Keep Track of Student Independent Reading by Using the Three-Way-3-by-5 Card Method

3-by-5 cards are really fun, and a great resource for learning in many different creative ways. Have you thought about what can you do to learn using a 3-by-5 cards?

One use I have figured out to help students with their independent reading is what I call the Three-Way-3-By-5-Card Method.

I want my students to choose to read, and to show me their efforts.  I also want them to capture the new and interesting words they encounter, and I always want them to be able to get back to the page they left the last time they closed the book, so this method is an easy way for students to  document and administer their reading accurately and handily using a simple 3-by-5 card. It all makes reading easier, so students are more likely to choose to read more often.

First, I teach students to get into the habit of having a 3-by-5 card and pen in hand whenever they read.  On one side of the card the students make four columns along the five-inch width of the card. The columns are titled; Date/ Time/ Title/ Duration. That is, D/T/T/D, which is easy to remember. Eventually, the students will begin to put the title and author at the top of the card once along the three-inch edge to have room to document Date/ Time/ and Duration more times.

On the other side of the card, the students are ready to jot down challenging words they come across. It is important to include the page number to find the word again later. Often times the meaning of the words can be determined well enough from the context, so I do not have a rule forcing the students to stop and look up every new word. It is upon review of the list of new words, after the book is finished, that the students will determine whether they need to look up words.

All the while, the three-by-five card serves as a handy book mark, and ready straight edge for underlining, if underlining is permissible. There is the Three-Way-3-By-5 Card. When the book is finished, the students turn the cards in for credit, and eventually, the cards go back to the students. We discuss the words found. We discuss the story or information using the words as a jump-off point, and the books come more alive between us.

If you try this method with your students at school or your children at home, I would be interested in knowing how it worked. I would love to hear your feedback, so I encourage you to leave a comment.

We are at the beginning of the new school year. It ia a geat time to incorporate The Three-Way-3-by-5-Card independent reading method!

Back attack: A new card game I invented using a standard set of playing cards

Here are the directions to a new card game I invented. It is fun, and I would like your feedback. Try it out! Let me know. I think it can teach students how to create strategies in new and novel ways.

Back Attack

A new trick-winning game for three to six players using a standard deck of cards


  • Setting up the game
    • Dealer deals out cards, face down, to players evenly.
      • Left-over cards serve as a blind, additional hand until exhausted.
    • Each player must privately arrange cards accordingly:
      • Descending order, left to right, from Aces to threes,
      • Descending suites within each similarly valued cards,
        • left to right spade, heart, diamond, club,
      • Twos distributed according to arranging player’s choice.
    • Each player passes the arranged hand of cards to the player to the right face down.
    • Each player never sees cards in-hand until each card is played.
      • Each player fans cards out- face out- looking at the backs of the cards.
      • Each player can see the cards of all the other players, but not the cards in hand.
  • Play begins
    • The player to the right of the dealer goes first by choosing a card in hand, but not seen, knowing the higher cards are to the right, and the lower cards are to the left.
    • The next player to the right plays a blind, in-hand card knowing values increase to the right, and knowing all the other players’ cards.
    • Each player plays one blind card each round.
    • Any left-over card due to the number of players playing, is played blind last with the potential to win the round.
    • The player with the highest valued card wins the trick.
      • If the left-over card wins, the trick is discarded.
    • In subsequent rounds, the dealer is the player to the right of the last dealer.
  • How tricks are won
    • With aces and spades high, all the cards have a unique sequential value.
    • The highest-valued card wins the trick. Any card may be played any round.
    • The twos are all distributed throughout the unplayed cards in-hand.
    • The lowest of all cards, the two of clubs, is wild, and is therefore the highest card.
  • Sample strategies of play
    • Each player may attempt to win tricks using the lowest cards possible.
    • After playing a blind card, a player knows that the all the cards to the right are higher than the played card, and that all the cards to the left are lower- except for possible twos.
    • Each player can figure the number of twos in-hand by counting the other, exposed twos.
    • In the first few rounds, players can sample their hand by choosing cards according to position.

I wrote a Poem based on a borrowed Sentence. Thank you David Scheinker.

Cats Cats Fight Fight.

I had a cat.

She fought a cat.

The cat she fought

Fought her back.

Cats cats fight fight.

But  it is not just that cats cats fight fight…

My neighbor’s dog

Bit a dog

That bit him back,

And so now I know- Dogs dogs bite must bite.

I look around and learn:

Countries countries cheat cheat,

And- People people hurt hurt,

Leading children children hate to hate.

But, so- Lovers lovers love love.

And-  Friends friends befriend befriend.

Certainly- Believers believers believe believe.

So then- Experience experience wields wields.

And in the end- Hope true hope heals heals for Good.

                                               Scott Dodd

                                               March 10, 2012

Keeping Students on Their Metaphorical Toes

Here is a comment I made to Ben Johnson’s blog  titled, College Readiness: How to Help Students Think Abstractly

Half the fun of learning and teaching is to crisscross bridges from the concrete to the abstract and back. We do it all the time. For example, in my latest post <> I share the way I physically float papers to students as a way to get them to consider the abstract concept of, “Think before you speak.” Students delight in figuring out and learning metaphors such as, “The rub is….” Puns, too, help students think. (Of course, all my students know that the arguable reason cows have bells around their necks is because their horns don’t work.) Also, morphing common sayings such as, “Speak now, or forever hold you nose,” and at the end of the day announcing to the class, “Chair up! Be happy!” are ways to play with images through words. Metaphors, puns, and saying surprising, catchy statements keep students on their mental toes and engaged with the notion of, ” What will happen next?”

Teaching Moments

I teach moments, and I float papers to students to do so.

From day-one of the school year, whenever I distribute paper to individual students in class, the students reach out to receive the pages and I give the paper a slight, early push. The paper glides for a moment into each student’s hand. For a while those floating moments go unnoticed, until one day, one of the students will glance up in recognition and delight in the moment we just shared between the giving and the taking of the paper. Other students soon notice, too. Eventually one of the students will say, “Why do you do that, Mr. Dodd?” and at that point I have earned the opportunity to explain.

I tell my students about my high school classmate, Bert Raddock, who taught me the notion, “If you can’t think big, think fast,” which I get them to agree is good advice-especially the “think fast” part. Then I go on to explain to my inquiring students that I float the papers to them to give them a concrete example of hidden moments they really need to use. “In fact,” I tell them, “even if I did not float the papers, there would still be a moment between the giving and the taking of the paper, and the same moment is there when you talk.”

Now here is the point. The students need to identify and learn to exploit that moment between the instant they think of something to say and instant they decide to say it or not. There is always time in there to think and make a decision. Using that “floating”moment of thought takes practice because it is an elusive moment for young minds to recognize, but the paper makes it real. Even some of my second graders get the idea. My fifth graders begin to perfect it.

Once we have had the floating moment discussion in class, I tell them that I do not need to float papers any more, but they usually convince me to continue the float, and I am glad, because it is fun to do, and it reinforces the point they need to remember: Think before you speak.


The Two Great Things to Know about Magic Wands

I found myself, along with my family, sightseeing through the mountains of North Carolina last fall. We stopped and wandered into a local art store. With 150 artists represented inside, I looked around and thought to myself, “A better name for this place would be, ‘Hell, I Could Make That!’” My only interest there was to get some ideas that I might use to build into a classroom lesson sometime. To my surprise, though, I encountered a small, sand-filled barrel with ceramic stars on sticks arranged like a flowers. They were, “magic wands,” and the stars that stood out to me were the ones that said, “Poof! You’re a Genius!”

Without hesitation, I knew I was willing to pay the $20+ price tag for one of the magic wands, but I wasn’t exactly sure why. I knew there was something about it I needed to explore beyond the little ceramic heart attached to the bottom end of the stick. With the magic wand inside a fancy bag in my hand, I queried myself about the relevance of my purchase as we returned to the car and continued to drive the mountain roads.

At first I thought I landed a joke, which I am confident was the artist’s intent. To extend the joke I was going to make a Plexiglas-fronted box to place in a strategic place in my classroom with the wand visible and the words, “Brake glass in case of emergency.” We have all harbored the notion that if we had at least a little more brain power we could solve our problems. So I planned the construction of the box.

Later, I got to thinking more about my plan. I began to consider the implications of the joke. Suppose a student in class makes a mistake. I might pull out the magic wand and affectionately tap the student on the head and say, “Poof! You’re a Genius! Go and do better.” We would laugh together, I am sure, but what message would I be sending? The joke sends a message to the heart that I do not believe I am willing to express. The joke is that the person is not good enough in a way that only magic can change. Since it is a joke, we both would know the magic would not work. So with a tap I would have told the student that he or she was not good enough simply for the sake of a laugh. The real message would be that there is nothing the student could do in difficult situations. I was beginning to regret my purchase.

But there was still something about the wand that attracted me. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I was underestimating the pervasive wish we all have to be endowed with better brains, and that is what  I could use to send a different message. I found the relevance of the “Magic Wand!”

Now, I keep the wand in my top file drawer. When things get tough in class and the students feel trapped, unable to successfully solve a problem, I pull the wand out and ask them, “What are the two great things we need to remember about this Magic Wand?” Since they have all seen the wand before, they quickly respond, in chorus with renewed enthusiasm, “It doesn’t work, and we don’t need to be a genius!” Then they go and do better.

There are Mandates and, then, There are Mandates

There has been a large amount of discussion surrounding ways to implement change in education, and the question of whether mandates work comes up about as often as the frequency of mandates passed down. I believe conflicts begin when authorities mandate procedures instead of outcome goals. Change as a process, and the imprecision of the sequence of activities required to make sustained, positive change  are both key factors when considering how to implement change. For skilled, reflective teaching professionals, resistance converts to productive dialogue when mandates are limited to outcomes. Dominating mandates that dictate teacher flexibility work for teaching technicians who find more confidence in prepared programs than the professionals who understand and apply researched, peer-reviewed, and accepted educational teaching concepts. Peter Senge (1990), who wrote The Fifth Discipline seeks to replicate this higher standard of professionalism in education. The resulting behavior of teaching professionals who seek “personal mastery” plays out as negative resistance whenever mandates are questioned. Comprehensive process-type mandates clearly stifle teacher professionalism. Hall and Hord (2011) open their text, Implementing Change: Patterns, Principles, and Potholes with their Change Principle 9 and say that Mandates Can Work, which they solidify by saying that the principle holds true for all cases. In their view there is no room for debate, only discussion about how the mandate will be fulfilled. This means to me that, in their text, they are addressing technicians in education, and not professionals, even though they promote Senge’s work as an ideal that is rarely achieved.

One up side to teacher resistance to mandates, as another graduate student described to me, is that it fosters reflection on aspects of change on a personal level. I agree, but I would add, with emphasis, that the personal reflections made by a highly professional teacher have a direct impact on classroom instruction, whereas the reflections of an instructional technician, as I described above, are not nearly as significant to instruction. Strict, comprehensive mandates promote technicians, not teaching professionals. Teaching professionals have an obligation, therefore, to resists effectively, not negatively,  in order to remain professional and to promote a professional practice in education.

Red Herrings to Orange Herring Gulls to Clean, White Herring Gulls

I recently responded to an article in the June 22, 2010 Wilmington Star News (hard copy only). I wrote:

Dear Editor,

I have a message for your audience: that is, Reader Beware!

In his June twenty-second article, “Gulf Oil Leak Wouldn’t Yet Fill Up Superdome,” Associated Press writer, Gareth McGrath tosses us a red herring with distracting comparisons of the massive oil leak to similarly massive volumes such as the Mississippi River’s effluent and the space inside nine-thousand-plus living rooms under the guise of a better perspective. Quantities of spilled oil do not compare with similar quantities of airspace within architectural spaces. What is worse, is that McGrath sights a “mathematical context” (which, being math, many readers hesitate to argue against) and tells us that the problem, “isn’t that huge,” because lots of water is rushing into the gulf. The spill IS huge! The consequences are DIRE! While his Superdome comparison may be true, no true statement can make a bad argument valid. I sometimes need to remind myself to read critically. At best, McGrath’s article is not worth printing. At worst, it is drivel, not unlike the leak, itself, that is aimed to desensitize us from the bane of flora and fauna in the gulf. Instead of passing around red herrings, our time would be better spent supporting the clean up efforts in places such as East Grand Terre Island, where the white breasted, first year herring gulls have turned orange from the oil mess. Let’s make the effort go from “red herrings” to orange herrings to clean, white herrings.

Scott Dodd

June 22, 2010


Cole, C. (2010, June 6). Gulf oil spill: Birds in Barataria Bay hit hard. Los Angeles

TImes. Retrieved June 22, 2010

Watercolors and Science Mix Well

For the past couple of weeks my classes have been muddying the waters as they study the ways land (soil) and water interact together. Using a dirt-filled plastic tote with a hole in the corner, they each set up a variety of situations- each with a messy potential, I mean, a messy attraction. At about the same time we discussed vocabulary that included “meander,” “tributary,” “deposition,” and “delta.”

We are learning out-write that experiencing new concepts, rules and relationships are learned in tandem with the vocabulary used to identify the concepts. Sometimes the experience comes first, while other times the words and definitions lead the way. I have found that two important aspect of this learning combination is that the students need to realize that concepts and raw information such as vocabulary are learned differently, and, secondly, that these two ways of learning work best when addressed in succession- not really at the same time, but one after the other.

After mucking around long enough to recognize how water percolates and how run off changes the topography, we went to the GeoGlossary map in  the GeoSkills program we have available on our computer network. There we connected and noted key vocabulary while we discussed the way the words matched our messy classroom experience.

The following day we took watercolor paint to paper to represent the concepts we have learned. I uploaded representative student sample paintings to a Voice Thread at >> . Watch as the students add detailed comments to the voice thread about what is going on, scientifically speaking, in the river scenes. The students are in the process of setting up Gaggle accounts to complete the task.

New School Mission Statement Ties Purpose to Expected Outcomes

The elementary school where I work has a new Mission Statement. It reads:

“At [CBES] we will be a positive, supportive community focused on helping all children become responsible learners who are well versed in 21st Century Skills, and who are able to express a purposeful attitude of life-long learning by demonstrating consistent improvement of North Carolina Standards.”

The new mission statement makes a connection between the learning community the school wants to be and the accountability it must be responsible to fulfill without making those two efforts synonymous. CBES teaches students to be curious, to pay attention to detail, and to discover new ideas that will stay and serve them with them as they grow.

To some, it may seem as though the school is making a pledge to force students to go to infinity and then beyond, as if solid school-wide standardized testing scores are unattainable, and then to ask for more. Instead, the school’s intent is the other way around. If CBES helps students become thoughtful problem solvers with a useful vocabulary, the students will be able to navigate benchmark probes and End of Grade Tests as one more of life’s problems to solve. This way life-long learning comes first.

Accountability is necessary. The school’s new mission statement reminds the school community to stay on the track of ensuring that each student achieves his/her highest potential. It is a track that passes through successful End of Grade Testing.