3 Ways to Improve Students' Responses to Reading

This is my second throw back post that I originally shared over on iTeach 3rd. Take a look to help your students improve in their responding to reading.

I'm here to share 3 ways to improve your students' responses to their reading. As I tell my students, we respond to our reading for a few reasons. 1) I'm not in their brains! I don't know what they are thinking, what's easy for them, what's hard... so we need to take time to respond to our reading. We respond to our reading both with the speaking and the writing domain so both are included here today. 2) As we learn to become better readers, we need to stop and check our thinking often. I always tell them that they won't do this for the rest of their reading lives the way we do it right now in 3rd grade... but the things we practice now will help it become automatic for us later so we spend time writing and sharing about our thinking often to help it become automatic. 

Usually with that, I have them buy into the importance as to why we do this. It's also a good talking piece with parents who sometimes think that because their child can read fast and accurately, they don't always fully comprehend their reading. So how do I get students to think deeply and completely about their reading? I've got 3 tips!

If you've been around here for a little while, you'll know that I love rubrics and language. Both are in this post. I'm guilty though of not always using rubrics to help both me and my students know what to expect. I've found that a simple rubric for each skill/focus is easiest for me to see what students know what to do and what they are missing to get to the next step.

These rubrics are based off of specific skills and focuses. The top is a 3-point rubric that focuses on 2 things: the reading focus and the language focus. The reading focus targets "how" the student is able to respond to their reading on a particular focus (such as character motivation). The language focus is usually a grammar focus to help them  communicate their idea more clearly. The bottom rubric targets "what" their work tells you as a teacher on their thinking level when it comes to that focus. 

Two ways to use this: 
  1. Cut them in half and just give students the top half. Have them glue it into their reading notebooks to reference so when they are completing a jotting on that focus, they now what you are expecting. You can keep the bottom half as a talking point if you need to pull a strategy group. 
  2. Have them glue the whole page into their notebook so that students know clearly what to work towards and what their work tells you of their thinking while reading.

I'm a big proponent of graphic organizers. I've found the most success when I give a graphic organizer and have students fill it out. Later, students draw it themselves and modify to make it work for them. I've given my students a blank page in their reading notebooks and have told them to just jot during their reading... all I get usually is a mess of thoughts and I struggle to identify what my students are even thinking during their reading. So graphic organizers help both my students think completely and help me notice what they rock at and where they have some gaps for me to help fill.

For our character units (we have a series unit, mystery unit, and biography unit that we can use all these organizers for), we pay attention to our characters... a lot. We think about their problem, but not just their problem- we think about how they react to it and what that tells us about them. We think about their actions and choices and how they impact relationships and problems. We think about character motivations and what is pushing them to do things. All of this helps us develop strong ideas and traits for our characters. I've found simple box graphic organizers with question prompts to be very helpful to get students to think deeper.

The last tip to is help them communicate their thinking clearly through language. This is a great time and way to integrate grammar into meaningful instruction. I've made little mini-charts that students glue right into their notebook to reference often. Even better, if you change the printing settings and scale down a bit, they fit perfectly into a composition notebook. These mini-charts are meant to provide language supports and expand vocabulary to help students get to a deeper level. I've used an adjective chart to help students recommend books, adverbs to describe how their character reacts to something to give a better picture of their characters intent, question matrixes to help them formulate stronger questions, and sentence frames to initiate conversations about books in book clubs. 


Sometimes I add the language cues right to my graphic organizers to help it become even more accessible. 

I've found that by implementing these 3 tips, my students are producing more quality work and it allows me to see where I need to put my efforts. 

Want to give it a try? Click on the image below try using it. If you find it helpful, you can check out the whole set of rubrics, graphic organizers, and mini-charts in my TpT store!

Image Map



The Unicorn In Reading: 5 tips for making small groups happen

A unicorn happened in reading guys. What's a unicorn you may ask?

It's that moment when you can't believe your eyes. The moment that you plan and prepare for but are not even remotely confident that it will happen. The moment when the stars all aligned and BOOM! Unicorn!! Any guesses yet?

I had an actual "mini" lesson followed by not one, not two, but THREE small groups! All within our 60 minutes reading block. Even more, this is day 3 of this happening! So what's helping me make this happen (because if I'm honest, small groups is definitely an area of weakness for me)? Let me share a few small changes that have helped me big time.

1. Set a timer.

I'm trying to make my lessons just that, mini. A lot has changed over the last 5 years of me teaching reader's workshop and one major shift is how important it is to keep this lesson actually mini. I'm focusing in on a set skill and teaching point, modeling, thinking aloud, having students practice and then PEACE OUT! To help me keep the pace, I've been setting my timer to about 12 minutes. Once it goes off, I need to wrap up and get to small groups.  If this happens, it gives me about 40-45 minutes to work in small groups and my kiddos a huge chunk of independent reading time.

2. Show your students your plan of attack.

On our Smartboard, I put a slide that includes my student's job during independent reading as well as my plan for meeting with groups. I put 3 boxes up there and that's my goal- 3 groups. When my students are expecting me to meet with them, it forces me to stay focused and get to each group- they often look forward to our small group work time and I don't want to disappoint them.

3. Use formative assessments to create strategy groups.

Sometimes it's a post-it I collect during our interactive read aloud. Sometimes it's a short text with some questions. Sometimes it's from conferring or observing. I have post-its out constantly and when I start seeing 2-3 kids needing help with a certain skill, I start to form a strategy group. Sometimes, I might have 10 students who need work on one skill, but I might have different strategies to show them to help them get to the next level. So I'll analyze what they are already doing and where they need to go next and further split kids up on my post-its into more specific strategy groups. I've tweaked a lot of planning pages and this one has been my current go-to. I simply slide them into a clipboard and I'm good to go for the day. When I add a student to a group, I cross their classroom number off on the bottom to help me see who still hasn't been met with.

4. Plan and pull your resources together.

One of my go-tos is Serravallo's book. If I know I have a need, but don't know exactly what to do with it, this book swoops in and saves me. The lessons are short and to the point, the charts are amazing, and I've found them to be super successful in terms of helping to scaffold skills for my students. I also have been using more task cards as practice in our strategy groups before students try in their own just right books. I'll also use our read aloud as a common text to practice before they give-it-a-go in their own books.

5. Reach out and ask for help!

I made it quite clear to my new team that small groups is an area I struggle with. I can give formative assessments and put kids into groups, but I struggled with implementing them. I often felt like things had to be "perfect" in order for me to pull them, and if I didn't have a super clear plan, I would put them off and wait until I felt confident. But as I shared this with my instructional coach, she reminded me that meeting with them and it not being perfect is better than not meeting with at all (of course I would meet with groups, just maybe 1 or 2 a day and spend the rest of the time conferring, which has its benefits too, but you don't get as much bang for your buck). One of my new teammates also helped motivate and guide me to help me dive in this year and just go for it. Because of this, I've never felt more confident in creating and leading small groups. And even though they still aren't perfect, I'm meeting with most of my readers multiple times a week, and that is huge.

I'm hoping that this phenomenon of getting 3 groups a day will go from a unicorn sighting to just a normal day in the classroom. The reality is some days will be better than others, and I have to be ok with that.

Want to try my planning doc for yourself? I added a few slightly different versions in a download. Click below!



Developing a Growth Mindset

I'm sure it's happened to you. You present a new concept to students, pump them up for it, provide sufficient scaffolding for them in your whole group or even small group lesson and then you release them for some independent practice and you hear it.

In your head you are thinking, "Where did I go wrong?"

I modeled. We discussed with partners and groups. We questioned each other. We practiced together. I gave you an exit slip and gave you immediate feedback on your progress. You SHOWED me you could in fact, DO THIS!

Why don't you believe in yourself like I do?

The answer lies in the power of your thoughts. Possibly a buzzword that has popped up into education recently is the idea of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. I've noticed over the last 3 years especially that I am getting more students who try to work within a fixed mindset and obviously, it makes the learning process tedious, frustrating, and seem worthless.

And the thing about a fixed mindset is that it can impact any kind of student. I've seen some of my highest academic students suffer from the consequences of having a fixed mindset when they are presented with something that doesn't come naturally easy to them right away. I've seen some of my most enthusiastic learners discover that there are times when they are less than enthusiastic about a new, challenging skill. And I've seen students who are struggling already with academics shut down and believe in the their own thoughts that this task is impossible and that they shouldn't even try.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing I've encountered around mindset work in my students is that I can not change my student's mindsets. I can only give them tools to help them change it themselves and teach them that they were born to learn. I can remind them of this ability, bring their attention to their effort and the results, and give them opportunities to work on having a growth mindset. Below are 4 things I make sure to touch on when discussing growth mindset with my students.

Bring up times when they couldn't do something yet and had to learn how to. Some great examples include eating and feeding themselves, walking, speaking. The reality is they probably don't remember doing these things. They don't remember having negative, fixed mindset talk. They just kept trying. My teammate came up with a great reflection activity where she talked about learning something in stages. She titled the stages: learning, practicing, mastered. We used this idea to help us set new hopes and dreams for the rest of the school year when we came back from winter break, but we also are talking about it during our new learning. 

Long division is kicking some of our butts right now. But we are reflecting each day at the end of the lesson on which stage we are at in our learning process. Instead of saying, "I'm a 1 or 0" meaning, they don't get it yet, we are saying" I'm in the learning stage," or, "I'm in the practicing stage." Reminding students that they already have learned new things and their brain is growing and changing helps to put things in perspective. 

You've probably seen anchor charts for growth mindset talk. "Instead of... Try..." Words have power and giving students these growth mindset words is important. Even bettering, letting them discover and create those words will reap even more benefits. I used a free resource from Runde's Room where it does just that. I love her "Stick-it-Together" structure for sharing. I've used it in all content areas. Growth mindset work is no different. I put students into groups and gave each group one of the fixed mindset statements. They worked individually first, then together to come up with a growth mindset alternative. I took their best answers and typed them up and posted them above our SMARTboard. I credited the statement with students names' underneath so when I hear a student using a fixed mindset, I can say, "Do you see what (name, name, and name) said? You got this!" It helps build a supportive community and it helps students encourage one another. Click on her link to see her break this down even more.

Showing students that they are not the first people in history to fail is important. We get stuck in our minds and think, "EVERYONE ELSE ON EARTH CAN DO _______ EXCEPT ME!" Showing them that other people who are successful now had failed at one point shows the power of your thoughts.  This video shows some other examples (vocab might be a bit above lower grades). It is important here to talk about perception. When Dr. Seuss was denied by publishers, he had a different perception than others might have in that situations. He could have looked at it as, "Clearly my work is no good. I should stop." or he could have perceived this as, "Ok, what options do I have next?" He chose the later. Maybe he changed somethings about his book. Maybe he changed how he marketed it to publishers. Maybe he gave himself more time to think about what he was hoping to get. The reality is, an event happened and how he perceived it and acted on it, contributed to his success. We need to show students that with failure and struggle, it's our perceptions of these events that will lead to growth.

We're teachers. We do this daily. But are we acknowledging it to our students? Are we telling them, having them reflect, having them notice that their brain in picking up on new learning all.day.long? And are we providing it in more ways than just in our academic content? Like I said earlier, we are in the thick of long division- a brand new skill for all my students. It is obvious to them that this is new. But so is building the tallest structure during indoor recess, or trying to draw something for a card for a friend. Let students explore new learning in places other than just things that get a grade. I've noticed some of my best success when I draw attention to this during indoor recess and I have a kiddo who typically struggles with challenging content during the school day. However, when he is working on building a sculpture with pattern blocks at recess and it topples over... he doesn't give up like he does when it's long division. He reacts in a bit of frustration and begins again, this time with a different plan. When I bring his attention to it, he recognizes that his brain is constantly firing off new connections and that he can apply the same strategies to other tasks too.

One of my biggest take aways is that this isn't something you do in a couple lessons and then move on. It is embedded into our work daily... hourly... minutely (is that a word even). We ourselves will get into a fixed mindset about kids having a fixed mindset. Let yourself start there, but don't let yourself stay there.


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