Monday, February 22, 2016

How Much Do Your Kids Read?

Last week, I received three emails where teachers all asked the same question: how much reading is happening in your classroom?

The answer is: it depends. But, usually, quite a bit!

We begin each day with a 10-minute reading "do now." This is basically like D.E.A.R time, where the students are reading and I am reading, too (currently, I'm on the third book of the Maze Runner series... not really a fan, but I can't NOT finish the series!). We do this The room is silent. I set the timer. Everyone reads. Kids can read anything they want... novels, magazines, comic books. The only objective is 10 minutes of silent, self-selected reading time. 

I also want to note that there are no requirements for this time. No worksheets, journals, forms to fill out. No book reports or projects. Absolutely zero accountability!! And guess what? The kids LOVE it!! So much so that, every day without fail, there is a collective "sigh!" when the timer sounds! On early dismissal days, I let them read the whole 30-minute period. And every once in a while, I let them talk me into "silent reading Friday."

What about the kids who hate reading? you wonder. Well, I am a book-pusher! I will not take "I just hate to read!" as an answer... ever!! I will not stop until I find a book for every kid (try the Bluford series... it's never let me down!! Seventh graders who've never finished a book in their lives will devour this series!! Trust me! Just check them out before hand... a few have some dicey material that you should be aware of!). And if that doesn't work... we do books on tape. They listen on headphones and read along with a copy of the book. They LOVE this because they think they're not really reading... hehehe!! 

Now, in addition to our 10 minutes daily, there are some days where they have to read a story or article from their anthology.

Additionally, we are sometimes reading a whole-class novel (we just finished Ungifted... it was a HUGE hit!). When we do whole-class novels, I read aloud (I'm the voice master!) and they follow along with their own copy. Sometimes there is work that they do for the whole-class novel... sometimes we just read it for the pure pleasure of doing so (and to hear me do the voices!!).

And then sometimes, students are reading a book that they picked and committed to read in a given time span. Usually, they have a reader's response journal that they are responsible for completing.

So, to make a looong story short... we read... a lot! And often, just for fun. No accountability required. It took me a while to get here. For a long time, I wondered if not having them document evidence of their reading EVERY SINGLE TIME THEY READ A WORD was a problem? Like I was doing something wrong or not being a good teacher if there wasn't always a worksheet or journal entry to go along with their book. But, over time, I realized that if my ultimate goal was to foster literacy, then I needed to give them a chance to practice being literate! And I don't know about you, but a worksheet would certainly hamper my decision to curl up with a good book on rainy Sunday afternoon!

So how much do your students read? I'd love to hear from you!

Happy Teaching!! 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Practicing What You Pin: Duck Tape!

I can't even find the original pin that I saved so long ago about this idea! But, here is my take... using colorful Duck Tape to label notebook spines!

In my class, students are not allowed to take their ISNs or Writer's Notebooks out of my class unless they have a test to study for or a draft to complete. These notebooks are just too important to risk their disappearance in the dark hole that is many of their lockers!

We keep our notebooks in these Binder Holders from Really Good Stuff (I can't recommend these enough! I've used them for the last 8 years and they have held up remarkably well!! Well worth the price.)

I've used blue tape to label the Writer's Notebooks and purple to label the ISNs. It took just a few minutes, but it certainly makes it easy for each table to quickly grab the right notebooks!

Any fun uses for colorful Duck Tape? I'd love to hear them :)

Happy Teaching!!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Strategy #5 - Collaboration Station (Engagement Strategies Series)

So, this is my last entry in my Engagement Strategies Series! I hope you've like them and picked up a few ideas to try or tweak in your own classroom.

I'm ending this series with a strategy that I've used for years, both in ELA and math. I've always called it "Collaboration Station," though since moving to 7th grade where I only teach ELA, I've renamed it "Collaborative Commentary." The idea is still the same, though :)

The gist of Collaboration Station is fairly simple: students work together to solve a problem, respond to a prompt, or answer an open-ended question.

Here is how I make it work:

Put students in groups of 4-5 and give them the assignment. Provide some time for students to talk through the assignment, making sure everyone understands what they are being asked to do. I will often ask them to reword the question or prompt. And sometimes, I'll have them come up with an action plan for answering. For example, if it's an open-ended literary analysis question, I will encourage them to not only discuss what they think the answer might be, but to also go back in the story together to identify the evidence they will cite to support their thinking. (This step is really important for the struggling learners. Giving them a chance to talk out the assignment will make them much more successful when it comes to responding.)

Next, each student responds ON THEIR OWN. Everyone must have their own answer. This ensures that a group member isn't just sitting there quietly, letting everyone else answer for them.

After everyone is finished with their individual answers, they each share (and yes, everyone MUST share!).

Finally, students work together to come up with one AWESOME answer. Usually, this involves taking bits and pieces of everyone's responses and combining them together. Students will turn in this answer, along with each of their individual answers.

(The final answer is in the middle; individual answers are taped around the final answer.)

The first few times we do this, I sit with each group to model the process. I really believe this step is CRUCIAL! The kids need to see that everyone has an active role in this process... it isn't about just letting the loudest voice in the group run the show. Once I see that groups can handle this, I gradually begin allowing them to work independently, but I'm always circulating the room to make sure everyone is working together.

Have you ever used something like this in your classroom? How do you organize/manage it? I'd love to hear from you!

Happy Teaching!!

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