My hardest work of the day is when my kids have settled in with their books. The lights are down low, but not too low. The windows are open to let in the breeze. It takes us a few moments to get into the zone. Once the crinkling of headphones bags, the logging-in on Audible, and the shifting of chairs comes to a halt, I get to work.
Conferences look different based on what readers need at the time. Some days I kid watch from a couple of different spots in the room and fill out an engagement inventory. On other days, you will see four or five kids huddled around my kidney table reading quietly as I check in with each reader. Most of the time, I will be working one on one with my readers.
The goal is simple: readers spend workshop time reading, and I spend workshop time helping them with their reading. It is my job to help readers grow. To make them feel like reader is a name they are worthy of. They are worthy of the name, and sometimes it takes many conversations throughout the year to help them try that on that name, to help them own it. How can so many teachers continue to ask me how I know that my kids are reading? How can so many teachers continue to require logged reading, when the answer is as simple as the goal? Give kids time to read, access to books and then work to help them as they grow and try on the name of reader. Be there for the conversations, because I promise they are the best part. The conversations are taken to a new level when you are living a readerly life, yourself.
Talking with kids about reading is the heart of workshop. Yes, I will work with readers on goals to help them grow. Maybe they are working to recognize pieces of plot in fiction to deepen their understanding. Maybe they are working on visualizing a mental movie as they read. Those things are all an important part of my work, but my favorite thing about these conversations is the heart that each individual reader brings to them.
Last week, I met with a fourth grader who was rereading Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet series. First off, how advanced is that decision to reread a series? I started the conference by telling this reader that I was beyond impressed with this move. Then I asked him why? I like to keep things open-ended because let's face it, whoever is doing most of the talking, is doing most of the working. His response helped reaffirm why these conversations are so important. He said "The first time I read this series, I read with my heart. This time, I'm going to let my brain do the work." Profound.
A fourth grade reader actually said this to me. Please tell me, where would he have added this response on a standardized test? On a reading log? On a multiple choice quiz? In a fat packet with literal comprehension questions for each book? There is no place for heart work on these measures. The place for heart work is during conferences. Conversations between two readers will tell you everything you need to know about a reader, and more.
That day, I also met with about four other readers in his class. Keeping my check-ins at about five a day gives me the chance to meet with my kids once a week, at least. As I sat down next to another reader, I noticed he had a copy of Anne Ursu's Breadcrumbs, a book I had book talked just a few days prior. A book that I did not imagine seeing in the hands of this reader. I picked up Breadcrumbs and said "whoa, nice." He then said "Yeah, I am already 80 pages in and I really like it so far." I followed up with "80 pages? That's past the point of no return, what made you choose this one?" He told me that when he heard me book talk Breadcrumbs, it reminded him of Elsa from Frozen. He said he knew he wanted to give it a try because he liked Elsa and he hadn't spent any time reading fairy tales during the school year (that week we had completed a mini lesson on gaps in our reading lives). Then he looked over at me and said "This is my first big book." Being the outstanding actress that I am (I really wanted to cry), I simply said "wow, how does that feel?" He fidgeted with the book in his fourth grade hands and said "It feels really good."
This. This is what I am talking about. That reader had no limits from his teacher. That reader was not afraid to tell his teacher that he likes Elsa from Frozen. He was not afraid to try something new, step out of the box because of the safe community in our classroom. The community is a pivotal piece, because if you don't have it, conversations might not sound like this.
Conversations connect readers. Connected readers make up a community. Communities of readers can change the world. One heart at a time.
The intense gaze of an engaged reader.
Each day I am a researcher in the field. Observing. Listening. Note taking. Talking with my subjects.
Don't ignore all the little signs that readers are fully engaged. Hunched over in anticipation. Hand underneath the next page ready to turn. A gasp. A sigh. An UGH.
And my favorite: "Mrs. Riedmiller!!!!! ..........."
How did we get here? Well, it took a lot of hard work. It took a teacher who chooses to read a lot because she finally loves it again, it took daily protected time for reading, it took support for readers while they stretched out their limbs, it took a library full of engaging books that just happen to be there for these particular readers, it took a library down the hall and down in the valley to fill my gaps, it took readers seeing their teacher as a reader too. It also took their teacher deciding the only materials they needed were books and notebooks. It took their teacher dropping all of the TPT bullshit. It took their teacher pulling a Mr. Acevedo and saying "this is a no worksheet zone!" It is hard work.
However, it is work that can and must be done. How can we encourage other teachers in our building to join this journey with us? It isn't enough that we are the only ones (or one of few) doing this work. You have the community in your own classroom? Guess what? Now it's your sole mission to bring it to every other classroom in your building. In your district. Don't like how heavy it feels? Then you need to walk away from this post right now. Come back when you're ready.
Somehow, we need to take a step back. Take a step back from all the interventions, all of the material purchasing, all of the red tape, and decide that we value literacy. We value it in a way that says we will fight to get books into kids hands, and those books will be ones the readers picked, not us. We value it in a way that means we will continue to grow as educators, even when the district mandated PD might not be what does it for us. My core support group is filled with people that don't even live in my state. Reach out. We're out here, I promise. We value it in a way that shows it because we make time for it. You make time for the things you value. Period. If you value a packet full of graphic organizers over a book a kid chose in his own hands, then shame on you.
It's not good enough that you say "this is how we've always done it." It's not good enough that you feel like your hands are tied. It's not good enough to continue to say that no one listens to your requests. Get louder! Get smarter! Get tougher!
This fight is ours. It's on our shoulders, it's our responsibility. We can't continue to blame administration or whoever else is in the way that week. Stop telling your kids to have a growth mindset when you don't. Stop throwing RIGOR in their face when you shut down at the mere assumption that the answer is no. The top paragraph showcases what I want, and I am not willing to give it up. If you want it too, you have to fight for it. Ask the tough questions, push back when decisions are made that don't contribute to the greater good. Fight for what you believe in!
Get up. Dust yourself off and get back to work. We are here to serve kids. No one else.
"It is estimated that the "Summer Slide" accounts for as much as 85% of the reading achievement gap between lower income students and their middle- and upper-income peers." (Why Summer Matters in the Rich/Poor Achievement Gap, Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Frazen, August 2009.) WOW! We know that it is important for kids to engage with reading year-round, but there are certain shifts we must make as educators during the summer to help prevent a slide in both comprehension and engagement.
You see summer reading come in many forms in schools that are abuzz at the end of the school year. Our school used to do a calendar with parent signatures and the kids that read all summer got an ice cream party when school resumed in August (yikes). Even though that strategy now seems terrifying to me, it was backed by a well-meaning librarian. One who knew the research about summer slide and wanted to do something about. Other schools make required reading lists, or other incentive programs made to motivate students. The problem with that extrinsic motivation is that it does not stick. It motivates a student with a reward, not the actual reading. So, what can we all do? What are some ways to keep our kids reading over the summer and maintain those Wild Reading classrooms we have worked so hard to establish during the school year? Here is a list of things that I have found to help keep my kids engaged with reading over the long summer.
1. Make Plans
Before school is over, we start making plans for the summer. We take a look at our reading notebook and see some of our gaps for the school year, series that we really loved and what we plan on reading next. In my experience, it helps to write down the plan. This book form I created is one way for students to keep their list on hand. Students write the titles of books they want to read and color them in as they read. There is no reward involved with this, and students don't have to color, but the coloring helps some of us see what we have completed. You can also use the form to just keep track of what you ended up reading over the summer. That's it! We have forms just like this one that we keep in our reading notebooks, so my kids are pretty comfortable with this. We also share apps, websites and free book programs (from the Public Library and Barnes & Noble), so kids know where to find books during the summer.
2. Provide Access
Kids cannot read over the summer if they do not have any books to read. Period. It seems that some teachers and librarians have no idea that their kids live in book deserts. These same teachers rebute with "go to the public library, it's free!" This is not the answer for all families. Some communities have stringent requirements to get cards, like proof of residency. Some families have no way to get a library. Some families have anxiety over past fees and penalties, and some families do not have libraries in their communities. With that being said, we should not ignore the plethora of resources our public libraries offer.
-Give books away. The end of the year is a great time for teachers to weed through their classroom libraries, and these books can be laid out on tables in the library or cafeteria and students can choose books that they would like to keep. If you have two copies of great books in your library, give one away. Buy books for your kids. Do whatever you can to provide them with access to books they WANT to read. Last year, we saw kids excited for their "first books," some of our students didn't own any books.
-We don't just want to give kids books that we feel like aren't good enough for the library anymore, plan ahead. You can order books from Scholastic using bonus points all year long and have quite the collection for kids to choose from in June. Order a book for each of your kids that you know they will like (because you know them) and give it to them as an end of year gift. Ditch the water bottles, mechanical pencils and candy.
-Add Little Free Libraries around your community. These projects take some fundraising and planning, but they provide instant access to books for everyone in the community. We currently have two, one at each of our elementary schools. Our plans are to add two more before next summer.
-The Public Library. Our public library comes to our school and gives kids sign-up forms for library cards. Your library might do the same. They might even offer to come in and get kids signed up on the spot. Your public library is just waiting for you to reach out and ask for help. Our librarians in Hamilton County are top notch. Give kids handouts, showing them the summer programming and book clubs that your county offers. There would be nothing stopping you from some sort of carpooling effort and summer visit schedule.
3. Community Outreach
Last school year, our librarian was inspired by a presentation from the librarians who set up Books on Bikes. She changed the name to Books on Blankets and we started planning. Over the summer we spent one day a week (for the whole summer) providing a read aloud, free book and popsicle to every child in attendance. We had some families who came to BoB every single week during the summer. This means that their kids had at least one shared reading experience a week and one book they read a week. Using our outlets (Facebook, all-calls, school website and Twitter) we reminded families of our events and encouraged them to attend. Teachers, staff members and community members signed up to read aloud. They also helped pull our book carts out, helped kids select books and helped cut popsicles and clean-up. Our giveaway books were ones left from the giveaway at the end of the year, and some donations from our local Half Price Bookstores. This is such a simple way to provide for the community, and our ultimate goal is for a van. Be creative and start a project like this in your community!
There are so many great ways to share books with kids over the summer. These are three things that work for me and my district. None of them involve rewards or pre-made lists. I hope this post gets you excited about trying out what works for us, or sparks some inspiration to branch out and build on these ideas.
I happened to come across an ARC of Laurel Snyder's Orphan Island, due out in May of 2017. Thank you to Patrick Andrus to allowing me to read this one. I have been anticipating it's release.
Fantasy is one of my favorite genres. I cannot imagine what kind of challenge in must be to build worlds in the ways that excellent fantasy writers do. This book pulled me right in with some intense imagery. The setting is easy to imagine, it feels like paradise. A paradise where only nine children live in complete and happy bliss. Immediately I am pulled to images of Lord of the Flies or Blue Lagoon. The transportation to a new world is one that I have experienced for many years now.
How many times as a child did I imagine living far away, left to my own devices? More times that I can possibly remember. I was quite moved by The Boxcar Children series as a child. A couple of my childhood neighbors worked with me to create their world in our backyards. We made wild onion soup, set up different rooms in our house made of boxwood bushes. It was all quite magical, yet safe. The hollers of our mothers were always within earshot.
Another series that made a profound impact on playtime was The Babysitter's Club. I mean, what 80's/90's kid didn't have the same experience? You read Kristy's Great Idea and all of a sudden you have three of your closest friends gathered and a notebook with a cutout of JTT's face plastered on the front, Babysitter's Club scribbled in your best fourth grade cursive.
And while all of these memories of early world building sit fondly in my heart, there is one more that burns the brightest. As an early reader I was drawn to Mercer Mayer. Drawn might not be the word. Obsessed?
This book: There's An Alligator Under My Bed is one that will always remain a childhood favorite. I had a kindergarten teacher who made this fantasy world real and that inspired a lifetime of play when it comes to reading. I do not remember it all, but I remember her setting up plastic vegetables, fruits and cookies in a trail like the one the boy makes in the book. We had read the book together and then she transformed our classroom into the pages, and wow. What magic there was in that.
And so, I continued to build worlds. Whether it was the boxcar or my friend's bedroom because she was the only one who had a bubblegum pink Girl Talk phone.
As an adult, I no longer build these worlds, but I thoroughly enjoy visiting them through the work of others. If you like to be transported to different places with bizarre rules and possibilities then Orphan Island might be a nice choice for you. While the world is only one piece of the book, it is important. It allows the narrative of friendship and growing up to unfold in the most interesting way.
Students write narratives on Kid Blog.
Can you feel the shift to sheer fear in the classroom? It radiates down the hallways. It makes it's way into team and staff meetings. It permeates the four walls of our learning spaces. If you're a third grade reading teacher, it has probably lived in your room all year. The fear is not coming from the kids, it is coming from their teachers. The fear of will my kids pass the test? is sinking into schools all over America, right now. Tis the season.
This is not the same fear that lives in my teacher heart. My fears take the form of wondering if my kids love reading yet. It takes the form of hoping to one day hear the cheers that fill that room when it's time to get back to our latest writing piece. My fear is that the reading and writing community I worked so hard to establish is soon coming to an end. That it's time for me to pull away my scaffolds and see if my kids can still find books they WANT to read, and that it's time for them to see that all year my editing marks have not covered their notebook pages because I don't want their writer's voice strangled and left dead in a sea of red ink. These are my legitimate fears.
Teachers, do not be afraid that your children will not pass a test. We are human, they are human. We have days when we are not feeling well, when there is no possible way we can focus on another boring, made-up for testing story and the surface level comprehension questions that follow. And that is okay. Teachers, you work hard! You love kids! You are in the trenches helping them along the way every single day. Do not discount all of your hard work and theirs for one day. One day that means what exactly?
I will say this, and I mean it. The only "test prep" my kids do is this: they read and write every single day. We read across genres. We write across genres. Guess what? My kids still work on narrative writing even though it will not be tested on the Ohio Fourth Grade AIR test they will take next month. My kids make up stories that they want to tell, they find their voices. They work through hard times and share happy times. They anticipate book releases and their book talks and critical analysis can bring you to tears. They grow. They grow each and every day and that is worth more than one day of a test.
I am reminded of a time that Donalyn Miller appeared on Penny Kittle's The Book Love Foundation Podcast. She said this "Nobody goes down to the basketball coach and says hey, why are the kids just dribbling basketballs down here? Nobody goes to the band hall and says you know, don't you think the children should be comparing an oboe to a clarinet on a venn diagram? Don't you think that would improve their musicianship? We will still in the same school go down to an english classroom and ask why the kids are just reading and writing in here?" If you want kids to be better at reading and writing, they must have time to read and write. Not to fill out graphic organizers, hamburger writing templates, do language arts and crafts or even... your really "fun and engaging" test prep task cards.
So teachers, guess what you need to grow readers and writers?
Books. Lots of them. Across all genres and formats.
Paper & pencils. Lots of paper.
Time. Lots of time to read and write.
Communities that offer support and socialization. Lots of socialization.
Test Prep 101.
Grab your books,
Quiet those voices,
A walk down the hall,
is that all it takes?
Push open the door,
just a smidgen more.
All of a sudden,
I can breathe.
Cobwebs be gone,
limbs stretch out.
Find a cozy spot,
under a tree
against a wall
next to a friend
on the ground.
Crack open the spine,
a boy learning he's a wizard
a girl trying to speak the words in her heart
a boy who put all of his feelings in a suitcase
a robot turning into a mother.
A breath of fresh air.
Teaching is hard. There are times when I find myself in the midst of these small moments that can only be described as chaotic. Typically, chaos waits to sink it's teeth in during what teachers call "transitions." Allow me to set the scene.
A class full of 23 nine and ten year olds have just pulled up from the surface of their books. Books which they have been engrossed in for the past 25ish minutes. Disclaimer: most of them were engrossed, others were blowing their noses or staring off into the abyss, but that is a topic we will touch on some other time. I gently say "alright, let's find a spot to stop. Reading materials away, grab everything you need for writing and meet me on the carpet."
Chaos sees his in. Here he comes.
It only takes one person who does not hear anything I just said. One person who heard "I'm starting in about four minutes so you have time to do whatever you would like." Realistically, what they actually heard probably sounds more like wah wah wah wah wah a la Charlie Brown's teacher. Then, the inevitable happens. Another adult walks into the room to tell or show me something. Seeing the new adult in the room will remind a child that they have a story to tell me. That will then remind another child that they have a story too. All of a sudden, no one remembers the bathroom signal and everyone has to go. If you're lucky, at this precise moment a dramatic indoor or outdoor recess announcement will come crackling over the intercom. This will be met with either an enthusiastic YEAHHH and fist pumps or a devastating NOOOO.
Chaos has arrived and he is trying to steal my cool.
At this moment, a child who really does need me or really does need directions clarified because I gave multiple steps instead of one, will approach me. This is it, this is the moment that will make or break the rest of the day for this child and it's all in my hands. I can take out the stress of the current situation or I can take a deep breath and help this little person who is hoping only to be met with a response that is not dehumanizing.
When my kids ask me questions I like to ask them a question in return. One that I think will help them get to a solution without me laying out the full plan for them. This does not work with all kids. For some kids, it can cause them to tear up as soon as I pose my first question. This year, I have one sweet little girl that is extremely sensitive. I had to learn that the hard way when I used my reverse questioning technique on her the first time. This student always needs the most support in the moments that are heavy with chaos.
Today, she gave me this note and it helped me see that she appreciates the patience I show her. All it takes is a deep breath in those moments that matter the most. If she can try her best then so can I.
Outside of Scholastic Headquarters in NYC, March 2016
How hard it is to try something new. To put ourselves out there and hope, maybe foolishly, for something to happen. I often wonder how we can expect our own children and students to be brave if we are not. It is easy to sit behind our desks and tell kids to be brave. It is easy to do this when they're the only ones filling their days with taking chances, not us.
They listen to a teacher say "what's the worst that could happen if you try?"
But, what if our kids saw us taking chances too? This thought took root in my mind this last year as more and more opportunities came knocking on my door. Suddenly, I was presented with possibilities to grow as an educator, to learn more about my craft and to collaborate on levels I never imagined for myself. It was scary. It still is scary. But for me, the chance to grow and be better than I am today helps squash my fear.
It started with having enough courage to stand up in front of hundreds of educators, librarians and authors at Nerd Camp and tell Donalyn Miller that her books saved my teaching life. Then it transformed into having the courage to apply to be a Scholastic Teacher Advisor. After that, it was connecting with eight other educators, most of which I did not know in real life. Now, it is taking the form of saying yes to sharing my passion with other educators on a larger scale. While these moments help me grow professionally, chances to be brave happen in my classroom every single day.
It might take the form of sharing my own writing with the class, and listen... that takes more courage than almost anything else I have ever done. Often it is being honest about books and my own reading life. Kids can see right through you, and why listen to someone who talks the talk but does not walk the walk? I am not standing at the front of my room telling my kids to be readers when I am not a reader myself. Maybe it is acknowledging that I do not know it all. I am learning right along with my kids and it took me a couple of years to embrace that.
So, maybe if we can show bravery then our kids will be more likely to. Maybe knowing that they are a part of a caring community helps them be brave. I know my community helps me show courage. If you want to put yourself out there, this Nerdy community will be there.
I have the audacity to believe that what I do is important. Monumental, even.
The words I choose can uplift or deflate. The look on my face can encourage or hinder. I set the tone. If I put myself out there in and out of the classroom, then my kids have a role model. They can see (from a safe distance) that when we are bold in life, amazing things can happen.
I mean, what's the worst that could happen if we try?
I am living in the heart of the school year.
You know what I mean. Everyone knows the routine, because it has been established. Everyone knows where things go, because they have lived in the space for five months. Everyone knows what time lunch is, because... wait. No one can ever remember what time lunch is. Including me. It's that time of the year when you see the lightbulbs going off more and more. You see the real, genuine growth. Kids look back through their writing notebooks and scoff at their barely there single sentence they wrote on day one during our first free write. Then they flip to their latest piece and you see a smile spread across their face. There is so much pride living in the heart of the school year.
My fourth graders have been in our shared space for months and it feels like home. A safe place in the building where we can be ourselves. We can laugh at our little inside jokes, we can smile when Hailey comes in with another pair of Harry Potter inspired earrings, when Cam bursts through the door with the newest volume of Chicken President, and when Layla loses her mind cracking up because she has caught me making one of my classic "Mrs. Riedmiller faces."
It has taken us all year to get here, but here we are.
This is the time of the year when my sadness starts sinking in. I know my kids will leave me soon and I never know what is waiting for them in fifth grade. I know their teachers, my own colleagues, but I do not live in those spaces, so I cannot attest to them. What I do know is that they are leaving an embedded learning community. They are leaving a unique space that I have worked tirelessly to create. They are leaving a space where they have left their mark, and where their teacher will not soon forget their little quirks. The things that make them who they are. Here's the thing: I know they will be fine. I know they will enjoy fifth grade and I know that they will be successful, but that doesn't mean that I won't miss them and all of the time we shared together.
So, as we enter the testing season and the season where we start looking at little humans and deciding where they fit in the puzzle that is next year, let us remember one thing. Let us remember that these children are why we do what we do. Their smiles, their creative minds and curious hearts are why we are here. Instead of just trying to fit them into the puzzle academically, I hope we will also look at their little hearts. I hope we will say that this child would be great with another because they both have a fire in their belly for learning. That these two children go together because they are kind to everyone they meet. And maybe that this friend would fit with this teacher because their personalities are so similar. I encourage you to take a step back and celebrate all of the growth and successes of the school year. Celebrate them before it's too late to look back together. Celebrate these kids and how hard they work on a daily basis; whether it's multiplying mixed numbers, finally finishing a 200 page book or literally keeping their cool all day in a school setting. Celebrate it.
I will soak up these moments and live in the heart of the school year, because these moments are now numbered. It won't be long before our kids move on and settle into the hearts of their next teacher.
Voluminous practice is the only route to reading proficiency. Voluminous practice builds stamina, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. It sharpens tastes and preferences. It gives children knowledge of genres, authors, and literary features, and it encourages the development of critical and analytical skills. Every national and international assessment shows that the best student readers are the habitual, independent readers. -Nancie Atwell's Elements for a Successful Reading Workshop
If you know me well, you know that a few summers ago I read Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller. You also might know how much of an impact this one single text has made on me as a teacher. Donalyn Miller saved my life, and in turn will help me save the lives of countless readers. RITW helped me think outside of the box. It made me start at the beginning. I knew I wanted my kids to LOVE reading. I knew I wanted to help nurture and grow readers, but that I also wanted them to be readers after they left me. Donalyn includes a section about scheduling that I highly recommend. It helped me take a look at what I was doing and sweep away all the "other things" that steal precious time. Our time is precious and we want kids to look forward to all aspects of our class. It brings me great joy when my kids say "What... It's time to go? No!!"
When approaching the work of scheduling a language arts block, as teachers we must take an honest look at the way we currently schedule. Does your school give you enough time to teach all that you are required to teach? Has your administration, in partnership with teachers, decided to take a look at the blocks and make sure that they best serve children? Do children have time to actually read and write during the school day? If these conversations are not happening in your building, but you are looking at a 50 minute block to teach both reading and writing, I first and foremost, encourage you to reach out to your administration and get the conversation started. Also, ask yourself if there are things in your schedule that don't need to be there. Seat work, worksheets, morning work, mini-lessons that aren't so mini... look at each item and if it is not authentic or in the best interest of your kids, then it needs to go.
Before We Get Started: For this post, I am going to assume that you teach both reading and writing. You are probably also responsible for spelling, word study or word work as well, we use more of a word study approach in my classroom. I also use Lucy Calkins Reading Workshop and Writing Workshop Units of Study. The units allot for independent practice time in both reading and writing and that is a component that is very important to me. We already know that grammar should not be taught in isolation (it took me too long to figure that one out), so that is integrated into Writing Workshop, mostly in small group work and conferencing or embedded in the work we do together as part of Guided Practice.
Researchers and practitioners stand in solidarity: the practice of reading aloud throughout the grades is not only viable but also best practice. Read-aloud is an essential practice in teaching literacy in grades K-12. Steven L. Layne, In Defense of Read-Aloud: Sustaining Best Practice
I know you all will say that you spend time engaged with read aloud every single day. It's one of those key elements that doesn't get chopped. Even when there's a pop up fire drill, a two-hour delay or a dreaded state testing date. We know that reading aloud to children has many benefits including exposure to higher level texts, ones we cannot yet read independently, modeling of a fluent reader, exposure to new genres or series and a chance to compare characters to ourselves. Teachers of ALL grade levels should be using read aloud in their classrooms, this is not a practice that should be secluded to only early elementary teachers.
Read the first book in a series to get kids hooked. We did this with Margaret Peterson Haddix's Among the Hidden, book one in her Shadow Children series. The kids were begging for book two. This read-aloud was recommended to me by the fifth grade math teacher in my building.
Choose a book that sets the tone for the school year, like Phil Bildner's A Whole New Ballgame. Mr. Acevedo is an inspiration. Theatrical read aloud? Check. Cool tattoos? Check. No Worksheet Zone? Check. Focusing on the Whole Child? Check. This read aloud will help students understand classroom expectations and show them that they are a part of a family.
Pick a book that has shorter chapters, ones that end on cliffhangers almost every single time. Kids are always super engaged with Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick. We read this book aloud during the nonfiction unit Reading the Weather, Reading the World. While we are immersed in research and nonfiction reading and writing, we have a historical fiction read-aloud to help us really feel the emotional impact of extreme weather.
Mix up genres. Fiction chapter books are not your only choice for read aloud, yet so many teachers ONLY READ FICTIONAL CHAPTER BOOKS OUT LOUD. We want kids to have exposure to all kinds of different genres and format. Consider a 50/50 nonfiction, fiction balance. Consider audiobooks, web articles, PICTURE BOOKS, interviews and other firsthand accounts and more. We participate in Classroom Picture Book a Day and we choose books that tie into our workshop mini lessons, or teach us how to be kind, or make us belly laugh, or challenge our thinking. Somedays we read a chapter book or article and others two picture books. Sometimes we do a picture book to start class and a chapter in a chapter book to close out the class. There are no rules, so there's no need to stress yourself out. Read aloud every single day. This work grows hearts and helps nurture a love of reading. It's worth your time.
Alloted Classroom Time: Anywhere from 10-30 minutes
Further Reading: In Defense of Read-Aloud: Sustaining Best Practice by Steven L. Layne
This series builds on decades of teaching and research—in literally tens of thousands of schools. In states across the country, this curriculum has already given young people extraordinary power, not only as readers, but also as thinkers. When young people are explicitly taught the skills and strategies of proficient reading and are invited to live as richly literate people do, carrying books everywhere, bringing reading into every nook and corner of their lives, the results are dramatic. Lucy Calkins on Reading Workshop Units of Study
Not all teachers that use workshop use Lucy Calkins and her Units of Study. Workshop is really a format in which you can teach reading, writing and I'm sure, other areas. A general format would include a mini-lesson, independent reading time and then share. This year I have the new Units of Study so that is what I use in my classroom. Over the past two years I pieced together free workshop mini-lessons I found online and made it work. This is the format I choose to go with because it supports what I know to be important when it comes to teaching kids how to read. You have direct instruction, time to read and access to real books, support from a lead learner during that reading time and then a chance to communicate with classmates about what is being read. This set up supports and helps grow readers.
One thing I have seen many workshop classrooms do is level their libraries. I believe this comes from the focus on readers having time to spend in "just right book." Students might "shop" during the week for more JR books for their book bins, etc. This is one aspect of workshop that does not fall in line with my personal philosophies.
Picture this: a classroom focusing heavily on a child's reading level. The child knows their level, their parents won't really let them read books that aren't on that level, their teacher won't either. They have a limited amount of M bins to choose from in their classroom. There might even be a color coordinating to that letter. What happens to our little friend when they decide to visit a public library? Will our friend be searching to find his M bin, only to find many different titles organized by the author's last name? YES, HE WILL, because this is how the world is set up. Book stores and libraries are not leveled. What are you getting them ready for? No place on the face of the earth is set up like this.
Stop limiting children by assuming that they do not have the ability to evaluate books for themselves. How insulting. Do you know how kids survive in my classroom without any knowledge of their reading level? Do you know how kids choose books in my classroom without any knowledge of their reading level? It's simple. Their library is organized by genre, and there is a section with different formats: graphic novels and audiobooks. They learn how to find books organized alphabetically by an author's last name. They learn that it's okay to abandon a book if it is more of a "not yet" fit. Mini lessons give readers the tools they need to be readers outside of the doors of the school building. When a book is too hard, when we have given a book enough of a chance and we're just not into it, how to prioritize a TBR list, how to talk about books with friends, ones we've loved and all the others. When we give readers the tools, they will use them. So, get rid of the labeled bins and the limitations. I read books that aren't on my reading level all the time. I bet you do the same. Actually, I don't even know what my level is. Do you?
While the kids are reading, you are conferring with readers or pulling small groups. You get to know readers and their interests. Since you are someone who reads you can start recommending books to them and seeing patterns and holes in their reading lives. Still concerned about kids not being able to choose their own books? This is when those conversations and guided moments come into play. If a student is continuously choosing books that are too difficult for them it will be easy to see in a reading conference. I'm asking you to talk to your readers. Build a community where you are constantly talking about books with your kids and they are constantly talking about books with each other.
Alloted Classroom Time: 45-60 minutes
Mini-Lesson: 7-10 minutes
Independent Reading: 15-30 minutes
Share: 7-10 minutes
Further Reading: Revisiting the Reading Workshop by Barbara Orehovec & Marybeth Alley
At the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, we have been working for three decades to develop, pilot, revise, and implement state-of-the art curriculum in writing. We have had a chance to do this work under the influence of Common Core for the past few years, and this series—this treasure chest of experiences, theories, techniques, tried-and-true methods, and questions—will bring the results of that work to you. Lucy Calkins on Writing Workshop Units of Study
Just like teachers of reading need to be readers, teachers of writing need to be writers. Writing is difficult to teach. It's so complex and so open ended. I haven't always felt confident with my abilities to teach writing, but then again, I haven't always identified myself as a writer. I think when you put yourself in the same position as your students it's easier to support them. Perhaps the random writing prompts aren't really what writers need. When we put on the vunerability of being a writer we can work together in a community of writers, supporting each other along the way.
Since beginning to work with workshop curriculum in the area of writing I have been blown away by the results. Most of my students are highly engaged with writing and often want to work on their writing at home. We treat writers as authors because that is what they really are. We use the same format as Reading Workshop and at the close of a unit we throw a celebration. Something I have been working on more is sharing their writing with a larger audience. When my kids knew that their last narrative piece was going to be public on Kid Blog, it took on a whole new meaning. I have been brainstorming with my principal about schoolwide writing displays and ideas for reaching out to local businesses that could display our stories.
Writing Workshop gives kids a voice and it still provides choice for them. They decide what they are writing and they are the one in charge. My mini lessons guide them along the way. They show they how to create a story arc in narrative writing, they teach them how to keep focus in an essay. Writing is quickly becoming my favorite area because of the abilities of my students when their classroom conditions are more conductive to creativity and freedom. Sharing is extremely important in workshop, writing is no exception. Once you have highly engaged writers, sharing is what they look forward to the most!
Alloted Classroom Time: 45-60 minutes
Mini-Lesson: 7-10 minutes
Independent Writing: 15-30 minutes
Share: 7-10 minutes
Further Reading: Launching the Writing Workshop by Denise Leograndis
If you do not have the time each day to do both reading and writing workshop, you could try one of the following options:
This is an area that I do not feel fully confident with, yet. This year our fourth graders overall struggle with phonics. Not all of our students, but we have realized that they are missing some of those foundational skills that should be present by fourth grade. We completely revamped the way we do word study with the help of the third grade team in my building. We loved what they were doing with their kids and they have been supporting us along the way all year. The approach we take is a blended one.
This approach is not perfect, but it has been working very well for us this year. Students love the stations and we have even seen some solid transfer in their independent writing. We have plans to move into more roots and affixes towards the end of the year when we seen phonological improvement. There is always room for improvement and we are constantly working on making word study better!
Alloted Classroom Time: 10-20 minutes
Further Reading: Listed Above
SEARCHING FOR LOST TIME
MY SCHEDULE (2 HOURS)
Read Aloud: 10 minutes
Reading Workshop: 45 minutes
Writing Workshop: 45 minutes
Word Study: 20 minutes
I have two hours for each of my ELA blocks. I realize that many teachers do not have this same generous amount of time. If I was in a self contained classroom I would make sure to have at least two hours for ELA. Ideally, two and a half hours would be best.
If you are looking at blocks that are more like 50, 55, 60 or 80 minutes I would suggest trying some of the above methods. Try shortening your workshop times, or maybe staggering your days. With word study, since we spread it out over two weeks if we need to skip a day to make room for something else, we can, because two weeks is more than enough time for a pattern/rule study. We also can utilize an every other day schedule with word study if needed.
Be creative and don't be afraid to try out a new schedule. Staggering days will probably be the best way to go for most of you with really big time constraints. Again, consider approaching other teachers in your grade level and your administration when it comes to more time. For your convenience I have listed the amount of standards you are required to cover versus other subject areas, it might be beneficial to use that as a focal point in the conversation. While we don't all want to focus solely on Common Core (for many reasons), your Admin still expects you to teach the standards, so this is good information to have.
3rd Grade Language Arts
80 Standards (including sub standards in the areas of foundations, speaking and listening and language)
3rd Grade Math
33 Standards (including sub standards in the areas of measurements & data and numbers & operations-fractions)
3rd Grade Science
4th Grade Language Arts
76 Standards (including sub standards in the areas of foundations, speaking and listening and language)
4th Grade Math
34 Standards (including sub standards in the areas of measurements & data and numbers & operations-fractions)
4th Grade Science
5th Grade Language Arts
74 Standards (including sub standards in the areas of foundations, speaking and listening and language)
5th Grade Math
34 Standards (including sub standards in the areas of measurements & data and numbers & operations-fractions)
5th Grade Science
I list these standards out not to create a division among departmentalized content areas, but to help look at the big picture. Of course we want kids spending time in every subject area, every single day. Maybe looking at the demands of each area could help when deciding where time is best spent. I know that our students need to spend time reading and writing each day. Maybe it's time to look at more than just content. In what ways can our work cross multiple content areas? Aren't we all reading and writing teachers when it comes down to it?