Sunday, February 28, 2016

Preparing for Reading Comprehension Standardized Tests

Five test prep strategies to help students succeed on reading comprehension standardized tests from Raki's Rad Resources

Last week my students took a quiz on a passage that they had read more than five times. The students could create a story map on the story. They could identify the characters, the setting, the problem, the solution. They could each tell me the main idea and some supporting details. However, they ALL failed the quiz. Why did this happen? Well with some reflection we realized that most of the questions called for the students to utilize test taking skills. 
As much as I would prefer to assess my students' understanding based on projects, essays and written short response questions where students can justify and explain their thinking. Unfortunately the reality is that most of our standardized assessments are multiple choice questions that require students to understand how to take a test. So I often find myself in need of finding a compromise, a way to teach students about taking a test without teaching "to the test". Here are the top five things that I do to prepare my students for standardized reading tests:

1.) Teach students the important things to look for. There are many cute mnemonics out there like UNRAVEL that give students the important things to look for in test questions, but I have found that these often get students focused on memorizing the mnemonics instead of really focusing in on what they need to know. Also many programs will focus on circling one thing, underlining another, etc. and then students get so focused on what they're supposed to do they forget what they're supposed to look for or how to actually answer the question. So instead, I make my students a poster like this one of important things to look out for. If you'd like to use this poster with your kiddos, feel free to grab it for free from my Teachers Pay Teacher store.

Reading comprehension test taking strategies - free download from Raki's Rad Resources

2.) Model test taking strategies. There are a few websites out there that provide you reading passages and questions that you can use to model test taking strategies with your students. Modeling can happen in a whole group or small group setting. If you have access to a projector or document camera, it is very easy to go through the process together with the students mimicking on their papers what you are doing on the screen. Here are a few websites with passages and questions:

 - - This website includes grade and lexile leveled passages and questions, which provides for easy differentiation.

 - Teachnology - There are many passages on this site, but they are not leveled in any way.

 - Moby Max - With a free account you can go through a story and questions on a student's account. While you can't print out the stories, they are a bit more interactive than other passages.

- Reading A - Z - This service does come at a cost, but the cost provides you with tons of books and passages that have quizzes, comprehension sheets and lesson plans.

Making your own test taking questions - downloadable resource from Raki's Rad Resources
3.) Allow students to prepare their own questions. After you have looked at the types of questions that are commonly used in standardized tests, allow students to write their own test questions from books they have read, newspaper articles, or any of the passages on these websites, which provide passages but no questions. Students will work on test preparation, critical thinking skills and have fun being the teacher. At my Teachers Pay Teachers store, I have a simple Kids Create the Test sheet that can be used for this type of activity.

Websites with passages but no comprehension questions:

 - K5 Learning

 - McGraw Hill

 - K12 Reading (Includes open ended comprehension questions)

 - RHL School

 - Teacher's Guide

reading response journal - downloadable resource from Raki's Rad Resources
4.) Require students to justify their answers and think about the text in multiple formats. Specifically if your students are taking the PARCC as their standardized assessments, they are going to be required to give proof and justify their answers. For this reason we need to make it a part of our daily routine to ask our students "Why do you think this?" or "Where in the story did you find that information?" I always ask my students to include this information in their weekly reading response journal entries. Included on the rubric is to "give information from the text to support their thinking". The more our students are thinking about why their answers are correct, the more likely they are to actually be correct.

5.) Teach specific lessons about "outside knowledge" types of questions - author's purpose, vocabulary, genres. A percentage of standardized test questions have little to nothing to do with comprehending the passages that the students are reading. Instead they are about the difference betwen science fiction and historical fiction or the meaning of a key vocabulary word. While these are important skills, they aren't the same as just understanding the passage, so we need to teach students about how to answer these types of questions. And of course we need to teach them about these concepts because that is what these questions are really testing, how well we've covered these additional text concepts. So be sure to spend some time teaching students about genres, author's purpose, reading strategies vocabulary and identifying the meaning of a vocabulary word by using context clues. I personally do two big mini lessons on these concepts at this time of the year, one on genres and the other on reading strategies, specifically the vocabulary of questions using reading strategies. Both of these power point lessons can be found in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

genre power point - downloadable resource from Raki's Rad Resources

reading strategies power point - downloadable resource from Raki's Rad Resources

Of course all of these test taking strategies are moot if students can't decode and comprehend the passages, so the most important thing that we can do for our students is to give them a solid base in reading by building phonics skills (see my phonics program), vocabulary (see my spelling and vocabulary programs) and comprehension skills (see my reading journals and in depth novel and book studies). 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Jumping Back into Action with Geometry

After a year and a half of homeschooling, I have handed the homeschool reigns over to my husband and headed back into the classroom. On Tuesday, I started working with an amazing second grade teacher at a charter school here in Albuquerque. I get the joy of learning from her while she prepares to have her baby in late March. Then once she has the baby, I will stay on and supply teach for her. While the first few days back were tiring - I forgot how physical teaching a class is! - they were also amazing. She has a class of eighteen students with a wide range of abilities who are mainly English language learners, my specialty! 

It was wonderful to jump into guided reading and word work with the kids, but the most fun has been math. The class is working on geometry, 2D and 3D shapes, sides, vertices, all that good second grade stuff.  This week we focused on 2D shapes. 

First we walked around the school and found real life shapes, then the students created art with their shapes:

Teaching geometry to second graders - shape art, interactive notebook pages, videos and songs. All suggestions from Raki's Rad Resources.

Next we listened to The Shape Song:

And The Greedy Triangle: (This Youtube version is obviously read by a teacher. There are great think alouds and reading comprehension questions built into the video.)

Finally, we reflected on our learning with my 2D Shapes Interactive Notebook Pages.

Teaching geometry to second graders - shape art, interactive notebook pages, videos and songs. All suggestions from Raki's Rad Resources.

2-dimensional shapes interactive notebook pages - includes reference page and reflection options. Geometry resource from Raki's Rad Resources

What a great way to start my journey back into the classroom! I am so excited by this new opprtunity.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

What's New in My Life - Show and Tell February

It’s show and tell time again! Stephanie at Forever in 5th Grade is hosting the second monthly "show and tell" link up where lots of bloggers get together to show you what’s going on in their life or their classroom. This month I'd like to show you some new things that have been happening in my life.  I've had some changes in my lifestyle which I outlined at my other blog, RVing with the Rakis, so feel free to stop over there for further details or to read about my family's general lifestyle. 

Teacher bloggers have lives too! Come and find out what's new in everyone's life. My February show and tell post includes a "new to me" car. Raki's Rad Resources

The first new thing that happened was that we changed campgrounds. Our new campground is right in Albuquerque, rather than the suburbs. It's pretty nice, and it's right in the route of hot air balloons which go overhead regularly. But the best part is that there's an indoor swimming pool which we get to use regularly. My kids are in seventh heaven!

Teacher bloggers have lives too! Come and find out what's new in everyone's life. My February show and tell post includes a "new to me" car. Raki's Rad Resources

Teacher bloggers have lives too! Come and find out what's new in everyone's life. My February show and tell post includes a "new to me" car. Raki's Rad Resources

The second new thing that happened is that I got a "new to me" car. We bought this Isuzu Rodeo last week. It's the first time in 5 years that we've had two cars, so there's a new independence in the idea that my husband can go one way and I can go the other. 

Teacher bloggers have lives too! Come and find out what's new in everyone's life. My February show and tell post includes a "new to me" car. Raki's Rad Resources

Finally, I finished my newest Word Family Bundle, a set of interactive notebook pages (activity sheets) for 41 different word families. These sheets coordinate with all of my other Word Family Resources and give you a way of building a notebook or a way of assessing your students, depending on your particular classroom.

Teacher bloggers have lives too! Come and find out what's new in everyone's life. My February show and tell post includes a "new to me" car. Raki's Rad Resources Word Family Bundle

So that's what's new in my life, what's new in yours? Don’t forget to stop by the Show and Tell Linky to explore more show and tells from other bloggers. For last month's Show and Tell post, click HERE

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

How to Use Video Mini Lessons

Teaching has been my passion for the past 12 years. In order to share my passion with others I've started creating video mini lessons which are available on my YouTube channel for your use. I am currently building two series - Math Mini Lessons and Reading Comprehension Strategies with new videos released regularly.

Of course my videos aren't the only video mini lesson out there. I have always used teaching videos in my classroom in different ways. Some of my favorite videos are created by Khan Academy, Crash Course and TED Ed. In fact I put together a table math videos for my students on Google Docs and you can download that list of videos for free using THIS LINK.

Five ways to use video mini lessons in your classroom - suggestions from Raki's Rad Resources, Flipped Classroom

Video mini lessons can be used in lots of different ways. Here are my five favorite ways to use video mini lessons in the classroom:

1.) Flipped Classroom Homework Assignments - The flipped classroom model allows students to have their "lecture time" at home and learning activities at school. Assign students to watch videos at home instead of doing worksheets. I used this system for two years and it has many benefits including allowing parents to see how the strategies you are teaching, which stops the "But my teacher does it this way." conversations. You can read more about the system I used for the flipped classroom in the blog post: My Flipped Classroom.

2.) Guided Center Activities - Your review center can be replaced by video mini lessons. Instead of having students work on an activity that they aren't sure of, give them a chance to review the concept you have already taught by watching a video mini lesson. In addition to spending extra time on the concept, the students get to see the concept presented in a different way by a different person. 

3.) Substitute Lesson Plans - When I took time off to have my youngest son, I left video mini lessons for the supply teacher to show my students at the beginning of each project. (I was a technology specialist at the time.) Videos can make be a great way for substitute teachers to "teach" just like you would! No more wasted time!

4.) Virtual Co-Teacher - Wouldn't it be lovely to have a co-teacher who could pull small groups and teach them mini lessons based on their needs? Video mini lessons can become that co-teacher for you. Create a Google document or Edmodo note with differentiated videos seperated out by groups. While you are teaching one group, the other groups are being taught by the video mini lesson.

5.) Models for Student Created Videos - Letting your students create their own video mini lessons is taking this completely to the next level. Students get the chance to deepen their understandings and show what they know. After two years of having students create their own videos, I learned that having students watch video mini lessons created by others helps students understand the format and creativity needed. My students planned their videos with this Student Created Tutorial Videos Planning Sheet

Do you have another interesting way to use video mini lessons? Leave us a comment so we can learn from you too.

Happy teaching and collaborating!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Collection of Knowledge About Teaching ESL - 55 TESOL Teaching Tips

Fifty five tips for teaching ell (or esl or esol) students. These tips were accumulated over years fo teaching in American and overseas in Morocco at international schools. Tips from Raki's Rad Resources.

When I started out my undergraduate work in education, I did not plan to focus my energies on English Language Learners. I actually started in a dual major program at New Mexico State University in an attempt to be certified in Elementary Education and Special Education. After two years I moved to Kennesaw State University, which did not have Bachelor's program in Special Education. So I decided to get my Bachelor's in Elementary Education with the plan of returning and getting a Master's in Special Education. However, as often happens in life, things went in a slightly different direction. 

My first year of teaching I had a student who changed the way I looked at life. He had come from Argentina by way of China. He had moved around a lot and had not always been in school. He came to me as a third grader with about one year of total school experience and an incomplete grasp of both Mandarin and Spanish. For two months all I ever heard from him was "Teacher, bathroom?" He hid in the bathroom to get away from the stress that was my classroom. But by the end of the year he talked non stop to all of his friends, in English. Watching him learn English was amazingly inspirational. It changed the way I looked at teaching.

Teaching this student also allowed me to understand my husband in a new and different way. My husband (who blogs at Raki's Rad Language Resources) speaks five languages. English is the last language he learned and when we got married he had only been speaking English for a little over a year. I knew that he was learning the language, but I didin't really appreciate what that meant until I had the opportunity to really work with someone who had no English. It was then that I realized how amazing language learning is. 

From this point forward, I started doing research on my own about language learning. I participated in a Sheltered Instruction for Other Programs (SIOP) training to learn about how to teaching ESL students while still teaching your standards. I studied and took the test to add the ESOL endorsement to my teaching certificate. But most importantly I taught ESL students. 

Because of my growing interest in ESL, my school "cluster grouped" the ESL students into my room. Working with these students taught me more than any article or book I read. I learned to differentiate between which students could and couldn't read in their home language, and what differences that made in how they learned. I learned that they mimicked my own accent as they were learning to pronounce words. I learned that students needed to know how to say "I need a pencil." before we could think about working on content.

Then of course we made the infamous move to Morocco. When I moved to Morocco I thought I was really good at teaching ESL, and I had a good base. But the needs of my students in Morocco were so much more intense because I was literally the ONLY English many of my students got. In the US my students had exposure to t.v. shows, movies, store clerks and bus drivers who spoke English. In Morocco when my kids walked out of the door they often didn't hear another word of English until they walked back in it. This teaching experience is when I really started to refine my instructional strategies. Three years of watching my students go from "I need pencil." to talking my ear off and reading on level taught me so much.

While I was teaching in Morocco, I blogged about the process in an effort to share the strategies I was learning with other teachers. Since I have been back in the US homeschooling I haven't blogged about these strategies, but I have used them. My sons complete school work every day in English, French and Arabic. Since French and Arabic are not their home language, they need the same kinds of strategies that I used for teaching my English Language Learners. Realistically the strategies I learned are Language Acquisition Strategies, not English Language strategies.

It's been awhile since I blogged about language learning, but I have a ton of TESOL Teaching Tips here on the blog. Here are the 55 tips that I think are the most important for teaching someone who is learning the language. Each of these strategies have been explained further with the blog post that is linked here.

1.) Use images

2.) Speak slowly

3.) Let students talk!

4.) Correct their mistakes - sometimes!

5.) Teach vocabulary every day

6.) Repeat yourself often

7.) Teach kids HOW to listen

8.) Find what your students' literacy level is

9.) Know a few key words in their home languages

10.) Understand cultural effects of language

11.) Teach inferencing

TESOL Teaching Tip #11 - Teach students how to read between the lines or making inferences - reading comprehension for esl or ell students. Blog post from Raki's Rad Resources.

12.) Teach body language

13.) Utilize background knowledge

TESOL Teaching Tip #13 - Utilize the background knowledge of your students to help them understand what you are teaching them. Read more about how you can help your esl or ell students in this blog post at Raki's Rad Resources.

14.) Find a way to communicate with families

15.) Use technology

16.) Teach social expectations

17.) Teach a lot of grammar

18.) Understand the silent period

19.) Appreciate the differences of how students learn

20.) Use peer tutors - sometimes

21.) Teach non language learners about language learning

22.) Use best practices

23.) Explore culture shock

24.) Expect language growth to cycle

25.) Learn a language yourself

26.) Teach cognates

27.) Know how long your students have been learning English

28.) Give context clues

29.) Know your kids

30.) Explain the connections

31.) Let them count in their home language

TESOL Teaching Tip #31 - Let students count in their home language. Basic math skills can be done in the home language without compromising English language learning for your esl and ell students. Read how this work on my blog - Raki's Rad Resources.

32.) Graph out student understandings

33.) Allow transition time after breaks

34.) Use teachable moments

35.) Know why they're learning English

TESOL Teaching Tip #35 - Know why students are learning English. The reasons behind a student's desire (or lack of desire) to learn English can help you to better engage and motivate your students. Find out some of hte most common reasons for esl and ell students to learn English in this blog post at Raki's Rad Resources.

36.) Understand how listening happens

TESOL Teaching Tip #36 - Understand how to teach listening. Listening is one of the hardest skills to teach esl or ell students, but it is also one of the most important. Read this blog post at Raki's Rad Resources to find specific strategies for helping students to listen to you.

37.) Use the media

38.) Find the gaps

TESOL Teaching Tiip #38 - Expect gaps in your students' learning. ESL or ELL students often have gaps in their learning from focusing on figuring out the English rather than the content. This blog post at Raki's Rad Resources will give you some strategies to help fill in those gaps for your students.

39.) Teach common culture

TESOL Teaching Tip #39 - Teach students common culture ideas like nursery rhymes and fairy tlaes. ESL or ELL students often do not know these US and UK stories and miss out on understanding and inferring when they reader harder texts because of it. For some great techniques on how to teach common culture, stop by the blog - Raki's Rad Resources.

40.) Practice writing a lot

TESOL Teaching Tip #40 - Kick start writing for esl and ell students. These students need to write as much as possible as often as possible in a guided fashion. For help kick starting writing with your language learning students, check out this blog post at Raki's Rad Resources.

41.) Teach prepositions and positional words

TESOL Teaching Tip #41 - Spend time on prepositions and positional words. Prepositions can be very different from language to language and they can be challenging for esl or ell students to discern which word to use. Stop by this blog post at Raki's Rad Resources to learn strategies for teaching this important skill.

42.) Teach verb conjugation

TESOL Teaching Tip #42 - Teach verb conjugations. Verb conjugations are very important in other languages, so students who are transfering from a conjugation heavy language to English need to know how English verbs conjugate as well. Stop by this blog post at Raki's Rad Resources to find strategies and download a freebie that will help you teach verb conjugations to your esl or ell students.

43.) Put yourself in their shoes

TESOL Teaching Tip #43 - Put yourself in your students' shoes by learning a language. Even if you only take a few classes, you will soon feel what your students feel every day. This experience will help you build understanding of the mistakes your esl or ell students often make. Read the entire blog post at my site - Raki's Rad Resources

44.) Appreciate how dialect changes languages

TESOL Teaching Tip #44 - Teach dialectical words to esl and ell students. The way we speak turns into the way our students speak, but the way we speak may not be the way everybody speaks. Taking time to teach our students about different dialects of English can help make them stronger students. Find more specific information on my blog - Raki's Rad Resources.

45.) Teach taboo words

TESOL Teaching Tip - Teach taboo words. Students will hear taboo words in songs and on the streets. ESL or ELL students often don't know that these words are taboo, so we need to teach them. For specific information on this topic, come to my blog - Raki's Rad Resources.

46.) Explain your read alouds

TESOL Teaching Tip #46 - Help esl or ell students understand your read alouds better. Students need assistance with this important skill and this blog post at Raki's Rad Resources gives you lots of strategies for this.

47.) Let students create videos

TESOL Teaching Tip #47 - Let students create videos in order to practice speaking. Creating videos provides many benefits for esl and ell students. Find strategies and website suggestions at this blog post on Raki's Rad Resources.

48.) Some students need alphabet help

TESOL Teaching Tips #48 - Some students will need alphabet help. Different languages have different alphabets and different alphabet sounds. ESL or ELL students sometimes need to go back to basics. Find more information on how to help your students out on my blog - Raki's Rad Resources.

49.) Use regalia and videos

TESOL Teaching Tip #49 - Use regalia and videos to help your esl or ell students understand vocabulary. Find specific tips on how to do this at my blog post - Raki's Rad Resources

50.) Talk about home life with your students

TESOL Teaching Tip #50 - Talk to your ESL or ELL students about their home life. These little conversations turn into big conversations and build up your understanding of your students. Find information about this topic at my blog - Raki's Rad Resources.

51.) Remember that summer limits English exposure

TESOL Teaching Tip #51 - Give esl and ell students a chance to get back into their school routine before doing beginning of the year assessments. Students have limited English exposure over the summer and need a few weeks of English to reacclimate. Find more information on this topic at my blog - Raki's Rad Resources.

52.) Encourage students to maintain their home language

TESOL Teaching Tip #52 - Maintaining Home Language is Important for English Language Development. Students who are strong in their home language are able to develop better English skills. To learn how to help your ESL and ELL students maintain their home language, stop by my blog - Raki's Rad Resources.

53.) Include ESL students in whole class discussions

TESOL Teaching Tip #53 - Let students have and participate in whole class discussions. ESL and ELL students need to use their language well in order to become proficient. Stop by my blog - Raki's Rad Resources - for strategies on how to help your students build their proficiency.

54.) Give students alternatives to presenting in front of class

TESOL Teaching Tip #54 - Give students alternatives to presenting in front of the class. Presenting can make ESL or ELL students nervous and prohibit language ability. Find four alternatives and more at my blog post on Raki's Rad Resources.

55.) Create procedures for using translation apps

TESOL Teaching Tip #55 - Create rules for using translation applications in the classroom. Translation apps can be a great assistance to esl or ell students when used in moderation. Find information about how you can help your students at my blog - Raki's Rad Resources.

Do you have any tips for teaching TESOL?