I was listening in on a “Strategy Academy” a few weeks ago at Elliott. The topic of discussion for the session was fluency. One of the concepts that came up was that of Prosody. One of the definitions for prosody is “the patterns of stress and intonation in a language.”

I saw this video a few days later and thought it was a beautiful picture of what prosody really is.

Author and speaker Dr. Tim Rasinski is considered an authority on the topic of reading fluency. In this online article, he describes Prosody in Reading as a bridge between fluency and comprehension. We all know that fluency isn’t just about reading fast, but we’re stuck because reading rate is the closest measure we can come up with that will give us some data that we can track to indicate students are increasing this skill.

What would happen if students saw a clip like this before taking a fluency test? I believe it is possible that their words per minute rate might go down, but I wonder if comprehension would go up? I’m just thinking out loud here, but it seems that we sometimes assess fluency and comprehension separately. How much longer would it take to ask a few comprehension questions after a fluency check? I’m often struck by how literal our students are – if you want them to read fast, they’ll read fast. We have to connect these dots for them. Read with automaticity and with prosody so that you can make sense of the text. It’s a beautiful thing!

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A simple quote

“There isn’t a school on earth that can educate anybody. All a school can do is provide an atmosphere which will stimulate the mind to work and the heart to believe and the will to act.” –Noel Smith

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On the right channel

This is a warning. Today, I abandon the tips and tricks and sharing of ideas and take a sharp turn into just plain meddling!

I’ve spent some time recently scouring youtube looking for great videos to use as thinking prompts. I realized that sometimes I stop the video after just a few seconds. This is all of the time it takes for me to evaluate the content of the entire video and decide if it is worth my time to continue watching it.

Here’s the meddling part…I wonder at what point in a lesson our students would stop the video or turn the channel if they could? If there was a remote control for your teaching, would students store that channel as one of their favorites? If you really did have your own TV program, would the station continue to produce your program or would you get canceled? Ouch! (I warned you)

We spend a lot of time considering “Author’s Purpose”, this is something that showed up on our teaching radar with the adoption of the State Standards. So, let’s think about our “Teacher’s Purpose” for a minute. Each lesson should have a purpose. It might even be a good idea to honor this with a spot on your lesson plan. It would differ a bit from your objective, it’s the part that is about the audience and what you want their reaction to be. Is this lesson supposed to entertain, persuade, inform or explain? If you think about it – depending on your purpose, your lesson design might change significantly.

I’m afraid that often we use entertain as a synonym for engage. Engagement is not about entertaining your students. Some of the more interesting synonyms I found are – pursue, engross, occupy, absorb.

You tell me…What do you do to “engage” your students? What do you do to “pursue” your students? What do you do to “engross” your students? What do you do to “occupy” your students? What do you do to “absorb” your students? Leave a comment – someone will probably love your idea and be a better teacher for it. Isn’t that exciting?

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Every minute DOES count!

It is no secret that I am obsessed with transition time right now. So it will come as no surprise that as I watched football this past weekend, in a corner of my mind I was still working on strategies for reducing transition time. It occurred to me, while watching the last minutes of many games unfold, that every minute DOES count. Think of the small amount of time that we consider a reasonable transition time. An entire football game can be won (or lost) in that amount of time. Many people live with regret, just wishing they had those few moments back again.

Time is a precious resource and we need to think of it that way. The last thing we want is to end another school year with regret, wondering what we could do if we just had more time.

In the words of Dylan Wiliam in response to those who say they don’t have time, “Yes you do, you’re currently spending it doing something else.” He said we need to stop spending time doing good things and instead spend them doing better things.

This could even fit into our Elliott focus statement “Every student, every opportunity…Every minute!”

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Apps for iPads




Here are a some apps that you should have on your iPad:

iBooks – download and read books, articles and reports on your iPad. This will reduce the need to print copies of materials you will need to reference in meetings.

Qrafter – use the built-in camera in your iPad2 to capture Codes that will connect you to web pages with information you need. (You just need the free version)

GiantTimer – use stopwatch and countdown timer with this free app. The large display is easy to read and there are sound options for when time is up.

Pearl Diver -A fun way to practice using a number line.

Lobster Diver – A slight variation of the Pearl Diver game.

Virtual Manipulatives – Great way to look at fractions!


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Celebrate Success

Ratio of interactions

Ratio of interactions are the positive or reinforcing statements we make compared to the negative or corrective statements.

Last year in January when we had our first observation, our ratio was turned upside down. We had 1:3. Elliott teachers took this one on and we saw a statistically significant improvement in the observation that took place in May. We broke even with a 1:1 ratio.

We have another observation coming up and we need to make sure that we maintain the gain we had in this area.

Here are a few new ways to “cheer” our successes. You can download cheer cards from Dr. Jean Feldman’s website Elliott teachers have a set of cards in their mailbox.

We can encourage our students to do their best by noticing and recognizing the things they do well. Practice using “I noticed…” to give encouraging statements so that we don’t inadvertently slip into the habit of being corrective in a pleasant manner or giving manipulative empty praise.

Watch this video about the power of noticing.

If you have questions or need clarification or support, please talk to your instructional coach.

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Clarifying transition time

We need to have a common understanding of what a transition is. In the last post, an out of classroom transition was defined by the time the transition is supposed to start (the time you are scheduled to stop the previous activity – leaving specials, recess, lunch, etc.) to the time that students are settled in the classroom and the teacher has started teaching.

There are a few reasons why it is a good idea to start your teaching by stating the learning (target, objective, goal or purpose – however you want to look at it) –
1. The purpose of the instructional block should be obvious to an observer from the outside. What better way to make sure this is clear than to state it right away when you start. Let’s say you have a routine established. Your students know to come right in to the classroom, sit down and there is already something on their table for them to do. This is great, it will definitely decrease the transition time, but if the teacher is not “on stage”, this might count as a sponge activity. How is someone who is observing to know that this is a legitimate same-content sponge activity and that it is connected to an activity that is quickly to follow? Make it easy on everyone…just say it!
2. If the purpose of an activity is unclear to an adult who might be observing, perhaps it is also unclear to your students. I heard someone say that at the point you’ve said something so many times you don’t think you can say it again, only 30% of your audience has heard it. You know this is true for your students. Having well established routines and procedures can cut back on the number of times you have to say some things, but when it’s about objectives and learning targets, you can’t say it enough.
3. Stating an objective or a learning target is just about the only “proof” you can provide that you have planned this lesson and aren’t just “winging it”. “Evidence of a plan” is something that is on the observation that we will have soon and it will be observed in the appraisal system. Our new appraisal system will require evidence of our instructional plans. I’m just guessing a sure-fire way to avoid ever having to regularly submit lesson plans to your administrator is if they have sufficient evidence when observing your class that they don’t need to ask you for your plans. (Speaking as someone who has had to submit lesson plans…yes, it’s true;)

A couple of clarifications about stating the learning target, purpose or objective…remember S.W.B.A.T? (Video starts at about 3:15). Students Will be able to…Test your target by putting it behind S.W.B.A.T. If you say your target is “math”, then you would be saying “students will be able to do math”. Well, yes, but – it just isn’t specific enough. What is it that you want your students to know and be able to do after this experience? It might sound like this, “We’re going to start math time with some practice work so that you will be able to multiply two digit numbers.” Or something to that effect.

As always, if you have questions or need further clarification or support, please ask your instructional coach.

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How low can you go?

We’re working hard to decrease the amount of time we spend in transition. In January, 2011 and again in May, 2011, data from the observation report that was gathered by our consultants with the Instructional Coaching Group indicated that 22% of our instructional time is spent in transitions.

One of the Requirements from our School Improvement Grant is:

Requirement 3A – Establish schedules and strategies that provide increased learning time.

Transitions are tricky because there are out of the classroom transitions and then there are transitions that happen in the classroom in times where teachers are giving directions and students are transitioning between activities.

We have another observation scheduled the week of November 7th. Our goal is to decrease the amount of instructional time that we spend in transitions to less than 5%. You may remember hearing me say that “I think we’re doing ok” is not good enough. We need to KNOW that we are on track to meet this goal. We have gathered some informal data twice in the last month (sounds a bit like formative assessment, don’t you think???).

The first time we observed a 20 minute instructional block and counted the number of minutes spent on transitions during that time. The average was 15%. That was definitely an improvement from 22%, but it was far from our goal of <5%. The second time, we observed an out of classroom transition. This was when teachers were transitioning back into the classroom from another place. Each team was observed separately and learning lab was observed on its own. It was a little tricky to come up with a way to make these numbers comparable. So, here's how it was done... We looked at the number of minutes that we are given each day, subtracted time for lunch and recess and found out how many of the remaining minutes could be spent in transition if we used less than 5%. With this one transition, we figured what percentage of each team's total transition time they used. Here's the breakdown:

Kindergarten – 40% of the available transition time used on this one transition.
1st Grade – 32% of the available transition time used on this one transition.
2nd Grade – 38% of the available transition time used on this one transition.
3rd Grade – 22% of the available transition time used on this one transition.
4th Grade – 16% of the available transition time used on this one transition.
5th Grade – 26% of the available transition time used on this one transition.
Learning Lab – 117% of the available transition time used on this one transition. (Based on 5 minutes of transition time allowed)

Here’s your challenge – See how low you can go! We’ll check these times again to see which team made the most improvement. Remember – this is just one of the out of classroom transitions you have each day – there could be 3 or 4 more just like it, and this doesn’t even account for the amount of transition time you spend in the classroom.

A note about transitions…The time starts according to the schedule (if you are supposed to leave recess at 10:50, that’s when the transition time starts). The transition does not stop when students stop moving and you’re in your classroom. It continues until students are settled, your learning target is stated and you begin teaching. Yes…when you state the learning target (objective, purpose, etc.), this cues the observer and your students that learning has begun.

Good luck! And I’ll see you soon with a stop-watch in hand.

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What we do NOW impacts how our students will perform LATER.

I’ll start this with a personal example – with a 4th grade personal narrative style intro…

Have you ever attended a Catholic service? I have. If you’re Catholic, you know when to stand, when to kneel, what to say…and when to stop! I am not Catholic, but I have attended services for special occasions. I am the last one to stand, the first one to sit, I miss kneeling all together. Then, it comes time to recite the Lord’s Prayer and I think “ah, I’ve got this!” So, feeling like I’ve finally found something I can be successful at, I speak up and chime in with everyone else – only to find out that I don’t know when to stop. Everyone else stops and I’m lingering on with “…For thine is the…” Oops! Eventually, I just give up. I just sit down and wait for it to be over. I shut down because I didn’t know what to expect, and when I tried, it didn’t work out so well.

Don’t you think our kids feel this way when they don’t know what to expect in our classrooms? Having well established routines and procedures is critical for our students to be successful.

Here’s some homework. Go home tonight and watch a kids channel for a little while – Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, PBS Kids… Notice how often things change. We can take a few clues from the millions of dollars that have been spent developing children’s programming for TV. We can apply the same principles to programming our classroom. We can’t leave students sitting for an extended period of time without having a plan for engaging them. Just think of the consequences the TV channels would have if they did this – kids would change the channel, and they would lose money because their advertisers would pull out.

Have you ever heard this? “The mind can only handle what the seat can endure.”

We can apply this too. At the least, our students need to have regular state changes. We can’t expect them to sit for an extended period of time. THIS IS IMPORTANT – A state change does not have to be a transition. It all depends on your purpose. If you have kids get up just for the sake of moving, it’s a transition. But, there is hope! Remember the Kagan structures? Throw in a Four Corners, Hand up-Stand up-Pair up, Touch down-Take off…Sound familiar? Try these Kagan Posters (courtesy of Mykel Salazar, Computer Specialist at Everett). Make sure that you teach expectations for these kinds of activities so that students will know exactly what to do – otherwise it will increase your transition time!

Challenge: This week, time your classroom activities. Keep track of the amount of time you are asking students to stay in one place, focused on one task. Compare these notes with the rest of your team. Make some decisions about how you can Program your day for success!

Anything we do NOW to prepare our students will definitely pay off LATER when we are stressed that the end of the year is coming quickly and we want our students to be ready for the next grade, or for the state accountability test that is just around the corner!

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Wordle Summary from our 4th Grade PLC Conversation:)

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