Thursday, January 5, 2012

Words Their Way Word Searches

Finally! A new product for Teachers Pay Teachers...

This year, I started using word searches as part of my Words Their Way word study routine. Having students complete a word search hunting for the words that might be part of their word study list has been a fun, engaging way to kick-off word study.

A light bulb came on for me about the educational value of word searches and spelling abilities---I have always been good at word searches AND am good at spelling. I think there is a connection between spelling skill and your brain's ability to recognize word patterns that could potentially lead to a word in a puzzle. As students complete these word searches each week, I hope their pattern recognition gets stronger and stronger. For example, if I see -ing in a string of letters, I should start looking around them to see if it makes a word. The same goes for -ed, -ai-, -igh, etc.

I finally have completed the word searches for Syllables and Affixes Spellers and Within Word Pattern Spellers. I use the Words Their Way Word Sorts books and have found them to be an AMAZING resource that makes implementing word study enjoyable (instead of miserable) for me. Prior to  these books, I felt annoyed that I spent so much time planning and creating lists for word study, picking and choosing the patterns that I thought students needed to learn more about. Words Their Way word sorts have been created with more research and knowledge than I could ever hope to have on how spelling patterns and word knowledge builds for students. With the Words Their Way spelling inventory and feature analysis, I now feel that I am differentiating spelling/word study to meet students needs. I have groups of students in all of the Words Their Way Levels.

I made the word searches in two forms. I use a 1/2 sheet that students glue into their word study notebooks. I thought other teachers might like the word searches on individual pages--these can even be turned into Word Study Word Search Workbooks for students.

Because my purpose for creating the word searches was to have students search for word patterns in a fun way, you will not find lists included with the searches, so access to the Words Their Way word sort books will help you utilize these to their fullest potential. If you want students to have access to their lists in order to complete the word searches, the word search activity could happen later in your word study routine.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Reading Life Tip # 7: Change the 5 Finger Rule!

Have you heard of the 5 finger rule? Perhaps you have even taught it to students (like I did for 6 years). It’s a very catchy and easy to follow strategy for helping students choose “just right” books. Read any page in a potential independent reading book and if you read 5 or less unknown/challenging/tricky words before the end of the page, the book is just right (given that it is on a topic of interest and you understood what you read).  Other teachers might say “If you have 5 fingers up by the end of the page, the book is too hard.” but this means that 4 words are okay.
This year, I have strongly reconsidered the “5 finger” strategy and retrained students because of my reflection. If there are 200 words on a page, and a child is unable to read 5 of them, he/she is reading at 97.5% accuracy. This is an appropriate overall accuracy percentage, but if you consider that a child could misread 5 words on every page of the book, there may be 1000 unknown words in a 200 page book. I know this is an extreme example and the child would probably abandon the book before reading it all, but I hypothesized a reading experience like this to help my students understand why I wanted them to abandon the 5 finger rule in exchange for a 2-3 finger rule.

Because I want my students to read easily and fluidly without too many starts and stops, I decided to change the 5 finger rule to the 2-3 finger rule. I explained to students that if you truly stopped on 5 words a page, reading would feel frustrating. We called it a “stop-and-go” kind of reading and compared that kind of reading to having been on a long trip where you just want to get home, but you have to stop at EVERY stop light on the way home (not fun!). We decided that we wanted our reading to be like a smooth ride down the interstate. We might have to tap our breaks every now and then, but we can enjoy the ride without frustration.

I had to break students from their 3rd grade take on the 5 finger rule, but with repeated minilessons and discussions, they now understand that reading is supposed to be enjoyable and feel comfortable (almost all the time!). In order for that to happen, they needed to be able to read most of the words on the page and 5 unknown/tricky words is just too many.

What does this have to do with building a reading life? Having positive experiences with books allows readers to gain momentum, get rid of the “I don’t like to read” attitude, and because of their increased enjoyment and increased momentum—surely we see increased growth and confidence in the classroom. I know my apathetic (reading the wrong books!) students have grown tremendously this year.

Real readers read books that they can read!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Reading Life Tip #6--Change Reading Requirements to Students Setting Goals

"Building a reading life" means that I want students to TRULY build a life where reading is enjoyable, entertaining, and something children WANT to do. With that in mind, I decided to be BRAVE this year and try a different approach to the nightly reading assignment…

Prior to this year, 5 nights a week for 25 minutes was required in my classroom. But as students record their nightly reading,how are we sure they are being honest? Are they really not reading MORE or LESS? What if there were no specific time requirements? In my experience, the kids who already loved to read went above and beyond but most of them only wanted to record their minimum reading to show that they had completed the required homework. Students who were apathetic readers (for the most part) were not motivated by having to write down their homework. I decided to stop telling children that they had to read for 25 minutes each night!

Last year I attended Lucy Calkin’s Reading Units of Study workshop. One thing she said really hit me. If students are still only reading the “required” amount in their own time, something is really wrong. Wow! Students who are only reading the required amount are showing us that they have not yet built a true reading life, but are complying with our assignment and I believe this is the opposite of what reading teachers want and the attitude students need in order to be successful.

With this in mind, I modified my assignment sheet to allow students to set a goal for their reading life each night. These goals ranged from the typical “read for 30 minutes” and “finish a book” but I also got some surprises that showed me the power of leaving the requirements up to the students. Many students often set goals to read for an hour or more or ENJOY their reading life. This new approach has beautifully allowed reading assignments to be individualized—students working on finishing more books in an appropriate amount of time can record the number of pages they need to read in order to meet their completion goal, students having a hard time getting into their book can make it a goal to enjoy their reading that night, and students with distractions at home can record that they will find a quiet place for reading.

Each day I stand at the door to sign students’ assignment sheets. I read their goals and give them feedback that hopefully makes them confident and excited about their goal. If a student has written “read for an hour,” I say “Wow! That’s a high goal for tonight. I hope you can do it, but I would also be happy if you were able to read for 45 minutes.” I also sometimes remind students of their individual goals and help them add to their assignment sheet.

During the first two weeks of school, as we were working on and discussing our reading lives, I was able to assess students love of reading and how much they were buying into my reading life lessons by the goals they set each day. I allowed my apathetic readers to set 15 minutes goals and took note. Later, as our relationship with one another was established, I started to push. “Oh, 15 minutes, you should try to read for 20.” “Oh! We are reading more than 15 minutes in class, I know you have enough stamina to read longer tonight.” Etc. Probably a month into the school year, I started to say “Oh, 20 minutes! That’s the min-i-mum! Are you really busy tonight? I hope you are able to read more tomorrow night.”Eventually, I was able to let students know that I expected 20 minutes or more, but they were already in control.

Students now have more ownership over their nightly reading and they understand that it is their reading life and they are in control. If you use CAFÉ in your classroom, this new system works beautifully with the goal setting embedded in CAFÉ. I won’t pretend that all of my students are recording their reading on their reading logs (which I use in addition to the assignment sheet) and I can’t say I have done a good job of staying on them and checking reading logs each day, but I can say that I am sure each student is reading 5 days a week or more and really enjoying their reading life!

Now, I am wondering whether or not I really need the reading log. Maybe I can combine it with my assignment sheet before we start back next week. If I make changes, I will be sure to share!


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