Have you heard this urban legend about the vowels who go walking?

Have you heard this urban legend about the vowels who go walking?

Phonics rules are the stuff that may drive early literacy teachers to crave carbs, refreshing beverages in quantities like vats, and linguistic experts a pulpit on which to profess.

My personal philosophy on phonics is one that includes threading the work through reading (text and books) and writing (personal and purpose assigned).  However, there are times when teaching skills in isolation, like priming an athlete to increase their speed as a sprinter or to smooth out their strokes as a swimmer.  Marie’s teachings and videos will offer options galore for your literacy tool kit.

The video below explains why you’re wrong when you teach the rule when two vowels go walking – spread the word – it is an urban legend!

When Two Vowels Go Walking

Marie Rippel is my new crush for all things literacy related. I can’t even tell you how I tripped upon her gem offerings! I’m on her email list. I receive regular videos that are to the point and pack a wallop of information to apply immediately in my practice. I love finding an expert who ups my game. Marie does just this through her fun, light, and informative videos.  Her about page which includes a video shares her reasons for her All About Learning Press Business.

Her Facebook business page is an ocean of information that could be applied to your homeschool or classroom.

The video link on the left side All About Learning Press will have you drinking in education like you are in the front row of university level classes to shoot your literacy practice into mastery level gear. Videos include phonics, sounding out words, syllables, books, reading with expression, and a library full more!

As a reading specialist for more than seventeen years, I’m not only getting refreshed but getting my brain infused with even better knowledge!

Marie is of course in business (we are not affiliated) she sells curriculum, currently, on my wish list, I just have to pick out which one!

Even if you’re a linguistic expert from birth you’ll want Marie’s gifts for practical application with your child/ren or students.

Reading Recovery: How your first grader will learn to read and write

Reading Recovery: How your first grader will learn to read and write

Reading Recovery is a diamond in the rough of literacy instruction. Nearly all best literacy practices in schools, when peeled opened, will find Marie Clay’s Reading Recovery intervention at their core.

Reading Recovery is a letters and sounds to reading and writing excellence action full practice that will have your little one reading in a short time, with joy and confidence.

Marie Clay like any bold and brilliant woman created a legacy for this earth. She observed how children learned to read FOR HOURS! Imagine her bill for prescriptions to relieve her headaches! With that work she created Reading Recovery.

Reading Recovery is an ocean deep intervention for first-grade readers. It teaches children how to read and write. It gives children the confidence to read and write. It gives children the tools to actively participate in reading.

Trained Reading Recovery teachers are the most skillful reading teachers on the planet.

With anything practice that is truly phenomenal and worth your while, you’ve got to dig a bit to find this beauty. You don’t land on the best heart surgeon, best price for jewelry, or best mate without some work.  Now that you have landed on this gem set up a call with me and we will figure out how to create a tutoring schedule for your first grader.

How to Teach Reading: Summer Slide with Tracking Devices

How to Teach Reading: Summer Slide with Tracking Devices

Dripping with sarcasm like the popsicle you are holding in the hot sun…

Guess what term made it into the mass market following NCLB (No Child Left Behind) aka (No Capitalist Corporation ever to Lose Billions)? Summer slide.

When NCLB took a grip on the US, publishing companies capitalistic prowess were primed for production and endless amounts of cash by way of testing products, new series for every content area and grade, training materials, and tools for the trade. Though NCLB was replaced by Every Student Succeeds aka Ever Sucking System, it still lingers in the air like the stench of a compressing trash truck’s drippings.

No longer are children, children, but now data descriptors such as proficient, average, underperforming or meeting standard, approaching standard, or not there yet aka a moron (how did such a child even make it into 5th grade?)

Summer slide has smoothly moved its way into educational vernacular like assessment, testing, anxiety, ADHD, restraint, evaluation, not making progress, and the like.

I do not agree with summer slide though it is a very catchy term that makes you envision a slide into a pool on a warm summer day with a giggling child slipping down into a big splash along with the massive smile and bursting scream (more on the slide into the pool later).  

Teachers have subscribed to it; they now send home mounds of work for students that include tracking devices (not literally but just enough sign here to qualify) parents feel guilty and risk their relationship with their child so as not to have the school board knocking on their door on September 1.  

Parents have subscribed to it, thinking their child will be a cut above by burning them straight through the summer to win those extra credits, pizza day, and a special visit to the principal’s office for a gold plated trophy (shaming fully intended for those students who had actually enjoyed a summer).

Administrators love it because they get to crap on their teachers more, requiring more items for teachers – tacked on to that ever growing list of things to do.  Can you guess the one list name that teachers don’t keep? List of tasks to eliminate, dump, and trash.

List of tasks to

eliminate, dump, and trash.

dump, and trash.

and trash.

Summer time is for sliding into self-directed learning through play – whatever tweens and teens are drawn to for playing. It is for finding that neighbor or friend who HAS the pool slide and going down it again and again and again! Shouting out as the cool water hits their desperately pale skin (from no more recess or outdoor activity).

I recall seeing a group of boys in the tween – teenage bracket at the beach. They tumbled freely down the dunes, shoved each other, laughed, then climbed up the dunes for more.  I thought to myself about the importance of freedom and play that is necessary to meet the challenges of school institutionalization (yes I have my opinions about that too).

The school systems of the US public schools have become testing behemoths.  The testing schedule and rigors are all consuming.  Fun has been sucked out of nearly every grade level because of the expectations on teachers (often linked to pay, job security, and performance ratings) to turn out peak performance test results and for students to produce these results (no matter what).

Shoot for this summer slide: socialization, games, sports, outdoor exploration, races, camps, family connection, and summertime traditions: grilling out, who can spit the watermelon seed the farthest, family football or catch, carefree-ness, neighborhood gatherings, late nights and less scheduling. And, of course reading

You may be thinking I’m way to off to one side on this matter – perhaps I am.  Here’s what summer time needs in the way of academics: reading for choice not assignment, journaling, building with wood all the while measuring, science – mixing liquids to make potions, getting a summer time job walking the dog or cutting the grass – money management, banking/financing/investing, picking up chess or poker – math; learning to save, invest, count, strategy, patience, learning a new skill, money. Open your minds to summer and what learning is in store, that is the summer slide; the slide of life.

Hate what I wrote – great! Email me heidi@EducatorOnFire.com – be sure to blast me with equal parts sarcasm and disdain

LOVE what I wrote – great! Email me heidi@EducatorOnFire.com – be sure to pile on the compliments so my self-esteem remains steady (because self-esteem comes from others, right??)

How to Teach Literacy – by making it…

How to Teach Literacy – by making it…

… fun, engaging, hands-on, and conversational.

Intentionally teaching literacy is important. Unintentionally teaching literacy is also important.  What do I mean by unintentional – in a way that allows more freedom for students and you more time to observe what they know through listening and speaking.

There is tremendous pressure to instruct every minute.  Where is the research on constant time on task?  Where are the outcomes that point in the direction of optimum success when you apply continuous pressure to academics?

I worked in a district where the play, the joy, and the creativity of education was slowly sucked out each and every year. Afterschool and lunch time programs (why would you take a student’s lunch time away for more academics?) to shove more testing prep into the already drained brains of overworked students.  The result –  extend the school day.  This district has not seen any benefit to the colossally misled thinking that extra time on task equals better academic performance.

I propose to you that you find fun, engaging, hands-on, and conversational ways of instructing, whenever possible because the default will always be your voice speaking with the expectation that your students are listening and will simply apply your instructional words to the task.

The best elementary educational experience I had was 5th-grade science camp.  Do you want to know why? I was free to learn not required. I have strong memories of the activities, catching salamanders, walking to the “mess-hall” with my friends and discussing the day’s events, drinking bug juice, learning to tie knots efficiently, collaborating with my classmates on hikes, asking questions with curiosity among the trees and streams.

While it may not be possible to have this every day, why not seek moments, especially this spring.  Work in minutes where you go outside and collect rocks, count them, stack them, discuss balance; how to get the rocks to balance. Climb rocks if possible – could you get to a nearby playground or take a quick field trip? Bring the mandatory worksheets if you have to – but get outside and allow for some unintentionally drinking in of knowledge through nature, space, and organic conversation.

Today I’m including pictures from a recent exploration. This is a nearby playground with rocks for climbing. While there, it occurred to me if climbing rocks is not possible – to collect rocks instead – all kinds of learning could take place with rocks. Some mentioned above.

Enjoy your instructional day and your students will too.  Particularly boys who crave movement – allow for the movement and get outdoors for some extra minutes!

Literacy instruction is comprised of listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  So often the former two are forgotten and undervalued. When is the last time you listened to your students? – just listened without responding or reacting?  When is the last time you observed your student’s speaking? – observed their vocabulary, storytelling, information knowledge

Simultaneously infuse your library with books from the library on all things rock-related!

Follow me on Instagram for active engagement ideas for your school day – @educatoronfire

[Freebie Inside] How to Teach Reading: Using Books and Baseball

[Freebie Inside] How to Teach Reading: Using Books and Baseball

I love visiting the library to refresh my library!

I love enlisting the help of my families to make the visit to the library (one less thing for my to-do list)!  Plus when families go to the library 3 things happen: 1) they usually bring their child/ren (which means your student, Michael) to explore the library and help select the books 2) Michael then gets invested in reading organically through this action step 3) it leads to organic show and tell happening in the classroom when Michael gets to bring those books to class!

Refresh your library with sports books for the spring! Sports are happening all over around anyhow – embrace the interest and activity that is going on outside of school and bring that joy and fun in!

Click here >>> BASEBALL for your free baseball template! After indulging in books about baseball – Students could write HFW (High-Frequency Words or Sight Words), or content/vocabulary words. Then, play memory, go fish, or create their own original games!

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How to Teach Children to Read: Early Literacy: Building Background

How to Teach Children to Read: Early Literacy: Building Background

For 17 years I grew in my expertise as a literacy specialist.

I remember a distinct planning session with a colleague about building background, (BB is how we labeled it on our lesson plans)

I spent a lot of that year figuring out and identifying just what was BB.

I was working in an urban school, deep in an urban school, if you know what I mean.  There was plenty of poverty, free school lunches, a transient community, struggle, second-language learners, and students who required background knowledge.

Background knowledge is information that is needed in order to access text. It is information teachers must incorporate into lessons, when necessary.

Here are 3 big takeaways for BB.


You must provide an entry to text or books for students who may have little to no idea about the content or ideas in the book you’re about to read.  You’ve got your class or group book selected, it is called, “The Amazing Ocean: Sea Animals that Rule the Deep”  You live in the middle of the United States or in the center of the United Kingdom. You get where I’m going with this…

You’ll want to build entry points to the text through:

1) A video of the ocean with sea life in action (you might even keep this video running) I’ve vetted this one – it is mesmerizing and could give students a real sense of being in the ocean witnessing sea life. Sure to spark conversation.

2) Pictures

3) Book selection with plenty of pictures to spark questions and curiosity; this will offer plenty of discussions to organically BB

4) Your shared experiences of the ocean

5) Families shared experiences of the ocean


Which directly piggybacks on ONE: BB is always on the move, as the literacy teacher to your students, you must continually look down the road to the next read, have your month mapped out, know what kinds of books, conversations, videos, pictures, and home connections you want to have in motion to integrate BB.


If possible, string BB through the content areas.

1) Math: insert ocean vocabulary; orca, squid, whale shark, plankton for example: Instead of Sally has… say or write in, Orca has… (do it, your students will love it!)

2) Science: draw the ocean and or sea life and label the parts or make a life cycle

3) Art or Music: include art or musical activities around sea life, act like sea life

4) Gym: incorporate some ocean language or movement into physical fitness for example: swim like a whale, move like a jellyfish

When you take the time to map out your month, you are better equipped to forward feed the information that will provide better access and successful reading to your students.

You won’t always need to BB.

Be mindful of when BB is needed and warranted to inform students for successful access to text, in a fun, active, and engaging way; across the student’s world – school, home, and social.

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How to Teach Children to Read: New Teachers

How to Teach Children to Read: New Teachers

I am astonished at what is going on and passing for literacy instruction in classes.   It is likely related to my years of experience.  So, I decided to take a look back… and I realized I was once that teacher.  I was once the new teacher of literacy with very little idea of how to instruct readers in the early/primary grades.

The evidence, which I hear, echoing in classrooms during literacy lessons, “Sound it out,” each time a student is stuck while reading, is similar to these most disliked sounds – nails on a chalkboard or a knife scraping a plate – that screech which is an enormous sign to STOP what you’re doing.

I remember my first hire as THE reading specialist, the only one!  I was on cloud nine.  I was walked to my room (a custodial closet, next to the girl’s bathroom, that was a catch-all for every outdated book that existed in that school and some highly toxic drain openers) I was unwavering in my excitement.  “I can make this work,” I thought, (as most teachers, every year, no matter her circumstances, especially in the primary grades).

My principal came to me one day, while I was dripping sweat from cleaning, to announce she had registered me for Reading Recovery. I would be committed to a year-long training.  I would begin that training during the summer, which meant I would lose one entire week of summer to Reading Recovery’s introduction and initial training days.

After my room set-up was complete, the most important part loomed, instruction.  In hindsight, I was clueless.  I was “running off”, which is code for copying, phonics lessons from books, I was copying passages with comprehension questions at the end, I was giving students word searches, alphabet papers, then notebooks. In the notebooks, I had kids writing out the alphabet, writing based on prompts like, “What I did over the weekend,” or, “How to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.” I told myself, I was doing my work well, because I had small groups and I could focus in on individual students.

The fact of the matter was, I had no foundation for understanding how children learn to read or the system which reading is based.

That year-long Reading Recovery training was the key, the door, the everything to “how to” teach literacy.

As a trained Reading Recovery (RR) teacher – twice over because I had a gap of two years where I was not actively instructing students, designing lessons, or attending continued professional development, as a RR teacher.  I consider myself well seasoned in the land of literacy for early/primary education/readers.

Are you graduating soon and stepping into your first teaching job in the early/primary grades?

Are you taking the plunge into homeschooling with your young ones?

I want to help you.  I have answers.  Click here for my freebie, “Three Powers to Help you be a Super-Hero-Reading-Teacher.”


[Continued] When Teachers are Mean or Bully

[Continued] When Teachers are Mean or Bully

I found myself in another situation where a teacher was a bully, a really mean overtly crude bully.  Not only did Pat bully teachers, she bullied students.  She bullied students in a way that made my toes curl, my insides wrench, my brain shut down.  Me, the adult, reduced to silence, again.  What I have learned over the years is that a bully needs to be confronted.  A bully needs to be revealed, the light needs to shine on that bully.

My classroom was next to hers, I once listened awe-struck as she berated a student in the snidest, most cunning, and ridiculing way.  I wanted to bust into her room. Again, I did nothing. (Gosh this hurts to write, do I even want to reveal this about myself?)

I was told a story, that Pat told a student to go stand with her face in the corner. It seemed this woman absolutely hated children.  It also seemed she absolutely hated herself.  She was completely round, face blotchy, she shuffled when she walked, the only food she consumed was microwaveable, and she was social with the staff.  Pat had a sense of humor.  I believe that sociability caused the other female teachers to say, “Well, she’s friendly, I get along with her, she’s fun to talk with…” This caused jaws to remain shut when it came to speaking up to her.

At least one parent a year pulled their child from her room.  At least one parent a year approached the principal about Pat’s wrath.  At least one parent a year had an all out argument with her, in public or plain view. Even the school secretary, who had tremendous power in the school, had an all out battle with Pat one day.  Did Pat lose her job? No.  Did she change? No.

I had a student, Ben, who was obviously with a learning difference, it wasn’t specifically defined as dyslexia as all the testing was in process, but he could not read and had great difficulty writing.  He was in first grade after a repeat of kindergarten. Ben’s vocabulary was extraordinary, defining or understanding words far beyond his years of living and the context of his world (he could define and talk about words like figurine, identify, and gregarious).  He could appear to be gazing into space, wiggling, jiggling, and distant, yet the moment a discussion started up about a book, a science topic, or a read aloud math equation, Ben had answers. He could dive in deep to explain his thinking, his connections, and identify answers verbally, easily.  Ben’s brilliance was noted by all teachers, except Pat.

One afternoon as I was leaving school. I walked by the slew of young ones diving through their backpacks for homework, books, and pencils.  They were preparing to enter after school homework help, where Pat awaited, in her rolling chair tucked behind the kidney table amidst a sea of hoarded materials.(I’m guessing many of you teachers know who I’m talking about.)

Ben looked at me with tears welling up. “Ms. Ross, I can’t go in there.  She is so mean to me. I can’t do my work.” The agony present in his voice, the distorted face, his small body all propelled me into Pat’s room.  Ben followed.

“Mrs. DeSalvo, Ben is worried. He has trouble reading and writing his work down.  He is able to tell me all of his answers when I ask him. I know he is capable of the work, the comprehension, or anything you ask him, however, he is not able to read directions or write it and needs help.  Could you ask him for his answers or …?”

“Oh, he’s full of it. I make him sit right here with me and stay on top of him the whole time, otherwise, all he does is play around and gets nothing done.”

“He is knowledgable, he knows the work.  It is difficult for him to read and write, though. I usually read the directions to him.  Often times he tells me his answer and I write it in highlighter so that he can trace over it.

“Ahh, no. He is pulling the wool over your eyes. He is perfectly capable of reading and writing, he just gets babied too much by all of you. That other one, Carrier, she babies him too. You’re all being fooled by him.”

“No, Mrs. DeSalvo.  He truly needs help.”

“Ben, sit down here, right now.”

Ben complied immediately, looking like a wounded animal waiting to die.

“Ben, I will see you tomorrow.  You can ask Mrs. DeSalvo or a friend if you need help reading or writing.”

This ended our exchange, and though I was proud of myself for actually speaking up on behalf of Ben, and going directly to Mrs. DeSalvo, I felt ruined inside. I knew that Ben would sit there in angst for an hour.

I cried the entire way home. I cried most of the night. I drank a large glass of wine. I picked up the phone and called Ale, the Family Engagement Coordinator, my co-worker, and my trusted friend.

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