A Classroom Literacy Rich Environment

Getting students absorbed in meaningful, purposeful literacy activities requires a number of significant changes in the classroom – in the physical environment, in the events and activities, and in the nature and quality of the interactions. Noel Jones

By now, your classrooms are all set up, decorated and in full use by your students!  But I have a question to ask you: Is your classroom Literacy-Rich?  During my tenure as a district literacy trainer for Douglas County Schools in Colorado, I trained hundreds of elementary and secondary teachers in a program for best practices in teaching literacy that we called LIFT (Literacy Instructional Framework for Teaching). This program was based on the program, California Early Literacy Learning.

One of the most important components of LIFT was ensuring that teachers, especially those in elementary schools and teaching secondary Language Arts, had a “literacy-rich environment” in their classroom.  Dr. Kimberly Tyson defines this environment as: “a setting that encourages and supports speaking, listening, reading, and writing in a variety of authentic ways – through print & digital media”. During our LIFT training, we focused on the following components of the “LRE”: classroom materials, classroom design/layout and reading and writing through authentic activities.

Classroom Materials: The Classroom Library

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This how NOT to do a classroom library! Sadly it was mine back in the 90’s, a rolling cart with books on both sides. Ugh!

The classroom materials necessary for an LRE include books, books, and more books, as well as other print materials: magazines, comic books, online reading material, as well as print on the walls, writing materials, and displays of student work. During our training sessions, I spent a great deal of time discussing classroom libraries and how best to make them inviting, organized and useful. As an elementary teacher back in 1994, I had never been taught how to set up an effective classroom library, and mine was appalling, as evidenced in this photo.  Yup, that’s it..both sides of the rolling cart filled with books! Inviting…NO! Organized…NO!

At our training sessions, I began by asking our teachers this question:  Is the classroom library inviting, providing a range of quality books at all appropriate levels?  However, it’s not enough to have an inviting classroom library, it needs to be organized! Teachers can use many methods to organize…using bins/baskets separated by popular authors, levels of books, topics, etc. There must also be a clear and easy check-out system.  Check out the photo gallery of some exemplary classroom libraries!  

(Click on each picture in the photo tile below for explanation and credit!)

After leaving the classroom and moving into offices as either a literacy, GT or RtI specialist, I managed to hang on to some sort of classroom libraries: (notice the Laura Ingalls Wilder shrine on the right!)

Classroom Materials: Words All Over the Place!

“A printrich environment is one in which “children interact with many forms of print, including signs, labeled centers, wall stories, word displays, labeled murals, bulletin boards, charts, poems, and other printed materials” (Kadlic and Lesiak, 2003).

What goes on your classroom walls is important as well!  I never learned about an LRE in my teacher prep training, but I attempted it in my 5th/6th-grade classroom…sometimes to excess! Some of my displays probably overwhelmed my students…evidence below:

All grade levels need to have a great deal of print on the walls that assist students with (depending on the grade level) the alphabet, sight words, phonics concepts, writing and content vocabulary.  Of course, you can buy commercial posters, make some online, or print on chart paper. But more ownership comes when these materials are created with the help of the students through Interactive Writing (sometimes also called Shared Writing). Check out the interactive writing that students can continue to refer to during the school year…(these were all taken in Douglas County School District classrooms during my literacy training years, 2006-2009). More on interactive writing, including how to use it with older students, and in content areas, in a future blog!

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I even tried to maintain a print-rich environment in and right outside of my offices once I left the classroom! This was a display in the hall outside my door for our upcoming all-school Star Wars Day my GT students were planning!

And don’t forget Word Walls!  There are so many ways to create word walls: on the wall (of course) personal word walls, or electronic word walls. Content area classrooms in secondary schools should have them too and so should art, music, and PE teachers!  More on Word Walls in a future blog!399

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A Personal Word Wall that I had one of my tutoring students create on Padlet for her self-selected words in her book. We then use this wall for various activities to help her not only learn the words but retain them.

(Click on each picture in the photo tile above for explanation and credit!)

Classroom Design and Layout

“The room arrangement should encourage repeated opportunities to interact with literacy materials and activities to practice skills that students are learning.” (Gunn, Simmons, & Kameenui, 1995)

Another question teachers need to ask themselves is:  Does the room arrangement support all literacy activities of the instructional framework? How your room is set-up can affect how successful your literacy activities are!  What area will allow for a large enough classroom library, where students can both read and browse for books? Where will content print be hung so that students can use as a reference? And most importantly, where is your whole class meeting area?  This is something that I never had in my 90’s intermediate classroom; again, I had never been taught or told to have one! But in my classroom visits, I saw the power of this space, not only in primary classrooms but also in intermediate! These areas are used for read-aloud, shared reading, interactive writing, interactive editing (all topics coming soon to this blog!) and mini-lessons. And of course, they can be used for class meetings as well.  You also need an area for your small group instruction work. Check out some ways teachers have designed their whole-class meeting and small group instruction areas!

(Click on each picture in the photo tile below for explanation and credit!)

Authentic Literacy

Children who are successful at becoming literate view reading and writing as authentic activities from which they get information and pleasure, and by which they communicate with others. – Richard Allington, Classrooms That Work

Finally, a literacy-rich environment needs to include authentic literacy activities, not ones created by publishing companies (disclaimer: nothing wrong with using these occasionally, but authentic stuff creates better readers/writers!). NWEA states that: “Authentic learning occurs when activities or projects offer students an opportunity to directly apply their knowledge or skills to real-world situations.”  So what are examples of authentic literacy activities?  Here are a few ideas in the slideshow below: daily class or personal news, novel character texts (I used http://ios.foxsash.com/), real text from tutoring student to parent using a vocabulary word, thank you notes, a character “Fakebook” page using Classtools.net, or this Google Doc template, and an Instagram template! For more ideas, check out my Pinterest board on the Literacy-Rich Environment for even more!

And that’s a wrap for this week! I would like to thank the following teachers for sharing photos of their classrooms!

  • Kelly Broecker, 5th grade, Gold Rush Elementary in Parker, CO
  • Sarah Rumsey, 3rd grade, Aspen Crossing Elementary in Aurora, CO
  • Renee Hartwig-Ott, 2nd grade, Westgate Elementary School in Lakewood, CO
  • Carol McRae, 6th grade writing, Sagewood Middle School, Parker, CO
  • Abby Schmitz, 2nd grade, Ruth Hill, Lincoln NE
  • Leslie Schlag, Pre-School, Cherokee Trails Elementary, Parker, CO
  • Angela Davis, Kindergarten, Saddle Ranch Elementary, Highlands Ranch, CO
  • The many K-12 Douglas County School District teachers who attended my literacy training sessions (LIFT) from 2006-2009!

Literacy Resource Update: Ideas for Classroom Teachers and Tutors!

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JUST FOR YOU…TWO  FREEBIES COMING UP…a graphic organizer to use after reading Newsela articles (or other types of articles) and a Vocabulary/Spelling City Progress Log!

Here are my updates for my previous post on literacy resources!

Update on NewselaI “waxed poetic” on how much I love this website in that previous post, and now it’s gotten even better!  I’m not sure how long they have offered the units feature, but I just happened to discover them recently! (The link to the units only offers info on history units, but they have added much more! The units feature several articles (grouped in a Text Set) and teaching ideas to go with them.  I chose to use the unit on Technology with my 8th-grade tutoring student, but they also have units on U.S. History,  government, civil rights and ancient civilizations.  The units come complete with guiding questions, student activities, and even a culminating project!

j5hrxg9svcyslok5dqeaa.jpgIn addition to the units, each article on Newsela offers a writing prompt for practice in constructed writing responses, and some articles have Power Words, defined as: “Power Words are research-based, high frequency, high utility vocabulary words used across a range of texts.”  Students can click on the words to discover the definition.  Check out more information HERE.

fullsizeoutput_5ca4I also revised Newsela’s summer reading graphic organizer (left) for my students to use after reading Newsela articles, with areas to put their scores on the quiz, a summary, and a reflection. (That’s one of the FREEBIES FOR YOU…KEEP READING TO SEE HOW TO GET IT!) For the summary, I am using the $2 Summary technique I learned from a 6th-grade teacher/colleague. The basic premise of this type of summary is that you write what the article is about (or the main idea) with just enough detail that the reader clearly understands what it was about. Each word in the summary (excluding the title) will “cost” the student 10¢ and they need their finished summary to cost as close to $2.00 as possible! Check out my 4th-grade student’s summaries in the photos above.  I also think the reflection piece is important…the articles I have students read are about important or interesting topics, and I want them to reflect on the content they read.

Spelling/Vocabulary City – I can’t believe I did not include this website in my first literacy resources blog, but I think it’s because I wasn’t using it as often as I am now…I think I am now addicted to this website…not only is it FUN for the students and they learn so much about new vocabulary, but it’s so easy for teachers to manage and use. (Disclaimer: I went ahead and paid the $34.95 for the Premium Membership because while you can do a great deal with the free log-in, you can do so much more for your students with the premium!) Click HERE to learn more about the Premium features. Here’s how I use this website with my 1st – 5th students:

  • fullsizeoutput_5ca3Self-Chosen Vocabulary: As students are reading books and articles, I have them either use small colored tabs to highlight unfamiliar words, online highlighting or list on their reading logs. This will personalize vocabulary instruction and lets students learn the word using the context in which it was written.  I help students discern between words they are likely to encounter again in text or the world and words that they will not, such as words that are scientific, outdated or obscure.  I then add their words into a list for them on Spelling/Vocabulary City. I give them choices on what activities (my personal favorite is the game show, Word-o-Rama) they want to use, but I always have them start with the Flashcards so they can learn the words. The students and I keep track of their progress with the activities and tests, and to help with this I created a log (CLICK ON THE FREEBIE AT END OF POST!) for them to track their progress and scores; this helps them take ownership of learning and success.
  • Academic Vocabulary: For students who are two or more years behind in reading and vocabulary skills, I will assign them Academic Vocabulary lists on this website. It’s so important that students learn the words they will see over and over in academic settings!
  •  Spelling/Handwriting:  Many of the activities and games are printable! For one of my students, I printed out a list of the words he misspelled on his benchmark writing assessment. This is written on writing paper with lines, so he was able to practice not only the spelling but handwriting skills as well!

That’s it for my Literacy Resources update! Comment below if you use these resources or have other ideas! Below are the images you can click on to get either the Newsela Log or Vocabulary/Spelling City Log…or both! Both will shortly go on sale on TpT, but you can get yours NOW! See you next week!

Click HERE for the Newsela Log!

Click HERE for the Vocabulary City Log!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ABC’s of Back to School: Finale!

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So…how’s it going in your classroom so far? Of if you’re still gearing up for a new school year, good luck! No matter where you teach or when you start, this is a super busy, stressful time of year!

In the past two posts, I have shared a few ideas for the beginning of the school year, Back to  School Bingo and Me Collages. I want to share an idea I used once I was out of the classroom and working with small groups of Gifted and Talented students, the I Am Poem! I chose this poem because my goal for the year was to help students develop a sense of identity and become self-regulated learners. I had seen this type of poem before, and then I was introduced to a unit in the Autonomous Learner Model book by George Betts, called “Journey Into Self.”  The same publisher also has another unit called “Journey Into My World”. I decided to build my year-long theme around this concept and to launch the theme, I had students create visual I Am Poems!  You can see their presentations HERE; many had their photo on the initial slide and throughout the poem, so I had to delete those for student privacy. I did have some students turn their slides into a movie with music, and some just created a Quicktime or iMovie for this activity! Another student used Glogster to create her visual poemOh…the image up at the top of this blog is an idea I always wanted to do, but never got around to it…creating an “I Am” Wall with the students’ names and first line from their poem!

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To start with, I created an I Am Poem for myself to serve as a model for the students, then walked them through the creation of their own poem, using THIS template. You can find many variations of this same template online.  Here’s a sample poem that one of my students created! Next, I had students use copyright free images they found online (that’s an entire lesson in and of itself!) to turn their poem into a visual I Am Poem in Google Slides!

The classroom teacher for my 5th grade GT students wanted the students to create math goals in their Advanced Learning Plan, so I had them all create a math version of the I Am Poem. And at the end of the year, I had all of my students complete an End of Year I Am Poem to reflect on their learning throughout the year. Some added in this new part of their poem to their Google Slide presentations.  My younger students did something called an I Am Story.  Click HERE for an example by one of my students!

IMG_0445So to help you get your classroom rules and expectations set up…here are the final ABC’S OF BACK TO SCHOOL, based on my “bestselling” packet I created for my students and their parents back in my classroom days.

Image result for s gifSubstitutes: I included my expectations for students when I had a sub. I expected my students to respect all subs they had, no matter what, and I always followed through on both positive and negative comments from the sub. Here’s an article on how to prepare your class for a sub! How do you prepare your class for subs? Comment below!

Image result for T gifTelephones: In the years before cell phones were common, we only had a phone in the workroom across the hall to use (primitive, I know!) I had to set expectations for the use of this phone for my students. It amazed me how many times my students would ask me to use the phone to call parents to bring in forgotten homework….Uh…NO! These days, all schools and classrooms need to have cell phone guidelines (for teachers too, LOL!)

Image result for Q gifQuizzes and Tests: Just verbiage about doing your best, studying in advance, sharing the test grade with parents, etc. A great idea for intermediate and secondary teachers is to give Open Note quizzes…students can use their notes to answer!  What you are really assessing is their note taking skills! I would have my students staple their notes to the quiz. Not all quizzes were open note, but you should have seen the looks on their faces of the non-notetakers when I announced an Open Note quiz! Have you ever done this in your class? Comment below!

Image result for U gifUsing Computers: Since I wrote my guidelines back in 1998, things have changed, and laptops and Chromebooks are a necessary tool for students in the classroom. My guidelines are no longer valid! However, guidelines still need to be set for the proper use and care of these expensive school supplies.

Image result for Letter V gifVolunteers: My plea to parents for classroom volunteers! Since I taught intermediate, I did not have as much use for volunteers (and I was somewhat of a control freak :-), but I did need them for classroom parties and Friday folders! I appreciated my parent volunteers so much; always be sure to take good care of them!

Image result for W gifWhen will progress reports (report cards) come out: This is where I included my school/district’s policies and dates for progress reports.

Image result for X gifXtra Credit: I made sure students and parents understood that I did not give any extra credit, but they could earn Bonus Points (see “B” back in Part 1!) that could slightly help their grade.

Image result for Y gifYes, we will be using the library each week:  School library days, policies, rules, etc.

Image result for Z gifZoo: No, we’re not going there! I couldn’t think of anything else for “Z” so I used this section to discuss the various field trips we WERE going on, permission slips, chaperones, etc.

And that’s a WRAP for the ABC’s of Back to School! I hope that you will use the “I Am” poem with your students! Joy Thomas, on the Crixeo website, says about these poems: “It’s an invitation to ask ourselves: How do I show up in the world? How do I want to show up in the world? What do I want to give and receive out of life?”

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The ABC’s of Back to School, Part 2!

The ABC’s of Back to School, Part 2! More ideas on what teachers need to communicate to students and parents in the first few weeks of school! I also share a FUN activity I did with my students the first week: “Me Collages!”

IMG_0445First of all, be sure to check out my last blog, Part 1 of The ABC’s of Back to School. This is where you will get my A to I information I put in my back-to-school packet for students and parents

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 12.21.37 PMAnd, have you checked out my Back to School Bingo on Teachers Pay Teachers? This is a fun activity to do with any grade level on your first day or first week!

Before I start on J – S, I want to tell you about a super fun activity I did with my 5th and 6th graders during the first week of school! I can’t remember where I got the idea from (this was 23 years ago!), but I found directions online for creating these with kids. Using butcher papers and markers, I had students help each other trace the outline of each other and then cut it out. Next, they created a “Me Collage”, adding in words, designs, photos, and illustrations of who they were as a person, and as well as their favorite hobbies and passions. The students presented their Me Collages to the class, then we hung him in the hallway. Check out some of their creations below!

Now on to J – S from my Classroom Packet!

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J is for June Box: Since our school got out in June, I had a special box where all the toys or gizmos I had to collect from students would reside until the last day of school, or until parents came to me to request them. I ended up having quite a collection to give back in June: yo-yo’s, Pokemon cards, Beanie Babies, action figures, etc.

Image result for K gifK is for Kid Safety: Here’s my exact wording from the packet: “It is my responsibility to make sure that my students learn in a safe environment. We need to be safe our on the playground, at lunch, on field trips, and in our classroom. School supplies need to be used in a safe manner and experiments conducted safely. Poor choices will result in immediate consequences.”

Image result for L gifL is for Long Term Assignments and Projects: Our job as 5th/6th-grade teachers in our school was to prepare our students for middle school. I would often assign projects or writing that would take 3-4 weeks or longer.  After hearing about stressed parents trying to help their child finish that assignment in just 1-2 nights, I made sure to communicate to both students and parents to manage their time and START EARLY! I eventually began assigning staggered due dates (for proposal, rough drafts, conferences on progress, etc. – these were interim assessments before I knew that term!).

Image result for m gifM is for Magic Scrap: I have to admit…this was one of the BEST ideas I ever came up with (and believe me, there were many bad ones!). One of my expectations is that all students helped clean up at the end of the day, especially the floor so our vacuuming crew after school did not have to do their job on an obstacle course! So, to get the floor super clean, I would “pick out” a scrap of trash, or a school supply item on the floor. My students would frantically rush around trying to find the magic scrap; they would pick up a pile of stuff off the floor and bring to me waiting by the garbage can, where I would pronounce it as NOT the Magic Scrap or YES, that was indeed the Magic Scrap. If it was a “No”, off they would run to collect more stuff!  When the floor was sufficiently cleaned up, lo and behold, there would be the sought after “Magic Scrap” from a lucky student! That student would receive a Homework Pass which would excuse them from homework for one night.  Believe me, these were in high demand (see “P”)!

Image result for n gifNo is for No T.V.! (unless you have read your required 30 minutes at night): Lately I have been reading about how reading logs can be detrimental in getting kids to enjoy reading...but back in the 90’s, I used them and they worked for me, parents and my students.  My expectation for my students 120 minutes a week of reading, and then to record what they were reading on the log. I didn’t care if they were reading a novel, textbook, a magazine article, a comic book, (appropriate) stuff on the internet, or picture books, as long as they were READING! They could do all their minutes in one night, over the weekend, or could spread out the minutes over the week. Parents had to sign the log before it was turned in.  Do you use reading logs?

Image result for o gifO is for On the Chart, Oh No!: My consequence/behavior system was multi-tiered:
* 1st incident: A verbal warning
* 2nd incident: A check on the chart under their assigned number (no names and the numbers were changed often)
* 3rd incident: Another check and a recess missed
* 4th incident: Another check and an Inappropriate Behavior Form (used school-wide)
* 5th incident: Another check, a Behavior Referral (school form) and a phone call home
(Disclaimer: I realize things have changed since I used this system 25 years ago, and schools and teachers may have different ideas for behavior expectations. All teachers at my school had to have their behavior plans approved by the administration.)

Image result for p gifP is for Passes – Homework Passes! A homework pass could take the place of one nightly assignment (but I had the prerogative to say “no passes” for any assignment I needed them to have the next day). The pass had to be attached to the assignment when turned on, and they would then receive full credit! Students could use one pass per week. The passes were given for prizes in games, for rewards and recognition, and as a “thank you” from me for students who went out of their way to help others. I made my own, but you can find many already created on Teachers Pay Teachers!

Image result for Q gifQ is for Quiet Voices: I didn’t expect my students to work in silence during independent work time (I wanted them to ask questions about their work to peers and collaborate!), but I did expect low voices during work time. Many students actually liked to get as much work done at school if they had busy sports/activities schedules after school. Since I used this time to confer or help students, I did not want to be walking around and shushing kids all the time!  What are your expectations for noise during work time?Image result for r gif

R is for Recess: Yay, we all love recess (except for teachers when they have recess duty in February!) However, sometimes my students had to miss recess as a consequence for behavior or missing work. Or, they could stay in for positive reasons, such as to get extra help from me or assist me with set-up for an activity (of course I would have many volunteers on cold and snowy days!)

Image result for s gifS is for Standards: I was “lucky” enough to be a classroom teacher during the nationwide implementation of education standards in the 1990’s. Our workload was suddenly increased by the task of collecting specific pieces of student work and assessments to determine if they had met a particular standard or not. Standards are still around, and it was important for me then, as it is for teachers now, to make parents and students aware of the standards your state and district are using.

Stay tuned for the rest of the Back to School ABC’s in next week’s post! Best of luck to you getting YOUR school started! Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog if you want to see future posts, and a HUGE THANK YOU to those that already have!

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