Focus on Vocabulary: Tiers 1,2, and 3

One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilizing or it will die.- Evelyn Waugh

Is it possible to overstate the value of words?  Our ability to function in today’s complex world is determined by our language skills. We use expressive vocabularies to speak, receptive vocabularies to listen and comprehend, and literate vocabularies to read and write.   A large vocabulary is  reflective of high levels of reading achievement. Yet, often, vocabulary instruction is over-looked in schools today as other skills get pushed to the forefront.

We used the iPads last year for phonics practice as well as vocabulary acquisition.  Our Tier 1 words (sight words), we practiced in several apps, most notably Spelling 1-2 and Spelling Bee.  We worked on Tier 2 words (essential for understanding text, non-redundant words) in Montessori Crosswords and our Magnet board apps.  Tier 3 words (infrequently used, subject specific words) can also be practiced with these apps.  These apps allow for many opportunities to talk about and work with words.

Young students learn to communicate through listening and speaking. As students learn to read, they develop fluency and automaticity through rapidly using decoding strategies.  A large amount of attention in the early grades is placed on high frequency words.  These are very important for emerging readers.  However, it can’t stop there.  We must increase comprehension through the use of Tier 2 and 3 words.  Research is showing that in 4,469 minutes of reading instruction, only 19 of those minutes went toward vocabulary instruction and acquisition.

The most recently released study of international reading achievement provides some strong evidence that the weakness in U.S. student performance is not the result of decoding problems or inability to comprehend narrative texts. Instead, it seems to be due to weakness in ability to comprehend.  informational texts (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, 2003).  80% of text that adults read is informational.

Through the iBooks Author software, I was able to create a few high-interest non-fiction texts that were on my students individual reading levels last year.  By having these texts on their iPads, they have them handy whenever they want to read.  I have also downloaded the I Like Books app.  It is a collection of 30 (free) non-fiction books.

Through the use of these reading apps and the apps mentioned above for practicing vocabulary, I am able to increase the rigor in vocabulary instruction.

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High Progress Classrooms, The Common Core and iPads

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.- John F. Kennedy

I’ve recently completed training on High-Progress Literacy Classrooms and Common Core State Standards for Language Arts.  One of the guiding premises behind the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is the standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. The shifts from the old state standards to the new CCSS are student-focused.

Students will do more than just read texts for basic comprehension.  They will be expected to pull from multiple sources to synthesize diverse texts and ideas, consider multiple points of view and read across texts. The ultimate goal of each standard is that all students will demonstrate key skills articulated in the CCSS on their own.  The expectations spiral across grade levels to help students reach this goal.

During this training, I read something written by Donald Graves called The Cha-Cha-Cha Curriculum.  He states that it is a sign of the times that silent, sustained reading lasts only twelve minutes and that we race our children through everything ever recommended.  Time is our scarcest resource and to teach well, we do not need more techniques, activities or strategies.

Using the iPads the last 2 years really helped me hone in on the essentials in teaching reading and writing.  Students are able to construct their own learning. They are able to research, read, write, and create.  Much of our curricula still includes things we no longer need or no longer feel strongly about.  By cleaning out our “curricular closets” we are more easily able to focus on those essentials.

The CCSS will definitely provide more rigor in our instruction.  These standards are designed to help ready our students for post-secondary education and the workforce.  Our students now will become our future leaders.  I’m excited about the possibilities of using the iPads in conjunction with these standards in the fall when we return to school.

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Using Anchor Charts with iPads

I like to read and write about trucks and cars. I would do it all day long.-Kade age 6

How many students would like to read and write all day long?  I love how when I say it’s time for Reading or Writing Workshop, my kids give a fist pump and say, “YES!”  I’m pretty sure I was never that excited in school.

When children are engaged, and feel confident in their abilities as readers and writers, they are excited about learning.  We use the Reading and Writing Workshop model to teach literacy.  My room is filled with various anchor charts that I create along with the students.  At the beginning of the year, we make an anchor chart for each letter of the alphabet.  The children give me words that begin with the given letter and I model writing it on the chart  and draw a small picture beside it.  We then hang the chart on the wall.  When all of the alphabet charts are made, we go to word families and commonly used words, family words, color words, number words, etc.  We make charts about how to be good listeners when we are launching the workshop model in the fall.  We make charts on why writers write.  We make charts for non-fiction writing ideas, and for what we do when we are in the reading center.  These charts are available for the children to refer to all year long.  Because they helped in the creation of them, they are quick to use them and they serve as a visual reference.

The only problem is that I am out of wall space and even after stringing clothesline across my room, I still do not have enough space.  I wanted my students to still have access to certain charts but I needed to make room for more! I started taking pictures of some of the charts and I synced them out to each student iPad.  The charts are now in each student’s camera roll.  The ones we use all the time are on the wall and they are able to still see other charts when they need to. We made this Ideas chart because earlier in the year, some students were having trouble thinking of things to write about. This is one of the charts on their iPads.

The other plus for having them on the iPad camera roll is students have the ability to look at them right where they are.  If a child is sitting across the room from one particular anchor chart, they don’t have to get up to go across the room to look at it.  Since my students can only remember one letter at a time when copying something, they might make 6 trips across the room to see a particular word.

Anchor charts are wonderful reference tools that help “anchor” new and ongoing learning to previously introduced concepts. My students know exactly what is on each and every chart and they use them all throughout each day.  Long after I’ve forgotten what is on the chart, they still refer to it with each other. At the end of the year, I take them down and give one to each child to keep.  They love it!

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