The Lesson Anchor Charts Taught Me

Today I realized I need to share something that I see happening over and over in my classroom.
                 Very simple.
                          Very important.

      Kids really do ANCHOR back to Anchor Charts!

Weeks ago I was teaching a dyslexia intervention lesson and asked the students what approach stroke we would use for this new letter we were learning how to write in cursive.  They all (including myself) looked over to the spot in the top, left corner of my whiteboard where I had the approach strokes sketched out. Nothing fancy, but we knew they were there.  Except-they weren’t. They were cleaned over the weekend!

What got us laughing was the fact that we ALL looked there and then at each other in surprise. Doesn’t take very much to crack us up!  All fun aside, this meant something.  As a classroom teacher, my colleagues and I would always whine about how after we moved on from the concept on the Anchor Chart that the students created we didn’t have space to leave the charts up.  Okay, okay… if I am really honest, I do NOT do clutter.

(Side note: There are so many ways now to store them: Google Slides, Google Drive, Live Binders, etc. One way I chose that worked best for my classroom of students was the Magnetic Curtain Rod. This saved space and still allowed the students to anchor to a place they knew, and quickly.  Click here.)

Here are a few examples of how I used the magnetic curtain rod to hang anchor charts when we had limited space.

So this is why I must write this blog.  This morning while teaching another dyslexia lesson, when it came time to write our words I noticed the students anchoring back to the place where my writing letters used to hang.  At that moment it hit me.  I need to move them back to the original location.

Even though they have been in the new spot the entire year so far.
Even though I thought they fit better on the other side of the room.
Even though I was sure they could see them better on the other side of the room.

The truth is, once they had their anchor in a certain spot, this is where their eyes went back to every single time.  There is something to be said about the visible learning, visible thinking, visual aspect in remembering things.  Think about it, how many times have you covered things up and witnessed students looking up at that spot? How many times have you done the same thing when trying to recall information?!  I could go on forever about the research, but I just wanted to share a quick A-HA moment!

After moving them back to their original location during my lunch break my afternoon kids did smile a pretty big smile when they saw them. I noticed (even if they won’t admit it) that they looked right at them while writing!

This is not rocket science, friends.  I knew this, but I guess I never truly knew HOW important these Anchor Charts were until I found myself anchoring as well while teaching! I won’t even stop with Anchor Charts, ALL Thinking should be VISIBLE!

I will leave you with this advice: Don’t ditch the charts. 🙂  They may not be beautiful or clean looking (does this really matter?), but they really do make a difference in recall and securing the learning!

Just sharing my A-HA moment from my literacy room on this fabulous Tuesday!

Literacy Feedback – ALL Learners Means ALL Learners

So often as teachers when we learn new information, create something, or have knowledge about a specific content area we think that everyone already knows this and we keep it to ourselves.  I mean, why would we share something everyone already knows? That would seem silly. Do you ever feel like that?  🙂  Well, DON’T!!  

Share those “Obvious To You” ideas!!  You never know when someone you think knows, actually doesn’t.  Or when something you say may resonate with someone in a different way because they were ready to hear it.  That being said, I am going to share (at random) a few really important thoughts from the recent literacy conference I attended.

Literacy teachers spend so much time getting students to read.  Pushing students to read faster and faster to meet that Holy Grail number of words per minute so they can report they are “On Level” that year.  Am I right?  This must stop.  We must turn our attention and efforts to what really matters in literacy instruction.  Building a love of reading, for one.  Second on the list, Comprehension!  Do you not agree that we read things to learn something and understand?  I understand that reading rate does have an effect on comprehension, but how many times do you see a kid that can read pretty fast and not understand a thing they just read? When I was listening to Dr. Jan Hasbrouck preach about this, I wanted to shout, “Amen!” I have asked over and over, “Does it really matter?  As long as they can comprehend what they are reading, does it really matter if they are 10 words short of meeting that little designated number?”  At this particular session she shared something that stuck out to me:
“When using the Oral Reading Fluency norms, there is little evidence that reading faster is better for a reader’s comprehension.  In fact, there is significant evidence that we need to help readers read fluently AT or NEAR the 50th percentile to support comprehension and motivation.”

WOW! So, Average is the Sweet Spot! You can search “Reading Fast or Reading Well Jan Hasbrouck” and read more about this idea.


We all know in order to understand what we are reading we must actually read the words correctly! Did you know what we are looking for in Reasonably Accurate reading accuracy is based on a study that shows comprehension WILL be impaired if reader does not read at this specific accuracy?

The average reader should not read below 95% accuracy independently on unpracticed text.

Emergent readers must not read below 97-98% accuracy!!  Do you know why? Readers who are learning to read should never become frustrated or walk away feeling defeated in anything they are reading.  They need to have a positive mindset about reading for one, but don’t we also want them to practice reading those words correctly!? Here is my biggest takeaway from her session.

Do you find it ironic that I listed Accuracy as second on my list, when it comes First?! Like I mentioned earlier, these are not in order of importance but in order of how my mind is flowing. 

So you might have gathered that Fluent Reading DOES NOT mean faster. Something to remember about fluency is that it really should sound like talking. It should sound like speech – our everyday conversational talking.  There are many other important components to being a fluent reader, but the biggest one I find a need for in many of my students is PROSODY!  

Prosody is the intonation, the expression used, phrasing, and pitch that mirrors spoken language and conveys meaning.   So, wait a minute….you mean, it is not okay for the reader to sound like a “robot” when reading?  😉 Not so much, and let me share a big   A-HA that supports this statement.  It does effect comprehension, and isn’t that what the whole point of reading is?!

This last idea might be my biggest takeaway and is also my biggest soap box and so I am not sure why I saved it for last, but I want to say this and say it LOUDLY!!!

Feedback on a child’s reading is important for ALL READERS!  If we are going to meet the needs of every learner/reader, then we must listen to every reader read.  More importantly, we must give them feedback on their reading. What does this mean exactly?  How do we accomplish this? I know what you are thinking…We have deadlines & expectations to meet with limited time and an overwhelming number of students in classroom.  Not to mention all of the other important needs crying out to be met. Listening to every child read daily/weekly is “ideal” and really is our best intention, but is quickly pushed aside when we run out of time after working with three groups of struggling readers.  If we are able to listen to every single child read every single week, how many times are we giving authentic feedback?  Let me share what I heard restated by Dr. Jan Hasbrouck this week. This is why we must listen to ALL readers read aloud AND give Feedback.  

It improves Fluency, which is critical for Comprehension. 

Sure, we get the 1st bullet. No problem.  That makes sense. The 2nd bullet hits a little harder. – Silent Reading NOT sufficient.  (Let me add the word ENOUGH.) It does not mean stop having children read silently.  It means that we must not only have our average and above average readers read alone or with peer groups without any feedback. Humor me, and let me say this again a little louder.

Why? Because ALL LEARNERS means ALL LEARNERS.  Everyone deserves an opportunity to be heard.  How else will your average and above average readers acquire new vocabulary and skills? What fluent role model are they hearing read to help them learn expression, phrasing, and such?  ALL READERS need to hear fluent reading, new vocabulary words, and practice oral reading.  Maybe my next post should be on how to manage this in the classroom, what it looks like, and how easy it really is to achieve?! 🙂 One last reminder – Literacy is not just reading, but writing as well.  I LOVED that Dr. Hasbrouck said this and shared this amazing quote that I will end with.  Let’s not forget all of the important research on the role our brain plays in learning!

Choosing Vulnerability Over Isolation…It’s Worth It

Lately I have been tweeting about how the best thing for personal and student growth, improvement, data collecting, etc. is peer observations.  This is something that I stand behind so strongly because of personal experience.  Now don’t get me wrong, the right attitudes need to be in place for this to be successful.  

1. You must WANT to do this and see the purpose.  
2. You must know it is not one more thing you have to do, but something you GET to do.
3. You must be able to LISTEN with an open mind.
4. You must TAKE ACTION in some way based on this feedback.   
I have written before about how lucky I am to GET to do these observations with my GCISD VALOR group.  Let me tell you, there is not one observation we walk away from not learning something to take away and use!  
This past month our Literacy Specialist Leader, Amy Montemayor, set this same situation up for all of us.  When she told us about it I was so excited!  For some reason, many people hear the word specialist in a title and automatically think we have all the answers.  We don’t! We are learning and growing just like everyone else and we need to have those opportunities to do so. Something I often hear from other Literacy Specialists and others who may not understand our role is that we are on an island.  I always have to stop right there and refer back to a George Couros quote:
We are not alone on an island, unless we choose to be. 
I was thrilled we were given the time to observe other Literacy Specialists using the same Dyslexia intervention we are, as well as other ones because it allowed us to see how we can change simple things to make our instruction better.  It allowed us to see small things we can change that we never would have thought of without an extra set of eyes!
For me, it was having extra sets of eyes on a group I work with that has me on my toes daily! I was dying for feedback on anything else I could do to make this current situation work better for us?!  Even though we have talked about it in meetings, it wasn’t until I had people come observe that they were able to see and offer suggestions.  I had an open mind listening to their feedback. I wasn’t defensive about what I was doing, I was vulnerable and wanting advice.  I tried a few of their ideas the next day, and you know what….it helped!!  
We can choose to be on an island and continue to hope things will change for us.(But really, we all know that doing the same thing over and over gets the same results!) Or we can choose to ask our team to come watch us and offer suggestions.  That team can be anyone…principals, teachers from other schools, instructional coaches, liaisons, specialists, teammates..you name it.  We are better together. Everyone wants to support others and help, we just have to ask!
I want to thank our leader, Amy, for creating the opportunities for these observations in a role that has never done this.  A role that not many people look at and think we need to do this. Your innovative thinking forced us to be vulnerable.  It forced us to make that scary jump.  It has inspired many in our group and allowed us to see the importance of growing by learning from others. It is so refreshing!

Putting Kids FIRST

Confession time….I have not blogged in a few weeks because I was hit with a case of overloaded brain block!  Yes, it’s a real thing my friends. 🙂 My head is full of so much new learning that I didn’t even know where to begin processing it all.  As I start thinking of all the things I have been taking in and try to piece together connections, I come up with one thing that runs through my head over and over.

If we are not asking this question when there is a fork in the road, or even on a DAILY BASIS, we are off track!
Recently, I have observed literacy instruction in elementary school, middle school, and high school!  I feel like I have been given a treasure that not many teachers are given unfortunately – time to observe great teaching!  I am always amazed at the awesome ideas I walk away with.  The interesting thing is that at all three levels, there were identical strategies being used that worked with ALL kids, yet they did not look exactly the same! That got me thinking.
There are all these buzzwords out there.  All the new initiatives starting up.  All the ideas of how things “should be done” by people other than the educators.  But really, when we really look closely by taking a step back, we know it comes down to best practices for all kids.  We know what is best for kids and we do it.  
If you know me, you know that I am a firm believer in differentiation in every area!  Y’all, it doesn’t have to look the same for everyone.   We are not the same.  Our kids are not the same. 🙂  We can differentiate our teaching strategies like we differentiate student learning. It is responsive teaching.  But PLEASE….hear this loud and clear – what matters is that we are consistent in these best practices and do what is best for the kids we have in front of us now…not last year. 
Whether you are conferencing with a student about their writing at a table, on the floor, through a Google doc or Google classroom, at a desk, through a blog response, on a beanbag, or a bouncy exercise ball…you are still conferencing about writing!  It is about the consistent best practice action and the child!  I will add, having a variety keeps it interesting for all involved. 🙂
I really feel in my heart that there is no way you can go “wrong” if you are looking at the situation through the lens of what is best for the child, not just compliance of teaching a certain way because everyone will think this is awesome even though it really doesn’t seem to be working for this child.    
My hope is for people out there to stop thinking one way or approach is the “right way” and the only way teachers should be teaching reading or writing (or any other thing for that matter) and start asking, “Is this BEST for THIS CHILD right now?” because that is what it is all about.  I could really get going about my passion for the Whole Child, but I will save that for another time. 🙂
Let me close by saying this: 

I am not saying break rules and do not teach what you are supposed to according to TEKS and district common instructional expectations!  
I am saying while adhering to these mandates, think differently. Ask the question: what is best for children?  Be brave and take that chance and try something new!  It might feel different and uncomfortable at first, but how will you ever know if you never try? 🙂 Oh, the possibilities and the awesome things we will see in our children when we put them first! Always.