Could You Help By Taking This Quick Survey?

I made this survey for a class project at the University of New England.  I designed it for teachers at InterAmerican Academy in Guayaquil, Ecuador, but would love to hear what anyone else has to say about assessment in their schools.  Puh-lease take a minute to fill it out.


Research Suggests Every Teacher Should:

  1. Build disciplinary and world knowledge.  (AKA Background knowledge)
  2. Provide exposure to a volume and range of texts.
  3. Provide motivating texts and contexts for reading.
  4. Teach strategies for comprehending.
  5. Teach text structures.
  6. Engage students in discussion.
  7. Build vocabulary and language knowledge.
  8. Integrate reading and writing.
  9. Observe and assess.
  10. Differentiate instruction (Samuels & Farstrup, 2012, p. 52).

This list comes from my  new favorite book, What Research Says About Reading Instruction.  I just discovered there’s also a What Research Says About Vocabulary Instruction which I’ve put on my Amazon wish list.

I don’t think any of this is new news to anyone teaching reading, but it is wonderfully affirming news.  I realize that my weakness has been teaching text structure in non-fiction reading.  I’ve busily been collecting information on structure so I can work with it more than usual next year.  Last year my focus was student discussion.  I’ve been preparing a website at Collaborative Classroom to have my students have online discussions as “boardwork” when they enter the room, exit tickets before they leave the room, or in-depth discussions in the middle or for homework.  I love online discussions as it makes it possible for the teacher to monitor all the discussions not just those in earshot.

Samuels, S. J., & Farstrup, A. E. (2012). What research has to say about reading instruction. (fourth ed.). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

How the Brain Learns to Read

Below you’ll find an extremely simplified diagram of what happens in the brain when we learn to read.

Adams, M. J. (2011). The relation between alphabetic basics, word recognition, and reading. In S. Samuels & A. Farstrup (Eds.), What research has to say about reading instruction (pp. 4-24).

It’s Reflection Time Again, You’re Gonna Leave Me

I know it’s silly, but as my students leave each day I sing to them (decidedly off key), “Oh, it’s crying time again, you’re gonna’ leave me.”  Many of them beam with joy that I’m going to miss them.

It’s that time of the school year for reflection–for us and for our students.  Here’s a visual created by Peter Pappas for a taxonomy of reflection that would be helpful for all of us.  Read more about it on his blog.


Characteristics of Poor Readers / Successful Readers

Reading strategically

Characteristics of Poor Readers        

  • Thinks understanding occurs from “getting the words right,” rereading
  • Use strategies such as rote memorization, rehearsal, simple categorization
  • Are poor strategy uses
    • They do not think strategically about how to read something or solve a problem
    • They do not have an accurate sense of when they have good comprehension readiness for assessment
  • Have relatively low self-esteem.
  • See success and failure as the result of luck or teacher bias.

Characteristics of Successful Readers

  • Understand that they must take responsibility for construction meaning using their prior knowledge.
  • Develop a repetoire of reading strategies, organizational patterns, and genre.
  • Are good strategy users:
    • They think strategically, plan, monitor their comprehension, and revise their strategies.
    • They have strategies for what to do when they do not know what to do.
  • Have self-confidence that they are effective learners; see themselves as agents able to actualize their potential.

Source:; 23 Oct. 2001

Sit Still & Be Quiet No More!

Sit still and be quiet!

This morning I was reading some research about reading and came across some information about how our brains turn print into language. The idea that sent fireworks exploding in my brain is the very last step when words receive meaning: ”Reading a word such as stagger, limp, or tiptoe activates the motor areas in the brain that are involved in controlling the legs and feet, whereas reading a word such as chop or carve activates those controlling the hands. Whereas understanding a sentence about eating activates the areas related to gustatory sensations, understanding a visual description activates areas of the visual cortex (Adams, 2011, p. 8).

How cool is that!  The next step is a response or completed circuit.  Doesn’t that just give us all the more reason to include kinetic learning in our reading repetoire?

Samuels, J. & Farstrup, A., Editors (2011). What research has to say about reading instruction.  Neward, DE:  International Reading Association.

AASSA Conference

I just got back from the Association of American Schools in South America (AASSA) conference in Quito.  It was fantastic, with speakers like Heidi Jacobs who challenged us greatly about preparing our students for the 21st century.  The workshop that was the most practical for me was given by Sergio Martinez, who teaches at an American School in Venezuela.  He taught about various websites for digital storytelling, and I can’t wait to introduce them to my students, as we all know about the reading/writing connection and how important it is.  These sites make writing (and reading) super fun.  They’re all free.

  • Blabberize can make any photograph or drawing into an animated photograph that speaks.  Upload a photo of yourself, use the tools to indicate where the mouth is, and then tape yourself speaking.  Voila!  A talking photo.
  • Google Story Creator tells stories through Google search–in other words you make a story of your searches and what you found.  Simply input the URLs, select music to play while you are showing the search–and you’ve created a story.  Here’s a sample about dogs.
  • Photo Peach is a way to easily create rich slideshows with embedded quizzes.  It has a VERY intuitive interface.  You can have subtitles and music too.
  • Little Bird Tales is a super-secure website where students can build their stories using their own drawings (using an interior program similar to Paint), uploaded drawings and photographs, or using artwork provided on the site.  Teachers may set up an account and give students a key to get in.  This has the most versatility of any site I’ve used, including Story Bird which is a great site where you can create stories using illustrations created by artists.
  • I don’t quite know how to explain ZooBurst.  It’s a site where you can create pop-up books using photographs you upload and/or thematic art on the site.  After you’ve created your book, you can use something called augmentive reality, which is kind of difficult to explain (the book pops out of the computer onto a piece of paper).  Here’s a You Tube video where you can see it in action.
  • Finally, Story Jumper is a site where you can create books from scratch, or using story starters.  The story starters, for example a treasure map along with treasure-hunting pirates, come with artwork that can be used to build a picture and gives less and less support as the story goes on.  This is great for reluctant writers.