MAP Reading Fluency: A New Tool to Save Teachers Time & Focus on Instruction

This post is sponsored by We Are Teachers and NWEA.org. All opinions expressed are my own. (Meaning, if I don’t like something about a particular education product I will not write about it on my blog)

Across the country, literacy, especially in grades K-3,  is a priority in just about every district you visit. Educators are banding together to share best practices, evidence-based interventions, and inspiring stories; all in an effort to impact student literacy.

All learning in rooted in language, and as one progresses throughout life, access to continued learning, both personal and professional, is typically accessed through written communication.

For me, literacy is my passion, and I have dedicated my life to reading, researching, and sharing not only how to develop young students into lifelong readers, but to advocate for high-quality instruction in literacy for ALL students. Being literate not only allows access to information, but influences one’s personal, professional, and civic lives. Upon graduation, my wish was for students to be equipped with passion and skills to be critical discerners of information, make informed decisions for the betterment of society, and be able to advocate for self and others. To be able to do these things, a solid literacy foundation must be formed in the early grades.

Educators learn about their young readers in a variety of ways when they enter their classrooms. Understanding what they enjoy reading and learning about, how they choose books, which foundational skills they have acquired as opposed to which ones they still need to practice or learn. Typically, in a K-3 classroom, teachers administers some sort of fluency test with accompanying comprehension questions. These assessments provide an abundance of information on students to inform instruction. The drawback to this type of testing is the large amount of TIME it takes to test individual students with classrooms of 25+ young readers. And we all know the one thing teachers need is…More TIME. That is why I was ecstatic to preview a new assessment tool launched by NWEA called MAP Reading Fluency.

I want to stress, NOTHING takes the place of an Expert Teacher, but when resources like this become available and save teachers time to then reclaim and use for instruction, it is a WIN – WIN for kids.

MAP Reading Fluency is the first and only K-3 oral reading assessment using speech recognition, automatic scoring and computer adaptive technology.  It allows data to be collected around; oral reading fluency, comprehension, and foundational reading skills. With this information, teachers are able to make decisions on which areas they may need to dig in a bit deeper in order to differentiate instruction and meet needs of students.

I am also a firm believer in two things when it comes to assessment and data. First, MAP Reading Fluency provides a snapshot of the student as a reader; multiple snapshots across time allow teachers to notice trends and trends should be noted and investigated to find out the What/Why. Second, assessment data does not paint the whole picture of a child as a reader. This is where the beauty of computer-aided assessment comes into play. Reading Fluency data that is generated is immediate, organized, disaggregated and actionable. This is a huge win for teachers and a time-saver due in part to the streamlined process of technology. The follow-up, the instruction, and the passionate teaching to the student is then provided by the Expert Teacher.

For the past 5 years or so, I have been investigating tools and resources that would support teachers and students in this exact way; it is as if NWEA read my mind and delivered with Reading Fluency. MAP Reading Fluency was named the 2018 CODiE award winner for Best Student Assessment Solution. It is adaptive to accommodate  pre-, early-, and fluent readers, and is recorded so that teachers can listen to their students during a planning time or while working with their PLC. I am excited about the possibilities of this new assessment tool and appreciate how it aims to shorten the time spent assessing so more time can be spent on instructing! Want to learn more? Check out this FAQ sheet or request a Demo of MAP Reading Fluency.

So You Want to Add Literature Discussion Groups to Your Classroom…

So You Want To Add Literature Discussion Groups to Your Classroom...

Developed in the 1980’s, Literature Discussion Groups (LDGs) were inspired by a group of students who wanted to continue talking about their books as a group. As a result, educators across the nation have utilized this type of small group work in their literacy classrooms. But while there are many different frameworks for Guided Reading for educators to implement, Literature Discussion Groups can look different from class to class. With this being acknowledged, there are commonalities that most share. Below is a chart which depicts the common elements of Literature Discussion Groups, as well as a comparison to Guided Reading.

Literature Discussion Groups Guided Reading
Purpose To develop critical thinking, speaking and listening skills while diving deep into the text as a peer group. LDG support collaboration, independence, and reading as a social and lifelong experience.    Small group instruction to help students build their reading power so that they can apply skills independently. Must include direct instruction from an expert teacher.
Who Typically used in grades 7-12. ALL students in the class are part of LDGs. Student Choice is extended to ALL students and teachers support and scaffold access to text so that all may participate. Mostly occurring in elementary classrooms, Guided Reading can also be used to support older students on foundational skills, reading comprehension, or vocabulary needs.
Text Students have a choice in what they read. Students typically make their choice based off of book talks or other intros. of the text. All students have their own copy of the text which they can annotate or add sticky notes to while reading and prepping for the discussion.   The text is determined by the teacher. Relevance and engagement are considered in book selection, as well as appropriate challenge and instruction purpose.
Groups Groups of 5-7 students based on choice. Groups are fluid and temporary, changing with each new book selection. All LDGs occur at the same time. Groups are created based on student needs and are typically made up of 4-6 students. Groups should be fluid and evaluated and changed about every three weeks. Guided Reading groups take place one at a time with the teacher.
Teacher Role The teacher acts as a facilitator, listening in on each group but does not become a member of them. During the small group discussions, the teacher takes notes which are used for reflective feedback, whole class instruction and/or evaluation/participation. The teacher designs direct instruction to focus student comprehension, word study, and fluency during small group instruction. The teacher listens in as each student reads and makes on the spot teaching decision based on reading behaviors exhibited.  
Student Role Students develop questions, participate in substantive conversations, support thinking with textual evidence and critical thinking. Students build collective understanding through dialogic learning. Students learn and apply skills from teacher instruction to guided reading text, and independent text. Students individually read the text to self and out loud when designated by the teacher. Students participate in discussion and extension activities in Guided Reading.

This independence and thoughtful discussion about reading in Literature Discussion Groups is one of the goals for literacy teachers. We want our students to enjoy reading, have a choice in what they read, and be able to thoughtfully discuss what they read with others. While this type of small group work does not happen naturally in most classrooms, there are scaffolds and management procedures that teachers can use to set everyone up for success.

First, it is important for students to understand the purpose of LDGs and have a clear image of what a high-functioning group looks and sounds like. This can be done through a video, discussion, or demonstration. Last week I had the pleasure to tape an example LDG with a group of teachers who plan to share it with their students. This exercise allowed us to talk through the important elements we wanted to highlight in the video, as well as a way for teachers to grow their own understanding of LDG by participating in one.

Second, cocreate norms with the students. Kids are smart, they know what groups need in order to remain focused, fair, and consistent. Voicing and agreeing upon norms will support the success of all LDGs. Some norms I had in my own classroom:

  • Be Prepared
  • Ensure all voices are heard
  • Disagree with the statement, never attack the person
  • Negotiate your own time, there is NO Hand Raising in discussions

Scaffold the learning, as stated earlier, LDGs do not happen naturally in the classroom setting. Be prepared to model, live-group demonstration, and reflect. You may also consider starting slow, have all groups start with the same, short piece. Play a more active role in the beginning and drop off to a facilitator role when they get up and running, or use Role Sheets to support discussions. (Note, LDG Roles were first used to scaffold the learning and were not designed to be used by all students for every LDG). Assign each student an individual role, or have all students be the same role (Connector or Summarizer works well for this). Common Roles in LDGs:

  • Discussion Director
  • Connector
  • Vocabulary Identifier
  • Summarizer
  • Illustrator
  • Researcher
  • Literary Lumininator
  • Map Maker

Along with scaffolding, it is important for each teacher to define the purpose and end goals with the implementation of Literature Discussion Groups. During a thoughtful discussion with a group of high school teachers, the consideration of ALL students participating ensued. Should a student be able to exercise their choice in reading if they cannot access the text alone? My answer was answered with a question – what is your purpose? While students do gain and refine skills during LDG, my main purpose for implementation was independence, collaboration, discussion, and critical thinking. All of my high school students read at various levels based on skill and interest, but I never denied any student the opportunity to participate in a peer discussion. The gains far outweighed the risks for during this collaboration.

Assessing. How should I grade students during LDGs? Most educators use both a self and teacher evaluation for grading Literature Discussion Group participation. Students self-assess through a checklist or written response in which they evaluate their own role and contributions to the discussion, as well as their groupmates. This reflection can be powerful for goal-setting and student ownership of learning. Teachers also add their own notes that were gathered during the facilitation of the small groups to the evaluation process. Still, other educators assign flat points for participation or no grade at all.

Finally, don’t be afraid to add your own flair and teaching style to Literature Discussion Groups. Add a new role, The Nosy Neighbor, Aesthetician, Freudian or Existentialist Lenses. Promote digital collaboration through the use of technology or connect your students with others reading the same text outside of the four walls of your classroom. Add a visual element through annotations, sketchnoting, or drawing to be completed by all students prior to the discussion.

Check out my Wakelet for resources used during this post on LDGs

 

7 Benefits of Audiobooks

My Post (2)

Is listening to an Audiobooks the same as reading a book? Is it cheating or lazy to listen to instead of actually reading it? Do audiobooks help to develop readers or hurt their development?

All of these questions were unearthed during a conversation I had with a fellow educator whose daughter was listening to books at home instead of reading them. The simple answer is YES, audiobooks are similar to reading and have benefits to the listener.

Some date the origins of audiobooks to that of oral storytelling and how stories were passed down through generations before a written language and the act of reading was mainstream for the common person. In education, I was surprised to see the amount of research done around this area and found most agree that similar skills are used and when you consider the goal of reading, listening to an audiobook does count as reading.

The goal of reading is not to decode words and be able to pronounce them but to comprehend and think critically about what you read.

With this goal in mind, I offer 7 Benefits of Audiobooks:

  1. Independence – A student’s oral vocabulary far outreaches their reading abilities. When one accesses an audiobook, it promotes independence. It also is a great way to differentiate content in the classroom! 
  2. Access to Information – Audiobooks, and listening to text, provides access to those students who wouldn’t be able to read the text independently. When teachers deny students access to information based on their reading level they are promoting a division of inequity. There are many reasons why students struggle to read, but just because they can not decode specific words on a page does not mean that they also struggle to think and understand. Reading level does not equal intelligence, but limiting access to information because of it harms students.  
  3. Broadens one’s world, locales, accents, dialects, cultures – Stories have the ability to transport readers to different places, experience different cultures, and identify with others who are similar. Developing empathy and awareness can be achieved through audiobooks, with the bonus of hearing different accents and dialects.
  4. Linguistically Rich – Promotes Storytelling – Audiobooks promote storytelling. Students listen to a linguistically rich text and are inspired to talk about their book by connecting it to their own experiences or other things they have read or viewed. The more stories one collects, the more language they acquire to share their own voice.
  5. Increases: Motivation, Background Info. Content Knowledge, Vocabulary – Listening to audiobooks has been shown to increase motivation in reading which is an essential element for struggling adolescent readers. Research also shows audiobooks help to increase background information and content knowledge and is especially beneficial to our EL (English Learners) students.
  6. Models Good Reading – Audiobooks, similar to read aloud, models good reading to students. Hearing an expert reader adds experience to all growing readers.
  7. Improves: Critical Listening Skills, Reading Accuracy, Fluency – Audiobooks not only promote critical listening skills, an essential life skill but also help student reading accuracy and fluency. Fluency is so much more than reading fast. Audiobooks allow students to not only see words pronounced correctly but hear and notice pronunciation, rate, speed, pausing, stress, and intonation.

Better Listeners LEARN More!

There are many places to access audiobooks:

Check your local and school library.

Open Culture

Storynory

Learn Out Loud

Epic!  

Project Gutenberg

The Handmaid’s Tale, Censorship, & Banned Books

Adobe Spark (19)Last week, I began watching The Handmaid’s Tale, a Hulu original series based off of the novel by Margaret Atwood. Set in a dystopian society and ruled by an extreme, fundamentalist regime; the series draws viewers in with multiple storylines, dynamic characters, and pendulum swings oscillating between hope and despair. Along with the brutal objectification of females in this radical, religious Totalitarian society, The Handmaid’s Tale, sheds light on the power of the literate individual.

Books, reading, and writing are outlawed in Gilead, and one scene in an early episode where “The Eyes” are burning books and art, immediately reminded me of other stories about censorship and book banning, such as Fahrenheit 451. The ability to read, write, and think for oneself is seen as a threat to the new government of Gilead and there is not a more powerful illustration of this then in the “Closet Scene”  from episode 4. Offred, the main character, was locked in her room for 2 weeks straight and finds a Latin phrase, Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum, carved into the corner of her closet. This single phrase, written by her predecessor who failed to bear a child for the commander and his wife, risked her life to offer hope in the form of words that Offred couldn’t even translate. This small carving of words, hidden in the closet, reignited the fire of freedom that had been dimmed inside of Offered.

                                            _________________________________________________

Words have the power to transport readers to new places, they can inspire a movement, and bring hope to those who identify with characters they read about or quotes that sing to their heart. This week marks the beginning of Banned Books Week, an annual celebration that recognizes  Students’ Right to Read and emphasizes the First Amendment. The theme for this upcoming Banned Books Week (Sept. 24 – Sept. 30) is “Words Have Power. Read a Banned Book.” The words in these banned and challenged books have the power to connect readers to literary communities and offer diverse perspectives. And when these books are threatened with removal from communal shelves, your words have the power to challenge censorship. (ALA)

The Right to Read implies that individuals have the choice in what they read and the ability to be selective in this endeavor. The same freedoms are extended to the group as well and oppose the individual’s efforts to limit what others read. “The right of any individual not just to read but to read whatever he or she wants to read is basic to a democratic society,” (NCTE). Censorship and the banning of books limit the access of information for students. It distorts their understanding of information, creates bias, and neglects to provide a whole picture of the successes and challenges of a community or culture.

In this age of information and with the access to content at the touch of a button, it is essential to develop critical thinking skills and savvy discerners of information instead of limiting what students read. Just as important is the classroom discussion around censorship, along with individual dives into inquiry around bias, banned books, and healthy skepticism.

During Banned Books Week,  I urge you to take part in the activities or create one of your own. In my classroom, I had students select a commonly banned or challenged book, preferably one they were familiar with, and answer the following questions:

  • Why is this book banned or frequently challenged?
  • What passages, lines, words, or characters are often attributed to the challenging or banning of the book?
  • What are the different opinions about this book?
  • What is your opinion?
  • Should this book be banned? Should any book be censored or banned?
  • How does censorship play a role in your life?

This short exercise made students aware of the issue, the sides, take a stand, and defend their thoughts. It provided us a perfect launch into Huck Finn (another frequently challenged book), as well as a larger, conceptual lens on censorship and the Right to Read.

Literacy = Power, Opportunities, Democracy, and Improved Professional & Personal Lives. And although contemporary books and movies, such as The Handmaid’s Tale, paint an extreme cautionary example of censorship and banning books, it does illustrate the importance of freedom and the role literacy plays in our lives.

***And if you are wondering the translation of the Latin words Offred found hidden in her closet, here it is: “Don’t let the Bastards grind you down”… fitting, don’t you think?

10 Ways Parents Can Support Their Young Readers

Adobe Spark (15)This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is When it comes to fostering a lifelong love of learning,  parents who support you in your role as a teacher are important;  so what are the Top 10 (or less)  things you want to tell all parents?

One of the greatest gifts a parent can give their child is to foster the love of reading. It is through books that young readers can travel to faraway places, develop empathy for someone different than themselves, or learn how to build the ultimate fort out of things they find in the garage. While most parents agree that reading is important in all areas of life, how to foster a love of reading and support their young readers remains a mystery.

Here are 10 Ways Parents Can Support Their Young Readers:

  1. Read Aloud – The single most important activity for building literacy experiences is reading aloud to kids of all ages. From birth to age 3, young children who are read to develop listening and verbal skills at a greater rate. They also start to associate reading with the pleasant sound of their parent’s voice, understand how books work, and begin to use early literacy skills in play. Students of all ages benefit from hearing books read aloud to them by building background knowledge, hearing good readers use the dimensions of fluency, as well as enriching their own vocabulary. (Inspired by Steven)
  2. Choice, not Chore – Another way parents can support their young readers is to present reading as a choice, not a chore. Encourage their literacy journey by giving them choice in what they read. Giving kids a choice in what they read not only improves their literacy skills but also increase engagement. When parents focus less on minutes read and more on providing book options in areas that interest their kids, everyone wins.  (Inspired by Mr. Vince)
  3. Find the Right Book – While not every book can be the one that hooks a lifelong reader, any one book can, so never give up. When a child loses interest in a book, has trouble reading for a sustained amount of time, or complains about a book it’s time to close the cover and find a new one. Children do not have to read every book they choose from beginning to end. In fact, children may abandon a book for a variety of reasons before finding one that captures their attention. The key for parents is to never give up. Continue to share books, articles, and magazines that may interest your child. Visit the library and find support in librarian who have a number of titles they can share based on interests, genres, or authors. Websites for finding books for kids: Biblionasium, Goodreads Kids List, What Should I Read Next, Common Sense Media Best Books for Kids, Children’s and Teens Choice Book Awards.  (Inspired by Helena)
  4. Fostering Curiosity – Another way parents can support their young readers is to demonstrate how questions can be answered through reading. Reading is both for pleasure and for learning. Ask questions, spark wonderings, and then turn to books and text as a way to find answers. This powerful process of answer-seeking not only demonstrates ways books can be used but also helps to make the thinking visible and hopefully transferable into their own life. Reading, writing, and thinking with their child promotes the recursive nature of the three.  (Inspired by Fran) 
  5. Model a Readerly Life – Parents, teachers, and peers influence a child’s life with parents and teachers having the most impact. When parents model a readerly life this transfers to their children. Making time to read each day with your child and talking about books models habits that readers do and in turn children mimic. Parents can model a readerly life by simply reading their own book at the same time their child is reading their book. When children see their parents valuing reading they understand the importance of a readerly life.  (Inspired by Amber)
  6. Make it Social – In school, reading is often times done in isolation. Minutes are tracked, tests are taken, and projects are done for an audience of one. As adults, when we turn the final page of a book that we can’t put down we immediately want to talk about it, interacting with others who may have read it, or sharing in hopes that someone else will be inspired to read. Parents can make reading social with their child in a variety of ways, ask questions and listen when a child finishes a book. Read a book together and use an interactive method (Dialogic Reading) of reading to encourage talking about a book. Parents can also make reading social by participating in book clubs with their children or sharing online interactions with other readers through websites such as  Goodreads (if a child is old enough have them create an account and start sharing). When parents think of a sharing good book as they would share and talk about a good movie, children shift from viewing reading as isolating to a social activity.
  7. Surround Children with Text – Good readers often recall being surrounded by text in the home. Parents should fill not only their child’s bedroom with books and other types of text but multiple areas in the home. Books on shelves, magazines on tables, poetry on the wall, and kindles on the sofas immerse students into an environment that promotes reading. Not all books need to be new or owned, garage sales are perfect for finding books and libraries help to keep new books in the home. When children have access to books and are surrounded by text they are more likely to pick it up and at least thumb through the text.
  8. Digital Text – Through digital text parents can also support young readers. Access to books, nonfiction, and poetry has never been easier than it is currently. While many parents are hesitant to use technology to provide access to reading material the thing to keep in mind is that it doesn’t have to be either print books or digital, but instead it is both. There are many apps, websites, and resources that parents can use to foster a love of reading with their child. Epubs, audio texts, and interactive books can all have a place in the routines established. Check out Epic, Storynory,  Project Gutenberg, Newsela.
  9. Interest not Level – Another way that parents can support their young readers is by making reading joyful and engaging by keying in on your child’s interest rather than focusing on reading level. While it is important to decide if a book is developmentally appropriate for your child, as well as being accessible, limiting what your child reads because of their designated Lexile or reading level doesn’t take into account the picture of the whole child. Children who are interested in a topic or have experience and background knowledge are likely able to read and comprehend difficult text. Listening to music and discussing song lyrics from their favorite artist is another way to spark interest in reading by recognizing your child’s interests. Have a child who loves to write and read poetry? Introduce contemporary writers whose novels are written in verse helps to ignite your child’s love of reading. By starting with something children are familiar with and passionate about instead of their reading level helps children enjoy reading. (Inspired by Erin) 
  10. Community Connections – Finally, parents can support young readers by taking advantage of community connections. Visit libraries and partake in their free reading programs for kids (This year’s summer theme is Build a Better World). Make time to stop into the bookstore and explore the shelves. Build your own Little FreeLibrary and place it somewhere in your neighborhood to spread the joy of sharing books. Reach out to schools and retirement homes to inquire about opportunities for your child to read to or with adults. Reading is a priority across the nation, in communities, and schools; making those connections with your child makes it a priority in your home as well!

Reading is joyful, social, and a lifelong skill that every child needs throughout their life. Parents can play an active role in their child’s literacy development through a variety of ways. The possibilities are endless and the above 10 are ones that were inspired by friends, fellow educators, and my own learning in the area of literacy. Please comment below with additional ways parents can support their young readers. Did I miss any of your favorites?

Special thanks to the following who all contributed to this post in thoughts and words:

Steven Anderson

Amber Teamann

Erin Olson

Fran McVeigh

Helena Brothwell

Mr. Vince