As I moved into the second unit of study in reading- Informational Texts and taught lesson three "Content Specific Vocabulary" it became crystal clear that I could not teach another day without figuring out how to fit streamlined, ramped up word work into my students' school day. How did I know? What is causing my intense sense of urgency? I listened to my students reading the transcript from the Naked Mole Rat video. The students who could read it were struggling with words such as rigid and rival. Fairly simple words to decode- but I heard students reading them as "ri• gid" and "riv• al". I knew they needed an overview of the 6 syllable types and then move into suffixes and affixes, followed by sorts from the derivational word sort book. Since the first week of school, I knew I had a challenge ahead of me related to closing the achievement gap and providing scaffolding so all students could access grade level materials. However, I didn't realize the extent of the challenges facing my students in their school careers.
This weekend, I analyzed student data for my goal setting conference with my principal. I used a multiple data points: Map Test, Washington State test given in Spring of 2013, Teacher's College Leveled reading assessments administered this fall, informal assessments, and teacher observations.
I teach 27 students. Six 4th graders and 21 fifth graders. The good news first; of my six 4th graders only two are below benchmark in reading, two are at benchmark currently (but I know I have to guide them carefully and push them to grow as readers because the demands on a 4th grade reader are great) and two are above 4th grade level. I have a much different situation with my fifth graders. Six students are far below grade level, 7 are below grade level, 6 are currently at grade level and 2 are above grade level. I must be very strategic to meet the needs of all my students. I teach in a high needs, low income school- 35% special education students, 33% English language learners, and over 80% students receiving free and reduced lunch. Many of my students currently do not have skills necessary to read independently at 4th or 5th grade level. The majority of my students need intensive word work to build their foundational skills. The CCSS include these standards under Reading: Foundational Skills.
I have 10 years experience with using Words Their Way by Donald Bear et al. This said, I have experimented with different styles of implementation. I love exposing students to the fascinating world of words. I, and presumably you too, face two main obstacles- not enough time in the school day for students to learn everything they need to know to be at benchmark and lack of consistent word work curriculum in lower grades. This year- I will integrate word work throughout the curriculum and allowing students to benefit greatly. Also, I am ramping it up- condensing and moving faster through the sorts to allow students to get to grade level words and concepts before the end of the year. My students are smart. They can make up for missed opportunities and apply the strategies and concepts from the sorts to their reading. Being able to decode multi-syllabic words and figure out their meaning is critical to reading at the 4th and fifth grade levels.
Some teachers at my building are using SIPPS. Some or using The Nifty Thrifty Fifty. My point is: use what your school recommends, what you believe in, what you're comfortable with, or a combined approach- but use something!
Currently, I am doing a short targeted word sort lesson on the rug with all students. After a week of whole class lessons I will form a small group of 6 students who will be working primarily independently in the derivational word sorts- but for now I need to teach all students the routines and what is expected of them before I allow them to analyze words independently, generate overarching rules and show what they have learned by using the words in their talking and writing. Successful sorting, spelling, and reading words is just one part of word work. The equally important aspect is pushing students to grasp the big idea, concept, or rule of the sort.
Along with word work, another important aspect to my literacy lessons is a focus on main idea and supporting details to foster comprehension. This week, my focus is on teaching students that authors structure informational text in paragraphs with a main idea and supporting details. I will scaffold this through feelings circles, leveled texts and highlighters, partner shares, and whole group shares.
Before bringing students to the rug I demonstrated how to make a two column chart on page one of their new word work notebook to show me they could differentiate vowels and consonants. I started with checking for understanding of vowels and consonants because students must have this fundamental understanding to be able to successfully analyze CVC and CVCe words. I want the headings of CCVCC, CVVC, etc to mean something to the students. (C stands for a consonant and V stands for a vowel.) I said something like: "The first thing I want you to show me is that you know the two very important categories that all 26 letters fall in: Vowels and Consonants. There is one letter that is both a consonant and a vowel. Open your word work book and lets make a T-Chart on one side you will list all the consonants and on the other side you will list the vowels. Look up here and see one way you can set up your page."
Show students your word work book. "Alright students, once you have the heading and T-chart made list the consonants and the vowels under each heading."
Circulate amongst the students to check on their work. Let's say the consonant letters together- make sure you have them all. You should have 21 consonants. Now let's say the vowel names. Do you have all six? Remember that vowels letters can make different sounds- sometimes they say /a/ short a and sometimes they say /ay/ long a. Which letter is both a consonant and a vowel? Turn and talk. That's right. The Y.
The Y can make two sounds long I and and Long E. Like in cry the Y makes the long I sound- in the word puppy the Y makes the long E sound. I bet you knew that, right?
After focusing on vowels and consonants, I brought the students to the rug with their new word work composition book and a pencil. I showed the book cover of The War Between the Vowels and the Consonants. "Today I am going to read you the beginning of this story called the War between the Vowels and the Consonants. I read a few pages to get them interested in thinking about the difference between vowels and consonants.
I said, "Today students you will begin a year long study of words. We are going to start today with learning about three syllable types and the pattern of letters in them. We will be looking carefully for patterns of consonants and vowels. This helps us know how to pronounce and spell words. Many words in the English language follow spelling patterns. I want you to remember everything you have learned about words from kindergarten to now and use that knowledge to help you sort some words in a couple of minutes.
Let's turn the page and set up our notebook for our learning activity. Make a three column chart with a heading at the top like this: Consonant-Vowel-Consonant CVC ; Consonant-Vowel-Consonsant-Silent e CVCe; and Consonant-Vowel-Vowel-Consonant CVVC" Demonstrate with your word work book (students just write the single letters that are bolded. "Now, I am going to show you a list of words that fall into one of three kinds of syllable types. Let's read this list of words." Read the words from word sort #13 together. Did you notice that some of the words have a long A and some have a short A?
The first kinds of words you learned to read in Kindergarten were closed syllables: words like bug, hot, gum, and black. Do you see how the words all have one vowel that is followed by one or two consonants? These words are all closed one syllable words. Their vowel sound is short. Let's say them and clap the syllables: bug, hot, gum, black. Good. Now we are going to look at this list and find all the words that have this same pattern of CCVCC Write each word under the heading short A CCVCC . Continue for the long A words in the CVCe column and end with the long A words that fit the pattern of CVVC.
Check your words with the words in the pocket chart to see if you placed them in the correct column based on the pattern of letters and the long or short A sound.
Students as you are reading in you informational texts look for words that fit the pattern of closed syllables CVC, CVCe and CVVC. See if that helps you figure out new words.
Today you will continue to read in your informational texts. You are reading to learn facts and ideas about your topic. Write important information on your post-it so you can share it with your partners.
As students are reading confer with students. Ask them how their reading is going and have them share what they are learning with you. Check their post-its. Notice the kids of things they are writing down. Ask them why they thought it was important.
As students are reading they are post-iting different things depending on what they notice. Some students might chose to focus on long or short vowels, some on new words that were tricky for them and they used the strategy they learned of writing synonym for the tricky word, some students are learning facts and writing them down. Some students are copying sentences from the book- because that makes them feel safe and smart,some students are asking questions about the text, some students are capturing boxes and bullets- main ideas and supporting details.
Three minutes before it is time for students to share with their partners what they are reading about, I cued they to look over their post-it notes to be ready to share with a partner.
On this day, I also asked for a couple of students to share out what they discussed in their partnerships with the whole class.