Responding to Literature

Responding to Literature

Assigning independent reading seems to be one of the most controversial aspects of teaching English. Almost daily I see teachers asking about how much time to give for in-class reading and how to keep students accountable while they read. If you have read either of Donalyn Miller’s books about cultivating a reading culture to encourage and engage students with independent reading you’d know she believes this is the answer to making students readers. 

While I find her ideas to be helpful I also find them to be mostly good on paper. After teaching three different grade levels and incorporating her ideas for establishing a reading culture I have found the truth is that not all kids are going to find reading enjoyable

And that’s ok. 

This is probably a very unpopular opinion, but in my experience, as both a middle school and high school English teacher I find that not every kid experiencing a rich reading classroom will transform into the readers we aspire for them to be. Yes, I have had a number of students over the years enter my classroom as self-proclaimed reading haters only to graduate as reading lovers. One particular former student’s mother with whom I am now good friends with still introduces me as the teacher who turned her son into a reader. It happens. 

So if it’s possible to transform kids into readers it’s also possible that some kids are just not going to take to being readers. However, they are still going to be accountable for showing they have mastered the reading standards of their grade level. 

Help students master reading literature standards with response to literature questions. Based on standards for grades 4-8 each worksheet will help students identify characterization, theme, and how elements of literature interact. Reading with an author's lens helps students to also better answer standardized test questions. These worksheets can be used for formative assessment or simply help keep students accountable for independent reading.

Accountability

Gone are the days of teaching books. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s not books that we teach, it’s students. Skills for reading fiction can be mastered through any text. Some texts cater to specific skills more explicitly or implicitly, depending on what we need. However, skills can be modeled and practiced with any text. This is why allowing students to practice their reading skills through independent reading is appropriate. These tasks can also be used for formative assessments and keep kids accountable for their reading. 

As soon as grade 4 students are exposed to the concept of theme. They are also expected to describe in depth a character’s thoughts, words, and actions in detail. When I have helped students to identify these aspects of a story I teach the acronym STEAL to help students remember how to find the characterization and trace how these show a theme. Between these two points of a story include setting details and of course learning new vocabulary words within context. 

Combining all of these rounds out the reading literature standards. They also ask students to deeply engage in any given story. 

Standardized Test Practice

For three years I sat on the Ohio content area AIR test committee. Basically, this was a group of teachers who read through the assessment questions analyzing how well the question appropriately evaluated a student’s skill of each standard. 

Spending hours upon hours staring at test questions helped me to see how I needed to have my own students engaging with fictional texts. 

First, I noticed that language for the questions comes directly from the standards. While this may seem a little obvious I would be willing to bet there are a number of fourth-grade teachers who probably only refer to the theme as the lesson. It’s important to expose students to the words being used in the standards, especially the ones in parentheses. These are not off-limits. 

Reading Response Handouts

When I created these reading response worksheets I looked specifically at each grade levels’ standards that ask students to show their skills of understanding characterization, setting, theme and how all of these interact with each other. 

At each grade level, the understanding of how these elements show up in a story becomes more sophisticated as students should master these skills. In grade four students begin by identifying and describing what they read. This leads to comparing and contrasting characters and events in grade five. Then digging deeper into character response with grade six and finally grades seven and eight ask students to notice how characters move the plot forward. 

There are several ways that teachers can use these questions. For starters, these can be a great introduction for students who struggle with these concepts. Because each of these sheets is grade-level specific teachers can use them to help scaffold these reading skills. As students master each level they can move on to the next, or start where they are. 

These questions can also be used as a means of formative assessment. 

Start by teaching students about characterization and how to use the STEAL acronym to identify how authors develop their characters. Asking students to read with an author’s lense is one of the key aspects for helping students answer standardized test questions. 

Next teachers will need to give their classes a chance to practice these concepts with a short story. Personally, I love a good Ray Bradbury story for strong character development and theme. Once students have an understanding and examples of question answers allow them to answer through independent texts. 

For struggling readers, small group situations may help them better grasp the concepts. Providing opportunities to discuss possible answers is another great way to scaffold this material. 

You can find these reading response worksheets along with the characterization slide deck mini-lesson in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. There is also a slide deck that can help you translate this practice into test questions and how to help students answer these questions. 

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Why teachers need Google Certification

Why teachers need Google Certification

Google has revolutionized the way I teach and I have never looked back. With technology like Google, you are able to save time and transform your teaching practices. But why get Google certified? To learn and teach. Being Google certified will help you have the skills to effectively use Google for Education in the classroom. Maybe you already know the basics, but taking the time to gain certification will certainly teach you a few tricks that you hadn’t discovered.

Being Google certified will also allow you to help colleagues more effectively use G Suites for Education. Most people resist change, but if you can show them how much Google simplifies the communication and collaboration process they might be willing to try something new.

Google certification will help teachers save time while lesson planning, make grading easier, and transform the learning happening. Your classroom needs you to be the best teacher you can be and adding the knowledge that comes with Google certification is guaranteed to make you a better teacher.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Thank you for supporting our website. 

If you’re like me and love all things Google becoming certified is the next step. And if you’re like me and follow along with the Google Teacher Tribe podcast you already know that Kasey Bell has Google Certification courses available. Participating in a course guarantees that you will gain the skills needed to pass the exam and give you a chance to practice.

If you’re new to this idea let me breakdown each of the certifications and what you can gain from joining a course then taking the exams.

Certification levels

Level 1 Certification: For the teacher who wants to successfully integrate G Suites for Education into their teaching practices. This level covers the basics of each Google tool that can be used in the classroom.  

Level 2 Certification: For the teacher who feels comfortable using G Suites in their classroom but would like to take it to a more advanced level. A deeper dive into each of the tools.  

Google Certified Trainer: For the teacher who enjoys teaching other teachers. This certification is open to any educator who would like to share what they have learned at the first two levels with other educators.

Google Certified Innovator: For the teacher who is developing their own innovative ways to use Google in the classroom.

Why become certified?

There is more to Google certification than the badge that can be added in your email signature and social media accounts. Certification is about your own education as an educator. If anyone understands the concept of life-long learning it’s teachers. One of the reasons we continue to teach is because we enjoy being learners ourselves. In the 21st century, technology has transformed the way we present information to students and how they demonstrate their learning to us. Google is not exclusive to the classroom. Many companies use G Suites for business purposes as well. Allowing students to gain these skills before entering the workplace gives them an advantage.

Many teachers are already using G Suites in their classrooms without becoming officially certified. So why spend the time and money to work towards certification?

  1. Proficiency: Have you ever thought while planning your unit, there has to be a way for me to do this more efficiently? I know I have! Then you find yourself spending countless hours looking for the right answer. Taking the certification courses and becoming certified means you will have that answer right away. In fact, it will most likely give you new and improved ideas for delivering your content.
  2. Effectiveness: Turning a handout into a Google Doc is not what G Suites is all about. The technology is not meant to replace, it’s meant to enhance. What you will learn through the course of gaining certification will help you to better know the possibilities of each tool and how to effectively use them in the classroom.
  3. Networking: Join a large community of other certified educators who can provide you with support and help when you need it. Connecting with other educators is the best way to grow your creativity as a teacher.

Getting Google certification

Now that you’ve decided to go ahead with the process of becoming Google certified there are a few things that you may want to consider. First, consider taking one of Kasey’s courses to help you prepare for the exam. Sure, it’s possible to gather the knowledge you need from the Google training materials available. However, it will take a lot of reading and searching for answers all on your own without any help.

Taking Kasy’s course will give you exactly what you need to practice for the exam. She provides videos and documents, plus you can always ask her or the Facebook group specific questions if you’re having trouble.

Choosing a course such as these allows you to work at your own pace and on your own time schedule. Joining a scheduled Boot Camp that might be offered by your district will also give you the information you need to pass each exam. However, there is a lot to know and possibly learn. These face-to-face courses are only offered on a specific day and time so they may move too quickly for some people.

Before you make a decision about how to gain your certification take a look at Kasey’s post with frequently asked questions for more information. You will also find several resources she provides and details about each of the Google Certification courses she offers twice a year — May and November.

Don’t forget to share when you have successfully passed your exam and gained your certification. Be sure to brag in the comments.

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Why you need a classroom coffee bar

Why you need a classroom coffee bar

Teachers love their coffee. Moms live for their coffee. Oh to drink a steaming mug of freshly brewed coffee. Unless it’s a long weekend, or maybe a snow day, a hot cup of coffee is rarely what teachers or moms get to drink. This is the number one reason why every teacher should have a coffee bar in their classroom.

But enjoying a nice hot mug of java is not the only reason to supply your classroom with a coffee bar. There are other benefits as well. Consider how coffee brings people together. How often do you hear someone say, “Let’s make plans to have coffee.” or “Meet me for coffee?” Even if both parties don’t actually drink coffee we all refer to sitting down with someone for a conversation as “having coffee.” This opportunity to be intentionally relational can be a focal point for your classroom.

Teacher Care

The wafting aroma of flavorful coffee coming from your classroom each morning provides a welcome invitation. Or maybe in the afternoon when all the students have gone to their Encore and teachers are needing a chance to take a breath. Your classroom coffee bar could be a place of refuge for colleagues needing to take a moment and relax. You might be the one needing to take a moment and relax. What better way than with a hot cup of coffee?

Grading papers is not usually a fun task, but a hot cup of freshly brewed coffee can give you the pep you need to power through. There is something about a hot beverage that warms the body and relaxes the muscles to make us feel ready to tackle a daunting task. As a language arts teacher, I much prefer reading a stack of essays while sipping on a good cup of coffee.

Whether needing a moment alone or willing to welcome others, a coffee bar for your classroom is a great idea.  Want a way to let others know they are welcome to join you try one of my printables. Drop your email below and I’ll send you the password to my free resource library where you can find four different coffee-related posters that you can download and use to decorate above your coffee bar.

Build Student Relationships

Another great use for a classroom coffee bar is to attract students. This was the motivation for starting my Black Coffee Fridays. For the thirty minutes before students needed to be in homeroom classrooms, I invited any student or staff member to come and talk about books. During our conversations, I offered a hot beverage and sometimes even a doughnut. I loaded up on the fancy cappuccino K-cups and hot chocolate for the kids. The last thing most middle schoolers need is caffeine!

Inviting students to come chat gave me an open door to establishing a solid relationship. We mostly talked about books, but the conversations would often also veer to a more personal nature for the students. Our conversations established trust and they felt comfortable in my classroom. Most of the kids who showed up regularly were friends with each other and there were times that they would be fighting with each other. Those moments gave me an opportunity to teach conflict resolution. So many teachable moments on lessons that don’t need to take place in a scheduled class.

Fundraising Opportunity

Are you a club advisor without a budget? Have a charity you’d like your class or school to support? Using a coffee bar can be one way to generate small funds. My husband, a computer science high school teacher, needed a way to generate a small budget for their robotics team. Starting a coffee bar he calls The Wired Cafe in his classroom has helped his team make the extra funds for robot building.

His cafe has grown so popular that they started selling donuts on Wednesdays as well. The robotic students run the register so it’s not one more thing he has to do each morning. It’s grown into a major operation. He started with a few Kuerig machines and a hot water pot.

The basic set up allows students to come in and make their own drink. He provides creamers and other accessories like marshmallows and whipped cream. (There is a small fridge in the room as well.) Each item has a cost so he created a page with barcodes to make it quick and easy. The barcodes are also tracked in a spreadsheet. (This is why he teaches computer science!) He’s able to print the spreadsheet and give a copy to the treasurer making sure it’s all legit.

Building Your Coffee Bar

Hearing about my husband enjoying delicious hot coffee each morning made me want to have my own coffee bar. My first problem was where to put it. I had maxed out my countertop and the last thing I wanted was to add any clutter. My classroom did have a spot that would fit my no longer needed changing table! Repurposing my changing table was perfect for setting up a coffee bar and providing me with more storage.

My husband found a great deal on a used Kuerig that came with a few cups. I brought in a few flavored syrups, creamers, a variety of other K-cups, mugs and some to-go cups with lids. The bar continually grows and evolves with flavors and users.

One of those coffee flavors is made by the Ladies Coffee Company. Their coffee has a great flavor that you can enjoy hot or cold. There are a ton of great blends to try and with teacher appreciation around the corner, you might want to check out Teacher Fuel. You can even use my TeacherMomcoffee discount code to receive 10% off your total purchase.

Share in the comments all the coffee accessories you’d want on your classroom coffee bar.

Classroom coffee bars are the perfect way to keep you caffeinated all day. But they can also help with teacher self care, building student relationships, and helping you make it through those really tough school days.
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6 Test prep ideas to use in your classroom

6 Test prep ideas to use in your classroom

State testing season is officially upon us. A time of year that every teacher would prefer to be eliminated from the calendar, but the reality is that it’s part of our job. I’m going to tell you what I tell my students: this is not a defining moment. Sure, these tests are used for defining us as teachers and they are used for defining our students, but we are not the total sum calculated in that score.

Standardized testing season can be stressful for students and teachers. Use these 6 ideas to help ease that test prep stress in every classroom.

Does that give us permission to blow off the test? No, because the reality is that this state test is not going to miraculously disappear. We aren’t going to wake up one morning and hear that the governor has declared all state testing canceled. As much as we all would love for this to be the scenario!

So if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!

Did you know that I sat on the Ohio AIR content advisory committee?

If I couldn’t make the test go away then I needed a way to understand it better. Once Ohio ditched the PARCC they started new teacher advisory committees to piece together the AIR test. Apparently, this is always the process of curating a standardized test.

A small committee of about 20 -25 teachers who have at least five years of teaching experience in that grade level work to decide on content. Teachers are chosen from a variety of districts around the state to represent the different demographic areas as well. All of the teachers chosen must apply for the committee.

The job of the committee is to ensure that test questions are aligned with grade level standards. Each question is presented as an assessment for a specific standard and if we feel the question doesn’t do that it can be rejected. There would have to be what’s called a “fatal flaw” within the question for that to happen. Most of the time a simple revision can fix a question.

Being an active participant and hearing this process helped me better understand assessments. It didn’t sway my opinion of how our state chooses to use these tests in determining teacher effectiveness, although not much would change my opinion on that. When it comes to state testing it’s too simplistic to say you agree or disagree with it. There is a need for evaluating student knowledge based on state standards and until there is a better way I will do what I can to help my students be better test takers.

Many students will have to sit for exams in order to further their careers so I like to look at test prep as if it’s a reading genre. Ultimately, every test is a reading test. Determine what they want you to show that you know and find the right answer. In my slide presentation on preparing for the Ohio AIR test, I go into specific detail about how students can use this to their advantage. You can also read more about lesson ideas I use for test prep here.

There are also environmental aspects to consider when preparing for a state test that can help students have a greater advantage. Here are six ideas for preparing your classroom for testing season.

1. Scent: Did you know that cinnamon helps to awaken the brain? In a brain science professional development we learned this little tidbit of information.  The presenter did mention that it can’t be fake cinnamon like a plug-in or spray or even melted wax. Her suggestion was to sprinkle a little on a few plates and place those around the room.

2. Look: Most states mandate that any posters come off the wall if they could help the students. Plan to do this a week in advance so students aren’t throw off by the “new” look of your room on the day of testing. This could also make for a good review. Ask students to recall where anchor charts hung and what was on them.

3. Feel: Suggest to your students that they wear their brightest color clothing! Bright colors evoke positive feelings and stimulate the brain. It’s also better to wear clothing that it’s too comfortable. Sweat pants and sweatshirts can make a person feel too relaxed and sleepy. I like to talk about the idea of dressing for the job you want, only I change it to dressing for the score you want.

4. Taste: Peppermint is a flavor that helps to awaken the brain and senses. We buy or PTO donates bags of the peppermint hard candies for students to suck on while testing. Cinnamon gum can also have the same effect. What you eat can also make a difference. Don’t forget to tell your students the importance of a high protein breakfast the morning of each test. High protein – low sugar. Protein allows energy that is prolonged, while sugar will give them a jolt then crash before testing is even over!

5. Sound: Silence can be deafening for some kids. They need opportunities to practice prolonged silence. Extended silent reading is great practice. Even a computer task without headphones. These are especially important if the norm in your classroom is background music and headphones during independent work time.

6. Emotion: One final tip that could help your students make a personal and emotional connection to a very impersonal assessment. Test dedications: it’s the same concept as athletes dedicating their performance or the dedication page at the start of every novel. Ask students to think about someone who has helped or encouraged their education. Have them write a small paragraph about why they deserve this honor then paste their picture next to it. Have students hang their dedication where they can see it while testing.

If you’d like a free downloadable test dedication printable simply add your email below. You’ll get access to this and many other free printables in our growing resource library.



Do you have other ways to help students prepare or feel ready for the test? Share your best test-taking strategies in the comments!

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Hack Instructional Design

Hack Instructional Design

When I first began my career as a teacher I’d landed a job in Kannapolis, North Carolina. It was the absolute best place to start a career because this was a middle school that truly represented a staff that lived like family and educated students as if they were their own children.

Apart of that staff was a lively couple, Michael and Elizabeth Fisher. They were a two person teaching team that impressed me greatly. I marveled at the innovative ideas and teaching methods they used and shared with staff.

Since then we have all moved on in our careers and where we call home, but Mike and Liz, as I know them, have continued their journey as innovative educators. Read on as they share their latest adventure as teacher authors.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Thank you for supporting our website. 

We are so excited to be able to share our newest book, Hacking Instructional Design: 33 Extraordinary Ways to Create a Contemporary Curriculum.

This book has been a labor of love as we have taken more than two decades of experiences working with children and teachers, along with an array of experience from experts in the field of curriculum and instructional design and created a one-stop shop of ideas to create a contemporary curriculum!

What we’ve written is meant to help teachers with the students that they currently have in the classrooms as well as all the future students coming through their doors.

As part of the Hack Learning Series of books, this installment follows the same formulaic structure. We identify a problem, a solution, and then step-by-step instructions for improving. Each problem and solution scenario is called a “Hack” and over the course of writing the book, specific themes emerged. We grouped those hacks together into categories we call “Hacktions.”

Each Hacktion represents a facet of a teacher’s instructional design decisions. Foundational hacktions represent what teachers will do BEFORE a student comes into the room. This is where they familiarize themselves with standards, instructional ideas to meet the standards, and goal / target setting for students.

Instructional Hacktions, along with Engagement and Contemporary Hacktions, address design ideas that will impact students when they’re in the room. This includes a multitude of ideas around inquiry design, lesson experiences, creativity and motivation, and new opportunities for engaging contemporary students with what matters to them.

Finally, we address Blueprint Hacktions. The blueprints are where the rubber meets the road; where the teacher and the teacher’s colleagues make agreed-upon decisions for how the curriculum will be documented.

Ultimately, we want teachers to create a thriving curriculum ecosystem where all the interconnected parts are harmonious. This includes giving students voices and choices about the ways in which they learn best.

As a thank you to Carly and the readers of Teach.Mom.Repeat., we’d love to share a BONUS BOOK that includes an additional chapter, a study guide, and templates / organizing tools for your own instructional design endeavors!

CLICK HERE TO ACCESS BONUS MATERIALS

Cheers to an awesome 2019!

Michael and Elizabeth Fisher


Michael Fisher is an author, instructional coach, and educational consultant specializing in the intersection between instructional technology and curriculum design. He works with districts in the United States and Canada to help teachers and schools maximize available technology, software, and web-based resources while attending to curriculum design, instructional practices, and assessments. This is his second book in the Hack Learning Series, following 2016’s Hacking the Common Core. You can contact him via Twitter @fisher1000 or by visiting his website at www.digigogy.com.

Elizabeth Fisher is an instructional coach and educational consultant specializing in literacy, English Language Arts, and curriculum design. She works with teachers and administrators across Western New York to help them improve their professional practices. You can contact her via Twitter @elizabethfisher.

Together, Michael and Elizabeth have been educating students and teachers for more than two decades. This is their first full-length book together, following co-created journal articles and professional development around parent involvement, brain-based learning, and differentiated instruction. They have two children, Lily and Charlotte, members of both Generations Z and Alpha, respectively, who keep them on their toes.

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How to Build Solid Student Relationships in the Holiday Season

How to Build Solid Student Relationships in the Holiday Season

Google has revolutionized the way I teach and I have never looked back. With technology like Google, you are able to save time and transform your teaching practices. But why get Google certified? To learn and teach. Being Google certified will help you have the skills to effectively use Google for Education in the classroom. Maybe you already know the basics, but taking the time to gain certification will certainly teach you a few tricks that you hadn’t discovered.

Being Google certified will also allow you to help colleagues more effectively use G Suites for Education. Most people resist change, but if you can show them how much Google simplifies the communication and collaboration process they might be willing to try something new.

If you’re like me and love all things Google becoming certified is the next step. And if you’re like me and follow along with the Google Teacher Tribe podcast you already know that Kasey Bell has Google Certification courses available. Participating in a course guarantees that you will gain the skills needed to pass the exam and give you a chance to practice.

If you’re new to this idea let me breakdown each of the certifications and what you can gain from joining a course then taking the exams.

Certification levels

Level 1 Certification: For the teacher who wants to successfully integrate G Suites for Education into their teaching practices. This level covers the basics of each Google tool that can be used in the classroom.  

Level 2 Certification: For the teacher who feels comfortable using G Suites in their classroom but would like to take it to a more advanced level. A deeper dive into each of the tools.  

Google Certified Trainer: For the teacher who enjoys teaching other teachers. This certification is open to any educator who would like to share what they have learned at the first two levels with other educators.

Google Certified Innovator: For the teacher who is developing their own innovative ways to use Google in the classroom.

Why become certified?

There is more to Google certification than the badge that can be added in your email signature and social media accounts. Certification is about your own education as an educator. If anyone understands the concept of life-long learning it’s teachers. One of the reasons we continue to teach is because we enjoy being learners ourselves. In the 21st century, technology has transformed the way we present information to students and how they demonstrate their learning to us. Google is not exclusive to the classroom. Many companies use G Suites for business purposes as well. Allowing students to gain these skills before entering the workplace gives them an advantage.

Many teachers are already using G Suites in their classrooms without becoming officially certified. So why spend the time and money to work towards certification?

1. Proficiency: Have you ever thought while planning your unit, there has to be a way for me to do this more efficiently? I know I have! Then you find yourself spending countless hours looking for the right answer. Taking the certification courses and becoming certified means you will have that answer right away. In fact, it will most likely give you new and improved ideas for delivering your content.

2. Effectiveness: Turning a handout into a Google Doc is not what G Suites is all about. The technology is not meant to replace, it’s meant to enhance. What you will learn through the course of gaining certification will help you to better know the possibilities of each tool and how to effectively use them in the classroom.

3. Networking: Join a large community of other certified educators who can provide you with support and help when you need it. Connecting with other educators is the best way to grow your creativity as a teacher.

 

Getting certified

Now that you’ve decided to go ahead with the process of becoming Google certified there are a few things that you may want to consider. First, consider taking one of Kasey’s courses to help you prepare for the exam. Sure, it’s possible to gather the knowledge you need from the Google training materials available. However, it will take a lot of reading and searching for answers all on your own without any help.

Taking Kasy’s course will give you exactly what you need to practice for the exam. She provides videos and documents, plus you can always ask her or the Facebook group specific questions if you’re having trouble.

Choosing a course such as these allows you to work at your own pace and on your own time schedule. Joining a scheduled Boot Camp that might be offered by your district will also give you the information you need to pass each exam. However, there is a lot to know and possibly learn. These face-to-face courses are only offered on a specific day and time so they may move too quickly for some people.

Before you make a decision about how to gain your certification take a look at Kasey’s post with frequently asked questions for more information. You will also find several resources she provides and details about each of the Google Certification courses she offers twice a year — May and November.

When you have successfully passed your exam and gained your certification be sure to brag in the comments.

Please follow and like us:

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