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Monday, November 17, 2014

Building Vocabulary Through Reading-November 18, 2014

Dear Sexton Mt. Families:

There is nothing better than watching teachers teach and learners learn!  I happened to be in Mr. Pfaff’s room recently as he was teaching students to use context clues to understand the meaning of words.  He taught rich vocabulary and thinking skills by reading aloud to students then having them discuss. Mr. Pfaff pointed out that the author used the word scamper and scurry. He asked students to think about how the words were similar or different? He then reread a portion of the text with those words and had students quietly think about the meaning.

In the discussion that followed, students talked about the words and used EVIDENCE from the text to defend their thinking.  While all children were engaged in discussing the meaning of words with a partner and building shared vocabulary, Mr. Pfaff called on just a few kids to share with the whole group.  Here is one comment that reflected the type of thinking I heard. 

I thought scampering was not in a straight line  (from his spot on the carpet he moves his body back and forth to show his thinking of scamper) but it says,  ‘they scampered out from the sideboard carefully hugging the wall.   When I think about hugging the wall, they are going along the line of the wall so they are probably going in a straight line.

Our objective is to create life-time readers.  College and career ready students will continue to read and educate themselves through life. Reading aloud to students is a great source of brain building. The words a child hears helps the child make sense of written words later in life.  We read aloud to our children to inform, arouse curiosity and inspire.  Reading aloud creates background knowledge, builds a “book vocabulary and provides conditions for a child to associate reading with pleasure.  Because human beings are pleasure-centered, we want children to take JOY in reading so they do it often.  Reading is an accrued skill.  The more you read, the better you get.   Reading is the one skill that contributes to success in all other content areas. Readers must show a steadily growing ability to discern more from and make fuller use of text including making connections among ideas and between text, considering a wider range of textual evidence and becoming more sensitive to inconsistencies, ambiguities and poor reasoning in texts.

Mr. Pfaff’s lesson on using context clues to support a better understanding of words is a perfect example of a skill we want students to develop.  Imagine how joyless reading could become if every time an unknown word occurred, the reader had to stop and look the word up in a dictionary.  Imagine how long it would take to read directions for changing a furnace filter or instructions for putting on tire chains if you had to stop and look up each unfamiliar word.   Imagine your child as a college freshman, assigned 500 pages of reading for the week and not having the ability to efficiently read for deep meaning and understanding. 

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Language Arts  show the specific literacy skills and understandings required for college and career readiness in multiple dimensions.  The CCSS defines a grade-by-grade staircase of  increasingly complex skills students must obtain in order to be at the college or career readiness level by graduation.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment is based on the CCSS.  Third, fourth and fifth grade students will take this assessment this spring.   This will require students to construct responses using evidence from the text.  Here is an example of what students may be expected to do after reading a passage about hermit crabs.

Read the sentence and the directions that follow.
The hermit crabs in the ocean have learned to adapt to the changing housing situation.
Using details from the text, define the word adapt and explain how crabs have adapted.

I predict that since teachers are using read-aloud discussions, students will be able to find evidence in the text to support thinking about the definition of different words.   I’ve observed rich text-based discussions in kindergarten classes and beyond.  Please use the time you read aloud to your child for rich discussion.  Use audio books to spark conversation.   By age 5, students in homes where books are read and discussed have heard 45 million words compared to just 13 million in language poor homes.  Reading regularly helps close the gap.  That is why we do it at school and why we encourage you to read TO your child and WITH your child at home too.

I want to emphasize that CCSS are all about systematically building the skills and habits of mind needed in order to be successful in a wide range of post-secondary options. Rigorous standards beginning in kindergarten were designed to raise student proficiencies so the United States can better compete in a global market.  The standards provide uniform expectations for students across the country and they highlight the skills needed in real life.  Though I will include sample test questions throughout the year, it is important to remember that the skills are life-long skills.  While it’s important to know how they are assessed, the assessment is not as important as the skill and how it relates to life.

An enthusiastic pre-schooler left the building Monday morning with a few new books in hand.  She was VERY excited to start reading.  It’s this type of enthusiasm we hope to see in all our readers and it was clearly evident that her family has already started her on the right path.  The books she had were from Mrs. Bartlett’s class Book Sale.  The proceeds from this community service project will benefit homeless youth. A service project that allows books to be recycled into good homes while providing support for those in need is pretty cool.  I’m reminded daily that Sexton Mountain School is a great place to learn!  Thank you for sharing your children with us!


Dr. Teresa Clemens-Brower
a.k.a.  Mrs. C.-B.

Thank you!
·       Thanks to those who continue to donate children’s magazines for the cafeteria reading bins.  Students really enjoy the variety of materials families are sharing!
·       Thanks to Saralyn Dougal for helping secure extra parking spaces for us our Winter Music Program.
·       Thanks to Kate Kristiansen and her team of volunteers for putting on the dance last Friday.  Students had so much fun and it was nice to see adult family members getting to know one another too.
·       Thanks to all who donated used books for Mrs. Bartlett’s class Book Sale.  

Wish List-These are things or jobs that make a difference to our kids, teachers or school. Send in items or let Mrs. CB know if you can volunteer.
·       We need 3 wagons to add to our LUNCH WAGON collection.  If you have one to donate, we can put it to good use.
·       Our students LOVE to read kid magazines in the cafeteria.  Donations of Sports Illustrated for Kids, Ranger Rick, Highlights, LegoMagazine, Zoo Books, American Girl and more will be put to good use.
·       Donations of folding card tables can be put to good use for special lunch times on the stage.
Upcoming Events
November 26, 27, 29-Thanksgiving Break-No School
December 1-Grading Day-No School

December 5-PTC Music Program (Thanks to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Sexton Mt. Drive and 154th for opening their parking lot to us for overflow parking for this event.)

December 9-PTC Meeting at 6:30pm
December 22-January 2-Winter Break- No School
January 5- School Resumes

Reminders (Article below were included in previous newsletters.)

Music Program--December 5 is the Winter Music Program. First through fifth graders will perform during this evening event.

Are you on Facebook?  Stay connected by liking the Principal CB’s Facebook page at

Remind 101--Text @drcleme to 81010 to receive text messages regarding “breaking news” for our school.

Twitter--Are you a Twitter user?  Follow us at


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