From the Desk of Kelly Harmon

February 2016 Newsletter

Happy Heart Month!

Love and leadership are great themes for learning in February. We have included several instructional ideas and tools to help you reach and teach your students in authentic and rigorous ways!

Happy Teaching!

-Kelly Harmon & Randi Anderson

February Karaoke Lists

Karaoke is a great shared reading activity.

Here is a playlist of love songs to sing and read with your class this month. Click here to access the list.

Need songs to sing for President's Day? Click here to access a list of songs for learning history.

Academy Awards of Reading

It’s that time of year again! The Academy Awards are coming for the best books in your classroom library! Have your students nominate the best books, articles, poems, and authors they have read this year. Organize texts by genre and have students vote according to the genre category. Gather the texts and place them in a prominent place in your classroom. (Think Barnes and Noble setup!) Use voting slips to guide your students in making their decisions. Remind them that they have to read ALL of the books in the genre category before they can cast their vote.

On the day after the Academy Awards, tally the votes and have a ceremony to bestow the awards. For added fun, use red butcher paper as a red carpet to display all the books on.

Voting Rules:

1. Read all of the nominees for genre category your are casting a vote in.

2. Use a voting slip to place your vote.

3. You must give two to three reasons why you think this book is the best.

Click here to get the voting ballots FREE!

Strategy Focus: Close Reading

Close reading is the act of careful and purposeful reading (and rereading) of a text. We reread texts several times to focus on comprehension, text structure, elements, rhetorical devices, and author's craft. The students' knowledge of genre is crucial for close reading. Texts must be brief because the amount of thinking and reading is heavy and their focus needs to be narrowed.

"Repeated reading improves comprehension." -Doug Fisher

While close reading we ask ourselves:

  • What is the text about?
  • How does the author organize and emphasize the text?
  • How is the text similar or different to other texts?

Here are some important staples that go along with close reading:


Tracking your thinking with annotations is important because this is how thinking is processed while reading. Annotation is an abstract reading skill that needs to be explicitly modeled for students before they are expected to produce annotations. Tracking your thinking is simply writing notes and observations as you read. Proficient readers annotate while they read. This makes learning "stick"!

Using post-its or a reading journal to take notes before, during, and after reading. Have students share their annotations with peers to compare thinking. It is also important for the educator to model, guide, and share their reading annotations with students throughout the school year.

Importance of Discussion

Discussions are the the catalyst to comprehension. Students need many opportunities to discuss what they are reading with peers, educators, and parents. Create opportunities for discussion each day. It is important to model what accountable talk looks and sounds like. Students will follow your lead and will gradual begin to hold deeper conversations about what they are reading.

Combining Close & Guided Reading

Close reading can be used during your guided reading block. This is a great time to practice this strategy because you can closely monitor your students' application of comprehension and critical reading strategies and prompt or cue when needed.

Close reading helps students go beyond surface-level reading and understand the author's message at many levels.

Website of the Month: is a great website to use for reading resources! Teachers can find and use a variety of reading pieces that can be used digitally or printed. There are great choices for literary or informational texts.

Check out the website here!

The Power of Journaling

Many people practice the art or skill of journaling on a daily basis. Some look at journaling as a way of relaxing, while others see journaling as a way to keep memories for years to come. Either way, journaling is powerful when used in the classroom!

Teaching Journaling

Journaling is not an involuntary skill. It must be taught. Students need to see what journaling looks like, sounds like, and why it is important. This is the educators job! Journaling for your students will illustrate the techniques and thought process needed when journaling. Most students have never seen what it looks like to jot down thoughts, reflections, or important dialogue. Show students how to write, share, and save their writing.

Journaling Everyday

One of the reasons that people love journaling is because it is a non confrontational outlet for their thoughts and creativity. Gretchen Bernabi says "Journals are for themselves, a place to get ideas down, to play, to increase fluency. When their writing is for a more formal audience, errors are not ok. But in journals, they don't count at all." (Grammar Keepers, pg. 7) Let students journal freely each day for 5-10 minutes. Make this a time of freedom where students have a nonthreatening time for writing. You will see their writing increase in quality and quantity.

Using Journals

When teaching grammar, mechanics, and spelling, journals are a great place for students to "hunt" for examples of correct grammatical rules followed. Using a journal as a place for a scavenger hunt of sorts is great for students to prove that they have followed grammatical rules or showcase an outstanding piece of writing. Of course, students have to be willing to share their writing with others, otherwise it is off limits because that is THEIR journal and they have the right to decide if it gets published or not.

Kelly Harmon & Associates, LLC

Kelly Harmon & Associates began in 2001 with a mission of instructional coaching and providing rich literacy resources for educators and parents. Our work incorporates research-based best practices for teaching and learning.