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Creatively Cramming It In

Yes, this is another teaching post.  Sorry, but the return to school has me all abuzz.

As I lesson planned this past weekend, I was stressed.

FCAT isn’t until April, which might sound like a long time but, for an Intensive Reading teacher, isn’t nearly long enough.

I cannot tell you how much I need to cover in the next three months…vocabulary…more reading comprehension skills…writing (FCAT Writes is in February).

When I worked an office job, I prided myself on leaving work each day with a clean desk.

Teaching is not like this.

There’s always a lesson to plan…a unit to teach…decisions to make as to how much time to spend on what.

Even though I have my students for 90 minutes each class period, double that of regular teachers, it’s still not enough time!

As a result, I am learning to pack as much into each part of my class period as I can.

Bellwork is always a mini-lesson in something, be it root words, the current reading strategy we are working on (right now, it’s Author’s Purpose), or writing.

Read Alouds always include discussions about figurative language, story elements (plot, conflict, setting), and text connections.

One of the things I do with my students is twice-weekly fluency partner readings.

I give students a passage, and they read aloud to their face partners for one minute.  The partner follows along, circles mistakes, and “grades” the reader on expression and attention to punctuation.  Then, the reader becomes the grader, and the process repeats itself.

Before students read aloud to each other, we preview the text.  I’ve learned, during my planning, to try to anticipate words students won’t be familiar with.  I usually ask students to look for context clues to help them define the words.  Other times, I provide the definitions (to save time) and include pictures.

Most students do not have a comprehensive vocabulary, and their real-world experiences just aren’t what ours were when we were growing up.

Here’s a sample of this week’s fluency passage…

Click to view a larger image

I scanned the text, added it to my SmartBoard page, and then added the definitions and the pictures at the bottom.  Student copies do not have the vocabulary.

I can make the page bigger on my SmartBoard so students can see the pictures better.  Giving them visuals helps make the words stick in their minds better, and I try to use the words in later days.

Another thing I use fluency exercises for is to give my students mini-literature lessons.  As an Intensive Reading teacher, I mostly use informational text.  FCAT is comprised of about 70% informational text that students are required to analyze.  This is the type of text students enjoy reading the least.

Being able to insert literature lessons, however small, changes things up in our routine and creates an interest in a book they might not have heard of before.  Before the break, we read an image-filled excerpt from Great Expectations.  When I explained the premise of the story, students were eager to read more!

More often than not, our mini literature lessons create “aha” moments as students make connections to stories or authors they might have heard about.

Next week’s reading is an excerpt from a piece written by Mark Twain…

Click to view a larger image

My students will get a vocabulary lesson, and I also threw in a comprehension question that makes them think about why Twain chose a certain word in this passage.  The discussions these questions lead to is what I consider to be the best part of teaching.

One of my students made me chuckle one day when she told me that bellwork and fluency are little lessons on their own.

This young lady knows exactly what I’m doing…something akin to slipping veggies into the meatloaf.

I don’t give regular vocabulary tests, yet my students’ vocabulary scores improve each year.  I’d like to think one reason for this is the low-key, academically-themed “chats” that we have regularly.  This is something that most of my students miss at home but that I am more than happy to provide.

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