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Partnering Up

Mar 14, 2019 2:45:00 PM

Intervention PartnerSome children learn to read almost effortlessly, and others seem to struggle endlessly. I recently started working with a little guy in first grade named Cayden. Halfway through the year, he had pretty much given up. While the other students in his class were engaged in reading and writing, Cayden had perfected the art of avoiding both as much as possible. 

His classroom teacher said to me, “He just can’t remember!” His special education teacher echoed the same, saying, “I have been working on the same five sight words for three weeks, and he still can’t remember them.”  

Here is a video of Cayden reading a simple level B book. You can see that he does not have one-to-one matching established, but he is using the pictures and for the most part is able to carry the pattern of the text. 

How can we help Cayden?

It is almost impossible to teach a student to read if they don’t want to learn. But what makes a child not want to learn? They believe they can’t! Not only do his teachers think Cayden can’t remember anything—Cayden believes it too! He has told me so on many occasions. The first step is to find a way for the student to succeed. Teaching the same five words over and over again, with the student failing at learning each time, is not helpful.  

After assessing Cayden, I found he did know a few words that he could write and recognize in print. Next I arranged for Cayden to see those words again and again, as I knew they would teach him how to monitor or check on his reading. Not all of the words showed up in his books (for example, the names Pop and Cayden), so we wrote some books together, and I used BookBuilder Online to make him some books. Here is a BookBuilder story called Hats that I used with Cayden. This little book provided a breakthrough: he started looking at the print! You too can personalize a book in this way for one of your students.  

The other important message for Cayden and other struggling readers (and their teachers) is that there are ways to help students remember. Thinking about what would make sense and what sounds right helps. Also, making the first sound of the word helps call it up. We need to build on students’ strengths. Both teachers were using “decode-able” text with Cayden (a district requirement). But the books did not sound like spoken language, so Cayden couldn’t use his oral language to help anticipate what would sound right. And the weak story lines didn’t help him to think about what would made sense. Struggling students need to be given text that allows them to use all sources of information. The more we take away, the harder it gets! 

As teachers, we need to be partners together in helping our students read. Cayden’s classroom teacher and special education teacher have begun to set goals together and work in tandem. It is most unhelpful for Cayden to work on one thing in his classroom and then work on something very different with his special education teacher. Consider the teaching of sight words. Yes, he really needs to develop a core group of words he knows, but for him to be successful, his teachers need to start with just one. Furthermore, all his teachers need to work on that one word until Cayden knows it.  

To accomplish this with Cayden, we used Jan Richardson’s four steps to teach the word. Then we reviewed each sight word daily! Finally, we made sure each word we were teaching showed up in many of his books and that he used it when writing. To ensure success, teachers need to provide the same echoes across their reading lessons.

Cayden is making progress. Yes, that progress is slow, but he is no longer completely discouraged. He is enjoying reading and loves writing. Recently, he read Splashing Dad with me—a level C book. His teachers are collaborating, and both are seeing progress. I feel very hopeful.

I have been thinking a lot about how to help teachers better collaborate with each other. I am excited to announce the Literacy Footprints Intervention Partner that will be ready in April. A big thank-you to the schools and teachers who piloted the program and provided us with such great feedback and data.  

In the pilot, classroom teachers used Literacy Footprints and the intervention teachers used Intervention Partner to provide struggling readers with books with similar characters, sight words, and language structures. The Word Study lessons provided an echo, with similar concepts being taught, which in turn helped those students consolidate new learning.  

The data coming in shows us that there is great power in working together. Whether you are a Reading Recovery teacher, a classroom teacher, an ELL teacher, or a special education teacher, we all need to partner up. Together we can make a difference!


0 Comments | Posted By Michèle Dufresne

Summer Reading — It Matters!

May 30, 2018 10:07:06 AM

We don’t need tons of research to tell us that some of our students lose ground over the summer because they aren’t reading. We see it in classrooms at the start of each new school year. Students from low-income families often experience the most summer slide because they often lack access to books during nonschool times (Allington et al., 2010). This can contribute to a large achievement gap after several years.

How can we make sure that all of our kids have access to books over the summer? Here are a few ideas for you to ponder:

1. Create a lending library. Put together packs of books for students to take home over the summer. You might be concerned that you won’t get the books back, but I haven’t experienced this. Record the titles, put them into a study bag, and they will come back, maybe even a bit worn from being read! If possible, have students help choose their books, but guide them toward picking texts they will be able to read nearly independently.

library drop box

2. Take a field trip to the library with your students, and see if you can get parents to join you. Once there, help students learn where to find books they can read and enjoy. During my first few years of teaching, I was lucky to be in walking distance of the library. I took my students there often and found that they learned to love borrowing books and became avid library users.

3. Create a book giveaway program. Many schools have gotten creative and worked with their local community and state to provide books for students to keep. Book ownership is very powerful and can make an impact beyond your students since reads often get passed to younger siblings and other family members.  Research has shown that book distribution programs can improve attitudes toward reading (Lindsay, 2010). This, in turn, increases the volume of reading.

4. Have a book fair. Students love selecting their own books. Take care of students who don’t have funds by arranging for donations to ensure everyone gets to purchase some books. However, make sure each student’s selection is only reading materials. I am always sad when a student uses their limited funds to buy a poster or other nonbook item.

5. Have a book swap. Get students to bring in old books they no longer want and encourage trading.

6. Make free BookBuilder Online stories at This Pioneer Valley Books site lets you create personalized books for students that you can print and send home. The variety of leveled texts meets the needs of many early readers.

beach book bag

7. Send a letter home to parents with tips on how to encourage their children to read over the summer. I like suggesting that they keep baskets of books in the car, in the bathroom, and next to their child’s bed.

8. Call or send a postcard to students later in the summer. Tell them about what you are reading and ask how they are enjoying their books!

Most of all, encourage your students to have fun reading! Just like many of us often look forward to an entertaining beach read, our students need reading to be a pleasurable and easy experience that keeps them coming back to books!

Happy summer!




Allington, R.L., McGill-Franzen, A., Camilli, G., Williams, L., Graff, J., Zeig, J., Zmach, C., & Nowak, R. (2010). Addressing summer reading setback among economically disadvantaged elementary students. Reading Psychology, 31(5), 411–427.

Lindsay, J. (2010). Children’s access to print material and education-related outcomes: Findings from a meta-analytic review. Naperville, IL: Learning Point Associates.

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

In my latest video blog, I'm diving deeper into the Word Study part of a guided reading lesson and sharing some tips about using Making Words. I've also created the helpful handout below. It includes sample Making Words lessons for levels A through G.


Making Words handout


Want to see Making Words in action? Check out this terrific free video on to see literacy expert Jan Richardson working with a group of emergent readers. You can find all of the magnetic trays and letters she and the students are using on the Teaching Tools page at

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Sound boxes can be powerful tools for helping students learn how to hear and record sounds in words. Using them can lead to greater independence in writing and improve students’ ability to use phonics and decoding strategies when reading. In this video blog, I discuss using sound boxes during guided writing. You can also download the handout below with sample word study lessons to use in your own guided writing activities.  

Sound Boxes handout


You can find the Sound Box Card, Plastic Write-On Sleeve, and Literacy Footprints Kindergarten Journal used in the video at the Pioneer Valley Books website. Also, follow this link to watch my first video blog about using sound boxes during word study.

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Hello everyone! I hope you enjoyed my January video tip about when to encourage students to use their reading finger and when to have them stop. This month, I’m following up on that post with another video blog. I’m sharing my thoughts about students who have difficulty tracking and the best ways to support them.

Eagle-eyed viewers may wish to follow along with my video in The Ugly Duckling; you can view the book for free via the “Read Online” tab. You can also find the Reader Windows on Pioneer Valley Books’ website.

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This month, I'm sharing tips via video! How can you get students to use one-to-one matching? Check out this video for concrete advice about helping readers at levels A, B, C, and beyond. I also discuss when students should use their reading finger and when they should put it away.

Interested in getting a closer look at the books in the video? You can preview I Can Do It (level A/1), Vehicles (B/2), Come Here, Puppy (C/3), or The Three Little Pigs (C/4) online for free. Just click on the "Read Online" tab on each book's page.

Best wishes to you and your students on your reading journey!

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Do you have students in your classroom who are not easily discouraged and pick themselves up and try again even when something is hard? It’s great working with these students. But what about the other kind of students, the ones that can’t seem to stick with anything and are easily discouraged? I recently finished reading Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. It made me think that it’s possible to help these easily discouraged students gain what Angela terms grit. How do we teach kids that their own efforts can improve their future? 

I found many takeaways in Angela’s book, but one is how guided reading is a perfect opportunity to provide what the author calls deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is something that successful people use to improve performance in all aspects of life.

Here are the basic requirements:

1. A clearly defined stretch goal

In guided reading, each part of the lesson should be planned to provide a stretch goal. The book choice needs to be not too easy or too hard. That means that students will need some help from you to read it but not a ton of assistance. Yes, this is tricky, something that’s easier done in a Reading Recovery lesson when you are matching a book to one reader instead of a group. But you can do this! Start by carefully assessing the book you plan to use. Look for all the places it might be too hard and consider your book introduction as a way to reduce confusion and prepare students for these challenges.

2. Full concentration and effort

Students need to be fully engaged in and concentrate on their reading. Note that this does not happen during round-robin reading when a student may only pay attention to the page they are going to read. In guided reading, everyone reads the book. All of it! 

3. Immediate and informative feedback

You play a critical role. As students read, you will provide that immediate and informative feedback to individuals. Prompt students to notice things they overlook and praise them for good processing. This is crucial—the guided part of guided reading! Take a look at this video from a guided reading lesson with The Gingerbread Boy, a Level C book. Notice the level of scaffolding I provided to this group of emergent readers, especially the first boy. I gave more and more support as he needed it.

4. Repetition with reflection and refinement

As you listen to and support each student while they read, take notes on what further instruction is necessary. Provide opportunities for students to read the book, gain fluency, and practice what they learned now that it is easier. Use the information you gathered to so some teaching after the reading and plan future guided reading lessons.


You can help your students gain grit and tenacity that is so important for success in life. Angela’s research found that we can help students understand that if you try, you can learn to embrace challenges rather than fear them. We can increase our students’ grit!

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Many years ago, I was sitting in the Columbus, Ohio, airport after presenting at the National Reading Recovery conference. I eavesdropped on a conversation across the aisle, and that’s how I met Maryann McBride, a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader from Virginia. She was showing Excel data about Reading Recovery students to a group of teachers sitting next to her. From that first encounter, I discovered that Maryann is an amazing storyteller. She can even make a spreadsheet sound exciting, and this particular one made a profound impression on me. Maryann was collecting weekly data on Reading Recovery students’ text level and writing vocabulary from all the teachers she supported in her huge district. Maryann had started to use that data to pinpoint students who might not accelerate, even though they’d been in their intervention program just a few weeks. The data helped her make decisions about when more support was needed. I thought this might work for my site. My geographically diverse western Massachusetts region ranged from a small disadvantaged urban district to tiny hill-town schools in the Berkshire mountains. I used Maryann’s techniques to help my team drastically improve our ability to support teachers.

The important thing about data is that we use it to help us make informed decisions. Too often data is used just to judge success or failure. Many teachers have shared their experiences with me over the years, and I’m excited to pass their data-driven methods on to you.

Let’s start with one from Amy Ferris, who collected data and used it to improve individual student reading and writing opportunities. Amy is a literacy interventionist in a kindergarten-only school in Richmond, Kentucky. A large number of their students come to school with meager letter knowledge. This past summer, Amy attended Jan Richardson’s and my Literacy Footprints Institute. Amy’s school also began using the Literacy Footprints guided reading system that Jan and I developed. In the video below, Amy shares the data that she and her colleagues began to collect this fall and the results they are getting using Literacy Footprints strategies. I love the outside-the-box thinking that Amy and her team are using and I think you will too!

If you’d like to see the letter tracing technique that Amy talks about, check out Jan Richardson’s demonstration of it on in the ABC Book video on You can also find the student-sized ABC book used in the video on

A second data story comes from Julie Allsworth. Julie is a former literacy coach in Pinellas County, Florida, and also a Pioneer Valley Books consultant. She is currently working on her doctorate and regularly consults with school districts nationwide. Here, Julie shares her findings in her own words:



Julie Allsworth

“In my work with districts and schools in various states, I have found that the most successful students receive guided reading on a daily basis, and their teachers methodically utilize Literacy Footprints lessons. Students are instructed in reading strategies and behaviors, the appropriate level of word study, sight words tracked on the high-frequency chart, and scaffolded guided writing.

In addition, it is very important that students who read below grade level receive two daily doses of Tier 2 instruction; that is the only way to close their learning gaps. In addition to any other intervention the student receives, the classroom teacher also needs to provide daily guided reading for the struggling reader. Two doses of Literacy Footprints per day will do the trick and close struggling readers’ learning gaps.

Data from the schools I have worked with shows the effectiveness of the Literacy Footprints program. In one rural Tennessee school, 75% of students came into kindergarten labeled 'at-risk'; those students received two Beginner Steps lessons per day and completed the alphabet tracing routine daily. After one year of guided reading instruction, ALL of those 'at-risk' kindergartners entered first grade reading on grade level. At a Wisconsin school I advised, struggling readers received guided reading twice a day. After one year of using Literacy Footprints, the school reduced special education referral rates in kindergarten through second grade from 7–8% to just 1.37%.

My data also directed me to solutions for students who cannot be seen by an interventionist, Reading Recovery teacher, or a Title teacher for a second daily dose of reading instruction. In those cases, teachers should utilize the 10-minute one-on-one lesson plan. Data from that same Wisconsin school showed that many students eligible for Reading Recovery services who received the 10-minute lesson in place of Reading Recovery (due to limited resources) were able to reach grade-level reading proficiency by the end of first grade. These students received a second dose of guided reading daily from classroom teachers who utilized the 10-minute plan in a one-on-one lesson. Lo and behold, their learning gaps had closed at the end of first grade! Following Literacy Footprints and giving students two daily doses of guided reading lessons can undoubtedly help students to reach grade-level proficiency in reading and close their learning gaps!”



I hope these stories inspire you and your team to look at your data and think about what you can learn from it. What changes might you make to improve your students’ access to and knowledge of literacy?

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Early on in the reading process, it is important to teach students to check the accuracy of their reading by using visual information. They accomplish this by checking the first letter of a word. As students progress in their reading, they will encounter larger, more difficult words, so they’ll need to check beyond that first letter.

There are a few places in a guided reading lesson where you can demonstrate how to check the visual information. In the video below, Dr. Michal Taylor, a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader and literacy consultant, works with students who are reading The Shoemaker and the Elves, a level H book.

As part of the book introduction, you can see that Michal has students locate some new, challenging words. She tells them, “Your eyes have to check what your ears can hear.” Michal explains to the students (and observing teachers) just how to do this. She asks the students what letter they expect to see in the beginning of the word leather. She also helps them determine how many parts there are in the word beautiful and has them look for those pieces. This demonstration helps students learn how they can check larger, more complex words.

Next, students begin to read their new book. It is an important part of the guided reading lesson to have each student read the book themselves; this is never a time for round-robin reading! As each student reads, take the opportunity to listen and do individual teaching based on what you see them doing. Notice that Michal helps students use what she taught them as they read the text.

Michal has been a wonderful resource for so many teachers and classrooms. If your school needs support in implementing guided reading, you can reach out to her or any other Pioneer Valley Books consultants here. Each member of that team has a wealth of educational experience and would be happy to help tailor sessions to meet your needs.

I hope all of you are enjoying a good school year! Many hurricanes have interrupted school days and, in some cases, damaged your schools. I wish everyone a swift recovery.

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Learning to Cross-Check

Sep 11, 2017 10:44:25 AM

Beginning readers need to learn to check one kind of information with another; this is called cross-checking. Students might check meaning (via the picture) with visual information (via the first letter of the word). They also may check that the words they say match the number of words they point to. Cross-checking leads to self-correction or, at the very least, helps students to stop and notice when something isn’t right. This step is an important part of developing a strong processing system. As teachers, we need to set up opportunities for students to cross-check and then teach, prompt, and reinforce it.

Text selection plays a critical role in supporting students’ ability to cross-check. To help, I wrote Dad and Name Clean the House, a new free BookBuilder Online story that I hope you will find useful. Many guided reading books at level B have a pattern that includes two lines of text on each page, but this one works a bit differently. Each page shows something that Dad can do and then the next one demonstrates what the named boy can do. You can create your own version by adding a familiar boy’s name, and students can check the picture to know if it is the boy or Dad doing the cleaning. Students should be able to cross-check two early known words: the name and Dad. This will help them know if they are reading correctly and should give students a solid foothold in the text.

If a student makes a mistake, try prompting them for cross-checking as they read by saying, It could be _______, but look at ______. and point to the first letter in the word they misread. You can also ask, Were you right?, both when they are correct and when they’re not.

In a guided reading lesson at the emergent level (A to C), you might do a teaching point focused on cross-checking after students finish reading the book. Try folding back the picture, ask students to read the page, and talk about using the first letter to check. In this clip, watch literacy expert Jan Richardson show how this can work with the book Bella's Busy Day.

Marie Clay tells us, When a teacher pays attention to cross-checking, the child is more likely to engage in it. Her attention to it shows the child that she values the checking behaviors. Jan’s work with these students provides a terrific demonstration of Clay’s words.

Wishing you a great start to the new year!

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Learning to compare and contrast different ideas deepens students’ understanding of what they read. How should you begin? Have students think of a question that compares and contrasts concepts, characters, or story elements. This can work for both fiction and nonfiction books. You can introduce this during a whole-class read aloud. You might ask students to compare two characters in a story. How are Frog and Toad alike? How are they different? They can also compare two different stories they have heard. How are the story elements in Cinderella like the elements in Sleeping Beauty? Comparing and contrasting key ideas in nonfiction may present some challenges. However, learning this strategy will help students better understand increasingly complex text they read as they advance through grade levels. How are frogs and toad similar? How are they different? You can have students practice asking a question to a partner and having the partner answer it after they finish reading.

In the video below, literacy expert Jan Richardson begins by making a chart with second graders. The chart compares and contrasts two different kinds of deer in All About Deer, a nonfiction Explore the World book they read. Students then pick two deer and write about how they are the same and how they are different. Note how Jan first models how to do the task and then supports students as they make their charts and then begin writing. She provides extra support with the Yellow Questions card from our Comprehension Box Set.

For more information and other ways to practice this comprehension strategy, see page 275 in Jan’s book The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading. I hope you’ll find it to be a useful tool for your developing readers!


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One of the most important things for an emergent reader to learn is to check that what they read makes sense, looks right, and sounds right. This is called self-monitoring. Often the teacher does the monitoring for the student, but it is critical that students learn to check themselves.

One of the first ways that students begin to self-monitor is matching a finger up to words. When they don’t find enough words or they see too many, you may notice them going back and rereading to match the book’s words to their own. That is self-monitoring, and it’s important to praise this behavior. Try saying I like the way you went back to make that match! or something similar.

To be able to self-monitor, a student needs some footholds in the text. They don’t need to know every word, but it is very important that they begin to learn some. Children often learn to recognize their name early in their reading. That’s why I like to use level A and B BookBuilder Online stories, which can be personalized to include familiar names. A student’s name can provide that necessary foothold in print.

Students also need to use the first letter of a word. They can cross-check the letter sound with the image on the page. Is that picture a pony or a horse? It starts with a p-p-p sound, so the word must be pony!

I have lots of fun spending time with my four-and-a-half-year-old grandson Jaxson, who is in the very earliest stages of learning to read. His mother asked me, “Isn’t he just memorizing the stories?” Yes, a lot of Jaxson’s reading is memorized, but along the way he’s beginning to learn things about print. By arranging opportunities, he learns more each time we read together. Take a look at this video where he reads one of Pioneer Valley Books’ titles, Dad Is at Work.

Jaxson has read quite a few stories with the word dad and I have encouraged him to make dad (using a model) with magnetic letters several times. After reading the book, we wrote a short story about his dad on a sentence strip. Jaxson wrote most of the first letters in each word. His story is My dad is a dad. (A bit of behind-the-scenes trivia: Jaxson’s dad is my son Nick, who appears in many of classic Pioneer Valley Books stories such as The Pie and The Little Cousins Visit. Nick created the BookBuilder program and currently acts as the company’s IT Manager in addition to his all-important role as dad!)

After writing the story on the sentence strip, I cut it up and had Jaxson put it back together. In the video, watch Jaxson read the book to Papa and then put the cut-up sentence together again. See how Jaxson uses the word dad to self-monitor.

As you look toward the new school year and and working with emergent readers, consider how you might create opportunities for students to learn to self-monitor. Here are a few ideas:


1. Teach students a few very useful sight words they can use as footholds in the print. Make sure to use books where they will see those words again and again.

2. Encourage students to cross-check the initial sound with the picture. How did you know it says pony and not horse?

3. Praise students for noticing when something isn’t right, not just for getting it right!


Hope you’re having a relaxing summer!



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Teaching students how to locate cause and effect in the text can help them learn how to analyze relationships between people, events, and ideas. To begin, introduce cause and effect to students using very simple stories. Familiar tales such as The Three Little Pigs can provide a great starting point. After reading the book, ask students, What caused the wolf to blow down the first little pig’s house? (They’ll be able to tell you that the little pig did not let him come in).

Once students read at level N or higher, you can begin to ask them to think of their own What caused questions. Prepare your lesson by writing What caused on some sticky notes, then placing one on a few pages in each student’s book. After they finish reading a page, ask students to write a What caused question on the sticky note.

The video below shows a lesson from the new Literacy Footprints Third Grade guided reading system, which will be available in fall 2017. Here you’ll see Jan Richardson working with a group of third graders in North Carolina using Trains, a level N book. This was the first time these students worked with cause and effect in their guided reading lesson. Notice how Jan models the cause-effect strategy on the first page. As students read, Jan supported them and had them create their own What caused questions on their sticky notes. As you can see, encouraging students to use this strategy as they read really helped. Each student had a better understanding of the text, which had many new or unfamiliar concepts.

For more about teaching cause and effect, see page 276 of Jan’s book The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading. To learn more about the Literacy Footprints Third Grade kit, visit

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Here in New England, the school year is winding down, and many students are about to head off for a summer away from the classroom. As teachers well know, students who read during their time away from school are much more likely to hold on to those crucial reading skills. Fortunately, there are tons of simple ways to encourage students and families to read over the summer. Here are a few:

Camping Fun book-Create free personalized books from BookBuilder Online. Just add your student's name, plus the names of important people in the student’s life, then print out the story. Books can be easily assembled and taken home for the summer. You can even point parents to the site for new books if their child is looking for more challenges after a few weeks.


-Join the summer reading program at your local library. Kids can borrow a wide range of books for free and maybe even try a subject or genre that’s new to them. Many programs also host creative hands-on learning experiences. One of our local libraries invites kids to practice reading aloud to the librarian’s dog! See what yours has to offer.


-Encourage students to keep track of what they read over the summer in a reading log. Download our log or create one with students during those final school days.


-Provide students with a special set of books to read and work with over the summer. You can select your own from your book closet or check out our nine super Summer Reading Sets. The eight-book sets feature carefully chosen titles for Levels A/1 through N/21 and include a convenient take-home book bag. They're perfect for long rides in the car or toting on vacation.

Summer Reading Set 6

These activities can make a big difference for students when they return to new classrooms and teachers in the fall, but there are many others. What summer reading ideas are your favorites for students?







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

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

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