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Brainy Apples: July 2016
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Back to School Tips for Middle School

When I moved up to middle school from elementary school, I found that my back to school routine changed, too!



I wanted to share some tips that will help you begin to plan for going back to school in the middle grades. In my video I explain some of the areas I address when I begin back to school planning:


Here is a freebie checklist you can use when you begin prepping for back to school!
Middle School back to school tips



Tips for Transition from Elementary School to Middle School

I taught elementary school for 14 years. I knew exactly what I was doing (most of the time). But when I moved up to teaching middle school, I found myself struggling like a brand new teacher. Changing grade levels can really throw you off your teaching game.



Here are some tips that I wanted to share with anyone venturing from elementary school to middle school. I made this checklist so you can remind yourself of some of the important differences between elementary school and middle school to help you make a smooth transition. You can click {HERE} or the image below to download the tips page. (Shout out to Ta-Doodles Illustrations for the clipart and Kimberly Geswein for the fonts!)



I share some of my biggest learning curves in the video below:



Easy Ways to Integrate Literacy With Your Science & Social Studies

Feel like you never have enough time to teach it all? Me, too! But once I started integrating literacy with my science and social studies, I suddenly found the time I had been missing.




Click on my video to learn how I integrate literacy into science & social studies:




Click on the image below for a freebie graphic organizer your students can use during science/social studies! It is differentiated for grades 1-5.



Want to read more about content integration? Here are blog posts I have written about using RAFT, performance tasks, and an online resource called DocTeach

I do have some EXCITING news! I am going to be offering a free LIVE webinars! Click {here} to view the upcoming dates and times, and you can also reserve your seat! I hope to see you there!

Drawing Models vs. Key Words in Problem Solving

I used to have my students identify the key words in word problems. However, now I have them draw models instead.



I share reasons why I now have my students draw models and also give you some examples so you can implement this strategy in your classroom. You can use my Word Problem of the Day or my Daily Math Reviews as a resource for word problems. You can then search by your grade level.



Alternative Fluency Strategy


Do you have students who struggle with timed fluency tests? I started using this alternative fluency strategy and it really helped my anxious kiddos succeed!


In this video I explain how I use backward timing to alleviate the pressure from the timer and how my struggling students improved their fluency. I also give examples of how this strategy can be used in both math and reading.


Click {here} to download an editable freebie you for your students can use to track fluency improvement over time. You will need to save it to your computer before you can edit it. You can enter your own times along the left side as well as the information at the top.





Or if you prefer a Google Drive version, you can click {here}. All you need to do is after you open the document, make a copy for your own Google Drive. Now you can type in the text boxes your own information and add text boxes where needed. Honestly, though, I prefer to print off the graph and let my students color in their progress :)

You can also click {here} to read a detailed blog post I wrote about using this strategy to improve math fluency.

Close Reading Overview With a Free Planning Sheet


Close reading has been around for a really long time, even though it just started to pick up steam in the K-12 realm about 5 years ago or so…or at least they did where I live. I love doing close reads with my kiddos because it’s the perfect way to integrate literacy with content areas such as science and social studies. You are not only able to focus on your content specific standards, but you are also able to reinforce key literacy standards. And, for those of you who departmentalize, your science/social studies teachers will love you for life! And if you are a science or social studies teacher, wouldn’t you just LOVE it if reading teachers reviewed some of your standards? It’s really a win-win all the way around. I do realize there is some hesitation among the departmentalization crowd of not really knowing another subject’s content, so make sure to visit my Facebook page on July 20 at 8pm EST because I will be offering some tips on how to overcome those roadblocks you may be facing (if you can’t watch my Facebook Live video live, it will be available for replay).

Join me on my FB page on July 20 @ 8pm EST

Before I continue, I want to give you an overview of what close reading is. My view of close reading is a direct result of the trainings I attended and research I read. I have also delivered professional development to teachers on what close reading is and how to implement it because it can certainly get overwhelming because there are so many facets to it.

There certainly isn’t one “right” way to do a close read in your classroom. My method may not be the method you use, and that’s OK! I do not want you to read my post and think, “Oh my goodness! I have been doing it wrong!” Instead, I want you to read my post, and, if it’s different from what you are currently doing, I would love for you to reflect on your own teaching practices and think, “I never thought about close reading this way before. I really like the idea of {insert idea}, so I am going to try this in my classroom next year!”  That is really my goal with this blog post: to get you to reflect on what you are currently doing in your classroom and hopefully add additional strategies to your toolbox. The key is to find the method that works best for you, feel most comfortable with, and that you see student progression.

Close reading is an instructional strategy that focuses on the "four corners of the text". Meaning that students have to read a selection of text carefully, reflect, and answer questions that require a deeper level of thinking. The answers lie solely in the text itself, without the students having to possess prior knowledge. Would prior knowledge make it easier to answer the questions? Possibly, but if the questions being asked can't be answered using the text alone, then students who lack that prior knowledge will be at a disadvantage. Shouldn’t we encourage students to make those text-to-self/text/real world connections? Absolutely. But there is a time and place for it. If your purpose is to have students dive deep into a text and use the text in front of them as the basis for their responses, then you need to take away the connection piece in the question you ask and the responses you accept.

So, how do I implement close reads? I do close reads whole group or small group depending on the purpose. You can choose to give your students a copy of the text or display the text on a white board. You can choose to have students read the text independently, with a partner, or you may want to read it to them and they follow along. If you want to assess your students' listening comprehension, then you can read the text to them to take away the potential obstacle of having to read the text themselves. They should have the text in front of them, though, so they can refer back to it during discussion. A close reading can take anywhere between 20 to 45 minutes, depending on the age level of your group and the extent of the questioning. There are also different ways for students to respond to the questions. I have had a class discussion by writing the question on chart paper or the white board and then recording student responses; had students write their answers independently; posted the questions on sentence strips in a pocket chart and gave each student a sticky note to write their answers on and then stick in the pocket chart; or place 2-3 pieces of chart paper around the room with a different question written on each one and have the students travel to each question in a small group and write their answers/add to the answer already written. By mixing it up, students don't get bored, and they are constantly being challenged. You could also give your students the opportunity to write the questions themselves. You can give them question stems that guide them in the direction you want them to go, and then let them finish formulating the question. So many possibilities!

OK, so now I know how to implement close reads, but how do I select the text?
I get this question a lot with good reason. When you first start out doing close reads, there are so many factors to consider, and it is WAY easier to select a text with questions already written to give to students, possibly a basal or page from a workbook. And there is nothing wrong with that (even though I am not a supporter of the basal, when you are starting something new, taking away as much of the unknown as possible is absolutely necessary)! However, as you become more comfortable with close reading, I do want to encourage you to step out of your comfort zone. Venture away from pre-formulated passages and questions and begin to select your own text. Why? Because then you are TRULY free! You are free to select the text that is the best fit for your students. You can select a text that integrates your science or social studies topic. You can select a text that is a well-constructed example of a specific text feature. You can select a text that has a strong character and is rich with details that can be used for character analysis. I ask myself the following question, “Why am I using this particular text?” If the answer is, “I already have it in front of me,” well, honestly, that answer is not validating why the text should be used (unless you are just starting out and you are slowly implementing close reading. But, again, I encourage you to step away from the basal). Always ask yourself, "What is the purpose for this close read?" and "Does this text fit this purpose the best?" So many times teachers reach for that stand-by text that has been read every year, or the story of the week from the basal. Not saying there is anything wrong with that, but if that is your reasoning, you may want to look for another text to use because that text may not be a good fit for your close read. Some teachers like to select the text first and then find or write questions that can be used. I think it's easier to look at what standards I am teaching, pull out questions that would fit the purpose of teaching those standards, and then look for a text that would be a good fit. You can't just whip out a book and grab some questions to ask. You MUST read the text before hand and really think about what questions are most appropriate for the purpose you have chosen, and which questions are those deeper thinking questions. The questions you choose will be determined by your standards as well as the text itself.

These are a few tips you can use when you start planning your close reading lesson.  You can also download a free planning sheet I made to help you implement close reads. You can get it by clicking the image below. or {here}. Enjoy!

Brainy Apples, Heather LeBlanc

When I dove into close reads, I stumbled a lot along the way until I found what worked best for me, so I know it can be really difficult to get close reads going smoothly. I am excited to announce that I am going to be offering an upcoming workshop to share how I implement close reads and text selection along with more information! Dates will be sent out to my followers. Sign up {here}!



I do have some EXCITING news! I am going to be offering a free LIVE webinars! Click {here} to view the upcoming dates and times, and you can also reserve your seat! I hope to see you there!


Welcome!