September 28, 2013

The Shouts and Whispers of Context Clues

           During a reading activity, I discovered something about my 4th graders.  Most of them had no idea what to do when they came to words that they didn’t understand.  This, to me, was very surprising.  Surprising, because I know that they did receive instruction, but because it doesn’t stick.  That’s what’s been bugging me so much about returning to the upper grades after a number of years away-why isn’t instruction sticking the way it used to!  How come kids are not independent on strategies when they enter the next grade?  I have a number of ideas as to what it is, but that’s not for now. Right now we are talking context clues-so back to the topic!

            While we were investigating how text features work through our science focus of the nature of science, I introduced key words.  Key words are usually bold face, italicized, and/or colored.  In this particular text, they were colored.  We recorded our text feature in our reading journal, talked about what to look for, focused on the fact that these words WILL show up on tests, and talked about how, in the content area they must retain them because they will be expected to know them forever without review.   Then I got back to focusing on what to do with them.  I informed them that I was going to read the information after the key word and they were to let me know what the definition of the word was.  I read, I stopped, and I heard crickets when I asked what the definition was.  Crickets, nothing but crickets.  Most were looking at me like I had asked the hardest question in the world!  INTERVENTION TIME!   So, I asked, “What context clue do you see here?”  Crickets, again!  MORE INTERVENTION TIME!  Being the wise owl that I am, I jumped into my large, and I mean large, supply closet (Oh, trust me, you’d be VERY jealous.  I’m very tempted to write a post on it, but I think I’d get hate mail!) and pulled out my context clue signs.

I’ve had these for years, and they are showing it.  We turned our page in our reading journals and began to record the information.  

The kids obediently did so.  We returned to the book, repeated the same, and….crickets. Yes, at this point, I couldn’t figure out what to do, and then it hit me.  There are two types of context clues-whispers and shouts. 

            Kids need novelty. Brain research says that it helps them to remember and learn.  For some reason, I realized that these obvious, right-there context clues shout at us.  So, I began to explain that there was a word from our list on the page, and it was shouting to us.  I would shout when I got to the word, and that would signal the definition.  Every time I said shout, I shouted!  In fact, since then, I shout when I’m talking about shouting context clues.  It’s driving them nuts-but it’s working.  It’s really working.  It’s helping them pay attention when we are reading materials that have key words in them.  This is what I mean by how context clues shout-they are right there, on the page, giving the definition. 

            Next we moved onto the whispers of context clues.  When Scholastic had their awesome $1 sale, I thought it was worth the risk of buying a set of books on direct reading topics.  I picked up this one:

What I did was I ran copies of the teaching page for my kids at 86% reduction, making it small enough to fit their reading journal. 

On the teaching page are the whisper clues for words they don’t know.  That’s what I called these, the whisper clues.  And I whispered.  The novelty is there, again.  Whisper when you teach them; shout when you teach the others.  So, whispering, we moved on to learn about how to handle these.  This starts with identifying a word you don’t know.  You see, I know up until now, most kids have been just skipping over the words they don’t know.  They are almost doing context clues in reverse.  They skip the word they don't know, and use the context to build understanding.  But that won’t continue to work on the harder texts that they are reading.  They need to begin to pay attention to words and what’s around them-and to use the clues to figure out the word.  Once we learned the whisper clues, we started to practice.  This book comes with 18 opportunities to practice the skill.  We have been practicing!  What’s great about this, is it will help kids to move to questions like this:

  1. Read the sentence below from pg. 25:
             “That man’s dotty!” muttered Grandma Josephine.
       In this sentence, what does dotty mean?

This question is styled like the FCAT 2.0 questions are written and, more than likely, how most of the Common Core assessments will be written as well.  This is a little sample of questions I’m working on for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  This is how the kids need to be able to handle context clues.   And, if you notice, the book also includes figurative language, and, yes, they are found on FCAT 2.0 and within the Common Core standards.  Is this worth the investment of time and effort to really teach and make the kids independent with-yes, it is!  Not just for FCAT 2.0 or other assessments, but because it’s a life skill for any reader!  Isn’t that what we are really striving for.  We might practice the style of question we need them to learn, but these skills are for life.  I want my students to walk away understanding that words matter, and to take the time to begin to understand them.   They need the shouts and whispers of context clues to do that! 

            How do you teach context clues?  I’d really like to have some additional ideas and resources that you use.  I know I will have kids I need to remediate this area in and would love some additional ideas.  Please leave me a comment about how you do context clues!

September 16, 2013

Thinking Through Conceptual Grading

            Wow, it’s been a while.  Not because I’ve been busy, which I have, but because I don’t know where to start or even go with this one-so, I’m just writing to see where it “goes”. 

            All right, I’ve been reflecting more on conceptual development and RTI.  I started to pay attention to what I do while I am grading.  Most of the following will pertain to written response.  First, I noticed that when I am grading a concept, I develop a list of criteria FOR EACH QUESTION!  Yes, each, individual question has it’s own list of correct pieces of information that belong within it.  Maybe that’s why I dread grading this type of question so much.  It takes a lot of work to develop those ideas and to fully be prepared to know what should fit and shouldn’t.  And with concepts, it’s deeper thinking.  Kids can totally surprise you too, providing deep thinking that you may not even have thought about!  That’s when you begin to really wonder if you hit it right.  But, isn’t that the joy of concepts-you can be taken by surprise!  Ok, back on track. 

            Once each question has an answer developed, then I’m ready to grade.  Where did I get the grade?  Do I just give points? Do I base them on a set of criteria from research?  Do I use a national or state standard?  That’s where it becomes difficult.  State standards no longer exist for written response in Florida.   We haven’t transferred totally to Common Core and, frankly, their rubric is poor at best (PARCC).  That led to looking back at the past and combining it with research.

            Let’s start with RESEARCH!  Oh, yes I am!  And, get ready……Marzano!  Oh, I know, his name is the dread of most teachers everywhere!  Can I tell you, that’s a mistake of every inservice given by someone who hasn’t really understood who and what he did-including me. I had to give one of those lovely inservices once, and I thought I knew something.  Then I actually read some of his actual books-not papers someone gave me at that dreaded inservice-but a REAL BOOK!  I must say, I think he jumped in my brain and pulled out information to create THE Marzano Academic Rubric!  Now, the original is found in Classroom Instruction that Works by Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock, and includes the Effort Rubric (5 stars also in my book!)  I will say, I did jazz the original up a little, changing some of the words and using the combination of some of the parts of the Effort Rubric.  This is now a MUST HAVE in my classroom, and I use it for everything!  Since this is a “write it out as I go with no idea of where I was going”, I don’t have a picture.  (I will, however, post it to my Facebook page tomorrow-my shameless plug to push the new, shiny button on the top of the page that says “Like me on Facebook!”)

            Now, let’s look at the old. I must say, the state of Florida did something right a number of years ago.  Back then, students had write to respond answers on their state test that were scored on a 4 or 2 point rubric, depending on the weight of the question.  Here are the two rubrics (Thanks to FCIT for not deleting old material that is still valuable!):

Notice, they are very nonspecific, yet specific! I know that makes no sense. What I mean by that is that they can be applied to any of the conceptual skills that are presented within a written response.  They are, actually, in a format that teachers use within our own thinking!  And, if only I had a picture to compare, they are also very Marzano before Marzano became a thing. These are from the late 90’s, if my memory serves me right!  Once upon a time, long ago, this state did it right. 
At this point, I feel like I have an answer to my question, as strange as that feels.  However, it opens twenty more.  Here are a few:
1.  What does this look like for multiple choice?
2.   If kids can write a response, but not pick the same
      response from a list, why is that?
3.  How do you actually transfer an ideas they can write about
     to finding one in the list?
4.  Which is easier?  Which is harder?
5.  What do we do for kids who are being RTI’d because they
     are behind and can’t conceptualize?
6.  How do we close that gap successfully-to the point that it 
     is REAL and not for a test?

Oh, I could go on.  Isn’t that what this crazy thing we call education is all about? To explore these concepts to better student understanding?  I will continue to keep track in my mind things that I notice.  In the mean time, I tried something out that I wouldn’t mind others trying out too!  I created a multiple choice style test for two articles from Time for Kids.  I’m going to offer it for FREE with the hopes that:

1.     It will work for you
2.     I will create more! 

The articles are “They’re Back” and “What’s for Lunch?”  Both of the links to the articles are found in the document.  It is your job to figure out how to get the articles in the kids’ hands-computer, print and share, project, or any other way you can. (I printed them and, once cut down, they can actually fit on one sheet of copy paper!)  If you use it, let me know what you think! 

Have a great week,

September 1, 2013

My Top 5 Crazy Things this Week(end)!

I just love those Top 10 lists that go around!  I can’t stay up late enough, ever, to watch the late night guy who does them.  But I have seen them on lots of blogs lately.  So, here is my Top 5 for the week(end) !

5.  In classic formation, this first long weekend of the year resulted in sickness!  First my younger son, then I, ended up with the stomach bug that has been going around.  It is characterized by cramping and it wasn’t any fun!

4.  Since doing anything fun was out, I worked on a new product.  It has really been bugging me that I can’t assess kids understanding the way that I used too, by simply observing.  I am now thinking like an RTIer!  How can I see who really needs help?  The packet that I created is called Nonfiction Formative Assessments for Text Features.  Since I am investing so much time in teaching them, I want to be able to understand the students’ knowledge gain and correct any misconceptions.  I created two-one for the Common Core Standards and one for FCAT 2.0-and you can find them on TPT. I’m covering my bases! 

3.  I think my great idea for Words their Way is going to work!  I borrowed the Flip Video recorder from school and tried out recording a sort!  It came out rather nice!  So, here’s what I want to do.  Instead of trying to meet with every group, every week, I thought I would record the sorts and let them watch them in small groups.  The other benefit to this is that kids who struggle with the sort can watch it multiple times.  What happened the first day is that I had kids not even knowing what the patterns meant!  This way, I can be in more places at once.  I also figured some things out trying out this first one.  I need to be sure I know what I am going to say!  Some of the bloopers are funny!  And, if I do them at home, I have to be sure the dogs and kids are quiet!!!

2.  Some interesting changes in our grade level are coming.  That’s all I can say about that right now!

1. The Cut-a-Thon occurred!  On Friday, we spent our Social Studies time cutting and cutting!  This is the prep work for our Florida Government Project!  

We had some bloopers, which is good, because then I can share some recovery ideas from these bloopers!  Check out the trash!

What I had them do is put them in baggies to keep them safe.  The rule was that they needed to keep the baggie flat so it could hang from the wall.  This year I put clothes pins under the board with their number attached under it. I will use this for a variety of things.  The first thing we used it for was to hang their flags. 

Now they are holding their cutout shapes for the project. 

So, that’s my Top 5!  What does your Top 5 for this week look like?!