This year I was finally ready to make Read Across America Week a school wide event!  I've always loved this day/week while in the classroom, but hadn't planned a school wide event as an instructional coach the past two year. Not anymore!

I am Type A personality and a natural planner. I started planning for this week two weeks in advance and started prepping my teachers just as early. Here are a few things we did throughout the week.

 Each day students and staff were encouraged to dress up corresponding to a Dr. Seuss book (red handout). I scheduled guest readers to read to our classes throughout the week, I found it easier to schedule this way instead of on one particular day. Each class filled out a thank you card for their reader to go with a goody bag I made. 

Our morning announcements are provided by our students on the morning news, so this week we played book BINGO. I created 24 different BINGO boards and passed them out to each class. On the morning news the students drew two books, and classes marked off the books. Friday morning we still didn't have a BINGO so the kids pulled books until a class called down with a BINGO. The winning class won a popcorn party during their Read-A-Thon. 

Our school implements a PBIS like model and students earn Patriot Dollars for demonstrating leadership. To encourage students to read during our Read-A-Thon on Friday I provided teachers with special blue cat in the hat patriot dollars. 
(I will share more about our Read-A-Thon further in this post.)

As you enter our school we have a pretty large lobby. I asked my principal if I could decorate it, I actually said can I go big or go home. :)  She said go for it and that was all I needed to create my own Seussville.

Half way through the green hills I had that thought of "what was I thinking", but loved how the lobby turned out. Everyone was sad to see it come down at the end of the week, darn fire marshals. :)

I held a bulletin board contest for teachers this week, and our guest readers were are judges because prizes were involved. I loved seeing the Seuss theme throughout the entire building!

The First place winner choose the $10 TpT gift card, second place choose the cold stone gift card, and third place won the duty free recess pass.

Monday was Fox in Sox day! I made these shirts for my admin and I.
Tuesday was "Who-ville" day, aka crazy hair day. I had wanted to get hidden rainbow hair this spring, but thought why not now for Seuss week!  I absolutely LOVE how it turned out and plan on keeping it for awhile.
We are on a A/B week schedule for our enhancements. Students go to Library or computer lab depending on the week. I wanted them to experience a fun activity tied to Seuss so I hijacked the computer lab and library by setting up a Seuss Mystery. I used the following blog post as my inspiration. Our students LOVED it!  The students were telling everyone about the crime scene mystery they solved!

Through out the week we invited parents, central service people, and maintenance workers from the district to come read to our kids. I wanted a lot of positive male role models for our boys, especially for reading. They see our maintenance workers often and I felt it was important for them to help show students that reading can be fun. We are a 3-5 school so I scheduled majority of our male readers with 4th and 5th grade classes.

Friday was pajama day and our school wide Read-A-Thon!  I took inspiration from my girls Joanne at Head over Heels for Teaching and Amelia from Where the Wild Things Learn.  I provided the teachers with a schedule, asked students to bring in flashlights, sunglasses/silly glasses, blankets or beach towels, and snacks.

The first 30 minutes was for Flashlight Reading.

At the first break I asked teacher to read a chapter from any book and then choose one student who would like to continue to read it silently during the next 30 minutes of reading.

The last two reading sessions teachers were encouraged to take their students outside, or use a link I sent them for a fire or beach scene on the smartboard.

During the Read-A-Thon teachers passed out the blue Patriot dollars to students who were on task. Students wrote their names and teachers names on the back and turned them in at the end of the Read-A-Thon. I then went on the school news and pulled seven blue Patriot dollars out of the bin for the students to win a brand new book. ALL names drawn were 5th grade BOYS!!!  
I think having all those positive male readers for them paid off! :)

As an instructional coach you don't see your hard work reflected back as much as you do as a classroom teacher. During this week my heart was FULL! Friday morning when I saw all the students coming in with their pjs, blankets, flashlights, sunglasses, and snacks my heart felt like it was going to explode!  All our children were excited for a morning of reading. Walking through the classrooms and seeing over 500 students reading is one of the best feelings in the world.

This post is a collection of thoughts and emotions I have had over the past few months, as an educator and as a mother.

There are many different ways to run a classroom, teach a skill, hold students accountable, grade, assess, and everything else we do as educators.  This is what is wonderful about education, no two classrooms or lessons are the same.  Our teaching experiences, professional development backgrounds, and life experiences are all different just like the twenty plus students in our classrooms. These experiences are what make us the teacher we are today, but are we reflecting on the practices we are using or just doing what we have always done because it's what is easiest?

Do you know why you require students to complete a Reading Log? Do you know why you are implementing Flexible Seating? Do you know why you assign that spiral review homework every night? Are you doing these practices because everyone else is, because that's how you have always done it, or because someone has mandated you do so? Is your why what is best for students or what is best for you?

In recent weeks I have had several conversations with teachers, both in person and online, and what I've noticed is that we don't always use practices that are best for our students, nor do we often ask ourselves this question. One conversation in particular we discussed the hot topic of requiring students to have their parent sign their reading log. This particular teacher takes off 5 points if a student doesn't have it signed. When I asked if she understood that not all children have supportive parents at home, she said yes and that she doesn't take points off of their reading log. To answer your question....yes, she only takes points away from students who do have supportive parents at home.

Now, I'm going to be very honest here and tell you that the "NorthernBelle" (aka. Raised as a New Yorker and living in the South for 13 years) in me did come out. I explained to this teacher that at no point is it appropriate to take points away from a child if their parent fails to sign something.  Her "why" is that she is trying to teach her children responsibility.  Is this really a best practice to use to teach responsibility? Isn't holding the child accountable for reading each night and writing a summary teaching them responsibility?

In another conversation with a few teachers we discussed grades, ELA grades to be specific. In this district Reading Comprehension, Spelling, and Writing are all combined for a student's ELA grade. Progress reports recently went out at the time of our discussion, therefor the grades reflected about 4 and half weeks of work. Below are the grades each teacher had in their grade book.

Teacher 1 had grades for 3 spelling test (40% of the grade), 2 reading logs (20%), and one writing assignment (20%).
Teacher 2 had grades for one reading comprehension (30%) and one math grade in the ELA (30%)
Teacher 3 had grades for spelling test (40%), word work (30%), and 2 Scholastic Weekly Readers (30%)

My concern as an educator and as a mother those grades truly demonstrate the children's proficiency in ELA? Other reflective questions I had were:  If you don't have any reading comprehension grades, what have you been doing for the first month of school regarding ELA? Does the practice you use to obtain grades accurately show if a student is proficient? There wasn't a single activity you did for a month of reading instruction that you could use as a reading comprehension grade?

There are many more practices used by teachers that may not always be the best practice. As an educator it is our responsibility to be life long learners and to always do what is best for students. I urge each of you to reflect on some of the practices you implement within your own classrooms. Are  these practices beneficial to your students and their ability to learn and demonstrate proficiency? Are they encouraging your students to be life long learners themselves?

The best interest of our students should always be our "why".

Do you feel a little stressed when you hear the word "centers"? Upper elementary teachers often relate the word "center" to cute, time consuming, and busy work. Although, those can be what centers are, but that's not what they should be in your classroom.

Centers or Stations should require students to focus on the domains of reading, require them to apply skills that have been taught, and quality rather than quantity should be your main focus. Once you have your Guided Reading system figured out, your next step is to determine what the rest of your class is doing while you meet with your small groups. 

When setting up your centers you need to determine if your students are going to rotate, work off of a menu/contract, how many centers are they required to complete each day, etc. Don't be afraid to try different ways of implementing centers in your classroom. What works for the teacher across the hall may not work of you or your students. Once you have determined your rotation or menu now you need to decide what your students are going to work on.

1. Silent Reading/Read to Self

As educators we know the importance of sitting down and reading a text, so why not make it an option during your centers. If your school doesn't have a set time for silent reading then this is the first center I would implement. Students can silently read a text of their choice for a set amount of time. Allowing students to have a book bin or bag full of texts ensures they have enough reading materials, providing them choice, and teaching them it's okay to abandon a book but not the center.

2. Comprehension Center

In the upper grades comprehension of the five domains of reading is one we focus on more than others. Having students complete an assignment or task related to the text you read during shared reading, or directly related to the standard you are currently teaching, makes a wonderful literacy center. Students can complete task cards, passages, and or text dependent questions.

3. Word Work

Students should work on the meaning of words and not just how to spell words during this center. Providing them with a variety of activities to keep them engaged is key. In the upper grades of elementary I suggest using the standards to help you and your students focus on what to utilize in your word work center. Example synonyms, antonyms, prefixes, root words, and suffixes are great place to start. I love the free activities Melissa from Upper Elementary Snapshots offers in her post. Kristen from Chalk & Apples has a wonderful product for Word Work and Spelling centers for upper elementary.  Please, Please, Please I beg you NOT to include "Rainbow Writing" in your spelling center. There is never an appropriate time for 3-5 students to participate in this activity.  Your center should always provide meaningful learning opportunities for your students.

4. Technology

Utilizing technology in your literacy centers is a great way to engage students. Even if you have limited technology there are some great ways to utilize what you have. If you have one or two computers or tablets you can pull up a set of task cards you have purchased or downloaded in pdf format. Students can work independently, in pairs, or in a team to solve the questions on the task cards. Students can record their answers on a sheet of paper or journal as they use the arrow keys to scroll down through the questions.  Here is a free copy of my Point of View task cards for you and your students.

Here are a few of our student's favorite websites for ELA:

 For non-fiction text National Geographic Young Explorer is a great site.

This is my boys' favorite!

Last year my son's teacher utilized Big Universe for Guided Reading Groups, Centers, and Homework!

5. Writing

I love planning for my writing center!  For me this is the easiest to plan for :)  Students can work on their independent writing assignment, journal write, work on grammar skills, conference with a peer, etc. The possibilities are endless! In this center I would keep a variety of resources for your students to access to help them with the writing process.  A mentor text, writing office, pictures or copies of Anchor charts, variety of writing utensils, writing prompts, wordless picture books, etc.

How to Implement centers the first month of school....

I hope these ideas will help you start planning for your ELA block this coming school year. When you start to implement Guided Reading and centers the key to a successful year of centers is to train your students on how to complete each center.  You should introduce ONE center a week for the whole class. During this time you will teach your expectations for their voice volume, work requirements, and how to ask and answer their classmates questions because you are not to be interrupted when you are with a group.

For example I always introduce my silent reading center first. For the first week on Monday I explain the center, students will silently read with their book bin on their desk. I explain that my expectation is for them to read silently, any book from their book bin, and to complete a written summary of what they read in their journal. I remind them that I am not to be interrupted when meeting with a student or group of students. Once I tell them to begin their Silent Reading center I sit at my Guided Reading table and will call a student over to complete a reading assessment, usually a Running Record.  After 10-20 minutes I stop my students and praise them for meeting my expectations and address any issues that may have come up.

I complete these same steps for the rest of the week, slowly increasing their silent reading time to equal the amount of time I plan for them to be in this center. If you plan to allow your students to choose where they are going to sit I suggest allowing them to do so towards the end of the week. The second week I introduce a new center. For example it might be comprehension center, again I teach my expectations and review my expectations for silent reading center. Once students have completed the new center they will then move onto silent reading. Again, I will assess students for beginning of the year data.

I continue to introduce a center a week until all centers have been taught. As I complete my one-on-one assessments I will call a small group, 3-4 students, to my GR table to read a text. By doing this I am able to teach my students my expectations for moving from their center to me and my expectations for GR groups.

Implementing centers takes about a whole month, but worth the time! Once your students understand what you expect of them and are able to meet those expectations your ELA block will run smoothly for the remainder of the year. If you introduce new centers throughout the year it will not take as long to implement because your students will have the rest of them down.

To assist students on knowing what center to complete and when many teachers use a rotation chart.

I've added a color version and a black & white version of this board as a freebie in my Teachers pay Teachers store.

I hope this has helped to get you started for planning and implementing centers in your classroom this school year.

 There is an epidemic in our upper elementary math classes...teachers are not using manipulatives! Many teachers are still stuck to the belief that our children MUST memorize their facts and no longer use hands-on experiences in math. Our students in the upper grades are still children and enjoy learning through manipulatives, play, and interaction with others. 

Using manipulatives at the beginning of a new concept or skill is vital to many students.  They need to experiment with the tools and tasks, along with conceptually see how to perform the algorithm or skill.  I still see students in the upper grades struggle with regrouping because they are still in the conceptual learning of the skill and not the abstract, and many upper grades quickly move to the abstract. 

Every year I taught 4th grade I always had a handful of students who still struggled with regrouping in addition and/or subtraction. This year I was helping out in several 3rd, 4th, and 5th  grade classrooms and saw the same struggle, a handful of students who were still in the conceptual aspect of regrouping.

I created a small set of task cards for these students, and those in your classroom too, for them to practice and hopefully move over to the abstract level of thinking with this skill.  There are eight addition and eight subtraction task cards. Each card has an equation represented by base ten blocks.  I also created a record sheet where they read and write the equation in the box and a record sheet where the equation is already written for them.  This is so you can use a record sheet that best meets the needs of your students.

These are also great for your RTI groups.

Mental Math is another important math skill for our students. Fact fluency is not determined by how fast a student can remember their facts, but if they are fluent with manipulating numbers. Utilizing mental math to compose and decompose numbers is fundamental for students development of fact fluency.

I created these task cards to help students build on number relationships rather than memorization procedures to solve problems. This set of task cards focuses on students ability to “make tens” to solve addition problems mentally. Students look for numbers within an equation to create groups of ten.

You can grab each of these sets of task cards for $1 this week!

Back to Top