From the Desk of Kelly Harmon

November 2015 Newsletter

Authentic Learning Ideas & Tips

Dear Educators,

November is our favorite month! We can use real-world events from the past and present to create authentic, rigorous, and fun learning opportunities that light children's passion for learning. In this issue, you will find teaching tips and ideas for guiding deeper thinking about texts, writing expository texts across the content areas, and web apps you can use to engage your learners. Also, check out our upcoming workshop offerings!

Happy Teaching,

-Kelly Harmon & Randi Anderson

Guided Reading is All About....

COMPREHENSION! Yes, guided reading is all about practicing comprehension skills and strategies. In guided reading groups, teachers provide students with closely monitored practice as students begin to apply newly learned meta-cognitive strategies. Guided reading is often called "leveled reading" because students should be practicing using a text in which they know at least 90% or more of the words. Because we want to focus on applying critical comprehension skills before, during, and after reading, the text must be one that does not require a lot of attention to figuring out words.
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So What About Decoding and Fluency?

While reading a "just right" text during guided reading, students will practice decoding and fluency skills. Many of the texts will be revisited several times. The method of repeated reading (Samuels, 1979) is one of the best strategies for becoming a fluent reader.

Students will also get fluency practice during the first three to five minutes of the group session. We call this the "warm up" part of the lesson. You can have students reread old favorites as a repeated reading or practice making sentences with sight words. You may also use poems and songs to reinforce decoding and build high frequency word knowledge.

After the "warm up," the students are introduced to the text and given a purpose for reading. Since the goal is using the target comprehension skill, we remind students of the mental process needed. We do not pre-teach vocabulary words unless there isn't any context for the students to use to figure out the meaning and/or pronunciation. Students should also always be asked to make predictions before reading.

As students are reading the text, they will have opportunities for decoding practice. This comes into play when students are monitoring and adjusting for comprehension. When a student comes to an unknown word, they should use a "fix up" strategy. If the student struggles to use the strategy, the teacher provides a prompt by calling attention to meaning, syntax, or visual information. It may also be appropriate to have two to four minutes of "word work" practice before dismissing students from the group.

Join us in December for a day all about shared, close, & guided reading designed to develop comprehension strategies! Click Here for more information.

Click here to read more about guided reading.

Expository Writing 101

Expository (aka explanatory) writing has taken on a new sense of urgency with most state curriculums calling for explicit teaching of strategies for processing and writing this text type. After all, the most real world type of writing is expository. Student writers need to understand that this type of writing explains or clarifies an idea about a topic. Developing the proficiency needed to write a variety of expository texts is a necessary part of becoming college and career ready. Emails, essays, and blog posts are all relevant and important types of writing that require proficient writing skills.

Here are three teaching tips for teaching expository writing.

1. The Expository Genre

Teach students the critical elements of the expository genre. Students need to know that expository texts come in many varieties. This genre is informational and explains or clarifies a topic or position. Give students the opportunity to explore and read many forms of expository texts such as newspaper and magazine articles, brochures, informational texts, or blog posts.

2. Central or Controlling Idea (aka Thesis)

The central or controlling idea is what gives the reader the overall purpose to the writing. This can be a difficult skill to teach because it requires writers to be very intentional and precise in crafting a focus sentence that is supported throughout the text. Allow time for students to peruse through expository texts to locate central or controlling ideas. Have students analyze central ideas to determine a definition and develop guiding criteria to use as they begin to produce expository texts. Keep asking students to explain the message they want to communicate to the audience. Help students see that developing a central idea is a critical part of prewriting. Writers who haven't thought about their main message will struggle to stay focused or engage the audience.

3. Supporting Your Central Idea

Central ideas must be supported. Support comes in the forms of facts, details, or explanations. Students need to examine lots of expository texts to see strategies for supporting their ideas. You will find mentor texts on or Also consider showing a TED TALK and having students analyze the content. What is the speaker's purpose or message? How does the speaker support the message with facts, details, or explanations?

For an expository teaching packet with an anchor chart, prompts, and lesson ideas, click HERE!

Apps for Exploration

In the last few months, I've been using two apps that I absolutely LOVE. Zaption is a web application that allows you to insert interactive elements into a YouTube video. Zaption provides a link to the video that is pushed out to students. As students watch and interact with the video, Zaption captures the analytics that allows the teacher to monitor progress. This is a great tool for setting up a video activity during center time or for homework practice. Here is a link to a video tour I created on Zaption. Click here to view.

SeeSaw is another web app I've come to love. This app is a free tool that is used to create a digital portfolio. Teachers create a free account and load student names. Students use a QR code or link to enter the class and add pictures, videos, drawings, writing to their folder. The final product can be downloaded and saved in the camera roll. Parents can be invited to view the portfolio. This app does so much and integrates easily with many other apps.

Click here to visit the SeeSaw app.

Safe Share

Speaking of YouTube videos, be sure to use when pushing out videos for students to view. Simply copy the URL for the video on YouTube. Open up and paste the link. Safeshare creates a link to an ad free viewing of the YouTube video. Click here to view a video from YouTube that has been converted by Safeshare.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Workshops 2015

Kelly Harmon & Associates

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. Our services are professional development, curriculum development, instructional coaching, grant writing, project management, and technology integration.