I have been thinking a lot lately about the power of language. What we choose to say and when can profoundly affect how children see us and, most importantly, see themselves. While I was always aware of this, it has really been highlighted for me in a few ways lately. Professionally, Kristi attended a conference and came back very excited about the work of Peter H. Johnston. I immediately downloaded one of his books to my Kindle and have been engrossed ever since. Personally, my oldest daughter has been struggling with some anxiety and I am learning (slowly, ever so slowly) to use the right words to both hear her and help her navigate life. I am very lucky to have some amazing people on my team to help me walk in her shoes and give me the words I know she needs to hear when they just won't come to me. This post is dedicated to those people who help us find the words; thank you.
Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children's Learning - Peter H. Johnston. Wow. This book is fantastic. Reading it is one long series of aha! moments, moments that feel at once so incredibly obvious and so profound as to initiate a major shift in one's practice. This book is set up in such a way as to be easily accessible to all - brand new practicum teacher and seasoned veteran alike. Specific, precise wording is coupled with detailed examples, allowing you to borrow exact phrases ("I see you know how to spell the beginning of that word") or use the examples to build upon your own existing practice. This book is a must read for all, parents and teachers alike.
A Sound Like Someone Trying Not to Make a Sound - John Irving. The power of language is infinitely evident in this book, originally published (unillustrated) as part of Irving's novel A Widow for One Year. The title itself hints at the language play within the book, full of similes and metaphors that would be excellent when teaching writing. If you are looking for a fun, slightly creepy book for the gr. 4-8 crowd, look no further, this is the one.
I Saw an Ant on the Railroad Track - Joshua Prince. This book had 3 generations of family members giggling when we read it. Why? Because the rhythm and rhyme are tons of fun. This book is representative of the large category of books that I think too few kids are reading these days - books that play with phonological awareness, books that make playing with language, manipulating the sounds in words, so much fun. The power of fun books like these to help young kids develop their pre-reading skills is immeasurable.
There you have it - three very different takes on the power of language (4 if you count the language I am learning to use with my darling, heart-forward daughter). Language is one of the most important pieces of any culture - how we use it can profoundly affect our children. How do you use language to help your children grow?
It was bound to happen...we love the station-based, two teacher approach to literacy so much it was only a matter of time before we transferred that over to math!
Some examples of our Math Pit Journals. Gotta love the math humour!
Of course,many people are already using math stations as part of their regular teaching practice in math. In fact, when my sister-in-law did her practicum many years ago in New Zealand her sponsor teacher taught math solely using a station-based approach, a practice that was built in to the Kiwi curriculum. Many people, however, are just looking at adopting this structure, realizing, as we have, that it allows you to really reach all learners, no matter what their readiness level.
Our adventures in Math Pit actually started with a false start; initially, the plan had been to take several of our Gr. 5-6 classes and regroup the students according to achievement in various strands of math, throw in an extra teacher or two and create a multi-class, multi-teacher model for teaching math. While this model had a lot going for it, there were some flaws that we just couldn't wrap our heads around - scheduling was a big one, with teachers feeling out of touch with the needs of the students in their classroom coming a close second. Once we realized that this just wasn't the model for us, we explored other options. And then it hit me - I had three 1 hour blocks open in the Lit Pit. Could we do Math Pit? A quick text to a willing guinea pig and I had my answer - yes, yes we could.
Yay! I love trying new things!
Then we had to plan this thing called Math Pit. I knew that there were some key parts of the Lit Pit that we wanted to maintain - leveled groups, 2 teaching stations & the element of love for learning that we try to foster in the Lit Pit - the rest was a blank slate.
In consultation with one of our teachers who already uses math stations quite effectively, we started by deciding what each station was going to be. Here is what we ended up with:
- Teacher-led instruction
- Guided practice
- Unit Practice
- Interactive notebooks
- Math Facts
- Math Games
We then proceeded to draw out our rotation - by far the most confusing part of the whole process! See my diagram below for what our rotation looks like.
Here's what we've realized: because of the rotating nature of the stations, some students end up at unit practice or guided practice before they make it to the teacher-led lesson. It's rather hard to practice something you haven't learned yet, so we have had to tweak it such that the teacher-led lesson (classroom teacher) and the guided practice (me) are relatively interchangeable. In this way, some groups do the lesson with me and others with the classrooom teacher, then do the guided practice with the opposite person. In many ways this is good, as the classroom teacher and I do not necessarily teach in the same way, so the students get to see multiple ways of approaching different concepts.
If you're up on your station-based approach, you'll have realized that there is still a small flaw in our plan...yep, you guessed it - one group still goes to unit practice without ever having had a lesson (confused? See the diagram below for the way our rotation works and remember that when the kids walk in on day one, each group goes to their corresponding station; there are no empty stations). We have not quite resolved this one - at times we call that group over (we have intentionally placed our strongest group there) for a quick mini-lesson and at times we have them work on a review of last week's concept. Because it is our strongest kids that are there, they often rise to the challenge of reading the text book and figuring the concept out for themselves (this, in fact, was their suggestion for resolving this problem. Smart kids!).
One of our Math Facts station questions and some of the answers our kiddos came up with. So interesting to see how each group tackled the problem!
This is one of the things I love best about the set up of the Lit Pit, and now the Math Pit, for our intermediate students; differentiation happens by virtue of so many factors, many of which require no extra planning on the part of the teacher (hello, Universal Design for Learning!). By intentionally placing our strongest group in a situation where they have to figure out for themselves what to do, we are challenging them; at the same time, we scaffold and support the lesson for our weaker students by ensuring that they receive the lesson immediately before going to unit practice, followed by another teacher led station the next day for follow-up. This structure does not require that we plan different lessons or activities for each group (although we can - and do!) but intrinsically allows us to meet their needs, ensuring that we are differentiating without increasing teacher work load.
In laying out our rotation, we initially started with three 20 minute stations a day. This meant that Day 3 was a repeat of Day 1, so we carefully considered which groups would benefit from a repeat of which stations, altering starting positions and rotation to ensure that each group was getting the most of what they needed.
What we realized: Several weeks in, we realized that 20 minute stations were not quite long enough for some groups and some concepts, so we have switched to 2-30 minute stations. At times this is too long, but we have found it is easier to fill the time with math games or problem-solving activities than it is to try and cram in the learning for students who need more time understanding a concept.
There are, of course, logistical challenges beyond station rotation. Behaviour management, for one. With 4 independent stations, there is the potential for mass chaos if the students at those stations are not engaged in their task. The solution here has proved to be relatively simple - ensure that the tasks at each station are at the level of the groups working at that station. If work is too difficult or too easy, you will have problems. Taking the time to make sure that your students know what they should be doing and that they are able to do it goes a long ways to ensuring a good day in the Math Pit. Of course, some extremely dedicated and competent para-professionals (CEAs in our district, EAs in many others) don't hurt either! We are very grateful for all of the extra support we are able to pull in to the Lit Pit and Math Pit (see this post for suggestions on including others in your station-based approach)!
Another logistical challenge is what happens on the 2 days per week when that class in not in Math Pit; in our case, the classroom teacher does a whole class lesson on the same topic, preps any interactive notebook work and explores other topics in math that we may not touch on in Math Pit.
This is the beatuy of the Lit Pit and Math Pit - the classroom teacher always knows exactly what his/her students have been working on and is able to follow up as needed in the classroom. In a traditional pull-out model of support, obtaining the degree of synchronicity between myself and the classroom teacher would require such a large amount of time as to be unmanageable. With this model, we are both on the same page at all times. Quick 5 minute conversations as they walk out the door and we know exactly who needs what to be successful.
Sigh. I really do love that piece of it.
This is the first in a series of posts about using technology in your classroom to support all learners. While it will mainly focus on iPads since that's the technology we have at our school, many of these apps are also available for Android and some even have computer versions.
Audible is an easy-to-use, cloud-based provider of audio books. They have thousands of titles available for purchase and a number of different purchase plans. I love that their titles are read by professional readers, often by well-known actors. While this may not seem like a big thing, it really changes a student's enjoyment of a book when it is read by an actor versus being read by a computer. Both novels and picture books are available, and new books are added regularly. Another cool thing, if you happen to be working with Kindle devices, is WhisperSync; when you own both the audio and Kindle versions of the book, they will automatically sync to your last read spot, regardless of whether or not you were listening or reading. A great tool for kids who want to listen to their book on the walk home and then pick the kindle version up at bedtime.
How I use it: This app is a definite must for kids with learning disabilities in reading. I also find that it works very well for reluctant readers who just don't want to read, as well as for fluency practice for younger readers. It can be used on its own or paired with the paper copy of the book for maximum effect.
Available for: iPad, iPhone, Android,Windows Phone, PC, Mac
Ruckus Readers. These semi-animated books on the iPad are just wonderful! The illustrations are bright and colourful, with just a little bit of animation. They have tons of titles, both fiction and non-fiction, that kids really enjoy (lots of TV and movie tie-ins but more than enough that aren't) and the books are levelled so you can tailor them to the needs in your class. Each one has the choice of read to self or read to me and the pacing of the read to me is well done, with the words highlighted in yellow as you go. Another neat feature is the incorporation of simple games that allow readers to win virtual stickers; my favourite game is the pop-up sparkles that appear after the text has been read. Once readers tap the sparkle, a word appears, which they then have to find in the text. Kids love this! Unfortunately, most of the books are for in-app purchase, so you do have to be prepared to spend some cash if you want to use this app.
How I use it: At the moment, Ruckus readers are used primarily in the Lit Pit as an option at the Love to Read station. I would love to buy more as the kids seem to have made their way through all of the free options I initially downloaded. The librarian (who, thankfully, is also tech focused) and I are going to have to make some decisions about how options such as these factor in to our budget!
RAZ-Kids. If you are not yet familiar with this site and app, you need to be! RAZ-Kids is the online, levelled library of Reading A-Z, who produce a variety of reading, vocabulary and writing materials, most notably printable levelled books both fiction and non. Once you have purchased a very reasonably priced subscription, you are able to give your students access to colourful books that can be read to them (well-paced, with word tracking), read on their own and with a brief comprehension quiz at the end. The books are engaging and the reading is well done. My students love earning points to help them build their rocket and they also enjoy completing a level and moving to the next one. One of the great features of this app is that students are able to access this app/site easily at home as well. I love that their log in system is simple, even if multiple classrooms are using the same iPads - once you've entered the teacher's name once, it becomes a button on the main login screen, ensuring that no one has to remember their rather complicated login and password information.
How I use it: This app gets used pretty much everywhere in our school: classroom, Lit Pit, intervention room, home. Many classroom teachers use it as a center or to help students who need fluency practice during silent reading. I use it to engage some of my struggling readers while I work with others in their small group. With the great diversity of non-fiction titles offered, I can also easily find books to support a classroom theme or help a student with material for a research project that I know is at their level. The printable books are fabulous for being sent home as home reading (it's really not a big deal if they get lost) and also allow students to mark them up as we search for specific sounds or practice a particular reading strategy. Definitely get some parent help to put the printables together though - it's a lot of work!
Have you got any favourite apps you use to get kids reading? I would love to hear about them!
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!