Wednesday, April 20, 2011

“Ah Ha’s,” and What I’ve Come to Believe

Hey Friends. This post pertains to my thoughts on literacy instruction.
So…I’ve become a “workshop teacher” to the core. I mean… last year, I had just moved schools, and like a lot of us do when we are in a new school, I frantically prodded my teammates’ brains and listened to hallway conversations to see what they were doing and then I went with the "buzz" that was going around our district…which was the Literacy Work Stations Model. I also said I did a reader’s workshop but…if I’m being honest…it was a hot mess. I knew “workshop” was one of those cool words that I should say to sound awesome.
At that time, the schedule roughly looked like this:
8:00-8:40          Morning Work/Review/Community Circle
8:40-9:30          Literacy Work Stations
9:30-10:15        Phonics/Word Study
10:15-10:45      Recess
10:50-11:20      Lunch
11:20-12:10     Author Study/Writing
12:20-1:08       Specials
1:08-2:08         Math
2:08-2:45         Science/Social Studies Integrated with Language Arts
Ok. I tried. I had some good things going…but still needed work.  
After some intense guidance from my literacy coach (and resident hero) Candace, I spent all summer with my nose in professional literature.
The goal was simple: Figure out what I really believe about what is best for kids, and how they learn.

I didn’t want to go with the “buzz” anymore. I wanted to be grounded in something that works. 
Back to the summer reading list:
Daily 5- check.
Reading With Meaning- check.  
Making the Most of Small Group Instruction- check.  
Phonics They Use- check.
7 Keys to Comprehension- Can I get an AMEN? –check.
And a few others were skimmed. I quickly realized that these greats in the educational field were starting to say similar things.
Enter Workshop Specialists:
Lucy and Kathy. I shouldn’t call Lucy-Lucy, but Kathy I can call Kathy because I’ve met her (name dropping) and she even taught a lesson in my room when my literacy coach got her to do our PD at school- boo-yeah!!!
Coach Candace, Kathy Collins, and Me :)
More formally,I mean Lucy Caulkins and Kathy Collins…I just love their practices...and really most people from that little hub of New York awesomeness (Teacher's College Readers and Writers Project @ Columbia University)

These are my school bibles. I draw from the aforementioned texts in my room ALL the time- but man, I felt the deepest connection with these ladies. What have I taken from these great ladies? Now this is just me …synthesizing my learning. (We are studying non-fiction right now- so this skill is fresh.)
1.    Students need lots of time to read. You get better at reading by reading just right books. A lot.
2.    Students need to see themselves as honest- to- goodness readers and writers.
3.    Students need scaffolding through one- on- one conferring.
4.    Balanced literacy should ultimately support the work of your students as independent readers and writers (more on that below).
5.    Students should be able to THINK and TALK deeply about books.
6.    Inquiry based learning…yes please. Students should be able to study mentor authors and writers and wonder why they did what they did-in order to improve their craft.
7.    Learning should be ORGANIC. Applicable. Real Life. When was the last time you did a diorama of your favorite scene in YOUR last book club discussion? Ah, but when was the last time you had a book discussion about a really meaningful passage with a friend that lasted a lifetime?
8.    Most of all, my students can grow. GROW. I can meet them where they are and take them to the next level.

Again, this is just me using my synthesizing comprehension strategy- not me preaching to anyone!! =)
*Quickly, I mentioned the balanced literacy thing. Over the summer, I kept reading how important it was to have all of the balanced literacy componets in the schedule. Fine. I did that. But then I was reading Growing Readers by Kathy, and she had a little paragraph that mentioned how the components of balanced literacy should all work in service of our reader’s and writer’s workshop.
This was PARAMOUNT for me. I had all the components in place, but they were all isolated- and not being planned by me with the notion that these things should all be working towards the goals of the workshops!
It was my biggestAH-HA of the school year. I realized that not only did I need to include all the components of balanced literacy in my day, but I should plan them with the intention of teaching something that will improve their work as independent readers and writers.  Confused? Classic example:
I was in the middle of a Non-Fiction unit in my Reader’s Workshop. I noticed that my students’ word-solving strategies were slipping. I didn’t want to halt the non-fiction awesomeness that was happening to do a mini-lesson on word solving again….so Kathy helped me realize that I can take care of those types of things during other parts of my day. In this example, I decided that the next day, I would incorporate word-solving strategies in my Shared Reading. It took a load off and helped me to focus on the unit that we were studying.
My overview of Balanced Literacy: Making the "Heart" of Your Literacy Instruction Beat!

(click to enlarge)
After my "ah ha" moment, I had to change that schedule now the schedule is looking like this:
8:00-8:15       Announcements/Breakfast/Stamina Reading of Just Right Books
8:15-8:20       Community Circle
8:25-9:20       Writer’s Workshop (conferring, small groups, independent writing)
9:20-9:40       Word Study
9:40-9:55       Shared Writing OR Interactive Writing 
9:55-10:15     Shared Reading OR Interactive Reading with Accountable Talk
10:15-10:45    Recess
10:50-11:20    Lunch
11:20-12:20    Reader’s Workshop (conferring, small groups, independent reading)
12:20-1:08     Specials
1:08-1:50        Thematic Studies (Science and Social Studies)
1:50-2:50       Envision Math

How do I get all the components in? Notice that I don’t do everything-everyday.

Side note: All of my forthcoming units that I’ll be posting will have each component of balanced literacy included! =)

Do I think I’m a know- it- all with all the best practices and most effective methods?  Am I speaking to haughtily about what I’ve learned?  In all honesty, and in an effort to "keeps it real" that’s not really the point.
The point is: I’ve found something that I BELIEVE in. I’ve seen it work.  I’ve seen the LOVE of reading and writing grow in my first-graders’ lives. I’ve seen my kids experiment safely with quotation marks, comeback lines, and non-fiction writing fearlessly because they’ve studied an author who does the same thing. I’ve seen my students stay focused on one task for 30 minutes straight. I’ve heard them whine and moan when I say, “Time to put workshop materials away!”
 ...and I like that.


  1. WOW!!!! THANK YOU so much for sharing your thoughts and growth as a teacher who cares about how children learn! I devoured your comments because I feel I am right where you were. I look forward to you sharing lots more thoughts and ideas. I am sooo looking forward to your units as well. Like you I have read the GREATS! "Calkins and Collins" but don't have peers interested in these greats or in changing things at my school. Sadly my literacy coach is so stuck and bogged down being our principal's secretary that I can't go to her either.I am so thankful to have found you!!! Please please post more soon! Would love to see a unit just as soon as you can post! thank you!!! :) Cindy

  2. enjoyed the read.

  3. This is great! I'm at the same point and have armed myself with some books. I'd love to know more about your 10 minute word study and your interactive writing.
    Wild About 2nd Grade

  4. This sounds a lot like what my essay was like for my workshop. I totally agree. It's cool how we're coming to the same conclusions all on our own. I printed off your balanced literacy heart thing. I think it's going to be very helpful as I think about my schedule for next year. I'm wondering what some of those components look like with 5th grade curriculum?

  5. @cindy- I hear ya, sister. We're actually trying to get more teachers on the workshop model too- it's happening slowly but surely! That's so sad about your coach being so busy- my coach has changed my career! Thanks so much for the words of encouragement. It motivates me even more!

    @erika- I'm so on it!! thanks for the kind words!!

    @ Jami- I know. We are getting so smart! I've been curious about how those components work for older grades too. Let's ask our coach!! hahaha

  6. Amen!!!!!!! :)
    Great start to a blog. I can't wait till this summer so I can go back and read more teaching books! I haven't had a chance to read Growing Readers and I'm SUPER jealous you have gone to such amazing professional development!!!!! I want to go to the Teacher's College SO bad! I purchased Lucy Calkin's Units of Primary Study during the school year, and I need some time to sit down and process everything and plan for next year.

    Teaching Happily Ever After

  7. Thanks ash!! You should go to TC's Fall or Spring Reunion. It's totally free! We are thinking of road trippin' it up this October!

  8. I don't know if I may have missed it if you mentioned it before, but do you have to do RTI at your school or follow district mandated pacing guides? I live in a small town in Florida so sometimes I feel REALLY behind in the times. Thank God for the internet!

  9. O.M.Goodness! I agree with you completely! I could've written the same exact post! *Said* I was doing workshop....but, like you, not quite!
    I am SO jealous you had Kathy Collins in your building for PD! LOVE her book!
    I was lucky enough to be able to go to TCWRP for training at the beginning of the year, & it has completely transformed my teaching!
    Like you, I often hear my kids groan when it's time for workshop to end. What a great sound to hear!
    So glad I found your blog! It's wonderful!
    Primary Inspired