Tag Archives: struggling readers

The Power of Three

always tattoo


In Harry Potter, the Deathly Hallows are three super powerful magical objects believed to give the owner invincibility.  How awesome would it be if we armed our students with 3 magically powerful skills that enabled them to be “invincible” when it comes to reading?  Research on the Generative Theory has shown that there ARE 3 powerful things that create successful readers. Without these three things, readers are unable to self monitor and try strategies to help them succeed. Reading becomes a chore rather than something that comes as natural as breathing.

The Generative Theory of reading is born of the research of Diane Stephens on what matters when helping students become successful readers and writers.  Her “What Matters” framework places heavy emphasis on meeting students where they are and using assessment as a way to know more about how students learn and shape lessons accordingly.


According to Stephens’ theory, if the following 3 things are in place, the reader will automatically self monitor.  They will stop themselves when something does not make sense and will apply a strategy to help.

  1. The reader understands that reading should make sense. Does the reader understand that reading is about more than just getting the words right?
  2. The reader believes in his/her ability to make sense of text. Does the reader see reading as an attainable goal everyone can achieve rather than an ability a person is born with?
  3. The reader sees reading as an enjoyable event.  Does the reader see reading as fun?


As teachers, we need to look for and at times create situations for the students to show these 3 things.  To start, here are some activities for helping students understand that reading should make sense.

  • Use easy to read books that are fun and enjoyable and have high interest for students
  • Have students look at a picture and ask them to tell you what is happening in the picture.  If the student is just pointing to objects in the picture and naming them (labeling) rather than crafting a scenario for the picture, he/she does not understand that reading should make sense
  • Tea Party Strategy:
    • Show the students the front/back cover of a book and jot down words they think the author may use in the story.
    • Talk about why the author may use those words.
    • Categorize them.
    • OR Show students various pictures (some actually from book, others not) and have them sort the pictures into 2 groups – Pictures they think will be in the book or will not be in the book.  Discuss reasoning behind the categorizing.
  • Use wordless picture books  to practice telling stories
  • Use 3 pictures, tell a story, and write the story together
  • Teacher talk – think aloud as you read a story to model how a reader self monitors and the meaning making process
  • Oral storytelling
  • Interactive read alouds
  • Performance Literacy:
    • Student draws favorite animal
    • Teacher writes the name of the animal
    • Ask the child if the animal has a name
    • Write 2-3 words that could form the problem of the story (ex: lonely, hungry, or lost)
    • Ask questions: What problem do you want your animal to have? When the lion was hungry what did he do? Where did it go? What did it eat?
    • Write down the student responses to the questions
    • Tell the story back to the child filling in details when necessary.  Use plenty of sounds and movement.
    • Ask the child to tell the story back to you.

As I explore this topic more in my Literacy Beginnings class, I will share more with you!  In the meantime, check out this article:


Or Diane Stephens book:  Reading Assessment: Artful Teachers, Successful Students


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Filed under Literacy, Reading Workshop

Tutor time


Last week I talked about building brain muscles during summer vacation. My post today (and others to follow) will hopefully give you some ideas to max those brain muscles out!

I love tutoring – I really and truly do. It fills the void that I tend to feel about 2 weeks in to summer “break”. I start missing my students and the things they say. I start missing the rewarding feelings of watching a student try his or her hardest and succeed. And – it also helps me know that students who need to maintain their school year gains are. 🙂

Tutoring is an opportunity for me to try out some ideas that I’ve been looking at and to see how it goes. I’m always looking for new ways to reach emergent readers. My Pinterest boards are even separated into Classroom Antics and Tutor Time.




When working with students who are emergent readers, it is important to teach the same concept in as many different ways as possible. Some students may come from low income homes – which can drastically affect vocabulary acquisition and comprehension. For example, in a low income home, by the age of three a child may have heard 10 million words. This is in comparison to a child of the same age from a middle class home which has heard over 30 million words. Karen Tankersley included in her book on literacy strategies: Juel (1988) reports that by the end of 1st grade, students proficient at reading will have seen an average of 18,681 words of running text, whereas those who are struggling will have only seen 9,975. It is no wonder that, given half as much practice as their more proficient peers, struggling readers lost ground in decoding, automaticity, fluency, and vocabulary growth.

Struggling readers need to feel motivated and find themselves successful. Choice is also important. There are many other statistics and research I can offer on this topic, but I will resist the soapbox for now.

This summer, I am tutoring a child I just finished teaching in kindergarten. We have a good time and I try to make the hour long sessions as fun as possible. But we work – HARD! I am incorporating ideas from Pinterest, research, and the far reaches of my brain. I’m also using lessons from Fountas and Pinnell.


She made such great progress this year. Her parents are incredibly supportive and understand the importance of not losing all those gains.

I give her as much choice as possible during the session. She chooses from the activities I have in mind and sets the order we do them. Some she is familiar with (apps on the iPad) and others are new to her.

After going back over her sight words lists from the end of the year, we created new cards for her to practice. I drew the words in block letters. She colored them and then stamped the word on the other side, spelling as she went. We then reviewed the words and she took them home. We go through these cards each day. When she recognizes a word 5 times in a row, she gets to put it on the hot pink binder ring she chose.

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We use those same words to play sight word hopscotch.


We use word family cards to come up with rhyming words. These are great sets I got from a teacher supply store.

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Also – we read A LOT! I have great sight word readers I printed from Hubbard’s Cupboard.



We use these to go on sight word hunts and for reading. She takes two home each day to read and practice. The following day, we search for sight words and highlight them in the text. Then she reads them to me again.

During the one hour long sessions, we may do anywhere from 5-8 different activities. She is always eager to find out what is next. At some points she needs to move on from one activity to another to prevent her from getting too frustrated. I am able to see what coping mechanisms her young brain has already developed – and decide which are good strategies to keep, which are bad habits to break. We mostly work on phonics and reading, but we throw some math in there as well. Remember, literacy extends into all subject areas.

More ideas to come!


Filed under Literacy

Rime and Reason

I finished the standardized assessment for kindergarten today and I am ecstatic!  While it was great to get to know another teacher’s students, I’m glad to be back with my own kids and our normal schedule. Before administering this assessment, we were given training by our assistant principle.  There are multiple sections to this assessment and a couple of them left us guessing… What is the point of this section?  What is it really assessing?  The conclusion was reached that we just needed to stop questioning it – and do it.  This assessment is a requirement of the county, we have to administer it – not pick it apart.  Honestly, that was very hard for me.  The last school district I was in we focused a lot on data and making sure we were appropriately assessing our students.  Yes, we gave standardized assessments such as benchmarks and state tests – but every other assessment was so carefully thought out.  Now, I think of every assessment in this way.  Which is the way I should? Right? Let me get to the point of this post – reviewing the book I posted a couple weeks ago in Straddling the Line. 51To7VhjTrL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX225_SY300_CR,0,0,225,300_SH20_OU01_ I think it’s safe to say I’m in love with the possibilities this book presents.  The author, Sharon Zinke, outlines lessons  (not just for kindergarten) that can be used to quickly work on decoding so a teacher can focus the most of reading instruction on constructing meaning.  The book  comes with a DVD that has printables to make any flash cards you may need and videos of the lessons being taught.  To me – the DVD makes it worth 14.99 (which isn’t bad to start).  I am a visual learner.  I like to see how it is done, then tweak it for my own purpose. Zinkes makes so many valid points (and affirming some of my own beliefs) – I can’t possibly list them all here with out copyright issues.

My wordle: http://www.wordle.net/show/wrdl/6714176/Decoding_Solution

Here are some key points:

  • Reading fluency isn’t about speed, but rather about appropriate rate.
  • Even some fluently reading adults have trouble segmenting words into their individual phonemes (and I just assessed K students on this).
  • Our brains love patterns!  This is why we teach word families, onset,  and rime.  It is intuitive.  Our brain functions as a pattern detector, and we find it much easier to detect patterns than to apply rules (Goswami & Bryant).
  • Reading is all about constructing meaning.  Letters and sounds should be presented in context.  When students realize much more of the story can be found in the words and outside of the pictures, they learn much more about the grapho-phonemic cueing system.
  • Immersion rather than mastery is the goal (with the Rime Magic sequence).

I plan on trying some of the techniques with a group of emerging readers before the year is over and during the summer with an individual student.  So I’m going to hold on to my reading star and press forward! star

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Filed under Literacy, Lower Grades, Upper Grades