What’s YOUR passion? We all have at least one, and many of us have more! As a teacher, it’s our job to help our students find theirs! Read on for a way to make that happen in YOUR classroom or with your small group!
Just like many other teachers, I can say for certain that I made many mistakes during my career. However, I can also say that there are some things that I did right, and they were INCREDIBLY RIGHT! Implementing Passion Projects with my students was one of them!
A passion project is just what it says…a project based on a student’s passion! The idea comes from Google’s Genius Hour concept: all of Google’s employees are allowed to use 20% of their workday on their own personal projects. Many schools and teachers have now embraced the idea of letting students work on their passions for part of the school day; many of them call it their 80/20 time (check out this great article from Edutopia on implementing 80/20 project time.)
I first used Passion Projects back in the 2013-2014 school year while working as a Gifted and Talented Facilitator in the Douglas County School District in Colorado. My district (then being run by corporate reformers), was pushing personalized learning, among many other things. There is nothing inherently wrong about personalized learning, it’s just hard to implement when you have a classroom of around 30 kids in elementary or 150 for a secondary teacher. However, it was somewhat manageable with my gifted students, especially since I created a learning plan for each of them. My students had so many interests and hobbies, both in school and out, and I wanted to take their passions and let them work on a project about them. After hearing about Genius Hour…my Passion Project Unit was born!
I continued to do these projects over the next four years with my students…but this is NOT just for Gifted students…this idea can be used with ALL students of any age! I have since retired, but I still have teachers at my former school using my materials to help students find their passions and share with others! I have also presented on these projects at this year’s Denver Comic Con and will be presenting in October at the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented Conference in October!
Throughout the four years of having my students do these projects, I was constantly amazed at the hidden passions they had, and their teachers and fellow students would never have known if they had not been able to work on these projects! Topics ranged from “How do you fly a 757 Boeing jet” to “How can I create an app for middle school?”
Of course, with some students, it took more conferring and digging into their personal lives to find out what they were truly passionate about. Some, at first, even said they did not have a passion! Eventually, however, all were able to find something they loved working on or creating. This was an inquiry project; students always had to come up with an essential question to guide them in their research. The other non-negotiable was that they had to share them in some way…either on our school-wide presentation day, set up similar to a science fair, or on safe social media, or another way of their choosing. Most chose to present in person, as they wanted a chance to show off their accomplishments. There’s a link in the project with photos of all the fantastic ways my students chose to present! (Preview below!)
In this product, you will have the steps and information you need to:
Help your students find their passions and get your students started on these projects!
Choose the essential question
Research the topic/question
Find experts for students to interview
Prepare students to present
I am also available to work with any teacher or school who would like to implement these projects; check out my consulting information HERE!
If you end up using these projects in your classrooms, PLEASE let me know and send photos! If you have your own ideas or suggestions for implementing projects like these, comment below! These projects have been the highlight of my teaching career, and I hope they will be for you too!
TEACHERS PAY TEACHERS FREEBIE COMING UP! KEEP READING! (How’s that for a shameless plug?) Plus, there are photos of my cats coming up, so that is a reason to continue reading!
Math story problems…word problems…whatever you want to call them, they were the bane of my childhood school years. I was never that confident with math and would just get a math skill mastered when suddenly there were words with the numbers, which in my young mind, just confused everything! Consequently, while working with my gifted students for the last four years of my teaching career, I made it a point to focus on word problems to help them build both problem solving and reading comprehension skills. In one of my recent blogs on Math and Growth Mindset, I discussed using math challenges such as Math Olympiad, Continental Math League, Exemplars and the Noetic Learning Math Contest, all of which contain excellent math word problems. I learned how important it is to teach problem-solving strategies, and also to honor unique and unusual methods that students will come up with!
However, I had never thought of having my students WRITE word problems, but this idea dawned on me because of dice…yes, that is correct, DICE! During this last year of tutoring, I had used something I found on Pinterest, a “Roll a Story” with my 6th-grade student who was working on writing. A roll-a-story is a table that has different options for whatever the die lands on. Here is an example of one on Teachers Pay Teachers, created by Ms.JordanReads – and check out her blog for more information on this resource and other fun dice activities!
So, I was working a quite a bit with my third-grade student, Brayden, on word problems. He was great at math; he knew his computation skills and caught on quickly to new concepts. But something happened when he was given a word problem…he really just glanced at the numbers and then either added, multiplied, or whatever, to find the answer. He wasn’t reading the problem carefully to find out what the problem was asking him to find. So I had him using several strategies to help with this, including reading the problem at least two times (if not more) and highlighting and/or underlining important words, phrases, and numbers. I always made him answer the question, “What is this problem asking you to do and find out?”
After using the roll-a-story for writing with the other student, I hit upon the idea of having Brayden help me create a MATH WORD PROBLEM Roll-a-Story as he actually loves to write (whoo hoo, we need more third grade boys who love to write!). I first created a blank template, filled with a few ideas, and then had Brayden give me suggestions for the rest. (At the bottom of this blog you will find a link to these FREE resources on Teachers Pay Teachers!)
I then had Brayden roll his die, and he came up with: cowboy for the character, in a magic forest for the setting, getting the wrong homework for the problem in the story and multiplication for the math skill. He launched right into his story, which turned out to be quite the fantasy! I am waiting for Spielberg to option the film rights. You can read his story HERE!
Brayden and I thought this was so much fun we wanted to share it with other teachers everywhere, and I decided this would be my very first product on Teachers Pay Teachers! I have even included a blank one, as well as a link to the editable versions in Google Drive (which I prefer!). Teachers of intermediate and secondary students can use this by changing the operations to things like fractions, ratios, percent, algebraic equations, etc. If you try this with your students, please post some feedback for us!
Okay, click HERE for your TpT freebie of this Math Roll-a-Story Word Problem!
P.S. At another tutoring session, I used a word problem from THIS resource and modified it to be about Ms. Crazy Cat Lady (who may or may not be me). I included photos of my current and past cats. Brayden integrated this into another Roll-a-Story word problem and made it be the “homework” the dogs were not expecting. I had him work the problem and then explain in a short constructed response how he solved it! Check it out HERE!
That’s it for now…have fun dice rolling and creating math word problems!
Improving reading fluency in young readers….that was the challenge for me when I was hired at an elementary school in Douglas County School District as a Literacy Specialist and was tasked with creating a school-wide reading intervention program with eight paras and 150 students on an Individualized Reading Plan (ILP) (now called a READ plan in Colorado). Many of those 150 students had issues with reading fluency. At this point in my career, I had never specifically worked with struggling readers. I had taught high school English back in the early 80s with no training in my teacher prep program in how to help struggling readers. Oh yes, I did teach a class called “Remedial English”, but all that meant is I was given a different set of books. I don’t remember much of what I did in that class 24 years ago! Flash forward to 2009 and I had to do some quick study on how to help these readers.
The next eight years was an incredible growth opportunity for me as I learned new methods, techniques, and programs for helping struggling readers. I took many classes, read books and journal articles and most importantly, learned from other teachers and the students in our reading intervention program. My passion became helping those struggling, non-fluent readers become not only proficient readers but also passionate readers.
What I saw in working with many older struggling readers is that some had somehow not been able to master phonemic awareness and phonics skills successfully, and that was impeding both fluency and comprehension. Others had mastered those two elements but their struggles with fluency made them discouraged and not a fan of reading. I tried many different methods, some successful, some not. To save you, the hard-working teacher time, here are my favorite resources and methods for helping non-fluent readers.
Assess the student using a benchmark (or interim) assessment…and one that preferably has national percentiles. You will not be able to show progress unless you get this first benchmark. I used either the AIMSWeb curriculum-based measurement (CBM) for oral reading and recorded how many words were correct in on minute. You can also use the Reading a-z fluency passages. With an AIMS account, you can access their oral reading norms to find where in relation your student is compared to other students at the same age. Many teachers at my schools relied on these norms to help us make many decisions, including possible Sped testing, or removal from the intervention program.
Once benchmarking is done, you can determine if intervention and progress monitoring is needed. For students not entering intervention or receiving progress monitoring, more data will be gathered at the next interim assessing period. For students who need intervention, you need to set up progress monitoring. We used the AIMSWeb progress monitoring passages and used either their browser-based scoring system to keep track of scores/percentiles, or created a spreadsheet to keep track. If you are doing this as an interventionist, it is important to keep classroom teachers in the loop with this data so they can share with parents.
Reading a-z fluency passages
AIMS Oral Reading passages
With my tutoring students, I use a Google Drive Spreadsheet to keep track of results and share with parents and their classroom teachers. Here’s a blank template for you! (If you’ve never created graphs from the data entered, here is a screencast to help you!)
The Reading a-z passages can be used in different ways too! First, I will print out three copies (or you can use these handy dandy dry erase pocket holders, bought from a Groupon deal, to save paper!) I will have the student do a cold read and record the time and number of miscues (although sometimes I don’t time it if my focus is on word attack skills). Next, we go over the errors with the student so she can see what she missed, substituted or mispronounced (This is SO important to do!)Then, she reads a second time, again recording the miscues and time and going over the miscues. If the time and/or miscues are lower….a Class Dojo or Edmodo badge for her! Next, you guessed it…we repeat this all over again. These repeated readings are SO important for increasing fluency! By practicing using the passages this way, chances are much better that she will perform better on progress monitoring and/or benchmark assessments. Below, you can see that my 4th-grade student, on the left, went from 5 to 0 errors after the 3rd reading. My 2nd-grade student went from 11 to 0 errors! I used the dry erase pocket holders and had the student underline the words they miscued on to draw their attention back to the word on the next reading. (Sorry about the glare from the overhead lights!)
Stopping at every miscue? Analyzing miscues? Okay, you may think I am heartless…but with kids who consistently miscue in a reading passage, I will sometimes wait until the end of a sentence or paragraph to stop them, but most often I will stop them immediately after they make a miscue. Why? Because there are many reasons a reader will miscue. Many are just word calling and not making meaning out of the words they are reading. Their brains start going faster than their mouth and the brain will quickly substitute a similar word. If you wait too long, the moment is lost…the brain and mouth have moved on. Next comes the miscue analysis…also so important! Below is a sample running record form from Reading a-z. Check out this video for some guidelines and click HERE for a blank running record form (Reading a-z also has blank ones available. Cathy Collier, in her blog: The W.I.S.E Owl has some great information on TYPES of miscues.
When they are still struggling….it’s time to check into vision issues. I wonder how many students have struggled in school because of vision issues? I’m not talking about the eyesight issues diagnosed by optometrists, but ones that may go undetected for years, such as visual tracking or eye teaming problems. In the last ten years, many optometrists and ophthalmologists have partnered with vision therapy experts to offer service to children (usually at some high fees, but check with your vision insurance). However, one benefit of seeking professional help is possible assessment with a Visagraph that tracks and records the movement of both eyes. It’s really similar to a benchmark or interim assessment; it provides the data needed to set up a plan of interventions and progress monitoring. I invited someone to come in on a professional development day and demonstrate this amazing machine, and I can safely say it “wowed” my audience of veteran teachers. In addition, the student (in the photo below we used a teacher as a student) gets to wear those really cool sci-fi type goggles!
I worked with several students over the years who had visual tracking issues, and it was beneficial to team with the occupational therapist at my school for some ideas that I could easily do during my small group time. Most OTs are willing to teach you and your class some simple eye warm-ups to get the eyes to team together better. In addition, Reading Plus offers online intervention and instruction where students read text using a guided window that moves across the text, graying out most of it and focusing on just the words being currently read. The speed decreases or increases depending on assessment results. In addition, the iBalance component helps increase reading speed, stamina, and visual tracking skills. I’ve also found that giving students some color overlay strips, or even just a white index card with a solid black line at the top can help kids track text better. In my tutoring “super backpack”, I always carry a few visual tracking aids for students who need this! Finally, here are a few more accommodation ideas from Understood.org.
Color overlay strips
The guided window in Reading Plus
6. Reader’s Theater…need I say more? Hmmm….let’s see, students practicing reading text over and over – of course, that will practice not only oral reading fluency but also reading expression! You can find plenty of scripts available online, such as this site, which not only has scripts but many lesson resources on using RT in your classroom. My favorite place to find RT scripts is Reading a-z; high-quality scripts and many are multi-leveled so your students are not always in the same group with same level readers. (Note: There is a yearly fee to join Reading a-z). Don’t forget poetry! Reading poetry, especially ones with a rhythm and rhyme helps to increase fluency. Get kids to learn and memorize favorite poems and then host “Open Mic Night” at a Poetry Cafe in your classroom!
7. Reading aloud…not just you, the teacher, reading aloud (but you do serve as that model for good fluency), but your kids reading aloud to each other and kids in younger grades! Again…REPEATED READING! Students can choose their favorite read aloud to share with the class in a “Reader’s Chair”. You could film or audio record kids reading their favorite read-aloud books, and post on the school’s website to serve as bedtime stories for other kids! Some of the best books for reading aloud AND improving fluency can be found at THIS site. Dr. Seuss books are perfect for developing fluency skills; in fact, I think my daughter perfected her fluency by memorizing The Foot Book. Silly Sally is another good choice; so are nursery rhymes. Please add your ideas for fun/fluency practicing read-aloud books in the comments below!
By the way, becoming a fluent reader often takes a strong growth mindset attitude from students. I will be posting more information in the future on this topic in your classroom, but be sure to check out my last blog on math activities you can do to develop growth mindset! Also, check out a past blog on literacy tools for your classroom! Looking for some consulting or PD for your teachers on any of the topics I write about? Check out more information HERE!
Here we go…Blog #2! First, a HUGE THANK YOU to all of you checked out my first blog and subscribed; I appreciate you more than you can know!
You will be finding out in later posts that I am a HUGE groupie of all things Laura Ingalls Wilder! I first discovered her in third grade in the Hartman Elementary School library in Omaha, Nebraska…I think it was Little House on the Prairie, but I quickly devoured that and went on to read the rest of her books. At that young age, I must have already had a love of history and journeys. I still have that original copy of LHP (below – bought in 1968) and now have all of the books she’s ever written, as well as books about her, about her family, and the Little House series stuff in general.
In the book, These Happy Golden Years, Laura became a teacher at the age of 15, in a one-room schoolhouse on the South Dakota prairie. All she had for her resources were her own school books, a blackboard, chalk and the primers for the students; check it out:
Today’s teacher needs far more tools! I’m happy to introduce the first of many blog posts about the latest and greatest teacher resources I have found and have been using with my tutoring students, or with the students when I worked in a school. This week focuses on literacy (many more literacy resources to come in the future)…I hope these are helpful!
Reading a-z: I’m sure you’ve heard of it…the website with all the leveled books…but do you know how much MORE they have? Yes, I have used this site to make leveled books in the past for my RtI students, and in the present for my tutoring students (leveled text is SO important for struggling readers!), but I have used this website’s resources for fluency practice (they have leveled fluency practice and assessment passages), benchmark assessments, and phonics practice and assessments. The phonics assessments are particularly helpful when first working with a young and/or struggling reader as it can help you understand where this child is at in his or her phonics abilities. There are also oodles of graphic organizers for reading, as well as for vocabulary! There are so many resources on this site…I keep finding new ones! I just discovered their close reading passages…short pieces of leveled text to strengthen students’ critical thinking skills. Reading a-z is not free; a school can either buy a license for or some classrooms or a teacher can buy an individual license for their own classroom. The cost is $109.95 for a year’s license – and worth every penny; I bought a license to use with all my tutoring students.
Oh, how I adore this site! I have used it for four years now, both with my gifted/highly able students and with my tutoring students, many of whom are struggling readers. Thousands upon thousands of leveled articles for students grades 2 through high school. Every topic you can think of is here…current events, world issues, history, science, politics, kid stuff, biographies, primary sources, famous speeches and more! You can choose the level of the article, assign to your students and have them read and then take the quiz or do a reading response. The articles can be printed out and used for guided reading, especially in the intermediate grades where it’s harder to find leveled text for groups. Newsela can be used as homework, independent reading or in literacy stations. I just use the free version, but that’s all I need for my students. Purchasing Newsela PRO can provide classroom teachers with more options; check with your school administration to see if they can fund this. For comparison of the free vs. PRO version, click HERE.https://quizlet.com/features/live
A few of my favorite literacy apps!
Quizlet – I use this ALL the time with my tutoring students! When we read books, Newsela articles or other passages, if there is a word they don’t know, I add it to their personal folder in Quizlet. You can share the folder with your students, or have them join their class to study the words. I also create lists of words they miscue in fluency practice passages or assessments and use others’ lists of Fry Sight Words (you can import lists other teachers have created into your class!). These lists are great to have students practice for the first or last five minutes of tutoring sessions. After enough practice, I will have them take the test on the word. There are also games they can play with the words! I would LOVE to use Quizlet Live, but I only work with one student at a time, and this is designed for a group of students. I have given them feedback that they should set it up for us tutors!
Fry Words – I used the app on my iPad as my RtI students played “Around the World”. All I had to do was hold up the iPad and they would say the word. No small flashcards! This app is appropriate for all elementary grades and struggling older readers.
iSort Words – Students have to sort words based on their beginning and endings. The app will keep track of how many they get right and their time. Check out a preview video HERE. Grades: 1st and 2nd grade, as well as struggling intermediate students.
Reading Comprehension: Fable Edition
Perfect for a literacy center of independent reading, this app provides elementary age students with a variety of stories to choose from and offers practice with vocabulary words and a comprehension quiz. You could easily use this for comprehension progress monitoring data. Grades: 1st – 5th
I can’t remember how/where I first discovered this app (based on the actual Story Cubes that come in a box), but it was many years ago when I was an elementary school literacy specialist. Being one of the few certified teachers who did not have a classroom, I was often called on to cover a classroom when a sub didn’t show up or a teacher had to leave early. I’ve always had this deep-rooted fear of being in a classroom and having nothing to do, so I quickly created a toolbox, both literal and digital, of activities I could do with any age of students. Story Cubes was always a big hit! I would put my iPad under the document camera, shake the iPad and the cubes would roll around. Once they “landed”, the students and I would discuss what the images were on the cubes. Many were open to interpretation…see my screenshot from below! Once we all decided on what the images were (I listed our decisions on the board), the students were off and writing. After a specified amount of time, I would have students partner up to share what they had so far and offer suggestions. After another amount of time, I would use a choice wheel or other fair way of choosing which students could come up and be in the Author’s Chair and share. You would not believe the variety of stories you will get, even if you have already decided on the images! Students then can have the option of taking the draft to completion or not. I developed a graphic organizer for students to use; they sketch the cube on the left and then write their description of what the cube depicts on the right. Then they plan their story. You can access this resource for FREE by clicking HERE! A variation is to roll the cubes under the doc cam and then let EACH student decide on their own what the images are, then create their story. I did this with several third gifted students, and while I let them each decide on the images, but one of them was a pyramid, so I got several Egypt stories! This app, or the actual box of cubes (which you can purchase on Amazon, at Walmart or Target and other places), would make a fantastic literacy center as well!
Last but not least…a few literacy hands-on games! Word Monkeys I love this game…and loved using it with my RtI reading groups and still use with my tutoring students! Now if I could just get my friends to come over and play it with me… This game has students trying to create words with the various cards in their hand. The more letters they can play, the more points they earn. I help my struggling readers out by telling them how many words they can make with the cards in their hands. If they immediately plan a two letter word, I ask them if they’re sure they can’t play a larger word for more points. This really gets them to think about how to put together digraphs, blends, vowels, and consonants to make words!
Photo by Jan
Photo by Jan
Another fun word building game! Students are given board with either blank side or a side with words missing the first letter. For the blank side, students take turns choosing both a vowel and a consonant and try to make words with each turn. For the missing first letter side, students choose consonants and try to make words. The first one to fill up their board wins!
That’s it for now! If you have also used any of these resources, please comment below and let me know what you think of them. If you try any for the first time, also comment! Stay tuned for more virtual mentoring, and in the meantime, hang in there, teachers! You are all my heroes!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton
When embarking on a new journey, it’s good to have traveling companions. I am glad you are choosing to join me on this new journey! As you can see, I have included photos of roads, as one of my favorite things to do is start a new road trip journey anywhere! Sometimes you will get lost or confused (as we have done many times while traveling), but I often end up enjoying the journey far more than the destination! I know I will LOVE this journey of creating blogs to help teachers. I am a bit nervous about starting this, but since I constantly push my students to take on challenges, I need to also take them on as well. Now that I am retired and finally have time to reflect, I realize that the successes and celebrations during my career (and travels) were the results of taking on challenges.
One of the celebrations that stands out for me is the mentoring and coaching of new teachers! There is nothing, NOTHING, more rewarding than being the one designated to help teachers new to the profession. The district that I worked for, Douglas County School District in Colorado, had started this amazing program called “Building Resource Teachers” (BRT) in 1990. The sole purpose of these veteran teachers was to be the mentor for teachers in their first three years of teaching. We were also in charge of professional development for the entire school. Here’s the sign that was posted outside my office:
When taking on this position, I constantly kept in my mind what it was like for me to be a nervous new teacher, hired at the age of 23 to teach Language Arts in a very large suburban Denver high school with no support other than the teachers across the hall. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing and was constantly stressed! I only lasted two years and left to work in the hotel business, then became a Mom. But…during those early years of being a mother, I felt the pull to go back into teaching, but this time in the elementary field. I worked on a Master’s degree, was hired to teach in a 5th/6th multiage classroom in Douglas County, and five years later I found myself mentoring new teachers and training and supporting the other veteran teachers! I think I ended up learning more from the teachers I was mentoring and coaching, then they did from me!
Even after I moved on to other positions and jobs in the district, my purpose was always to help teachers and try to make their job easier and to let them know someone would always be on their side. So…that will be the purpose of my blog…to try to make any teacher’s job, whether they are in their first year of teaching, or their 30th year, a bit easier. I lived the life you did for years, and I know what’s like…teaching can be all-consuming. I have always maintained that teaching is not a job, it’s a lifestyle!
Please follow me to check out these future posts:
Making learning fun!
Passion Projects in your classroom
Growth Mindset in the Classroom
Global Awareness project
Best practices in teaching reading: guided, shared and independent reading
Best practices in teaching writing: modeled, interactive, guided and independent writing
Motivating reluctant readers and helping struggling readers
Finding the writer in all kids by using sneaky methods!
Gifted and Talented identification and servicing
All kinds of ed tech ideas!
21st-Century teaching and learning
Apps and websites for teaching and learning
Assessment best practices
The Classroom environment
Please feel free to leave any comments on this blog and/or check out my Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest…as well as my website! (By the way, I have enough boards and pins on Pinterest to help plan the rest of your teaching career! Until next time….hang in there my teacher friends!