Make Take & Teach | instructional materials for small group intervention

Preventing the Summer Slide

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As much as teachers love summer vacation, there’s always a little (actually, big) panic that sets in as we pack up the classrooms and send our children off during those three lazy months of fun in the sun.  What if they never pick up a book?  Oh, and they were so close in learning all their math facts- will they forget?  We’ve worked so diligently teaching skills and the kids have learned so much—what if when they return in September and they forget?  The loss of skills during the summer in the educational world is known as “The Summer Slide” and it is very real.   Research indicates that children who live in poverty consistently lose 2 months of reading performance and that those loses accumulate each year during the elementary grades.  This means that by  middle school a student can be up to 2 ½ years behind!  According to research,  two-thirds of the 9th grade reading achievement gap can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the summer months during elementary.  Crazy, right?

So, what’s the answer?  With dwindling funds in education, summer school and enrichment programs are often the first things on the chopping block.  Although I am supportive of summer programs, it’s only one option to lessen the effects of summer loss.  In fact, there are many no-cost ways of not only eliminating summer reading loss, but  accelerating learning over the summer.  Evidence suggests that simply giving students a set of self-selected books on the last day of school or offering opportunities such as opening up the library one day week may be enough to eliminate the summer loss.  Could it really be that simple?  Surprisingly, providing books to read during the summer produced as much reading growth as did sending students to summer school (Allington 2010).   We must ensure that our children have books in their hands.  Below are a few fun and simple ways to keep our kiddos engaged with learning during the summer.

1.  Visit your local library!  Help your child find “right fit books.  Right fit books are books that are of high interest to your child and are not beyond their reading level.  You can use the five finger test to determine if the book is too difficult for your child.  Open the book to a page with many words.  Have your child begin reading the text.  Hold up a finger for each word he/she does not know.  If you have 4 or 5 fingers up, the text may be too difficult for your child to read independently.  Feel free to still check out the book!  It just may be a book you want to read with your child.

Finding the Right Fit BookClick the following link to download this file Finding the Right Fit Book

2.  Be sure your child reads at least 20 minutes a day.  According to research, a child who reads only 1 minute a day outside of school will learn 8,000 words by the end of sixth grade where a student who reads 20 minutes outside of school will learn 1,800,000 words!  That’s huge!  If reading isn’t one of your child’s top priorities, you may need to set up an incentive program.

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I found these “Mark My Time” book marks at Walmart.  They can be a great motivator to ensure that your child reads at least 20 minutes a day.  If your child already enjoys reading, you probably wouldn’t need to use this.  We want children to read for the pure enjoyment of reading.  Some children just need a little bit more structure and incentive.

3. Set a good example.  When your child sees you reading and enjoying a book or a newspaper article, you are sending a message that reading is important and valuable.

4. Read to your child.  When you read to your child, he/she hears the rhythm of language.  Be sure to read with expression!  Changing your voice for the different characters in the story and increasing volume for exciting parts are only a few ways to make reading interesting.

5. Read with your child –explore different types of reading like poetry.  For our little ones, poetry is great way to improve phonemic awareness skills as poetry often incorporates rhyme.  For our older children, poetry is a means of improving fluency.

6. Read for different purposes.  Reading directions for a recipe or directions for assembling a toy are fun ways to incorporating reading.

7. Games with Words.  There are tons of ways to have fun learning letters and sight words.  Check out my earlier blog post 8 Super Summer Sight Word Activities for a few ideas.

8. If you have an iPad, try downloading a few interactive books.  There are also lots of reading games that keep children engaged.

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Just click the following link to download this handout Summer Slide Handout

Did you know that teachers typically spend the first month of school reteaching skills?  Let’s get going!  Make this summer a summer of learning and fun!

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Nouns, Verbs and Adjectives!

Many of my second and third grade friends are now learning the parts of speech.  I thought I’d create a few posters that they can use for reference.  Here’s a little sampling of the 8 posters that you can download for free.  Just click the link below.

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Click HERE to download the FREE Parts of Speech Posters from my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

I always find sorting activities helpful when teaching a concept.  The Nouns, Verbs and Adjectives! Picture Sorting activity is an ideal introductory activity for teaching the parts of speech.  When you download this activity you’ll receive 66 colorful nouns, verbs and adjective pictures and 2 differentiated templates.  The self-checking feature makes this activity ideal for independent literacy centers.

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The Nouns, Verbs and Adjectives activity  is available through the Make, Take & Teach website or in my Teachers Pay Teacher store.

If you’d like to target adjectives and adverbs a little more in-depth, the Adjectives and Adverbs! Word Sorting activity may just do the trick.  There are 3 differentiated activities within this file.  Word cards are color-coded per template.

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The Adjectives and Adverbs! activity can be found in my online Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Teaching the parts of speech can actually be quite fun.  Hope you find the posters helpful!

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Rhyming Ice Cream Cones

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These rhyming ice cream cones have certainly been a hit with our little preschoolers and kindergarteners!  The activity is easily differentiated as you can choose how many rhyming cones and scoops to use.  For those kiddos just learning the concept of rhyme, you’ll likely want to start with just 2 cones and gradually add more cones as they become proficient with the skill.  For those students who just need added practice, you can use more cones and just place them in an independent work center.  When you download this activity, you’ll receive 18 rhyming cones with 60 rhyming scoops!

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The Build An Ice Cream Cone activity is available through the Make, Take & Teach website or through my online Teachers Pay Teachers store.

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Fostering Thoughtful Literacy

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If you’ve been following my blog for awhile now, you may know that I actually enjoy reading professional articles and books.  Last year I came across Richard Allington’s article “What Really Matters When Working With Struggling Readers” in the April 2013 of  The Reading Teacher.  I immediatley made copies of the article for all my colleagues.  I think we all read that article over 50 times as each person’s copy was tattered, had rows of text marked with highlights, and notes scribbled in the margins. We talked about the content of that article for months. I will admit, it kind of shook our world.  Several of his issues with current practices of instruction and intervention for struggling students we were actually doing.  I needed to know more so I ordered Allington’s book.

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One of the areas where we continue to struggle in is in the area of comprehension.  Phonemic awareness, fluency and phonics– well, they’re relatively easy to assess and teach. Vocabulary and comprehension; however, a bit more elusive. That’s why I found chapter 5, “Students Need to Develop Thoughtful Literacy” quite helpful.  Allington states that “in school we have too often confuse remembering with understanding.”

Think about it.  How do we typically assess and teach comprehension in school?  Tasks such as copying information from text into a blank on a worksheet, matching text to answers or completing multiple-choice tasks are relatively low-level recall tasks yet these practices are prevalant in so many classrooms.  There is a difference between recalling information and understanding.  What does it mean to understand text?  Allington uses real-life examples to help make his point.  So, here’s my text-to-self example:

Let’s go back to the article handed to my colleagues last year.  As we were reading the article, we were making connections.  We were making text-to-self connections (am I using some of these practices right now that he felt were ineffective?) and text-to-text connections (how is what he is proposing matching to what other researchers are saying?).  We were summarizing, analyzing, synthezing and evaluting all at the same time.  Most importantly, we were discussing.  Our discussions regarding that text and material relating to that article continued for over an entire school year.  The lively debates and professional challenges were incredible.  That’s what makes reading alive.  Would my colleagues have been impressed if I asked them true/false questions about the contents of the article?  Would that have assessed their understanding of the material?  Would that have stretched all of our thinking?  When we are asked to explain, discuss or write about texts that we’ve read we are more likely to demonstrate true understanding. Just as an FYI- one of the main reasons I blog after reading a chapter of a book is to help myself understand what I’m reading.

 

What Does the Research say on Effective Comprehension Instruction?

It’s important to know that reading comprehension can significantly improve with effective instruction. We can, and must, explicitly teach students strategies to comprehend text.  It’s also important to know that learning strategies take time.  These are not one week lessons, but rather require explict modeling and practice over a significant period of time.  Another point that Allington made was that students should be taught the strategies within “bundles” rather than treating each strategy as a stand-alone.  For example, the strategy of “summarizing” may involve several strategies such as activiating prior knowledge and paraphrasing.  Reading programs that teach a strategy and then another and then another are not likely to be the most effective.

There are several strategies that research has proven successful in improving reading comprehension.   Each strategy is described below in this handout:

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Just click the following link to download this FREE handout Reading Comprehension Strategies

Let’s just add that above all students need to interact with the text.  They need to talk about what they’ve read with their teacher and their peers.  They need to write about their thoughts and feelings about the material.  They need to make reading come alive!

I’m so looking forward to reading Chapter 6 “Where to Begin: Instruction for Struggling Readers”.  Grab the book.  Share it with a few colleagues and have your own rich discussions too!

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Even More Basketball Themed Activities!

One of the best little tricks-of-the-trade is to capitalize on a student’s interest to keep them engaged in learning the basic skills needed for fluent reading.  Your sports-minded students, particularly your little basketball shooters,  may enjoy the “Swish!” activities for practicing various phonics skills.  I love this activity as it is a fast-paced game and allows for multiple practice opportunities.  To play “Swish!”, simply scatter the balls word side down on the table and have your students take turns choosing a ball and reading the word.  If a player chooses the “Swish!” ball, he/she can choose several more balls.  If a “Penalty” ball is chosen, all the balls must be placed back in the pile and play continues.  Easy to make, easy to play and the kiddos just love it!

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When you download the Swish! activity for sight words, you’ll receive all 220 Dolch sight words printed on colorful basketballs.

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The Swish! Dolch 220 Sight Word activity is available through  my online Teachers Pay Teachers store.

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The Swish! R-Controlled Vowels activity is also available in my TpT store.

Here are a few more Swish! activities:  Swish! Consonant-Vowel-Consonant, Swish! Consonant Digraphs, Swish! Magic e, Swish! Vowel Teams

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A Lesson From Adreian

My oldest son is now a junior at Michigan State University so for the past few years I’ve been following Spartan athletics.  I really enjoy football, but I really LOVE watching the Spartan basketball team.  Last year during a televised airing of the Spartans playing a game at the NCAA tournament, the announcer briefly shared the story of Adriean Payne.  Adreian is MSU’s star player and how he ended up at MSU is nothing short of remarkable.  As a kindergarten student, Adreian was identified as a student with a cognitive impairment and placed in special education.  Adreian is now a highly recruited player for the NBA and also a MSU academic scholar!  Below is an article I wrote on Adreian’s story last year after doing a bit of research.  Please read as the implications for the education of all students is great.  What I didn’t share last year is Adreian’s special relationship with a young girl whom he met while visiting children with cancer on a hospital visit.  You’ll want to be sure to read it too.   Here’s the link:  The Adreian Payne Story:  How Michigan State Star Became the Ultimate Role Model.

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What is a cognitive impairment?

A cognitive impairment implies low intelligence.  In the educational world we currently use the term “cognitively impaired” to describe individuals who fall significantly below the average range in intelligence (“mentally impaired” and “mental retardation” are older terms not currently used).  In the school setting (at least in Michigan), a student’s IQ must fall two or more standard deviations below the mean.  That’s translates into a standard score of 70 or below.

Michigan Criteria for Cognitive Impairment

Click the following link to download this printable Michigan Criteria for Cognitive Impairment

In addition to low IQ, both the student’s reading and math skills must be significantly below the norm (below the 6th percentile) and the student’s “adaptive behavior” skills need to be significantly impaired.  This means that in addition to low IQ, low academic skills, social, communication and self-help must also be significantly below the average.

Adreian’s Story

I’ve been scouring the internet trying to piece together Adreian’s story.  Here’s the jist.  Adrien began receiving special education services in kindergarten.  He was in a self-contained classroom and integrated into the general education setting for “specials”.  That meant that he attended music, art and gym with general education students and received all academic instruction in the special education classroom.  Adreian’s mother died when he was 13 and he was raised by his grandmother until her death in 2011.  According to an ESPN publication, a general education math teacher by the name of Richard Gates walked by Adreian’s classroom one day during his freshman year and observed the students watching television.  Mr. Gates questioned the quality of instruction Adreian and his fellow classmates were receiving.  Mr. Gates contacted Adreian’s grandmother, Mary Lewis, and told her that she needed to remove him from the special education program.  Ms. Lewis attended an IEP and basically declined all special education services.  Adreian then attended all general education classes and Mr. Gates tutored him every day for three years.  Just imagine that!  A special education student spending the large majority of the day in a self-contained classroom for 9 years just put into all general education classes.  With hard work and dedication (a lot of it), graduates from high school and attends college.

So why am I so intrigued with this story?  I am the specialist (figuratively speaking) that would have evaluated and placed Adreian in the special education program.

So What Went Wrong?

What I do know about educators is that we entered our careers to help children.  We certainly didn’t become an educator to inflict harm.  I do, however, have tons of questions regarding Adreian’s early educational experiences and the decisions that led to his special education label.  For starters, what was the quality of reading instruction in kindergarten, first and second grade?  Did his school have a reading curriculum? Was his teachers knowledgeable in the 5 key areas of reading instruction? Was instruction differentiated? Did he received intensive small group intervention either in his classroom or through Title One?  If so, was it research-based intervention?  My colleagues who evaluated Adreian, I’m sure followed their state rules and regulations.  I’m sure the diagnostic team, when labeling Adreian, had his best interest at heart.  It’s really difficult to see a child struggle; it’s heartbreaking.  Add to that increasing demands of the curriculum and environmental factors.  It’s human nature to want to make it easier for children and special education is often a way to do that.  But, is it the right thing to do?  I don’t know exactly why or how the decision was made and I honestly don’t know if I would have made the same decision, but with 20-20 hindsight, it was the wrong decision.  Had not Mr. Gates walked by the classroom that day, had the courage to go against the experts within the school and had not Ms. Lewis stood her ground and removed her grandson from special education, Adreian’s life would have turned out very differently.

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What Happens When We Label a Student?

Typically, students are identified as having a specific learning disability (SLD) around 2nd or 3rd grade.  We are usually able to determine a cognitive impairment much sooner.  When a child is determined through an evaluation as having a disability, an IEP (Individual Educational Planning) meeting is held.  The IEP team makes a placement decision and determines how much time the student will receive instruction in an alternative placement.  Typically students with a SLD spend about 1-2 hours in a special education classroom where a student with a cognitive impairment may spend much more time.  The problem is that what begins as “getting a little extra help to close the gap” turns into more and more time spent receiving instruction in the special education classroom as the child grows older.  At those beginning IEP meetings, we rarely tell parents that the possibility of their child exiting special education is extremely slim.  Compounding the issue is that special education classrooms are often filled to their limit in terms of numbers.  Why would we think a student can close the gap  if placed in a classroom with 18 students ranging in age from kindergarten to fifth grade with vastly different needs?  Generally speaking, the more time the student spends out of his/her general education classroom, the more the gap continues to widen.  Unconsciously or even consciously, another issue is that we tend to lower expectations for our students receiving special education services.

So What are Some Solutions?

I wish I had all the answers.  I do know, however, that collectively we can do better.  Here are some of my thoughts:

1.  As diagnosticians, we cannot make mistakes.  We have to evaluate not only the child, but the quality of instruction the child had and currently is receiving.  We need to be able to distinguish if the student’s low performance is a result of a severe neurologically-based deficit or a result of inadequate instruction.  It’s not ethical to label students as having a disability when in fact the real issue was inadequate instruction.

2.  Prior to being evaluated for special education, the student must receive high quality supplemental small group or individual instruction using a research-based program.  We use an Orton-Gillingham based program.  There are several other programs such as Reading Recovery, Lindamood-Bell which also provide systematic and explicit instruction.  The intervention must be delivered by a qualified professional and with fidelity.

3.  If a child is to be placed in a special education classroom, the instruction needs to be more intensive and more “expert” than what he/she would receive in general education.  This means group size must be smaller and the teacher must be highly trained in reading instruction.  We cannot continue to fill special education classrooms to their limit and expect results.

4.  Especially in the early grades, reading instruction in the special education classroom should not supplant instruction provided in general education.  The student needs more instruction.  The reality is that there are only so many minutes in the day–something will have to give, but it shouldn’t be reading when reading is the area of deficit.

5.  An increased effort for co-teaching should be made in many schools.  In a co-taught classroom, a special education and general education teacher are both responsible for delivering instruction within the general education classroom.  Supports for learners having difficulty (either special education students or general education students) can be provided within the classroom.  Here are a few resources on co-teaching.

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Teaching in Tandem

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6.  Students with learning difficulties will require accommodations to be successful within the general education classroom.  Fortunately, technology has advanced (e.g. text to speech) to the point where it is much easier now to alleviate some of the barriers to accessing text.  A thoughtful accommodation plan will need to be developed for students to be meaningfully integrated into the general education classroom.

7.  Keep expectations high.  One of my favorite sayings is, “go as fast as you can, but as slow as you need to.”

So What About IQ? 

The reality is is that IQ does predict school performance, and to some extent, school performance predicts success later in life (as measured by job happiness and income).  It’s a long-held belief that IQ doesn’t change–no matter what you do.  In essence, you live with the cards you’re dealt and those around you “adjust expecations”.  There was an article recently published in the AFT magazine entitled “What Every Educator Should Know About IQ”.  The thing is is that there are two kinds of intelligence-fluid intelligence and crystalized intelligence.  Fluid intelligence refers to the ability to reason quickly and think abstractly.  Fluid intelligence declines with age.  Crystalized intelligence consists of the knowledge and skills that are accumulated over a lifetime.  Crystalized intelligence improves with age and with experiences.  Can we change our IQ and the IQ of our students?  Of course we can!

We can learn a lot from Adreian’s story.  Most of all, we need to have high expectations for all students.  Our beliefs determine our behavior.  Do we believe that all children can succeed?  Do we believe that we can have a significant impact in the lives of all students?  Can we change the course of someone’s life?  We can.

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Rhyming Caterpillars

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I have such fond memories of reading The Hungry Caterpillar to my own children and to my preschool students.  It was one of my very favorite books.   I use to have a puppet which started as a caterpillar and then flipped inside out to turn into a butterfly.  Now that my preschool-teaching days are long past gone and my own kiddos are now in college, I just couldn’t part ways with that caterpillar and he sits proudly on the shelf above my desk.    Since many of my teacher friends are putting away their St. Patrick’s Day-themed activities and are bringing out their spring activities for small group instruction and centers, I thought creating a few spring-themed activities would be fun.  Here are a few caterpillar-themed activities that I hope you may enjoy.

The Rhyming Caterpillar activity contains 16 colorful leaves with corresponding rhyming caterpillars.  Each rhyming leaf has between 4-5 caterpillars holding pictures.  Now you can certainly just print the activity and cut the leaves and caterpillars along the dotted line and have a ready-made activity, but you may wish to glue those caterpillars on clothespins to add a little fine motor practice as well.

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The Make, Take & Teach Rhyming Caterpillar activity is available through the Make, Take & Teach website or in my online Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Since I was in the caterpillar-making activity roll, I updated the Creepy-Crawly Caterpillar activities for beginning sounds and word families.

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The Creepy-Crawly Caterpillar for Beginning Sounds is available through the Make, Take & Teach website or in my online Teachers Pay Teachers store.

The word family activity contains 15 word families!  These activities are ideal for your independent literacy centers.

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The Creepy-Crawly Caterpillar for Word Families is available through the Make, Take & Teach website or in my online Teachers Pay Teachers store.

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Basketball Themed Activities!

Yeah!  It’s nearing the end of March and that means MARCH MADNESS!  I LOVE watching college basketball!  Although I haven’t completed my brackets I’m sure Michigan State University is going to take it all this year.  GO STATE!  Just for our little basketball fans I created two phonics-based activities.  These activities are great for independent centers or for activities for small group instruction.  The It’s All Net! for Consonant + le contains 45 colorful basketballs for sorting by rule.

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The Make, Take & Teach It’s All Net! Consonant + le activity is available through my online Teachers Pay Teachers store.

A few of my first grade friends and second grade friends are working with regular past tense forms and the 3 sounds of  ”-ed”.  Here’s a fun little sorting activity for practicing this skill.

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The It’s All Net! -ed Endings activity is also available through my online Teachers Pay Teacher store.

So, what’s your prediction for the NCAA winner?  Just leave your guess in the comments.  I’d love to see how many MSU fans we have.

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