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.


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

Making Plans to Read During Winter Break

Aside from the good news that Cliff Lee is returning to Philadelphia (woo-hoo!), another happy occurrence I’m enjoying during these chilly December days is my leisure reading.  As a lifelong enthusiastic reader, I don’t need anyone to remind me that an upcoming vacation means having extra time for many of my most favorite things, with reading at the top of that list.

Donalyn Miller, the self-proclaimed “book whisperer” of internet fame, wrote this week (December 11, 2010) about the importance of our students continuing to read during extended school breaks.  I’ve attached a link to her blog post from this week below, but I’ll also summarize it.

She advises that teachers should help students think about and plan for three things before they leave to begin a break:

  • how they will find ample time to read over the break – and set realistic goals for how much reading they’ll do (think about downtime, travel time, reading habits that could be formed),
  • how they will choose enough books and which titles they’ll read (what are they “on” about right now, what are they looking for in something to read), and
  • how they will make a written record of their plan, to ensure they stick to it.

I hope you enjoy reading Donalyn’s blog, and sincerely hope you’ll try this exercise with your students.  If you do, let me know how it goes, and if you’re interested, let me know what YOU plan to read during the break.

I myself will be finishing Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (which has been life-changing!), working my way through some of the Amber Brown series for a project I’m working on with a teacher, beginning the new textbook for a course I’m taking in January, and starting the Dinosaur Cove series with my kids.

I look forward to hearing what you’re all up to!

The Key Word Strategy

Synthesizing is one of the most challenging things we ask children to do, and yet the children who can demonstrate it clearly have full and rich understanding of the text they are reading.

The Key Word Strategy is a high-utility, easy-to-implement comprehension strategy.  It asks children to pause as they are reading a challenging text, and then to think of a single key word or short phrase that sums up the section of text they’ve just read.  It makes them slow down their reading in difficult texts and narrow down their focus while reading and consider main ideas.  This strategy also encourages close reading and re-reading, since students will need to return to passages about which the meaning is unclear.

Students can be given small sticky notes and asked to place the key word or short phrase on the sticky note, and leave it on top of the section of text they were reading.

BONUS: A reverse of this strategy is called “Story Impressions,” in which you’d give students a chronological list of key words or phrases from a passage, and use it to build background knowledge, explore vocabulary and predict before reading.

The Key Word Strategy is a beautiful thing, in large part, because of its large “bang” for your (relatively small) buck.  It requires little advance preparation, but is a perfect strategy to throw out to a group of children (or an individual child) when you see them losing hold of their comprehension, particularly in nonfiction texts.

It is also a simple enough strategy for beginning readers, since there is relatively little writing required.  As children begin to approach second grade, this strategy can also be translated into a t-chart graphic organizer on another sheet of paper.

The left side of the t-chart can be labeled “section headings,” and the right can be labeled “key words.”  Students can then keep track of all key words, phrases, and ideas for each section of a book they read.

Reading Conference Checklist

I’m attaching a revised version of the Reading Conference Checklist I shared with you in September.  A number of RTM teachers have had input into its re-creation.
I’ve been using it, to see what I think, as have a few other teachers, and we’ve all found that it’s a helpful resource, at a variety of grade levels, for guiding and focusing your thinking while listening to children read.
It’s my hope that it can provide you with a framework that helps you to name both what your students are doing, and what they are NOT doing.  It also is VERY quick and simple to use – as not every part of it needs to be filled out each time you meet with a student.  Over time, using has helped me begin to approach my reading conferences differently, keeping an eye out for a wider variety of reading behaviors.
I hope you’ll find it useful, and please let me know if you have suggestions for revision!