Category Archives: Reading

Getting into Goals – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

Today, my students set their first reading goal of the year. I can hear your gasps. It’s October 15! One tenth of the year has gone by, goal-less! What were you thinking (I can hear you ask.)?

No, I did not fall and hit my head, nor was I abducted by aliens for the first month of school. One of the things I’ve learned over my many years of setting goals with kids is the importance of going slow to go fast. We have been very busy building reading stamina, getting to know each other as mathematicians and increasing our writing fluency. And we have gathered data. All of that work came together today to help my students write thoughtful, achievable and important goals in reading.

Here’s what happened in my classroom today. I hope that some of this vignette is useful to you, so I’ll be pretty detailed, and also let you in on my teacher moves.

As the kids came back from recess, I asked them to grab their data binders and a pencil and gather on the rug. During the first month of school we had already organized the tabs in the binders and students had tracked their reading with the Weekly Reading Record and their Quick Writes with the Writing Fluency Graph. Today, my goal was to have students look at the data they had already gathered and use that to inform their goal. Starting with the data helps students know their strengths and challenges, so they are more likely to write achievable and meaningful goals.

As the students gathered, I showed them a copy of the Book Shelf Recording form from my Student Data Binder resource (grab it on TPT today!) Immediately they connected it to the class bulletin board where we have been collecting book spines all month. Yippee! I’m always delighted when my students make connections. Makes me look like I know what I’m doing. 🙂 (I created our class bulletin board using the spines from this so-cute bulletin board resource by Lotts of Learning.)

I let the kids know that they were going to be creating their own personal Book Shelves to record their reading for the year, and I gave them copies, including the My Bookshelf Key. Then, the magic started to happen. Kids were moving around the room, checking the bulletin board, checking their reading logs on EPIC books, looking through their data binders at their Weekly Reading Records. Conversations sprung up.

“Is Ada Twist, Scientist a Science Fiction book?”

“What about Loser? It is Realistic Fiction?”

“Where would I put this book about Theodore Roosevelt?”

All the work we have done with genre was coming together in the focused buzz from every corner of the room and kids were talking about BOOKS!

Then I asked them to leave the data binders behind but bring their brain to the rug. And I said, “Has anyone ever talked to you about setting goals?” Of course, they all nodded and some kids piped up with examples from school and sports.

So, then I asked, “And, did the goals work? Did you improve?” This time the responses were mixed. Some kids said yes, and others said no.

Finally, I asked them what they knew about New Year’s Resolutions. One of my boys explained what they were, and then another boy blurted out, “But most people don’t keep them! My mom always says she is going to start going to the gym, and she never does!” I promise I didn’t ask him to say that, but it was too, too perfect!

“Well, they say a goal without a plan is just a wish,” I replied. “So, today, we are going to learn how to set meaningful goals and achieve them!” I then asked them what they thought might make a good goal area for Reading. They came up with this list:

  1. Number of books read in a year
  2. Speed
  3. Trying new Genre/Wide Reading
  4. Minutes spent reading

Not one kid said they thought they should make a goal about their reading level. Of course they didn’t! Reading levels are for teachers, not kids! (For more on that, be sure to check out this blog post.) Then we had a conversation about how many books they read last year. Five books seemed to be the general consensus. I told them that smart people who studied education had learned that about 40 books is the right number to help a student be ready for the next grade level. I was very clear. Thirty-five books is good, sixty is also good. And if they only read 5 last year, then 10 as also good! The goal should be based on their data, including number of books read last year and number of books read so far this year.

Next, we focused on genre. One girl said she thought she could read 5 books in each genre category. There are 15 categories, so we did some math and decided that was too much! She decided to read one book from each genre category, and then choose two favorite genre to read more widely. She then broke the goal down by month, and decided that in the month of October she would read at least three different genre.

Finally, we talked about a goal based on minutes. The kids agreed that would be easy to track on the Weekly Reading Record. As for fluency, no one wanted to set a goal around that because we decided that you might reach a maximum speed and not be able to go any faster, no matter how much you practiced. The last 15 minutes before lunch, you could have heard a pin drop in my classroom. Kids were moving their pencils, flipping the pages of their data binder and THINKING!

The students are really taking their goals seriously, and I couldn’t be more proud of them! I said at the beginning of this blog post that it’s important to go slow to go fast. We certainly have rolled out the goal setting slowly. Next week I will continue to move slowly through the data tracking process, and we will revisit the goals at least once a week. In November, my students will take their data binders home for their first student-led conference. It will probably be January before they are setting and tracking goals in all the academic areas. I have learned over many years of experimenting with goal setting that the slower I go in the beginning, the more ownership the kids develop and the faster they will go in the end.

I hope this post has helped you think about a few things to try in your classroom. Goal setting is so powerful, and if you roll it out carefully and thoughtfully, your kids will soar.

Happy teaching!

Connect with Content – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

It’s Monday morning, and I spent a few minutes this morning mulling over my weekend reading. Saturday morning found me, coffee in hand, perusing the New York Times for the latest news. Saturday I also reviewed some websites about fixing a running toilet and finished a mystery I’ve been working on this week. Sunday I spent some time reading about how to fix florescent lights, started reading a book on life for Colonial Women, researched a fix for a problem with my Google Classroom, read some lesson plans on teaching language skills and read the first few pages of a new mystery. You may be noticing a trend – three fourths of my weekend reading was non-fiction. Take a minute and think about your own life as a reader. How much non-fiction do you typically read compared to fiction? Most adults read more non-fiction, so I suspect you will find that to be true for yourself as well.

When I was reading those websites about fixing things in my house, I used lots of essential skills like skimming and scanning that don’t work well in fiction but are essential for non-fiction reading. I don’t have time to read an entire blog post that won’t answer my questions, so I skimmed the headings, scanned the text and found my answers. (If you’re wondering, the toilet is fixed and the electrician will be here Wednesday!). I used the Table of Contents to help me find the lesson plans that my students need, and the captions and photos helped me digest and understand the news in the newspaper. The CCSS call for equal reading of fiction and non-fiction, and even if your standards don’t include that requirement, it’s important that intermediate grades step up with non-fiction to prepare our students for a successful adult life.

I’ve written about the importance in other posts. Be sure to check out Nab Some Non-fiction – a post about 5 essential non-fiction picture books to start with and also some of my reviews of other great non-fiction texts (Click the Biblio-files tab for all the links!) And this post from the ASCD website clearly explains why non-fiction matters. Non-fiction reading not only helps students prepare for their adult life, it improves their reading comprehension, builds vocabulary, and increases grades in science and social studies classes. And still, most of us struggle to bring in enough non-fiction. My district adopted reading program includes only about 10% non-fiction, nowhere near the 50% required my state standards.

So, how do we fill the gap? How do we get kids jazzed about non-fiction, and hook them on content? One strategy I’ve used to bring more non-fiction text to my classroom is Digital Escape Rooms!

Why Digital Escape Rooms?

Well, first and foremost, Escape Rooms are fun! But why digital, you ask? Kids are already spending too much time on screens. Shouldn’t we move away from that every chance we get?

Well, yes and no. The first Escape Room I tried was a paper and pencil format. It took me approximately 2 hours to copy, cut, stuff the envelopes, place them around the room, gather the boxes, locks, etc., and get things set up. For me, that time commitment is not practical, so I turned to digital Escape Rooms. Kids get all the fun of an Escape Room and you have no prep. That’s right, no prep! Just assign through your Google Classroom (click here for a blog post with step by step instructions) or other LMS and then watch the fun! And, you get automatic results if you use a Google Form Escape Room. The digital format makes this a more practical option, which means you’ll use it frequently. Your students will be doing a lot of reading, and they will also gain practice with the riddles and ciphers embedded in Escape Rooms, helping them be more successful!

The amount of non-fiction text in a digital Escape Room can vary, so if that is your goal, make sure you check it out carefully. This digital Escape Room about the States of Matter includes an embedded non-fiction text that teaches the science content and then asks students to answer questions about the text to unlock the doors. Click the image to check it out on TPT!

This Google Form Escape Room contains both fiction and non-fiction texts in addition the story that carries students through the adventure. One fiction text is a traditional Irish myth about the formation of the Giant’s Causeway and the other is a retelling of a traditional tale about a leprechaun. The non-fiction text is a biography of St. Patrick. All of the texts include comprehension questions that help students move to the next section of the adventure. Click the image to check it out on TPT!

Adventure in the Chocolate Factory contains text and video about the history of chocolate, and the chemistry behind the making of the world’s favorite flavor. Again, the focus is on comprehension, and the questions help students focus on content. Click the image to check it out on TPT!

Digital Escape Rooms are an easy way to bring more non-fiction text into your classroom. I hope that you give one a try. I think you’ll love it, and so will your students! I’m always creating more Escape Rooms, so be sure to follow me on TPT and check back frequently to see what I’ve been cooking up!

Happy teaching!