Monday, February 1, 2016

Diving in to Reader's Workshop!

I have been calling 2016 the year of the epiphanies. As soon as the year began, I felt like a lightbulb went off in my head. I spent the majority of the first half of this school year starting something, not liking how it worked, and starting something new all over again. Let me be real here-I was staying at work until 7:00 at night, reinventing the wheel constantly and thinking things would totally turn around in my classroom and they never did. That was until I made the decision to change the way I teach reading. 

I have a very diverse group of learners this year. We started off the year using Daily 5 during our reading block. Our Daily 5 was running smoothly, my kids knew the routines, knew what they should be working on, and what they needed to complete each week. But what I realized I was seriously lacking was genuine teaching time. Now, I am sure that Daily 5 works wonders in classrooms, in fact it was working very well in mine, but at this point in the year I realized we needed a little change. I know Daily 5 is a form of Reader's Workshop, but I wanted something more.

After a PD meeting with our ELA curriculum director that covered the basic ins and outs of Reader's Workshop, Language Workshop, and Writer's Workshop, I was hooked. We don't have a set curriculum in our district, so the flexibility of creating my own reading block led me to the decision to switch to Reader's Workshop. I currently use Amy Lemons and Katie King's Rooted In Reading program each week and I LOVE it. But, just like Amy and Katie say - their units are designed to guide your instruction, not to replace it.

That was where I was sorely lacking, I wasn't teaching with guided practice. I was teaching once and expecting my kids to get it right away. We were reading our story of the week each day, learning all about the standards that needed to be covered, but I wasn't getting through to my kids. I was so pressured to do a mini-lesson, followed by a round of Daily 5, and another mini-lesson and another round that I couldn't keep up, which meant neither could my class.

So today we tried our first crack at Reader's Workshop. Like I said, I use Rooted In Reading, so this week our story is Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. 

We started off just reading the book. We sat at the carpet and I read the book to the class. I asked questions about the pictures, talked about new vocabulary words we might not know or words we need to use our context clues to understand. It was AWESOME. I was doing this before, but never with the freedom I wanted to just talk about the book. I was always rushing though our read alouds to get on to our first round of D5 so that I could meet with all of my guided reading groups. Today with the pressure off, our conversation flowed and my kids were making connections like I have never seen.

After reading the story, we moved into our language lesson. This is a new way for us to tackle our grammar/speaking/listening skills. Our skill this week is subject-verb agreement. I had a already made an anchor chart to walk us through this concept, but the nice thing was we went back and found subject-verb agreement examples in our story rather than just doing a worksheet or something like that. This really helped the kids get it! 

Our next step was to find a spot with a partner, and take a look at the books in our book bins. Each of my students has a book with books at their level, so I know they can read them. They worked together in random pairs, not grouped by ability, to find examples of subject-verb agreement in their own books and wrote them down in their Reader's Workshop journals. I won't lie-it wasn't pretty. It was tough but it was also our first day working on this skill.

My favorite part of this lesson was the end. Not because it was over, but because we came back to the carpet with our notebooks and SHARED! I had walked around while the kids were working, and had conversations with a few kids, but not everyone. The sharing/debrief time allowed me to hear what most of my kids had found, and I can adjust tomorrow's lesson based on our understanding from today. 

I'm sure that most of your are saying-WE KNOW THAT ALREADY, and I get it. I knew I should be discussing things with my students, and using guided practice and the gradual release model to teach my kids, but I just wasn't able to fit it all in with everything else going on in our room. I was doing the rapid pace, keep on chugging with no time to think or share version of guided practice in my classroom.

After our language lesson we moved on to the comprehension piece of Reader's Workshop. In our story, each kindness, we talked all about the importance of being kind. Amy and Katie provided a lesson using small hearts to discuss kindness, and I just tweaked it a little to fit in with our Reader's Workshop.

First we made a list of different words that describe how we feel when someone is unkind to us. Then I gave each student a blue heart and they wrote a word that describe the way they feel on their heart. Then we crumpled our hearts to demonstrate someone being unkind. We quickly opened our hearts to see if we could "straighten them out" and fix the damage we had done. We quickly realized this wasn't possible, and that being unkind to someone can leave quite a bit of damage on their heart. We put all of our "unkind hearts" in a jar in our classroom, and promised to do our best to keep those bad feelings inside our jar, and not let them out into our classroom. Yes it was a little cheesy, but they took it quite seriously!

After we took care of our unkind hearts, we decided we wanted to share different examples of kindness just like the students in our story did. Each student wrote an example of kindness on a pink heart and shared it with the class. Some kiddos definitely struggled, but everyone was much more eager to write and SHARE their writing than they ever have been in the past! We hung our examples in the hallway in front of our door to show that our hearts were FULL of kindness. Here are some examples of our kindness hearts.

Here is our display outside our classroom. I am so happy with how it tuned out!!! :)

There was more to the rest of our reading block, included more comprehension practice that went deeper into discussing how our characters responded to events in the story, and discussing our new vocabulary words. I'll talk more about those next time, but for now I just wanted to share these few special moments. Although it was a lot of work, today was the first day I didn't have to ask kids to "stay on task" or "get to work" during reading. Everyone was working and listening and participating and genuinely engaged the whole time! It was wonderful, and the first time in a long time that I have felt excited about teaching reading this year.

I would love to hear how reader's workshop words for you in your classroom! The more ideas, the better! I'm off to watch a little Mad Men on Netflix. I just started-and I'm HOOKED!!!

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