Thursday, October 29, 2015

Why Use Fountas and Pinnell's Benchmark Assessment System in the Elementary Classroom: FAQs

As teachers across our Grasslands Public School district complete the Benchmark Assessment System with their students in grades 1 to 6, many questions arise that point to "why?" and "how?" do we use this tool as formative assessment. This post is an attempt to bring some clarification to some of these questions, but please contact me if you'd like additional assistance with your current group of students BAS results.

The Benchmark Assessment System was designed to assist teachers with teaching as a formative assessment tool. More information about the BAS can be found by clicking here. 

  1. What are M, S, V? These are the three cueing systems that any reader (you included) uses to comprehend a text. By analyzing the errors and self corrections a student makes on the reading record, a teacher can determine which patterns emerge, and therefore which Teaching Prompt to use from the Fountas and Pinnell Prompting Guide Part 1 or Part 2 during guided reading instruction. For example, when a student reads, they may only regularly use two of the three sources of information (perhaps M and S but not enough Visual cues). During guided reading the teacher can then guide the student by prompting "You (student) said _____. That makes sense and sounds right, but it doesn't look like the word printed here. Let's take a closer look and run your finger under these letters of this tricky word. "
  2. Should I be analyzing every reading record? No! There is little point in analyzing the reading record of a student's independent text level, where the reading is mostly accurate, nor is there much point in analyzing a hard text level record where processing has broken down. It is important to analyze a student's instruction level text using MSV to make a hypothesis about what strategic actions the student is currently able to use or is beginning to use in their zone of proximal development.  If you are new to analyzing reading records, then start with a student in your class who's reading causes you to wonder, perhaps because they are below grade level or you have concerns over their reading abilities. Analyze that student's instructional level text from the BAS and see which patterns emerge that you can address in the classroom. 
  3. Where can I find more information about analyzing Reading Records? The Professional Development DVD located inside the BAS system 1 and system 2 boxes contains a section labelled "Scoring and Analyzing" under the "Tutorial" section. You can also view an entire module on the Ontario Ministry of Education's eWorkshop by following this Running Records Module LINK . Please note the difference between a running record and a reading record is that a reading record has the printed text and is specific to a particular text, whereas a running record can be used with any book to check accuracy, and comprehension.
  4. Where can I find more teaching prompts to use once I've identified patterns on a reading record? The Fountas and Pinnell Prompting Guide part 1 and part 2 are two professional texts that are found within the LLI systems in our school division. You can also purchase your own copy for approximately $30 or can download the Fountas and Pinnell Prompting Guide app for iPads or iPhones for less than $12. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Spelling Test- Spelling Homework-Spelling Lists: Understanding Where Spelling Fits in Comprehensive Literacy

As classrooms shift towards a Comprehensive Literacy approach, a common issue pops up around the topic of SPELLING. The following are some ideas to consider and discuss with your colleagues.

Spelling was historically an area of literacy that was based on published lists sent home as weekly homework in preparation for a weekly test.

Spelling is defined as "the act or process of writing words by using the letters conventionally accepted for their formation; orthography. the art or study of orthography. the actual way in which a word is spelt. the ability of a person to spell: John's spelling is good." according to 

However, practicing spelling words was a concrete and easily understood way for parents to participate in their child's homework routine and it allowed them to feel connected to the classroom learning even though it took considerable time for teachers to prepare through photocopying, etc. 

Classroom  time was devoted to teaching these words and testing spelling usually on a Friday. However the amount of learning was limited, as teachers often attested to the lack of transfer of these words into student writing which was the ultimate reason for teaching spelling.
Teachers also debated "which words" should be "on the list" and eventually many settled on using lists of high frequency words such as the Dolch sight word list, etc. Teachers were also marking spelling errors in children's written work and then often children were taught to use repetition to re-learn their error words.

Now, take a look at these pictures which represent various spelling activities and consider the optimum learning model which involves the gradual release of responsibility from "I do, we do, you do". Also consider which pictures represent strategies and which represent activities.

Now consider this. In comprehensive literacy, we use the gradual release of support method of instruction as follows:

 Modelled --> Shared --> Guided Practice --> Supported Independent --> Independent

Spelling words correctly involves understanding these 14 basic principles of how words work and it is directly related to both reading and writing at a very early age as children begin to learn that words carry meaning:

Please click the picture above to go to the link on google drive.
Now consider, is it appropriate to teach a list of words only, or should we be teaching students to be flexible word smiths who try a variety of strategies to read & write?

Parents can still be very active in the word work section of comprehensive literacy just as they were with practicing weekly spelling words, however there may be some need to explain the difference between the two before parents leave the comfort of their weekly spelling words. For more information on spelling and word work, please refer to the Working with Words Guidebook in your Literacy Place for the Early Years teacher's package, or the Program and Planning Guidebook in your Moving Up with Literacy Place teacher's package. 

Now here's hoping I have no spelling mistakes in this week's post! 
Thanks for reading,

Monday, August 31, 2015

Starting a new school year full of food for thought- What questions do you ask your students?

Happy First Day of School!

Today our Grasslands students come back to school or enter it for the first time. As teachers we are responsible for creating a culture of learning within our classrooms. For some, this may seem an easy task; but I ask you "What questions do you ask your students to foster a learning community?"

As Burkins and Yaris, 2014, discuss in their book "Reading Wellness: Lessons in Independence and Proficiency" too often if a visitor in our schools asks our children any of the following questions, many students have trouble answering them.

  • What do you love about reading?
  • Who are your favourite authors?
  • What are your favourite genres? Why?
  • How is what you are reading changing the way you think?
  • What books bring you such enjoyment that you forget you are reading?
Burkins and Yaris, 2014, also state in the same first chapter of their book Reading Wellness, that "these days, too many teachers struggle to answer questions such as "What do you love about teaching?" "What daily teaching practices bring you such joy that you get lost in them? and "How does your work with students help you discover your best self?". So when the lazy days of summer turn quickly into the fast-paced stressful days of classroom life, stopping to think and question our current models for reading instruction  might lead us to a better level of reading wellness.

As Burkins and Yaris, 2014, ask "We can't help but wonder if vaccinating against 'comprehenza,' treating 'decoderitis,' or intervening to remedy a case of 'robotitis' has led to inaccurate assumptions that all is well with our readers. Perhaps it is time to stop and ask students (and ourselves), 'How are you?' Many people are likely to respond to this question with a cursory 'I am well.' Perhaps the better question, however, is 'How well are you?' with the parallel question related to reading --- "How well are the readers with who you work?"The authors then define the term wellness  as "maximizing the potential of which the individual is capable" which might leave your mind reeling with ideas as it did mine.

 As I sit in an office vacant of children's positive buzz of energy that usually fills the first day of school, I am left pondering many questions but realizing only one solid answer at this time---our work in building capacity for literacy learning in all Grasslands classrooms is NOT done!

We have spent three years focused on literacy learning and our journey must continue, as each of us is capable of greater understanding in the complex task of how each child in Grasslands not only learns to read, but becomes a positive member in our literacy learning community. Carry-on!

Thank you for the work you do each day with students as part of your 'one wild and precious life" and best wishes for wellness this school year!


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Digital Books for Online Reading: Have you read aloud to your students today?

Have You Tried Engaging Your Students with Digital Books?

This week's literacy post is a sharing of some online book sources that you might wish to incorporate into your daily read aloud, literacy centers, or share with parents as a source for family literacy. If you have additional resources you would like to share, please add them in a comment at the bottom of this post so everyone can see them. If you have photos/videos of your Grasslands classrooms using digital books, please email them to me at I know there are so many awesome things happening in our district so let's share them. Also follow me on Twitter @hersheycrystal as I tweet about literacy using the #gpsd6 hashtag.
Happy Reading and Teaching!
Story Line Online is a website where "The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Foundation records well-known actors reading children’s books and makes graphically dynamic videos so that children around the world can be read to with just the click of a Storyline Online video book image." 

One of my personal favourites from this site is a read aloud by legendary actress Betty White who reads "Harry the Dirty Dog" written by Gene Zion. 
Check out this site regularly as they are always adding more books.

We Give Books is a website that has approximately three hundred books including fiction and non-fiction that can be read online but are not narrated or animated. You have access to more books if you join the site which is free. 

There are a number of popular books such as the Llama Llama series on this site which could easily be used on a SmartBoard for Shared Reading lessons. Don't forget to check out the Resources for Educators section of the website as well.
The International Children's Digital Library is a website that has a lofty goal. "The ICDL Foundation's goal is to build a collection of books that represents outstanding historical and contemporary books from throughout the world.  Ultimately, the Foundation aspires to have every culture and language represented so that every child can know and appreciate the riches of children's literature from the world community." 
This website has books in a variety of languages that celebrate the cultures of the world and can be used to engage ELL learners.
The Oxford Owl website out of the UK has a collection of approximately 250 digital ebooks both fiction and non-fiction.  The popular characters, Biff, Chip and friends were  enjoyed by many of my past students have connected with during literacy lessons. Join the website for free to access more of ebook titles for use in your classroom. Also check out their teaching resources.

P.S. If you are an avid reader there are many sites such as that have free books in a variety of genres for adult readers also.These can be downloaded onto a variety of devices, such as iPads, Kobo eReaders, etc. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Spring into Poetry: Resources for K-12

Even though everyone warns me of an imminent April/May snowstorm, my thoughts cannot help but be distracted by the wonderful spring weather we're seeing here in Southeastern Alberta. Spring, in this part of the world, naturally enables us as humans to feel more inspired as the daylight increases and nature seems to awaken us from the long winter months.

Stockvault - Sparring marmots in Glacier Park
As a literacy teacher, I always loved springtime in the classroom as my emphasis on poetry increased and once I got over my initial fears of  'tackling' poetry early on in my career, I found that my students and I both loved it.

In reflection, I think it somehow seemed far easier for me to use poetry as mentor texts with my students, whereas I was less comfortable doing so with fiction and non-fiction texts.

This post is dedicated to sharing POETRY resources that might inspire teachers in their K-12 classrooms.

Austin Kleon - Blackout Poetry

I recently wrote about one of my new favourite poetry styles called Blackout poetry by Austin Kleon from Texas.  He literally blacks out words on a published text (newspaper/magazine article, etc.) to create his poetry as you can see in this poem titled "100 Things That Made My Year". Learn more about his work at

Edutopia Newsletter

A newsletter from Edutopia highlights National Poetry Month for our neighbours to the south and they have three great links to poetry that will inspire even those who still feel stuck in the snowy world of winter. Check out their website at
If you have poetry resource links you would like me to share, please pass them along and I will get them out asap.

Wishing you all exceptional inspiration as you teach poetry this spring...

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Sharing Our Literacy Journey: Why & How? Plus an added feature of Blackout Poetry

Over the last two months there have been numerous opportunities to share our literacy journey with other schools, school districts, and organizations. Today I want to explore these and ways that you can personally share your literacy journey or extend your and your students relationships beyond the classroom, school and district.

Sharing Elbow to Elbow:

This has been a traditional method for sharing amongst teachers for many years, but I think what makes it so powerful is that we not only share with each other, but we build relationships and a sense of community. Below is a sample picture of sharing that happened recently between districts. If you have pictures you would like me to add to the blog, please email them and a brief description and let's keep this conversation going.
Tilley Teachers Sharing the LLI Journey in Junior High 
with Wolf Creek Public School Division

Wolf Creek Public Schools also visited Sunrise School
to discuss LLI in Jr High Setting (bottom two pics)


My most recent adventure into sharing our literacy journey has come through the use of Twitter (@hersheycrystal) where for over a year I was a Twitter bystander who couldn't see the purpose of tweeting. After some discussion with Sean Beaton, Grasslands Learning & Innovation Coordinator (@backcountrynut), I was still somewhat unsure of how the Twittersphere could possibly be the best PD for me as an educator, but I forged out into the dark hoping to "fake it until I make it" or stumble across someone who could guide me further. Thankfully I didn't need to stumble for too long as Vince Hill (@vhill01), principal of Bassano School, happened to sit beside me and shine even more light upon my Twitter journey. By now if you're not currently leveraging Twitter for it's wealth of educational benefits, you're probably wondering "Why bother?" Not to mention the fact that you might be pondering, "How can I fit something like this into my already full life?"

Well here's what I've learned about WHY Twitter so far...

  1. Twitter has connected me to educators and other people across Canada & the globe in one week of  beginning to tweet and retweet in those ubiquitous 140 characters. 
  2. None of these educators are constantly tweeting about their breakfast or other mundane, useless pieces of information like I initially feared. 
  3. I've participated in a twitter chat with other educators and been linked up to articles, lesson plans, pictures, quotes, blogs and cool ideas (here's a link to artist Austin Kleon in TEXAS who creates BLACKOUT POETRY which is a way of recycling others printed words and turning them into ART/POETRY- Very awesome!)
  4. I can pose questions on Twitter to help link me to other educators, projects, information, etc. that I couldn't begin to do with Google or Email Contacts.
  5. Twitter has expanded my Personal Learning Network (PLN) to speed up my connection to relevant information as well as allowing me to stay connected with new people I meet at conferences or to stay connected to educators within our district. 


Although new to blogging myself, I'm actively seeking out new blogs to follow and read because I can learn so much from other's journeys. Blogs aren't an overly interactive tool, but as a reflective tool, they can't be beat and now that I've seen them as an effective classroom tool I count them to be an even more glorious tool. What better way to connect to a greater audience and again build relationships than through sharing our writing. If you want to connect to a teacher outside our division who really excels at this check out Terra-Lee Gratton, Gr 4 teacher in St. Paul, AB. She not only connects her classes to many others but she recently presented at the Alberta Rural Education Symposium where she shared her wealth of experiences with Discovery If you would like me to arrange an introduction, please let me know.

There are many other ways to share but these two have recently expanded and opened my world. I hope you'll share with me your journey and consider trying some of these ideas.

I hope you forge ahead with some new connections today.

Second Round of Cenovus Literacy Resources Arrive: What does this look like and mean for Grasslands Students?

The Second Cenovus Cheque for $200,000 was received in January and the literacy resources began arriving at Central Office last week before the ATA teachers convention. 

8 pallets  or 326.4 cubic feet of Grade Four - Six classroom resources
seen here in the carpentry bay at Grasslands Central Office

 What does this mean for our Grasslands students? Every student in Grades 4-6 has access to more books to read, talk about, learn from, and write about.
Thank you Cenovus Energy Inc.!
Inside these boxes are Scholastic Moving Up with Literacy Place resources for Grades 4, 5 & 6
1 Strategy Units Box and 4 Book Club Boxes (2 Social Studies themed and 2 Science themed)
1 Strategy Units Box and 4 Book Club Boxes (2 Social Studies themed and 2 Science themed)
1 Strategy Units Box and 4 Book Club Boxes (2 Social Studies themed and 2 Science themed) 
Scholastic Moving Up with Literacy Place training will take place for all Grasslands division 2 teachers after Easter break:

        • Gr. 4 Teachers - April 15, 2015
        • Gr. 5 Teachers - April 16, 2015
        • Gr. 6 Teachers - April 17, 2015

Teachers please don't hesitate to open up the boxes and dive in for a look before the training sessions and/or to get your students excited about the books/texts contained within them. Remember that your enthusiasm for books can be one of the best motivators for students enthusiasm for books.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to seeing you at the training sessions.

Rolling Hills K-9 Family Literacy Night in Action

Highlighting the recent efforts of Rolling Hills K-9 school to host a Family Literacy Night in Rolling Hills, Alberta on February 11, 2015. 

Congratulations Rolling Hills School on a successful evening!

Principal Short's Welcome

Each Milk Crate Represents a Scene/Setting in Class Project

Mrs. Frisby's House

Making Connections - One of Eight Comprehension Strategies

School Board Trustee Getting Ready to Read: A Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak

Students also created cakes about their books

Popcorn as a snack to relate to their books and ghostbusters cake

Three siblings proud of their efforts

Friends proudly recommending a book  

Class Project on the Arctic tied to "Yuit" by Yvette Edmonds

Student sketch books - Future book illustrators?

The Lorax by Dr. Suess complete with truffula trees and cupcakes

Sugar cookie decorating station - Yum! Yum!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Literacy Here, There and Everywhere! "Oh! The places you'll go!"

This week in Grasslands Public Schools was a busy one as the district Professional Development day saw literacy at the forefront of learning with a focus on balanced literacy at the KG - Gr. 3 level and ESL Benchmarks at the Gr. 4 - Gr. 12 level. The educational assistants PD day also involved a literacy presentation. A big thank you to the presenters who shared their knowledge and inspired us to continue the learning journey!

As promised here are a few literacy links to share this week:

  • Guided Reading in Gr. 4 - 6 slideshow shared at Griffin Park

Table of Comprehension Strategies for Scholastic Guided Reading titles (original component only- so not all titles are here yet, but will be updated soon)

Checklist for Moving from Small-Group Shared Reading to Guided Reading Levels A-C

Many thanks for the exciting week and I'll leave with a quote from Dr. Seuss...