Archive for the ‘Independent Work Time’ Category

Fluency Timer Now Available for iPad/iPod/iPhone

Monday, May 21st, 2012

My desktop app, Fluency Timer, is now available for the iOS (iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches). The app provides an adjustable timer with integrated voice recording to allow teachers, parents, and students to easily record student fluency readings. It’s designed simply so that even primary age students can use the app to record themselves reading.

Research has shown that having students listen to themselves reading increases reading fluency, particularly for English Language Learners.  While there are many capable voice recorders, I wanted an app that would stop after a predetermined amount of time and not go on forever.  Having it stop on its own means that I can focus on listening to students reading and not have to keep an eye on the clock.  Teachers can use the app with students or set it up as an instant center activity.

By recording fluency readings, teachers can review them for patterns of errors and play them back for students, parents, and colleagues.

Download the pro version to eliminate advertisements and add the ability to transfer multiple recordings to your desktop:

The app allows you to individually e-mail recordings.  The length of the timer can be adjusted.

More information about the app and the different versions is available at fluency

The True Case for Independent Work Time

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

For years, I’ve tried to assist teachers with setting up Independent Work Time in their classrooms.  Independent Work Time goes by many names—workshop, universal access time, centers, small-group time.  IWT is simply a time of day when teachers allow students to work independently while the teacher has a chance to meet with small groups to preteach, reteach, challenge advanced learners, and otherwise differentiate instruction.

I’ve always operated under the assumption that teachers want to set up some time during their day when they are able to meet with small groups to differentiate instruction.  However, lately it’s come to my attention that there are teachers who simply do not believe that working with small groups would improve their teaching.

In truth, I know several excellent teachers who never meet with small groups.  These teachers, however, find ways to differentiate instruction by providing different entry points into lessons for students with different needs and by doing hit-and-run style conferences with students on the go.  While they might not be providing Tier 2 interventions, their styles do create challenging environments for all learners and allow almost all students to be successful.  But I still think they’re missing something.

As someone currently working as a full-time reading intervention teacher, I certainly believe in the importance of providing students with needed interventions in the classroom before they’re pulled out to work in a program like mine.  However, these students are a minority in most classrooms.  The other travesty of not providing any independent work time is what happens for the majority of students who need a time to apply what they’ve been learning through independent exploration, writing, researching, and working with peers.

I was struck by an article, Where Will the Next Steve Jobs Come From? which argues that typical teacher-centered classrooms will not produce the kind of creative thinking that true visionaries need.  While the few super geniuses will probably succeed in spite of what their teachers do, what about the many students who have a spark inside of them they never find even while they’re learning to sit up, face forward, and listen to what their teacher says?

I don’t suggest that simply by providing Independent Work Time we will create a new Steve Jobs.  However, we teachers have five and a half hours to lead teacher directed lessons, can’t we just give students thirty minutes to explore on their own and cement their own learning?


Independent Work Time: My Students Refuse to Work Independently

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

I enjoy fielding questions about Independent Work Time.  This one comes from a teacher whose students “refuse to work” (cue scary music):

…I still haven’t been able to have an effective IWT time.  The children just refuse to work independently.  I can’t work small group with children in need of extra support.  I have 24 reg. ed students and 4 mainstreamed children.  I need to help them.  When I let them go and have the Must Do/May Do, they sit and talk and play.  They do absolutely nothing.  I am extremely frustrated.  I have NEVER in my entire teaching career had a class like this one.

First I would reframe the discussion about the classroom situation.  While students are sometimes defiant, to suggest that a classroom of 29 students are all simultaneously defying a teacher’s directions seems statistically implausible.

Rather than saying the students are “refusing to work” independently, can we say that the students do not yet know how to work independently?  The solution then lies in our control…it’s our job to teach them how to work independently.

I know that this teacher has listened to my Independent Work Time CD but somehow they missed a key point which is that you should not give student multiple must dos and may dos until they are able to complete a single must do independently within a limited (5-10 minute time period) while you monitor and take notes.  This training period needs to last until students are able to complete the 5-10 minute single must do with about 80% success.

You must set up behavioral expectations before beginning the one must do and you must revisit those expectations at the conclusion of the work period to debrief how it went.  I have not seen this class but I would doubt that there is not even a single student who is trying to do work.  By recognizing the students who are working, good behavior will slowly begin to spread.

If it’s  still going badly after this, then you need to take a look at what you’re assigning students to do and make sure that it is, in fact, work they can complete independently.  I would also make sure that the work isn’t completely boring.

Your thoughts?

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.


Questions About Independent Work Time

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Independent Work Time, a time when students are working on their own while the teacher works with small groups.  It’s an official part of our reading curriculum but should really be a part of every teacher’s day in some form or other since it is one of the few times you can differentiate your teaching.  It also pays off in dividends if you’re able to teach your students to work independently.

I’ve answered some questions about Independent Work Time before:


What Do I Do During IWT?

Additional Articles on Independent Work Time

Here’s a new question about debriefing, those few minutes of wrapping up loose ends at the end of IWT:

Hi Mathew!
I am a 2nd grade teacher in AZ and I purchased your CD and have followed it for 3 weeks now. So far, it is working wonderfully for me. However, I haven’t been very faithful about the debriefing time after IWT is over mainly because when our IWT is done then it’s time to go out for recess and the kids (and myself) are in a hurry usually.  Should I continue to do the debriefing all year?  If you consider it important, I will try to do it more consistently.  I guess I need to allow a 5-10 min. time before recess to debrief the kids.  Also, we are mandated to have literacy centers that cover the “big 4”:  Comprehension, Phonics, Fluency, and Vocabulary. How would I work that in with the Must Dos and May Dos?  Thanks in advance.

I do feel that debriefing is important and should ideally be done every day.  However, if behavior is not a problem, it would be less important and in the real world there will be days you don’t get to it.

Invariably there will be small problems that come up and get bigger over time and if you don’t debrief, it’s difficult to address them.  Also, debriefing is the time when you can talk about the work itself and hold students accountable to having finished it.  For example, asking “Who found out something new in their research today?”  “Who revised their writing and how did you make it better?”  If you never debrief then students might get the message that there aren’t specific skills they’re working on.

In terms of your mandated centers, they can be either must dos or may dos.  Certainly there are more engaging ways and boring ways to address the same skills.  Your creativity will go a long way in planning those centers.  Good luck.  -Mathew

How about you, how is debriefing working in your classroom?