6 Reasons Teachers NEED the Summer OFF

There is so much talk about teachers having the summer "off." There are 6 good reasons we do...except we aren't really off.
First let me say...every teacher knows they don't have summers "off."  We do things all summer to prepare for the next year, work with curriculum, participate in professional development, teach summer school, and more. BUT, if someone out there would like to know why we need summers off and what we do in the summer, here it is.
There is so much talk about teachers having the summer "off." There are 6 good reasons we do...except we aren't really off.

Recharge.

We must recharge. I have had the conversation with my husband that being a teacher is being "on" for seven hours a day, five days a week, for 36 weeks. If you don't feel well, it doesn't matter. You can't go into an office, shut the door and do your job. If you are upset about something outside of school, it doesn't matter. Those children need you and you have a job to do. You are "on" and you are responsible for those 25 kids that day, just like every other day. Honestly, there have been days I have loved the distraction of the classroom...bring able to turn off the outside world, while turning on for students. However, at some point your battery needs recharging. You need to live for you...for a bit. My recharge is at the beach. I can breathe deeper and find me again.
There is so much talk about teachers having the summer "off." There are 6 good reasons we do...except we aren't really off.

Rearrange.

It is strange to me to think there are teachers who have the same class set up for years and years. I never had the same classroom arrangement from year to year. I was always thinking about a better way to have small group or a better place for my classroom library or a better way to set up centers. The best way to set up a classroom is to wait for the room to be all packed up and empty, then I go to town. I want to think of the a better way to make my classroom the best.
There is so much talk about teachers having the summer "off." There are 6 good reasons we do...except we aren't really off.

Re-energize.

When you get on an airplane the flight attendant asks for your attention for the emergency procedure speech. I have always thought it was ridiculous to think I would put my own mask on before taking care of a minor child in my company. It is counter-intuitive to do so. However, I completely understand the need to take care of yourself so you help those around you more effectively. The summer is a perfect time to take care of myself. I don't have to be "on" in the summer. I can allow myself downtime. I can say unequivocally I am ready for school to start back and I am ready for the year of being "on."
There is so much talk about teachers having the summer "off." There are 6 good reasons we do...except we aren't really off.

Relax.


That's right, I'm not going to deny it. There are days and weeks when I am up early, home late, and "on." It's nice to relax. I tend to be a night owl in the summer...staying up late, watching movies, reading books, and getting things done. I have stripped wallpaper (I think it's relaxing, even if no one else does), cleaned out cabinets, and leisurely walked around a mall. I have also eaten lunch at mid-day and I have gone to the bathroom when I wanted/needed to. (You can laugh, but every teacher is shaking her head and saying, "Amen.") I also tend to make doctor appointments in the summer for check-ups...sometimes it's harder to make sub plans than take the time during the school year.
There is so much talk about teachers having the summer "off." There are 6 good reasons we do...except we aren't really off.

Re-evaluate.

I have always known I would be a teacher. I knew it when I got carbon paper and I could make my own worksheets. I knew it when Mrs. Welsh (4th grade) would roll the chalk in her hands and make it click as she was talking to use. I knew it when Mrs. Stiff (6th grade) would move our desks to the edges of the classroom and roll out plastic to have us use clay. I knew it when I volunteered in a special education classroom and had preschoolers hang on my every word. I knew it when I was in college. I have always known I would be a teacher, but as the years came and went my role in education has shifted. I may not have my own classroom, but I feel like I am in a position of helping classes of children. The summer is the time to re-evaluate not only who we teach and how we teach, but why we teach.

Remind.

There is so much talk about teachers having the summer "off." There are 6 good reasons we do...except we aren't really off.
Finally, remind yourself. The best book for teachers right now is the Wild Card by Hope and Wade King. I don't get any kick-backs or affiliate fees, but the book was soooo meaningful to me. It combines all that is right with education: empowering students, student engagement, growth mindset, and finding your passion again. What is your "WHY?" I have stated before Dr. Steve Perry (not from Journey) said, "If you can walk away tomorrow, you should walk away today." Teaching is more than a job. It's more than a profession. It MUST include passion. It MUST include compassion. It MUST include love. If it doesn't make an appointment with your HR department and figure out if there is something else for you.
There is so much talk about teachers having the summer "off." There are 6 good reasons we do...except we aren't really off.

The Importance of End Marks (4 Ideas for Emergent Readers)

Talking about end marks from the beginning of reading instruction can be a powerful tool to enhance fluency and comprehension.  There are 4 activities for using end marks with emergent readers.
No one can argue that punctuation is important. It's important for clarity, understanding, and fluency.  It effects voice and comprehension.  It changes a situation with intonation and inflection.  I was reminded of this when I was eating my favorite donuts.  Donuts?
Talking about end marks from the beginning of reading instruction can be a powerful tool to enhance fluency and comprehension. There are 4 activities for using end marks with emergent readers.

The best donuts in the world are Duck Donuts...in my opinion.  I love them...and donuts make me smile.  As I was eating Duck Donuts for the millionth time, I was reminded of punctuation.  As you can see in the picture above...I saw the t-shirt on the wall and starting laughing.  I turned to my husband and said, "DUCK! Donuts."  Then I laughed again.  This made me realize 3 things:  1.  Only a teacher would laugh at a punctuation joke. 2. Duck Donuts obviously has a great sense of humor. and  3. My husband is a saint for putting up with me and my punctuation jokes.
Talking about end marks from the beginning of reading instruction can be a powerful tool to enhance fluency and comprehension. There are 4 activities for using end marks with emergent readers.

1.  Which End mark?

When students are first learning about ending sounds, we have to practice reading with intonation and inflection.  Starting this practice from the beginning can be powerful for emergent readers.  Using cards with the same sentences and 3 different endings, students can play "Which End mark?"  They choose a card and read it with the ending in mind.  Their classmates need to guess the end mark.
Talking about end marks from the beginning of reading instruction can be a powerful tool to enhance fluency and comprehension. There are 4 activities for using end marks with emergent readers.

2.  Sing It!

Everyone knows it's easy to teach early emergent and emergent readers a skill when it's set to a tune.  These punctuation songs are set to the tune of "I'm a Little Teapot."  Whether they are singing about the little period, the exclamation mark that yells or the curvy question mark they are sure to make a connection with the punctuation through song.
Talking about end marks from the beginning of reading instruction can be a powerful tool to enhance fluency and comprehension. There are 4 activities for using end marks with emergent readers.

3.  Do it.

Another sure fire way to get students to learn punctuation is to involve their whole body.  The same cards from the "Which Endmark?" can be used for this.  Students will listen to the sentence and decide what punctuation is at the end.  If it's a period, they squat like the cutie in the picture above.  If it's an exclamation mark, they stretch their hands high above their head and clasp them together to make a tall exclamation mark.  Finally, if it's a question mark, they will 'hula' their hips to show the curvy question mark.
Talking about end marks from the beginning of reading instruction can be a powerful tool to enhance fluency and comprehension. There are 4 activities for using end marks with emergent readers.

4.  Raise it up!

Finally, this can be a quiet game.  Everyone gets 3 signs glued on to tongue depressors.  As the teacher reads the sentence, the sign is raised.  It's a great quick assessment without paper and pencil.  You can quickly see who knows the answer, who hesitates and who watches others.

Duck! Donuts.
If we want our students to understand endmarks from the beginning, we need to teach it from the beginning.  Likewise, in the land of flying donuts, we should do this to protect our students.


If you would like, CLICK HERE for the Freebie about End Marks or the cover below.
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Introductions Aren't Just for People...They are for Books, Too.

Introducing a book can make or break a small group lesson.  Make sure your introductions remind students of strategies, introduce vocabulary and support comprehension.

Hello, my name is...

Introductions are very important.  Every good guided reading lesson starts with a great introduction. Unfortunately, it can be easily overlooked and taken for granted.  I actually observed a teacher hand out books and say, "Look at the pictures quickly, so we can start reading." That was her entire introduction. Taking time to write your introduction assures you can present a meaningful introduction that supports and ensures success. There are many ways to introduce a book.  Here are four.
Introducing a book can make or break a small group lesson.  Make sure your introductions remind students of strategies, introduce vocabulary and support comprehension.

1. Vocabulary Sort

Before showing the students the book, I showed them the vocabulary words.  First, we just sorted by syllable.  After the words had been sorted, I asked for predictions.  Students had to make a prediction and add a "because" statement to the end.  "I believe this book will be about bees because 5 of the words a bee words."  "I think this story will be in a garden because that's one of the words and it's where I would find honeybees and blooms."  You can sort by known and unknown, similar meanings, characters v settings, and any other way you can think to introduce the words.
Introducing a book can make or break a small group lesson.  Make sure your introductions remind students of strategies, introduce vocabulary and support comprehension.

2. Pictionary

When possible, use a picture to help introduce words.  When introducing a story about a farm, I drew the farm on the board.  I included the settings for the book that would be necessary for success in the book.  As the students add the words to the picture, they are helping to introduce the book to themselves.  We also discovered the water in the picture COULD BE a lake, but also COULD BE a pond.  We discussed we needed to use our letter cues to determine which word is used in the story. We have to get out of the habit of telling them everything.  If they know all the answers, they don't have to use any strategies. Using this picture as a reading strategy for struggling readers is a bonus.  The picture above is the final product AFTER the students had added words to the picture.
Introducing a book can make or break a small group lesson.  Make sure your introductions remind students of strategies, introduce vocabulary and support comprehension.

3. Prediction Detective

Remember the old game show. One person gave clues about a word and the other person guesses. This is actually a great game of making predictions and drawing conclusions. Do not show them the cover of the book. Choose specific vocabulary from the story that will lead your students to draw the conclusions about the story. Write one word at a time and discuss what kind of book would have this word in it. Writing words like "seed, Sally, grow, daisy" can be a great introduction to the Rigby PM Platinum Level Reader, "Sally and the Daisy." As you add a word, ask students what the book might be about. Finally, ask for the predictions.  During the picture walk students can continue to confirm ideas about the story.
Introducing a book can make or break a small group lesson.  Make sure your introductions remind students of strategies, introduce vocabulary and support comprehension.

4. Make a Connection

At the Emergent Level, students are beginning to make personal connections to text.  One way to introduce a book is making the connection for students prior to reading the story. "One day last summer I went to Busch Gardens (or the state fair or carnival).  Have you ever been to Busch Gardens?"  Remind students there are rides at the park. Show the students the cover of the book.  "Who has been on a merry-go-round that would like to share your experiences with us?" After a student or two share their experiences, remind them to look for connections when you do the picture walk.

Do you have any ideas about Introducing a Book?  Let me know!

Introducing a book can make or break a small group lesson. Make sure your introductions remind students of strategies, introduce vocabulary and support comprehension.

Memorial Day, Summer, and Heading to the Beach

Are you ready for the summer?  I am.  Here's a post about our favorite things about the summer beginning with Memorial Day and breathing the beach air.
I can't believe it's almost Memorial Day. From the time I was a little girl I remember going to the Memorial Day Parade in my hometown, Portsmouth, Virginia. It is the longest running parade in the US...or something like that. Memorial Day is also a special day in our family.  My husband, Bill, served in the Navy.  I am extremely proud of him and his service to our country.  I know that makes him a vet and we celebrate him on Veteran's Day, but we make sure to honor all those who have given the ultimate price for our country's freedom. One of the most powerful sayings is, "Freedom isn't Free." There are men and women who have paid an enormous price for my freedom. We teach about Memorial Day in our school because it can't just be about a day off...it must have meaning.

In honor of all servicemen and women who gave their lives for our freedom, enjoy this 4 square. It is an easy way to practice writing about such an important time, after you have had lessons whole group.
Are you ready for the summer?  I am.  Here's a post about our favorite things about the summer beginning with Memorial Day and breathing the beach air.

Summer

Memorial Day is the "official start of summer," even if some of us have a month of school to go.  Enjoy this Summer ABC chart great for end of the year writing topics.
Are you ready for the summer?  I am.  Here's a post about our favorite things about the summer beginning with Memorial Day and breathing the beach air.

Beaches

We spent a day this weekend at our happy place:  the beach. I'm not sure I could function if the beach wasn't close. Being at the beach allows me to breathe a little deeper and focus a little better. All is right with the world as I walk the beach and find sea glass. In honor of our special beach time, enjoy the beach student-selected 4 square.
Are you ready for the summer?  I am.  Here's a post about our favorite things about the summer beginning with Memorial Day and breathing the beach air.

I hope you each have a wonderful Memorial Day and honor our servicemen and women in your families and communities. I wish everyone could put their toes in the ocean...it's the best balm for anything that ails you!

If you would like my Memorial Day Special please leave a comment and click the link.  (There are even a few things in the packet I didn't mention.)

Pre-A...the Level BEFORE We Begin

Jan Richardson developed the Pre-A to prepare kindergartners for guided reading with a routine and meaningful structure. This post steps it out for you.
I have presented a Pre-A Staff Development for our school system.  My first experience with Pre-A and Jan Richardson was at the VSRA Conference in 2009.  Jan was presenting a session on the Pre-A guided reading level and I was completely in awe of this level.  She hit such a chord with me that day…and I was instantly a convert.  After the 2009 conference I emailed her to ask for an open date on her presentation schedule and when we realized she was booked too far in advance, she sent a DVD.  It was the pre-amble to today's DVD set that is available through Scholastic, but it was amazing.  I have also seen her several times since then...Virginia Beach in 2013, Roanoke in 2014, ILA New Orleans in 2014, and ILA Boston 2016.

Jan Richardson developed the Pre-A to prepare kindergartners for guided reading with a routine and meaningful structure. This post steps it out for you.I have shared her Pre-A with a variety of schools and colleagues, but this spring, the need for Pre-A seemed more and more necessary.  Let me explain.  As I have stated before, Virginia is not a Common Core state but only because we have been developing our own common curriculum since the early 2000s, our Standards of Learning.  As the rigor has increased the value in early reading skills and competencies has increased.  Students need a strong foundation in reading to be able to move forward confidently and successfully.

This summer I shared the Pre-A with 20 kindergarten and special education teachers in our school system.  Recently, I shared the workshop again with more teachers.  Here is an abbreviated version of my staff development.

What do you need for a Pre-A Lesson?
Jan Richardson developed the Pre-A to prepare kindergartners for guided reading with a routine and meaningful structure. This post steps it out for you.

A standard guided reading lesson requires not much more than a book and a plan.  The Pre-A requires more than that.  The materials on the list aren't in any particular order.  I suggest a timer...it's a 20 minute lesson with 4 parts.  If you don't use the time, you can easily get long-winded and take too much time.  Students will need magnetic letters (both upper and lower case letters) to sort, organize, and spell their names.  Having a pencil container with all the materials needed during the lesson, helps you keep the lesson to 20 minutes, as well. I love the dry erase markers from Dollar Tree and I'll talk about it later.  There needs to be a popsicle stick for pointing or the student can use their finger.  Letter/Sound cards are a necessity.  I love this set from Pioneer Valley Books.  It has sound cards, rhyming cards, and syllable cards ~ perfect for the Pre-A lesson.  You'll need Level A books.  You need a letter/sound linking chart.  The one I made has a writing space at the bottom of the chart.  When it's placed in a plastic sleeve, they can practice writing letters during the lesson.  You'll need standard sentence strips and scissors for the Working on Writing section.  The plastic sleeves mentioned earlier can be found at many different outlets, but I love the ones at EAI Educational.  Finally, you'll need a handwritten name plate for students.

What is a Pre-A Student?
Jan Richardson developed the Pre-A to prepare kindergartners for guided reading with a routine and meaningful structure. This post steps it out for you.

We started our class with a sort:  Pre-A v. Emergent Readers.  It is crucial to determine who will benefit from a Pre-A lesson plan.  Pre-A will prepare students for early success in Level A. Because students in our division are asked to be at a Level D by the end of the year, so getting them into an A quickly is important. We tend to hold them back and wait for a magic moment of "ready" before we move them on, but if we are paying attention to the skills at each level, let the words in your head echo, "What are you waiting for?" Students who are Pre-A are those that:
  • know less than 40 upper and lower case letters combined.

  • know some but few letter sounds.

  • need a model to write their name.

  • have limited concepts of print.

  • need practice with left-to-right directionality.

  • use choral reading

  • work mostly with letters and sounds, not words.
If you would like the sort, Click here.

Letter Identification and the Alphabet Tracing Book

Jan Richardson developed the Pre-A to prepare kindergartners for guided reading with a routine and meaningful structure. This post steps it out for you.Jan Richardson developed the Pre-A to prepare kindergartners for guided reading with a routine and meaningful structure. This post steps it out for you.Letter identification is the first step in the Pre-A.  Based on letter ID students can be divided into 3 categories:  Less than 10, 10-40 Known Letters, and More than 40.  The first two groups of children will be in a Pre-A lesson, the latter will be in a Level A with support.  Once the 2 Pre-A groups are determined, the students need the Alphabet Tracing Book and a Pre-A Lesson Plan.

The Alphabet Tracing Book is one of the best tools in the Pre-A plan.  The Alphabet Tracing Book is such a simple concept, but it can give such great results.  The book has 26 pages…one for each letter of the alphabet.  The page contains a capital and lower case letter and a linking picture.  The students are asked to trace the letters with their finger in proper formation.  Students in the Less than 10 Pre-A group will be tracing known letters and letters in their name.  Students in the 10-40 Known Letters will trace the entire book.  As they trace the letters they say the letter name and then point to the picture and say the picture.  If they don’t know the letter or form the letter incorrectly, the “teacher” uses a hand-over-hand method.  It is not recommended the students add a letter/sound association.  In our school, our teaching assistants and parent volunteers were taught to review the Alphabet Tracing Book DAILY!  Yes, DAILY!

If you would like a Sound Chart and Alphabet Tracing Chart Set, Click here.

The Lesson Plan
Jan Richardson developed the Pre-A to prepare kindergartners for guided reading with a routine and meaningful structure. This post steps it out for you.

The Pre-A Lesson Plan is divided into 4 parts:  Working with Letters/Working with Names, Working with Sounds, Working with Books, and Working with Writing.  AND the entire Pre-A lesson takes 20 minutes.  That’s right…20 minutes.  Think of it as the Curves® of reading instruction.  You’ll hit on all four parts of the Pre-A lesson in 20 minutes. Now do you see the need for a timer? Each of the four components are described below.
If you would like the Pre-A Lesson Plan template, Click here.
Jan Richardson developed the Pre-A to prepare kindergartners for guided reading with a routine and meaningful structure. This post steps it out for you.

Working with Names

The working with names is only for the students who cannot write their name without a model.  The activities are name puzzles, creating names with magnetic letters, and writing rainbow name writing.  Name puzzles are done a little differently than you would think. Write the student's name on a sentence strip and put it in a legal-size envelope with their name written on the outside of the envelope. For the first lesson, take their name out of the envelope, put the name-side of the envelope on top with the name showing, cut the name strip in half. Show them the two parts of their name and have construct their name with the model. Then, turn over the puzzle pieces, mix, and turn the envelope upside down. The student will construct their name without a model. That is the whole lesson for the first day. The next day cut the name one more time, so their are 3 parts and repeat the activity. Once they can construct their name with individual letters, the name puzzle is retired.  I'm sure the magnet letters activity is self-explanatory. There are three reasons I love the dry erase markers from Dollar Tree.  First, the marker is bullet point…so you don’t have to worry about a chiseled edge.  Second, the top can be snapped on without damaging the bullet point.  Finally, the eraser can be used with the rainbow writing.  The student is given a plastic sleeve and their printed name and a dry erase marker.  The student traces the name with proper formation, then uses the eraser end to erase the name in proper formation.  Set the timer for 1 minute and the student must write, erase, and rewrite the name until the timer goes off.  Once the timer goes off, ask the students to point and tell the names of each letter in their name.

Working with Letters

Jan Richardson developed the Pre-A to prepare kindergartners for guided reading with a routine and meaningful structure. This post steps it out for you.When the student has accomplished constructing the and identifying letters in their name, you move to Working with Letters. There are 8 activities for working with letters.  The 8 activities are listed in order of difficulty. Students who know less than 10 letters are given their known letters and the letters in their name.  As soon as the student knows more than 10 letters, they are given a bag with a variety of letters.

Jan Richardson developed the Pre-A to prepare kindergartners for guided reading with a routine and meaningful structure. This post steps it out for you.Working with Sounds

Students are led through 3 activities:  clapping syllables, working with rhymes, and picture sorts.  Clapping syllables is self-explanatory.  The teacher says a word and the students clap the syllables.  Once this activity is done without help, the activity is discontinued.  Working with rhymes is a thumbs up, thump down activity.  The teacher says 2 words and the students react with a thumbs up or thumbs down as to if they rhyme.  Students do not produce rhymes, they simply identify them.  The final activity is picture sorts.  The teacher picks 2 letters (typically one known and one unknown) and picture cards for sorting.  The students are given one picture for each of the letters.  After the introduction, the students take turns placing one of the cards on the sorting mat.  They will say the picture and the sound.

Jan Richardson developed the Pre-A to prepare kindergartners for guided reading with a routine and meaningful structure. This post steps it out for you.Working with Books

Students will be given a Level A book and the predictable text.  They will read chorally the text…while doing a left-to-right sweep of the sentence.  Jan suggests using a popsicle stick for pointing instead of their finger. When they are ready to stop pointing, they discard the popsicle stick. If they have created the habit with their finger, it's harder to break the habit. After a Concept of Print lesson on words, students should be asked to read with one-to-one matching. Remember, this should be a very predictable text...if the last page of the book has a different text, don't read it. Skip it. This is a 5 minute lesson.

Jan Richardson developed the Pre-A to prepare kindergartners for guided reading with a routine and meaningful structure. This post steps it out for you.Working with Writing

Students will finally be led in a writing lesson.  The sentence should mimic the language of the book.  If it is possible, the sentence should also contain at least one of the beginning sounds from the working with sounds lesson. You will draw the number of lines on a sentence strip to represent the number of words in the sentence. Students will write the beginning letter of a word, while you finish the word quickly. When the sentence is done, cut the sentence into words and give each student in the group a word. If necessary, the period can be cut separately, so everyone has a piece. Each child will add their piece as the sentence is constructed. One child can take their pieces home each night.

Jan Richardson developed the Pre-A to prepare kindergartners for guided reading with a routine and meaningful structure. This post steps it out for you.In my original blog post, I recommended the DVD set. It is the companion to her original text.  Jan is amazing…and her book is a great read for all levels of guided reading.  The DVD set is just what you want.  It has videos so you can watch Jan in action with teachers and students.  She also has a CD with forms and necessities. UPDATE: Now their is a new book, The Next Step in Guided Reading. It is amazing. There is a link in the book for all the videos and resources.

If you would like to get your own copy of Jan's DVD set, Click here.
If you would like to get your own copy of Jan's new book, The Next Step in Guided Reading, click the link.

By the way, I don't have an affiliate link or get any payment for recommending these texts, they are that good.

Believe me, the Pre-A reading level is the best chance of getting students up to Level A and beyond in no time.