Monday, December 28, 2015

Complementary Strategies: Phonics and Meaning

Image result for reading difficulties

The nature of reading difficulties is complex. Many children have difficulty processing letters and sounds. Others can decode text but have trouble understanding what they have read. What is a teacher to do? What does research support? 
Phonics instruction or whole-language?
 Do we have to choose?

Reading instruction is not one-size fits all. Instruction may involve phonics, strategies for constructing meaning, or both. Over my career, I have developed the belief that children need an integrated approach. As a parent of a bright child with dyslexia, I saw the need for phonics. Complementing the phonics instruction, I worked with him on developing meaning and expressing his thoughts and ideas about the text.  He finally became a reader when he found a series that he could read and enjoy. (This supports the idea that readers to need to read a lot and read interesting books that they choose.)

Research also reminds us that complementary strategies support struggling readers:

" Since reading essentially involves two basic and complementary processes: learning how to decipher print and understanding what the print means, an integrated approach to reading instruction is mandatory. This assertion is consistent with key findings from Cowen’s (2003) synthesis of six major research studies of approaches to beginning reading – each of which concur that reading for meaning and understanding cannot be taught separately from direct phonics instruction.19 Likewise, and despite the cautions of Adams (1991) and Moats (2000), in making the case for a ‘balanced approach to reading instruction’, Strickland (1998) notes: ’Avoiding instructional extremes is at the heart of providing a balanced program of reading instruction’ (p. 52)." Found Here

I like Strickland's statement! Teachers need a toolbox full of strategies that will meet the needs of students. We cannot rely on just one strategy or approach to reach our struggling readers. Teachers need professional development and support in order to reach these struggling students.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Carl's Christmas

I love using picture books when working with students. It gives them the opportunity to invent the story. I love hearing their ideas and seeing what they notice. I have been reading all of the Carl books by Alexandra Day. My grandson loves them! 

Here is a writing paper to go along with Carl's Christmas. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Making Class Books

Image result for making class books

This cute example of a class book is an ABC book using the animals children have drawn.

 Ideas for Making Class Books

Here are some ideas for making class books with your Pre-K and Preschool students!

Fun in PreK-1 uses transportation as the lesson.


Second graders can make books too! Bookmaking with Kids will give you ideas!

Get together as a grade level and read the following article. How can you incorporate this idea into your content subjects?

Check out this article by Nellie Edge about making class books!
More ideas for little ones HERE.

Finally, one of my favorite teachers who makes class books is Tammy from Forever in First! I know that her students enjoy reading these books all year long. She makes class books and also posts the most wonderful ideas for creating readers, writers, and researchers. You should follow her posts!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Morning Message

I wanted to share a picture from a friend of mine. Her son was enjoying the morning message in kindergarten. I believe that morning message is important. I am happy he had time to write it! They could easily move to personal messages from here!

Here is a Scholastic webpage that talks about the importance of morning message!

Here is an article about the morning message in early childhood classrooms. 

Morning message is a great way to use continuous text, teach phonics, and model reading and writing strategies. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Curiosity Day!

Curiosity Day 2015
September 19th

Curious George was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1941. Books about Curious George, including the seven original stories by Margret and Hans Rey, have sold over 75 million copies!

My 2-year-old grandson loves to watch the show with the man in the big yellow hat and the mischievous monkey, George! We have several books about Curious George and he enjoys looking at the pictures and talking about them. One day, he will be able to read about George on his own!

Curiosity Day is an annual event in Boston, Mass. Together, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and WGBH, Boston’s local PBS station, have helped thousands of kids, parents and grandparents celebrate a love of reading and learning. The popular event draws thousands of attendees each year.

Teachers and parents can download an event guide HERE! You will find great ideas for promoting the love of reading and Curious George in your classroom or home. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Five Ideas to Help Teachers Get Ready for a New School Year!

If you are like most teachers, the start of school is challenging for mind and body. Summer provided a delightful time to refresh spirits and spend time with family and friends. Now, it is time to shift your focus and prepare for the beginning of a new school year!
Over the years, I have learned five things that will help your transition from summer vacation to the opening day of school:
  1. Nothing helps your attitude like a good nights sleep! Your sleep schedule and bedtime habits make a difference in how well you function during the day. Several weeks before you return to school, set your alarm and get back into your work schedule. Your body will appreciate having time to regulate itself!
  2. Organize your closet and get your school wardrobe clean and ready for work. Nothing feels better than walking into your closet and having a weeks worth of outfits ready to go! Choosing what we wear, rather than allowing the state of our wardrobe and closet to make that decision for us is empowering.
  3. Children love to get new backpacks and lunchboxes at the beginning of the school year. Find that cute tote that reflects your personality. I love having a new bag or two to start the year.
  4. It is time to think about what you will eat for breakfast and lunch when school starts!  Stock your cupboards with healthy items that will keep your energy high and promote good health. Get up in time to eat a good breakfast! Pack your healthy lunch the night before. If you have the supplies ready, you will not be tempted to stop by the vending machines for soda and chips. 
  5. Plan something special just for you before returning to school. Lunch with friends or a trip to the spa will help you relax and celebrate the end of summer. I am always a little sad that the carefree days of summer are over. Getting my hair done and shopping for a new outfit help create a positive mood. 

I hope these quick tips will help you have a great start to the new school year!
Best wishes and much love sent your way!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

New 2015 ELA Standards for South Carolina!

For my South Carolina followers, HERE is a link to the new 2015 ELA standards!
The addition of inquiry standards has really changed the environment of the classroom! I am so excited about these inquiry additions! 
Do you need help teaching inquiry? The revised edition of Harvey and Daniel's Comprehension and Collaboration has everything you need to get started with inquiry lessons in your classroom!

I Wonder boards are great for finding out what kids are interested in learning! 
You can also use I Wonder as a Four Square process. Download it HERE!
Students observe, listen or read and record their thoughts. I really like this approach in the early grades. 

Another great option for wondering is the RAN chart.  You can download the E-Book here
Students are able to see what they know, what they wonder, and how they can learn and grow through the process. Students in grades 2 and up do really well with the RAN chart. It is also great for professional learning with adults.

You can create posters for I Wonder and/or the RAN chart and have students use sticky notes.

Saturday, June 13, 2015


Teachers, thank you for all that you do for our kids during the school year!

Be sure to take care of yourself! Pour into yourself and your family so that you will have reserves to draw from when school begins. Unplug and let your soul and your mind rest. 

I know what it takes to be a teacher! You deserve admiration, respect, and rest!
Hope you have a beautiful summer!


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Babies Love Reading!

                  Sandra Maddox on Vimeo.

This cutie pie is my grandson! I wanted to make sure that he would love books, so we started early! Does it work? Oh, yes! 

Notice his eye movements and body language. He loves the pictures and the sound of my voice as we weave our way through the book. It is obvious that he is happy and enjoying the experience.

So, what do babies learn from having books read to them?

Reading to babies stimulates and helps to develop their brains!

Reading to babies helps them to develop speech.

Reading aloud to babies exposes them to language. Children need to hear many words each day and learn to process language. 

Reading to babies will develop their love for books. Create routines that will encourage a love for reading, like bedtime stories. 

The love of books can be a shared experience that bonds baby and parent or grandparent. It creates memories and a lifelong love of reading. It also encourages snuggle time!
18 months

His favorite books from birth to age 1 were written by Karen Katz. He has added the Llama Llama books, The Little Blue Truck books, and many more!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


What do you believe about the teaching of reading?
I have spent my entire career trying to figure this out.  Through all the years of being the mother of a sweet little boy that struggled to read, as an elementary teacher, a special educator, and now as a literacy specialist.

Beliefs matter!

My struggling reader needed help decoding words. It took a long time for him to understand that letters had sounds. A multi-sensory approach helped him to learn to decode. 
But, that didn't make him a reader. He finally fell in love with reading when he was 15. We found a series that caught his interest.

So, here are a few things that I believe:
Reading is about meaning, not just decoding words.
Some kids need extra phonics instruction in order to decode words.
We have to find books that kids will read and enjoy.

Others can fight reading wars, but I will do whatever it takes to grow readers. Phonics or the ways of Marie Clay-I believe that we must meet the needs of students.

Once my son became a reader, he became more successful at school. He went on to graduate college. It was a very long journey, but well worth every step!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Important Conversation #AgeOfLiteracy

Kid Sitting with a Tablet

The International Literacy Association has declared April 14, 2014 Leaders for Literacy Day. Twitter conversation will be heard around the world with #AgeOfLiteracy.
Through #AgeofLiteracy, advocates have already shared on social media what they will do to further literacy around the world. On April 14, that hashtag will be used for one-hour intervals of discussion focused on the most important topics facing the literacy community. All discussions will be nonconventional Twitter chats where conversations will develop organically outside of a standard Q&A format. Bloggers are also encouraged to join the conversation!
The conversation on the pre-event Twitter will include:
How to Engage Today’s Students (12 p.m. ET): keeping interest in the classroom while competing with ever-evolving education reform and technology.
How to Take Charge of Professional Development (1 p.m. ET): going beyond one-sided lectures to interactive and cyber-propelled PD.
How to Become a Powerful Literacy Advocate (2 p.m. ET):  what to do in your neighborhood and around the world.

Little Girl Reading a Book

How to Become a Powerful Literacy Advocate
Right Where You Are!

When you think of being a powerful literacy advocate, do you automatically feel overwhelmed?  Where do you start? What does that really mean?

For a teacher, it can mean finding time every day for children to read books that they have chosen and write about things that interest them. Creating a classroom library that reflects the needs and interests of your students. Helping parents to understand their child's reading and writing life, as well as growth opportunities. Joining in the conversation about literacy with their colleagues. It might mean moving beyond the building to community-based projects that support literacy. Teachers that are passionate about literacy can change their classroom, grade-level, building, and community.

For school leaders, there may be a need to develop a belief system.  What do we believe that students need to become lovers of books and great thinkers and writers?  When someone walks in the building, is it obvious that literacy is important? It is vital to have leadership that monitors and supports the growth of reading and writing. Leaders carry the vision of what a literacy-rich school looks like and support all stakeholders as they grow readers and writers,

Parents can be great advocates for their children and literacy. Provide opportunities for parents to get to know you. Help them understand what you believe and how you will teach their children. As parents increase their knowledge about literacy, they become more confident and vocal in their involvement with teachers and leaders. This creates a positive environment where parents are more likely to participate and volunteer at school. We need to break down the barriers that keep parents away. We need to find areas in the community where parents are involved and take our beliefs about literacy to them.

There is a wealth of information online and the ILA is a great place to start your journey to understand and support literacy in your school and community..

Monday, April 6, 2015

Literacy Planning for Back to School in April and May

School Kids at Schoolo

Literacy Planning for the Beginning of School at the End of School!

What can we do NOW to ensure that children have a seamless transition to the next grade and teacher? I think there are some simple ways to make this happen! Let's scaffold our readers and writers and provide them with a great beginning!

Kids Holding a Welcome Sign

*Have students write about what they like to read. Interests surveys are great and you can find those online.  Have students identify their favorite authors and book series.  It may be hard for them to do this in August or September after many have had a summer of not reading.

*Create a book bag for each student and send it to the next grade. Have students choose some of their favorite books, magazines, and articles. Think of the time it will save when they open that book bag (or device) and start reading in the fall.

*Make a list of possible book selections from the library.  This is a time for students to look at their reading goals.  What are their favorite genres? What books do they want to re-read?  What books are a little too hard for them, but they want to read them?  What non-fiction topics interest them?  What have they wondered about this year?  Creating interest for the library will help your media specialist plan.  Share this information with them and see if they need to order more books!

*Complete those benchmarks and make sure students are leveled appropriately for guided reading. The last benchmark should tell next year's teacher where to start!  Be sure to complete each section and create a plan for the student's next steps.

*Analyze student writing. The connection between reading and writing is so strong!  Let next year's teacher know what the writer's strengths are as well as areas of needed instruction. 

*Identify all struggling readers.  This is so important!  If a child is below grade level, then have a thoughtful way of sharing this information with the new teacher.  Send as much information as possible to them.  They need to know what you have tried. What worked?  What didn't work?  

Have you thought about creating a literacy portfolio?  Here are some artifacts to include:
  • Individualized reading and writing goals
  • Spelling inventories
  • Word identification assessments
  • Copies of published writing pieces from each unit of study
  • Formal running records
  • Record of reading progress-benchmarks
In addition to the portfolio components for grades 1-5, kindergarten portfolios include:

All of your hard work will be worth it!  

Children and parents will be less anxious about starting school!  You will already know about your students.

Teachers can start guided reading right away!  Think how easy it will be to form guided reading groups and gather materials.

Independent reading can start on day one!  No more finding books, if you have book bags ready.

Hope these ideas are helpful.  I would love to hear from you!


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Genius Hour

"Talk at me and I struggle to learn. Actively involve me and I achieve. Empower me to lead, and I take my new skills wherever I go."  Paul Solarz

Have you heard of Genius Hour?  Classrooms everywhere are trying this idea and finding that it encourages student excitement and engagement.
It is all about student-led learning environments where students develop confidence, curiosity, independence and collaboration. 
So how do you start this in your classroom and what does it look like?

Chris Kesler is an 8th grade science teacher who shares great resources on his website, Genius Hour.  Follow him on Twitter!
Paul Solarz is a fifth grade teacher in Illinois.  He calls his genius hour "Passion Time" find out more Here on his website. Follow him on Twitter! He has also written a book, Learn Like a Pirate! You can find it on Amazon.  If you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for free!

For resources and inspiration:
Genius Hour Wiki- Denise Krebs and Joy Kirr organizers
LiveBinder by Joy Kirr
Read: "Genius hour": What kids can learn from failure, by Emanuella Grinberg, CNN.
Twitter #genioushour

What do students have to say about Genius Hour?

I hope that I have inspired you to investigate Genius Hour, or maybe even try this in your classroom with your students!  I would love to hear from you!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Connecting Children with Nature

Today’s children and families often have limited opportunities to connect with the natural environment.  What can we do as educators to help children experience and enjoy nature? First, we need to understand why it is so important!

The benefits of connecting to nature have been well documented in numerous scientific research studies and publications.  Collectively, this body of research shows that children’s social, psychological, academic and physical health is positively impacted when they have daily contact with nature. (The Natural Learning Initiative)
Positive impacts include the following:

Supports multiple development domains. Nature is
important to children’s development in every major way
—intellectually, emotionally, socially, spiritually
and physically (Kellert, 2005).
Supports creativity and problem solving. Studies
of children in schoolyards found that children engage
in more creative forms of play in the green areas. They
also played more cooperatively (Bell and Dyment,
2006). Play in nature is especially important for
developing capacities for creativity, problem-solving,
and intellectual development (Kellert, 2005).
Enhances cognitive abilities. Proximity to, views
of, and daily exposure to natural settings increases
children’s ability to focus and enhances cognitive
abilities (Wells, 2000).
Improves academic performance. Studies in the US
show that schools that use outdoor classrooms and
other forms of nature-based experiential education
support significant student gains in social studies,
science, language arts, and math. Students in outdoor
science programs improved their science testing scores
by 27% (American Institutes for Research, 2005).
Reduces Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) symptoms.
Contact with the natural world can significantly reduce
symptoms of attention deficit disorder in children as
young as five years old (Kuo and Taylor, 2004).
Increases physical activity. Children who experience
school grounds with diverse natural settings are more
physically active, more aware of nutrition, more civil to
one another and more creative (Bell and Dyment, 2006).
Improves nutrition. Children who grow their own
food are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables (Bell &
Dyment, 2008) and to show higher levels of knowledge
about nutrition (Waliczek, & Zajicek, 2006). They are
also more likely to continue healthy eating habits
throughout their lives (Morris & Zidenberg-Cherr, 2002).
Improves eyesight. More time spent outdoors is
related to reduced rates of nearsightedness, also known
as myopia, in children and adolescents (American
Academy of Ophthalmology, 2011).
Improves social relations. Children will be smarter,
better able to get along with others, healthier and
happier when they have regular opportunities for free
and unstructured play in the out-of-doors (Burdette and
Whitaker, 2005).
Improves self-discipline. Access to green spaces, and
even a view of green settings, enhances peace, selfcontrol
and self-discipline within inner city youth, and
particularly in girls (Taylor, Kuo and Sullivan, 2001).
Reduces stress. Green plants and vistas reduce stress
among highly stressed children. Locations with greater
number of plants, greener views, and access to natural
play areas show more significant results (Wells and
Evans, 2003).

I don't know about you, but I am impressed with the benefits of exposing our kids to the natural environment!  I want to provide you with a few resources to add this element to your classroom.
This article tells you how to incorporate a nature wall in the classroom!

You will love this post and the ideas presented!

Image result for toddlers nature
Little ones love nature! 

Bing : Reggio Emilia Schools-- love the leaves on the windows!
How about a Pinterest Search?

Create a nature library for your kids!  Children love to read books about nature!
Images of natural environments, such as jungles, are declining in some children's books, a study finds.

I hope you are inspired to bring nature to your classroom!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Reading Writing Researching

Non-fiction project
Beth Keplar

I found this great slideshow of students reading, researching and writing!  Are you interested in this approach to learning?  It can be a little scary to let go and let students do the work.  
I want to suggest Harvey and Daniel's Comprehension and Collaboration.
"This book is about small-group projects that work. It's about combining what we know about the research process, about thinking, and about people working together to create a structure that consistently supports kids to build knowledge that matters in their lives."-Stephanie Harvey and Harvey "Smokey" Daniels