Welcome to the Reading in the Wild, District 100 Book Study! I am so fortunate to be working alongside such an incredibly talented group of educators and administrators. First I’d like to thank Colleen, my astonishing mentor and all-around amazing blogger, over at Literacy Loving Gals for allowing me to jump on board this very special learning opportunity. Also, thank you to Kristin at Reading and Owl of the Above for hosting the book study and for allowing me to join in with all of you. Simply follow the links above to read about the introduction and Chapter 1 of Donalyn Miller’s book, Reading in the Wild.
In each of the chapters, Donalyn includes a short vignette that seems to focus more on the application of each practice in your classroom and suggestions that you may find helpful as an educator. Today, I’ll be discussing the first vignette, Creating a Workshop Schedule That Works for You, which falls immediately after the first chapter of her book, Wild Readers Dedicate Time to Read.
As a first year teacher, any professional development that I can use to enhance my student’s learning experience as well as my own learning experience is extremely beneficial, and I tend to jump at any opportunity that presents itself. With that being said, I’d like to re-iterate that while yes, I am participating in a book study amongst some of the best educators I have ever come across, I myself am a first year teacher, hoping to become half the educators that they are, one day.
It appears however, whether you’re a first year teacher or moving into retirement, the same dilemma pops up day after day, “there isn’t enough time to teach everything [you] must cover or everything [your] students need to learn.”
At the start of the year, Donalyn proposes 5 essential questions to herself regarding her Reading Workshop schedule that I believe would be helpful to any teacher feeling overwhelmed by the demands of their day. Below, I’ve broken up each question into paragraphs reflecting on both Donalyn’s and my points of view.
Essential Question 1: How much class time do you have to use?
This question is rather self explanatory, simply asking yourself, how much class time do I have? It’s important to take into account if this class time is uninterrupted class time, or if your workshop is broken up by something like specials or lunch. Although not stated in Donalyn’s book, another important question to ask when thinking about your class time is asking yourself how much time do you have with each individual student. Students who are pulled out of the class for additional support will also need to be factored into your workshop schedule as means of maximizing their time in the classroom.
Essential Question 2: Which instructional components am I required to include?
This will vary amongst districts, potentially schools, and maybe even classrooms depending on your class load and your students with IEP goals in reading or RTI students. Our district has made every effort to create “wild readers” by providing students and teachers with a two hour “balanced literacy block.” While that may appear like a lot of time, if you are unplanned, unstructured and have not modeled the habits of a “wild reader” those two hours can quickly turn into a free-for-all where students spend their entire time playing Spelling City games or listening to Thank You Mr. Faulker on repeat (not necessarily the worst thing they could be doing, but you see my point).
Our balanced literacy components may likely mirror what other districts mandate. In BSD 100 teachers are to include, Reader’s Workshop, Guided Reading, Independent Reading, Interactive Read Aloud, Reading Conferences, Shared Reading and Word Study in their two hour ELA block. As a first year teacher, incorporating all of these elements into a 2-hour block, with 28 individual students, each with specific goals is quite overwhelming. That’s why flexible scheduling and flexible group instruction is so important. Donalyn states that “whatever your campus or district has decided is a must-do, you will need to find time for it in your workshop schedule.”
Essential Question 3: Which components would I like to include?
This question proposes that you consider a “dream list” of what you want done in the classroom. For example, when you’re sitting down at the end of the day reflecting on your workshop, what is it that you “wish you had spent more time on”. For me, it’s the talking about books piece that I think we are missing out on in my classroom. I know how important it is for my students to read something they love to read, and CAN read (emphasis on the can). However, being able to articulate their understanding, their connections and overall uncovering their interpretation and meaning of the text is something that is valuable as well, especially as we move into book clubs.
Creating a “wish list” of things you want to include in your workshop keeps your “core beliefs” in front of you and allows you to say, “if I believe that talking about reading is important, when are they doing it?” Hold yourself accountable and “look for ways to dedicate time in your schedule for them.”
Donalyn starts this section with something that I believe is incredibly powerful. She says that she “never ever sacrifices independent reading time for the sake of other instructional activities.” For most teachers, this is probably the easiest thing to do away with, but in reality if we are taking away students time to read and lose themselves in the book, we are taking away that foundation for them to build their “wild reading” habits upon. Students should be reading every day, even if it means cutting something else out of the equation. Donalyn suggests that if you have too many items on your schedule to give students independent reading time, you should step back and “critically examine everything on that list…” Compare what is on your list against the value of letting your students read. Is it better? Is it more important? Will it have a more significant impact? More times than not, the answer is no. If you’re finding your answer is “no” as well, it’s time to re-evaluate. It’s common sense to me, Michael Jordan didn’t become an incredible basketball player by listening to ESPN and watching people shoot hoops. He became incredible by running up and down the court for hours a day, practicing over and over again. So why do we not do this for our students? If we want them to become better readers who LOVE to read, we need to have them READING!
Essential Question 5: Remember the rule of thirds.
Donalyn suggests that you break up your literacy block into thirds. In doing this you’ll be able to plan your time around three specific elements, one-third independent reading, conferring, and small groups; one-third direct instruction and guided practice with your whole class; and one-third independent practice where students spend additional time, you guessed it, reading or writing.
Donalyn structures her units by “alternating mini lessons from a writing focus to a reading focus,” however this may not work for every district. Again, going back to essential question 1, it’s really all about your district, your school, your grade level, and your group of students.
Your finalized schedule should align with the requirements of your district, your dream activities that you may struggle to fit in on a regular basis and most importantly should provide flexibility for you and your students to maximize their reading and learning.
It’s important to remember that everything you do should be student focused and based on what your students need. Small group instruction, strategy groups, guided reading, mini lessons and individual conferring should be focused specifically on individual student need. This is where our attention should be centralized, on the individual. A quote that spoke to me the most was about this thought exactly.
“What matters is that our daily work in the classroom values best practices and doesn’t become bogged down with a lot of must-dos and tired activities that crowd out authentic learning opportunities for our students.”
L. Frank Baum, Virginia Woolf and T.S Elliot certainly did not sit in their classroom focusing on listening to reading, and playing spelling games. These incredible authors, developed their strong literacy skills by reading, writing and discussing, and doing lots of it. By no means am I negating the incredible strides that we have made with technology in this world to enhance our learning capabilities and acquirement of knowledge. After all, I am a technology FREAK! However, it’s important to remember our roots and understand that to have students reading to improve their reading, just makes sense. I strongly agree with Donalyn when she states that often, “we reject what we know is right for what is easier.”
In closing, Donalyn points out how important reflective practices are as a teacher. Not only is it important for ourselves but it is also important for our students so that we can use these tools to “continuously recalibrate our teaching to our core beliefs, determine what is and isn’t working, and focus our teaching so we can continue to offer quality instruction that we can reasonably manage and maintain.”
Being a first year teacher, I feel like I’m reflecting on my practices almost hourly. Starting this blog has been the most crucial and beneficial tool for reflection and improvement of my effectiveness in the classroom. For example, I wrote about how poorly our math workshop is going. I met with some individuals in the district who have been following my blog and provided me with some incredible resources to completely re-vamp my math program. Just one small post has completely restored my confidence, instilled that confidence in my students and created an environment for my students to grow into l who not only understand what they’re doing, but who are able to explain what they are doing and learn from one another. Reflection is a powerful tool.
After reading, Reading in the Wild, I immediately began reflecting on my own reading workshop and how effective it really is. First, and most importantly that I believe I will try to change in the coming weeks is the duration of time our students are reading. Our lowest readers are reading for the shortest amount of time and instead are partaking in activities that are not going to enhance their love for reading or their overall ability to read. This book has truly opened my eyes about the importance of creating wild readers and giving students the time to lose themselves along the “yellow-brick road” or defeat a “three-headed dog.” Give the time back to your students, create a safe space for falling in love with reading. You will be thankful you did.
If you’d like to continue following along with the BSD 100 book study, check out the amazing, Courtney O’Connor’s blog post on Chapter 2: “Wild Readers Self-Select Reading Material.” She will be a guest blogger on Literacy Loving Gals. Her post goes live on Colleen’s blog, November 18. I’ve posted the schedule below if you’re interested in following along with our book study.
*Follow the link above to check our Courtney’s post.