Increase Reading Fluency with Fluency Timer

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.

Connect with Me Through Social Media

In addition to subscribing to this blog via RSS or e-mail, you can find almost daily quick tips and links by following mrneedleman on Twitter, multimedia files are posted to youtube where you can subscribe and visitors who have gotten through this blog via the Open Court Resources side of the site can become a fan of Open Court Resources on Facebook.

Literature Circle Table Tents

Using literature circles is another way to increase student comprehension.  Even teachers of prescribed reading series should incorporate additional authentic literature in their teaching.  This literature may be related to curricular units and must be high interest and at an appropriate reading level of students.

I adapted my reading comprehension posters into Literature Circle Table Tents (print and fold each in half after laminating) which I use to assign each student a job.

The jobs are:  The Predictor, Maker of Connections, Great Summarizer, Curious Clarifier, Word Wizard, and the Very Good Visualizer.  Of course, when reading in the real world each person must do each of the jobs.  However, in literature circles each person specializes on a particular job each day (we switch jobs daily).  This gives students additional practice using the strategies and ensures that they know what each of the strategies is.  Each card includes a definition.

For additional information on literature circles, I recommend the following:

In the Middle by Nancy Atwell
This is more about Reader’s Workshop than about literature circles but it does give you fantastic ideas about how to develop reading comprehension and interest in literature.  I highly recommend it. gives some additional information about how to set up literature circles.

Somehow the Literature Circle name intimidates some teachers.  I like to think of them as Oprah’s Book Club for kids.  It’s really just about enjoying literature with peers while the teacher helps facilitate some discussion surrounding the book.

Have any literature circle tips to share?

Update:  Adding Edutopia Article on Literature Circle Discussions

Beginning of the Year Pre-Assessments

Here are a few tools to use when assessing students at the beginning of the year:

The Basic Phonics Skills Test (BPST)
This is helpful in identifying specific areas of phonics need (short vowels, long vowels, digraphs, etc.)

San Diego Quick Assessment
It’s also important to know students’ knowledge of sight words which is an almost completely separate skill from decoding and an almost equal predictor of reading success.

Test of phoneme segmentation

provides several free fluency passages as well as comprehension assessments

What pre-assessments do you use?

Back to School Week: Resources

Here are some resources I’ve compiled to assist you in planning for your return to school:

Need something to do?  Want to get to know your students?
Activities for the First Day of School

Want to beef up on classroom management?  Here’s everything you need from job charts to management systems:
Classroom Management for Teachers

For Open Court Reading teachers, I’d start with
Unit Openers
then Concept Question Boards
and finally have a plan for more explicitly teaching reading comprehension this year

Digital Literacy and Information

Here are some terrific finds for the end of the school year.

1. A fabulous listing of fake web sites, hoax photos, etc. The best being a site warning of the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide (also known as water).

2. Snag Films
Can’t remember where I found this but you can watch documentaries on this site for free. I particularly recommend Run Granny Run which was a really touching film about an 80+ year old woman who runs for senate. Very inspiring.

3. Alec Couros’s list of 80 great Youtube movies for teaching media literacy just got a little longer.

4. And create your own video sharing site for free using Fliggo which I’ve posted about before.

An Ideal Language Arts Curriculum

Kevin Hodgson lays out what he considers to be an ideal language arts curriculum.  Please read the entire post.  However, the tenets he puts forth are:

Writing to Learn

Including listening and speaking (as well as reading and writing)

A “Stakes Approach” (Moving from low-stakes like journal writing to high stakes like publishing and performance)

Writing Across the Curriculum

And including technology and multi-media

It’s Not the Curriculum, It’s Us

Scott McLeod suggests that we might be the problem with education.  Blaming the problem of low-level “kill and drill” education on the test is no excuse:

Our prevalent instructional model that emphasizes low-level, decontextualized, factual recall was dominant long before ‘the tests.’ Our challenges of providing higher-order thinking experiences, opportunities for authentic collaboration, and real-world connectedness existed long before the No Child Left Behind Act.

I don’t think Scott means to suggest that there aren’t problems with The Test.  However, he does ask us to take a look at ourselves and not use the test as an excuse to absolve us of a responsiblility to provide high quality education to our students.

I experience the same kind of excuses in regards to the Open Court Reading Program.  Whether or not we like the reading program, having it in our classes does not allow us to turn off that part of our responsiblity that requires an engaging curriculum and provides opportunity for higher level thinking and twenty-first century skills.

Navigating Social Networks: You Can Pick Your Friends

How do you decide who to befriend on a social network?  I was planning on writing this even before my mother befriended me on Facebook.

This is not a how-to guide for students using social networks.  This is about how I use them as a teacher.  I preface this by saying that there are no rules.  And if there were rules then those rules are changing as we go.  My idea of how to use the different networks has certainly changed from a year ago.  A year from now I might say something completely different.


This is the one network where my personal business is all hanging out.  There’s nothing inappropriate on there but because I share pictures of my new kitchen and my Hawaiian vacation, I only befriend people I know…usually these are people I’ve met in person but occasionally they are people with whom I’ve developed an online blogging relationship or correspondence.  Sometimes web site visitors who I’ve never talked to before try to befriend me and I don’t accept.  Sorry, pick another network and we can be colleagues.

Anyone who joins should read this article on setting up the privacy settings on Facebook. I block my page from Google and I don’t allow all my friends to see tagged photos of me so that I have control over what photos of me people see.  Invariably you will only be tagged when you’re having a bad hair day or a big zit.

But because it is possible to block as much as you want to about yourself from people you don’t want to see it, I don’t think you have to be afraid of joining.  I do draw the line when it comes to befriending students.  My first year’s class is not quite starting high school yet so the issue has never come up for me.  However, I always wonder if a student posted something about contemplating suicide or experiencing child abuse on their Facebook account if you would be mandated to report it or liable if you didn’t report even if you might have missed it in the first place.  I just think it’s inappropriate to befriend students.  Feel free to disagree.


Thanks Oprah and CNN for bringing this to the masses.  Twitter is like the status function of Facebook and just that.  What’s cool about is that you can have conversations with people you’d never talk to in real life and you can get up to date news.

Anyone can follow me on Twitter.  At first I would follow back anyone who was also a teacher but it got so cumbersome to follow everyone that I started missing tweets from the people I really don’t want to not miss.  I use Tweetdeck on the Mac now and that helps to separate the people I follow into groups and it has a super great desktop interface.

Here are 7 Ways to Be Worth Following on Twitter and How to Make Any Tweet Worth Following
both of which I found via @angelamaiers who I want to be when I grow up.


I’ll add anyone to my network on there if know them even just a little bit.  Tell me you use my web site and we’re colleagues.  That’s all it takes.  This is a business oriented Facebook minus the pictures.  You basically post your resume and recommend other people.  The day that a Fortune 500 company comes looking for a second grade teacher and UCLA graduate to be CEO I know I’ll be snatched up.


Ning is like a Facebook for teachers.  I used to add anyone to my colleagues list by lately Ning is subject to random spam attacks by nefarious and less than nefarious types.  I don’t like being spammed by friends or porn stars so I’ve become more selective about adding people as colleagues.  I add people I meet at conferences so that I remember them and can find them later.  It’s not supposed to be a mailing list manager but some people use it that way.

If you only join one Ning then join Classroom 2.0.  The whole idea is that you join Nings based on your interests but what happens is you end up a member of 20 nings and it makes you wish you only had joined one in the first place.  Stick with Classroom 2.0.  I haven’t stopped by there in ages but it helped me immensely in setting up technology projects and finding like minded individuals.

These are my thoughts about who to befriend.  Agree?  Disagree?  Have different ways of using the networks?  I did befriend my mom.  I think