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Set Ascending Direction

My four-year-old grandson Jaxson recently dropped by the Pioneer Valley Books office with Ducky, a well-loved stuffed animal he’s had since he was an infant. We took the opportunity to make a book together, which we titled Where is Ducky? To make the book’s artwork, Jaxson chose some locations in the office and one place where he hid Ducky. Then I made some talking bubbles with the word No! that I taped to the pages. The entire project took about 10 minutes, and you can watch him proudly read the book with me here:

Writing books with your beginner readers can be a powerful learning tool. Personalized tales provide meaningful texts that students want to read. You can foster key strategies that beginning readers need through the creation of books. This experience helped Jaxson develop one-to-one matching, learn a core of sight words, and figure out how to use pictures to make sense of the story. Jaxson didn’t do any writing, but I would encourage slightly older children to write some parts they can easily do and leave the remainder for a teacher or parent.

Interested in writing books with your students? Here are some ideas to try:

1. Take a picture of your student on different things in the school building and on the playground. Then write the story together with I as the subject (for example, I am on the chair. I am on the slide.). Alternately, use the student’s name (Jaxson is on the chair. Jaxson is on the slide.).

2. Have your student hide and take a photo of their location. Then take pictures of places where your student is not hiding. Write the book’s first pages to show photos where your student is missing (Is Jaxson under the chair? No.) and then use the last page to reveal where they are hiding.

3. Take photos of your student doing things, such as jumping, running, and skipping, then write text to match (I am running. or Jaxson is running.).

4. Take pictures of your student inside places (for example, the closet, library, and cafeteria). Work with your student to write pages together, such as Look at me. I am in the library.

As you ponder what to write, try to find a pattern that uses common sight words you want students to learn (such as am, is, go, the, here, look, and can).

Of course, you can find tons of easy patterned books at level A. But there is something really powerful about reading a book you have created yourself. Keep it simple and it can be a wonderful motivational learning experience for your students. These books can even be shared with other students. Keep them in a tub in your classroom and I bet you’ll find that everyone will love reading different books about their classmates!

0 Comments | Posted in Michele Dufresne's Teaching Tips By Michele Dufresne

Guided reading provides a perfect opportunity to support students as they reflect on the text. Sometimes I find myself focusing too much on the accuracy of the reading. It is important to prompt students to fix their errors and problem solve unknown words, but it is equally if not even more important to use teaching moments to help them understand what they are reading. After all, comprehension should be at the heart of reading. Fountas and Pinnell tell us, “Readers are always actively working to construct meaning, so comprehending is an ongoing process rather than simply the outcome or product of reading” (Teaching for Comprehending and Fluency, 2006).

Have you found that some students struggle to tell you what they read in their own words? Stop, Think, and Paraphrase (STP) is a terrific tool to help these students. For more about this teaching strategy and other great ones for improving comprehension, see Chapter 7 in Jan Richardson’s book The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading.

Here are the steps to use STP:

Step 1: Have students read a page in their new book, then cover the page and prompt them to retell what they just read in their own words. Offer support and scaffolding.

Step 2: Hand out STP cards (ours are part of the Comprehension Box Set) and ask each student to STP to themselves after they read a page.

STP card

Step 3: Place one or two sticky notes on random pages of each student’s book. After students read a page, have them write a short note paraphrasing what they read on the sticky notes (level K or higher). Take a look below at one student’s STP writing about Penguins: Flightless Birds of the Sea.

Penguins book with student sticky note

Here’s a video of a group of second graders reading the same book. Watch how I help one student really think about the important idea on the page. This takes practice!

0 Comments | Posted in Michele Dufresne's Teaching Tips By Michele Dufresne

Jan Richardson and I have been working hard to develop ways to help teachers with their professional development. I am excited that we currently provide free online support for Literacy Footprints lessons in our short instructional videos. We’re continuing to build more of that content for teachers to watch and discuss, such as this new video featuring Pioneer Valley Books consultant Lisa Hall. Watch below to see her work with a small group of emergent readers in Tennessee and teach them about cross-checking.

Lisa is one of the talented consultants that Jan and I collaborate with who also works on-site with teachers in her own district. Here, in her own words, Lisa shares her thoughts about providing professional training for educators: “I am looking forward to joining Jan in Virginia in a few weeks as she works with teachers to implement guided reading. This district invests in their educators and helps them to learn more about teaching reading. Ongoing professional development for all teachers is so important! Jan and I are both lucky to have the amazing opportunity to be Reading Recovery teacher leaders. Reading Recovery is a powerful and effective intervention, and its heart is its gold-standard professional development. We want all teachers to have equally amazing opportunities like this. High-quality development is so critical for improving teachers’ literacy instruction skills!”

Pioneer Valley Books has many experienced literacy leaders like Lisa who can demonstrate guided reading lessons, provide training in critical assessment tools such as running records, and observe and coach teachers in their classrooms. You can learn more about all of our consultants and the expertise they provide at

If you’re looking for a more intensive professional development opportunity, Jan and I are thrilled to be hosting our first Literacy Footprints Institute this coming summer. From July 31 through August 1, we will work with classroom teachers and coaches to focus on the implementation of the K–2 Literacy Footprints Guided Reading system. Please join us for this terrific event in beautiful western Massachusetts, the home of Pioneer Valley Books.

We hope our efforts are helping you with your important work of teaching children to read! Please contact us at if we can help you, your school, or your district in your continuing educational efforts. 

Comments | Posted in News By Michele Dufresne

Hurricane Experiences

Oct 18, 2016 2:39:17 PM

I have written two nonfiction books about hurricanes (Hurricanes and Hurricane Katrina Dogs), so I know some of what the storms can be like. However, I only recently experienced a hurricane firsthand. I spend part of each year living in St. Augustine, Florida, with my husband and dogs. Earlier this month, we learned that Hurricane Matthew was bearing down on our area. I remembered reading about and seeing pictures of Hurricane Katrina and knew I did not want to be someone who ended up standing on top of their home waiting to be rescued. Luckily, we found a pet-friendly hotel in a nearby flood-free zone, so we evacuated. The hotel was filled with many people who had made the same choice, plus what seemed like a zillion dogs, cats, and birds.

Our experience at the Best Western left me with stories to tell about being with my dogs and husband in torrential rain without power (hint: it was smelly and hot but safe!). Our many thanks go out to the hotel for allowing pets. We were also grateful for smaller things (especially pee pads since our dogs were not going out in that rain!).

We are now home safe and blessed to have no damage to our house, but so many others were not as fortunate. St. Augustine, the oldest continually occupied city in the U.S., was hit badly by storm surge and will take a while to recover. Neighbors and organized groups have brought food and water and provided cleanup assistance. We’re so thankful to utility companies that sent trucks and workers from far away to get our power back on. Things are slowly getting back to normal.

Of course, you can expect this all to show up as a plot in a new story soon! I’ll let you know when it’s ready for you and your young readers. In the meantime, share your own Hurricane Matthew stories with us if you have them. We hope you and your families are all comfortably back at home.

0 Comments | Posted in News By Michele Dufresne

Learning Your (Lowercase) Letters

Oct 13, 2016 1:55:40 PM

It’s national lowercase day (who knew, right?), and we’re taking note here at Pioneer Valley Books with some help from our Lowercase Magnetic Letters. They’re terrific tools for one-on-one and group learning, but our staff loves these letters too.

Check out how our Project Editor Beth and her son Seeley, 6, use them at home.

Letter EaselAs a new kindergartner, Seeley spends part of every day learning his letters. He’s pretty good with his uppercase ones, but lowercase? Those are less familiar. I’m trying to continue Seeley’s learning after the school day is done, and since he thrives in hands-on learning situations, I knew our magnetic letters would be just right for him. The colorful, sturdy magnets drew his attention as soon as they exited my messenger bag, and he happily plunked himself down on the carpet to test them out.

It can be tough to get Seeley to focus on learning after a long day, so I created a few quick activities that fit into spare afternoon and evening moments. Here are his favorites:

1. Matching Letters

Picking through our jumbled letter container, Seeley located each lowercase letter and placed it in the matching spot on one of our Printed Magnetic Letter Trays.

Tray with Letters

When big sister/third grader Evie wanted to join the fun, the kids took turns picking out a single letter, naming it, and then asking their partner to find the same letter in the pile.


2. Matching Words

For his class’s Letter of the Week work, Seeley creates a book of words that begin with the designated letter. To reinforce his familiarity with those terms, I wrote each one on our Magnetic Dry-Erase Easel and had Seeley copy the word underneath in magnetic letters.

3. Spelling Names

Like most kids, Seeley loves seeing his name in print. Since he already knows how to spell it, he excitedly made his moniker with the magnets (plus an added uppercase one) and showed it off to everyone. With Evie’s help, he also worked on making her name, my husband’s, and ones for our cats. “Mom, you can make your own!” Seeley insisted. I’ll get right on that, kid.

 Seeley with Name




You can check out all of these terrific alphabet and reading tools (plus more) on the Pioneer Valley Books website. And if you have any other learning ideas for me and Seeley, let us know about them by posting a comment here.

Comments | Posted By Beth Honeyman

Michele Dufresne

Teaching Tip: The Next Step in Guided Reading

Do you sometimes find that your students can do your word study activities but then do not apply the skill to their reading or writing? It is important to plan your word study lessons so that they connect to reading and writing. You need to consider what students need to learn about letters, words, and sounds in order to read the books and write their stories. There are different challenges at different text levels.

For example, at level A in reading, students need to use initial consonants to cross-check the meaning with visual information (“Is the word pony or horse?”). In writing, they need to learn, hear, and record consonant sounds in words. Using picture cards to sort initial consonant sounds, making words and changing the first consonant sound, and using sound boxes with CVC words will all help students to read level A books and write simple stories.

Here you can find a handout that Jan Richardson and I used in Boston when we presented a session at ILA last week. I hope you will find it useful in planning your word study lessons. We used this plan when writing our Literacy Footprints lessons, and I began to notice right away how well it helps students apply word study to their reading and writing!

For more information on Literacy Footprints, visit our site today.

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Forget the 100-word rule!

Jun 14, 2016 11:50:33 AM

Michele Dufresne

Last week, the principal of our local school asked me what I thought about the district’s mandate that kindergartners learn a list of 100 words. Did I think it was appropriate? The short answer? No!

I see how confused educators are about how to reach that goal. Many teachers try to divide the word list over the course of the school year. Each week, students go home with a section of the list and practice the words diligently with their families. Would you be surprised to discover that students forget the words from the previous week as they try to learn a new set?

So what is appropriate to teach kindergartners? Young children need to learn that reading is fun, engaging, and something they are successful at. Nothing is worse than discouraging children and making them feel like they are failing. We cannot have a one-size-fits-all curriculum. Literacy learning needs to be meaningful and appropriate. Children who have a limited background with texts need to experience the power and joy of real books.

Learning a core of sight words is important, but the words need to be selected carefully and taught responsively. Marie Clay tells us that “New words will be acquired through reading books and others will come from daily writing” (Literacy Lessons: Part 2, page 40). The words you teach should be ones kindergartners see frequently in books and want to use in their writing. For some students, learning the first few words may come quite slowly. They need to develop a system for remembering. If you try to teach too many words at once, you will just create a huge muddle.

How about this? Instead of a kindergarten goal of learning 100 specific words, give them a goal of reading 100 books? Maybe even 180 books? One for each day! That’s a goal that all kindergartners can achieve, whether they’re at the beginning of their journey as readers or well on their way to proficiency.

Comments | Posted in Michele Dufresne's Teaching Tips By Michele Dufresne, Early Literacy Expert

Michele Dufresne

As the school year winds down and your students’ families make summer plans for vacation, camps, and other activities, remind their parents to keep reading at the forefront! Students who read over the summer are much more likely to hold the gains they’ve made during the school year and even increase their reading skills.

Here are some tips to make reading with this summer both fun and productive for students and their parents.

summer reading log1. Tell parents to keep a record of what their child reads over the summer on a Summer Reading Log. Doing so is a great way to help children see their progress. The student can even bring their summer reading log in to show their new teacher in the fall!

2. Tell parents to increase the difficulty of the books selected for the child as they progress. While favorite books can be like best friends—reassuring and familiar—beginning readers need to be appropriately challenged to continually develop their skills.

3. Encourage the parent and child to create their own stories together. You can use our free Family Stories activity to get you started. 

letter to parents4. Print and sign this letter and hand it to parents as it gets closer to the last day of school.

Whatever methods parents use with their kids, make sure they are encouraging reading to their kids all summer long. The rewards in the fall will be worth the effort!

Have a great summer!

1 Comments | Posted in Michele Dufresne's Teaching Tips By Michele Dufresne, Early Literacy Expert

Michele Dufresne

Currently, it’s quite common for teachers to take running records to determine a student’s book level and report their progress through book levels. But running records do so much more than that. When I listen to a student read, I often take a running record on just a few pages. Any scrap of paper will do! It may be the first time a student has read the book, but I find that a running record taken on a beginning reader’s second book reading is the most telling.

Running records give you a window into a student’s processing. They help you find patterns that show how the student responds to text. Teachers can become overfocused on the errors a student’s makes. Instead, we need to concentrate on what the student notices and almost has mastered so we can support them in becoming better at processing.

If, for example, you notice several errors on a student’s running record where they use the first letter of the word and the error makes sense (such as pot for pan), that shows you what to listen for when the student reads to you.  I would say, “That makes sense and it almost looks right, but let’s look at the end of the word and see if it looks right.” Say pot slowly and run your finger under it. “Can that word be pot? No! What else would make sense and look right?”

The next time you teach a guided reading lesson, select one student to take a running record with on the following day. Ask the student to read a few pages of the book. You don’t need to use a fancy form, score it, or count the errors! Simply look for common mistakes to see if there is a pattern to the student’s difficulties. Follow up the running record with a bit of teaching. Be specific with praise and show the student how to do something that helps them read better. There’s no need to help the student get everything right. If they are not noticing errors, teach them how to check errors. If they are having trouble breaking apart larger words, show them how to break a word into parts. If they are not reading for meaning, then help them think about the story. Taking a running record followed by some teaching should only take a few minutes and can make a powerful change in your student’s processing.

0 Comments | Posted in Michele Dufresne's Teaching Tips By Michele Dufresne, Early Literacy Expert

Teaching Tip: Making Words activity

Mar 21, 2016 11:13:16 AM

Michele Dufresne

I am convinced that the best time to teach phonics is during a guided reading lesson. It allows you to specifically target the kind of word-solving activities that students need while reading. It also helps students learn to write new words.

Making Words is one of the three activities we use in the Literacy Footprints Level A–F lessons. This powerful activity can be done in just a few minutes during guided reading. Making Words teaches children how to use sounds to monitor for visual information while reading. It also firms up left-to-right visual scanning across a word. Plus, children think it’s fun!

Each student will need their own letter tray and magnetic letters to make a series of words you dictate. First, tell students which letters to remove from their trays, then dictate a series of words that differ by one letter or letter combination. Each time you say a new word, students figure out which letter(s) to change to make the new word. The process they use to determine the mismatch between sound and letter is the same process they’ll use later to self-correct during reading. After students make each word, tell them to check it by saying the word slowly as they run their finger under the word. At first, you’ll have to tell them which letter(s) to change, but soon they’ll be able to make alterations on their own.

making words

I have been so pleased with how this activity helps my group solve words in reading. It’s also dramatically improved their ability to hear sounds in words while writing. Here is a video of my group in action!

Comments | Posted in Michele Dufresne's Teaching Tips By Michele Dufresne, Early Literacy Expert

Michele Dufresne

We can teach phonics and word solving using magnetic letters, writing, or even worksheets, but ultimately the goal of all forms of phonics lessons is for students to be able to take apart words on the run while reading (Clay, 2005).

Researchers looking at average and above-average readers in second grade found that students used an amazing range of flexible and diverse ways to solve challenging words when reading (Kaye, 2002). High-progress readers did not sound out words letter by letter but rather cluster by cluster. As educators, we need to encourage flexibility in thinking about letters and letter groups within words.

Here are some ways students can solve an unknown word:

• Initial and final letters

• Digraphs

• Clusters of letters

• Root words

• Syllables

• Inflectional endings

• Suffixes

• Prefixes

• Analogies (i.e., using a known word [look] to get to a new word [brook])

When selecting books for guided reading, look for a book that has plenty of known words and just a few challenges. If students struggle with many words on the page, they will not be able to use multiple sources of information to support word solving. As you listen to students reading, look for opportunities to help them improve their word-solving skills. Be careful not to focus on one method and discourage sounding out a word letter by letter. Try some of these useful prompts:

“Do you know a word that starts with those letters?”

“Look for something that might help.”

“Do you know a word like that?”

Here is a video of literacy expert Jan Richardson working with a group of second graders. They are reading The Fawn, a level J book. Notice how she first prompts the student to monitor an error he makes. It is important that students notice their errors. He is able to quickly correct himself, and Jan uses the opportunity to help him look more closely at the word he had difficulty with.

In this video, Jan Richardson helps a student break up a large word: caterpillars. Notice how she asks the student to use parts he knows but also to think about what would make sense. Students often do not need to break up the entire word. They just need to get some of it and use the meaning to figure out the rest. Remember that teaching is not about how to solve a particular word; it is about how to help students become independent problem solvers. Prompt for flexibility and encourage students to use all sources of information. This can only be done while reading continuous text. During word study, you can demonstrate and do some practice, but the powerful opportunities for learning will come during real reading and writing.

Comments | Posted in Michele Dufresne's Teaching Tips By Michele Dufresne, Early Literacy Expert

I just started working with a first grade group that has been receiving phonics-based intervention. Despite intervention, the group is still about six months behind grade level (DRA Level 6/D). Yikes!

So what isn’t working?

Here is a small sample from a running record taken with Reece, one of the students in the group:

 January 25 tip

I have a few concerns. First, Reece doesn’t know the word your. Your is a sight word she should know. My second concern is more significant. Reece kept reading and did not check (monitor) when the sentences did not make sense or sound right. Another concern is how Reece, even after a lot of phonics instruction, is still having such difficulty taking apart a very simple word such as going.

Planning Next Steps for the Group

1. Prompt for self-monitoring: I need to get Reece and the other students to notice and take action when they make mistakes. If they don’t notice their mistakes, I can't expect the students to correct them! I will use the following prompts:

“Did that make sense? Check it!”

“Reread and make sure it makes sense and looks right!”

“I like how you stopped. What did you notice?” [when a student hesitates]  

2. Teach sight words: The students need to firm up their sight words. They know some, but they are misreading them. I will teach a sight word each day and review several at the beginning of each lesson. I will also select books with care. I want the group to see sight words we are working on and I want stories that have natural language so the students can hear if they make sense and sound right. I will use guided writing and insist that the students correctly spell sight words we have worked on.

3. Teach word-solving skills: Reece and the other students show poor skills in decoding unfamiliar words, so I will use magnetic letters to demonstrate how words work. I find the manipulation of magnetic letters to be a powerful tool for helping students learn how to take words apart in their reading. Just a little warning – make sure the letters you use have good shapes (not funky, puffy ones). Here's a little plug for the new magnetic letters from Pioneer Valley Books. They are the perfect shape and size, plus I LOVE the extra strong magnets!

To give you an idea of how I use magnetic letters to demonstrate word solving, here is a video I captured last week of Jan Richardson working with a group at Level I. This is the kind of magnetic letter work I am starting with Reece’s group, only I am using easier examples (go-ing, look-ing, see-ing).

I hope to share more about Reece and the other students in her group this winter and spring – and hopefully we will see some improved processing.

Comments | Posted in Michele Dufresne's Teaching Tips By Michele Dufresne, Early Literacy Expert

When introducing a new book during guided reading, it is important to prepare students for challenges in the text. Authors of informational text employ a variety of features to assist the reader in finding information quickly and efficiently, but learning how to use these elements can be tough. Here are some features students may encounter during their reading:

•  Index
•  Table of contents
•  Bold or italicized text
•  Glossary
•  Embedded definitions
•  Realistic illustrations or photos
•  Captions and other labels
•  Graphs, charts, and maps

As you plan your book introduction, consider the book's text features and if any of those elements may be new to students. I suggest showing students each unfamiliar feature and talking about how it is used to provide additional information about the topic.

You also can utilize these elements to prepare students to read and understand the text. Here is a video I made recently of Jan Richardson working with All About Honeybees (you can read the book here). This session comes from one of our new lesson plans developed for the Literacy Footprints Second Grade kit.

Comments | Posted in Michele Dufresne's Teaching Tips By Michele Dufresne, Early Literacy Expert

How often do you select nonfiction books for guided reading? One study found that, on average, first graders spent only 3.6 minutes per day with informational text (Duke, 2000). It is important to use nonfiction as well as fiction throughout your work with students. Guided reading is a great place to help students gain independence at reading nonfiction. As students move into grades 3 and 4, they will be expected to read and understand complex nonfiction text. Our students also will need to read and answer tough questions about nonfiction content on many state tests. 

Drop down a level

Using nonfiction for guided reading can often feel challenging. Nonfiction books frequently have different sentence structures, sight vocabulary, and concepts from fiction texts at the same level. Marie Clay tells us, “A successful choice of book would be well within the child’s control, using words and letters he knows or can get to with his teacher’s help.” Consider dropping down one to two text levels when you use nonfiction, especially at Levels G through M.

Plan your book introduction

Once you have selected your text, plan your book introduction. Start with an overview of what the book is about; I like to describe in one or two short sentences what students will be learning about when they read.

Introduce new concepts and vocabulary

Next, prepare students for successful reading by introducing them to new concepts and vocabulary. Go through the book and think about what words students may have never seen before and what words they may not be able to define. Say and have them practice unusual sentence structure. Take a bit of time to show them new text features and how those elements in nonfiction can help them learn new things about the subject.

A book introduction is not meant to be a picture walk; you should not talk about every image in the text. In fact, you should construct some opportunities for students to cross-check and self-correct. Instead of introducing everything, leave one or two items you think they could problem solve on their own as they read.

It is also important to preplan your comprehension focus. This can help direct students’ attention. I will be writing more about this next month.

Here is an example of a book introduction for one of my nonfiction texts, A World of Squirrels. Jackie Duane and I used it in our recent session at the Literacy for All Conference. I promised participants I would post a video I have of Jan Richardson introducing the book. Here it is!

1 Comments | Posted in Michele Dufresne's Teaching Tips By Michele Dufresne, Early Literacy Expert

A good book introduction is critical to a successful guided reading lesson. The introduction serves as a scaffold to the readers. You tell students enough about the text so they will be able to read most of it with ease, but you also leave enough opportunities for problem solving. Fountas and Pinnell say we need to “shape the introduction to support readers’ ability to successfully process the text. The introduction sets the stage for effective reading of the text."

To look more closely at book introductions for beginning readers, I am going to share a video of Jan Richardson, author of The Next Step in Guided Reading, introducing a group of ELL students to Bella’s Bone, a Level D book. Here are some things I notice about how Jan prepares the students to successfully read the new book.

1. Jan starts by telling the students what the story is going to be about. This is a critical feature of a good book introduction. It is important to give students a synopsis of the story. This summary should only be one or two sentences and tell students the main idea of the book or text. It should also entice students to want to read the story.

2. Next, Jan guides the students to look through the book. They quickly look at the pictures and discuss who the characters are.

3. Jan reads a tricky language structure in the book (“Go away, Rosie.”) and then has the students repeat the language. It is very important to both say and have the student repeat unusual or new language structures in a book.

4. Next, Jan prepares the students for a difficult new word in the book: away. They clap the parts and locate the word. Preparing students for a word that may be difficult to decode can be very helpful. At Level D, students are just learning how to problem solve new words beyond the first letter. Clapping and looking at the word will help prepare them to successfully decode the word when they start reading.

5. Jan has the students turn and talk about one of the pages. I love this tactic. It gives all the students an opportunity to speak and share ideas about the story. It doesn’t take long and everyone gets to talk.

6. Next, Jan tells students that Bella is going to make a growling sound and she demonstrates how it should sound. This helps students build meaning and fluency.

7. The last thing Jan does before they start reading is have them locate a new sight word: this. Since the word is probably new to the students and shows up on almost every page, it will be a helpful word for them to know before they start reading. At early reading levels, I always recommend doing this. Jan’s introduction is brisk and lively. She doesn’t have long discussions about each page but gives students a quick opportunity to see and think about what is happening in the book. They are all ready to read the story! Before you watch the video, you might want to read Bella’s Bone online. I hope you find the video as helpful as I do. 

Comments | Posted in Michele Dufresne's Teaching Tips By Michele Dufresne

Most teachers agree, handwriting is important – but lots of things are important and it is hard to get it all in. Should you take precious time away from other learning activities to teach children how to print? Yes! Lots of children struggle and make letters in the craziest of ways. Sometimes their letters end up backwards, off the line or just hard to read. Children need to be taught the correct ways to make letters. Every day, spend one or two minutes on how to form letters. If you do not have a handwriting program at your school I suggest Handwriting Without Tears or this handy guide from Jan Richardson’s book, The Next Step to Guided Reading.  

Letter Formation - Pioneer Valley Books


1 Comments | Posted in Michele Dufresne's Teaching Tips By Michele Dufresne

Michele Dufresne

Soon the fall catalogs will be rolling in and you may be thinking about what new books to purchase for your students to read. Selecting the right books for teaching beginning readers can be challenging. There are so many different books on the market. Here is a handy list of features to look out for:

Interesting stories

Even a level A book can have a story or something interesting to be learned. Children need to understand from the get-go that they are reading for meaning.

Sight words 

Beginners need to see the same words many times in many different contexts to start building a core of words they know and use. I never use books with silly made-up words (The truck click clack, click clacked down the road.) or books without full sentences (The duck. The frog. The pond.)

Supportive font, spacing, and layout

I look for books with a simple font—no serifs or strange shapes that can confuse beginners. Beginners need large spacing between words. And, this is a bit trickier to look for, but sentences need to be broken up by phrases. Text broken in the right places supports phrased and fluent reading.

So something like this is not good:
The little boy went down the 

It should be:
The little boy
went down the street

Good illustrations

The photographs or pictures should be engaging and supportive.

Books to Recommend

Lots of publishers are doing a good job with all of this. Some books I use again and again are the PM Readers from Rigby. (I especially love Rigby's Baby Bear stories.) I also really like the Handprint books (EPS). One of my favorite books is Zip Me Up, a story about a little fox trying to get help from his family. Reading Reading Books has a growing collection of books that work great with beginning readers. The new stories about a pet spider are super cute.

And, of course, Pioneer Valley Books are written with beginning readers in mind. You can count on your students begging to reread any of the Bella and Rosie stories, and there are lots more characters students love and a growing collection of nonfiction books to select from.

Michele Dufresne is author of many Pioneer Valley Books early readers (including the Bella and Rosie series),Word Solvers (Heinemann), and an early literacy and literacy intervention consultant.

Follow Michele Dufresne on Twitter.

Comments | Posted in Michele Dufresne's Teaching Tips By Michele Dufresne

Use a Personal Word Wall During Guided Writing

It’s not unusual for students to correctly spell a word in isolation but forget that same word during writing. It happens because young learners are thinking about so many things while they write. They’re trying to remember their sentence, thinking about forming letters correctly, saying words slowly so they can hear and record sounds in sequence, and trying to remember to put a period at the end of the sentence. When students are reading at level H and higher, you can give them a personal word wall to use during their guided writing. The words are listed in alphabetical order so they can find them quickly, and there is only one page so they don’t get overwhelmed. Prompt them to use the word wall when they aren’t sure how to spell a word, and praise them when you see them using the word wall without your prompting. I often draw a star at the top of a student’s paper whenever he or she does something I value. I’ll say, “I like the way you used your word wall. I’m going to give you a star!” Don’t be surprised if eavesdroppers in the group start using their word walls, too. They truly want to please you.

Jan Richardson is an educational consultant and author of the popular title The Next Step in Guided Reading. Read more of her tips for Guided Writing on her website.

Comments | Posted in Jan Richardson's Teaching Tip By Pioneer Valley Books
Pioneer Valley Books was honored with an award from the 58th Annual New England Book Show, held in Boston, Massachusetts. The award was for the six new Who Can Read? iPad leveled book reader apps.Read More
Comments | Posted in Press Releases By Pioneer Valley Books
Pioneer Valley Books launches I Love to Read, a book series to be used by parents to encourage reading at home.Read More
Comments | Posted in Press Releases By Pioneer Valley Books

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