the Common Team Building Activity-Part One

The Core Six: Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core

This will be a six part series discussing each of the six strategies discussed in the book.  I will also post my lessons using these strategies as I create them.  I hope to update the posts once I actually teach the lessons after school resumes.  

This past school year our Literacy Team began looking at ways to improve writing instruction in our K-5 elementary school.  Our principal gave us several excerpts from Core Six Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core by Harvey F. Silver, R. Thomas Dewing, and Mathhew J. Perini.  After reading just the section on writing, I knew I had to read more.  I’ll define each strategy, provide the reasons the authors state for using this strategy, steps for implementing, and then how to use the strategy with written arguments.  There is so much great information that I can’t possibly include it all in a single post.  I highly recommend this book so you can learn the strategies in greater detail and how they match up each of the strategies with the Common Core standards.  In addition, at the end of each chapter are sample lessons.

Reading for Meaning

  • Previewing and predicting before reading
  • Actively searching for relevant information during reading
  • Reflecting on learning after learning

How does Reading for Meaning address the Common Core?

  • Text complexity
  • Evidence
  • The core skills of reading

“Because Reading for Meaning uses teacher-created statements to guide students’ reading, teachers can easily craft statements to address any of the Common Core’s standards for reading.”–Harvey F. Silver, R. Thomas Dewing, and Mathhew J. Perini

Seven Steps  for implementing Reading for Meaning in the classroom.

  1. Identify a short text that you want students to “read for meaning.’
  2. Generate a list of statements about the text.
  3. Introduce the topic of the text and have students preview the statements before they begin reading.
  4. Have students record evidence for and against each statement while (or after) they read.
  5. Have students discuss their evidence in pairs or small groups.
  6. Conduct a whole-class discussion in which students share and justify their positions.
  7. Use students’ responses to evaluate their understanding.

One of the steps I’ve been thinking of incorporating more is step six.  I love to have my students participate in discussions where they must justify their response.  They did a pretty good job last year, but I want to go deeper.  I am thinking about using the Socratic Seminar method.  I was just introduced to it at my district’s Leadership Summit.  Click here to access my Pinterest board where I’ve begun gathering resources.

As with any strategy that you try, there are quite a few things to consider.  The authors provide several considerations in the book, but I picked out a few that hit home with me.

Planning Considerations

  • What standards do I really need to address?
  • What kind of hook will I use to grab their attention or capture interest?
  • What article, document, or passage needs emphasis and intensive analysis?
  • What questions can I develop to engage my students in a discussion throughout and after the lesson?

For those of you familiar with Dave Burgess and his book Teach Like a PIRATE, his strategies for hooking students into a lesson would fit perfectly when planning your lessons.  Beyond the textbook, or even novel, there are other texts readily available for your students to use for Reading for Meaning.  Some of my favorites are ReadWorks, DOGONews, DOCS TEACH, and  newsela.  Just click on those for some free texts to use with your students.

The final section of the chapter is a writing extension using written arguments.  Use a statement either from a “completed Reading for Meaning lesson or you can always introduce a new one.”  The authors stress that that “either way, the statement should sit at the center of the content, tie back to your instructional objectives, and require students to draw heavily on the text to make their case.”  This would definitely increase the amount of meaningful and relevant writing for my students.  Also, it would provide them with experiences in coming to a discussion prepared.

Almost anything can be “Read for Meaning.–Harvey F. Silver, R. Thomas Dewing, and Mathhew J. Perini

I’ll be working on lessons using the Core Six Essential Strategies and will create a separate page and update the post in order to share these lessons. I hope you’ve found this post helpful.  Again, I recommend this book to any teacher trying to meet the Common Core Standards in a deeper, more meaningful, and accessible way.

The next post in the series is on Compare and Contrast.  I thought I knew this strategy until reading the chapter.  It was not what I expected, but turned out to be one of my ah-ha moments.

Breaking Up with The Daily Five

Now that I may have peaked your interest, let me explain.  Don’t get me wrong. I think what The Sisters have done with The Daily Five and the CAFE approach to reading and writing has been phenomenal.  Their research and approach to reading and writing really changed the way I approached guided reading and center time.  My students were more engaged and it even meant less prep time for me.  I embraced the approach whole-heartedly.  I made the CAFE board, trained my kids how to work through all the components, have a well stocked classroom library, and book boxes for each student with their individually chosen books.  I was in reading heaven.

So why the break up?  I am about to loop to fifth grade with my class. It will be a year of change in that I am moving up a grade level, but constant in that I already know the personalities, strengths, and areas of needs of my students.  So, this is the year to try something new.  It’s time to get messy and maybe even make a few mistakes.    I want to rethink how my students use their time when they are not with me in small groups.  As far as I know, we will still be doing small group reading in fifth grade and I’m ok with that.  I approach it a little differently than many, but that’s ok, too.  I’ve purchased some great resources from Jennifer Findley of Teaching to Inspire in Fifth in which I use shorter texts to teach Common Core Standards through Close Reading.  I feel that in this way, my students are not managing multiple novels during the day and can focus on new material in a manageable way.  As our students gain more of a background with the Common Core I may not always need to approach it in this way, but for now, it is working.

Another reason for the breakup is the book bin itself.  This year they became a catch-all for everything and were holding far more than the three books I required.  Originally, I loved the idea that my students would not be getting up during Read to Self time and focused on reading.  Then, I read this blog on Scholastic by Genia Connell on how she is rethinking her book boxes.  I like the idea of letting them decorate the name tag for their box, and including books that are microreads, short reads, and independent reads in the book box.  Please click on my link to her blog for a full explanation of these categories and a great chart she made to explain them.  I truly believe my students will welcome the change in our book bins for next year.

One final reason for the break up is that I want my students to have that time to work on their book report projects (not a boring report, but something with a product, technology component, or whatever their creative genius can come up with), work on their Genius Hour projects, create writing partnerships, and more.  I just want to make this time meaningful to intermediate students.  And, as much as I still love the Daily Five, it’s time to explore new avenues.

So maybe breaking up is a bit dramatic.  To paraphrase what Ross said to Rachael on Friends, we’re on a break.