What I 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 components 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 ...so 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
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.

SO.
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.

Above was my very first post on this blog. With that being said, I want to add on a bit.
Here is a little more about being a very organic teacher. My coach Candace and I have slowly started realizing how important it is for children to be able to mock the habits of real life readers and writers. What do we mean by that? Here are a few example and points:
*If we don't do it as readers, why ask the kids to or teach it? (do you write a report after a book? or have a great discussion?) Or, another example, I was stressed out because one of my students was SO busy trying to use expression and voice when I was doing her running record, that she couldn't even focus on the story. Uhhh, my fault. I had stressed and stressed how important it is to read with voice changes and such that it was all she could think about. I ran this problem by my coach and she basically said that there is a time and a place for reading with dramatic expression, and I should teach them that. If we are having a round of Reader's Theater or about to buddy up to do some performance reading with a KG class, then I should do mini lessons on how expression is important in performance reading. She asked me if I went home, snuggled up on the couch and started reading the book out loud with all these dramatic voice changes?....nope. I use all my comprehension strategies to understand- so that is what I feel I should teach. But if I know I'm going to do a read aloud for a class, I might practice that- knowing that someone else would hear.
*We DO believe in scaffolds to get kids thinking, but not use for ever. A great example would be the fact that I created a Retelling Prompt Bookmark for my kids who were struggling at retelling. This is a scaffold, simply something to get them started. My coach was doing a book club in my room and gave my kids half sheets of paper that had some inferring prompts, and the explicitly said to the kids, "Now do you think Mrs. Tabb and I go to dinner to talk about a book we shared, and pull out or retelling prompt sheet? (Noooooo!) So then Readers, this is just something to get your brains ready to think!" It let my students know right off the bat that this is something they need now, but one day, they want to be able to read, think, and talk about books- Just like Mrs. Tabb and Ms. Ewing (Candace) do together all the time =)

So...in my room, the majority of our literacy block is spent READING and WRITING. I am conferring EVERY MOMENT I can. This means- as I create and sell over the summer, you won't find me doing a whole lot of centers (not that I think anything is wrong with them) and such. You'll find me searching for good read alouds that lend themselves to accountable talk, creating scaffolds and units of study that will support my real life readers and writers, and most importantly, reading. Reading professional mentors that help me evolve my thinking. Everything in this post came because I read, applied, and reflected on it (with the help of Candace, of course).
Warmly,