The Third Wheel

Why Read Aloud?

With a carefully chosen book, read aloud time is a magical part of the day where students can open their imagination and even reluctant readers can find the joy in a story. However, many times read aloud is put aside due to the numerous stresses and requirements that must be fulfilled within the school day. It is easy to forget just how important the read aloud is to the classroom. 

I met Laura Ingalls Wilder when I was in third grade and my teacher read Little House in the Big Woods as a read aloud after lunch.  I would settle in, put my head on the desk, and travel back in time.  I couldn't understand how other students could waste this precious time by going to the restroom or a trip to the drinking fountain.  To this day, I make sure everyone has had a chance to take care of business before I open our chapter book.

So why do teachers read aloud, beside the fact that most of us love to read?  What are we teaching our students during this time?  Reading aloud, sharing a story together - experiencing the suspense, the drama, the emotion - brings a classroom community closer together.  It gives the teacher and students a shared experience, a common point of reference.  Teachers often choose books that relate to content being taught in the classroom.  Reading Sarah Plain and Tall to students on the East or West coast gives them a picture of the prairie and a taste of the rural life on the plains.  It is a study in the compare and contrast strategy as students see the ocean and the prairie through Sarah’s eyes.

This shared experience levels the playing field between students who are avid readers and those who struggle to master the skill.  It allows students who are slower to read the same access to literature their reading classmates take for granted.  When the teacher reads a great book to the whole class, she opens the door for conversation about the book between all students in the class.  In primary classrooms, this shared experience often turns into a topic of play as students re-enact the story.

Choosing read alouds from different genres opens the world for young learners.  A child who loves to go to the library, and heads right for the non-fiction animal shelf every visit, may discover a kindred spirit in Ramona the Pest.  Without the teacher to hand the keys of discovery to students, they do not know the wide world that awaits them with each trip to the library.

Listening to a good book helps children to relax and settle their bodies.  As they get involved in the story, they physically relax and their minds focus on a story outside of themselves.  The recess squabbles, the anticipation of their extra curricular activities, the insecurity about their place in the class all fades away as they get lost in someone else’s story.  For students who find school a series of trials with more failures than successes, it’s a time to relax and enjoy a stress free moment in their day.  As students lose themselves in a good story, they relax and forget to be anxious about upcoming tests and activities.  They are in a better state of mind to jump back into the academic routine.

It’s safe to say that Mrs. Sherman knew exactly what she was doing when she chose engaging, entertaining stories to read in those few minutes after lunch and recess.

I'm always looking for recommendations. What books do you love to read aloud to your class? 

Reality TV for Teachers: 5 Shows I Would Totally Watch

We've all had that moment in the classroom. You know, the one where you look around for the hidden cameras because, surely, you are being Punk’d. Of course, Ashton never actually appears, but it get you thinking about how awesome it would be if there were more reality shows on TV that involved teachers. Here are a few suggestions I have: 

 Pimp My Room. So I might be dating myself a bit with this one….does anyone else remember this show? In case you don’t, here is 3-second synopsis. People got their crappy cars tricked out will all sorts of super cool features. Sure, it has now come out years later that the changes were only temporary and they left people with the same totally nonfunctional, craptastic cars they began with…but the premise is awesome. A weekly show that took run-down classrooms and tricked them out to be amazing learning spaces…Tell me you wouldn't watch that! 

Undercover Boss. This one wouldn't even need a new name. Dress up the superintendent and bring him or her back to the classroom for a day. Watch them struggle through parent conferences, lesson planning, and no bathroom breaks. Sure they used to do this job so they think they remember what it entails…but how many of them end up crying by the end of the day? Maybe they’d even give out a few bonuses at the end!

 Unsolved Mysteries. Remember this one? One summer when I was in college my sister and I caught it on reruns. Who doesn't love a good story about how the world is going to end in 2000…especially when you watch it in 2004. I can only imagine the teacher version….the missing library books, the reunions with former students who moved, the mysterious projector that seems to turn off on its own. We’d laugh…we’d cry…we’d DVR it. 

           Untold Stories of the Classroom. So Mr. D and I (pre-kids) loved a good marathon of True Stories from the ER. From the bizarre stories to the totally awful reenactments (which included the doctors themselves), this show was totally addicting. We've all had that “I should totally write a book with all this craziness!” moment…this just takes it to the next level. Think about having the chance to reenact that one walk-through where your principal marked you down not because of the kid yelling the F-word and throwing backpacks out of the closet…but because you were helping a student with a birthday hand out a snack a kid brought from home and you aren't allowed to give students treats, only the student who brought them can do that. Okay, maybe that is just me.

         Survivor: Kinder Edition. All those people who say teaching is easy…and we get summers off. Time to prove it. Take a group of non-teachers give them summer PD, new standards, and a kindergarten classroom and see who makes it to the end of the year. Each week someone gets voted off based on their students’ assessment results. Sounds awesome, right?

There you have it. Now I wait for Mark Burnett to call me. Isn’t he the one who does all those reality shows? I mean, how could he resist these ideas??? Want to add to the list? Leave your suggestion in the comments. 

5 Simple Ways to Freshen Up Your Test Prep Passage Practice

Test prep is really a necessary evil this time of year. I feel like kids deserve to be familiar with the format, but we also need to avoid beating them over the head with passage practice before they even get to test day.

#1 Passage Scoot
Cut apart the questions for a passage and place them around the room. Give students the passage and 5-10 minutes to really read and study it...then play scoot. Students bring their passage around with them to find evidence while they answer passage questions. Give students a minute or two at each question before they scoot to the next question. Students can record their answers on a note card or in their reading journals. It is an easy way to build movement and breaks into passage practice.

Why it works: Research shows movement is important for supporting focus. This technique allows students to focus in short bursts and have frequent breaks.

#2 Worst Answer
Process of elimination is a huge part of helping kids who struggle to pick between multiple choice answers. Make it fun by having students vote for which answer would be the worst choice to select. It is a sneaky way to build in practice for eliminating answers and being mindful of all four options on multiple choice. Be sure to have them defend their answer!

Why it works: This strategy helps students practice analyzing the answers and eliminate the wrong ones. It gives them an opportunity to think about what would make sense.

#3 Color-by-Number
Something about a marker makes everything more fun. Bust out the markers and let kids color-code their questions and evidence. I like to assign each question a color so I can more quickly and easily check their work because the colors all match up.

Why it works: This strategy supports visual learners by using color to help them categorize and support their answer choices.

#4 Reverse it
Give students the questions without a passage. Have them use their inferring skills to determine what they think the passage is about. This is especially good for nonfiction passages, where students can bring in their prior knowledge. When you've discussed and made a list as a class, brainstorm what you already know about the topic. Finally, give the kids the passage and read it to determine if their inferences were correct.

Why it works: Students need to practice their inferring skills while reading the questions. It also builds their familiarity with the topic before reading so as they read the passage it triggers their memory of the questions.

#5 Techno Fun
I love Kahoot! for passage practice. The kids all get the passage and read it in a small group, partners, or on their own. I type the questions into Kahoot! and the kids answer using their device. I have their scores quickly and easily, which is an added bonus for me. If you haven't been using Kahoot, check out the quick tutorial here.

Why it works: Immediate feedback has been shown to have a big impact on correcting misconceptions and improving student understanding. This type of practice allows for personalized feedback after every question. It also makes learning fun!

This time of year it can be so easy for test prep to become stale and boring. These 5 simple tricks have kept it fun and fresh in my class, but I still have a chance to familiarize my students with the testing format. This is especially important because it is their first year testing. Got any other suggestions for me? I always love to try new things so leave them in the comments!!

Recess: A Reward or Necessity?

Have you ever had one of those days? You know the ones where your class is antsy and restless.  You have said, “Please be quiet.” so many times that you’re about to lose your cool.  You need a break...They definitely need a break.  You sigh with the thought of the long list of material that needs to be covered before lunch or the end of the day!  This was a common struggle in my classroom the first few years I taught until one day it finally hit me. Those 15 minutes I take my class to run around the playground or on a "field trip" around the campus or even GoNoodling made my class so much more productive for the remaining part of the day. Of course, I know this from experience, but we are all about evidence-based what does the literature say? 

Schools in Finland automatically schedule a 15 minute break every hour.  In an article in The Atlantic (check it out here), American teacher Mike Walker shares his experiences teaching in Finland.  At first he was appalled that so much time was taken away from instruction for these frequent breaks.  He revised his schedule so that he would teach for 90 minutes, then give the children a 30 minute break.  It only took three days before a distraught 5th grader led him to see the error of his plan.  In Finland, students are given 15 minutes of unstructured time outside rain or shine.  The come back to the classroom energized and ready to work again.  Mr. Walker came to realize that even if students couldn't get outside, a few minutes of unstructured time every hour helped students stay focused and alert during instructional time.

According to the article Recess Makes Kids Smarter by Caralee Adams in the Scholastic Instructor magazine, many principals admit to taking away recess as a punishment for poor behavior.  Early in my career I was absolutely guilty of using recess time as a carrot with some students losing their recess day after day. As I grew as a professional, I began to realize I was torturing myself just as much as the child! The students who most often lose their recess time are the students who need it the most.  Telling a student to sit still and get their work done a hundred times a day, and then taking away the few minutes they have permission to NOT sit still is counter-intuitive.  I've come to realize that recess time should be guarded as sacred. When it is necessary to use it as a consequence, a little goes a long way. For a student, watching their friends run and play for even 1-3 minutes feels like an eternity!

Recess is not just about getting the wiggles out.  Students develop social skills as they figure out ways to solve problems and compromise with friends.  Free play is a time when students from different social groups can come together to plan and carry out an imaginative adventure or game. Have you ever really watched the games going on at the playground? At my school, there are kids pretending to be an army while a group plays school in the shade of large trees. A crowd plays soccer on a large field, while another group jumps rope together on the concrete play space. Smiles abound, and (sometimes with our help) kids are learning so solve problems and cooperate. Tell me those aren't valuable skills that can transfer back to the classroom.

After reading so many articles, it got me wondering what your school does for recess? Do students get recess taken away for behavior issues...or is there even a recess at all? 

Big Kid Book Clubs for April

Is it really almost April? I feel like I've blinked and the school year is moving toward a close. There is a LOT of pressure this time of year to make sure you are putting the finishing touches on mastery of your grade level standards with the upcoming testing season ready to pounce. Teachers feel it. Students feel it. Parents email about it daily. Book clubs are a great way to keep your readers working hard while breaking up the monotony of test preparation. Who wants to do passages ALL. DAY. LONG? No one, that's who. Challenge yourself to bust out a novel with your class this April, and check out some great choices below.

The Trumpet of the Swan- One of three classic novels by E.B. White, and a great story for Spring. This book has so many great lessons on perseverance and overcoming challenges it is hard not to love it. Read it aloud or as a book club book with my trifold novel study pack.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid- I resisted this book for a long time, but I finally gave in when a reluctant reader I had a few years ago wanted to read it with me as a book club. How can you say no when a student who is usually doing everything he can to avoid reading is suddenly making book suggestions? You can't...and I am glad I didn't because this book is really, truly funny. Did I mention it is a perfect choice for April since it is National Humor Month!

It's Raining Pigs and Noodles- April is Poetry Month! This book is perfect for building that love of poetry for your students. Of course, anything by Jack Prelutsky is always a great choice!

Magic Tree House Fact Tracker: Titanic- As an elementary student, the story of the Titanic fascinated me. I guess there is just something about the disaster that befell this "unsinkable" ship that kids are drawn to. I've got a small collection of Titanic books in my classroom library, but this one is a great choice for an informational book club. April 12th marks the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, and it is the perfect week for a short research book club. Get the no prep trifold to guide your book club here!

Where the Sidewalk Ends- Shel Silverstein was my introduction to poetry as a kid. His poems were hilarious! Now that I am a teacher, I appreciate how he played with language and the mix of sensory language that gives me a chance to teach so many great lessons. Getting your kids to read for National Poetry Month will never be easier!

Number the Stars- Perfect for older students, this book takes place during the Nazi invasion during WWII. This historical fiction text captures students into the story of one girl's escape to freedom from persecution and the dangerous path to get there. A great way to combine history and social studies with reading comprehension, a study of the Holocaust is a great way to engage students in a discussion about diversity and freedom. Save yourself time by getting a pre-designed book club unit here.

Magic Tree House: Tonight on the Titanic- An easy read for students, this is another great book in the Magic Tree House series that teaches kids all about the story of the Titanic through a fictional tale of two children on a magical journey. This series is always a favorite for my low-to-mid level readers, so I've got plans laid out for 17 books from the series. You can find them here.

Because of Winn-Dixie- April is National Pet Month! This story demonstrates the love and friendship pets can bring to our lives through a beautiful story of the new girl in town. As a teacher, I love the rich vocabulary and discussions this book fosters in my classroom. I use this book yearly with my trifolds to help build my students reading comprehension skills in summary, context clues, and more.

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