Flying Through Reading


Flight Air Show Flying Formation Planes Contrail

Working with nonfiction texts can be a challenge for students and teachers.  Many nonfiction texts contain higher lexile levels and higher levels of complexity.  Maintaining a sense of focus for struggling readers may determine the comprehension success of the text.

When I assign a complex nonfiction text, I approach the text using the following steps.

  1.  Setting a purpose.  Since struggling readers sometimes have a difficult time understanding why a certain text is being read in class, it is important to set a purpose for reading.  Setting a purpose helps students focus on the “why” behind the reading.  When students have a clear focus, they can power through obstacles that may get in their way such as unfamiliar words, text structure, and text length.
  2. Chunking the text.  Dividing the text into manageable pieces helps build confidence and endurance. In a two-page article, I divide the text into a minimum of three chunks.  Of course, the number of chunks is dependent on the length of the text and the age of the students. When a text has clear divisions, such as headings and subheading, this is an easier task.  However, it is important to provide students with specific reading strategies to help them understand what to do during a chunk of reading, what to do at the end of a chunk of reading, and how to proceed to the next chunk of reading.
  3. Adding movement. With the struggling reading, as well as any reading engaging in a challenging text, I like to give students the opportunity to move at the end of a chunk of reading.  The type of movement used, and the purpose of the movement, may change based what students are asked to do with the text as well as the type of readers reading the text. For example, I may add movement to help students with comprehension, or I have students participate in a reading activity designed for deeper analysis.

Flying Airplanes

There are multiple uses for this activity.  I mentioned this activity in an earlier post, but I recently used this activity as a during reading activity.  The activity is basic, but it does get students up and moving while they are reading.

At the end of a chunk of reading, students are asked to identify textual evidence that supports the overall purpose for reading the text. Students write a piece of textual evidence on a sheet of paper and then they fold the piece of paper into a paper airplane. The class is then divided in half.  Half of the class lines up on one side of the classroom and half of the class lines up on the other side of the classroom.  The students fly their airplanes to the center of the room, and then they choose an airplane to take back to their desks.  At their desks, they read the piece of textual evidence and discuss it in a pair or in a small group.  The students proceed to read the second chunk of text. At the end of the second chunk of text, they repeat the process.  The activity continues until all three chunks of text have been read.

At the end of the reading, each student will have a piece of paper with three pieces of textual evidence to match the purpose of reading. A class discussion of the evidence may then occur, or students may be assigned a writing prompt.  The activity prepares students to look for evidence and analyze evidence of their peers. When writing, all students, regardless of their reading ability, will have textual evidence to use in responding to a prompt.

This activity can be modified in many ways.  Instead of textual evidence, students could draw pictures summarizing key points.  Students could also answer basic comprehension questions, or they could answer (or develop) higher-order thinking questions.

Providing students with the opportunity to stand during reading, gives them a chance to think about what they have read.  It also gives them an opportunity to refocus on another chunk of reading by breaking up the monotony of a being seated while reading a challenging text for an extended amount of time.  It also helps reduce stress and anxiety a struggling reader is faced with leading to a more positive and successful reading experience.


SNOW DAY, Snow Forts, and Writing


We recently had two snow days in our district.  Since snow comes and goes pretty quickly in the Seattle area, I love the time we have to get out and play.  Entire neighborhoods spill into local parks and school playgrounds to g0 sledding, build snowmen, fortify snow forts, and just run around. The smiles, laughter, and overall general feeling of happiness is a welcome sight during the doldrums of gray skies in winter.

My daughter and I worked tirelessly to build a snow fort on the football field of the neighboring school.  We had a great time determining the height, depth, and interior finishes expected by a fourth-grader. It was a moment cemented in my mind, one that will stick for a long time.

The activity sparked my imagination for establishing a writing space in the classroom.  Building, fortifying, and elaborating the writing process is something all young writers need to experience to develop their skills.

For this activity, various components of the writing process are hung around the classroom.  A prompt (or multiple prompts) are given to students to focus on. Working in small groups, one member of the group retrieves a writing component and brings it to the group work on.  Group members complete the task and attach their finished task to a building block (snow cube).  A second group member retrieves another component, the group works on the task, and then add to their snow cubes.  As the group works, they determine the organization of their snow walls.

After a set amount of time, a signal is given and students work on the elaboration of their writing.  Once this task has been completed the snow forts represent a specific mode of writing within a paragraph, poem, essay, etc.  Groups share their responses by walking around and observing the structures.

Several discussion ideas may follow:

  1.  What are similarities between each of the writing samples?
  2. How did groups extend their writing?
  3. What are key organizational concepts we need to remember when writing _____?
  4. What are the foundation pieces of this writing style?


The writing tasks may include:

  1.  Sentence starters/types (topic sentence, textual evidence, analysis, concluding sentences)
  2. Essay structure (introduction paragraph, body paragraphs, concluding paragraphs)
  3. Visuals/Charts/Graphics/Pictures
  4. Simple sentences to extend


This activity can be modified in beyond the snow fort concept.  It has can be adapted to include the snowball fight activity explained in an earlier post.



The Movement Routine



Movement and Routine


The start of the school year is one of the most exciting times of the year for teachers, students, and parents.  While some may argue that point, as a teacher I am filled with elation, nervous energy, and satisfaction in my chosen profession.  


The start of the school year is filled with preparation, and teacher after teacher will tell you how important it is to set-up the classroom in such a way, to greet students, to establish relationships, to build a positive learning climate, and to establish routines and rules. How individual teachers and classrooms go through this process varies.  


Utilizing movement in the classroom is essential, and starting the year off by frequently using movement helps teachers and students get acclimated to the process and helps establish a practice that becomes ingrained in the daily/weekly activity of the classroom procedures.


Movement Mindset

When thinking about using movement in the classroom, teachers need to define the purpose behind using movement.  If the purpose of adding movement is to add fun to the classroom or to do it because other classes are doing it, the success may dwindle.  When teachers and students understand the benefits of movement, the benefits kick in and the needs of the whole child are addressed more adequately. One of the reasons I started to use movement in my classroom was to create opportunities of students to refocus on a task or topic at hand. Research has indicated the connection between the use of movement and improved focus or on-task behavior (Grieco, Jowers, & Bartholomew, 2009; Jensen, 1998; Maher et al., 2009). As I gave instructions on how to perform movement activities, I informed students of the benefits of focusing on the task at hand.  Furthermore, I planned activities with the idea that I wanted students to focus on learning a specific task that was either addressed during the activity or immediately after the activity.  If content was specifically challenging, I had students perform the activity prior to engaging in learning difficult content.  Using movement to focus students became my purpose.  Since it was my purpose, I was very intentional in its use, which improved the success and understanding regarding movement activities selected and used throughout the school year.


Focusing on a clear purpose helps teachers with consistency.  A clear purpose also helps communicate reasons for using it to students, other teachers, and administrators. Plus, it helps direct evidence towards meeting the needs of diverse learners.


Movement Initial Routine


Once a purpose has been established (or contemplated), teachers can move into the initial routine process.  Establishing a movement routine should to be addressed each time a new movement activity is introduced.  However, the initial routine introduction is more elaborate.


Intentionally practicing how to perform a movement activity takes time initially, but the payoff will save time in the future.


Movement Sustained Routine


Using movement multiple times per week keeps students engaged with the content and helps students and teachers expect and understand why it is being used.  As movement activities are introduced, students may need to be reminded of the routines in place.  Also, as the year progresses, teachers may wish to add novelty to a previous activity with simple modifications.  The brain feeds off of novelty, and adding new elements to an activity increases student awareness aiding to effective classroom management.


Adding movement also helps teachers determine when to involve kids.  A lesson that seems to be teacher-directed can be shifted to more of a student-directed lesson with the addition of individual and collaborative movement activities. Being intentionally with movements helps teachers sustain its use in the classroom and support the routines they established at the beginning of the school year. This is true for content-specific movement activities and brain-break activities.


If teachers are worried about classroom management, it is important to establish routines and start with short and simple activities.  For example, having students stand by their desks and form a statue with their bodies representing something they have read is a simple movement.  Students do not have to move away from their desks, and it can be done in seconds. The routine may include telling students to stand to the right of their desks and push their chairs in.  on the count of three, freeze into a position.  Hold the position for 10 seconds and then return to their seats. Another simple activity is to post key questions from a unit of study around the room.  Students stand and move from question to question to complete their answers.  The routine may include informing students to remain silent, walk to a sheet to read a question, make sure no more than three people are at the question, move to another question, and return to their seats when finished. These are simple activities that require small efforts from the teacher and the students. These are also activities that can be elaborated on easily as the year progresses.

Using frequent movement activities in the classroom will transform the teaching experience for teachers and the learning experiences for students.


Flying With Questions

paper-airplanes_shutterstock_43792207-800x460I was talking to a colleague recently, and she passed this idea on to me.  She observed a classroom where one of the teachers developed a movement activity corresponding with a set of questions and paper airplanes.

Each student was given a math worksheet with four problems.  I generalizing, so some of the details may a be a bit hazy, but, overall, the activity is easily modified.  Students were divided in half so that each side of the classroom had roughly the same number of students.  Teachers could also divide students into groups of four and have students all around the room. Each student worked through the first math problem. This could be done individual or with a partner.  After about five minutes working with the problem, the worksheet was folded into a paper

Each student worked through the first math problem. This could be done individual or with a partner.  After about five minutes working with the problem, the worksheet was folded into a paper airplane. On the count of three, or when the chime sounded, students threw the airplanes into the middle of the classroom. At the teacher’s signal, students went to the middle and grabbed an airplane.  Students unfolded the airplane, made corrections (if needed) to the first problem and then worked on the second problem.  This process continued until each problem was answered.

This activity could have easily been completed with students sitting in pairs or groups for four working on each problem and checking for correct answers.  Modifying the assignment in this way did not require a lot of planning.  The only planning different from seated group work involved making sure students knew how to make a paper airplane.  Throughout the activity, students were engaged and motivated to complete the work.  Plus, they were activating key areas of the brain academically, socially, emotionally, and behaviorally.


Get Outside and Process


The importance of processing information is critical if we want students to understand content.  Too frequently we rush through curriculum in order to meet the demands and complexity of the pacing required of stringent scope and sequence models. Rushing is detrimental to the overall development of information.  The more we cram and rush through material, the more students will not understand, and we will need to reteach.  So, it is actually a time-saver, to incorporate processing time.

I recently read a blog post by Bill Ferriter about the overwhelming desire for students to get outside:

Many teachers tend to be creatures of habit, but the ones that take a risk are often more successful.  Taking a risk can simply be moving beyond the confines of the classroom walls.  In an effort to add processing time to a lesson, a simple action that involves movement is to move students to an outdoor setting.  Posing a question, or a prompt, regarding content prior to moving allows students to process while they move to the new setting.  Adding the physical component of walking to the desired setting while thinking helps activate the neurons in the brain in multiple ways. Walking forces teachers to add processing time that extends beyond seconds. Complex material, intensity of information, and onslaught of ideas require more processing time.  Once students move outdoors, teachers can decide to discuss in pairs, groups, or as a whole group. Or, students can continue move and discuss while walking outdoors.

When the discussion is over, teachers could provide another question or prompt for the return walk to the classroom.  In both cases, students would need to walk without talking to give them the quiet time they need to process.  This would have to be a routine that is taught and expected.


Moving to Process

t78770299When I talk to teachers in multiple disciplines, a common frustration is time and the need to race through the curriculum in order to meet the demands of the curriculum or the complexity of the standards. The fast paced world can create stress and general imbalance in the classroom for both students and teachers.

In order to work through the blockage that can occur in an anxious and stressful environment, it is necessary to provide time for students to process as well as time for them to get up and move.

I often suggest that teachers schedule processing time. This may feel like an add-on to an already overcrowded schedule, but the outcome can actually add time. Students that are able to process not only internalize the concepts be taught, they can begin to think beyond the constraints of a packed curriculum. Processing time also helps to lower stress avoiding students from shutting down possibly reducing the number of minutes needed to reteach or address behavioral concerns.

To further reduce stress and activate the brain, students can be given the opportunity to process while moving. A simple way for students to do so is to have them get up and walk in the classroom. I was in a classroom a couple of weeks ago and the teacher mentioned how she set arrows up in the classroom for students to follow. Students can process and walk in the direction of the circles, or students can walk and process following a specific path. The goal is for them to think. Engaging them in movement while thinking helps as the connections in the brain begin to form.

Once students return to their seats, they can continue to process verbally in pairs, small groups, and/or in a whole-class setting. Again, initially this process takes time, but the payoff is beneficial for all, teachers and students.


Taking a Risk: Moving to Manage


I just returned from Orlando.  The sunny, warm weather was a contrast to the chilly, wet weather.  Each time I travel to a conference, I feel exhausted when I return.  I barely had a chance to recover from the AMLE Conference in Columbus, Ohio, before I headed to the KDP Convocation in Florida.  Now, I am recovering from both trips.  I’m not just physically exhausted, but mentally exhausted as well.  I absolutely love the atmosphere of a conference.  I equally love the learning that takes place, but with so many great ideas, practical teaching methods, and integral pieces of research, my mind starts to swirl like the Oz tornado.  Of course, this is all good.  It comes down to moving from a sunny, energetic, stimulating moment to a calmer, cloudier, sit-by-the-fire processing moment.  Even though I am tired, I love both moments.

In reflecting on the KDP Convocation, I was drawn to several topics.  Alex Kajitani commented, “In order for students to be fully engaged, teachers need to be fully engaged.”  This struck me because, too often, I hear teachers either blame the curriculum or blame the students reference class boredom.  It is, however, passion that can create a stimulus for learning.  It is at these times that it may be necessary, as Joel Laguna stated, to, “Let go, be bold, take risks.”  Teaching is a rewarding career, but it teachers should not be tied to a curriculum.  Teachers should have the freedom to illicit student inquiry, as well as their own inquiry regarding the subjects, and classes, they teach.  This can require taking a risk.  We, teachers, need to tear down walls and be willing to put ourselves out there.  We may fail, but we have to give ourselves permission to fail.

Dr. Pasi Sahlberg framed the difficult job of teaching as “Teaching is not rocket science, it is more complicated than that.” Reaching the needs of all students and setting unlimited expectations for all is foundational to our role as educators.  Too often excuses get in the way.  While many of these excuses can be legitimate, we have an important job to conduct.

I think this is why I am advocating for using movement. I took a risk to challenge the status quo of what I had envisioned a productive classroom to look like. I was wrong.  As I continue to grapple with and explore the adolescent mind, it is apparent that movement in the classroom is a critical component to helping students achieve maximum potential in my classroom.  I presented to sessions at KDP:  an edTalk (Moving to Manage), and a workshop (Moving the Reluctant Reader). Teaching is much more than just content.  While it is scary to move thinking beyond standardized testing and content knowledge, it is necessary to keep the needs of the whole child at the forefront of our decision-making process.