Author Archives: scotton23

Words, Words, Wonderful Words! What does the CCSS say?

As promised, I’m going to dive into the research and resources that I have found to be most useful in building a robust vocabulary for students. We’re going to start with the Common Core State Standards.

What? The standards are a resource? You bet! If you haven’t spent time with the Appendices, I totally recommend you do. They give a great overview of key research and important ideas in each subject, and can really point you in the right direction. Achieve the Core is a great resource for unlocking the standards and what they really expect.

Just in case you don’t have time to read what the ELA Appendix says about Vocabulary, here is a brief summary (but you really should pour a cup of coffee and read it sometime!)

The stance of the standards towards vocabulary is that “the importance of students acquiring a rich and varied vocabulary cannot be overstated.” The appendix references several researchers, including Beck, McKeown and Kucan who wrote the essential book on vocabulary instruction, Bringing Words to Life, and have been instrumental in unlocking effective and engaging vocabulary instruction for teachers for many years. According to their work, and quoted in the Appendix, “Key to students’ vocabulary development is building rich and flexible word knowledge. Students need plentiful opportunities to use and respond to the words they learn through playful informal talk, discussion, reading or being read to and responding to what is read.”

The appendix briefly traces the development of language, beginning with oral language. According to the document, initially students acquire vocabulary through oral conversation that is rich in context. However, by grade 4 or 5, students are no longer learning vocabulary through conversation because they have mastered the majority of words that come up in conversation, even in academic conversation.

The appendix asserts that written language contains a far greater array of words, however, it lacks interactivity and context that aids students in acquiring language. Therefore, inherent in the standards is the idea that purposeful, ongoing instruction in vocabulary is necessary. Research shows that students need to grasp about 95% of the words that they read to comprehend a text, yet only 5-15% of new words are retained the first time a student reads them. Thus, the focus on playful talk and discussion to support reading.

Finally, the appendix references Beck, McKeown and Kucan’s work in categorizing words into three tiers. These three tiers help teachers know which words to prioritize in vocabulary instruction. For more on that topic, see my post Words, Words, Wonderful Words – The Three Tiers!

The College and Career Readiness Standards, from which all of our K-12 standards are derived, have 4 standards devoted to language acquisition in the Language portion of the document (CCRR.L.3, CCRR.L.4, CCRR.L.5. and CCRR.L.6), one standard in the Reading portion of the standards (CCRR.R.4). As you can see, the heavy emphasis on vocabulary instruction in the standards really cannot be overstated. We’ll keep exploring this topic together in future posts and unlock how to make that a reality in your classroom!

Happy teaching!

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin

“The making of the atomic bomb is one of history’s most amazing examples of teamwork and genius and poise under pressure. But it’s also the story of how humans created a weapon capable of wiping our species off the planet. It’s a story with no end in sight.”

“And like it or not, you’re in it.”

With those words, Steve Sheinkin closes his gripping account of the making of the atomic bomb and the Soviet Union’s attempts to steal the bomb, which eventually led to the Cold War. There’s a reason this book was a National Book Award Finalist and a Newberry Honor Book. Sheinkin’s spare yet descriptive prose introduces readers to the real people, real problems and real solutions that led to the end of World War II and launched the world into the Atomic Age.

As a student of history, I had no idea how far ranging the process of building the bomb was. From saboteurs in Norway to scientists and spies from all parts of the world, this really was a team effort. Led by Robert Oppenheimer, who features prominently in the book, scientists overcame one dramatic obstacle after another. Meanwhile, spies raced around the world preventing the Germans from completing their bomb, but unaware of the Soviet plans to steal it. At its heart, this book has many elements of a good old-fashioned spy novel, mixed with a fair bit of science and a lot of history.

Because its not a topic that is typically studied in school, I think many intermediate grade readers will struggle to understand this book because they lack background knowledge. Another qualitative consideration is the number of characters. Although Sheinkin provides lots of supports to students, often reminding readers of pertinent details about the characters, for example, there are many players in this complex story. At times, it is difficult to track the minor characters. The Lexile level of the text is about 1000 which puts this text at the high end of 5th grade, and firmly in the grades 6-8 text complexity band.

I have had a few advanced 5th grade readers with a strong interest in this topic read and love this book. I think more typically it will fit in a middle school classroom library because of the qualitative demands of the text. Keep this book on hand for any reader who loves a good spy novel, is interested in World War II, or has a strong interest in science. All three topics weave together in this text to make it a great read guaranteed to capture the interest of even the most jaded middle school reader!

I couldn’t put this book down, and devoured it in two days! I can’t close this review without encouraging all my teacher friends to read this book too. I suggest putting on your running shoes, grabbing this book and hopping on the treadmill. You won’t know if your heart is racing because of the exercise or the book! I guarantee that you will work out a little faster than usual – so that’s a win win!

http://stevesheinkin.com/books/bomb/

No more prepping, no more plans. Summer reading – oh, so grand!

Ah! Summer, with its tall, frosty drinks, loungy chairs, and good reads. If you’re like me, you’ve been stockpiling books since Christmas, just waiting for long, easy afternoons to dive in. By now I have a pretty good stack of kid books, teacher books, and one or two just-for-fun books by my bed. Here are ten of the books that are waiting for me. I’d love to hear what’s on your summer reading list!

Links are to Amazon. I don’t get a kickback or anything, but I like Amazon! Feel free to buy wherever you like, or get them from your local library!

  1. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie- Let’s start with fun. Every few years I go on an Agatha Christie binge, and this summer I’m heading for one. I’ll start with my favorite sleuth, Hercule Poirot, and my favorite mystery – The Mysterious Affair at Styles. I just can’t get enough of that dapper Belgian who famously solves cases using “Order and Method, Hastings! Order and method!” Perhaps I can channel my inner Poirot and bring some order and method to my closets this summer…. Hm…..
  2. Mindset Mathematics: Visualizing and Investigating Big Ideas, Grade 5 by Jo Boaler- In my classroom, we believe in the Power of Yet, and I spend a lot of time on Youcubed, Jo Boaler’s website. So, a book that brings together Carol Dweck and Jo Boaler seems like a gift. Plus, my principal let it slip that he’s reading Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler, and I’ve got to keep up with him! She’s written a book about the big ideas at every grade level from 3rd grade to 8th grade. She’s likely got you covered!
  3. Differentiation and the Brain by Carol Ann Tomlinson- I first read Carol Ann Tomlinson’s amazing work in 1999, and I keep coming back to her. I can’t wait to find out more about the connection between brain research (a longstanding interest of mine) and differentiation. I imagine this book will revitalize my teaching for next year.
  4. A Framework for K-12 Science Education by the National Research Council- I’ve been dipping my toe in this book since November, but this summer I’m looking forward to a good, long dive! So far, it’s completely wonderful, and I am really excited to have the time to spend with it. I imagine I will spend most of the summer really digesting this book and pulling out all of the information I need to bring Science alive in my classroom.
  5. Big, Bad Ironclad! by Nathan Hale- I have to admit, I keep trying, unsuccessfully, to understand the appeal of graphic novels. My students devour them, and so, I keep on trying. My son assures me that, with my love of history, this book will grab me. We’ll see.
  6. Americanized – Rebel Without a Green Card by Sara Saedi – I want to be ready for the current issues dredged up by the election next year, and I suspect immigration will be one of them. This book looks like a great read for my advanced readers, and I think it will be very timely. Plus, it’s supposed to be hilarious, and I do love a funny book!
  7. Breathing New Life into Book Clubs: a Practical Guide for Teachers by Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen – I don’t know these authors at all, but my book clubs this year have been, well, lackluster is probably a kind adjective. If this book can help me revitalize things for next year, that would be amazing!
  8. Bomb by Steve Sheinkin – This has actually been on my reading list for years, and it just keeps slipping down the pile. We briefly studied the Manhattan Project this year, and one of my students stumbled on this book. He thinks I will love it, and frankly, so do I. Update: I finished reading Bomb. Loved it!!!! Click here to read my review.
  9. The Birth of Black American: The First African Americans and the Pursuit of Freedom at Jamestown by Tim Hashaw – I actually just started this one, and it’s really great. It’s not an easy summer read – I’m taking it one chapter at a time, with some lighter reading in between chapters. but, I’m learning so much that I didn’t know, and I can’t wait to get back and teach history next year. We can really get beyond the textbook next year.
  10. Among Schoolchildren by Tracy Kidder – This book was published the year I student-taught, and it was required reading for us that year. Tracy Kidder followed Mrs. Zajac and her class for a year, and this true story resonated with me immediately. Every August I return to this wise, poignant classic, and it puts me in the right frame of mind to start another year. Each time I learn something new from Mrs. Zajac and the students in her care. I hope it will do the same for you.

Those are a few of the books I’m planning to read this summer. I’d love to hear what you’re reading. I’m always on the prowl for a good read, so, please share your thoughts in the comments.

Happy Reading!

Differentiation

Fifteen years ago, my dad told me that personalization was going to be the name of the game in education. As usual, he was right. What he calls personalization, we call differentiation. And it’s hard to do well. One of the things that I’ve struggled with is making differentiation easy for the teacher but not blatant to the student. We all know those students that shut down when they realize they are not at the same level as the others. That’s why I’ve started writing resources that look the same, but are at different Lexile levels. As Fountas and Pinnell have said repeatedly, a level is a teacher’s tool, not a child’s label. Read their blog post for more on that. https://fpblog.fountasandpinnell.com/a-level-is-a-teacher-s-tool-not-a-child-s-label  

My goal with these resources is that you will easily be able to teach essential and/or interesting content while simultaneously differentiating the reading level for your students. And, they will be practicing on-grade level comprehension standards at the same time. Give them a try, and let me know what you think. Also, what other topics would you like to see? I’m working on one about the Northwest Native Americans right now, and have a couple of other ideas, but I’d love to hear from you about what you need!

Click here to go to my TPT store where you can buy leveled texts. If you follow me on TPT, I will email you whenever I post freebies on my blog! In the meantime, please enjoy this freebie Biography about Neil Armstrong (only available here – on TPT, you have to pay!). There are three Lexile levels – 800, 900 and 1,000. In the Common Core State Standards grade bands, 800 is about the middle of fourth grade, 900 is about the middle of fifth grade and 1,000 is about the middle of sixth grade. I hope this helps you teach essential and interesting content and differentiate at the same time!

Happy teaching!

Susan

Who Am I?

So, I’ve been an educator since 1995. But I first fell in love with learning when my youngest sister started learning to read. I’m seven years older than she is, and I marveled at the magic of it all. One minute she was holding the books upside down and had no idea what the words said, and the next minute she was reading short sentences. I was hooked on the learning process from that moment on, and I’ve never stopped waiting for those aha moments!

I’ve been able to turn that passion and curiosity into a pretty great career, including time as a teacher coach and principal. This year I’m teaching 5th grade, but I loved my many years as a kindergarten teacher (and everything in between, although 2nd wasn’t my fave. Sorry, 2nd graders!) My proudest professional accomplishment was earning my National Board Certification in 2004, and then re-certifying in 2014. But my proudest professional moment happens all the time – whenever a child looks at me and goes, “Ah, I get it!” That’s what keeps me coming back and drives me to constantly create with my students, and yours, in mind.

Happy Teaching!

Susan

Every Journey begins with a step….

….. and this feels like a BIG step for me! Thanks for coming along!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

My pencils are sharpened and my fingers are itching!

I have always been a closet writer. I have years worth of journal entries, unfinished novels, poems and articles to prove it. My fingers are most at home on a keyboard.

But, I’ve never shared my writing with anyone over the age of 18. Sure, my students all know my stories, and my kids do too. Now, you will too. My hope with this blog is to share a bit of what I know, learn a bit about what you know, and along the way, we’ll figure out how to serve our students better. Let the journey begin!

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