In my many years of teaching I have found that the time between January 1 and Spring Break is the most productive time of the year for my students.  No matter what level I've been at, this has been true.  So I am loving our classes right now.  

We returned from Christmas break this past Monday.  I have found our students willing to work hard.  They seem relaxed and much more focused than the entire month of December.  

If I could set the school calendar, I might close down from Thanksgiving to New Years and then close school for the year at Spring Break.  It seems that those are the best time for students and we make the most progress then.

However, no one has asked me for my opinion on the ideal school calendar.

We have started this week learning the DISSECT Strategy.  DISSECT is part of the Word Identification Strategy from the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning.  It teaches work attack skills for adolescents.  My students have really taken to it this week.

If you are interested in seeing my powerpoint for the DISSECT Strategy, just send an email and request it.  I would be glad to share with you.  As with all my material, I only ask that you tell me how the materials worked for you and give me your evaluation so we can im

If I could design my own classroom, I know exactly what it would look like.  There would be all kinds of reading spaces.  I know what encourages students to read quietly-a space where they can be alone.  My ideal room would have all sorts of nooks and crannies. There would be soft lighting with comfortable spots to plop down and read.   Bean bag chairs would sit alongside overstuffed chairs just asking for someone to sit in them and read.

Unfortunately, I do not have my own space to design.  I must share a classroom with others.  I’ve tried several rooms before I landed in my current spot.  First, I had a small classroom.  But there were other teachers using the same space before and after me.  But I adjusted and was flexible-not the best for the students however.  Then a third teacher needed the space and I had to find another.

 I moved to the art room for a year but that was less than idea as well.  The art room was used by the art teacher for just one period a day.  Then it sat empty-the largest classroom in our building and it is used just first period.  The art room was large, bright and frequently covered with art projects.  Art projects that were tempting for my students to touch.  But the final straw was the clay project.  When the art class was doing a clay project, the room was full of clay dust.  It covered all surfaces.  The custodian even changed her hours so she could come in early and clean the room before I needed it.  But the dust was always there. 

There was no carpet in the room.  All the chairs were high stools.  I wasn’t happy there.  The custodian suggested that I look at the computer room.  It was available during my class time and was clean.  I looked it over and saw the advantages.  Since last January that has been my reading class ‘home’. 

There are down sides to the computer room.  First there are tables with thirty computers taking up most of the room.  However, my students are able to find spots and make their own reading nooks.  The floor is carpeted and that makes stretching out on the floor possible. 

The design of the room is essential to the success of my reading class.  What makes this reading intervention success is that the students read for an extended time daily.  I must have spaces for the students to do that successfully.  Middle school students love to socialize.  Our reading spaces must discourage socializing and give the students a feeling of being alone with their book.

Conferencing with middle school students One-on-one conferences are one of the pillars of Reading Essentials Class.  Reading Essentials is a reading intervention class at our middle school.  Each day the other teacher and I sit and conference with students.  The focus of the conference is identifying areas of strengths and weakness in the student’s oral reading as well as assessing their comprehension.  Together with the student, we set goals for the student’s read to self time for the upcoming week.

 Because there are two teachers and student numbers around 10 per class, we are able to conference about one time a week for each student.  Each conference lasts between 10 – 15 minutes.

Oral Reading Assessment   We monitor the students’ fluency, decoding, and expression by hearing them read.  The students use the book they are currently reading during read to self time.  We then discuss our observations with the students.  This reminds them the important aspects of oral reading and they can try to implement suggestions during the following week.  Each conference begins with looking at the goal from the previous conference and discussing the progress being made toward the goal.

We use the CAFÉ Menu ® to align the goals with their students’ areas of difficulty.   The areas are comprehension, fluency, accuracy (decoding) and expand vocabulary.  I use expand vocabulary when the student is doing well with all other areas.  Reading Essentials is a reading intervention and most of the students struggle in comprehension, fluency or accuracy.

Student Accountability   The student conference always puts accountability into Read to Self because we monitor the books and pages read by the students.  We record the page number(s) that we heard the student read.  Sometimes their goal for the week is a set number of pages to be read daily.  For some of these students, daily consistent reading is new to them.  Even sticking with one book can be difficult for some.  We discourage jumping from one book to another although if a student really doesn’t like a book, we allow them to make another choice. 

Comprehension   After listening to a student read, we then assess their comprehension.  We may ask them to retell the passage in their own words or ask them questions based on the reading.  If we determine that they are struggling with comprehension, we take out our CAFÉ Menu ® sheet, and look at the comprehension strategies.  We always begin with Check for Understanding.  I set the frequently of the checking for understanding on how much difficulty the student is having.  I may have them stop and check for understanding every page or every paragraph if needed.

Many students complain about conferencing and state that they do so much better reading silently.  I encourage them by saying that most people read better silently but that it is important for me to hear them read so we can accurately set goals and help them improve.

I have found no better way for me to help students with reading difficulties.  Our conferences make it very clear where their difficulties are and the one-on-one attention is a real personalization of education.  

If you use Daily 5 for literacy instruction in your classroom, you will recognize several familar items in these pictures.  We have students reading with a plastic tub of materials nearby.  The students are also meeting with their teacher-reading, discussing and setting goals.  Read to self is an important part of our daily reading time.  Our class, an exploratory, is a reading interventio

Our classes have been following an episode of the Andy Griffith Show from 1962 called Andy Discovers America.  I have transcribed the entire episode so the students can read as they watched the show.   We have been able to use this in a variety of ways.  We use it for reader's theater,  visual imagery, and prediction.  Most of the students have never watched the Andy Griffith Show before although as one student commented, "My grandfather really likes that show."  The students are enjoying watching the show and they find the antics of Barney to be just as funny as they were to me when I watched the show as a youngster.  The first question many students ask when they come to class is, "Are we watching Andy Griffith today?"
I work with students who struggle with reading.  Typically these students do not enjoy reading and don't make it a priority in their live.  So one of the main goals of Reading Essentials Class is to increase their time reading.  Miraculously this increased reading time leads to increased reading skill.   It isn't quite that easy.  Along with the increased reading time, we teach the students some skills that help with those areas of reading where they struggle such as decoding or comprehension.

In our Read to Self time students are to pick up their tubs which contain the reading material that they selected.  Then they find a comfy spot to sit quietly and read.  We demonstrate how to find spots where they are not distracted by other students.  We have 10 spots marked on the floor and they choose one of those spots. 

The students are expected to remain in their spot for the entire time.  By setting up this simple system, students can't use any of the normal excuses they use to get off-task with their reading.

It works well in most cases.

Our classes have been following an episode of the Andy Griffith Show from 1962 called Andy Discovers America.  I have transcribed the entire episode and have been able to use this in a variety of ways.  We use it for reader's theater,  visual imagery, and prediction.  Most of the students have never watched the show before although as one student commented, "My grandfather really likes that show."  The students are enjoying watching the show and they find the antics of Barney to be just as funny as they were to me when I watched the show as a youngster.
This week we have been studying the Word Identification Strategy and applying it to words we find in our daily reading.  The Word Identification Strategy is designed to help adolescents read the multi-syllable words that are found in Social Studies, Science and Math classes.  We are learning to take the words apart or DISSECT them.  We found many words in Hunger Games, which is a popular choice of many of the students.  These words include:

.  We then moved on to look at Social Studies words including conservation, conversion, accurate, accumulate.  I'm asking the students to located words in their own reading for us to practice reading.

Many in our classes of Reading Essentials are reading Hunger Games.  We added to the excitement by having a copy of Hunger Games for every student in the three classes.  Thanks to World Book Night, we received a box full of books free. 

I found World Book Night on Twitter. You can follow my twitter account at @benedictbooks.

  I jumped at the chance to get a box of books free to pass out to whomever I wanted.  You can read about World Book Night at

The students are enjoyed the story especially with all the hype now with the movie being out.  But the vocabulary is great and we are using it as the basis for our DISSECT lessons ri

Tuesday, January 4, 2011 marks the beginning of Reading Essentials Class at Hopkins Middle School.  Mrs. Navis and I notified each student and brought them to our classroom.  We explained the class format and work to the students.  We then spent time listening to our students talk about their interests and activities outside of school.  They certainly have a wide variety of interests from cake decorating to sports of many kinds including fishing, hunting, wrestling, basketball and football.  We plan to provide reading material that is of interest to all the students.

Tonight is our first Parent's Meeting at Hopkins MIddle School Media Center at 7 PM.  I hope to see many of our parents there and get to know you as we work together to help our students grow and mature in reading and writing.