Sunday, February 19, 2012

Unsent Memo

TO: Ms. Angle

FROM: Lauren Nouguier

DATE: February 17, 2012

SUBJECT: 1st Grade Vocabulary Lesson Observation- The Paper Bag Princess

Thank you for welcoming me to observe your 1st grade literacy lesson this week. It was obvious that your students were very engaged in the read aloud. Reading aloud to students is an excellent way to expose students to new vocabulary.

There were several aspects of you lesson that stood out to me. First, before you read the book aloud, you introduced students to schema in a very direct way. Now students know they have a schema that they can access when they learn about new concepts. With more practice, students will be able to transfer that skill to their own reading. You also did an excellent job of modeling how to access schema. Students were very engaged while sharing their schema about princesses with you as you recorded their background knowledge on an anchor chart.

I also noticed that, as you read, you addressed new or difficult words. Two specific occasions included the words “magnificent” and “fantastic.” When you came across the word “magnificent,” you helped students define it in context. When you read the word “fantastic,” you used their new schema of the word “magnificent” to define it. Learning new vocabulary in a meaningful context like this is so important for students.

Finally, once you finished reading the book, you revisited the students’ schema about princesses. This seemed to be a very useful exercise. Through this, students were able to recognize that schema can change as they learn new information. By recording their new learning about princesses, you modeled that that students have the ability add to and change their background knowledge.

Thank you again for having me in your classroom!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Snowshoe Haiku

Snowshoe in the woods

Serenity and quiet

I don't want to leave

Published with Blogger-droid v2.0.4

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


As part of my own writer's notebook, I wanted to include all of the random (and not so random) websites, pictures, and blogs that inspire me.  I run across so many each week, and have found a fun way to keep track of them: Pinterest!

To those of you who are not familiar with Pinterest, be warned: It is an addiction waiting to happen.  Not only do I find great ideas and strategies to incorporate into my classroom, I also find things that cater to my "extra-curricular" interests- like food, gardening, home design, crafting, fashion...

I'll use it as a kind of "brainstorming" section of my writer's notebook.  It not only fuels my hobbies, but my journaling as well.  You can find my brainstorming at  or click on the link on the left of this page.

Vocabulary Instruction: Wide Reading or Direct Instruction?

This article was meant for a threaded discussion. The purpose is to summarize debates around models for vocabulary instruction. Most of what I found recommended wide reading and exposure to oral language in combination with direct instruction:

Fountas and Pinnell (Guiding Readers and Writers) emphasized wide reading as a primary source of acquiring new vocabulary. As students encounter new words in reading, they can fit these new words into a schema of context. Learners tend to remember new words when they can be connected to the learner’s background knowledge. Rather than directly teaching children new words, Fountas and Pinnell encourage educators to explicitly teach children how to learn words. Students can learn about morphology to help them derive meanings of words with common affixes and roots. Teachers can also instruct children how to make connections between new words, and words that exist in a students vocabulary.

In The Mighty Word, Louisa C. Moats suggests that student acquire vocabulary in 3 ways: incidental encounters, direct instruction, and word consciousness. First, students encounter new vocabulary through oral language and exposure to literature (both reading, and being read to). Secondly, students can be directly taught new vocabulary. This often happens when teachers introduce new vocabulary before reading so that students can fit new words into their background knowledge. Direct vocabulary instruction also includes the use of semantic feature analysis and semantic maps (identifying a words definition, synonyms, antonyms, and etymology). Finally, word consciousness involves teaching word learning strategies. These strategies include finding context clues and performing morphological analysis (for example- studying the meaning of word parts such as affixes and roots).

Since I work closely with the ESL teacher at my school, I asked her for some research about vocabulary instruction. She lent me Reading, Writing, and Learning in ESL. In this text, authors Peregoy and Boyle suggest combining language exposure and direct instruction. When working with students who are learning English, it is important to use strategies that were also mentioned in Fountas & Pinnell (2001) and Moats (2009). However, it is also important to help English Language Learners draw connections between new English vocabulary, and similar words or concepts in their own language or culture. This goes back to the idea of activating background knowledge and helping students recognize a schema where they can file away new learning.

Very little of what I read left out direct instruction as a component of vocabulary instruction. Some research place greater emphasis on wide reading and exposure to oral language than direct instruction, but still had some room for direct vocabulary instruction. I noticed that a lot of the direct instruction in this research referred to direct instruction of word learning strategies rather than directly teaching word meaning. Almost everything I read mentioned that using a dictionary for direct instruction is not an effective way to teach vocabulary. Instead, teaching students morphology (the smallest unit of word meaning- prefixes, suffixes, roots, etc.) is a useful tool that can be directly taught. Researchers also emphasized teaching students how to solve new words and make connections between new vocabulary and familiar concepts.

Reference List:
Fountas, I. C. & Pinnell, G. S. (2001). Guiding readers and writers: Teaching comprehension, genre, and content literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Moats, L. C. (2009). The mighty word: Building vocabulary and oral language. Boston, MA: Sopris West.

Peregoy, S. F. & Boyle, O. F. (2005). Reading, writing, and learning in esl: A resource book for k-12 teachers. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Parents: Share Your Reading and Writing with Your Children!

This piece is meant to be an article in a school newsletter. It brings to light that children benefit greatly from parents sharing their personal reading and writing with their children. I also share some ideas that parents can try at home to engage children in reading and writing:

Your child’s first experiences with literacy happen long before they start school (Morrow, 2009). Young children mimic their parents’ reading and writing practices by pretending to read books, or newspapers, or by writing letters or making grocery lists. They begin exploring the world of reading and writing based on the reading and writing they see you do. As students grow older and start to receive more formal reading and writing instruction at school, they continue to benefit from observing the reading and writing habits of their parents. Both parents and teachers can incorporate personal reading and writing experiences into literacy lessons for children. If we, as teachers and parents are aware and reflective of our own reading and writing habits and attitudes, we can encourage our students to seek out that same reflectiveness. Here are a few ways you can use your literacy experiences to help encourage your child’s learning:


  • Schedule times throughout the week when the family can sit down and write about anything- journals, stories, or other ideas that interest the writer. Then, designate a time for writers to share something that they’ve written.
  • Compose stories, letters, or articles together as a family (Fletcher, 2001).
  • Reflect on your own writing with your child. Point out things that you thought were good, as well as areas within the writing that could be improved. Encourage them to do the same with their writing.
  • Read and discuss books together. Write letters to the characters or to the author. Brainstorm and write alternative endings for stories that you have read.

Regardless of the kind of writing and reading you choose to share with your child, remember to take time to reflect. Think about what was read or written, but also reflect on your own habits and attitudes toward reading and writing. Encouraging your child to be reflective empowers children to become better readers and writers (Fountas & Pinnell, 2001).

Hypothetical Letter to an Administrator

I interviewed some teachers at my school about our literacy program, then wrote a hypothetical letter to the principal. I'd like to present it to one of my administrators, but I'm wondering if it's too critical. Your thoughts?

February 3, 2012

Dear Administrator,

I am writing to voice a concern I have about the K-5 literacy program at our school. In the six months that I have taught at High Point Academy, I have observed a disconnect between reading and writing instruction that I am afraid may not be benefiting our students. Although classrooms across our elementary school have a set amount of time for reading each day, there is very little writing that is incorporated into the reading program. Further, very little writing instruction is set aside each week. With a few changes in teaching practices, and some changes in the school-wide schedule, students can benefit from complete reading and writing instruction, which is synergetic in nature (Nagin, 2006).

I propose that teachers be provided with continued professional development in the areas of reading and writing. This professional development could focus on the complementary nature of reading and writing. For example, both reading and writing encourage phonemic awareness and phonics skills in students. Further, teachers can help students make connections between what they write and what they read. Literature, from picture books to newspapers, to novels, can be read in class and viewed as writing that students can model after. As these synergies between reading and writing become more evident in the classroom, we will also see growth in students’ ability and eagerness to read and write.

Finally, the Leadership Team at High Point Academy should consider making some changes to the school day schedule in kindergarten through 5th grade. Currently, all classrooms in the elementary school participate in a one-hour long reading block in the morning every day. However, not every classroom has set the same standard for writing. Throughout these classrooms, there is very little consistency regarding when and how writing is taught. If a writing block could be scheduled into the school day, teachers would be able to teach writing skills with more consistency (Fountas & Pinnell, 2001). Also, students would start to feel that writing was a more routine part of their day, much like their reading block.

Thank you for hearing what I have to say. If you are interested in discussing any of these suggestions, please let me know. I would love to bring these concerns and solutions to the Leadership Team at this month’s meeting. 


Lauren Haug

Learning Support Team
High Point Academy
Reference List

Fountas, I. C. & Pinnell, G. S. (2001). Guiding readers and writers: Teaching comprehension, genre, and content literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Nagin, C. (2006). Because writing matters: Improving student writing in our schools. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Guilty Confession...

...I haven't been posting my compositions as I write them, so I'm playing a little catch up before the semester ends!