MAT Blog

Q&A: Setting Reading Goals with Early Learners, Part II

Posted by Colleen Cadieux on Dec 17, 2011 5:30:00 AM

Webinar with Christina BainbridgeAs you may know, last Saturday we presented strategies in a webinar hosted by Marygrove Master in the Art of Teaching (MAT): “Goal-Setting and Reading Fluency.” It was designed to help struggling readers take control of their reading by setting reading goals to help increase their motivation, fluency growth, and overall grade level performance. The material was based on the research I conducted as a student in the MAT program. We received some wonderful feedback, and I would like to answer more of your questions here. Last time, we discussed the differences between grade level and reading level, and how students should always cold-read for these assessments.

Today, we will discuss motivation, parent communication and keeping students on track. If you still have questions, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll tackle those in a later blog post!

Q. How do parents keep informed about their child’s progress?

If you are using a program like DIBELS®, or AIMSweb®, you have access to some amazing graphs that you can print out to share with parents.  As part of my project, parents received weekly notes after each progress monitoring assessment. Now, I rely on my own communication methods such as bi-weekly newsletters, conferences, phone calls and my classroom website. Of course, my students are always eager to tell their families when they have successes!

Q. What if students aren’t making appropriate growth on their graph?

A. It may be time to re-assess their goal or the other interventions you are doing in the classroom.  One of the keys to the success of student charting and goal setting is having lots of conversation with students about their graphs and goals.  Student goals are always up for negotiation if they aren’t making progress that aligns with their goal, or, if the opposite happens: they make better progress than they thought they would!  Think about the instructional interventions you are doing with these students. The general rule is: If insignificant growth is made over a period of three weeks, the instructional intervention needs to be re-evaluated.

Q. Motivation was a big part of your project.  But how do you motivate your students to read?

A. I love to read. I think, personally, a lot of my students’ interest in books and reading comes from my positive attitude, which I’m sure you all convey, too.  I have a huge classroom library, and I conduct several read alouds each day for instructional purposes—(and to get my students excited about reading new books.)  In my classroom, I have a “100 Club” where students can document books they read outside of school, and can achieve levels in a “club” when they reach certain number milestones.  I also offer children the chance to earn the privilege of eating lunch with me on Fridays. One of the ways they can earn lunch is by documenting the Accelerated Reader tests they take. (Every 13th test earns you “Lunch Bunch” on Friday!) They can also earn a “Lunch Bunch” for each level of the “100 Club” they achieve.

That wraps up this round of questions. I will address any more that come in as needed. Please don’t hesitate to ask. Your question could help clarify something for someone else. We appreciate the feedback.

If you haven’t already, click the button below to view the webinar, access my full research report, and tools you can use to start getting improved reading results in your classroom, today!

Have a great holiday,


Marygrove MAT alum Christina Bainbridge discusses goal-setting for greater reading fluencyChristina Bainbridge, Marygrove MAT ’09 currently teaches a first and second grade split class at Central Elementary in White Pigeon, Michigan. She has incorporated her master-level teaching practices into an award-winning website: Mrs. Bainbridge’s Class, which she loyally tends to every week. Teachers all over the country love her for it, and you will, too. Check it out!



Click me

Tags: struggling readers, reading fluency, on demand webinar, early learners, setting reading goals

“Seed” Journals: An Effective Writing Strategy for Early Learners.

Posted by Colleen Cadieux on Dec 13, 2011 5:30:00 AM

"seed journals" help early learners focus on writing with or without convention masteryKeeping a journal can often be a powerful way for students to organize their thoughts, try out  topics for larger pieces of writing, and practice content and conventions lessons the teacher has taught.  In her comprehensive approach to writing instruction, Lucy Calkins outlines the benefits of students keeping a “seed” journal, regardless of age or ability. These journals provide a place for primary students to begin their journey as a writer and experiment with their writing craft.

Calkins’ approach to journaling weaves together writing instruction with student-generated topics, in an effort to form a balanced approach to writing development. Important characteristics of this strategy are:

  • All of the writing in the seed journals comes from the students' lives. They are a collection of things they've done, seen, and thought about; past and present. A seed journal isn't a place for fiction, just mini memoirs. (Here’s one teacher’s very clever idea for making an engaging “watermelon seed” journal.)

  • Students are encouraged to write about brief moments or “seeds” of a larger experience. Instead of writing about a trip on an airplane, students learn how to look within the larger topic for something smaller. Maybe a piece in the journal could be about feeling nervous while walking down the jet way or how the world outside the plane looked from the air. 

  • Writing conventions should not be the focus of the journal writing time. Yes, students should be expected to use proper conventions and grammar, as appropriate, by their development and grade level standards. But spelling and punctuation should never impede a child from putting their thoughts on paper. 

  • No two students are alike - some will be able to easily identify a seed topic and write for the entire journaling time while others will struggle to even develop an idea. Some may be able to write lengthy pieces with well-developed content and others may compose one sentence accompanied by a basic illustration.  Allowing students to include an illustration with a seed journal entry can be powerful for certain students, as they will be able to communicate ideas via the illustration that they may not be able to convey in their writing. 

  • Seed journals aren't the end product goal for these young writers. Via direct instruction, teachers will model and teach students how to turn these small seed ideas into a larger, more developed piece. Every great piece of writing started out as a small seed!

We’d like to point out that writing in journals of any kind is a very personal exercise for students. Students should never be forced to share the contents of their journals; sharing should be on a voluntary basis only. In this notorious and very dangerous time of bullying, a journal should not in any way be used as a diary. Especially for older children, teachers must take care to connect journal exercises directly to classroom assignments. 

Journaling as a writing exercise can provide an appropriate opportunity to discuss boundaries and why they are important in writing about one’s self, and others. It also can be used as a "teachable moment" to emphasize how writing on social media sites like Facebook can negatively impact personal boundaries and invade privacy. Many districts are wisely incorporating social media policies into their codes of conduct.

For more effective ways to engage readers, download our Best Practices Guide for K-6 Reading Comprehension, today!

Download our K-6 Reading Comprehension B

Tags: early readers, Lucy Calkins, "seed" journals, early learners

Our Most Popular Blog Posts

Subscribe to the Marygrove MAT Blog!

Comments on this Blog Post