Sunday, April 25, 2010

TE 402 Class Overview

Over the last 14 weeks I feel that my understanding has changed in how I look at literacy. Not only has my definition of literacy changed to encompass both reading and writing along with many other aspects, but my ideas of teaching literacy have expanded enormously. I learned how important it is to combine reading and writing together, and not just specifically during allotted reading and writing times, but also during other content areas such as science, math, and social studies. It is so important to incorporate reading and writing in every aspect of our students day to continuously have them thinking about ways to further their development in these areas. I have also learned some great strategies for promoting literacy in the classroom through explicit instruction and balanced literacy learning. Not only is it beneficial to teach students various techniques for comprehension, word/letter identification, concepts of print, fluency, and other concepts, but it is also great to incorporate literacy discussion groups and book clubs so students are able to collaborate with their peers. This type of discussion and literacy learning allows the students to further their oral language development by speaking to their peers and express their ideas in an informal setting where all students can feel comfortable in participating. Not only have I learned many things in our discussions, but being able to incorporate these findings and strategies into our field placements have been very helpful. Just being able to see how the students react to these type of strategies and how far they have come since the beginning of the year is so rewarding. Looking at my kindergarteners writing from the beginning of the year until now is absolutely amazing because of all the progress they have made. I will definitely take much of my learning from TE 402 Literacy, with me into my future classrooms and implement much of the learning and discussions into my lesson plans and teaching.

Fluency with my Focus Student

This past week my teacher had me working with my focus student on fluency when reading. My focus student is at a lower achieving level in reading for her class, so she is working on books that are appropriate for her reading level during reading groups. Normally the students are paired into groups of 3 or 4 students that are of similar reading levels as her. This week my teacher had me working individually with my focus student on reading her books instead of in her group. I was supposed to have her read the book several times through, the first time giving her help where it was necessary, and by the last time of reading through the book she was supposed to be able to read it on her own. The books were generally 5 or 6 pages long with simple sentences on them.

When working with my focus student on the first book for the week she had a very tough time getting through the words. She was unfamiliar with many of the words and did not do much to sound out the words and try to determine what the pages were saying. Instead, she would look at the pictures and try and guess what the word was. Although this can be an effective strategy sometimes by looking at the pictures after trying to sound out an unfamiliar word, but solely relying on the pictures can lead the child to thinking that certain words are different than what they actually are. For example, on one of the pages in the book my focus student did not know the word 'panther' but instead of looking to see that the word started with 'p' and trying to sound it out, she directly looked at the pictures and thought the word was tiger. Clearly she was not looking at the words and trying to use her reading strategies to figure out what the word was, but instead relying solely on the illustrations in the book. This was the main problem that I saw with my focus students reading, along with not trying to sound out words. Perhaps she is not familiar with some of the sounds that the letters make but she definitely needs more practice with letter and sound identification in order to develop her reading further.

After reading through the book with her and helping her when she was unfamiliar what the text was saying, she was able to successfully read the book on her own. She was so excited that she read the whole book that she wanted to read it again to me. I was excited to she that she was so thrilled with her progress and happy that she did well, because I could tell that it was a motivating factor for her. I hope to see her continue practicing her books within these last couple weeks that I am observing in her classroom.

Inffering Strategy

I sub every Friday and last Friday I was in a second grade classroom! The teacher asked me to read a book to the class and work on the strategy inferring, which is a comprehension strategy. I was at Red Cedar in a very diverse classroom so I read a story about a girl from Africa. I told the students that we would be working on finding the meanings of words that we didn’t know. We could do this by looking at the pictures, skipping the word and using the words around it to find the meaning, or read through the whole paragraph and see if we can find the meaning. To make sure that the students understood I modeled it for them using the book about the African girl. I found it interesting that the children did not like the words that I chose. They all told me that they knew the meaning of that word. I told the students that this strategy could be used with any word and I was showing them how to use the strategy correctly. I had read the book before school and there weren’t too many words that would be foreign to the students so I did my best finding the hardest words. But when the students interrupted me I felt as though I didn’t get very far. I didn’t think that I had gotten anything accomplish once I finished modeling but to my surprise during the daily five I found that a lot of students were using the strategy. As I went around to the different centers I listened to the students read. I saw inferring the most when students were reading in pairs because they would talk out loud about a word that they didn’t know. First, they would look at the picture and if they couldn’t find the answer from there they would look at the words surrounding the word they didn’t know. I also took the time to read with individual students. When they asked me about a word they were not familiar with I asked if they could use the strategy that I had talked about. The students would immediately look at the picture and for the most part they were able to find the meaning from there. I also found that when I was reading with students they always wanted to explain to me what was going on in the picture. As they were doing this they would realize the meaning of a word that they had thought they knew. It was interesting working with the students because they all used the strategy in a different way. I enjoyed watching the student alter the strategy to fit their reading style.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What GOOD readers do when they read

Oftentimes, my CT has me work with a specific student in order to help her develop her comprehension strategies, and fluency; however, this past Monday, my CT was at a conference and the substitute asked me to take over a literacy group in the back corner. Relatively speaking, the students I was working with were about average in their reading abilities. Since I was unsure of where the group was, in relation to reading their stories and completing assignments, I decided to go with the flow, and just talk to the students about their book, how they were doing, how they liked the story, etc.

Once the group, five students, were seated and attentive, I posed the following question…”What makes a student a ‘good reader’? First of all, fourth graders have strong opinions about their reading and the reading of their peers. They are well aware of who is struggling and who is over achieving. Second of all, their opinions are very worthwhile to hear and understand, and I felt strongly that having them voice their thoughts and opinions, in relation to this topic, could shed a lot of light on their thinking, and why they think a certain way. I also wanted to convey an implicit message; that is, “How you think, and feel, is important to me, and I want you to take ownership in your learning.”

The insights they provided me with, were VERY enlightening, and I want to share them with you. I think you’ll be surprised at how intuitive, thoughtful, and right on, their thinking is!

  • “Good readers know why they are reading something and they don’t just read to read, they have reasons behind it.”
  • “A lot of good readers will look through the book first, before they read the whole thing, and then they’ll read all of it…they look for pictures.”
  • “Good readers talk to their teacher and to their friends about the book they are reading. Sometimes, they will guess what the book is about before they even read it.”
  • “Sometimes, if a reader is really good, they stop and write notes about what they are reading…like, if they don’t know a word they will stop and look it up, or if they don’t get something they’ll ask questions.”
  • “Good readers can read really fast, they can a whole book in, like, a day!”
  • “Well, if you’re a good reader, then you can read like you talk.”

As you can see…my students had a lot to share! I wasn’t sure where this question would lead us, but it turns out, we were able to continue this discussion for a good fifteen minutes. If you look closely at their comments, you’ll see that they’re right! Everything they mentioned is one aspect of what it takes to be a good reader. I was very impressed and proud of the thoughtfulness and metacognitive thinking my students displayed. Hopefully, their ability to understand what it takes to be a successful reader will help them in their own journey towards higher reading levels.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Working with my Focus Student

For the past couple weeks I have had the opportunity to work very closely with my focus student during writing workshop time. During writing workshop, the students have been focusing on making sure they have a beginning, middle, and end of the story. They are also working to make sure they are making spaces between words, and using their letter chart to sound out words to try and spell them as best as they can. These are the main things that the students are supposed to be working on during their writing workshops.

I have had the chance to work with my focus student during writing workshop and observe the progress she was making. First, I noticed that she always likes to make the illustrations for her story before writing the words on the page. She spent a lot of time working on her illustrations, and sometimes it seemed like she would try and prolong the process of drawing so she would not have to start writing. When she did finish the illustration she would first say the sentence she was going to write before writing the first word. She would begin sounding out the words in the first word and would ask me questions about whether or not it was right. I would tell her to refer to her letter chart and look for the letters that were heard in the word. She did a great job of looking at her letter chart and slowly sounding out the words to figure out what letters were in the words. She did this for the entire sentence on the first page, and seemed to be extremely happy with herself for finishing the firs page of her three page story.

Since they are working on the beginning, middle, and end of the story, after she finished the first page, she continued on with the second and third page. Again, she made her illustrations, and spent less time on her writing. Although she did a good job of sounding out words and creating the story, her pages did not make any sense and there was not a real order to her story. Her thoughts were jumbled from one page to the next and there was no chronological order. On one page she would be talking about what she was doing on the past weekend, but then on the next page, she would start talking about what she was doing at school. She would make sense on each of the pages she was writing on, but when it would go to the next page, it was not really a story because it was did not go in order.

Although she is still lacking some important parts of writing for her age, she has shown a great deal of progress since she first started working on writing stories this past year. She still has some key points of writing to establish, but she is making fairly good progress and is doing great at continuously trying to do her best during writing workshop.

Lesson Reflection

I taught my lesson on similarities and differences among individuals to my kindergarten class. I learned a lot from teaching this lesson, and found it to be very helpful for the students social studies material that they needed to cover in their curriculum. All of the students were great participators during my lesson, and I felt great that they were interested enough to raise their hand and get involved in the discussion by sharing their ideas and experiences.

I learned that this was a great topic to share with kindergarten students because while they are learning about diversity, they still are able to share their personal experiences (preferences, characteristics, family, etc). I learned that students are much more aware of the differences that are among our society than what I would have thought. They notice a lot of the physical differences among their peers, but are still respectful and accepting of those characteristics, which is an important part of diversity. For the most part, the students understood why diversity is important to discuss, but need to further their concept of the value diversity has in our society. In short, I learned how much the students know in regards to the topic of diversity, and also was able to gauge their feelings about the subject, which showed as being favorable by the class!

I also was able to learn about myself and my teaching from conducting this lesson. I think that I did a good job of connecting with the students and encouraging them to continue sharing their response and experiences. I tried hard to keep the students on track and praise the ideas that they were presenting during the discussion. There were also many things that I learned about myself through my teaching that need to be improved. One of them is to not dominate the discussion and allow the students to get more involved. The whole point of teaching a lesson is to make sure they are getting something out of it and learning, so it’s important that they feel like they have an opportunity to ask questions and express themselves openly and often. Along with opening up the discussion to the students more, I also need to work on managing my time better throughout the lesson. While it is important for all students to get the chance to express themselves, it is also important to manage the discussion and keep track of time. These were several of the things I learned about myself after listening to my own lesson.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Working with my Focus Student

For the duration of my time working in my fourth grade class, there is one specific student that I have spent a great deal of time helping. Alexa* is a kind, outgoing, and charismatic fourth grader who struggles in regards to her literacy development. When our spring semester commenced, my CT became aware of my literacy focus for the remainder of the year; therefore, he asked that I spend some quality time working with Alexa on her reading skills (specifically pertaining to her comprehension strategies and level of fluency). Seeing as how I was in the field during the students’ reading workshop time, I was able to spend a large amount of my time working one-on-one with Alexa. At the outset, I had Alexa pick out books she was either interested in, or books she was reading in her reading group, and we would sit in the hallway as she slowly worked her way through the various stories. This allowed the two of us time to develop a friendly, comfortable, and supportive relationship.

As our relationship solidified, I made a point to speak to Alexa directly, in regards to the reasons behind our working together. First, I explained that we’re working together for a reason, and I asked her opinion as to why that is. Alexa is an intelligent and observant kid; she was/is well aware of the difficulties she encounters in regards to her reading ability, and she had no problem articulating this to me. I took this opportunity to talk to Alexa about some specifics; where she struggles, why, how we can help her through our work together, and how she can help HERSELF.

After talking to my CT, I’ve come to the realization that students need to understand and participate in their attempt to achieve academic success. Through direct, and explicit, conversations with students (in regards to their specific struggles), I believe children will feel an ownership, and take more responsibility for their learning; exactly what I was striving for with Alexa.

As the semester has progressed, the activities we participate in together have slowly evolved. About four or five weeks ago, (I think), my CT and I took some time to sit and discuss Alexa’s development. As it turned out, my CT had recently been a participant at a literacy conference that focused on comprehension strategies and the importance of fluency in struggling readers. Obviously, Alexa was at the forefront of his mind. At this point, I had the opportunity to do some research on the literature my CT received at the conference. (I’ve been meaning to ask him the name of the conference, as well as the name of the text, but it keeps slipping my mind). I learned a great deal, and I’ve been able to execute a variety of strategies while working with Alexa.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

One Hen

I taught my literacy lesson the week after spring break. That being said, please forgive my short memory and inability to give a full and detailed summary/description of what occurred. Rather than present a full synopsis of my lesson (which would be quite boring, long, and dull, I’m sure) I’m going to briefly explain the general lesson layout, and then I will provide you with some insightful comments on the exciting, funny, surprising, and/or disconcerting outcomes of the day.

My literacy lesson was taught to a fourth grade class, and it was comprised of a read-aloud, a large class discussion (occurring before, during, and after the reading), small group discussions, and a written activity. The story book I read was entitled One Hen and it was an exceptionally well-written TRUE story about an African boy who encountered many obstacles, worked hard, became educated, persevered, and despite his many struggles, became the most successful poultry farmer in all of West Africa (and in the process helped his family, community, and entire country). The written activity required the students to reflect on the story, and engage in high-level thinking. I had the students write a letter to the main character of the story (Kojo), and explain what they will/would do to help their community.

First and foremost, I’d like to say that I was blown-away by how enthusiastic and engaged my students were throughout my two day lesson. My lesson began on Friday afternoon and I completed the lesson on that subsequent Monday afternoon. The students could not wait! As soon as they saw me on Monday morning, I was bombarded with questions; “Are you finishing the story today Ms. Forstat?” and “I can’t wait to hear what happens to Kojo, Ms. Forstat!” etc. It was very endearing. Not only that, but during the discussions, every single student participated; before, during, and after the read-aloud. Normally, I have two or three students who sit back and let his/her classmates take the burden of the work…not this time! I didn’t even have to call on students; they were happily voicing their thoughts and opinions.

That being said, I was surprised as to how difficult it is to facilitate a classroom discussion; as opposed to a “recitation”. In my lesson reflection that I turned in to Judy, I went into more detail as to how much I struggled in terms of taking that step back and allowing the students to take the metaphorical steering wheel. Honestly, I’ve tended to judge teachers rather harshly for their, supposedly, lazy approach to class discussions. I was arrogant enough to believe that they (teachers) were just too “stuck in their ways” to develop a more student-led teaching approach. Well, I’d like to take this time to apologize to those teachers whom I have discourteously judged. A student-led discussion is a difficult strategy to promote and I no longer believe that it can come naturally; this will definitely be something that takes some focus, and sincere thought.

Finally, I’d like to end this post with a comment relating to my students’ innate ability to empathize with human beings who may appear (on the surface) to be different from them. Before I began my lesson, I was worried that the class wouldn’t grasp the underlying themes of my lesson. I was anxious to see how my fourth graders would handle such issues as: global citizenship, poverty and poverty alleviation, perseverance, community, and helping those less fortunate. I NEVER should have doubted their ability. The thoughts and feelings my students shared were insightful, sincere, and extremely empathetic. The fact that these fourth graders are able to understand the importance of kindness, empathy, and global citizenship, when so many adults lack these insightful characteristics, is, truly, inspiring.

By the way, in case you are interested...this website...has wonderful activities, lessons, games, and information about the book One Hen, and about the country of Ghana. Make sure your speakers are on because beautiful African music plays in the background!

Comprehension Lesson with my Focus Students

First, I would like to say that I love student’s reactions when they hear they are going to work with me! They are so excited and have big smiles on their faces but then when you tell them we are going to work on literacy there facial expressions completely change. I had all Title 1 or resource room students in my group. My teacher told me that they have nearly gone up an entire grade level in reading since she has been back from maternity leave, which is absolutely amazing! After I explained to the students what we were going to be doing their attitudes changed for the better. I asked all the students what their favorite book was and surprisingly the students had to stop and think about this. I know that when I was a student I would have been able to answer that question immediately. Each student had a different book that they enjoyed they ranged from The Three Little Pigs to The Little Red Hen. The students were able to tell the group what happened in the book. They actually enjoyed telling us what had happened and all the other students listened intently even if they had read the book before. After everyone had shared I asked if the students had a hard time remembering what happened in a new book that they read. They all said yes so I told them that is what we would work on today. They were excited!

To start the lesson I gave each student three sticky notes and they drew stars on each one. The students were so excited to receive sticky notes. They use them a lot in the classroom and always have them at their desk but I brought colored ones, which they were not used to. I told the students that as they read Meet me at the Watering Hole they should place each sticky note on a page where they learned something new or a fact they found interesting. Each student said that they loved animals so they were excited to read to book. I asked the students to keep their eyes on their own books because what I learned may not be the same as what you learned. The students got right to work and read very carefully and placed the sticky notes on three different pages. After everyone had finished they noticed that one girl had placed her sticky notes at the top of the page so they came out of the book so they all felt the need to change theirs. It did make it easier for them to find the pages they found interesting but it was still funny. I was a little scared because the first fact that each student found interesting was the same and this defeated the purpose of the lesson. But the next two facts were all different. Each student explained why they found it interesting and what they learned and almost every student referred to the pictures, which I found interesting as well. After each student had shared their three sticky notes I had them summarize what happened in the book. To my surprise they remember the order the animals were introduced and most of the facts they told about each animal. The students did such a great job and worked well together. The one student, Marissa, that was in the group can be extremely controlling in any situation and she did try to do this a few times but I reminded her that there was two other people in the group that needed to share their opinions too and she settled down and let them share.

When we were finished with the activity I asked if the students found this strategy helpful and they all said yes with excitement. Then I asked the students how they would use this strategy if they didn’t have sticky notes and their responses were really interesting. The one boy said that he would keep track on his finger and would randomly stop while reading and go over all the points on his fingers. One girl said that she had lots of bookmarks so she could put them on the pages she learned something or she could fold the page over to remember where it was. I did tell her that if it wasn’t her book that she shouldn’t fold the pages over because that would be hurting the book and she understood. The last girl said that she would remember in her head or she would stop while reading and recall some of the main ideas. I thought all were great ideas but I really enjoyed the finger one! Finally, I told the students to remember this strategy while they were reading and to share it with their friends because everyone likes to learn new ways to remember things.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Lesson Reflection Blog

Wow! I taught my lesson today and alls I have to say is that time flies when you are having fun. My lesson went by so fast I don’t really remember what happened I’m glad I got it on videotape so that I can go back and watch it…although I don’t know how I feel about watching myself! I have subbed for my students before so that made my first time teaching less nerve racking. But I find it amazing how the presence of the teacher completely changes their behavior. This class is crazy when she in not here but during my lesson today they were angels, which is great but just interesting to think about. At first I thought that my mini lesson went to fast but now that I have gone back and read the students work I know that allowing them a lot of work time paid off because they had some great ideas written down! I taught the first lesson of their poetry unit. So the students put their poetry eyes on today and started to think like poets. In my lesson, students learned how poets take ordinary things like pencil sharpeners and make them extraordinary. Before I read the second poem I had students use their poetry eyes to see the ceiling and then discuss their ideas before we read the poem. I was so impressed with their ideas I thought they were even better than the poem we read. After the students had interacted with the two poems I had written on chart paper and had used their poetry eyes they were sent off to their desks to take ordinary objects that I placed their desk and write extraordinary things. And I mean to tell you there imaginations went to a level I didn’t know they could. I was so amazed at what these students came up with. Here are a few ok A LOT of examples of what I am talking about:

“It look’s like a space ship from stre wars.” (I believe he is talking about a shell.)

“The shell is like a house for some sea creachers and it protecr the sea creacher cause it is so hard like a rock and soft and smooth on the inside that has holes on the outside and they float. The float is like a boat for small animals like anntes, spidres.”

“Spaee ship goes through water.” (Sea Shell)

“It look’s like a little diper.” (Measuring cup)

“It look’s like a tree.” (Leaf)

“It look’s like a fishing hook.” (Paperclip)

“It look’s like a sleing shout.” (Plastic spoon)

“A shell looks like a pyrimid. My shell reminds me of a pyrimid it’s going to full a part because they are old.”

“A leaf tells me it has veins. It helps keep them a-live. When a leaf is on a trunk it looks like it’s a fan but it is not a fan it just gives air to us.”

“I think the leaf is a ranibow sometimes because it has diffenet colers and the stem is a pot of gold and the end of the ranibow it allwes has a pot of gold at the end of the ranibow.”

“The shell is a cotin ball and wene it gets in the water it gets hand and it gets smoth.”

“I think it is a castle because it as lots of walls and has buildings and the kigs home is the biggeds house in mingen (Michigan) and is has a bring (bridge) so you can run a why (away) and nevr come back.” (Measuring cup)

The students definitely used their poetry eyes to see the world in a completely new ways. I can’t say that all students did this but a large proportion of them did this. I had one student that was completely stuck on rhyming words, which I never mentioned during the mini lesson. And I could not get through to him that we were just writing down ideas and not writing poetry. Other students just described the objects in an ordinary way and did not take the extraordinary to heart. But today was their first day working with poetry so I was impressed with their beginning thinking. By the end of this unit Mrs. Berry is going to have some amazing pieces!