In my experiences as a literacy coach, classroom teacher, and literacy specialist, I noticed that my upper elementary kiddos who struggle with reading usually have some similarities.  They are typically not fluent readers, and they rely on prior knowledge instead of the information they read.  Not all struggling readers have these issues, naturally.  :)

When I say fluency, I know the picture that pops into the head of many teachers...  anxious students, stopwatches, and lists of nonsense words while you tell the kiddos to read as fast as they can!  That's not what I mean.  I'm not talking about their oral reading fluency - I'm concerned that these kiddos who struggle with reading aren't fluent readers when they read to themselves.  Since the best way to become a better reader is to read, and they struggle reading, then reading isn't usually something they are clamoring to do.

For months, I have been inspired to create "Practicing Fluency and Comprehension" articles to address the issues of fluency, close reading, and referring to text that many upper elementary students struggle with during reading.
(On Teachers Pay Teachers)
(On Teachers Pay Teachers)
I'm really pleased with this packet, and have enjoyed using it to incorporate interesting and relevant content in a short, focused, and easy-to-demonstrate format that helps build stronger readers in upper elementary.  It's pretty short and sweet - a collection of original articles about the topic (each has 3 text-dependent questions), 3 stars on the page (for students to shade in each time they read the passage to encourage repeated readings), and a text-specific graphic organizer.
(Forces and Motion)
Right now, I have 2 of these... one is on Forces and Motion at the amusement park, and the other is on Winter Sports that traditionally are included in the Olympics.

Here's how I use it:
*     Project the article and preview the text together.  Look at the title, graphics, captions, and read the directions.
*    Students read the article 3 times to themselves or with a partner, if needed.
*     The graphic organizer can be used during the 3 fluency readings (add a bit each time), as a small group activity to facilitate discussion of the text, or as an independent activity.
*     Students are required to annotate text as they answer questions.
*     During group discussions, project the passage for easy sharing of evidence.

Love it!  Now that I've taught them the procedure for tackling the articles, they are reading closely, making connections between what they already knew and what the text says, referring to evidence, and seeing themselves as readers.  :)

I have always been the teacher to share.  In fact, if you ask me for my opinion about something in education, you may never shut me up again.  As a Literacy Coach in my county, this was a wonderful trait, as you get the most "Bang for Your Buck" by providing meaningful in-house staff development.  I couldn't understand when teachers refused to share their fantastic strategies with other teachers.  I had been in their classrooms; the work they were doing with their classes was nothing short of phenomenal.  Sadly, now I see where that refusal to share was coming from.

The collaborative climate, where teachers freely exchanged ideas and tips, is turning.  Some teachers are starting to figure out that they can shine (in the eyes of their administration) by NOT sharing.  At all.  Not strategies, best practices, how they would deal with a behavior issue, community resources to help a student in need, nada.  In many school systems, teachers are being pitted against each other in order to get increased contracts (no tenure = no job security from one year to the next) and even linking the performance of the students to the pay they use to raise their own families.  Here's an amusing yet scary video from the North Carolina Association of Educators...  (Please note: this is not a union, or anything close.  In NC, teachers are not allowed to unionize.)

Why is this a bad idea?  Because it pits teachers against their team members, trying to get better scores on a test.  In NC, it is a part of our evaluation, whether we teach tested grades, kiddos with special needs, students who have been learning English for 3 years, affluent communities, inner city schools, etc.

The fact is, every child is society's responsibility.  Shouldn't we do our best to help every child in every classroom, even if they are not in our own?  That's why I have always been an advocate for the students in my school.  That's what I try to do with this blog, and through my daily stewardship in the public school system.  We are at a crossroads, America.  I assure you, teachers are not the incompetent bad guys we are (occasionally) portrayed to be.  Think back to the teacher who spent a bit more time to encourage you, who sparked an interest, who taught you to read, or write, or be creative...

{Source of This Amazing Infographic}
Here's a picture of the supremely awesome shirt my Kinder son made in class last Fall!  <<Swoon!>>  His teacher is amazing!!!  Love it!

Happy 2014!  As I write this, I am so amazingly excited to be typing on my new computer.  ((Swoon))  Ok, so it's a cheap laptop, but it's my cheap laptop.  :)  I'm working on a blog series about the learning curve I've encountered in the switch... In the meantime, I've added a super cute Happy New Years freebie for word work., you know, since you just might need something productive and cute for morning work on your first day back.  Enjoy!
Click Here for free download from TpT
Currently... with Farley!  Our memory/tradition for Christmas in the Casa de Sykes is the Family Activity Advent Calendar.  I created this several years ago, and we enjoy seeing what our activity is each day as we count down to Christmas!  My personal favorite always is the activity for Christmas Eve - "Remember you have a family that loves you, and that's the most important gift of all."
Happy New Year!
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