Articulation and Word Study


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Watching children as they are learning and practicing skill-sets in just as important, if not more important than the act of delivering instruction. The simple act of meeting kids where they are at helps to fill the opportunity gap. Opportunity gaps occur when students are not given the same instruction, interactions and basic circumstances that other high-achieving students receive early on. We want to look at this as an achievement gap, but it really isn’t. If students start out with a deficit due to circumstances that they are born into, it isn’t about achievement. It becomes about opportunity. If we continue to push forward instead of filling the gaps, these students will never reach their full potential.

Now, how can we fill gaps with just the basic data we collect in assessments? We can’t. Assessments don’t tell you the why, they just tell you the what. You actually have to watch and listen to your students in order to figure out what is really going on. I watch my kids everyday. I watch and I take notes. Recently, it has occurred to me that word study deficits in my classroom are not actually word student deficits; they are articulation “gaps”. Why does this make a difference in instruction? Because, if you keep pushing rules that a student knows, and they are still failing… the rule isn’t the issue.

We teach word study in a more systematic way (If you aren’t, please see my post about word study) because we know whole-language approaches do NOT work. Students need rules and structured instructional practices. Let me ask you a simple question… if a student is not producing a sound correctly, and you are not producing a sound correctly… how can you teach a rule based on a sound? You can’t! It isn’t going to happen for them unless you fill that gap and correct what you are doing wrong. If you want to know more about how cultural and ethnic backgrounds come into play in the school system I highly encourage you to read Code Switching. This same concept applies to word study. YOU as the teacher need to ensure YOU code switch to produce speech sounds correctly. The student needs to be taught through articulation lessons how to produce the speech sounds correctly, too.

How do I do that??!!!

I am NOT by any means a professional on this subject, but I continue to research it and apply what I find out. I started by looking into English Language Learner curriculum. If a student or myself are missing something in language, then it makes sense to approach it from a “learners” perspective. Here is what I have started using:

  1. Listen and watch you student. If they are not producing a speech sound correctly STOP and teach articulation of that sound.
  • Commonly mispronounced sounds are:

/j/ for /dr/

/ch/ for /tr/

2. STOP and teach them to code switch while reading, writing and spelling.

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I have created student assigned lessons using Nearpod (you can use google slides if you do not have access) to fill these deficits. They include mouth, tongue and lip position videos. They also include practice. These should be visited during student rotations daily to work on this skill. You cannot expect a student to produce something in writing that they are not producing in speech.

3. Practice this skill in small group. I do this by using cards and sand. I have also recently adapted the Orton-Gillingham based vowel tents into articulation tents.

Sand Tracing

  • The student has sand in front of them in a bin. You say the sound and the word it belongs too. Watch the student as they say the sound. Correct any lip, mouth and tongue mistakes. Remember: You are being WATCHED while YOU speak… YOU must produce the sounds correctly too! An example would be: ch like chip – the students says /ch/
  • The student will then write the sound in the sand. The student is writing the sound not the word.
  • Continue this for 1 minute a day
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Articulation Tents

  • The student has note cards folded with the problematic speech sounds on them. Make sure they are different colors.
  • You will say a word and they pick up the tent with the correct speech sound.

Teacher: “/ch/ in chip”

Student: “ch makes /ch/ in chip” (picks up ch)

Teacher: “/tr/ in train”

Student: “tr makes /tr/ in train” (picks up tr)

Do this for 3 minutes



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What is my Philosophy?


I believe that the foundation for successful teaching is built on explicit instruction. Explicit instruction is direct, purposeful, engaging and targeted instruction. Although inquiry and problem-based lessons help spark creativity and interest, there is always a need for the direct instruction that comes along with it.  Inquiry, creativity, and collaboration co-exist with explicit instruction as the pillars. Without the foundation, the pillars will not stand. Without the pillars, the structure will never grow.

I try to be aware of different ways to teach each subject area, and strive to figure out what works best for my individual students. I believe that nearly all children have the ability to thrive in the general education classroom, and respond to interventions that are targeted and consistent. I look at response to intervention and not the failure to respond as an indicator of concern. It is not the failure that determines the deficit; it is the response to appropriate intervention and instructional practices inside the general education classroom. This information then leads to better teaching for that student.

Reflection is also critical for strong teaching. Every lesson, every moment and every step of my career deserves reflection. I reflect on lessons I teach, plans I make and assessments I am giving. Reflection allows me to take a step back and ask questions about what I did right and what I still need to work on. Teachers are never done learning about how they teach, and reflection helps us to tailor our learning in the best way possible.



As a teacher, I see many different sets of eyes. Every set is different. They are blue, green, hazel and brown. What most teachers fail to see is that some of them are looking, but they are not “seeing”. They tell them to look harder, try harder and do better. This practice kills their passion for knowledge and understanding. I believe that it is my job to be responsible for the learning of every student in my classroom. Student learning happens when good instruction, positive classroom culture and reflective practices live simultaneously inside the classroom. I also feel that I am responsible for tracking learning and responding with interventions or extensions that are appropriate for each individual student. Sometimes this consists of getting other team members together (nurse, social worker, reading specialist etc.) and developing a plan. Other times it means backing away and allowing a group of students to discuss a book they are reading on their own. The most important part of student learning is that it happens for each student in their own way and at their own pace.




It is my belief that the goal of education is to give our students the basic skills they need in order to be successful in any path they choose. This includes character, technology and core skills. I try to give my students opportunities to strengthen critical skill sets that will help them contribute to the world in a global manner. I strive to work on critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and problem solving skills throughout the school year. I try to go beyond the standards to make them applicable to the real world in which our students will reside when exiting our care. Education should set students up to be college, career and citizen ready.


Musings of a Teacher

Ask anyone around me and they will agree that I love to read. Even when I am not reading you can find me writing about something that I have read. Sometimes, I wish the books would just jump swiftly up and into my brain, but that would take away the visualizing and absorbing of limitless amounts of information contained within the highlighted, folded and tattered pages which I have read and those that have still gone undiscovered. It would also prevent me from feeling the insatiable thirst for what lies ahead between the scent of a well worn book with wisdom that transcends generations and within the crisp fresh off the press aroma akin to that of a dimly lit printing press.

Pages, not computer screens hold a sacred place in my soul, and help to curb my insatiable desire for knowledge. So, it is no wonder that my mission in life has become to ensure that every student that I have the distinct pleasure of teaching becomes fully literate. I am not talking about that kind of literate where the student is able to pass the next high stakes test that deprives them of imagination and is clearly marked by background knowledge not known to all. I am talking about the kind of full passion, love and understanding that comes with the ability to read with such ease that it frees up the brain to complete other tasks that don’t involve processing ink sculptures within pages. These skills teach empathy, provide a means of escaping into another world and engross the reader into knowledge they would otherwise have been unable to obtain.

Now, I am not completely naive to think that I can reach every single child to this level. Even if I awaken that part of their soul that allows them to step into a puddle rather than an ocean, I have won. They have won.

I used to live in the “just a teacher” thought. The notion that makes us unwilling to lean forward and fall for the very reason we became teachers in the first place. I became a teacher because of passion. I always knew mediocrity was never an option for me, but sitting in the back of my mind has always been self-doubt and a desire to please everyone except my aspirations. My desire to truly change things was pushed beneath a fierce rip current associated with stigma and wedged between summative evaluations.

Although the burning desire to please still looms, it has recently been eclipsed by small steps towards high esteem. Although this may seem crass, I am not the only teacher who feels as if their fate is out of their hands. My peripheral vision allows me to look around, but keep moving forwards and turn my attention towards accepting failure as failure instead of defeat. I have worked to place my failures out in the open, exposed and in need of mending… for all to see. This. This. This is valuable.

Failure means that I tried. Failure means that I am willing to do anything it takes to experience success. When we stop failing, we stop learning. We stop innovating. We stop change. Only after failure do I have a chance to reflect, I am my own worst enemy after all and also my best critic.

It is time to rise above those who have told us that we cant or that we shouldn’t. It is time to rise above our substandard pay rate brought about by ignorant individuals. It is time to change how we feel about ourselves and how we allow ourselves to treat others. I choose guidance, acceptance, sympathy and passion.

Choose your passion… HOLD onto it. Don’t let anyone take that from you. No matter what, do it for yourself.

YOU hold you happiness ❤

Technology in Education

“If our children are to excel in a fast-changing, global society, we must harness the technology resources they need to function in a digital age. We must remember our commitment to their future as we set priorities and establish policies on their behalf”

 -NEA President Dennis Van Roekel

 In today’s classroom we are constantly seeing a disconnect between what schools are teaching, how they are teaching those skills and the progressively innovational world around us.

 Classrooms built to decrease creativity and increased assembly line like productivity have become obsolete, but are still being used as if the job market stagnated into this structure unchanged.

 Although the high stakes testing and small boxy classrooms in which we teach have become a constant reminder of days already past, we are seeing an increased presence of technology within the confines.

 Just about every school district out there has produced a catchy motto in order to lure trusting parents into their confines only to fall short of those very skills which were promised. Take a moment to look over your school-district slogan and you will likely find the words technology, future, college and career. But are we holding true to our slogans and mottos that we hold so true to our hearts? The truth is that rapid advancements are eliminating traditional jobs from the market at an escalating pace. Workers who perform routine tasks and who are trained to replicate are becoming obsolete in today’s growing world of technology, and we are not keeping up. Technology is taking over every aspect of our daily lives and is increasingly seen as a necessary prerequisite to obtaining a job.

 As educators, we are seeing a growing demand to provide mastery of certain pertinent technology skills. Our students must obtain these skill-sets in order to be successful in the cutting-edge, career oriented world of innovation that technology offers.

 If we do not address these basic needs for our students, we are setting them up for future hardships. The top five technology skills to put on a resume go well beyond the critical skill sets that should be taught in school. If a students graduates without a firm foundation on which to build these skills, they are already lagging behind in a fast-paced and competitive job market.

 The big question remains: How do I teach these skills AND the growing number of standards that have been placed before me? There is a simple answer for this difficult question… you don’t. The amazing thing about technology is that it works with the standards. If you use technology in your classroom, you are already halfway there. The trick is to use the right kind of technology in the right way, and teaching students how to use it correctly.

 Say it with me “technology is not a babysitter, it is a tool to deliver student-centered instruction in order to prepare my students for the future” Whew…good! Now that we got that out of the way, let’s dive into applications.

How does this work?

I start with my standards and apply it to relevant technology skills that my students will need to be career ready. The technology helps to enhance my instruction, but is not THE instruction.

Here is a lesson about flipping my classroom I posted a while back that shows the use of technology in my classroom. See if you can spot some of the lessons in technology intertwined. The technology never replaces the hands-on component or the me, we you structure doted on by champion teachers alike. The technology is seamlessly woven into the fabric of the lesson, but is never the lesson.


In this lesson some of the skills they are learning are:

  • Fractions
  • Working collaboratively towards a common goal
  • Choice of how to present their answer in a digital form
  • Using drawing tools
  • Using public speaking skills
  • Using a touchscreen computer and projection to submit and present their information
  • Using a computer to submit and store data for later analysis
  • keyboarding
  • creating textboxes
  • inserting images
  • viewing and responding to others presentation of skills

Can you think of where/why these skills are necessary for the future job in which they will need to be competent?

Harmon Distance: What is it and why should educators know what it is?

Perhaps you have heard of a slant board, or encountered one while stepping inside the OT or special education rooms in your building. Unfortunately, “special” items like a slant board are often reserved for special education classrooms. I am making it my mission to educate general education teachers about simple items that they should have access to for their students.

Let me start by stating that I am not sure who allocated school funding towards plastic counters and non-kinesthetic letter tiles with magnets that fall out on day two, but I would seriously like to speak to them. Why are we more concerned with buying cheap items in mass then making available research-backed items that assist students with needs that are not actually “special” they are just needs. Needs like proper lighting or comfortable seating. How about being able to sit comfortably while reading a book?

Harmon spent three years of compiling an inventory of physical and psychological difficulties of Texas school children.  The children were given thorough pediatric, dental and psychological examinations.  Visual, educational, medical and dietary tests were also conducted.

Dr. Harmon discovered, among many shocking results:

  • 53.3% of the children had visual difficulties
  • 30.2% of the children had postural difficulties
  • 20.9% had chronic fatigue

Harmon concluded that “posture relates not only to spatial judgments, but also to performing visual tasks.”  As Dr. Martin Birnbaum notes in his book Optometric Management of Nearpoint Vision Disorders, “to perform any task, a person must come to balance with gravity and then the particular task at hand…(If they don’t), a person must expend energy to perform the task easily and efficiently.”

In other words, if your body is out of balance with the environment, it will take energy to compensate.  Harmon wondered what would happen if the children’s environment were improved.  How much impact would this have on their vision and overall performance?

“Heredity supplies the materials of which environment makes the man”

This quote by Dr. Harmon, not exactly PC with its gender-reference, makes a clear point.  He writes, “Eyes are not cameras…meaningful vision is learned – learning like every other learning – by doing, by the constructive use of bodily stress.”

How we interact with the environment can lead to significant impacts on our visual system.  For example:

  • When eyes are too close to the printed page, whether from poor posture and/or improper desk height, the greater the eyes must converge.
  • If a child is in an unbalanced posture (see picture 1), there can be a significant difference in the torque, force and compression of the intervertebral disks of the spine.
  • When a child has to view a book on a flat surface, it can exceed his or her visual tolerances.

To solve the problem, Harmon analyzed data from many fields and planned a “coordinated classroom.”   He remodeled classrooms to improve “daylight control, artificial lighting, seating and seating arrangement and room decoration.”

Harmon raised the work-surface to a 20 degree angle, bringing the surface more parallel to the face.  This significantly reduced the compression of the intervertebral discs.    He also controlled the lighting, and turned blackboards green.  (You remember blackboards, don’t you?)

In the fall of 1942, after six months in the remodeled classroom, “only 18.6% of those examined in November showed visual difficulties, as compared with 53.3% tested six months previously.”  There was also a significant reduction of posture problems (reduced by 25%) and chronic fatigue (55%).

Viewing surface:  Ideally, your face should be parallel to either your book or your computer screen.  (See picture 2.)  Follow the Harmon Distance, and use the slant board when reading.

Harmon distance, slant board

Picture courtesy of Visual Edge

Posture:  What is your body doing?  Is the placement of this paper centered or is it off center from the plane of regard?  Your feet should be flat on the ground, and your legs should form a 90 degree angle.  Try not to slouch – remember you’re wasting energy.

Harmon information from (Mischio)

So, still not convinced that these items are essential and not “special”?

Read the entire article here:


Here is how I created a fully adjustable slant board for $7

  • Velcro
  • Packaging tube
  • Wooden canvas from Michaels
  • Clipboard

Reading is in the EYE of the Beholder: Why visual processing is so important to understand when teaching reading.


When we read simple words we activate common meanings as well as less common meanings. A bug can be an insect, a spy device or something you can do to someone that is irritating. Children with rich word knowledge will encounter texts in a much different and more enriched way than children who have not encountered wider boundaries figuratively and literally of words. You bring your background with you into each story you read. Your semantic and grammatical knowledge is used to create inferences and hypotheses. These neurological operations create a beautiful interwoven path to reading and comprehending. If you cannot quickly apply semantic, grammatical and syntactic clues then comprehension becomes laborious, if not impossible. (Wolf)

Reading is not a natural occurrence. Neuronal recycling is used to create pathways in order for us to read. While visual and auditory responses are innate and mapped out by genetics, reading is not. The reading brain exploited older neuronal pathways in order to recognize words. The placid brain had several capacities that formed the pathways we now use to read. Our visual system adapted and changed in order to form new pathways to recognize letters. So, if your visual system is not functioning correctly, than how do you learn to read?

A complete comprehensive exam for every child in early elementary school would be wonderful, but is not currently in the works.

Early intervention in the classroom with direct, explicit instruction is ideal. This is why educators need to be aware of different ways to teach reading, and figure out what works best for their individual students.

See: VPD What?! for signs of visual processing disorders

See: Where do I begin? for testing inside the classroom

See: Dyslexia for signs of dyslexia

See: Reading Groups: What’s in the box? for instruction that is multi-sensory

Remember: A visual processing disorder can look like dyslexia.

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This image is from the book Wiring the Brain for Reading. People ask me how I “know” all of this. I am a general education teach with no “special” skills. I READ! I read like my kids lives depend on it… because they do. I educate myself, because I am in charge of what I know, and what I choose to ignore.

This page brings light to the issue. Children need to be read to EVERY day in order to develop a vocabulary that then spills out into their everyday conversations. It is only after the words become a part of who they are that they can “see” them while reading. If you do anything for your child… read to him/her relentlessly and without reserve. ❤ This then builds a good foundation, so they come to school ready to read despite their disorders or challenges. The brain is placid, and can be changed BUT you cannot change what they have already been exposed to before they reach school. It becomes more challenging when children come with a severe language deficiency AND a disorder that they must overcome.


The picture above:

This is my Childs eye. The one who looks up to me to make good choices, and the one who depends on me everyday to meet his needs. As a teacher, I see many different sets of eyes. Every set is different. They are blue, green, hazel and brown. What most teachers fail to see is that some of them are looking, but they are not “seeing”. They tell them to look harder, try harder and do better thus, killing their passion for knowledge and understanding in a world that chooses to turn their blind eye. I am responsible for these children, and it is my job to educate myself on how to reach them. I read like their lives depend on it… I read and research like I would for my own child. I advocate for the kids in every room who are told they can do more. I challenge myself to provide the life-changing support they so desperately need.

Math THEIR way: A FLIPPED classroom


This lesson on fractions was FUN for my students, because they were able to teach each other! Flipping your classroom is a fun and easy way to solidify understanding and assist students who need more help.

Here is how I do it:

  1. Spend the first day creating your anchor chart and giving direct and explicit instruction on the concept. I define the SMART words they will need in order to be successful. The day before I defined and wrote the definitions of the following on the board: Fraction, Numerator, Denominator, Linear Fractions and Fraction of a Whole. I also did a demonstration and hands-on activity on creating fractions of a whole by making a picture and writing the fraction as a number.
  2. I teach the students how to use manipulatives, and allow them access to these important resources during instruction.
  3. I always have my anchor chart out from the direct instruction.
  4. I create an interactive presentation using near pod for the students to show their understanding and track through. If you do not have this, I suggest using google slides. Google slides is free for educators. Near pod is an amazing resource that has been a game changer for my classroom.
  5. Model what is expected for an all the way correct answer. I made the words numerator, fraction and denominator mandatory words.
  6. Make sure students have a buddy or group to work with… this creates even more opportunities for collaborative learning.
  7. Allow the students to teach each other by explaining their reasoning behind their answers. I call this “claiming your genius answer.”
  8. Have fun! Encourage students and use the time to take notes on who needs more help, and facilitate good conversations and collaboration between your students.


This ends up being a blend of whole-group, small-group and direct instruction that is student-led. ❤

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