Fluency Routines

There is a big push in my building to ensure that all students are fluent. This makes perfect sense considering that a lack of reading fluency will lead to a lack of reading comprehension. My instructional coach recently offered the following strategies to help us help kids become more fluent:

  • Choral Readingkids reading
  • Reader’s Theater
  • Echo Reading
  • Listening to Recorded Stories / Listening while Reading
  • Paired Reading
  • Adult Modeling
  • Repeated Reading
  • Guided Oral Reading

I was anxious to try some of these out, but my social studies class is diligently working on a project and there really wasn’t an opportunity for me to test out these new strategies. That said, I decided to work fluency into my psychology class. Check out the video HERE. Students used this graphic organizer to help them organizer their understanding: 19.2 Experiment Analysis

The lesson felt clunky, but the student performance was shocking. I saw student engage with the text much more fully than they typically do. Students asked lots of good, thought-provoking questions. They demonstrated much greater knowledge of the material during our review than they typically do. In the end, I don’t know if my diligence in planning or my focus on fluency helped students. I imagine it was a combination of the two, but I’ll take whatever I can get the week before Christmas break!

Classroom Acrostic Poem

acrostic poemRight before falling asleep the other night, I had a beautiful light bulb moment. I was thinking about my lesson for the next day (do people in other careers do this?!), and I needed some kind of opening activity to get kids thinking about social studies. I decided we could make a classroom acrostic poem!

Each student was assigned one letter of the word “constitution.” I challenged them to remember a word/phrase/sentence from what they had learned about the Constitution thus far and also to illustrate their thought.

This was super fast and super effective. Students of all abilities were able to participate, and it only took a few minutes to activate their prior knowledge and get them engaged in the lesson.

A New Twist on an Old Favorite

I’ve been making a concerted effort to include more “success starters” in class after a literacy friend told me about the trend. I’m good with bell ringers and short reviews at the start of class, but her reminder brought home the fact that I need to do these sorts of things every day.

We are currently covering the constitution in social studies, and it’s a beefy topic for eighth graders to handle! I wanted to activate students’ brains at the start of class, so they would be engaged right away. I opted to utilize an ABC chart, an old favorite. To mix it up and include a collaborative piece, I turned the ABC chart into a carousel activity.

  • ABC chartI divided the class into six groups and gave each group an ABC chart.
  • I explained that students should try to recall anything they could about the Constitution…who wrote it, why it was written, what it included, etc.
  • Each group then got three minutes to fill out as many letters on their chart as they could. e.g. A is for America, B is for Bill of Rights, C is for Constitutional Convention, etc.
  • At the end of three minutes, students passed their chart to another group. All groups then tried to improve upon that ABC chart.
  • The passing of charts continued until each group had improved every other group’s chart.
  • We reviewed what students came up with as a whole class using a choral response method.

Students enjoyed this twist. I enjoyed that students were activity engaged, working with others, and activating prior knowledge. All of those are a win in my book!

Common Core Graphic Organizers

My instructional coach provided our social studies department with a series of graphic organizers that meet the Literacy in History Common Core standards. I confess I haven’t done much with them  yet this year, but  my teaching cohort had a lot of success implementing one so I figured I’d better be next!

My students needed to read a passage about the Patriots’ “Struggle for Liberty,” so I thought that fit with the following literacy standard:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.3 Identify key steps in a text’s description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).

I chose to specify (and digitize) the general graphic organizer provided for this standard. Check it out:

4.3 Step Notes

During class, after reviewing material about the Declaration of Independence, I helped students preview the new material. One student read aloud the title of the section, but I had each row choral read one of the main ideas. The entire class choral read the main idea:


I then read aloud the “If you were there…” and allowed students to discuss the question with a neighbor before sharing their opinion with the class. Finally, I modeled for students how to complete the graphic organizer. See the video HERE.

At the end of class, we did a quick whip around in which each student noted one step the colonists took in their fight for liberty. I also asked students to rank this new note-taking strategy by a show of fingers…

1=This strategy didn’t help me
5=This strategy helped me! Let’s use it again!
Anywhere in between. :-)

Most kids ranked the strategy somewhere in between. :-)

I felt really good about this lesson. In terms of planning, I utilized my Iowa Core resources and my instructional coach. The lesson had a clear beginning, middle, and end. Students were responsible for their learning. I implemented multiple active engagement strategies. The whip around showed me who will need more support tomorrow as students finish the reading. On the downside, every time I watch a video of my teaching, I’m reminded of how fast I talk! Eep! No wonder some kids have trouble listening (Is that why they all look so bored?!). Also, I should have extended my modeling to a “we do it” segment in which students helped me write the notes. Next time! My one non-teaching reflective comment….Stand up straight, Miss Haines!!!! :-)

Who Dunnit?

In my 8th grade social studies class, we are deep in the heart of American Revolution instruction. After introducing the inception of the revolution through text, video, discussion, and a game, I reminded students that no one knows who fired “the shot heard ’round the world.” I asked them to imagine they were the person who fired first (British or American). They then wrote a one sentence summary explaining why they did it. I know the final bulletin board isn’t super exciting, but I really like it because…Shot Heard

  • Students had to use their imagination.
  • It was quick.
  • Others can see what is going on in my classroom.
  • All students could participate easily.

There were some not-so-awesome responses like, “I didn’t do it,” but there were some other great responses like…

  • “The British killed my best friend during the Boston Massacre.”
  • “I needed to show the colonists who’s boss.”
  • “I was tired of the British pushing us around.”
  • “My commanding officer told me to, so I was following orders.”
  • “I wanted to win more land and more freedom.”
  • “I have a shaky trigger finger.” :-)

You’d be surprised how many kids started the war on accident! I’ve always thought this “history mystery” question would make for a good…writing assignment? small project? debate? Let me know if you have any great ideas for me!

I <3 Technology

ITECThe longer I teach, the more addicted to technology I become. I find that technology is engaging for students (engaged students learn more!), it often makes my life easier, it easily fosters genuine creativity, and it helps train students to be 21st learners and consumers. I was THRILLED to be given the opportunity to attend ITEC 2014 this school year. While I don’t always pick the perfect sessions, I left wishing I could have attended the entire conference rather than just one day. While some ideas I heard were great reminders, I also heard some novel things I need to try…

  • EduCanon  may revolutionize the way I show videos to class. The program offers tools that allow teachers to directly embed comprehension questions into videos and receive feedback about student knowledge.
  • iFakeText is just plain fun. I asked my psychology students to create fake text conversations showing they understand the interventions for alcoholics.
  • FlipSnack may be an another awesome presentation tool for my eighth graders. I’m considering having students use this tool for their final American Revolution project.
  • ThingLink allows students to add tags to their own digital photos or photos of their choice. Again, my psychology guinea pigs tested this out for me by tagging a photo with information about depressive disorder.
  • The Noun Project allows users to choose from hundreds of symbols to tell a story. I’m not 100% sure how to use it yet, but I’m considering having students create a visual representation of an essential question essay.

I heard tons of other great ideas, and it was awesome to join with my fellow tech-lovers in rejuvenating our passion for everything technology! What will they think of next?

Accountable Talk

During a recent professional development training, my local AEA representative provided my peers and me information about accountable talk (method for encouraging students to stay on task during discussion or collaborative work). Based on the videos and blogs out there, I think the idea has been around for awhile! Regardless, the idea was new to me! I’ve noticed that this year’s crop of students could use extra support when working with their peers, so I was happy to test out the process.

I worked with my instructional coach to review my lesson plan, and she visited my room to observe and videotape the lesson. (Check out the relevant clip HERE.) I tweaked the sentence starters a bit from what I’d heard in professional development:

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 2.37.11 PM

I think my favorite stem is “How does the text support your ideas?” I think it reinforces literacy and social studies skills as well as helps students support their claims. I thought my introduction of accountable talk went well, but it is an expectation I will need to revisit throughout the year to ensure students see the value of working effectively with their peers.