Archive for the ‘English Language Learners’ Category

Increase Reading Fluency with Fluency Timer

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

fluency timer logoI’m excited to announce that I’ve developed and released my very first software application, Fluency Timer, available now in the new Mac App Store or via my own site at:

Fluency Timer is both a timer and a recorder that records students’ one minute fluency readings.  Research has shown that having students listen to themselves reading will increase reading fluency over time.  There are other voice recorders that exist but none have an integrated timer and all are too complicated for me to quickly teach students to use.

In my own classroom I have been having students read their daily reading passages into the computer and then playing it back and having them listen to themselves reading.  After the initial novelty of hearing their own voices played through the computer wears off, students study the reading passage while listening and start to become cognizant of their mistakes.  They ask me if they can reread the same passages over again to try and read them better.  It has made reading fluency into a game so that it’s no longer tedious to practice.

In addition to providing an instant independent work time activity, teachers can use it when assessing students to review student reading to complete running records, DIBELS assessments, etc. and to keep a record of how students have read throughout the year with automatic time and date stamping.  You can easily share recordings with parents coaches, administrators, and students themselves via the computer, an iPod, a CD, or a web site.

How Does it Work?

1. Press record. Timer counts down and automatically stops after 60 seconds.

2. Name your file and Save to iTunes.

3. Your file is added to iTunes.

4. From iTunes, play back for students, parents, and coaches or add to iPod and/or burn to CD.

Fluency Timer is available only for Macintosh computers (not for iOS devices at this time).  It’s exciting to dream up something and then see it come to fruition.  I hope you find it useful in your classroom.

For more fluency resources see the Fluency page of Open Court and the Reader’s Theater page for free printable Reader’s Theater.

Find Fluency Timer here.

The Right Way to Show Movies in Class

Monday, September 6th, 2010

I like to think of myself as a proponent of using multimedia in the classroom to better engage students in the curriculum.  I’ve amassed a large collection of movies from youtube, teachertube, itunes podcasts, and commercial DVDs that I show in frequent short bursts in the classroom with adults and children to help make my points and show visual examples of what I’m talking about.

I think it’s time to clarify how to show movies effectively.

1.  Showing movies in class should not be a Friday fun day activity.  Okay, I don’t mind if you show them on Friday or even if students enjoy watching them.  However, students should not view watching a film in class as any less rigorous than reading a book.  If they do then you’re doing nothing to teach media literacy or enhance your curriculum.  Brains should turn on when watching multimedia, not turn off.

2.  Show curricular movies at the beginning of units and not at the end.  This gives students background information that they need to understand a unit before teaching that unit.  That background knowledge then pays dividends throughout the unit.  If you wait until the end to show the movie as a “treat” it implies that the rest of your unit is not a treat and the benefit of having background knowledge to carry students through the unit is lost.

3.  Do not clean your desk, file papers, or correct homework while students watch the movie.  You will need to be front and (off)center.

4.  Set up expectations about the content and the delivery of the movie as well as student behavior.

Content.  This is a movie about X it relates to what we’re learning about Y because Z.

Delivery.  Working with English Language Learners in primary grades, often any selection I choose will have language students will not understand.  I tell them straight up, there will be a lot of academic English in what we’re about to watch and some of it you won’t understand.  Still, you’ll be able to understand a lot of it and figure out the rest based on what you do understand.  If you still don’t understand, right down what you hear and raise your hand, we’ll stop for a moment to clarify it.

Behavior.  When watching a movie about animals, for example, I tell students, you’re going to see a lot of amazing animals that you know in this movie.  You’re going to feel like shouting out every time you see an animal you know.  Instead of shouting out, I want you to raise one finger like this (I model) every time you see an animal you’re familiar with.  And every time you hear an interesting fact, I want you to write it down.  Also, write down any questions you have about anything you hear.

5.  I sit up front at a 90 degree angle to the screen so that I can see both the TV and my students.  This keeps students on task and allows me to see the screen.  (If you have problems with students talking during movies, see #3).

6. Don’t put down the remote control.  You will need to stop the movie frequently.  I stop whenever I want to clarify something or students raise their hands to ask questions.  Students absolutely comprehend more and retain additional information if you stop along the way rather than waiting until the end.

7.  At the end of the movie, ask some students to ask the question they’ve written down but don’t attempt to answer all those questions.  Students can record their questions on a concept/question board or KWL chart.  These questions become the basis for research in the coming unit.  Also assist students in clarifying information that was confusing.  Try to model how to figure out confusing language rather than handing them the definitions of unfamiliar words.

8.  Have students recap what they’ve learned and explain how the movie is related to the unit.  This helps transfer the new knowledge into long term memory.  If students can explain what they’ve learned, you can assist but if they still can’t explain, you need to re-evaluate showing that movie or better frame the movie discussion next time.

9.  Ask students to evaluate the movie.  Not just did you like it but did this movie add to your knowledge about X?  If they say yes, be sure to ask why…you’re starting to make them aware of themselves as learners.  If they say no, then that’s learning for you.

Spanish Reading Comprehension Resources

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Thanks to web site visitors, Luz Arriaga and Dora Antillon, my Reading Comprehension Posters and Bookmarks arenow also available in Spanish.

Reading Comprehension Posters (English)
Reading Comprehension Poster (Spanish)

Reading Comprehension Bookmark (English)
Reading Comprehension Bookmark (Spanish)

Larger versions of the Reading Comprehension Bookmarks (not yet translated) are also available here.

RTI (Response to Intervention) A Complete Apple Workflow

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

Thank you to those of you who attended my workshop, “RTI:  A Complete Apple Workflow” at the CUE conference this weekend.   I spoke about using Apple Software to address your Response to Intervention program.  This post contains the links, resources, and ideas that I shared.  Rather than simply posting the keynote file (which is much easier) I prefer to recap and flush out some of the ideas so that it’s beneficial even to those who weren’t there.

What is RTI?

As I define it, rather than simply teaching everyone the same thing and assuming that if someone doesn’t “get it” that there’s something wrong with them, RTI assumes that there will be students who do not master a concept after whole group instruction and will need additional time and intensity (interventions) to master concepts.  This, of course, is very similar to the idea of Independent Work Time.

Alice Mercer, in her CUE presentation, also addressed RTI and went into additional detail in defining it.

Part One:  Dealing with Data

It’s very important to collect and analyze data in order to target interventions to specific student need.  “Fluency” is to vague to be an intervention.  Focusing on short vowels, long vowels, or digraphs is a better intervention because it targets a specific student need.  Using Apple’s iWork (Pages and Numbers) or even Microsoft Word’s (Office and Excel) can help you to organize data by creating a spreadsheet, graphing data, and using the word processor’s mail merge functions to create parent reports about student data.  I much prefer iWork to Office because of its ease of use and the ability to create better looking documents.

Here’s additional information on graphing in Numbers and how to use the mail merge function.  I taught both these things in the workshop.

Part Two:  Prescriptions for Success ways of using Apple technology to address student needs




While behavior tracking software is popular among schools with large behavior problems.  I saw office referrals eliminated in my classroom simply through working on these movie projects.  I gave the example of Joseph, a student who I knew would not be quiet if I was to call “Quiet on the Set.”  Instead of playing through that scenario and getting annoyed at Joseph ruining other students’ projects, I decided to make Joseph the engineer.  He called out “Quiet on the Set!” and he pushed the red Garageband button.  The rest of the class was dead quiet and Joseph experienced being a successful and productive member of our class rather than being the one who wrecked everything.  This is a behavioral intervention…intervening to improve student behavior rather than punishing students for bad behavior.


Here are two slides that show some evidence that these techniques are producing gains although I am the first to admit that we need to continue collecting data on the subject.

In my classroom, I saw an 18% increase in the number of students reading at benchmark 12 weeks after working on the Reader’s Theater script, The City Mouse and the Country Mouse:

In Escondido Unified, they saw average gains of about 40 words per minute after six weeks of reading with iPods whereas normal gains are about 10 words per minute:


Here are some incidental things I mentioned in my presentation.

HandBrake for ripping movies from commercial DVDs  you own for storing on iPod.

PWN Youtube and other ways of downloading Youtube movies.


Down and Dirty Data Analysis

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Green is good.  Red is bad.

Here’s what they taught me in “coaching college” about how to read data.

Reading vertically indicates the teacher’s problem.  Reading horizontally indicates a student’s problem.

So, Harpo needs some additional help in all language arts areas.  However, in the vocabulary category, it appears that the teacher needs to examine his/her own instruction as its not succeeding for most of the students.  There’s all kinds of reasons why the teacher could say the students aren’t succeeding and there is validity to all of them…no help at home, trouble learning the language, poorly designed tests, a bad day in class.  This class in particular I hear is a bunch of class clowns.  However, the fact remains that the teacher’s vocabulary instruction with this group of students is not working and if he/she wants better results he/she must try something different.