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What am I looking for in a gifted 4th grade reader?

 

Gifted Reading Grading Scale
1

(Needing heavy support and adaptation)

2

(Working with guidance; working at grade level expectations)

3

(Satisfactorily achieving; working above grade level expectations)

4

(Consistently going WELL above and beyond)

Most of my 4th graders had me as 3rd graders and so my focus is continuing to build on the foundation we laid the previous year. This year as my students’ 4th grade reading teacher I am working to meet 4th grade reading standards while pushing and challenging as much as possible. Expectations are amped up quite a bit because I know that when I expect more, I get more. At this point however I also recognize that some of my readers are going to just do the minimum I provide. I am ok with that because the minimum I ask now is still advanced and accelerated.

  1. Advanced means that I stretch expectations. I ask my 4th graders to read a novel independently outside of class and come prepared with some basic notes for discussions in addition to weekly response letters. We spent a great deal of time learning how to have conversations as 3rd graders and that investment pays off. I also offer “extras” for those who want and need to strive for more.
  2. Acceleration means more than just “keeping up”. The instructional pace continues to be fast. Students have access to lessons online and digital options for extended learning experiences. I provide tools and resources for independent needs and “as needed access”. I’ve set the stage and given the props, now they have to step up and “perform” to the level I know they are capable of.
  3. Heavy written emphasis: I continue to expect written response to text both in weekly response letters and in class responses. With response letters, I expect students to attend to feedback and use it as they work to improve. Even better…when they ask me for ideas to improve! That shows such inititative! I expect response letters to show steady improvement week to week. Another layer now is developing stamina and fluency with typed responses. I strive to give an in class response essay question each week giving 20 minutes to type a response to a question connected to the novel we are reading. At first I do not expect “completion” but rather look for growth over time.
  4. “On the surface” vs. “below the surface” thinking also continues. In fact, we spend most of our time “living” below the surface with our novel. In 4th grade however I put more emphasis on reading informational text and reading for “life” skills. This means that often I have to bring kids back to the surface of the text to really examine what an author is actually saying. Reading with a skeptical eye is so important as well.
  5. Complete independence and responsibility: After having a year to release responsibility, I expect my 4th graders to be independent in the classroom and out. They know that I am clear about what I expect and they have grown to appreciate the little amount of time we have together. They are also working to explore new and exciting learning options that are only available if I can trust that they do what they need to do without my micro-managing them.
  6. Self-assessment and reflection takes center stage. Students are starting to rely on their ability to self-monitor and regulate as they set their own goals for improvement. While some still need advice and support, most of my 4th graders are able to accurately assess where they are and determine where they need to go.

These are things I look for and work on in gifted reading. Students who are successful are performing “satisfactory” and considered a “level 3” on their report card. For the most part, even if a student is just doing the “minimum” for me, it is a 3 because I have such high and advanced expectations. A score of “4” is rare and reserved for those few that strive to go consistently above and beyond; please see the criteria in the “4” category on this rubric: Gifted reading rubric 4th

Routines and Expectations (again…)

To ensure a successful school year, routines and expectations must be taught carefully in the first weeks. While I have the advantage of working with 4th graders I had already as 3rd graders, my biggest challenge is getting routines and expectations into place with my new 3rd graders. Adding to the challenge is the fact that I only get to see my students barely an hour each day and I get fewer “days” than their homeroom classroom teachers due to scheduling conflicts.  Translation… it takes much longer to get routines into place. (See “part 1” of this topic for more info)

We have added Vocabulary and Poetry stations to our set of choices. Vocabulary consists of a set of QR codes the children can scan to get a special word. They then have sentence cards (many are pretty funny) to use with the word they scan in a sentence. Most of the children love this station and it gives me a chance to hold students accountable for correct capitalization and punctuation (which should have been mastered in 2nd grade and should be done consistently in written work). For poetry station, I showed the children how they can choose a poem and ‘sketch’ their thinking about parts of the poem. The focus here is on recognizing poems have a different structure and so we use the language “lines” and/or “stanzas” to refer to parts in the poem.

Word WizardA “side” activity that we learned is called “being a word wizard”. The focus is to work on inferring the meaning of words IN CONTEXT using context clues. Therefore I encourage the children to keep this in mind whenever they are doing any reading work so that they can jot down words as they come across them. (Some of the children have been trying to just find words in isolation and look them up, so I’ve had to clarify that the point is IN CONTEXT).

The next routine/expectation that I brought in was expectations for the novel we are reading together. In a previous post “The Why Behind The What” I explain why I use a few novels for us to read together. I have selected Clementine by Sara Pennypacker because it is not a challenge to read but works beautifully for various goals I have.

For 3rd graders, I start with just getting them adjusted to the expectation of having homework, as it is a new concept for many. With only 1 hour to do so much work, I think it is more than reasonable to expect some level of outside effort/preparation. Getting into the habit of doing what is expected and coming prepared to class is the first target. I want 3rd graders to take ownership and learn to be responsible on their own; that is without reminders from mom and dad. To help make this simple, Friday is our “book club” day and so every Friday we devote to novel work. Here’s a break down of what we have learned in regards to expectations so far:

Week 1: read the chapter and “annotate”. Then show up with your book and some annotations. Of course there were many “I forgot” or “My mom didn’t…” I put my hand up to the excuses and clarified: ‘This is the expectation and so you need to own the fact that you came unprepared. I am not mad. We all forget things in life however excuses won’t solve our problem. Let’s learn from this how we can try to remember next time.’ I also clarify that it is their responsibility to make sure they bring their materials (not mom or dad). I want parents to let me help their child learn to take personal responsibility now in a safe and secure environment. This is a LIFE skill. I have even used this comparison: “the electric company doesn’t care if I had the money in my account and forgot to pay because they still expect me to take care of my responsibility”. In life we deal with forgetting things and we just move on. That is what I want to instill.

Week 2: Again I asked the children to read the chapter and “annotate”. I added on an additional expectation and clearly outlined it in the “directions”:  Clementine ch 2

It just so happened that less than 1/2 of the children actually followed the ‘read like a detective’ part in the directions, and so I worked on pointing out how we need to read directions when they are given to us and not just automatically assume we “know what to do”.

Week 3: I started by giving each child specialized feedback so they could evaluate how they met the expectations in weeks one and two: clementine-feedback.jpg

It was eye-opening for many of the children. Again my goal is to help them step up and take personal ownership and plan to adjust what they do to meet the expectation.

Then after a group mini-lesson I gave them the next discussion guide:  Clementine ch 3.png

They had some time in class to get started, and right away many did not read the directions. Reinforcing this will be a re-occurring theme…

Week 4: Coming with their book and some annotations seems to be a habit now. We are still working on following special directions. The guide they were given is based on the Talk About Text lesson we did for the week (more on these in a separate post). Clementine ch 4 discussion guide . We also had our first lesson about how as 3rd grade readers, we are expected to respond to text in writing. I find this is a new concept for the children even though if they are tested at DRA level 28 or beyond, a written response component is expected at those levels. We did our first ACE response (which stands for “A” answer the question “C” cite evidence to support your answer and “E” explain how the evidence supports your answer.

Our Friday “book club” or novel work also serves another purpose: discussion. I am spending time to directly teach the children how to have conversations because this is another LIFE skill. We have started with how to make eye contact with each other. These are the “rules” we are learning: (1) Make eye contact with the speaker (2) Wait until others finish speaking (3) Listen for the pause then speak (4) Be empathetic to others’ ideas (5) Respectfully agree and/or disagree (6) Support your claims with evidence

So while it is taking a LONG time to get everything in place, know that our routines are solid and even though expectations set are high, we are working towards them!

Establishing Routines and Expectations

As I get to know my new 3rd graders and we start to build relationships, our first weeks together are mostly about establishing solid routines and expectations. We have finished 3 weeks of school, but I have only gotten to spend around 7-8 hours with them. (Students spend the first week in their homeroom classrooms and then have at least 2 days of MAP testing that most likely overlapped their scheduled time with me). This means it takes me even longer to get our classroom running smoothly.

First and foremost, I help the children adjust to the very different environment. Not just a physical difference, but a MINDSET difference. In order to challenge the needs of gifted learners at a variety of levels, I have to do things very, VERY differently. I have to provide choices and learning OPPORTUNITIES. I know that not every child will take every opportunity (and I would not expect them to), but they exist for those that have the drive to seek more or for those with different learning styles and preferences. I know that gifted doesn’t necessarily mean “strong” in language arts as well, so while I offer tasks that really stretch and push students as readers and writers, I also let students know that doing the “minimum” is OK (because my minimum is above and beyond typical grade level expectations) but the minimum will be done very well to the highest level of quality for each student.  (Parents concerned about “handwriting” note that I focus on spacing between words for legibility and correct letter size use; capitals vs. lower case letters used correctly. I am not going to stress any student out about beautiful “penmanship”).

I set a HIGH bar and guide students to reach it. I will give tasks that have a standard to work towards. This often throws off children who are used to being “perfect” or having something be “just right” or “acceptable” the first time. We are going to learn and grow by doing.  I told one of my students yesterday, it is like when people start learning to drive a car. After being given lessons or learning about driving from reading about it, you learn by just doing it, with support and guidance. I don’t expect students to do something “perfect” right away, and quite honestly, if they did, then the task wasn’t challenging enough.  This mindset is different for parents too, as they are expecting their child to get “full credit” or “top marks”.  Please do not expect that of your child in my classroom. How can I push and grow your child if we seek to have them do everything perfectly the first time? Again that means the task was too easy.

When it comes to grading… well, what matters is the progress a child makes and where they are at the end of a “grading period” so to speak.  I look at growing and progressing an individual child’s skill set, and while I have some standards in mind of where a child should be, I never compare children. Nor should parents. Each child is going to have different needs and I’m going to work to meet them. We will have goals that we set and adjust as we go.  (If you are concerned about “grading” note the “scale” I use; I put one number on your child’s report card 3 times.  This number is the result of my considering your child’s overall work ethic, skill development, and progress over time).

Gifted Reading Grading Scale
1 (Needing heavy support and adaptation) 2 (Working with guidance; working at grade level expectations) 3 (Satisfactorily achieving; working above grade level expectations) 4 (Consistently going WELL above and beyond)

Points… in my room I use “points” to track visible effort. Simply put, I cannot figure out what is going on in a child’s mind unless they note it. Some children are more inclined to share their thinking in a visible way than others. When you see “+10” on a piece of student work, it is NOT a grade! Feel free to ask me anything about something your child does and what goals I might have for your child; not “how can they get more points on this or that”? POINTS ARE NOT GRADES.

Feedback…This is CRITICAL to growth (and if you are interested I wrote an advice column for teachers on using feedback for OCTELA). I have already told my 3rd graders that I will put comments on work intended to help them grow and do better. As much as possible I try to make comments on work and if I take the time to do so, I expect students to read them. This will become very important as we move into specific aspects of our routine intended to build and develop written response skills. Screen Shot 2017-09-09 at 11.07.54 AM.png

Now routines… I have an extremely complex routine structure in my room because I have to account for learners who do the minimum and learners who strive to take on any challenge they can find. It takes time to unpack and introduce each individual component. Right now I’m focusing on independent choices students have through “stations”. These are tasks that focus on different types and styles of texts and give students choice.  So far we have learned “Metacognition”, “Listening”, and “Newsstand”. Stations are more about giving students a structured opportunity to interact with and think about texts in the classroom. Eventually we will learn about our full “menu” of learning options.

Metacognition is “thinking about one’s own thinking” and it is pretty flexible…choose any text of interest and annotate part of it.  We started the year learning about how we can “leave tracks of our thinking” behind when we read.  Of course we talked about how we do NOT do this for everything we read! By teaching the children to start annotating when they read, I am starting to build some “note-taking” foundations as well as help students pay attention to their “inner voice” when they read. The goal is to share what we are learning to be “quality” thinking. I want students to really pay attention to smaller parts of text or images that resonate with them in some way. There is no “correct” way to do this. However I do encourage and develop more “thoughtful” responses.  The children then use SeeSaw to take snapshots of their annotations in texts and upload them for me to review.  Parents can request access to their child’s annotations on request.  

Listening is specifically targeted at listening skills. I have iPods with short stories and the text is NOT available. I find that my gifted students have learned to tune out or “turn off” their “auditory” receptors because they get bored with repetition or when something they have already learned is being presented. In addition, they often do not listen attentively because they have learned their natural abilities often serve them well to just “figure things out”. I focus on building active listening skills. For this station, students listen to a text and during or after they are to retell or recount it. (This is a 3rd grade standard). This means that they tell the events of the text again with many details and it differs from a summary, which is short and sweet. In 1st and 2nd grade, students should have been given DRA assessments and prior to “level 28” they are asked to orally retell the text to their teacher. (Level 28 and beyond requires students to write in response to a text read). If they do not give many details, they are prompted to “tell more” orally. I take this skill and push it a bit differently.  Here’s is the student “tutorial”: Note that the video was made before I started making “sketching” an option. Many of the children have preferred this! Bottom line, it is about listening for details!

Newsstand focuses on nonfiction texts through the use of periodicals. I have a collection of child-centered magazines as well as a large collection of National Geographic and NatGeo Traveler (for those that need a “vocabulary” challenge). Here is the student tutorial:  Through this station we are learning what a publication is and how it contains “articles”.

This brings me to some expectations I have. I taught 2nd grade for 10 years (and 1st three years) before moving to a year in 3rd grade ELA and then into gifted reading. I know that conventions of capitalization and punctuation have been taught; I was firm on holding my 2nd grade students ACCOUNTABLE for applying these skills in all written work and would return work until correct conventions were applied so that these skills became a HABIT.  There is no reason for a 3rd grader to use capital letters within words in sentences. There is no reason a 3rd grader should not capitalize the first word of sentences, the word “I”, or their own name! Yet I see happen with alarming frequency. When work is returned to children to correct these things, they are learning to make these conventions habitual. Therefore, my students are starting to learn that I will give them work back to “correct and return”. Here is a “checklist” of expectations that are in our ELA standards by grade levels:

ELA conventions checklists.JPG

Therefore I will hold students accountable for K-2 expectations and start guiding their use of conventions beyond. It is my goal to reinforce that self-editing means you take pride in your work before you turn it in!

As we learn more of our routines, the expectations will steadily increase. That bar will be raised. I will help children reach the high goals I set for them by giving them feedback and holding them accountable.

Curriculum Compacting with Comprehension Connections Notebooks

In order to compact instruction and advance/accelerate the pace of our learning, I have set up 9 video lessons for students to complete independently as homework. These lessons provide needed background knowledge and information about literary terms and concepts. Students cannot analyze a protagonist if they do not know what that means. They cannot examine the plot using the correct terms and elements without a lesson on what “exposition”, “rising action”, etc. is. In order to apply these types of terms to texts, students need to learn about them. The series of video lessons provides this instruction without taking up valuable class time.

The 9 lessons need to be completed by the end of the 1st trimester. Students can complete these at their own pace. I highly recommend students set a comfortable pace and get started right away as additional expectations for homework will be coming by the end of Sept/beginning of October with book club novel reading and response to reading letters. (4th graders have already started their novels).

Students will need the following to complete these lessons:

  1. Access for viewing the lessons. Please let me know ASAP if this is a problem. The link for the lessons has been placed inside their notebook to type in, they can find in their Google Classroom (4th graders) or here: http://www.symbaloo.com/home/mix/comprehensionconnections  
  2. Liquid glue, scissors, and crayons or colored pencils (no markers please or glue sticks; glue sticks do not hold what students insert well overtime and this is a resource to be used all year; markers bleed and make the info hard to read).  If you do not have any of these at home, let me know and I can lend supplies.
  3. Lesson packets: I will copy one packet per child. If they lose pieces, I will email the file. I am already making almost 80 packets, so it is wasteful and time consuming to duplicate. (This is a great way to start learning responsibility… a natural consequence).

Expectations:

  • WATCH THE VIDEOS! Be prepared to pause or replay parts if you missed a direction. The goal is learning and following directions. Students who just put pieces in the notebook are cheating themselves out of the full learning experience. Sometimes I give a specific direction for a task.
  • Take time to be neat. This is the student’s resource, not mine. If it is sloppy or hard to read information then it becomes useless.
    • Be careful when cutting out pieces so important info isn’t lost
    • If coloring over words, color LIGHTLY. It should still be legible
    • Use tiny dots of glue; puddles of glue cause pages to stick and then the resource is useless
    • Trim info to fit on the page; if it hangs over the edge it will get damaged, ripped, or torn.
  • USE THE SCORING guide; only one will be given when the first lesson is checked: General Score Sheet for Comp Notebooks

When a lesson is finished, students should return their notebooks to be checked and to receive their next lesson packet the next class meeting day.

The why behind the what…

I prefer to be transparent. That is, I want all of the families I serve to have access to what I am doing with their children and WHY. Often I make instructional decisions for very specific, targeted reasons.  One of those decisions is to have my students read a few novels together.

Sounds like a “one size fits all approach” but I disagree. I am a huge advocate of student choice in reading and I try to help children find texts that they love and can’t put down. Yet here I am telling all of my 4th graders they HAVE to read Ella Enchanted. Yes I know; not a text many would pick up by choice and the audience it appeals to is limited. So WHY?

While we will build reading/thinking strategies with student selected texts, there is something about having us all read the same text as well that builds a sense of community. We have a shared experience of reading the same author’s words. We can discuss the same events and characters. We can have the same reference points for literary analysis. What is different is HOW we each will read it.

Each individual brings his or her unique set of experiences and thinking to any text. What I might see in a passage could mean something different for one of my students. I find that often if I ask more ‘open’ questions like “What surprised you?” or “What do you think about _____?” I hear insights that would have never occurred to me.  For this reason, I encourage students to read through their own unique lens and share any thinking the text gave them. (On a side note, as a teacher I facilitated a fantastic book study on Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters)

Here’s the introductory video I made for students:

That being said, I will direct attention to specific aspects about a text to notice and note. For instance, our first “assignment” is to read chapters 1-3 of Ella Enchanted for discussion. I have a “task guide” that allows students to have direction to their thinking, but leaves room for unique interpretations.

Ella chap 1-3

My approach is also to let students choose their level of engagement. If they wish to just to the minimum, they can. But I hope that I will inspire them

to strive to do more. In this way, I can meet my responsibility to meet curricular goals and standards, but still give students freedom and a level of choice.

The key part in all of this however is the weekly discussion where we come together and students get time to just TALK about what they have read.  It is very powerful.

 

Finally, why Ella Enchanted (as boys tend to groan)… well one of our goals is to examine traditional literature and fairy tales as a genre and I love to challenge students to consider basic motifs. By reading the longer novel, comparison to shorter versions of a similar plot are easier. I have around 30 different versions of “Cinderella” from many different cultures, including Bubba the Cowboy Prince and The Irish Cinderlad so comparing and contrasting takes the experience to an even higher level. Motifs

 

I cannot wait to listen to the conversations and for the great thinking to begin!

 

 

Passion Projects!

Screen Shot 2017-02-18 at 2.00.21 PM.pngIndependent study projects offer students a great deal of choice in their learning. The challenge however is when do I fit it all in? Since Passion Projects focus primarily on research and presentation standards (which fall under writing and speaking/listening standards), they are not part of the curriculum that I am responsible for. For this reason, I do not include these as part of the in class work we do.

Needless to say, they hold so much value and in the past students who have taken the initiative to do one have found them to be VERY rewarding! Check out our Green Room Virtual Museum to see! (note that some projects load VERY slowly!) Here are a few where video was used in sharing what was learned as it is a popular choice:

Please note that Passion Projects are intended to be done independently and at home. (If a student wishes to use Green Room resources or materials they will need to schedule a time during their recess to come in and work). Class time will not be devoted to these projects, however I will be virtually available for students to ask questions so access to their school Google accounts from home is a must.

To be eligible for a passion project as a 3rd grader, students must have earned at least a “Level 5” responding to text badge and must sign a contract. 4th graders are always welcome to do one on their own!