May 31, 2017

Child-Centered Reading Conference Strategies

by Carolyn Wilhelm, Guest Blogger

Oh, the joy of a really great novel with just enough suspense that the reader can barely put it down! Teachers work so hard at getting to know which books will really grab individual children. We learn about their lives, their interests, and their reading habits. We are so happy to match a reader with the just-right and just-perfect book, and observe the silent reading with a smile. Job well done!

Screech, put on the brakes . . . as soon as our students are happily engaged in reading, we slide a teacher stool up next to the absorbed reader to begin a reading conference. Then we brightly ask, "What reading strategy are you using today? Will you explain how this strategy is helping you be a better reader?" Smiling and hoping to jot some notes on our charts or report card forms, we hope for an insightful and elaborate answer.

The student, wanting to please, stops the marvelous reading experience to try to answer. He pauses to think, "What can I say to get the teacher to leave so I can just get back to reading?  Let's see, she was happy when I said I was inferring the other day, so I can't use that again. What can I say today?"

When seen from a child’s point of view, reading conferences may sometimes appear to be an unwelcome interruption. However, we know that individual reading conferences are critical in order to determine if our students comprehend the text. So how can we confer with them in a child-centered manner that meets their needs rather than focusing on our objectives?

After giving this some thought, I created the Child-Centered Reading Conference chart shown on the right with some strategies and possible questions to ask without interrupting the reader and ruining the reading experience.

Begin the session with a general question such as "What is something you have just been thinking about while reading?" Then try to follow up that question with one that matches what the child just said with a similar reading strategy.

We should not make children fit their thinking into the strategies we are teaching when they are delightfully engrossed in reading. Be as unobtrusive, quiet, and thoughtful as you can when conferring with an engrossed reader . . . and be quick!

Yes, teachers have to gather notes and information about readers, but we also have to be careful not to spoil the reading experiences of our students. Happy reading!

Carolyn Wilhelm has a Masters in Gifted Education, another Masters in K-12 Curriculum and Instruction, and is a National Board Certified Teacher in the area of Middle Childhood Generalist. She has taught grades 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, gifted education K-6, and remedial math grades 1-6. Carolyn is the creator of The Wise Owl Factory website and Book-a-Day blog.

May 27, 2017

Teaching Order of Operations: No-fail Strategies that Really Work!

Order of operations can be frustrating to teach, but it doesn't have to be. There's no question that this is an extremely challenging topic for elementary students. Fortunately, there are loads of strategies for teaching order of operations that are both fun and effective.

One reason kids struggle with this concept is that there are so many rules to learn and follow. Even worse, rules that appear to be simple often prove to be deceptively complex.

For example, most kids can easily remember that multiplication and division are always performed before addition and subtraction, especially after they learn to follow the order described by "PEMDAS."

However, they tend to get stuck when an equation includes both multiplication AND division. Most kids automatically multiply before dividing, but order of operations tells us to perform the operation that comes first when reading the problem from left to right. No wonder kids find order of operations to be super confusing!

Another reason kids struggle is that even when they understand how to use order of operations correctly, they don't apply the rules systematically. Because the problems look easy, students try to rely on mental math alone to solve them. This may work with the easy problems, but mental math isn't effective with more complex problems that include multiple operations, parentheses, exponents.

After watching my students struggle with order of operations, I developed a simple lesson that worked every time. As a result, my students actually remembered the rules and could easily apply them to any problem. I'd like to share these no-fail strategies with you, along with two free order of operations printables you can use to help your students grasp these concepts.