Thursday, July 30, 2015

10 Tips to Brush-Up Your Workshops!

As we get ready to start a new school year, I thought I'd give a few workshop brush-up tips to get your workshops off the ground with success!

I've been doing a series on supporting your workshop through the balanced literacy components. If you haven't checked it out, you can find them below!

Post 1- Overveiw 

Post 2- Shared Reading & Interactive Read Alouds with Accountable Talk 

Post 3- Shared and Interactive Writing 

Now...onto to the Top Ten Tips! 

1. Know what workshop is and why you are doing it. 
Simply stated, workshop is a block of time that involves a mini-lesson, work time and a share time. The mini-lesson is usually no longer than 10-15 minutes, depending on the grade level. Work time is about thirty to forty-five minutes long and the share time is generally around five to seven minutes long. Challenge your students to work the whole time by setting goals and modeling the behaviors you want to see while they work for extended periods of time.

2. Keep your workshop routines simple and predictable. 
Student should know the cadence of your daily workshop and feel very comfortable with their learning time. When students feel safe and know what to expect, their brains are freed up to do more thinking!

3. Pull your kiddos close! 
Students are generally sitting on the floor right at your feet during your brief mini-lesson. They go off to work at their desk or a work spot around the room, and then they are called back to the front for share time.

4. Let the kids use the STUFF. 
Materials that students use during workshop should be labeled and accessible so that students can get what they need without bothering you. Don't keep the "good"  markers and the "good" paper in the closet all year. What is it there for?

5. Protect your 10 minute mini-lesson! 
Student-talk during your mini-lesson should be minimal if they even talk at all (with the exception of the active engagement portion). That is YOUR chance to deliver a tip for today’s learning that they should be practicing and not a chance for students to help with the learning. Your mini-lesson should be explicit and intentional.

6. Keep your read alouds OUTSIDE of the workshop. 
Read alouds are generally done OUTSIDE of the workshop. You don’t want to spend ten of your fifteen minutes on a story that could have been read that morning. Be intentional about the books you read aloud and use those as mentor texts that you refer to during a mini-lesson. Also, consider varying the book genres you use for read alouds! Hearing YOU read nonfiction texts might be the only time your students ever hear nonfiction being read out loud. Make them good ones!

7. Know the architecture of a mini-lesson. 
The mini-lesson has an actual architecture that is very important. Briefly, that includes a connection, stating the teaching point explicitly, giving a demonstration right there on the floor, having the students try the skill on the floor (active engagement) and a link to daily learning. More on the mini-lesson structure here.

8. Don't you dare skip the SHARE! 
The share time portion of the workshop can be used to do a variety of things! You can reinforce the teaching point or showcase really smart work that you saw during the work time. To keep this time short, during small group or conferring, select the student that you want to showcase and be ready to show the class what they did. Talk for the student and allow them to shine without going over the five to seven minutes!

9. Send your learners off and's GAME TIME!

10. Use other parts of your day to support your workshops.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Making Balanced Literacy Work for YOU Part 3

Hi! Thanks for joining me for the third session on how to make balanced literacy work for you!
Today I want to dive into shared and interactive writing. This can be SUCH a power component to model skills for your readers and writers.

So I'll jump right in with Shared Writing.  I've heard it said that if you want to teach effective writing, you must model effective writing- regardless of the grade.

Shared Writing is your biggest and most effective chance to model writing in front of your students! Generally this lasts around 10 minutes per lesson and the students are gathered around your chart paper.  A few notes about Shared Writing:

*YOU keep the pen the whole time.
*Ask the students what they would like to compose. Prompt them with ideas like a list, letter, short narrative on a shared experience, responding to literature, etc...
*This is a chance for students to negotiate vocabulary, sequencing, and allows a chance for students to respond to texts.
•Shows students that writing is AUTHENTIC and ORGANIC by selecting real reasons to write. Maybe the lunch workers aren't putting out enough napkins and your students would like to write them a friendly letter to ask for more.
*When you plan, think: “What’s coming up in our class, school, or world that we could write about?” 
I've written things like the Pledge of Allegiance, (because I noticed my students were saying it incorrectly in the morning) thank you notes to parents that sent in treats, or holiday song lyrics that my students were humming in class. Other ideas might include: 
•Thank-you note
•Persuasive letters
•Journal entries
•Creative Writing
Simple Shared Writing text on the last week of school. We were reorganizing our library and needed to make a list of the book baskets that we had. This was an extremely authentic reason to make a list and we used it in real life. 

Interactive Writing: 
*Very similar to shared writing only this time you, the teacher, will SHARE THE PEN. 
*I try to keep the reasons for writing just as authentic. 
*You can have the students write the majority of the text, or they can join in on a specific skill that you'd like to work on. 
*While one child is called up to add to the interactive writing piece, the rest of the children are going to be actively engaged by doing the same skill in a few creative ways. For example, if I am working on the spelling of sight words, I might call students up to add all of the sight words in the text that we are writing. While little Johnny comes up to write the word, I might ask the rest o the class to write the word in the air, on their neighbor's back, on the carpet, etc... so that the lesson keeps everyone engaged. 
*Consider your colors. I tend to use two colors when I do an interactive writing lesson. One for me, and one for the student writers that add to the text. 

Below is an example of an interactive writing text where my students were working on long vowel patterns. Within the context of a real reason to write, I am specifically practicing certain skills that I know the class needs as a whole. 
Here is a list that I co-constructed with my class I wrote everything but the long vowel patterns, controlled R sounds, and endings. All things I knew we needed to brush up on as a class.  

So, I've been harping on the idea that we need to allow these components to work for us in regard to independent work time. I generally use the writing components to teach basic grammar and punctation skills. This allows me to spend more time focusing on the work of the unit instead of taking time to teach my students basic skills during workshop time.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Making Balanced Literacy Work for YOU Part 2

This post is the second in my series on Balanced Literacy. If you are just now joining, you can catch up with Part 1 here! Today, we will pick apart the READING components of Balanced Literacy- specifically: Shared Reading, Interactive Read Alouds with Accountable Talk, and Story Time.

While I don't want to insult you, dear teacher, I mentor some newer teachers that read this blog and for their sake, I want to define what Shared Reading is and why we do it. Shared Reading is a chance to collectively read a text together and it gives students the opportunity to explicitly see and hear what proficient readers do.
*In order to do shared reading, you need to have a text that is big enough for everyone to see. If you have a document camera or some other form of technology that can enlarge something, then anything could be come a shared text.
*I tend to use big books, poems written on sentence strips, or excerpts from books that involve something I want to read with my students (like quotation marks or a tricky vocabulary word).
*The kids are gathered on the rug, right in front of the text. I am explicitly modeling whatever the skill is that I have selected for that reading.
*I am also being very intentional about thinking aloud as I model the skill so the students can get a peak at what that is supposed to sound like when they read.
*We can stick with one text for multiple days, or we can switch them out pretty quickly.
*It usually lasts about 10 minutes- very quick! Most importantly: This is a great time to introduce new genres, concepts, and strategies because this is a very safe reading experience. The feeling should be similar to a kid sitting on their parent's lap for a bedtime story. 
So, we have the general idea of Shared Reading down,  but now I ask: what is your goal when you do a shared reading? My teacher-hero and unofficial mentor, Kathy Collins writes in Growing Readers: 

Kathy Collins, Growing Readers- pg. 36:

That's like, the whole point. This component should work in service of the independent reading time...not just something we do because we were told to.  I came to the realization that I could use this slot to teach and model in a way that is responsive to the needs of my students. In other words, the skills that I choose to model come from my noticings when reading with students. 
For example, if I'm conferring or doing small group work, I might notice that my readers have stopped attending to punctuation. They might be blowing right past periods or not making questions sound like questions. Maybe they are having a hard time reading dialogue and it is affecting their comprehension because they can't figure out who is talking. From those noticings, I can make it a point to select a text that will allow me to model reading punctuation the way it should be read.  Or,  I can take a sample from a chapter book read aloud (that we might be reading) where there is a good amount of dialogue that I can copy on to chart paper so we can read it together and talk about it. 

While the list of skills that can be introduced, practiced, and refreshed are as wide as the skills we teach in reading, there are some that lend themselves better to a Shared Reading experience. Some skills that I tend to drift toward include: 
*One to one match (when I taught K/1) 
*Word solving strategies
*Using context clues for new vocabulary words
*Word study can be taught/supported
*High Frequency Words
...and so much more!

So, in a nutshell, be responsive. As you confer and lead small groups, take copious notes. Look at those notes as you plan for a Shared Reading experience. Use that time to brush up on those skills and you won't have to spend time putting out fires during your mini-lessons!

An interactive read aloud with accountable talk (IRAWAC) is mostly what you think it is. It's a story being read aloud by the teacher but the students have specific places where you want them to stop and talk about something that is happening in the story. The biggest difference here is that the kids won't be able to track the text with you.  I obnoxiously refer to this as an interactive-read-aloud-with-accountable-talk  because the accountable talk part is what a) sets it apart from a story time and b) is the most important part of this component. 
*The students have two important jobs during this component: thinking and talking.  The teacher also has two jobs: explicitly thinking aloud and facilitating a turn and talk session.
*Much like thinking of WHY you are selecting Shared Reading texts, you'll want to be just as intentional about an IRAWAC. I tend to select fairy tales or books with strong characters. I also try to vary the genres that I choose so that students get to turn and talk about different kinds of texts.
*The biggest thing I spend my time on during this component is the Seven Keys to Comprehension.  I do an IRAWAC daily so I am able to cycle through one of the the 7 keys every day.
*I pre-read my texts thoroughly and place sticky notes with places that I'd like to stop and either think aloud to model a comprehension strategy OR have my students share their thinking in regards to what is happening in the story.
*I review an anchor chart with my students probably once a week so they remember HOW to talk to each other about books. Generally the reminders include looking at their partner in the eyes, keep the conversation going by asking clarifying questions, etc...
* A big part of the reading workshop is reading with partners. I know that my students can easily forget how to talk to each other when partner time comes. Instead of correcting them during their independent reading time, I can plan to review those skills with them during this component.

Again, it is all about making this component work in service to your independent reading time!

Lastly, story time. You can relax! That's just a story. Generally this is a story that is beyond the reading level of most of the students. I usually pick stories that have beautiful language or a chapter book. Students are free to enjoy and get lost in a story while I take care of the print work, phrasing, and intonation. I don't make this component work in service of the workshop- I just need to know that there is a place for a read aloud just 'cause I want to read it!

Thank you for sticking with me! In the next post, I'll share about the writing components of Balanced Literacy!


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Making Balanced Literacy Work for YOU Part 1

"Balanced Literacy..."

If there is one thing our dear profession loves, it's buzz words.

I mean right?? Last year a group of us swore that if we heard the word "rigor" ONE more time...

But friends, I implore you,  don't let this term be one that falls on deaf ears! If you teach a (Lucy Calkins-based ) reading and/or writing workshop then this could be the answer to a lot of your workshop-prayers!

I've taught reading and writing workshops for about 7 or 8 years now. One of the frustrations I've had in the past was feeling like workshop wasn't rigorous (<--ha!) enough to meet the needs of my lower performing learners. I would go on about how a ten minute mini-lesson just wasn't going to get the job done.

I was so wrong.

I was missing the critical components of Balanced Literacy. Before I go on, let me blatantly state what I mean by components of Balanced Literacy. 

Balanced Literacy includes the reading and writing workshops (of course) but also, there are times in your day where you teach via:

*Shared Reading (I've seen this done K-5)
*Interactive Read Alouds w/ Accountable Talk
*Story Time (nope, they aren't the same)
*Shared Writing
*Interactive Writing
*Word Study

It is through these "vehicles" that I am able to meet the needs of ALL my learners. I am able to teach them the skills they need to transfer over into their reading and writing workshops as well as their real reading lives outside of school.

I feel like this is one of those things that will seem like, "well, I already do these things...what is she talking about?" And I get that. BUT I will ask you: Are you doing them in service of your workshops?

What I mean is...

*Do you haphazardly pick stories to read aloud or do you pre-read and sticky note the pages where your students can turn and talk about character changes because you might be in a reading unit about tracking how characters can change?

*Do you grab a shared reading poem for the kids to read in the name of fluency (which is totally awesome, by the way) OR do you select a poem or big book that allows kids to practice the word solving skills that you taught in the last unit but seem to be slipping? The fluency can still be taught BUT you are being responsive to the needs that you notice in your class without interrupting the current unit that you are in. I've had times where we were knee-deep in a nonfiction unit of study but I noticed that my students weren't using their comprehension strategies like they once had when I would read with them. I immediately knew that I needed to use my read aloud with accountable talk slot and intentionally pick a text where we could practice those skills again.

*Or lets say you are reading your students' writing workshop pieces and you notice that a lot of students are neglecting punctation at the ends of their sentences. Instead of giving up one of your workshop lessons to go back to basics, why not intentionally plan to do a shared or interactive writing piece together as a class? The skills can be brushed up and practiced OUTSIDE of your workshop.

See where I'm going at all? I hope so, because it changed everything for me where workshop was concerned. So, with this post, I just wanted to get on the same page and give a quick overview. The next post, I'll chat about the differences in the reading components and what skills can be easily taught/practiced during that slot.

Also, here is a document I created awhile back that I thought I'd include for good measure.

It'll be fuuuuunnnnnn! I hope you'll come and read along!!


Friday, August 29, 2014

Self Guided Inquiry Packet

uploaded a little something. 
it's designed for the child in your class that's super-bright and a little bored. 
tell them to pick a topic and get busy. 
 click the photo above to check it out.