Thursday, June 18, 2015

Three Guided Reading Hacks for Teacher Sanity

As the school year is coming to a close I've been thinking about what worked (and what didn't) this year. Some of the most simple changes had the greatest impact to my reading groups.

  1. Guided Reading Organizer:   Using a drawer organizer to organize myself for guided reading lessons. It's so simple and makes everything available quickly because I can look down and see where everything is that I need. At the moment I took the picture it was actually a bit disorganized because a group had just ended, but you get the idea. Highlighter tape, magnet tape, markers, scissors for cut up sentences and word study, 'wh' question dice, index cards, highlighter, erasers, magnetic letters, pencils- everything I need for the group can be kept here so I can easily grab it. My reading groups for students with intellectual disabilities often have more 'stuff' than typical guided reading groups so this has been extremely helpful, especially when something arises that I didn't plan for.

 2. Help Wanted Signs:
One side of the little table tent says "Please help" to let me know a student needs my attention, the other is a smiley face that indicates everything is good and the child is working independently. I got this idea from an incredible teacher I worked with years ago. I loved it but never tried it until this year. In a moment of desperation I grabbed index cards, folded them in half and wrote "Please help" on them. If I had planned ahead I could have made them cuter and sturdier, but to be honest these worked just fine. They take care of the constant "Mrs. Lipstick, Mrs. Lipstick, Mrs. Lipstick" competitive cries for my attention. If a student is writing and needs help they simply flip the sign and get back to work while they wait for me. Once I help them I flip the sign back. It saved my sanity in guided writing groups this year because four students with "Please Help" signs are easier to get to than four students calling my name and wanting immediate attention. The signs let the students reach out for help without completely stopping their work flow to call my name. They reduce the opportunities to distract peers, and encourage independence. The students don't feel the need to constantly try to get my attention while they work because they know there is a clear system for when they need help, and they know I will be there when they flip their sign. If I can't get to them right away I often give them a thumbs up to let them know I see it and I'll be with them as soon as I can. I've been surprised that in every reading group the kids get the signs themselves if I forget to put them out. They seem reassured by having the signs in front of them, and this creates a calmer group dynamic.

 3. Sticky Note Stars to give non-verbal praise-
 Two of my groups struggled all year with dropping the endings from their words (plurals, ing, ed). This is common for English-Language Learners, but it is still holding them back as readers. Lesson after lesson focused on reading the whole word, sorting words by 'ed' and not 'ed', and hunting for these words in their books. I tried so many ways to draw their attention to word endings but nothing seemed to work. Another teacher shared this idea and it seemed almost too simple, but I was desperate so I tried.

I placed a sticky note on the table in front of each reader and told them that every time I heard them read a word with an ending correctly I would put a little star on their note. The stars give the opportunity to give positive non-verbal feedback so that I'm not interrupting the flow of their book to say, "nice job reading that ending", but still letting them know they are on the right track. Like magic, suddenly the biggest ending-skippers were reading their endings. One boy even marked his own endings (he put a check to differentiate between my stars). We used the sticky notes for about a week before fading them away. I am still hearing them emphasize the endings of the words.

In another reading group with students that all happen to have ADHD I used the sticky-note system for simply giving stars when they were reading quietly to themselves. The group had gotten a bit talkative and off track. They'd start off commenting on something they read in the book and then before I knew it they were all comparing the book to a video game, then talking about the video games they were going to play after school, then talking about what else they would do after school, and suddenly I'd lost them. This usually happened a sentence or two into any new book and took a lot of work and wasted instructional time to get them back on track. Again, the stars on the sticky notes gave them non-verbal feedback that I was impressed with how they were working without interrupting their reading. And again, it worked like magic. They were intentionally more focused on their reading, while only occasionally glancing at their sticky note to see how they were doing.

I love this because there is virtually no prep to this system, it communicates exactly what I expect the students to do and provides positive feedback for them that doesn't interrupt their workflow. The kids themselves seemed to love it. All three groups would take their sticky notes with them at the end of the group and I've since found the sticky notes being collected in the corners of desks where their owners can pull them out and reflect on their hard work.

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