Online Training Course for the HEAR Curriculum Begins Monday

By readingintheborderlands

Interested in helping children become more compassionate and caring? The HEAR curriculum uses literature, discussion, and critical thinking to promote empathy and literacy skills.

Texas elementary teachers have the opportunity to participate in a three week online training program. It costs $55. Program completers will earn 5 CPE credits. It begins Monday, so register right away!


Ideas from “English Learners Academic Literacy and Thinking” by Pauline Gibson

Students enrolled in the spring 2011 section of READ 6323 worked together in small groups to read and discuss a professional book related to struggling readers. As part of their project, they wrote a post for our blog.

By: Mari Contreras

With contributions by: Laura García, and Chris Mayne

We are elementary teachers in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and we have learned and implemented many of the ideas and activities mentioned in the professional book, English Learners Academic Literacy and Thinking by Pauline Gibbons.  This book discusses the challenges teachers have to find ways of teaching that will help everyone, especially English language learners (ELLs), and to reach high expectations for each student.  In English Learners Academic Literacy and Thinking, Gibbons presents an action-oriented approach that gives English learners high-level support to match high expectations.  Focusing on the middle grades of school, she shows how to plan rigorous, literacy oriented, content based instruction and illustrates what a high challenge, high support curriculum looks like in practice.

Some of the engaging academic literacy classroom activities giving by Gibbons are:

  • Progressive Brainstorm
  • Wallpapering
  • Semantic Web / Concept Map
  • Dictogloss
  • Shared Writing
  • Split Dictation
  • Barrier Crossword
  • Vanishing Cloze
  • Word Walls
  • Sentence Matching
  • Bilingual Dictionaries
  • Many more…

Teachers might be familiar with some of the activities mentioned above; however, there are also new activities which are great to use in classrooms with ELLs.  For example, the dictogloss was a new activity to me and a perfect way to integrate content and language.  Even though most of my students are monolingual and half of the class is titled Limited English Proficient (LEP) these exercises were great especially in supporting the students with engaging academic literacy in all curriculum areas.  To implement the dictogloss I made sure that my students had gained the background knowledge and vocabulary appropriate for the content.  I chose to read a short text from the students textbook and asked students to “just listen” as I read the text aloud at a normal speed.  I then read the text again aloud and asked the students for the second time to just listen to the text.  By this time most students were familiar with the text and by the third reading of the text students were asked to write down as much of the key points and phrases from the text that they could remember.  I needed to stop the activity and remind students that it would be hard to record everything that they heard me read aloud, they simply needed to record key points and isolated words.  The next step my students did was to get with their partner and share what they had written down.  Then together they would have to write down a new version of what they both had written individually.  At this point, some students found this difficult to do and they needed assistance in combining each other’s notes.  I then asked the partners to get with another pair and combine their notes and construct a new version of the whole text which would be their final version.  As a group, students were to use their background knowledge of English, check for grammar, noun and verb agreement, and spelling revision.  We then compared the original text to their own.  Students discussed differences and if meanings were the same or if there were any differences.  I really enjoyed implementing this activity with my students because it was an excellent practice for integrating content and language, and for integrating listening, speaking, reading, and writing all at the same time.

WOW! UTPA Students Published in International Book Review Journal

By readingintheborderlands

Congratulations to the following UTPA Master’s degree students! Last fall they enrolled in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature. As part of the course, they examined multicultural and global literature. This culminated in a  critical review of one children’s/YA text for possible publication in WOW Review: Reading Across Cultures. This is one of the online journals of Worlds of Words, an organization dedicated to connecting children with books in ways that promote intercultural understandings.

The latest issue (v.3, n.3) includes reviews by:

  • Melissa Canales and Cecilia Solis from the Reading M.Ed. program. They reviewed the book Family Pictures/Cuadros de familia by Carmen Lomas Garza.
  • Margaret Grabowski from the Bilingual M.Ed. program with a Reading specialization. She reviewed the book Dancing with Dziadziu by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.
  • Lileana Rios from the Bilingual M.Ed. program with a Reading specialization. She reviewed the book My Land Sings: Stories from the Rio Grande by Rudolfo Anaya.
  • Lisa Castro-Salinas and Jessica Guerra-Salinas from the Early Childhood M.Ed. program. They reviewed My Nana’s Remedies/Los remedios de mi nana by Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford.
  • Clarissa Arteaga and Zaida Cendejas-Omari from the Early Childhood M.Ed. program. They reviewed What Can You Do with a Rebozo?/Que puedes hacer con un rebozo? by Carmen Tafolla.

An Overview of “When Kids Can’t Read” by Kylene Beers

Students enrolled in the spring 2011 section of READ 6323 worked together in small groups to read and discuss a professional book related to struggling readers. As part of their project, they wrote a post for our blog.

By: Holly, Cecilia, Claudia, and Annie

If I had to choose one book to use with my struggling adolescent readers, this would be the book! Not only does it suggest ways to help students with vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, word recognition, response to text and more, it offers strategies that help improve students’ attitude toward reading and builds their confidence.

The Vocabulary Tree

The Vocabulary Tree is one of these strategies that can be used in many ways, but Beers uses this activity to teach specific roots and affixes. She begins by suggesting that every English teacher across the grades should embrace a unit on roots and affixes so that students would have an opportunity for learning and relearning. Students can build these trees on their own and keep them in the Vocabulary section of their binders. Vocabulary trees are wonderful for teaching roots; it’s a great way of making this usually difficult concept of word study more concrete to students.

ABC Cause and Effect Booklet

Beers created a challenging way to have students affirm comprehension or pull out facts to that each one should’ve remembered after reading.  I used the booklet activity in my 8th grade classroom to establish my students’ comprehension of our class novel.  My students created a booklet and labeled each page with two letters, starting from A and working their way to Z.  For each letter, the students had to create a word that expressed a theme or an issue that was expressed in the novel.   Students had to be able to reformulate the text and connect it to a matching letter.   The structure of this assignment allowed for students to be creative and concise about their interpretation of the text.

 In the end, these students produced appealing booklets.  I had my special education students coming up with words and understanding why that word was perfect for the matching letter.  In no time at all, every one of my students could give me details from the book without trouble.  This activity was challenging, engaging and appropriate for the situation.  Beers created such a simplistic activity that stirred critical thinking without the stress of an intimidating lesson. 

Most Important Word

I decided to introduce my sixth grade students to an after-reading activity that would help them focus on constructing meaning in a more concrete way.  The Most Important Word activity asks students to choose what they consider to be the most important word from the body of the text they’ve just read.  To help students with the selection of their word choice Beers developed a Most Important Word form.  This form helps students consider how their word affects the characters, conflict, plot, and setting.  After completing this part, they use their word to help them formulate a theme statement. 

My students had just read the book Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli and used it for this activity. As my students engaged in selecting their most important word I was pleased with the amount of discussion that was taking place.  I had suggested that they help each other with their word selection by discussing it within their groups.  Students then individually began to work on their Most Important Word form.  I really liked this part of the activity because it forced my students to go back into the text and evaluate how their word affected the different literary elements.  Lastly, my students were able to easily construct a theme statement which in the past had been challenging for them to do.  I was impressed at how the Most Important Word activity allowed my students a more concrete way of evaluating their comprehension while at the same time requiring higher-order thinking skills.

Why Kids Can’t Read is a very informative and heartfelt book for teaching reading to struggling students. Although the book is targeted to teachers who deliver regular language arts lessons, you can connect with many strategies that will help make lessons stronger for struggling readers in any grade.

The National Center for Family Literacy

 There are many professional organizations that can help literacy experts stay  involved in the profession beyond their classroom or school assignment. Students in the spring semester of READ 6325 explored various professional organizations and are sharing what they learned through this blog series.

By R. Salinas

The National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL) was established in 1989 by Sharon Darling, the current president.  On its home page appears the motto of “Creating a literate nation by leveraging the power of the family.”  This commitment and dedication is illustrated through the help of thousands of teachers and volunteers.  Unlike other organizations, this one does not require a monetary payment as part of their membership.  Individuals who would like to “join” their quest for family literacy have several options.  One can simply subscribe to their newsletter, become a fan on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, make a monetary donation, or any combination of the four.There is also the Literacy Now Blog which not only has links to add comments or ask questions but also includes additional links for other organizations and resources.  This organization and website is not only for educators.  Parents and other people in the community who are just interested in helping with family literacy can subscribe, donate, become a fan, or follow them.

The NCFL is an organization which focuses on family literacy by working with various community partners – companies, organizations, and agencies – to offer families help in improving their domestic situation.  NCFL realizes that literacy is the key to success in today’s economy and children learn better and are more motivated when parents are involved.  Therefore the organization has concentrated on this vital detail and has created different programs and initiatives in the hopes of improving literacy everywhere.  Their programs are not only local but also state and nationwide.  A few of their programs are co-sponsored by familiar names such as Toyota and Dollar General.

Not only does NCFL get involved through family literacy programs, it also sponsors a national conference and offers professional development.  From April 3 – 5, 2011, the 20th National Conference on Family Literacy will be held in Louisville, Kentucky.  One hundred different sessions will be held during the three day conference.  Professional development is offered through online courses, distance learning, and on-site training.  These trainings can be designed for anyone from Head Start and Early Childhood teachers to Community Leaders to Librarians. 

NCFL has lobbyists who search for acts and fund sources at state and federal levels to maintain or expand literacy programs already in place and create new ones.  There are awards and grant opportunities through the NCFL partner, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation.  Resources, free and otherwise, are also available on the NCFL website.  These include videos, DVDs, and publications which help educators with problems or questions they might have about how to help families with literacy.  There are also links to other resource websites and some downloadable publications and resources which educators can use immediately.  Two sites in particular that are good choices are and is a website for families to enjoy together and is more of a website for teachers which helps with lesson plans, resources, and ideas.  One downloadable resource is called the “Foto-Novela” and is designed to be shown to parents so that they understand the importance of family literacy.  Through the abundance of resources available on the NCFL, everyone will find something to their liking.

An Overview of “One Child at a Time” by Pat Johnson

Students enrolled in the spring 2011 section of READ 6323 worked together in small groups to read and discuss a professional book related to struggling readers. As part of their project, they wrote a post for our blog.

By Melissa, Sonia, and Mary

My fellow classmates and I just finished reading an excellent book by Pat Johnson, titled One Child at a Time. She explains how we as teachers can help those students that struggle in reading. She takes us step by step into the lives of several students that she is working with. We get to see what the child does and how she helps them. Her book also shares different strategies that proficient readers use as well as how to observe and assess students. Johnson is a reading teacher that works side by side with classroom teachers. 

The first thing that you learn in this book is that reading is a process. Proficient readers have a whole network of strategies that go on in their heads. We cannot put the reading process into a child’s head; they must be the ones to assemble the process. Many students are able to notice when they get confused while reading. They will even stop and try to fix the problem. But for struggling readers the process doesn’t come easily. They can’t figure out how to solve the problem in their reading. They need teachers that will teach them the strategies. Pat Johnson also gives all the different reasons why a child might have become a struggling reader in the first place. She shows educators how we should observe the student to see what that child does and compare it to what a proficient reader does. After we have observed the child, we need to then analyze what we saw, plan what the child needs to learn and then teach them. Johnson goes into great detail explaining what we might see the child doing or not doing and what it means.

She also explains to us all the different strategies that proficient readers use. As you read the book you begin to have a bag full of strategies that you can go back and teach your students and children. Throughout the book she is working with different students in a school. She allows us to hear how the child reads. She explains to us what she hears and what the child is doing. She then goes on to teach that student a specific strategy that they need to learn. She also explains the strategies that she hears the students using. Usually as teachers, we tend to hear what the student is doing wrong. But she encourages us to notice what the student is doing right.

Johnson discusses different ways to acquire information from a struggling student. This includes running records and individualized reading conferences. She also teaches us how to analyze the running records and how to use their information to help our students. There are several reasons why struggling readers become confused and stop comprehending. The more we understand these reasons the better equipped we will be to plan instruction for them.  Johnson shares reasons on why students get stuck in reading.

 Not only does she help individual students but as she works with individuals she helps the teacher develop a whole class lesson. Not only do these strategies help individuals but they are important to the class as a whole.

Johnson concludes her book by encouraging all educators to be lifelong learners, continue to read professional literature, and work with other educators to help all students. She gives several ideas on how teachers can help one another share ideas. Overall this book was rich with practical ideas and real life examples that will be helpful to anyone that is looking for ideas on how to help their struggling readers.