13 Words

Did you know that 13 words account for approximately 25% percent of the text we read? It’s true!

These high-frequency words–a, and, for, he, in, is, it, of, that, the, to, was, you–are certainly ones we want our students to know!

But wait, there’s more… In their book Shifting the Balance, Jan Burkins and Kari Yates list 109 high-frequency words that account for almost 50% of the text children read!

Depending on the grade you teach, you may want to consider which of these words need your attention and how you will help your students learn them. Some of these high-frequency words are phonetic and others have some irregularity.

We may have traditionally prompted our students to memorize the words (especially those less phonetic) or used strategies such as chanting. But in his book, Equipped for Reading Success, David Kilpatrick turns to research to support a shift in instruction: “Researchers have discovered the mental process we use to efficiently store words for instant, effortless retrieval. It is called orthographic mapping.”

If you haven’t yet discovered this process, it’s time! Stay tuned for an example next week…

An Emotional Journey

“Reading is both a cognitive and an emotional journey.” Donalyn Miller

As much as we support our students on their cognitive journeys of reading–the teaching of skills and strategies–we must also remember to support our students’ emotional journeys with books and reading, too.

For some students, this is a relatively easy task. They come to us loving books, comfortable and confident with their skills, and they enjoy reading. Supporting the emotional journeys for those students whose feelings towards books and reading are indifference, frustration, or defeat is especially important.

What can we do to help these students find books that they enjoy… to motivate them to read… to change the attitudes they currently have?

A few ideas:

  • ask students to complete an interest inventory to help you understand their preferences in topics and genre
  • support students when selecting books, providing recommendations based on their interests
  • generate book buzz through book talks or book commercials
  • choose engaging read-alouds
  • celebrate success by sending positive notes home

What are your plans to support your students on their emotional journeys with books and reading this year? Do share!

What do you want students to leave with?

Last week I asked what you carry into the classroom. This week, consider what you want your students to leave with at the end of the year. If you’re willing to freewrite again, you just might be surprised at some of your answers.

Regardless though, be sure your answers guide your interactions with students as early as the first few days and also ground you throughout the year.

A few thoughts:

  • A love of books and reading. What can we do to make this happen… for each and every student?
  • A willingness to take risks. How can we establish a growth mindset from day one?
  • Empathy and compassion for others. How might we give our students experiences unlike their own? How can we inspire kindness inside the classroom and out?
  • Confidence. What is needed from us to inspire confidence? How can we ensure each student is successful (understanding that ‘success’ will look different for each of them)?

We strive towards curricular goals of course. These goals, however, seem just as important to me.

What do you want your students to leave with?

What do I carry into the classroom?

Last month I saw a tweet by Jess Lifshitz that referred to this question. She uses it as a writing prompt at the beginning of the school year with students. If I had a class of students this year, you know I’d be using it too!

But it’s a question that today I ask you. In fact, I challenge you to sit for ten minutes–yes, you can spare ten minutes–and freewrite. To make it easier if you get stuck, turn the question into a statement. “I carry ______ into the classroom.” Fill in that blank and then expand on that idea or explain what you mean. But when your brain stops with that thought, rewrite the prompt and fill in the blank with something else. Do this as many times as needed to fill the ten minutes.

Even though I don’t have my own class this year, I did this freewrite myself but changed ‘classroom’ into ‘school year.’ Some of my thoughts were as expected and yet the longer I wrote, the more profound the ideas. I discovered what I believe to be my strengths, acknowledged a sadness, and an insecurity too. All in ten minutes time.

I hope this exercise affirms all of the wonderful skills, talents, and qualities that you bring into your classroom each day. When your classroom fills with students, try it with them too!

Wise Words from This Year’s Students to Next

In my region, there are three days left of school! In the midst of all of the planned activities, give your students one last writing assignment: a letter to a student who will be in your class next year…

Brainstorm together. What would they want to hear as an incoming student?

Try a three paragraph structure using topics such as these:

  • Welcome to grade _____! My favourite part of grade ___ was….
  • The best thing about (teacher name here) is…
  • My advice to you in (teacher name here)’s class…

What might be a creative closing? How will they ensure a positive tone?

End your year with a meaningful, purposeful example of the power of writing. Words really do change worlds.

Zoom in and Step Back

As we enter the last few weeks of the school year, it’s natural to become reflective. Consider your year from two perspectives: a zoom lens and a wide-angle lens.

First, zoom in to a random day. Think of those ongoing, seemingly small interactions with individual students. Consider some of your lessons and the routines you put in place.

  • How did you show you care in those regular day-to-day interactions? Think of your words, your actions, your mannerisms…
  • Consider a moment when you recognized that a student’s emotional or social well-being was more important than academics. What did you do?
  • Did you give up part of your lunch: your literal lunch to a hungry student, or your time at lunch to help a student?
  • What lesson are you most proud of? Why does it stand out?

Now, put on your wide-angle lens. Think of the year as a whole. It wasn’t all smooth sailing; there were certainly bumps along the way. But consider the many positives…

  • What are you most proud of this year?
  • Knowing that you had an impact on all of your students, who might you especially have had an impact on this year? Why do you think that is?
  • What is it that your students are leaving your classroom with: more compassion, more patience, a love of books, excitement about learning? (Remember, this is no accident. This is YOU.)

Zoom in and step back. How might these reflections inform how you approach next year?

Are you ready for new curriculum?

If you are a Kindergarten to Grade 3 teacher living in Alberta, you will be implementing new curriculum in a few subject areas this coming fall. Grade 4-6 teachers will follow in a year’s time.

Prior to this year, we haven’t implemented new curriculum in more than one subject at a time. Many teachers have expressed feeling overwhelmed and somewhat intimidated. Understandable. Entirely understandable.

If you will be teaching Kindergarten-Grade 3 ELAL next year, join me tomorrow for a free session where we will unpack the new curriculum. My goal is to empower teachers to uncover ways their practice can remain the same, and decide how (and why) some areas might need to be tweaked.

If you want a jump start into understanding the new ELAL curriculum, sign up for tomorrow’s session. Expect practicality grounded in pedagogy.

(Grade 4-6 teachers are most welcome too!)

Time for a Summer Book Talk

Generate some book buzz leading into summer! Over the next few weeks, students choose a favourite book and give a book talk to their peers.

Keep it simple with a five finger structure:

  1. Title
  2. Author (and illustrator if applicable.)
  3. Genre (…realistic fiction, fantasy, adventure, graphic novel, nonfiction, biography, poetry…)
  4. Brief Summary
  5. Recommendation (Who might like this book? “If you liked ____, you’ll like this.”)

A fun addition is to ask students to choose a favourite passage from the book that might entice readers without giving anything away.

Students can also record their books talks (on Flipgrip for example) for your incoming students to watch in the fall!

Passion, Patience, Persistence

I’ve spent the last four days surrounded by writers. Others who write for children. Others who love playing with language as much as I do. I sat next to someone on the first day who said, “Who knows, maybe by the end of the weekend, I’ll realize I shouldn’t be doing this.”

That’s not the case for me. I know I want to write for children. I also know I need to write. It fuels me. It both challenges and delights me. It gives me purpose.

I leave here with a better understanding of my strengths as a writer and new understandings of how to improve. I leave here with more ideas of how to help student writers, too.

I also leave here reminded that this process requires passion, patience, and persistence. Today on the beach, I chose a small shell to represent each. They will find a place on my desk at home: reminders of what I need to keep this writing dream alive.

As Neal Shusterman reminded us the other night, there is power in storytelling. How can writers change the world? One reader at a time.

Library Love

Sometimes I take my time and browse. Sometimes I put books on hold online and then run in to pick them up. Regardless, every time I’m in a library I marvel at this wonderful service and wonder why more people don’t use it!

With our influence as educators, why not talk library love with our students? Share one or more of these quotes about libraries and then talk or write!

  • “The library is like a candy store where everything is free.” Jamie Ford
  • “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” Jorge Luis Borges
  • “The only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.” Albert Einstein
  • “Libraries are where it all begins.” Rita Dove

Who knows? You just might encourage a first visit or perhaps contribute to a lifelong habit…