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Accelerated Reader Alternatives

On Sunday, I posted about how our school made the decision to leave Accelerated Reader and go in a different direction.  You can read about that post here.  We decided that we could do better for our students and we want to promote reading for the pure joy and entertainment that it can bring rather than promote reading with rewards.  In short, we want the students to love reading the way adults love reading by participating in real life reading activities so their reading will continue outside of the classroom.  

Reading =  fun, enjoyment, information, conversations about books

Our school came to an agreement not to set goals or rewards for number of books read or minutes reading books.  We felt that this was not indicative of real life reading.  And that (real life reading) has become our goal.

 Our plan for our student's reading instead of AR (this occurs for us during SSR time- not guided reading time) will be focused on in two parts.  

Part one:  What will happen during SSR time instead of reading AR books and taking tests?

Students will be reading as much and more "in" school as they did with AR.  The hope is by making it a real authentic activity "in" school it has a better chance of continuing "outside" the walls of the school.   

 What do you do when you are reading a great book?  You can't wait to tell a friend about the book so they can read it too!  Here are some real, authentic activities that can be a part of your plan instead of using AR.  All of it centering around reading and conversations.

*   Reading of ALL types and genres of fabulous books
*   Book Talks with Peers- could be set up like a book talk in a cafe
     with drinks and snacks
*   Book Shares- share a part of your story that has wonderous words or vivid 
     vocabulary, what a great way to find more mentor texts to tie reading into 
*   Book Buddies pairing older students with younger students
*   Book Recommendation Walls
 *  Conferencing with students- listed last, but is the MOST important part

Part two:  How will we enhance our student's reading without having reward parties that only include part of our student population?

*   Themed Reading Afternoons- we will hold these once a quarter for
     EVERYONE to be involved, themes that have been mentioned are camping (set up tents, sleeping bags, pillows, flashlights in hall and everyone reads for a period of time, could make smores also), breakfast in bed (dress in pjs, bring stuffed animals, eat bagels while enjoying books) 
*    Guest Readers to our school- local authors, news anchors (kids think they 
     are celebrities), high school athletes, etc....

The possibilities are almost endless for how teachers could promote reading- the fun and enjoyment of it- within their classrooms!  This is a work in progress for us, but we are so excited about it!  If your school does anything like this, we would love to hear about it.  :)

Saying Good-Bye to AR

Have you ever heard a similar conversation (only with your name inserted instead of mine):  "Mrs. Vines, Mrs. Vines!  I made my AR goal!!!"  This being said from an excited student and I follow up with "Great, I'm so happy for you!!"  Then says excited student, "NOW I DON'T HAVE TO READ ANYMORE!!!"

This comment has been said to me so many times.  I cringe.  I feel sad.  I feel angry (not at the student).  I tell whichever teacher is unlucky enough to be near me when this happens, "This is why I do not like AR!"

I value reading and I try to teach a love of reading to my students.  Hopefully in a way that carries over into their lives outside of school.  But there are some things that I don't feel teach a love of real life reading,  Accelerated Reader  being one of those things.  And finally after a long period of nudging people along and sometimes just outright speaking my mind about it, I am thankful to say that my school is saying good-bye to AR!!!  If your school uses AR and you like it, I hope you will stick with me through this post to see why I think we can do better by our students.  :)

Besides the conversation at the top of this post, I have also had these concerns:
*  students find a wonderful book they are interested in until they find out it's not AR, then back on the shelf it goes
*  student wants to read a particular book, which happens to be AR, but it is not deemed to be on their level so they are not allowed to read it
*  AR tests ask literal comprehension questions
*  how many of us as adults say "Oh, I can't wait to go take my test on this great book I just read"?
*  parties and rewards end up being for only part of our school population, instead of celebrating the enjoyment of reading by everyone

I have so many thoughts on AR, I think I could fill up  several posts on it!  I am sure that you do not want to sit through that.  But I am very passionate about this subject and truly believe that AR does not instill within our students a love of reading.  I feel it turns reading into an extrinsic driven chore.  I have even seen students race through book after book for the sole purpose of earning those points to make their goal.  What about reading to enjoy the story and savoring every bit of it?  I know when I read a wonderful book, I don't want to rush through it.  And what about those students who love reading magazines and comics?  There are always boys in our school that haven't found the right book yet, but LOVE to read hunting magazines.  

I am proud of my school and my teachers for reaching the point that they are ready to say good-bye to AR and teach the love of reading with an intrinsic value.   We have lots of ideas for next year and I can't wait!

Next on my radar:  Getting rid of that creativity killer called the 5 paragraph essay.  :)

Did you notice the super cute frame that I used for my quote?  Tessa, at Tales From Outside the Classroom, created that!  So to her blog and see all her cute stuff.  You will definitely love it!

Picture Book Linky

Jeannie at Kindergarten Lifestyle is putting on a picture book linky!  Everyone loves picture books, right?  I know I do and I had a tough time narrowing this down to just one picture book!

The Wide-Mouthed Frog is a fun and surprising book!  First of all, it is a pop-up book and what kid doesn't just get all excited for a pop-up book?

The frog in the story goes from animal to animal telling that he is a wide-mouthed frog and he likes to eat flies.  The repeated words and sing song language naturally lends itself to the students chiming in for choral reading.  

At the end of the story, the wide-mouthed frog meets an alligator who loves to eat wide-mouthed frogs.  Soooo, the wide-mouthed frog makes his mouth small so the alligator won't eat him.  The kids love the surprise of the alligator and the way the frog makes his mouth small so not to be eaten!

There are many activities that can be done with this fun book.  I have already mentioned choral reading- it's great for that.  It is also a great book to practice retelling.  This can be done on paper or orally.  

Another great idea is for students to make their own pop-up book about what else the frog might like to eat besides flies and have the tongue pop-out from the book.  Glue the object they say the frog likes on the tongue.  Would make a wonderful class book to be read over and over, just like this one!

Be sure to go to Jeannie's blog to check out all the other favorite picture books!

Chocolate Fountain, Bingo, and Sorry

We just recently had a huge reading party at our school.  Every May we have a chocolate fountain as part of the festivities!  The kids really enjoy that part!  I don't know if it is all that warm, gooey goodness cascading down or getting to dip all kinds of treats into that melted chocolate!  This year, our librarian decided to try something a little different.  Instead of the fountain, she used a fondue pot.  Same warm, gooey, goodness.  And still so very, very yummy!!

The students got to choose from sliced bananas, strawberries, marshmallows, pretzels, Rice Krispie treats, and graham crackers to dip into the chocolate.  My favorites were the bananas and strawberries!!

Students rotated between 3 rooms for 20 minutes at each station.  This way they get to have a fun party, but only be out of class and instruction time for an hour.

Besides the chocolate fountain room, we also had a Bingo  room.  In this room, students played Bingo and got a choice of prizes for winning.

Students could choose a brand new book from a basket of books.

Or students could choose a candy bar instead.

Or students could choose a prize from the prize basket.

Even if you didn't win in Bingo, you got a small piece of candy.  So everyone left a winner!
One more stop in the rotation was the game room.  Here the students could play games and just hang out talking and having fun!

The reading party was a huge success and we all had fun!  It was a great way to celebrate the enjoyment of reading!

Circle Maps for Thinking

Do you use circle maps with your students?  They are easy, but versatile to use.  One of my classes was reading George Washington's Mother.  This book fit in so well with using a circle map to make all the information that the students were learning easier to manage.  

We also did a circle map as we read Freckle Juice, an oldie but goodie story.  

Circle maps can be used in a whole bunch of different ways.  Here is a short list that is definitely not all inclusive!

*  Brainstorming ideas
*  Character traits and evidence
*  Letter in middle and words that begin with that letter in outside circle
*  Informational text and ideas learned
*  Story events
*  Adjectives to describe a character or object
*  Verbs that a character can do
*  Proper Nouns found in your town

After students have learned how to use the maps to organize their information, it can become a very useful tool for them to use independently.

Sharks, Dinos, and Cinquain Poems

We have just finished up our cinquain poems to go with our books about sharks and dinosaurs.  After reading and learning about sharks and reading about the dinosaur in a Danny and the Dinosaur book, we started examining cinquain word poems to see what we could notice about them.

I decided we would do word cinquain poems rather than cinquains based on syllables.  I wrote this one and put it on the Smartboard for the students to examine.  We eventually got to the place where we saw that there was one word in the first line, 2 words on the second line, 3 words in the third, and 4 in the fourth.  We also noticed the line 3 words ended in ing.  I also wanted them to see that the first and last line were one word titles.  They thought this was all just a pretty neat set up!

After we read a few poems and got used to the way they were written, we tried our hand at writing a few in small groups.

To make it a little more manageable, the students were each given their own rough draft form to help them remember the pattern when they drafted their poems.

I am very proud of these little guys and the thoughts they came up with for their poems!  These are the students' words, I just typed them for them for time's sake.

I found the super cute shark pattern on Pinterest!  Happy Home Fairy posted the pattern and then we used it to display our poems.    It is quite a process of introducing and seeing what we notice, writing together, then writing on our own with some guidance.  But that is a method that I find truly works!  What types of poems did your class write for April?

Teacher Appreciation All Week!!

3- 6 Free Resources is having a teacher appreciation linky party!  How were your teachers celebrated this week?  We were being appreciated ALL week long!  I must say it was wonderful, but I think I may have gained about 20 pounds this week from all of the celebrating!  Our school and PTO was just so fabulous to us.  :)

The first day of the week, we were appreciated by our PTO with a wonderful breakfast of  bagels and cream cheese, oranges, juice, and pastries.  The PTO officers also came by with a small treat bag for each of us.

On Tuesday, we were treated to free biscuits and gravy from our school cooks.  Yumm!  PTO officers came by again with another cute treat!

For Wednesday, we were expecting to get cashew chicken for lunch.  We all enjoyed that for sure.  But, once again, PTO came by to surprise us!  This time they came around with a cart with breakfast!!  We received muffins, bagels and cream cheese, strawberries, pineapples, juices and coffee.  We are sooooo spoiled!  Breakfast and lunch that day!

Thursday rolled around and we received free biscuits and gravy again!  PTO also came by with a cute popcorn holder with popcorn and pop rocks.  The note thanked us for "popping" into their school.  

Today, we were treated to Schlotzsky's sandwiches, salad, and cookies.  And one more gift from the girls in the PTO!

Now you can see what I mean about gaining 20 pounds this week!  I am so appreciative of my school and our PTO officers for all they have done for us!  How did your school celebrate you this week?

Thinking Tables

Need a quick, fun way for students to review information?  Try doing a thinking table!  I have wipeoff tables in my room, so this works wonderfully.  If you don't have these tables, you can still do the thinking table by laying a big piece of paper over them.  
Let your students know what kind of information you want them to be writing, set your timer, and stand back!  We use dry erase markers every day in my classroom.  But I learned some time ago to only put out black markers for every day use.  Otherwise, we waste precious time looking for just the one color we like or arguing with our neighbor over the colors.  When we do thinking tables, I break out the colored markers and oh my the excitement level instantly rises!  Here is a short list of ideas for what you could use thinking tables for:
  • brainstorming writing ideas
  • character traits
  • informational text features found in their story
  • other ways to say "said" or "walk"
  • review of information studied in social studies or science

I have my students write, move around the table, write, and move around the table.  I want them to do a quick review, write all they can think of and read what others write as they go.  Fun, easy, and quick!  How could you use thinking tables with your students??

Accordion Class Made Books

Do you make books with your class?  Class made books are so popular with the students!  They will be read again and again since they are the authors and illustrators.  They value these books and will choose them over and over again to read. 

We have been doing The Little Red Hen and I found this wonderful poem to go with it.  

The last line of this poem is "A hen can't ________________ like you".  We choral read and echo read this poem over and over.  Then we moved to rebuilding the poem in the pocket chart.  I scramble the lines and the students must read to find out which line must go next in the poem now that we have read it so many times that they have it partially memorized.  It is important to build up their memory skills.  A lot of my struggling readers have trouble with this skill, so I like to build in memory work all that I can.

The kids loved the part where the hen says "Bawk, bawk, bawk"!  For the book part, the students chose things they could do well or liked to do that a hen can't do.  

sing a song
watch a tv
I put the pages together this time to make an accordion book.  Literally takes minutes!  All you need is wide clear tape.  Start with your last page face up and place the next to last page on top of it, face down.  Tape the edges together on the left side.  The next page goes face up on top of the next to last page and you tape the edges on the right side.  Just continue on until you have all of your pages taped together and wahhhlllaaa- accordion book!  It truly is just that easy! 

Shout Out Saturday!

Portable word walls!  Caitlin from Kindergarten Smiles has posted about her thematic portable word walls.  She is using these for her writing center to assist students with journal writing, writing stories and letters, etc...  Can't you just see how they could be helpful to students when writing informational text?  You need to head over to her blog to see the examples of student made portable word walls too!

Do you need ideas on how to display your students' work?  Stephanie from Teaching in Room 6 has posted some pictures of her room.  Her bulletin boards are beautiful and are a great way to show students how much you value their work and effort, not premade displays.  Be sure to go on over to Stephanie's blog and see her boards!

I hope you enjoy visiting these ladies' blogs today!  Let me know what you find that I should go check out too.  :)

Tree Maps

Do you use tree maps in your classroom?   I have been using them in mine and they really help the students organize their thinking and comprehension of the stories we read.  Sometimes we do them together.  You can do them in small groups or even individually.   You can see the progression of the students' thinking as you read the map.  They started out pretty concrete and simple with their thinking:  is sad, mad; can pick corn; has a hoe, a grinder, etc...  But then they were able to move past that to deeper level thinking for each category.  I loved that one said the Little Red Hen can eat in front of the animals!  Same thing happened in the has category- start out simple, then move beyond that with has no more work to do!  They did a fine job, but hadn't ever come up with the one word I wanted them to think about- lazy.  So on that one word, I tried to direct their thinking by mentioning what kind of friends she had.  Still, they weren't sure so I told them it started with the /l/ sound.  One little guy raised his hand and shouted out " loser friends" just so proud of himself!!  Which to be honest is true if your friends watch you do all this hard work and never once offer to help until it's time to eat.  We decided that maybe we would rather write lazy though instead. :)

I was inspired by the Little Red Hen I found from Pattie at Pattie's Classroom.  Aren't these just adorable?  I don't have long with my students, so I don't like to spend much time on cute stuff.  I modified them a bit and these took only a couple of minutes to make.  Most of the pieces were already cut for them so they could just glue and go read!
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