It's back to school time already! I know schools around the world start at different times. Many of my friends in Georgia have been back to school for over a week while my friends in the UK have just recently begin their summer holiday. I personally go back to school on Wednesday with my students returning on the 15th. Whenever you go back to school, Teachers Pay Teachers is having it's Back to School Sale this week! And luckily saving 25% off makes your life easier no matter where you are in your schedule!
Everything in my Teachers Pay Teachers store will be 20% off on Tuesday, August 1 and Wednesday, August 2, 2017. Plus you can use the coupon code BTS2017 to get 5% off your entire purchase from TPT. This includes all 728 items in my store, including the year long bundles which are already deeply discounted.
It's back to school season and Pinterest is blowing up with all of the cute classroom set ups and decorations. While I love Pinterest for finding innovative ideas and management tools, I kind of resent Pinterest too. As both a parent and a teacher, Pinterest ups the pressure to be "cute".
I noticed this as a parent a few years ago. With the advancement of sites like Pinterest, the level of expectation as a parent has increased. Suddenly you're supposed to take monthly pictures of your kids with cute little signs and have perfectly organized birthday parties and knit your child the perfect Halloween costume. At first you do might do it to see if you can or as a way to show off on Facebook to your friends. But then slowly, it seeps itself into our society that it's a requirement. That somehow in order to be a good mom, I have to make a 4 tiered birthday cake out of cupcakes because if I don't then my child will be deeply disappointed and scarred for life. Seriously? My kids are happy with cake and ice cream because it has a lot of sugar in it. They don't care how fancy it is. But we've trained ourselves to think they care.
Now if baking fancy things is your specialty, great! Share that gift with your kids if you'd like. I personally love to experiment in the kitchen and get an especial kick out of making something from scratch that I had to buy prepared before (cheese sauces, bread, pasta, granola bars, etc.) and I love sharing this with my kiddos. But I don't knit or sew. I don't make fancy halloween costumes. I don't plan over the top birthday parties. I don't use Pinterest to decorate my kids' rooms. And guess what? My kids are fine. They are healthy and happy and they know that mom loves them. There's no need to get into this "I can do everything on Pinterest" mode in order to prove you're a good parent.
The same is true as a teacher. Themes in particular seem to have taken over the world of Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers in the past few years. Teachers, especially in elementary, seem to think that they have to have a cute, color coordinated theme in order to teach their students. There suddenly have to be multiple, professional level bulletin boards and all of the baskets in your library center have to match or the kids just will not learn. Today I even saw a post in a teacher's forum on Facebook that said "I feel so bad. I'm a first year teacher and I can't afford to do a theme in my classroom." Seriously? This will be my 12th year of teaching and I have NEVER done a theme. EVER. My books are in mismatched baskets, labeled by genre, but not matching colored labels. I have no beautiful colored duct tape on my teacher's desk. My bulletin boards are neat and organized, but not fancy. And guess what guys? My kids learn, a lot, every single year.
And none of my students have ever said "Mrs. Raki, why isn't your room pretty?" Why? Because the kids don't care. They could care less what theme you've chosen. They care whether you care about them. They care about how you treat them. They care about the activities you do. They don't care what color your book baskets are.
Of course there are a lot of teachers who LOVE doing classroom themes and that's fine for them, just like knitting a Halloween costume for your kids is fine for those parents who just love to knit. My worry is the pressure that this puts on other teachers, who don't love it and especially teachers who are on a budget. Teachers already don't make enough money. We spend way too much of our own money already on books, storage, curriculum, and other things that help directly impact our instruction. Adding cute themes and bulletin boards requires teachers to spend more money and more time on things that aren't helping us do our job better. They're often just a way to "keep up with the Jones'" that is disguised as "necessary".
In addition to the pressure having a "cute" classroom puts on teachers, it is also a time drain. There is always so much to do and so little time as a teacher. More and more is being added to our plates every day, taking away from the time we have with our families and our personal lives. Designing super cute classrooms is something you can take off of your plate and still be a great teacher!
At the end of the year, when we talk about everything we have read during the course of the year, my students are always amazed at how many books they have "consumed". Then if we add in research we have done and videos we have watched, the information they have learned gets bigger and bigger. Last year, I started having my students record that information on "Text Consumption Recording Sheets". We started with whole group books and then by a student suggestion we added them to guided reading. Eventually we realized we could use them for center work and even with videos that we watch to build background knowledge.
By the time we got to PARCC testing, my students had a whole notebook of these sheets. We used them to compare and contrast different books we had read and check back on our understanding. Towards the end of the year, we even did some re-reading of books we had already read. Then we added new details we learned using colored pencils or markers so that they could visualize how re-reading texts helps them to learn new information.
These sheets are very simple, but they help my students to work on a variety of skills and standards with each book, article, story, poem, recipe, or website that they read. Or any videos or songs that they watch. Since these worked so well for me, I decided to share them at my Teachers Pay Teachers store as a simple freebie for the 2017/2018 school year. I hope they help your class as much as they helped mine.
Informational text is one of the hardest types of texts for many students to comprehend. This is particularly challenging for students like mine, in title one schools, who lack in background knowledge. These students struggle with informational text often simply because they lack background knowledge. These students do not visit museums, watch documentaries or have access to as many educational toys. These students do not look at newspapers or watch the news on t.v.
So when you start reading a book about glaciers with kids who live in the desert and have never seen more than 1/4 inch of snow or reading a book about flightless birds who have never been to a zoo or even a farm, the students have no background knowledge on the topic to connect with. Without these connections, students who read the words are not understanding the words. So how do we help these students to better understand informational text? Here are 5 strategies I use:
1.) Bring in background knowledge BEFORE you read. Most of the time we can read a book and know if your students will have background knowledge on a topic. If you are unsure, a simple K-W-L chart will help you know if your students will have the background knowledge to understand the book you're going to read.
Once you know what your students are lacking, you can fill in those gaps with videos like the Magic School Bus, field trips, experiments or even real world experience like baking bread. This year my class baked bread to help my students understand what yeast does.
2.) Pre-teach important vocabulary words. Especially with English Langage Learners or limited English learners (who often are native English speakers that have only had experience with a single non-standard English dialect), preteaching vocabulary is very important. Students can often sound out words in books and have no idea what that word means. Because they don't want to sound "stupid" and ask what that word means, they just won't ask and thereby won't understand what they read. To stop this phenomenom, I ALWAYS pre-teach vocabulary words. I choose key words from the text that will help students to understand what they are going to read. Then we brainstorm what the meaning of these words are using a variety of word strategies, including cognates, parts of speech, and context clues. Sometimes the students stumble on to the correct definition of the word. Other times, I have to give them the definition. Either way, students have thought about and discussed these words BEFORE they read. This primes their brains, builds additional background knowledge and gives them the vocabulary they need in order to understand the text they will be reading.
Once I have finished pre-teaching this vocabulary, I post all of the words onto my word wall for students to reference at any time while they are reading this book (or any other book).
***Product note: Suggested vocabulary for pre-teaching can be found in all of the Novel Studies available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. There is also a section in my Self Selected Informational Book Studies for pre-teaching vocabulary.
3.) Teach students to use informational text features. "Mrs. Raki, do I have to read this?" is something I often have to hear while students point to captions or charts provided in informational books we read. We need to teach students about these text features. They need to know that not only do they need to read them, but that each different kind of text feature will provide them with different information. My class recently went on a "scavenger hunt" for text features through a variety of old Science Weekly magazines I had. Students worked together to find different examples of each text feature and glued them onto chart paper to make text feature posters.
Now, every time we read an informational book, I ask them "What text feature is this?" If they don't remember, we refer back to our posters. Then we talk about what that feature will do for us as a reader.
4.) Use informational text as read alouds. It's easy to get into our favorite novels and picture books for read alouds. However, informational texts can be just as successful as a read aloud. This is particularly true if you use the book as a "think a loud". "Oh I see the caption for this picture says..." or "This diagram shows us more details about how..." Use informational read a louds as a way to model for your students how to read and understand informational books. Additionally, informational texts as read alouds build background knowledge, vocabulary and pull in students who are not interested in "storybook reading". Of course this isn't to say we never use novels or picture books for read aloud. Instead, it would be great to read a fiction and a non-fiction back to back. For example read Mr. Popper's Penguins and then read a National Geographic book about Penguins.
5.) Find topics that students do have background knowledge about. Even students will limited background knowledge have interests in non-fiction topics. Find out what topics intrigue your students and find books on them. Often students love books on weird, icky topics like "Why do people burp?" or "What are boogers made of?" Students might also love to hear a read aloud on a book about the making of their favorite t.v. show or video game cheats. The point is to draw in their attention and stretch their background knowledge and vocabulary.
Whatever strategies you use, it's evident that teaching informational text is important for our students. Reading informational text is the type of text that we read 75% of the time "in real life" so it needs to be a larger part of what we read in the classroom too.
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