Word Work Wednesday

As educators, we know and understand the importance of vocabulary instruction, but we don’t always have the time to make our vocabulary activities engaging and meaningful. Sometimes it may be because of time constraints, other times, it may be that we are just having a hard time coming up with new activities. So, for today’s Word Work Wednesday, I will share an activity to add to your collection in order to help eliminate at least one of the obstacles. I hope you enjoy!

4 Clues (…or 3or 5…depending on your preference)

  • Students will write four clues for each assigned vocabulary word, without using the word in the clue.
  • Clues may include:
    *Student-created definitions
    *Detailed illustrations
  • To extend the activity, have students trade their clues with a partner and have them play a game trying to figure out the vocabulary word based on the clues provided.

How do we intervene with our kids?

As testing season approaches, classrooms across the state are hunkering down and making last ditch efforts to prepare students for the state assessments. The question boils down to this: are these last-ditch efforts really working? The reason the question is asked is because if the strategies and instructional approaches used during this crunch are so successful, why are we not using them throughout the school year? Don’t our students deserve this same intensity throughout the year? Although well-meaning, these “interventions” may not help our students as much as we hope. True enough, there may be pertinent information that soaks into their minds, but to have our students become truly successful, not only on state assessments but any other reading and writing assessment, boils down to these key factors:
• phonological awareness;
• phonics;
• fluency;
• vocabulary; and
• comprehension
In order for our students to succeed, they must be fluid in these areas of reading. So, the question now becomes, how well do we understand these key reading components? By understanding these skills, we are better able to successfully prepare our students for all of the reading assessments they will encounter.

Connect Through Giving

The holidays are here!  Thanksgiving is a time of reflection for me and quite possibly for you as well.  I am reminded of the many blessings I’m given daily, and the privilege I have to share those blessings with those around me.  The holidays are a time to connect with family and friends.  Your family traditions contribute to who you are and how you view the world we live in.  Many of the traditions that we celebrate at this time of year focus on giving.  There are many ways that we can give, and each one fosters valuable connections.

  • Giving a gift that has been thoughtfully selected for a friend or family member is one way to show love and appreciation.
  • Taking the time to share a kind word of support or comfort is a gift of thoughtfulness.
  • Giving of our time is perhaps the most meaningful gift that we can give. That’s where true connections are made.
  • Writing a note of appreciation to someone who has touched your life or taught you a valuable lesson is the gift of encouragement.
  • Sometimes a hug is all that is necessary.
  • The gift of laughter can bring healing to a heavy heart.

As an educator how do you connect through giving?  Think about your classroom and your students.  You have the opportunity to inspire, to love, to show appreciation and encouragement each day you enter your classroom.  I challenge you to use these next few weeks to be intentional in your connections through giving.  It doesn’t require monetary gifts, however it will require time, thoughtful planning and awareness of needs.  The reward far outweighs the effort when we truly give of ourselves!

Enjoy your holidays and stay connected with us through Twitter @R10ELA

Connections are the Key!

Welcome to the new year!  I hope everyone’s year has gotten off to a great start.  I know that, for me, this year is the start of many new and exciting adventures, both personally and professionally.  As many of you know, last year was quite a devastating year for me, and BOY!…did I ever learn a lot about family, friends, work, and staying connected!  As we all enter this new year, I encourage you to stay connected, as well.  What does that mean though?  Well, to connect means to establish a relationship or to join by intervening (dictionary.com).  BUT…why is it so important to connect?  Seth Godin, author of The Icarus Deception discusses how we have moved from an industrial economy (one where the product we produce is most important) to a connection economy (one where the connections we make with our audience/customers is most important).  What does that have to do with education?  We make a bigger impact on our campuses and with our students when we make meaningful connections. So, how can we connect?  Well, here are some tips:

  1. See your students and fellow colleagues as people first. Remember, we all have lives outside of our classrooms and workplace. We have parents who may be sick, brothers and sisters who may be getting married or any number of celebrations and problems that affect how we perform and behave in class and in meetings.  We try to separate these worlds, but it is usually in vain. Our lives outside of the classroom matter.
  2. Be vulnerable. It seems in the field of education, perfection is the goal. What an unattainable goal! Perfection is the enemy of innovation and creativity. It is okay to be flawed and to make mistakes, and people need to see that it is okay.  Some of the best coaching experiences I have had have been when a demonstration lesson completely bombed.  By seeing me fail, it allowed the teachers to open up and be comfortable with the fact that every lesson wasn’t going to be a home run, and the world wasn’t going to end if it didn’t go exactly as planned.
  3. Be intentional. If you are like me, connecting doesn’t come naturally. Don’t get me wrong…I love people, but I don’t always know what to say or how to just start conversations.  Ask anyone on my team…networking is painful for me, but I have worked to be more comfortable with it.  I am by nature an introvert who has learned to be extroverted in some circumstances.  The thing is…connecting is not about me. Connecting is about others.  If others need praise or affirmation or to just be asked about their family, then I need to be intentional about doing those things.  I may need to put it on my calendar or make a note to ask about the grandbabies.  The impact it has far outweighs the effort it takes.

So, I give you the challenge that the literacy/GT team is taking on this year: Connect!

Have a wonderful year, and stay connected with us through Twitter! @R10ELA

Robyn Hartzell

Robyn Hartzell

Rebellious Reader & Program Coordinator for ELAR, Library, Dyslexia, and GT/Advanced Academics services

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Year Four EOC…Here We Come!

We are only days away from EOC testing! I am certain everyone is attempting to remind students of the best reading and writing strategies, tackling short answers and reminding students of essay writing tips, etc.  Here’s a last minute reminder of the Big Four reading skills:  making connections, author’s craft, text evidence, and understanding the language of the genre; and a reminder of the Big Four writing skills:  organization, making connections, precise word choice, and sustaining focus.

I challenge you at this point to let go of stress, have faith in your students, and be confident that you have done everything you can to prepare students for this day.  Good luck to your students and may the force be with you!

How are we addressing the needs of our ELL students?

Throughout Texas schools, each year, more and more students participate in the Bilingual/ESL programs. As educators, we have become accustomed to this trend. But, just because we are accustomed to the trend, does this mean that we are really meeting the needs of our ELL students in the classrooms?

We hear the phrase “best practices” so often the term becomes trite. Many educators wonder, what constitutes as “best practices” and how do we adapt those practices for our ELL students? There are educators who still feel whatever accommodations are in place for special education students or struggling learners are the same accommodations that should be in place for ELL students. The problem with this assumption is ELL students may fall under the special education umbrella, or they may be a struggling learner, but the primary reason they are labeled as an ELL is because of their language development…not necessarily their cognitive development.

To gain a better understanding of the “best practices” for ELL students, educators must familiarize themselves with the Proficiency Level Descriptors (PLDs) as outlined in the ELPS-TELPAS rubrics for the domains of Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing.

After visiting numerous campuses and speaking with educators from across the state, I have learned a great number of educators are unaware of the current TELPAS levels of the ELL students they have in the classrooms. When using the PLDs to guide classroom instruction for ELLS, educators must refer to the domain level above the student’s current domain level because that is the goal for the student to perform by the next TELPAS assessment. The hope is for ELL students to raise their performance level in each domain by one level each school year. The only way for students to raise their performance levels is to look at and understand where the ELL student’s current levels are and the next levels he needs to attain. For example, if a student performs at the following levels: Listening- Advanced; Speaking- Advanced; Reading- Intermediate; and Writing- Intermediate, then the teacher should look at the performance levels for this student as follows: Listening- Advanced High; Speaking- Advanced High; Reading- Advanced; and Writing- Advanced.

Once there is an understanding of the student’s TELPAS levels for each domain, the next step is to understand how those descriptors apply to instructional practices and accommodations for our ELL students. There are a number of resources available to provide instructional practices and classroom accommodations for ELL students.

  • elltx.org
  • A+ Rise located on Project Share
  • Linguistic Instructional Alignment Guide (LIAG) provided to districts by their local ESC
  • Region 10 Bilingual/ESL Team

So, as the TELPAS season is in full swing, let’s become more knowledgeable of the ELL students in the classrooms, know and understand their current TELPAS levels, and find instructional strategies to better address the needs of all students.

With “Empty Nest,” Comes New Discovery

As the parents of a freshman in college, my husband and I have entered the “empty nest” season of our lives. I frequently find myself asking “Did I do all I could’ve done to prepare him for college?” “Can he wash his own clothes? Will he keep his dorm room cleaner than his room at home?” (I can’t even think about the bathroom!) The most difficult thing about my son being away at college is not being able to see him every day. I have to rely on my memory of what he looks like and the sound of his voice first thing in the morning. On the other hand, I hear a familiar song, and a vivid image of him strumming his guitar and singing, pops into my head. I see a small child hugging his mom and my 18 year old is back in short overalls snuggled on my lap as I read his favorite dinosaur book for the one hundredth time! As I reflect on my experiences, I realize that these are the kind of visual images and connections we want our students to make when reading books.

One of the books I revisited time and time again when teaching my students to make connections to text was Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox. She shares a beautiful story of a young boy who helps his elderly neighbor discover some precious memories by making connections to everyday objects. As you go through this school year, you will help your students make memorable connections to text, inspire vivid visual images that bring joy and excitement through read-alouds and engagement, and open the gift of questioning as they explore the world of reading and writing. At the end of the day, when you ask yourself, ”Did I do all I could’ve done to prepare my students for tomorrow?  “The answer will be a resounding “YES!” as you reflect on the pathway of literacy that you led them through and the brand new world they discovered in the pages of a book.


What if…

What if this year we all said “my kids can” rather than “my kids can’t”?

Too often we fall into the trap of believing that our students can’t meet our expectations and so we make the mistake of lowering the bar. What if we all believed that our students can learn at the appropriate grade level, skill level, and rigor level? What if we didn’t allow standardized testing to impact how we teach, and instead, believed that our students will succeed simply because of how and what we teach them? What if we believed that all students could overcome, and bridge learning gaps? What would our classrooms look like and what would instruction look like if we all said, “my kids can”?

I challenge you all to have faith in yourselves as educators and to believe that your students “can” meet any expectation you set for them this school year!

I challenge you to a year of “my kids can”.

Welcome….to your best year!

Can you believe it is August and time for school to start?!  This time of year always excites me.  I am one of those people who still gets giddy about buying new school supplies, and I don’t even have a classroom anymore.  This year, I am more excited than I have been in a while.  My team has grown, and I can’t wait to see what the year holds for us and for you.

So, as you are buying extra supplies, stapling the bulletin board paper on walls, and checking class lists, please know that R10 is behind you, supporting you, and cheering you on this year!  We want this to be your best year yet, and we will do whatever we can to make that possible.  You have the most important responsibility that there is, and you are ready to meet the challenge of changing lives!  Have a great year!



Robyn Hartzell

Robyn Hartzell

Rebellious Reader & Program Coordinator for ELAR, Library, Dyslexia, and GT/Advanced Academics services

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Since it is July—the month of fireworks and freedom celebrations—I thought it would be a good time to also celebrate FREADOM! You know….freedom to read…whatever you want. Summer and Freadom are special to me personally because (as you will remember if you read my previous post “A Word from a Rebellious Reader”) the summer of my sophomore year was the summer I fell in love with reading.

Recently, many of you attended our Summer Learning Series webinar on Motivation and Choice. In it, we discussed the value and importance of giving our students choice in what they read. If you missed it, don’t fret! All of the webinars in the series are archived on our Region 10 Online Learning Center. Just go to  http://olc.region10.org/catalog/Resources/English-Language-Arts. We have one more coming up on July 21st. We will be exploring how art and media can be used to strengthen literacy skills. Enjoy your summer and find something great (maybe even a banned book!) to read!!

For a list of rebellious reads: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks

Robyn Hartzell

Robyn Hartzell

Rebellious Reader & Program Coordinator for ELAR, Library, Dyslexia, and GT/Advanced Academics services

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