Last week in my update, I shared this quote:


Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light.

— Albert Schweitzer


Authors refer to light and darkness when creating imagery within a text. These references are so powerful that when you hear the word “light” you immediately have a picture in your mind and the connotation stirs positive thoughts and images.  The power of evoking or igniting light into another person’s life is a true opportunity.  Educators are given the gift to do this every single day.


Taylorsville is filled with light in many forms including actions, thoughts, words and people.   Our building is not fancy and in places is worn and needs paint but the children that fill our building bring a joy. Their laughter and chatter surround this space with energy and remind me of their eagerness to learn. They come each day ready for us to guide and encourage.  It is our actions as educators that can bring light to their lives or darken their world.


You, as individuals and as a staff, have ignited my light.  My light had dwindled by the stress of deadlines, frustrated voices, and a plethora of tasks that have yet to be completed on time.


Here are the top 10 things about Taylorsville Elementary that has filled me with light!

10.  The laughter of students filling the hall and bright colored art work that covers the walls creates a warm glow throughout the school.

9.  Lessons created with care and thought and then executed with passion to connect learning for students and deepen understanding.

8.  Data discussions that pin point “Swiss Cheese Holes” and end with a plan to fill them.

7.  Colleagues who fill my desk with encouraging notes, smiling sticky notes and an occasional Slim Jim.

6.  My fellow teachers using words like prosody, text complexity, interventions, growth mindset and YET.

5.  Actions that show—PUSH!

4.  An extra kindness for a student with clean clothes, money for a fieldtrip, school supplies, hugs, etc.

3.  Walking through the building, seeing teachers and staff putting into action their own learning from professional development and PLC.

2.  Compassion, kindness and patience with our students who have big emotions and are struggling to channel them.



My ending thought for you!  Remember I value you as my colleague and I see you do amazing things each day. I am in continuous awe of your patience and compassion—do not lose sight of these characteristics with the stress of every day “teaching.”  You do make a difference and are appreciated!  Be the LIGHT for all to see—Taylorsville is LIGHT and I am proud to be a part of this staff.

Who Needs Syntax?


In a workshop last year for silent fluency, I showed this slide.

Rand Reading Group (Snow 2002) reinforced my slide by stating the following, “for students to successfully “negotiate textual meaning the reader must bring at least the following to the act of reading:  cognitive capabilities, motivation, linguistic knowledge and experiences.”


What Rand Reading Group included that I did not was linguistic knowledge and experiences. Linguistics refers to the structure of language.  Syntax is part of linguistics because it is the art of combining words together to make sentences, the proper word order and punctuation which helps to build the structure of our language. (Grammar)


I bring this up because syntax is almost subconscious at early ages, being created through speaking and listening. As children speak and listen, they are learning how words are combined to create sentences and questions. As they encounter language through listening and modeling, the sentences become more complex.  You have heard a small child say, “see dog.”  The adult or other child will say, “Yes, you see a dog.”  As time progresses the child begins to clarify and say, “I see a dog.”


The complexity of language and “syntax” increases each year as the child gets older and has different experiences. Sentences become more complex and vocabulary more abstract.  According to J.S. Chall (1983), by the 4th grade the grade level text structure students are exposed to begins to exceed conversational language.”  This is a HUGE discovery for me because we all know about the “4th grade slump,” this seems to help to explain that gap. The rigor or complexity in the language of the text is higher than the students are use to putting in order or comfortably recognizing.


Syntax affects fluency and comprehension because it is the student’s ability to chunk sentences into “syntactic chunks” that help with intonation, stress and pause as they read.


We, as teachers, do not really think about syntax but it plays a large role in reading fluency and comprehension. A few facts about syntax that teachers NEED to know.

  • Syntax awareness at 1st grade predicts word recognition at 2nd (Tunmer, 1989)
  • Poor readers have difficulty detecting and correcting syntactic errors. (Bentin, Deutsch, and Liberman, 1990)
  • Lower levels of syntax awareness usually correspond with lower fluency and comprehension performance.
  • If you increase syntax awareness than you can increase reading ability in both fluency and comprehension.


So, bottom line, what are the implications for our students and classrooms?  How do we build syntax awareness for our students?

Speaking in complete sentences! By encouraging students to put all answers and thoughts in complete sentences, you are helping them to practice the art of syntax (applying word order).  Help students to extend sentences and to make more complex sentences.

Create more complex sentences than they are used to speaking and reading and have students put them together on sentence strips. If you have students who are still speaking in simple sentences, then give them a compound sentence on a sentence strip. Ask them to put it together. They will want to make two sentences but will see the conjunction holds it together. For older students, give them sentences with phrases, clauses and unusual punctuation   By  exposing them to these types of sentences, you are instructing them on language that is above the level they normally speak in conversation and will be reading as they move to more difficult text.

Focus on chunks. The brain has the ability to process four words at a time so thinking about sentences in chunks helps the brain process information and the language easier. For example: The little red hen and the yellow bunny sat around the campfire.  When students are learning to read this and think about how to read—they should see the word “and” which means it is a conjunction holding subjects together so on either side is a chunk.  The verb usually starts another chunk (predicate).  This helps students with fluency and not reading one single word at a time. Modeling how to chunk a sentence and explicitly teaching sentence parts helps students to better determine how to process as they read.

Use all the domains of literacy to build conceptual understanding. To truly understand any concept, a child or adult must work the idea through all domains of literacy.  Students must first hear the information (listening) through modeling, think aloud and direct instruction.  Students next should speak the information through student to student interaction.  The step of speaking allows students to process the information and to own it.  They are putting together their own sentences to make sense of the knowledge (summarizing).  The next step, now that they have proper background, they can begin reading on the topic.  The final step to show true conceptual understanding is when a child can take the information, rearrange, process and make the information their own in writing. This shows that they have a deep understanding and strong command of the information.


Revisiting the above quote from Rand Reading Group (Snow 2002),  “for students to successfully “negotiate textual meaning the reader must bring at least the following to the act of reading:  cognitive capabilities, motivation, linguistic knowledge and experiences.”  The teaching of syntax directly through grammar and punctuation instruction paired with speaking and listening helps students have the linguistic knowledge and experiences to effectively decode text and read with prosody.


Motivation will be another Blog!



Resources considered and read for this Blog: 

Article entitled:  8 Common Mistakes in Modern Language Instruction by claraalert on guestblogger which was accessed on 9/12/2017

Article entitled:  The Role of Early Oral Language in Literacy Development by Timothy Shanahan and Christopher Lonigan which was accessed 9/10/17 

PPT archived on Internet by Michael Sullivan on Significance of Syntax (I am unsure of ownership of this but found this in the title it was saved in.)

Chall, J.S. (1983) Stages of reading development. New York:  Harcourt Brace which was cited in the PPT discussed below.

Old Post: Language Revisted

Do you have that one person in your life who just “says it?”  Tells you what others haven’t—your hair is sticking up, you have toilet paper on your shoe,  or NO ONE UNDERSTANDS WHAT YOU MEAN BY THE TERM LANGUAGE.  I love my Taylorsville colleagues who keep me grounded!

It had not occurred to me but we do use the word language in various ways. Normally, I refer to language in three ways.


  1. Language = Student to Student Interaction and communication
  2. Language = Common Core Standards L. 1-6
  3. “Academic Language” = the words, phrases, grammar choices and author’s craft in organizing a text


First, language is used to refer to our students’ ability to communicate ideas and thoughts through listening, speaking, reading and writing. Increasing student to student interaction allows time for processing and for students to make sense of knowledge. The four domains of literacy (listening, speaking, reading and writing) are all interrelated and interact to affect one another.


Implications for our classrooms: 

  1. Students process information when they have the opportunity to interact.  Speaking helps students make sense of ideas, ask questions and begin to own their own thinking.  By putting ideas into your own words and examples demonstrates conceptual understanding of the topic.
  2. When you move students through a concept by listening then speaking and progressing to reading and writing—you are scaffolding instruction AND building conceptual understanding.
  3. Allowing students to paraphrase and put information into their own words aids students in making connections to the information on a deeper level.

Secondly, I often refer to the Common Core Language Standards as a way to “increase our focus on language.”  These standards are all grounded in the fundamentals of language and the domains of literacy and are written in a pattern that builds on prior knowledge.


Standard Meaning
L.1 Understanding of conventions and sentence structure
L.2 Understanding of capitalization and punctuation
L.3 Understanding why words were used and chosen and their affect within the text
L.4 Determining word meanings and phrases through context, word parts, reference materials,
L.5 Understanding figurative language, word relationships and nuances in word meanings
L.6 Determining academic and domain specific words and phrases



Implications for our classrooms: 

  1. Language comprises of about 20-25% of the Reading End of Grade Test. Knowing this fact,  a focus on context clues, figurative language, words and phrases that affect characters, setting and mood should all be MAJOR focuses of instruction.
  2. “Language” in the form of words and phrases, woven within the text,  are written to affect the reader—teach students to see subtly and question the techniques used by the author—THIS IS HOW RIGOR IS ATTAINED!
  3. Remember that you must directly teach students what you want them to do. When teaching students how to figure out words and phrases in context teach all the different strategies you might use such as look at punctuation, synonyms, antonyms, grammar, examples embedded, etc. Be explicit when you show students and MODEL what you want for them—then let them try it and apply it.



Lastly, I refer to language in the form of “academic language” which is the words, phrases, grammar choices which affect the author’s craft and organization of the text.  This can be vocabulary but is usually more subtly the structure in which the text is organized.  When our students have knowledge of how sentences are structured can help students “untangle” more complex text.  Without the grammar and punctuation, students’ prosody (expressive reading and understanding of timing, phrasing, intonation and emphasis) is not possible.


Implications for our classrooms:

  1. Understanding phrases, clauses, punctuation and capitalization directly affects BOTH fluency and comprehension.
  2. Grammar should be embedded in discussions of word meanings and close reading to directly teach fluency and comprehension.
  3. Text choice should include structure that includes complex text which challenges students to examine multiple levels of meaning with subtle nuances that they may miss upon first read.  Ensuring text is “complex” with levels of meaning challenges students to read closer and dig deeper.

In summation, the term LANGUAGE is a HUGE component of EVERYTHING that we do in our classrooms because it truly plays a role in all aspects of learning.  We “use language” when communicating. Authors embed language within text to share meaning and to interest the reader.  Finally we integrate language as our instructional support with listening, speaking, reading and writing. We need to infuse it and use the Common Core Language standards as the “skeleton” of our instruction for our literature and informational standards. It is by infusing the grammar, capitalization, punctuation and an understanding of sentence structure within the areas of reading that you will deepen students’ understanding and comprehension.  Language is complex and certainly not something you can check off a list to show mastery.


Growth Mindset to No Limits

First week of school and a first grader announced to his teacher, “I can’t do this!”  She responded perfectly with “YET.”  This scenario is a perfect example of how our students are developing a fixed mindset at early ages.  It is a reminder we must reinforce that they can achieve.

As you know, a fixed mindset, one without hope, is bred in an environment where students are inundated with negative outlooks and reminders of limited resources or even criticisms of education and hope for the future. Our schools are becoming flooded with more and more students who face financial hardships in their homes.


Think about these statistics.

  • 1 in 5 children live in poverty.
  • Children who experience hunger and food insecurity have effects such as lower reading and math scores, more emotional and behavioral problems and physical or mental deficits.
  • There are as many as 46.2 million Americans living poverty.
  • Children in poverty are 1.3 times are more likely to have learning and developmental delays.
  • Students in poverty are more often more than two years behind by 4th


According to Eric Jensen (May 2013), we know students from low income families are less likely to engage in school.  Lack of effort or being unmotivated is often a lack of hope and is fostered by a give up attitude that they may be immersed in each day.  Living in poverty is difficult and the stress of the environment may spill over as a lack of optimism.  This lack of hope leads to a fixed mindset, a feeling that “it is not worth the effort.” This can be perceived as “lazy” by teachers. In actuality, it is a lack of belief that has occurred repeatedly and has become a mindset habit.

Connecting these statistics with brain research, there IS HOPE!  Within the last few years, we have come to understand that the brain is NOT a fixed entity much like a machine. Our brain is constantly changing based on our actions and thoughts.  The concept of our brain being able to change constantly is called neuroplasticity.  Plasticity is how our brain learns new information and how to do new activities. Our students need to know that their brain can change and is malleable. They can’t do it— YET!! Practice, effort, trying new strategies helps students move from can’t to can.

For example, when you are learning a new motor task, you utilize two sections of the brain called the SMA (Supplementary Motor Area) and the M1 (Primary Motor Area) which work together almost like a highway.  When you repeat the motor task and increase the blood flow to this area of the brain, you are also rousing impulses and sprouting axons and dendrites.  We know when you are creating dendrites, you are learning.  When we use this “highway” repetitively, we are creating a strong pathway and this makes the task much easier. Think about learning how to play the guitar. When you begin, the pathway is weak but with repetitive practice, the skill of playing the guitar becomes more fluent and quick.

With the same idea above, we can change a child’s fixed mindset to one of growth and hope. A person with a growth mindset believes they can work hard, practice and improve or get better. It is not just that you practice and you learn but that trying harder and attempting new strategies can help you succeed not only at the task at hand but in the future.

We need to teach our students the concept of neuroplasticity and that our brains are always changing.  Their actions can increase their abilities. Work to increase a positive attitude with students by always praising effort.  A mindset is not changed easily but with repetitive positive words that affirm effort will help to increase a student’s motivation.

When we encourage students to try—we have succeeded in helping them be successful. I am not encouraging empty praise but an increase in explicitly guiding students in what steps they can take to improve or succeed. With repetitive reinforcement that quitting is NOT an option but that there is HOPE for success—it just takes effort which brings GROWTH.  Thanks Taylorsville for your efforts toward teaching Growth Mindset.  Who knows—maybe we can move towards a mindset of no limits!



Resources that inspired or were cited in this Blog:

Article (2014) by Margie Meacham entitled, “The Growth Mindset Starts in the Brain”:

Statistics from

Article (2013) by Eric Jensen enttitled, “How Poverty Affects Classroom Engagement.” Accessed on July 28, 2016.

Video from Sheridan College accessed on July 30, 2016:





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