Sunday, March 4, 2018

Thank you, Mrs. Smith

When I was nine years old my family moved from Los Angeles County in California to a small town in Alabama. As a half-Colombian girl who loved and missed her Abuelita so much, this was a hard move for me. I was always happy to go to school when I was in California. I got to go to the "gifted" classes, I was totally obsessed with a classmate named Mario, and my third-grade teacher was a Sci-Fi geek (apparently I was, too). Our class was full of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and this new movie that was so awesome. You may have heard of it... Star Wars? I got to make my very own R2-D2 (well, my dad did). And our school had a great day of dancing and celebrating for Cinco de Mayo each year. School was awesome.

When we moved to Alabama it was a little different for me that first year. My teacher wasn't my biggest fan. She didn't like all of my ideas and talk about California. She wanted me to be quiet. She would "give me licks" on my palm with her ruler. I just always had something to share (I'm still like that, actually 😃). I remember my report card saying, in her best teacher cursive writing, "Monica is too talkative." 

Next year was 5th grade. That's a big year. You turn 11 in that grade. And my mom had a baby. Whoa. A big year. My teacher was Mrs. Smith. Thank goodness.

Mrs. Smith is a beautiful lady that seemed to love being a teacher. I can remember that she turned 50 that year. On her birthday I said, "Don't think of it as half a century, think of it as 'Nifty Fifty!' ". I remember that so well. She said she liked that and wanted to remember it so she wrote it on the board in her perfect teacher cursive writing. I felt really proud and I think I felt like she liked me. That wasn't the only thing Mrs. Smith did that made me feel like she cared. Once I cheated off my best friend during a spelling test. She was kind. I was glad Mrs. Smith because she didn't want to whack my palm with a ruler.

Another thing that she did was let me draw. She not only let me draw, she let me draw for my classmates. They would pay me a nickel or a quarter for a drawing of a funny looking elephant or turtle that used to appear in the back of magazines. If you're younger than 40 you may not know about those. Drawing was my past-time, even back in 1980. What was so great about Mrs. Smith was that she made me feel like I was good. My fourth-grade teacher didn't make me feel that way. 

I think about Mrs. Smith anytime I hear about teachers making school amazing for kids (a.k.a. Teach Like a Pirate). I am so glad that I had Mrs. Smith that year. I think she helped to make me who I am today, and maybe she helped undo what that fourth-grade teacher had done the year before. 

She let this doodler draw. She let this talker talk. She let this person who makes mistakes try again. 

Thank you, Mrs. Smith. I hope I can be like you for someone in my classroom. (By the way, she's still out there giving of herself at the age of 85! She volunteers at the hospital in that small Alabama town.)

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Tending the Fire

This winter has been really cold. I do not like to be cold. So, here in Georgia where it stayed so cold for so long, we built a lot of fires to keep our home nice and warm. The cold didn't bother me as much when the fire was blazing. I could go about my business getting things done around the house. But, when I got really cold (remember, I do not like to be cold) I could stand right in front of the fire and get really toasty. Then I could sit close by and enjoy the view and the warmth.

BUT, the fire must be "tended". That's what we say in the South. If no one tends the fire, keeps it stoked and refueled with more firewood, then it will eventually go out. There will be some warmth if you get really close, but it won't be pretty to look at and will go out soon.

I can't help but compare this to our passion as educators. Teachers need a fire, a.k.a. passion, in order to be the most effective in the classroom. You can teach without passion, but I wouldn't want to be a student in that classroom. Just sayin'. So, assuming you have a passion for teaching, how do we tend to those passions? Without passion, the demands of being an educator these days can be overwhelming. So many demands and needs in the classroom can really take their toll. Passion needs to be tended to help us stay above the weightiness of our profession. 

The passion I have for education fuels my curiosity to continually learn, make the most of my interactions with students, and to give as much as I can to my community. Helping others is fulfilling, but it can distract you from tending the fire. The fire needs attention. One of the best things I've discovered is that I can lean on others to tend the fire, to keep it going. That's why I love being connected with other passionate educators. There's so much support and inspiration to be found in those people down the hall or around the world. They help you tend your fire when they share, connect, and support you. And you can help someone else in that way, too.

Reach out to others and share. Be a fire tender. Help out a colleague, be inspired by others, and make a difference in your school. It works out great for both sides. Twitter is where I connect the most with those who can help me stay passionate about my job. And there are people in my own school district who help tend my fire, too. So, to all those that help to tend the fire that is my passion for education, THANKS FOR SHARING, CONNECTING, and SUPPORTING! You make a positive difference to educators, which impacts students in an incredible way! 

Keep that fire tended! 


Monday, January 15, 2018

Reflecting on the 1st #PassTheSketchnote for World Sketchnote Day 2018

#PassTheSketchnote happened on January 11, 2018. Why that date? How did this even happen? What is #PassTheSketchnote? 

The website and community called Sketchnote Army, created by Mike Rhode, declared January 11th World Sketchnote Day a couple of years ago. I had no idea that was a thing! Carrie Baughcum shared a post about it on Instagram, which inspired this thought:  "We should pass around a sketchnote and have people add to it all day!" So, we sent out a Google form to gather names of those who were interested. Carrie posted it on Twitter and we watched (totally amazed) as the interest grew and grew!

The basic plan was for teams of about 5 people from all over the world to contribute to one sketch, and PASS it to next person on the team. With 117 participants, we had about 20 teams, some doing digital sketches and some using paper. Twitter was our "playground". You can click on the following link to see some of the images posted to Twitter for this super fun event: #PassTheSketchnote Images. I loved seeing the images of the sketches as they were in progress and then was WOWed as they were completed.

Did I say how much fun this was? The world came together to draw and share a passion for a pastime that we have been told for so long was only for children. "YAY" is all I can say about the fact that this is NOT true! I'm sure there will be deeper reflections on this topic in the future.

This day was already set to be AMAZING, but then DAVE BURGESS posted a blog featuring my Teach Like a Pirate sketchnotes, Carrie's YouTube sketchnote channel, Matt Miller's (Ditch That Textbook) pirate hooks sketchnote, and Julie Woodard's lovely Lead Like a Pirate sketchnote.

I am beyond thrilled that all of this could even happen. Fun fact: Carrie and I have never met! I Twitter-Know her. Isn't this world amazing that we can connect with other people that share our passions, even if they live in Chicago and you're down in Georgia! You don't have to be isolated! That's from Teach Like A Pirate, too! It's an awesome book. Here's some info on the book if you don't already know what it's all about.

Sketchnoting isn't about art, it's about ideas. So next time you need to learn something you should give it a try!

***Watch Carrie's wrap-up video for this awesome day! Youtube video link

Have a great day! Do something positive. 🙂

@mospillman on Twitter

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Our Unplugged Hour of Code

The Hour of Code will be part of Computer Science Education Week (Dec. 4-10, 2017). Hour of Code is one of the great things that will go on that week to promote computer science in education. There's a part of computer science education that doesn't require a computer at all! Some call it "unplugged" computer science. I call it FUN!
I am a Star Wars fan. That's an understatement, but not important to this post. 😀 I take that back! The "P" in "Teach Like a Pirate" stands for PASSION. When our passions and our teaching come together it's a recipe for a great lesson! ☠j

Because of my love of Star Wars I wanted to focus on the fun BB-8 coding activities that are at (we coded with the "block" version, not "Java Script"). Before the students ever touched the Chromebooks we had to get our minds thinking about how we would be able to CODE BB-8's moves to make it to the next level so we played a game to get our brains thinking about coding. The game helped us work on that thinking. It consisted of a board that resembles the scene in the online coding game (a desert) and some cut out game pieces. I put a grid over the desert image so that there were specific squares for making moves.

Have fun coding! I think there's so much fun we can have as we build the thinking that students need for computer science! 🤖

-Monica Spillman (@mospillman on Twitter)

Useful links:

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

One Size Can't Fit All in Reading Instruction

Effective reading instruction seems to be always on my mind. Even if I was not in a course that intends to endorse me in such, I would still have it as an important part of what I hope to provide to my students each day. This was true when I taught Pre-K, when I taught middle school special education, and now is true as I teach high school special education. I choose to seek out why a student is not successful in a task, rather than assuming it is because they just cannot do something. More often than not, it seems that behavior becomes a concern. This behavior likely comes from a place of frustration or embarrassment over not being able to read or understand what has been assigned. It is a difficult scenario, because being called out for this behavior only further divides the student and the educator, and then what is the chance for meaningful learning?!?!

How do students get so far and not receive the corrective intervention that would help to minimize the frustration for these struggling readers? Perhaps the strategies that were offered were more of a "one-size-fits-all" approach, hoping to reach a high percentage of students, but not focused on specific targets. This approach would be understandable when you think of how much time and effort goes into reading instruction planning and implementation. Perhaps the plan is to do the best they can do, and the ones who do not respond, well, they are just left behind.

With so much at stake for our future, we must help these students bridge their reading gaps. Our technological world is much too advanced for illiterate citizens. So what are we to do? We have to use highly effective strategies that target skill deficits identified for the student. That sounds simple and not really earth shattering, but that's what it takes. The tricky part is finding the effective strategies! When the strategies are effective and even fun, teachers and students can reach their goals more quickly. So here is a wonderful reasource for those highly effective and fun reading instruction strategies that you can use from Pre-K to as high as you may need to go to reach those struggling readers: Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Seravallo. Watch this short video for a glimpse of its contents.

I hope you will help bridge the gap for our struggling readers. This book is a great place to start looking for those fun, engaging strategies that may hook a new reader.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Fluency for All- In My Opinion

Teaching students to read should be considered magic. Reading, as I've stated before, is not a natural process, so it makes sense that so many people struggle with reading (some statistics show that 1 in 4 students do not learn to read). I think that reading specialists, reading coaches, reading teachers, etc. are priceless when it comes to making an impact for struggling readers. BUT, what if there's no money for any of that? What are we going to do?

One thing that seems to be certain is that the students who had people talking to them and reading to them as infants, toddlers, and emergent readers are better readers. Why would that be? I think perhaps it is because of the modeling and practice that comes from interacting with a person. Among other things, the reading FLUENCY is likely strengthened through the interactions of speaking with and reading with others.

What I'm suggesting is that we can ALL be reading coaches, to some extent. How can grandma be a reading coach? Or dad? Or the babysitter? Here are a couple of suggestions...

1. Wherever you are, READ. Read signs, labels, book covers, magazine covers, candy wrappers, menus, and so on. Model the way the words should flow from your mouth and have fun practicing together. Smooth reading is easier to comprehend.

2. BELIEVE in the student! Invoke the power of "yet" for the struggling reader. Tell them that they may not be good at reading yet,  but they will get there with practice. The confidence of another person in their ability to improve can move that literary mountain!

You can do it! Happy Reading!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Reflecting on Sight Words

Emergent readers are in a very exciting part of their lives. Soon the lines and curves that they see EVERYWHERE will become WORDS! Wow!!! Soon there will be meaning connected to those markings and their world will never be the same.

But, what if it's not that easy. What if an emergent reader doesn't seem to get it? The amazing world of text is closed for them. Story books, comics, magazines, maps, game instructions, menus, notes from a friend, and on and on. Completely LOCKED AWAY. Until they develop "word-recognition," not just the ability to sound out letters in a group, they will not be readers.

Word recognition consists of "sight-words" that can be called out within a second of seeing the word, word-structure analysis, and phonics. Let's just look at sight-words for a moment. Consider this statement:

Sight word lists are comprised of individual words that each have a separate skill. Therefore, it makes little sense to tally the number of words a child can pronounce at sight, but to understand the distinct skill each word represents.

This statement tells me that when I assess my students for sight word knowledge I am looking for particular skills that are possibly weak or missing. I have never heard of this perspective on sight words. This actually makes the task of teaching and assessing sight words much more relevant to the student and the teacher. Students can be encouraged to do their best and when an error is made the teacher can celebrate that they "discovered" a skill that they can work on together!

Below is a quick video that explains sight words very simply and contains a "Did you know?" nugget of information!

Happy Reading!
Sight word lists are comprised of individual words that 

each have a separate skill.  Therefore, it makes little sense to tally the number of words a child can pronounce at sight, but to understand the distinct skill each word represents.

Sight word lists are comprised of individual words that each have a separate skill.  Therefore, it makes little sense to tally the number of words a child can pronounce at sight, but to understand the distinct skill each word represents.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

More about Emergent Literacy-HAVE FUN!

The very first post of this blog focused on the fact that it is never too early to begin working on emergent literacy. The good thing is that this work does not have to be a chore! Developing a child's love of reading is fun (even if you can't read yourself, I dare say)! When you spend time with a child and a book you can build a relationship around imagination, wonder, and the amazing worlds that are found in books.

I would venture to say that most educators have heard about the wonderful education system in Finland. Finnish students do very well compared to those around the world. Also, the teachers report high satisfaction rates with the profession. Their school leaders believe that emergent literacy should be fostered first through PLAY (click here for an article on Finnish kindergarten). This makes for a wonderful environment in which to build the foundational pre-reading skills that students need for reading success. Check out this quick video that is explains the difference between "emergent literacy" and "reading readiness. Finnish teachers weave opportunities to develop rhyming and other pre-reading skills into the fun. There is a saying in Finland that goes like this:

“Those things you learn without joy you will forget easily.”

If you are going to teach our youngest students, please be ready to play. Show them the love of books through enjoying them with the students.

Happy, Joyful Reading!

Informal Reading Inventories (Reflection Questions-Chapter 3)

There is a lot of information to take in when learning to teach reading and to assess the skills that are being taught. So many terms and strategies have long names, or no names at all-just a bunch of letters! I am being overly dramatic, but sometimes it can be overwhelming to look at a student knowing that she needs help and not knowing which of the many strategies you have learned will be the most beneficial. You should probably start with an IRI, by the way. So what's an IRI?!? It's an "informal reading inventory"- a gallery of valuable reading skills that have or have not been mastered by a student.

ielts-reading-exam-tipsAt times teachers must give a formal reading inventory that has been sanctioned by a school district and is mostly free of all subjectivity (such as DIBELS-click for info). However, an informal assessment is a tool that you may use as often as you need, and in any form that you may need. What I mean is that you can decide if your student needs to do the entire assessment again, or just needs to be checked in one area. That makes it a "formative" assessment that will guide you in the instructional needs of that student.  It is my opinion that a great teacher does a lot more formative assessment than "summative" (final) testing. They value the journey that the student must take in order to get to their goal of being a successful reader.

When strategies are given for how to administer an IRI, usually the first item to address is tapping into the student's prior knowledge of the topic in a reading passage. The oral reading and comprehension are greatly improved when there is a connection made to past learning. (Click here for an article that supports this claim very well.) When this step is skipped the student is likely to score lower than his actual ability.

The running records in the text show a student who has grown from Level B books to Level K during the course of the school year. As the student moved to the higher Levels the substitution errors increased. The substitutions were mostly visual errors. The accuracy rate only increased by 3% and did not go above the instructional level for those texts.

What benefits or disadvantages are there to giving shortened IRIs? One benefit is that you can get useful data rather quickly. Also, the students will be less likely to experience stress or fatigue during a shortened IRI, which can impact performance.

What benefits are there to giving a full pre-post administration? The benefit of this type of administration is a thorough view of the reading practices of the students tested. The information gleaned can inform instructional practices for the current year, as well as the future.

What benefits are there to a single-passage IRI administration? Although you do  not gain enough information to determine the difficulty level for the students, you can use it to check for "normative" progress. You can determine if each student is reading "on grade-level", Obviously, this would also take less time to administer.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Critical Reading Inventory 2nd Edition- Awesome & Out-of-Print (but available)!

In my reading endorsement course I am exploring various reading inventories. There is so much out there that you could use for determining what areas your young reading students need intervention. I am not a fan of testing just for information. If the information is used for a benefit that matches or exceeds the effort required for the assessment, then I would want to learn more.

One of the inventories that seems to be worth the time of teachers and students is the Critical Reading Inventory-2nd edition (CRI-2) that was written by Applegate, Quinn, and Applegate in 2007. And, as the title of this posts states, it is now out of print! Don't let this stop you from reading on to find out why I think this is an inventory/assessment worthy of your attention. (Here is a quick link to an Amazon listing where you can buy the book and read a couple of reviews.) I'd like to point out a few features of the CRI-2 that would be of great value for our current reading focus on critical thinking.

First of all, this inventory asks you to find out about your subject/student. There is no substitute for building a rapport with your student. When there is a strong, positive relationship between teacher and student, the motivation of the student soars. This has been shown to be true in many studies. You may find this page from the American Psychological Association to be interesting and informational.

The second aspect that I find to be a great benefit is that you have assessment material for Pre-K through 9th grade! I appreciate that the older students are included. How many discipline problems in middle and high school could be avoided if a student could just read well and understand the reading!

Lastly, as we are all guiding students toward higher level/critical thinking, that is exactly what this system helps you assess. You can assess three types of comprehension that range from recalling facts to analyzing what has been read.

In a perfect world this would be paired with a system for teaching the skills that are being assessed. Maybe there is one out there. If so, please comment and let me know!

Happy Reading!

Thank you, Mrs. Smith

When I was nine years old my family moved from Los Angeles County in California to a small town in Alabama. As a half-Colombian girl who lov...