Raz Kids: A Tool for Building Reading Fluency

Fluency is the ability to read text at an appropriate rate with accuracy and expression. We often explain to students that fluent readers read like they are talking, in a smooth and not choppy manner. We measure fluency regularly because it is an indicator of comprehension. Research tells us that fluent readers have more brain energy available for comprehension, which is the ultimate goal of reading. The less energy a student expends on decoding words, the more energy is available for higher level thinking. Follow this link for a great article on fluency from Reading Rockets, including tips on how to help students who struggle:

Reading Rockets- Fluency

Readers can build fluency by reading and rereading text at their own independent level. With all of the books to choose from, it is difficult to know which books are “just right” for your child. Ideally, your child should be reading books that are not too hard (the most recent research suggests 98% accuracy or higher!). Often students self-select too difficult books that require significant inferential understanding and contain lots of dialogue and tricky words, then become frustrated with reading because it is too hard and the story does not make sense. Reading books that are too hard also causes children to develop bad habits; when a book is too hard, children’s understanding is only at the surface level and they don’t train themselves to think deeply about text.

With that in mind, I encourage you to explore Raz Kids. Raz Kids is a website that provides your child with access to digital books at his or her own independent level. Every elementary student in Natick has a Raz Kids subscription. Students log on and select a just right book within a level chosen by the classroom teacher. Students can listen to the book, record themselves reading the book, and take a quiz on the book. They earn points toward incentives such as the “Raz Rocket” or “Robot Builder” features. The classroom teacher can assign specific books for students to record, see Raz Kids activity, hear recordings, see quiz results, and send messages to students. Raz Kids also has a free app available for iPad, Android, or Kindle Fire. Click here for a brief overview video from Schooltube:

Raz Kids Tutorial

Please feel free to contact me or your child’s classroom teacher if you have any questions about Raz Kids (including login and password) or want suggestions for other just right books.

Kristin Stoetzel
Ben-Hem Reading Specialist

Parent Teacher Conferences

parent-teacher-conferenceStrong communication between home and school is critical to the success of our students and children. Parent-teacher conferences are one formal mechanism we use to support and enhance the home-school connection. Parent-teacher conferences take place formally twice per year; in November and April. This year’s dates are November 7th and 13th and April 8th and 16th. These are important times for teachers and families to review progress, address concerns, and plan strategically for the coming months. It goes without saying that these conferences are very important to the education of our students. Teachers spend many hours preparing for conferences and there are many things parents can do to ensure efficient and effective conferences.

  1. Come Prepared
    • Take time in the days preceeding the conference to gather your thoughts. What questions do you have for the teacher? What concerns do you have? What is it you would like your child to focus on in the coming weeks and months?
  2. Stay Positive and Focused
    • Productive, goal oriented conversations are critical. Discussions about our children aren’t always easy. We have all kinds of hopes, dreams, expectations, and feelings for and about our children. Both you and your child’s teacher are there to discuss and carry out actions that are in the best interests of your child. Keeping this fact in mind will help maintain focus on what’s most important.
  3. Talk to Your Child Before and After the Conference
    • We often overlook the fact that children are very important members of our team. Involving students in the decisions that impact their lives is critical for two primary reasons. First it provides a sense of agency. Children need to understand that they play a key role in determining the course and outcome of their lives. Second, it builds ownership and accountability. When children are involved in the processes and decisions that impact their lives, they are more likely to engage in the plans and hold themselves accountable to goals and outcomes.
    • Talk to your children before the conference. Ask them questions. What do they think they need to work on? What are their strengths? What questions do they have?
    • After the conference, let your children know what you discussed during the conference. Answer the questions they posed and clearly lay out goals and expectations for the coming weeks and months.

If you would like other tips and more reading on Parent-Teacher conferences, check out the following links:

Family Education


National Education Association



School Assemblies

All school assembly

Assemblies are an integral part of life at Ben-Hem. Assemblies provide a unique opportunity to get together as a school, talk about important issues, and create a shared understanding of the ideas and values that are most important to us.

This week’s assembly posed the question, “Where do you want to go?” Students thought about this question while Mr. Kelly read Oh the Places You Will Go! by Dr. Seuss. In true Seuss form, he captures powerful messages in a story that deftly balances humor and content. The story characterizes the effort, perseverance, and complexity involved in getting where you want to go in life.

After reading the story we shared examples of people who, when they were young, most likely did not know exactly what they wanted to be but knew who they wanted to be. Herein lies a critical distinction; who you want to be vs. what you want to be. The question of what you want to be focuses students on goals and aspirations that are situated so far in the future that they can lose meaning and begin to seem unattainable. The question of who children want to be focuses them on the character traits, skills, and abilities necessary to become the person they envision. Focusing on self-knowledge and growth is always present (which young children do best with) and always produces results that kids can see and feel. As Seuss describes, life will take individuals down all kinds of paths. Our children and students will wind up in places they (or we) never expected them to. It is the substance of their being that will guide and maintain them on their journey towards who they aspire to be. What they want to be will follow.

This process of identifying who they aspire to be allows them to begin considering how they will achieve this end. Students must ask themselves what they will need to do, who will help them, and what kinds of skills they will need to acquire along the way. Goal setting and strategic planning are essential skills in life and learning. As such, the development of personal goals not only focuses students on the critical process of developing into caring, effective human beings, it reinforces the underlying cognitive processes that support the development of independent, adaptive learners.

Taming the Bus

photo 2Each and every year school starts and hundreds of kids are excited to get back to school, reconnect with friends, and enjoy another year of learning and growth at Ben-Hem. Many of these excited students take the bus to school and, for the first time in their lives, they are placed in an unsupervised setting with many of their peers. This presents a unique opportunity for kids to be independent and try out all kinds of independent behaviors. For parents and school faculty this can be both exciting and anxiety producing.

As children wander into and explore the world of the bus rider, they try on new behaviors and watch their peers try on new behaviors. These behaviors are not always exactly what we would like to see. Thus we are presented with many, many opportunities to provide feedback and support the development of context specific appropriate behaviors. As I discussed in my post on School Wide Positive Behavior Supports, we take a proactive approach in supporting students in acquiring these skills. This is a multifaceted endeavor but I wanted to take a moment to hi-light one of the key components of this process, bus assemblies.

You heard it, bus assemblies. Twice a year Mr. Gatto arranges a mock bus ride in the cafeteria. Students are called to the cafeteria by bus number and there they spend time with Mr. Gatto taking part in a rule setting, role playing, informative adventure. Students sit in chairs that are arranged to resemble the layout of the actual bus. Mr. Gatto starts the ride by reviewing basic rules and expectations. Afterwards students identify common problems on the bus. Kids getting out of their seats, kids not sharing seats, and kids yelling are all common responses. Once identified, Mr. Gatto engages the bus riders in problem solving role plays. Students get to act out the problems while other riders offer creative solutions to these common problems. The kids have a great time and the learning is meaningful.

We have conducted these assemblies for a few years now and we find them to be very successful in taming our buses. Beyond the assemblies we rely heavily on parent feedback on bus rides. When kids hop off the bus one of the first things families ask is, “How was your day?” The bus ride is the nearest experience to the question and conversations, if there was a problem on the bus, reliably start there. If your child relays a problem to you, please let us know. The sooner we can address issues the more likely it is they will easily cease.