Sunday, December 11, 2011

Self-Esteem and Reading Difficulties | Helping Struggling Readers | Reading Rockets

Self-Esteem and Reading Difficulties | Helping Struggling Readers | Reading Rockets

Take a look at this great article on about self-esteem and reading difficulties. Many of my students suffer from low self-esteem in regards to their ability to read. Let's look at how we can help them overcome this difficulty.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Making charts

I recently used a chart-making website to make charts using data on a student.  It was great!  I went to and used their ChartMaker to create charts and reports.  Then I was able to download the charts I created in a pdf file.  So the next time you need to make a chart, head on over and use the one at Intervention Central!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Graphing with kids!

Colorin Colorado has a wonderful new article on creating bar graphs that is free to reproduce and share with parents.  Head on over to and take a look at this wonderful resource.  It also includes recommended picture books that go along with this topic.  This article is also available in Spanish if needed.  Just drop us an email and we can direct you to that link.  Thanks!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tips for Student Engagement

I received an email containing a newsletter from Edutopia today on "Tips for Increasing Student Engagement".  Head on over to and take a look for yourself.  Do you have any tips or ideas?  Please share them in the comments section.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Making Inferences and Drawing Conclusions

Making Inferences and Drawing Conclusions

By: Reading Rockets (2011)
Observations occur when we can see something happening. In contrast, inferences are what we figure out based on an experience. Helping your child understand when information is implied, or not directly stated, will improve her skill in drawing conclusions and making inferences. These skills will be needed for all sorts of school assignments, including reading, science and social studies. Inferential thinking is a complex skill that will develop over time and with experience.
Families can create opportunities to practice inferential thinking. Below are a few ways to help familiarize your child with this way of thinking and learning:
  • Explain to your child that we make conclusions about things and draw inferences all the time. Draw a conclusion together and then talk about what clues were used to come to that conclusion. For example, Erin played outside today. How can we tell? Muddy shoes, jump rope on front porch, water bottle out. Dad seems tired tonight. How can we tell? He's rubbing his eyes, he's on the couch, he was yawning at the dinner table.
  • Paper bag mystery person: Put a few items into a brown paper bag. Tell your child the bag belongs to a certain type of person. Their job is to tell you something about the person. Then, take out each item one by one and talk about it.
    • Example #1: goggles, a swim cap, a swim ribbon, a stop watch
    • Example #2: a bookmark, a library card, a stuffed animal, a book
  • Wordless picture books provide your child with practice using clues to create meaning. There are no wrong stories with wordless picture books, only variations based on what the "reader" sees and puts together. Rosie's Walk (Hutchins), Good Dog, Carl (Day), and Beaver Is Lost (Cooper) are all interesting and fun wordless picture books to explore.
  • Play twenty questions! This familiar word game helps build inference skills. As your child develops skill with the game, encourage him to avoid asking direct questions like, "Is it a dog?" Rather, encourage him to ask broader questions, "Does it walk on four feet?" Then, when your child figures it out, ask him to tell you the clues that lead to the right answer.
  • Create scenarios in which your child must use what they already know to predict an outcome. For example, growing seeds. Present your child with various scenarios (a seed will be given water and sunlight, a seed will get no water, a seed will be in a dark room). Ask your child to predict whether the seed will grow. Help your child become aware that she used information she knew about growing seeds, combined with new information, to fill in information about the seeds.
Learning to draw conclusions and inferences is a skill that develops over time. The skill requires children to put together various pieces of information, and relies on good word knowledge. Help your child develop skill by providing experience with inferential information, making implied information more clear, and helping your child draw conclusions based on the evidence.

*To view this file, you will need a copy of Acrobat Reader. If it is not already installed on your computer, you can download it from the Adobe website.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Reading Skills: Figuring Out an Unfamiliar Word

One strategy that is important for students to learn is how to figure out an unfamiliar or new word in a reading passage.  
  1. The student could look for a definition of the unknown word inside the sentence.  Clue words might be "is", "are", and "has".
  2. The student could look for a synonym.  Clue words would be "or", "in other words", "that is", and "similarly".
  3. The student could look for examples that show the meaning of the unknown word.  Clue words would be "such as" and "for instance".
  4. The student could look for a cause-effect relationship.  Clue words would be "therefore", "as a result", and "due to".
What are some strategies that you teach your students for figuring out an unfamiliar word in a reading passage?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The new school year has begun!

Ahhhh....the beginning of school.  Moms and Dads everywhere smile with glee and teachers across the nation start the frantic race to prepare their classrooms for the invasion of students.  Many companies choose this time to start posting information about free materials and resources right about now.  I thought I would pass along some of them so you can check them out.

  • Verizon Foundation:  They give grants every year to support literacy, education, technology, and other causes.  Grants can be for up to $10,000.  Take a look at
  • Farmers Insurance Education Programs:  K-12 teachers can use free teaching tools about history, democracy, diversity, literacy, the arts, fire safety, and more.  You can get the full curriculum through Farmers Insurance agents or look online at
  • My Storymaker:  This is a free website where kids can click on icons to choose and control the characters, settings, and objects in their stories and the website creates the sentences.  Try it out at
  • Parent Workshop Survival Kit:  Teachers, you can enter to win a CD of parent N'vites each week in August and the grand prize winner will receive a parent workshop survival kit valued at $500.  This parent workshop talks with parents about good reading strategies.  The CD includes a slide presentation with a script and parent handouts.  To enter to to
Those are just a few of the resources I've found lately.  Come back soon and I will post more!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Reading Rockets: Using Graphic Organizers in Literature-Based Science Instruction

Reading Rockets: Using Graphic Organizers in Literature-Based Science Instruction

Take a look at this great resource for using graphic organizers in science instruction. More and more districts are emphasizing embedding literature into subjects other than just reading class. How do you incorporate literature into other subjects?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Communities helping students succeed.

Every Year


Inform parents about what children are expected to learn and do at every grade level through school orientations as well as school newsletters.

Hold parent/teacher conferences to identify strengths and strategies for improving student success in school.

Identify non-traditional ways to connect with parents unable to attend regularly scheduled parent/teacher conferences.

Communicate regularly about children's progress, not just when problems arise.

Send home homework or learning assignments.

Hold family math and literacy workshops aimed at helping parents learn about what they can do at home to help children advance their skills.

Partner with schools to help parents understand what to expect in a high quality educational program and how to determine the best match for their child.

Help to identify positive solutions when conflicts arise between school staff and parents about how to promote a child’s academic achievement.

Assist parents in identifying when their child might be at risk because of an undetected learning disability and/or they are disengaging from school.

Partner with schools to offer workshops on family math and literacy as well as other relevant parenting topics.

Use home visitors who reflect the cultural and linguistic background of families to help parents acquire skills to help their children at home.

Create lending libraries offering families access to learning materials that they can use at home.

Think about the kind of educational program your child needs to learn and thrive, and seek placement in those schools which meet his or her needs.

Know your child's teachers. Let teachers know that you want to be contacted immediately about any concerns.

Attend parent-teacher conferences and regularly seek out information about your child's progress.

Request a developmental assessment if a learning disability is suspected.

Watch for signs that your child might be at risk.

Use activities at home to develop their knowledge and skills, and utilize community resources (museums, libraries, youth centers) to create additional opportunities for learning.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Recognizing the Signs When ELLs Struggle

With the rise of ELL/ESL students enrolling in our schools, teachers often look for resources in a variety of places.  Colorin Colorado is a fantastic place to find such resources.  It has many wonderful ideas for parents and teachers to use with students.  Linked to this entry is a chart of how to recognize the signs when ELLs struggle.  Have you seen these characteristics in your students?  Do you have any to add?  Just click here:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Accommodations, Modifications, & Interventions

Many times you will hear educators discussing accommodations, modifications, and interventions.  Often those terms will seem interchangeable.  But there is a difference between the terms.

Accommodations are changes made to instruction.  These changes are made to help students fully participate in the general education curriculum without changing the instructional content.  They do not change the learning expectations in regards to the goal being addressed.  Typically the student product produced using accommodations is equal to the student product produced without accommodations.  Some examples of accommodations would be providing more time to complete work, allowing oral responses instead of written responses, or providing a study guide before a test.

Modifications are changes made to instruction that changes or reduces learning expectations.  This can include rewording test questions, shortening an assignment (odd or even numbers only), or using a different grading scale.

Interventions are strategies that are used to teach a skill in a new situation.  They should include an assessment, planning, and data collection from activities of student achievement.  The interventions are to be scientifically research based.  Regular progress monitoring (example: once a week) should occur to determine skill growth and help shape instructional planning.  Examples of scientifically research based interventions would be S.P.I.R.E or Florida Center of Reading Research activities.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Education World: Reading Coach: Glimpses Into Read-Aloud Classrooms/

Education World: Reading Coach: Glimpses Into Read-Aloud Classrooms/

Take a moment to read this article in what doing a read aloud in a classroom can look like. This article has great ideas! Click on the title above to go to the article at Education World.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fluency information

Facilitating Writing Fluency

The ability to write automatically is commonly called writing fluency. This online excerpt from Writing Instruction and Assessment for ELLs explains the reasons why teachers need to focus on writing fluency, the challenges ELLs face when learning to write, and instructional strategies for facilitating writing fluency. Educators may be particularly interested in descriptions of alphabetic features for a number of languages.  Please click on the blue link of "Facilitating Writing Fluency" and take a look at the information.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Friday, April 1, 2011

Finding out book levels

Yesterday I asked my fifth/sixth grade students for book recommendations.  If they finish their work during reading group in an orderly manner and WITH manners then I read to them the last five minutes.  Surprisingly they love being read to even at their age!  One suggested A Case of the Stripes, another suggested Harry Potter, while another student suggested The Edge Chronicles.  I hadn't heard of the last series and the requirement is the book must be on a fifth grade level.  So I used my book leveler from Scholastic to find out the grade level of The Edge Chronicles.  Unfortunately for them that series is a 4.3 level.  So we will have to brainstorm some more.  If you would like to check out the Scholastic Book Leveler, just take a look at the bottom of this blog.  I keep the widget at the bottom of this blog.  Have fun!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Fun free printable activities with Post-it!

I found a fun site in one of my teaching magazines run by the Post-it company.  It is a great place to find free printables for parents and teachers.  Just head on over to  Have some fun!

Friday, February 18, 2011

ELL families and Parent/Teacher Conferences

Tips for Successful Parent-Teacher Conferences with Bilingual Families

By: Kristina Robertson (2007)

"Tell me and I'll forget. Show me and I'll remember. Involve me and I'll understand."

— Confucius


Tips for Parents

Share these bilingual tip sheets on Parent-Teacher Conferences with the families of your ELLs!

Your family has been selected for a new reality show called "Education Around the World." You and your children are relocated within a week to a country very different from the United States — let's say China. To win the grand prize on the reality show, you must help your children succeed in the Chinese public school system. Before you leave the U.S., you barely learn survival Chinese and you've gotten the basic assistance to get your children registered in the Chinese school system. You don't know anything, however, about the Chinese educational system, and you are not sure what the expectations are for students or their parents, or how you will communicate with the teacher since he/she speaks very little English.

Once you have arrived and the school year begins, you are not able to understand the information that is sent home; your children are struggling to learn math, social studies, and science in Chinese with one hour of English support each day; and you don't know how you should communicate with the teacher or if the school has parent-teacher conferences. If the school does hold conferences, how does it work? Do you sign up for a time? Do you go there and wait for your turn? Do the teachers come visit the house? Or are parent-teacher conferences only held when there is a problem? And perhaps the most important question of all: if you want an English translator, how do you request one?

This example demonstrates what some of our ELL families might experience as they attempt to understand the U.S. educational system and such practices as parent-teacher conferences. The challenges of this situation could also be compounded if parents do not have very much education themselves and feel uncomfortable in an educational environment.

In addition, parents may come from a culture where it is either insulting to a teacher to ask for student progress information. Alternatively, the expectation may be that the children have been sent to the teacher to learn and if the teacher is asking for a parent's help, then there must be something wrong with the teacher. You can see how many bridges must be crossed in order to offer the kind of outreach and support parents may need to fully benefit from parent-teacher conferences.

Teacher tips for parent-teacher conferences with bilingual families

Before the conference

Encourage parent attendance

To prepare for a successful conference night, see the Bright Ideas article on encouraging bilingual family involvement, which includes ideas on bilingual invitations, childcare, and other steps you can take to encourage parent attendance.

Make personal contact

After sending the conference invitations home, call the parents or greet the families at school and ask them if they will be able to meet with you.

Make an appointment with the parents

Take a tip from sales people: give parents an appointment time. When you offer the appointment time, ask the parent if they will be able to come at that time or to suggest a time that is more convenient for them. Then describe the parent-teacher conference and what they should expect.

Give parents a reminder call

Another tip from sales people: The day before the conference, make a reminder call. Be aware that families may have children in other grades or in other schools, and do your best to coordinate with all staff involved on the appointment times for the family. If possible, be flexible if a family can't make the appointment on conference day, and arrange to meet the family on another day after school.

Arrange for an interpreter

It is very important that students are not the interpreters. Students may not feel comfortable interpreting for their parents. They may not know the appropriate vocabulary to interpret the educational information. And they may not necessarily be forthcoming if they do not like the information being presented. (Some teachers have reported that a few of their Spanish-speaking students told their parents that 'F' stood for "Fantástico".)

Enlist help to find an interpreter if necessary

If you do not have an official interpreter available at your school, talk to your principal and/or school district about the need to get one. If in-person interpreters are not available (and you may not be able to get one for a low-incidence language such as Urdu or Farsi), there are companies that provide interpreters over the phone so that you could set up a phone conference with your student's parents. If another bilingual parent offers to serve as an interpreter, make sure that the conference parent is comfortable with this. Also make sure that this does not violate privacy policies in your school district.

Consider training parents to become interpreters

If interpreters are not readily available at your school, consider offering an "interpreters' training" for bilingual parents, and enlist the support of those parents who have become familiar with the school and educational environment. Offer the training they need so that they feel comfortable and confident with their skills in a new role as an interpreter for other parents. Again, make sure that this does not violate privacy policies in your school district.

Create an interpreters' schedule with other teachers

Be aware that interpreters may have many classrooms to assist. If possible, collaborate with other teachers to establish an "interpreters' schedule."

Train interpreters and staff

Before conference night, have a training session for interpreters and staff in order to make the process successful and ensure that all people involved have the skills and understanding necessary to support the families.

Meet with the interpreter

Meet with the interpreter before the conference to go over the meeting schedule and agenda, and to address any questions or concerns. Be sure to define the kind of information that will be shared and to reinforce the fact that the interpreter is translating the information, not offering advice or opinions.

Review educational terms and vocabulary with the interpreter

Make sure that the interpreter feels comfortable interpreting certain vocabulary words that may not exist in their own language such as "special education," "state standards," or "curriculum."

Allow more time for translations

Conferences that include an interpreter will take more time while you, the interpreter, and the parents exchange information.

Be aware of cultural differences

If possible, get some background information about your students' cultures and educational expectations that their parents may have. The following true anecdote illustrates the importance of this: a kindergarten teacher held a conference with parents who were from an African country. The kindergarten teacher was very concerned about their child's excessive talking, activity, and inability to pay attention or play quietly with the other children. The parents beamed at the teacher and described how happy they were that their child was displaying such inquisitive and active intelligent behavior. They had a very different perspective on the behaviors of a successful learner.

During the conference

Speak with the parents, not the interpreter

During the conference, always make eye contact with and talk directly to the parent (as opposed to speaking with the interpreter).

Speak evenly and pause frequently

Speak at a measured pace (not slowly or more loudly), and pause often so the interpreter can translate a manageable amount of information.

Use simple documents in your explanations

Use documents for visual support, but keep them simple. For example, don't offer a full-page single-spaced description of the curriculum. Offer an example of the student's work and a bullet list or rubric to show how it is evaluated, or a simple calendar with curriculum projects filled in.

Discuss educational plans and the parents' expectations

Some schools develop educational plans with the parents, and this may be a new concept for ELL parents. Simplify the process by asking the parent, "What do you hope your child will learn this year?" or "What do you want your child to get better at?"

Offer translated information if possible

Many schools now offer basic student progress forms in two languages — English on one side and a second language on the other. Teachers fill in the appropriate information for each student and then give the parents the form, showing them the translated explanation of the form on the back. Some forms include classroom schedules and an area for grades and test scores, while others use very basic symbols such as smiley faces. While the teacher's remarks themselves may not be translated, the parents will have an explanation in their language of how their child is being evaluated, and will be able to get a good sense of their child's progress from the form. If your school offers such forms, they can be a highly useful tool in communicating with parents.

Offer information about local support resources

Parents may not know about resources such as the public library's homework-help program or a tutoring support program offered in the school or community.

Encourage reading at home

Emphasize the importance of reading at home in the student's native language and/or English. The important thing is to encourage the joy of reading and to continue to support the development of both languages.

Leave time for parent questions

Underscore the importance of ongoing communication between the home and the school. Provide the parents with ways that they can contact you and communicate their questions and concerns with the necessary bilingual support. And of course — don't forget to thank them for coming!

After the conference

Send a thank you note

One of the most important things about a parent-teacher conference is the development of a partnership between the teacher and the parents. Once the conference has been completed, you can send a note home to the parents and tell them how much you enjoyed meeting them and talking about their child, or you can make a call to the family within a few weeks of the conference to inform them about the positive progress you have noticed in their child.

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

A fun site to use in class

A fun site to use in class is  You enter a word or phrase and the program will pull up not only photos to go along with your word or phrase but also map out the phrase with synonyms.  This is great to use when teaching vocabulary to students, especially ELL (English Language Learners) students.  Have fun with it!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Response to Intervention: Helping Students Before They Fail

Response to Intervention (RTI) is an idea that has been gaining strength throughout the nation the last 5 to 7 years.  In education we have changed our thinking on how we teach and how children learn.  This has in return led to changes in educational law and practices.

In order to understand RTI we first need to know how it is defined.  According to IDEA "a local educational agency may use a process that determines if the child responds to scientific research-based intervention as a part of the evaluation process."  Tennessee's Department of Education regulations [300.307(a)(2)] dated August 2006 states "the State must permit the use of a process based on the child's response to scientific, research-based intervention to determine eligibility" for Special Education.  A phrase that is common in both definitions is "scientific, research-based intervention".  A child needs to work with a highly qualified person using a systematic process to diagnose what skills are missing in the skill set and then systematically teach the skills needed.  The systematic process must have research supporting it's efficacy.

Now that RTI is defined, let's talk about why RTI should be used.  There is a mistaken idea that RTI is the pathway to special education services for a student.  That idea simply supports that the student has failed in moving forward with skills and is significantly behind same-aged peers in gaining skills.  The reason for RTI is not to identify students for special education but instead help students as soon as possible to achieve at a proficient level.  The idea of RTI is not to wait for students to fail but instead help students as soon as they begin to struggle.

How is your district using RTI?  Is it a proactive process?  Or has it developed as a response to students failing?  Leave a comment below and let us know.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Using S.P.I.R.E. for reading intervention

Our district has decided to begin using S.P.I.R.E. for reading intervention.  Each school has arranged a master schedule so that each grade level has an intervention block.  Every child in the district receives a universal screening in the area of reading three times a year.  After the screening, the children are ranked according to their score.  The children who are in greatest need receive intervention from academic interventionists.  The remaining children participate in intervention or enrichment groups with the classroom teachers.

S.P.I.R.E. stands for Specialized Program Individualizing Reading Excellence.  It is a multisensory systematic reading program for students who are struggling with reading.  It begins with the PreK level and reaches up to the 8th grade.  S.P.I.R.E has been used across the United States with good success.  It covers the five areas of reading recommended by the National Reading Panel; Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Comprehension, and Vocabulary.  It can include (if purchased) an initial placement assessment. This program incorporates best practices in reading instruction.

What research-based reading intervention programs does your school system use?  Have you found it to be successful?  We are just beginning our journey but are excited at the possibilities.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Emphasize the Importance of Reading

  • Parents who read usually have children who read.
  • Reduce TV viewing and video game time, and increase reading time.
  • Set aside a time each day when you and your child will read.
  • Read aloud to your child.  Reading with expression shows a child that you love books and that you enjoy reading to them.
  • Share what you have read with your child, and ask your child to do the same.