Revised Instructional Level Expectations for Reading

I know that lots of the teachers with whom I work will be interested in seeing this link – to Fountas and Pinnell’s updated (2012), recommended reading instructional level expectations.  This list represents a change to the year-end levels for kindergarten and first grade, and also clearly outlines how much is “enough” progress at various points throughout the year.  It’s a great resource for helping to determine eligibility for support services or for RTII.  Print one and keep it at your desk!



How’s my character feeling?

As my colleagues and I attempted to teach our students to have deeper and stronger conversations about characters, we realized that the trouble they were having wasn’t that they didn’t understand the stories or have ideas about the characters – it was that their vocabularies didn’t contain sorts of “juicy” words that could explain their thinking precisely.

After some research into the ways other people explained and shared these terms with their students, we culled the best of all their ideas, and captured them in the following chart.  Once the children familiarize themselves with this character traits vocabulary list, they can learn to discuss characters with more precision, and gradually outgrow this scaffold.


Phonological Awareness Benchmarks

Everyone spends lots of time talking about the importance of phonological awareness – but for me, it wasn’t always clear by when young children should have achieved certain skills.  When this knowledge is clear, it is easier to identify when children are meeting benchmarks, and when we should begin to concern ourselves with providing interventions for them.

This chart, based on one found at the Reading Rockets website, gives teachers and families a clear idea of:

1) What the different phonological awareness sub-skills are,

2) By when children ought to have achieved each sub-skill, and

3) Games and activities for practicing each skill.

Click here for the Word document:

When can I expect my child to…

Twitter for Teachers

I know what you’re probably thinking (because I thought the exact same thing!) – I do NOT need one more form of social media to check each day….
But, as we leave for the summer, I’d like to encourage you to take a little of your downtime during the break to get to familiarize yourself with Twitter, not in a social way, but in a professional one.  One of my favorite authors in the field of literacy, Franki Sibberson, convinced me last year to give Twitter a try as a professional development tool – and I haven’t been sorry!  I’ve attached one of Franki’s Choice Literacy articles on the topic – the one that convinced me to try it.  In the time I’ve been using Twitter, I’ve found some amazing books, read many thought-provoking articles, and borrowed teaching ideas directly from well-known authors.  Twitter allows us unprecedented, up-close-and-personal access to movers and shakers – whether they are Hollywood celebrities or big names in the field of education.  (Secretary of Education Arne Duncan tweets regularly!)
Here is a link to a fabulous primer to get you started, called “An Educator’s Guide to Twitter:”
I’ve also attached a list “Twitter Tips” – it includes a list of people that I enjoy following and “hash tags” that have helped me sort my way through the hundreds of tweets out there, to find things that go together.


Franki Sibberson’s Choice Literacy Article:

Getting Started With Twitter

Twitter Tips  (from me)

The Importance of Good Feedback

Thanks to a workshop I attended, I’ve recently discovered an amazing book called Visible Learning by John Hattie.
As its subtitle indicates, this book synthesizes over 800 meta-analyses relating to student achievement.  The NY Times Educational Supplement says Visible Learning “reveals teaching’s Holy Grail,” and rightfully so.  Hattie culled data from the best of recent educational research in order to try to discover what things research says have real and significant impact on student achievement.
Hattie says that the topic of today’s tip, feedback, ranks “among the most powerful influences on achievement.”
One interesting tidbit: while Hattie acknowledges the importance (and absence, in many classrooms) of good teacher-to-student feedback, his work has shown him that student-to-teacher feedback is also important, sometimes even more so.  This would include the teacher taking time to learn “what students know, what they understand, where they make errors, when they have misconceptions, when they are not engaged;”  teacher knowledge of these things makes teaching and learning more “synchronized and powerful.”
Important things Hattie wants teachers to know about feedback:
  • feedback is information provided by an “agent” about aspects of performance or understanding (this can mean corrections by a parent, peers offering each other helpful strategies, checking in a book to clarify your ideas, providing encouragement, or a learner researching the answer to a question).  Feedback is a “consequence” of performance.
  • feedback needs to provide information related to a task that fills a gap between what is understood and what needs to be understood
  • feedback needs to be clear, purposeful, meaningful, compatible with students’ prior knowledge, and provide logical connections
  • feedback needs to prompt active information processing on the part of the learner, havelow task complexity, relate to specific and clear goals, and provide little threat to the person at the self level (“How could you have gotten that question wrong?” would be self-oriented feedback)
  • some kinds of feedback are MUCH more effective than others – according to Hattie’s research, the most effective kinds of feedback:
    • provide cues or reinforcement to the learner
    • relate feedback to learning goals
    • are in the form of audio-, video- or computer-assisted instructional feedback
  • the least effective kinds of feedback, according to Hattie, were:
    • programmed instruction (students self-pacing through a controlled sequence of steps, with self-administered comprehension questions – think, SRA kits)
    • praise (“Well done!”  “You’re a great student!”)
    • punishment
    • extrinsic rewards  (in fact, Hattie disputes that rewards are feedback at all, because they contain little task improvement information, and because tangible rewards have often been found to undermine intrinsic motivation)
  • teachers/parents/peers must be sure that their learners receive, interpret and act upontheir feedback
  • feedback can also be more effective when:
    • it provides information on correct rather than incorrect responses
    • it builds on changes from previous trials
    • goals are specific and challenging, but their complexity is low
  • Hattie has created a graphic of a “model of feedback,” which is linked, below, and it identifies, at the bottom, four kinds of feedback:
    • Task/Product Level: “You need to include more information in your final report about…”
    • Process Level: “You need to revise this piece of writing, attending to the details you’ve included…”
    • Self-Regulation Level: “You already have the list of features we created about how to create a good introduction to your essay.  Check to see if you have incorporated them.”
    • Self Level: personal evaluations/praise, which is rarely effective as feedback (thus the dotted lines)
  • feedback is only one of many powerful factors in teaching and learning, but it must besecondary to good instruction – and is only appropriate for students working with relative proficiency – inefficient learners, or those at an acquisition phase, will need more direct instruction
I hope that these interesting facts will help you look at the literacy-related (and other) feedback you give in a new light.  It had that effect on me!
All information was taken from Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement by John Hattie, Routledge, 2009, pages 173-178.

Helping Kids Infer

I’m sharing a link from Sharon Taberski’s blog about helping students learn to infer.  She spotlights two children’s picture books, Tight Times by Barbara Hazen Shook, and Those Shoes by Maribeth Bolts, and discusses how she would use them to foster inferential thinking.  The full post is here:

Sharon blogs regularly at:  On the right side of her blog, she maintains lists mentor texts that go with the topics she covers, such as:

  • Short and sweet chapter books: younger elementary-grade readers
  • Short and sweet chapter books: older elementary-grade readers
  • Picture books to help kids infer
  • Books to help kids visualize
  • Books that give kids something to think and talk about
  • Professional books I mention and recommend

Teachers as Wise Consumers of Coaching

I’m attaching an interesting article I found recently on teachers being “wise consumers of coaching.” It’s from a recent Journal of Staff Development, and gives advice for teachers on how to best benefit from using the coach in your school district. Let me know if you enjoy reading it, and want to talk about some ways we can work together in your classroom!

Teachers as Wise Consumers.Coaching