contributed by Samantha Saumell
As teachers, we may have moments where we stand in front of our bright-eyed students, and we wonder what we can do to best meet their needs. How can we help students who are reading below grade level? How can we help struggling mathematicians?
At the end of the day, it can feel overwhelming. But no matter what, always remember to do everything with a purpose. Don’t lose sight of why we do what we do. Everything we do is for our students. In the article, “What to Expect Your First Year of Teaching,” Amy DePaul explains that “[k]ids are and always will be what great teachers live for. Their smiles are an antidote to a bad day, and their progress is an unending source of satisfaction…” (p. 28). So, at times when you’re left scratching your head on where to go next, remember this.
Before you can decide where to go, you need to take time and fully understand where your students are. When it comes to reading, it is imperative that you pick assessments that will allow you to know exactly who your student is as a reader.
A variety of literacy assessments can include:
-Alphabet recognition/ Letter Sound Correspondence: have students identify lowercase letters and what sounds they make.
-Sight Word Recognition: Fountas and Pinnell list of high-frequency words or Jan Richardson’s list of words by reading level.
-Running Record: Fountas and Pinnell, each level has a fiction and nonfiction book.
-Phonological Assessment: decoding, blending phonemes, segmenting phonemes, rhyming, syllables, and identifying initial sounds.
While testing, students make sure they are aware that it is okay if they don’t know something! It is important to give an adequate amount of time to answer, but long enough to create distraction or frustration. The goal is to get information, not make students frustrated.
Once you have the data take time to analyze it, you may be surprised by what you discover. Take note of what letters students can easily identify and which ones leave them stumped. When conducting a running record, try and discover what kind of errors students are making. Fountas and Pinnell have created running records that allow you to track if a student made a meaning, syntax, or visual error. The purpose is to analyze a child’s reading behavior. Conducting a running record is not enough on its own. You must take the time to understand the errors students make. This information, along with a student’s reading level, can help you form effective small groups within your classroom.
Once you know a little bit more about who your students are as readers, you can plan meaningful instruction. For example, once you know what letters a student needs to practice, you can design engaging activities. Before a student can successfully tap out tricky words while reading, they need to understand that letters represent sounds.
-Every time you teach a new letter, have students color the letter in on an alphabet rainbow. This can allow students time to reflect on their accomplishments and see their growth.
-Read poems and have students pretend they are detectives and find the letters they are currently learning.
-Make learning multisensory. Sky write letters, trace letters, sing songs, read poems, etc.
Sight Word Activities
-Rainbow write. Have students write the word inside a rainbow using different colors.
-Small/medium/large write. Students write the word in different sizes in order to help them recognize the word with more automaticity.
-Magnetic letters. Using letters for students to form their words.
-Fancy fingers. Students can use crayons and markers to write their words in a fancy style. While students write the words, have them say each letter as they form it.
When it comes to the running record you can use mistakes that students made as a way to plan instruction. For example, if you notice that a student is not reading fluently, you may want to introduce a fluency spinner. A fluency spinner is a great way to help students read with more expression and can be individualized.
For example, if you know your student loves a certain character like Mario, Minnie Mouse, or even Olaf you can put them on the fluency spinner. Students can spin the spinner and whoever it lands on is who they need to sound like. You can use any text that is at a student’s independent reading level. You can also put on the spinner to read like your teacher, read like a monster, read like your mom, or read like a baby.
Pick characters or people that you know your students would be able to recall quickly. Another fun idea is if you notice when conducting running records that students don’t read through the whole sentence, you can create fluency pyramids. A fluency pyramid is a way to ensure that students continue reading all the way through. For example:
I like to
I like to go
I like to go to
I like to go to the
I like to go to the park.
You can cover the line below and have students keep moving the paper down as they go.
(*You can also include sight words that students are practicing! *)
Ultimately, it is important to not just give assessments for the sake of collecting data. Give assessments that serve a purpose and will allow you to get the inside scoop of what a student truly understands or doesn’t understand. Use that information to drive your lessons.
Remember to make decisions with your students in mind, and it won’t steer you wrong!