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?
1/8/2017 06:00:56 pm
LOVE this! Thanks so much for sharing. This is great info that will definitely help me in structuring my reading and writing blocks. You are my reading role model!! :)
1/8/2017 06:11:13 pm
Thanks for the post! Read it all! Question.. I have basically 75 minutes total. I do morning work for about 10 minutes but only because I use that time to return and take our books. If I took out that 10 minutes and got right to work, when would you suggest returning and taking out books?
1/8/2017 06:40:27 pm
1/8/2017 07:25:34 pm
Yea good idea I'll think about doing something like this thanks!!
9/5/2017 06:04:38 pm
You could use an app that utilizes the bar code on the book to check out books.
1/8/2017 07:14:42 pm
My kids check their own books in and out. We have a classroom iPad and we use Classroom Organzier Booksource to keep track of our library books. Students all have their own name and they can checkout and return books using the app. They are in charge of getting them back to the correct spot in the library. If they don't, we work together to figure out where they go.
1/8/2017 07:00:23 pm
The timing of this post...💜 I've been struggling with how to do our afternoon Title time. I've envisioned loosely going workshop model to create more meaningful time for the students me, and the other Title teacher have together for 2 45-minute periods in the afternoon. (In the a.m. she's push-in, I'm pull-out.)
7/12/2017 04:53:27 am
I was very recently in your shoes with a co teacher who had a polar opposite teaching philosophy than my own. For the first few years we worked in harmony. Not so much last year, which prompted my change to a single grade classroom of my own next year. Hang in there! The only advice I have there is we usually tried to see what fit our particular students best not our philosophies.
3/30/2021 10:07:58 am
Does the units of study give examples of what to do during stations? I love the workshop approach but struggle in coming up with what other students are working on while I have a small group.
1/9/2017 09:01:02 pm
Thank you for sharing your expertise. I have 90-minute classes, every other day, with my 7th and 8th graders. So I see my each grade every other day for 90 minutes. I appreciate all suggestions of how to integrate reading and writing workshop time.
1/19/2017 06:38:47 am
I would love to know more about what exactly you teach in your mini lessons? I teach 3rd and teaching them how to generalize, draw conclusions, cause/effect I just can't seem to do that in 10 min. Is this when you teach those skills/standards in small groups? I want to be more engaging with my kids, but it's hard to not to do a worksheet with some skills. I don't use worksheets all day, but i do use them for those reading skills. I feel like a terrible teacher for using the worksheets (my district and grade level uses Reading Street), i just don't feel confident enough to branch out on my own, it's figuring out how to teach and what to do with them in place of worksheets that confuse me. Any help on how to break away from worksheets and be confident in how to teach those skills would be great!
1/22/2017 02:47:22 pm
Thank you for sharing! I've recently started following you on insta and I love that you are writing some blog posts now, as well. This is my 9th year teaching 5th grade. I've taught in 3 states, in 4 different schools, and the schedules have varied greatly. There is never enough time! I feel like I struggle with word study each year... I have tried Words Their Way, but felt like it was too time consuming for the differentiation required. I would be interested in you doing a follow up post on word study at the end of the school year. My principal just ordered us the Units of Writing and I can't wait to get my hands on them. I also just asked for the Units of Reading, so fingers crossed! Thanks again!
7/14/2017 10:50:51 am
I have taught using Reading and Writing Workshops before but I was also required to do guided reading groups and whole group novel studies. It was hard to fit it all in and I nearly drove myself crazy with scheduling. Any ideas? Is it possible to do workshops and guided reading?
9/14/2017 02:05:12 pm
Great info. Please correct your misspelling of the word "immersed." You have spelled it "emersed."
10/8/2017 05:29:51 am
Where do you fit small group instruction or do you only conference with grades 3 and up?
2/12/2018 04:46:45 pm
I have 60 minutes with which to teach Language Arts. I have both the 5th grade Calkins Reading and Writing Units. How do I even start? How do I even try to do all that in 60 minutes?
3/19/2018 01:36:09 pm
When do you do vocabulary?
6/23/2018 06:19:53 am
-How are you doing mini lessons on skills like cause and effect, main idea, summary, compare/contrast, etc in just 7 minutes?
7/3/2018 05:58:04 pm
Thank you so much for all that information!! I really appreciate it. Would you elaborate more on the word study part? So far I understand that you do TC's inventory where students fall...then you organize them into groups accordingly, but how does the minilesson look? I mean if one student is like in CVC and the other one is in diagraphs....how do you then do the mini? Would appreciate any help. Thank you so much!!!!
8/29/2018 06:20:51 pm
Is it better to teach both writing workshop and reading workshop for 30 min each and allow 10 min for read aloud and 10 min for vocab Or word study Or grammar. I just don’t know if 30 min is enough for each workshop ? Should I alternate an 80 min reading and next day writing or do both reading and writing workshop daily??
8/23/2019 07:33:45 pm
I am teaching grade 7..and am seriously struggling to get my ELA schedule to something that feels good and reading your post MAKES SENSE to me. I am so happy to have found it.
10/20/2019 12:34:57 pm
What do you do with students who are pulled out for Title one programs during your literacy block? I am really struggling with that this year. I have so many students that’s miss the mini lesson or then the work time.
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