This is the start of a new journey for me and my students. My professional mentor text has been Jessica Lifshitz’s Blog: Crawling Out of the Classroom. I use Jess’s blog because a professional goal of mine has been to more towards a more equitable, social justice serving classroom space. Her blog constantly provides the layout of this work although she teaches fifth graders while I teach fourth. Using this mentor and the personal help of Jess has helped moved my work from a far-fetched dream to reality. This post is the one where she lays out the work for Literacy Studio, how she learned about it and how she is trying it with her kids. This post also contains the great conferring forms (more about that later) that I have been using. Jess- I cannot thank you enough for helping me through every step of this journey.
I began the week by telling my students that I was thinking about how often we finish a reading mini lesson and set off to work and I am quickly approached by someone asking me if they can finish a “personal story they are working on.” Or how often we finish a reading mini lesson about our realistic fiction work and they are burying their noses in an informational text immediately after. Noticing their wants and involuntary questions had made me rethink our time and I had to share an idea with them. An idea that I believed would offer a good solution to this really excellent “problem” to have. They were intrigued. I wanted to change class a little bit? I noticed that they wanted more time to finish their Fox Detective, Lost Unicorn and Sports Comics? I had their attention.
They were beyond enthusiastic about the change! So, we got straight down to business and figured out how much time we have together in class and how that time SHOULD be used to help us do these core things: become stronger writers, become stronger readers and become stronger citizens (social studies). We messed around with the schedule until we achieved what we believed to be the ultimate path to achieve these goals. Each day would look like this:
Reading Workshop (30 minutes)
10 minute mini-lesson
20 minutes independent reading (in the unit genre, teacher picks goals)
Writing Workshop (30 minutes)
10 minute mini-lesson
20 minutes independent writing (in the unit genre, teacher picks goals)
Independent Studio Time (30 minutes)
30 minutes (read OR write, any genre, any format, student chooses goals)
Social Studies (20 minutes)
Once a schedule was in place we decided to try it out. My students are already accustomed to conferring with me during reading and writing workshops each day. I explained that the independent portion would be a third time that I could confer with them during the day. My first class had a lot of students who chose to write during that independent block, and my second class had quite a few that decided to read. No matter what they chose, when I met with readers and writers, I had a conversation with them about how they would decide to balance their independent time. Some students decided on an every other day schedule, some said it would depend on the day of the week and how excited they were about their current book or writing piece (I love this response, by the way) and some students knew that the balance piece would be a struggle for them. We decided we would continue to work on it as we went on.
First off, there wasn’t ONE student who wasn’t engaged during this independent time. Everyone had a plan for what they wanted to do during that time. Students worked during the whole time because they had full choice over the piece or the book. Again, my kids are used to this with books, but opening it up for writing was a game changer. I always noticed kids wanting to write fantasy stories during realistic fiction and this was finally their opportunity to get to have full choice when it came to class time.
We are about three days in and I have already noticed a big difference in my students. They are even more excited and enthusiastic about class time. They also are setting their own goals with ease because of the form I am using from Jess's post. It breaks down conferring time by asking kids what they are noticing in their books and what they are proud of in their writing, once students do this part the teacher names what they are doing so students are much more likely to try doing the work again. My kids have responded to these forms and this teacher language in a positive way. Instead of basic summaries, conferences are turning into more like this: “wow, I don’t know if you know this but what you just did was explain character change. That is deep reading work.” Then students decide which noticing or proud moment they want to turn into a personal goal. They decide how they will keep track of the goal and when they want to meet with me again. It was unreal to hear my kids talk about their reading and writing in the ways that they did this past week. I told a colleague that I wish I had actually videoed a couple conferences so I could look back and remember that charge of excitement and EMPOWERMENT in their voices! My Intervention Specialist and I have already decided that we will use these student-created goals to have students rewrite their IEP goals. We then plan on having them track their work in their reading and writing notebooks and use them as their trials and evidence of work towards those goals. How powerful, right?
This outline moves me towards my goal of more student choice and agency in my classroom. It lays down a foundation for some serious social justice work that I want to take on with kids. A possible change would be reconsidering letting students work in partnerships. They are now and some are using them well and some are not. This is an area I know I’ll need to be flexible and willing to intervene on. I am leaning towards not turning them down with it comes to partnerships because think of the critical thinking and problem solving they are doing within those spaces! Something else to keep an eye on is my consistency with conferring. I have to be willing to use that great chunk of time to really get in there with kids and help them improve their reading and writing.
Using this format allows me to stay true to the workshop format and some beloved units of study in both reading and writing, dip my toe into inquiry based learning, social justice standards, and Kristi Mraz's Mindset work all while remaining true to my core heart belief that student choice and voice should rule the day.
I am excited about this new layout and I am already impressed with the ownership out of my kids. I can’t see how much further they take it!
This summer, I had grand plans.
I had read The Curious Classroom, Comprehension & Collaboration, Disrupting Thinking and more. I was ready to take on the world. I was inspired immensely by seeing Jessica Lifshitz speak at one of the Scholastic Reading Summits. I had brushed up on the amazingness that is Kristine Mraz. I had plans to pull it all together, but it kind of never happened.
Enter the new school year, enter new curriculum, mandates, committees and all of the other "stuff" that adds to our never-ending to-do lists. The stuff started piling up and I couldn't see over it all. The "stuff" was blocking the important stuff. The work. The work that I want to do.
This revelation I had this summer might shock you, it shocked me. The revelation I had is that my life's work has shifted from helping children love reading and writing to helping children change the world. This is what I felt in my bones. Not that the work that I have been doing, studying and living wasn't important, but that it was a stepping stone to the real work I wanted to be brave enough to do.
While the weekend workshop I just took had many books, strategies and ideas that I have already explored or read or worked on by myself, it taught me something else. Something I didn't expect to take away. I already live by the if it's a great idea, try it out tomorrow motto, but I have never been willing to completely go off the beaten path. I've never been willing to in the middle of the school year, ditch complete units and start over, but it is what I will do, starting tomorrow.
Reading and writing workshop is great. It's an entry point into workshop work for me and it has served my students well. We will continue the structure and continue with some of the work the fabulous Units of Study have laid out.
But I'm done with letting the "stuff" get in the way of the work I really want to do. The inquiry work. The work that gets messy, the work that has no clear path, the work that starts here and ends up someone totally unexpected. The work that empowers, not just engages.
Here goes nothing!