As you read through this blog, I know many of you are thinking "there's no way I could do this in my school. I'm not lucky enough to have an extra empty classroom just begging to be filled with fabulous literacy teaching materials." (for more on what said classroom looks like, click here) And you may be right. Your school might be so packed to the gills that your specialist teachers teach in closets or bookrooms or whatever nook or cranny they can shove themselves into (wonderful image, isn't it?) and your classrooms are spilling out into the hallways. But you can take this show on the road. The classroom is a bonus, not the basis, for this fabulous thing we call the Lit Pit.
It's totally doable. And worth it. I promise.
Think about it. This could be you. Your very own Traveling Literacy Road show. Going classroom to classroom, peddling the latest in amazing kid lit. Astounding students with your super-fantastic, amazingly engaging literacy lessons. Never once dropping a book as you move quickly and oh-so-quietly through the halls. Sounds awesome, doesn't it?
Yes, yes it does. And some days, you nail it. Other days, you are dropping books left right and centre. Believe me, we know. We do this a lot. And we love it.
The Lit Pit has been an incredibly successful model of literacy instruction for us (more about that here). Even if we didn't have a dedicated space, we would still do this. I'm not gonna lie, you will have to be organized. You will have to help your classroom teachers be organized. You will have to organize the kids. But once that's done, bam, look out literacy instruction. The Lit Pit is rolling in to town!
So how would you do it? Over the next few posts, we'll share with you some of the basics of the Lit Pit and talk about how those can be tweaked to work amazingly well without a dedicated space.
The Basics #1: Collaboration
Collaboration is the foundation upon which the Lit Pit is built; without it, we don't exist. So, no matter how you decide to structure your traveling literacy road show, make sure that you are including others. In a previous post, we outlined all of the different people you can draw in to help you out if you are a classroom teacher. If you are a specialist teacher, you are the extra set of hands, eyes and brains that are contributing to this collaboration.
In the Lit Pit, collaboration happens in many different ways. We have specified blocks of time weekly in which we work together to provide time and space for teachers to meet. Frequently, I am covering primary classes so that Kristi can meet with a teacher whose class works with her in the Lit Pit. Sometimes, I even throw her in to a French Immersion classroom, just for fun! A lot of collaboration also happens on the fly...a brief conversation as a teacher heads out the door can start a snowball effect that changes what we are doing overall in the Lit Pit.
The Tweak: How drastic this tweak is depends on how far you want to go with it. When people ask me what change I think has been most beneficial to our school, I say, hands down, the collaboration blocks (3 per week, 45mins each). If you can find a way to work those in to your schedule, do it. No ifs, ands or buts. Do it. Having designated meeting times every week allows you to learn so much more about what is happening with those kids, in those classrooms. You can't replace that. If you can't make it work, carve out time before school, at lunch or after school to ensure that you are meeting with all of the teachers you work with on a regular (monthly) basis. This will keep you on track and moving the kids forward in a meaningful way.
Bring your expertise, your passion and your understanding
The Basics #2: The space
We are fortunate beyond belief to have an entire room dedicated to literacy instruction in our school (did I mention we have great admin?). We completely understand, however, that this is a rare occurrence, as most schools do not have the space or resources to set up a room like this. One of the biggest benefits of the room is that we can have all of our materials in one place and we do not need to duplicate them. We have designated places where everything is kept and an organizational system (different for Kristi and I) that allows us to have a class up and running in about 5 mins. All of our guided reading books are leveled and kept withing easy reach of the guided reading stations, allowing us to quickly move groups up or down a reading level with minimal effort. Our teachers are not responsible for bringing materials down to the Lit Pit unless they have something specific they want to work on. Easy peasy for everyone involved.
The Tweak: This is likely going to be your biggest challenge, as there are so many logistical considerations involved. To begin with, consider the physical layout of your school: Is it easy for you to get around quickly? Can you push a cart with materials? Are similar grade classrooms located near enough to one another to share materials? Where would these materials be stored? Do the classrooms themselves have enough space to store materials?
Ideally, each classroom would be a self-contained unit, with all the materials stored there within easy reach. However, space is tight, resources can be scarce and extra funding hard to come by, so this is unlikely to be the reality. Carefully consider what resources you can share and how you can do it without disrupting other classes when you come to get them. Guided reading books may need to be placed in bins and stored in a cupboard in the hallway between two classes, classroom libraries may need to be accessible to more than one class to share the wealth (think about using an app to help you manage this. Click here for some suggestions. Book bins or book bags will also likely be a life-saver here), letter tiles, iPads, lego and more may need to be rotated so that each class gets the benefit of exploring new kinesthetic ways of learning.
Once you have a good idea of what resources can be kept where, how you're going to share them and how you're going to move about the school, go ahead and invest in a good filing system. You are going to need it! Organize all of your activities by class and by station so that you are ready to pull them out at a moment's notice. Colour coding can be especially helpful in this regard - designate a specific colour of paper for each class and always copy their activities on to that colour of paper. Use the same colour to flag activities that you want to do in teacher resource books and use that colour again for your notes...see where I'm going with this? Pick a system and work it!
Next, impose a system on the teachers and students (and by impose, I mean discuss with each teacher what works for them and then impose it!). Have a designated spot in the classroom to store markers, pencils, erasers, playdoh, bookmarks, scissors, etc, etc. Have each station meet in the same place each time and have a designated student place the necessary materials at each station. Use a pre-determined signal (we use a bell) to let students know that it's time to move to the next station, after tidying up their current one. Make sure all materials are put back in their designated spots at the end of each session. The more rigid you are about the organization, the smoother the whole thing will run as the year progresses and the less work it will be for you in the long run.
Next up: Taking This Show on the Road Part 2 - The Materials & Scheduling
I'm not sure what kind of teacher you are, but I'm the type of teacher who is crazy busy during the school year (really, is there any other kind?). So when summer rolls around, I am done. Fried. Spent. I have no energy left for anything remotely school related for at least a couple of weeks. And then, slowly but surely, I start to get interested in it again. Blog posts and twitter feeds start to grab my attention again. I might pick up a teaching book that I wanted to read during the school year and browse through the pages. Then I decide to actually read a few pages. And then I'm hooked. My batteries are charged up and I'm ready to start thinking about next year.
1. Create leveled reading groups
If you haven't already done it, create leveled reading groups. You will never go back. This is not to say that you ditch whole class reading instruction entirely but rather that you dedicate time to whole class and small group instruction. Ideally you would be doing both. Every. Single. Day. Dedicate two 45 minute time slots a day (minimum - see tip 4 for ways to fit more literacy instruction in to your day) to reading instruction - one for whole group instruction and one for small group instruction. Use an informal reading assessment tool (we use PM Benchmarks) to level your class in to groups of 4-6 students. While one group is reading with you, the other groups can be working on reading and writing related activities (see tips 2 & 5 below for ways to make these stations really meaningful). This allows you to work closely with students to help guide their reading, targeting skills they need to work on to move ahead. You will be amazed at how quickly your students will make progress when they receive this kind of attention.
Biggest piece of advice? Make sure that every moment counts. Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers are full of great ways to run guided reading groups to ensure that the time that students spend with you is targeted and meaningful. Take the time to really think about what each group needs in terms of reading instruction and meet them where they're at. You do not need to be constantly assessing students to know what they need - talk to the teacher, re-do running records at regular intervals and keep your eyes and ears open while you read with the kids. They will guide you in the right direction (we will have a post up shortly with a sample guided reading sequence too if you're not sure where to start). This is your opportunity to provide them with exactly what they need in terms of reading instruction. Be purposeful in your instruction and you (and they!) will reap the rewards.
2. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate
This blog started because we made some drastic changes to the way we provide literacy support and learning assistance in our school. The biggest change was shifting our support from a pull-out model to an in-class model. We no longer work only with specific students, we work with whole classes, doubling the support time for all students. So, as you set up your leveled reading groups, invite your learning assistance teacher, librarian, Special Ed teacher, literacy specialist, principal, whomever you can rope in to it, to join you. Provide them time and space in your classroom to work with a small group as well; not only will you double your students' access to targeted reading time, you will also provide that person with an opportunity to work with students they might not otherwise work with. Win-win, if you ask me.
Key points here: meet regularly with your support people to be sure that you are maximizing your time and efforts. This doesn't have to be a formal meeting (although it can be; consider building collaboration time in to your schedule...hint, hint) and you will likely find that it becomes second-nature to have a quick two-minute conversation as you leave the classroom or see each other in the hallway. If everyone is on the same page, your students will reap the rewards.
On a related note, educational assistants can also be fabulous support people when running reading groups. While not expressly allowed to teach students (at least not in our district), they are certainly allowed to circulate amongst your other groups as they work on the independent activities, providing assistance and guidance as necessary. Takes a load off you knowing that someone else is monitoring behaviour and answering questions. If you can't get this kind of support, do make sure that you have a well established system for asking questions and soliciting help, otherwise you will be interrupted far too often! I suggest having students approach at least 2 other peers with their question before coming to you but you may already have a system that works for you.
3. Provide easy access to books that grab your students' attention
Near the end of this year, we came to the realization that the kids had exhausted all of the options at our Listen to Reading station. We also had kids starting to request specific books or types of books (cooking books, anyone?). So we did what we do best and we went shopping! We brainstormed with the kids all of the fabulous things they wanted to read, scoured the Scholastic catalogues and ordered a ton of books (in both French and English, I may add). We even decided to change the name of the station to Love to Read and shift the focus from fluency practice to simply reading for pleasure.
Why did we go to all this trouble (besides the fact that we love to buy books)?
Because kids have to have easy access to books that they want to read. They need to look at books as interesting, fascinating things that they want to lose themselves in. If they don't see books all around them that they want to pick up and not put down, then they are never going to love reading.
I realize that collecting heaps of books that your students will find interesting can be a daunting task. But it is a must do. Ask your students what they want to read about. Have them watch book trailers (find some here). Make use of your Scholastic bonus bucks. Scour the discount tables at bookstores and online. Better yet, convince your admin that this is a necessity and have her/him spend the money. Slowly but surely build your collection.
You will be rewarded with students who are passionate about reading. Students who come to you asking you to buy them another book. And then another. They will want to talk with you about what they've read. And you will smile and happily talk with them for hours because that's exactly what you want them to do.
As a side note: please don't discount audio books, especially for older grades. Struggling readers or kids who just don't love reading are often engaged by audio versions of books, which leads them to the paper versions eventually. I have had great success getting kids more interested in books by using the audio version first or in conjunction with the paper version. And they will still be able to participate in the deep, meaningful conversations you want them to be having about books.
4. Use mentor texts
Kristi and I are both extraordinarily passionate about great kid lit. So passionate, in fact, that people often walk in to our office only to find us reading to one another from some great new book we found.
Yep, geeks. Book geeks. Big time.
What we love most about great books (beyond just the simple enjoyment of reading them) is that we can almost instantly see ways that these books would work as mentor texts, a.k.a texts that model some aspect of literacy in a wonderful way. And we get passionate about them. And if we're passionate about them, dollars to donuts the kids are going to be too. And if kids are passionate about books, well, you, my friend, have done your job and done it well.
Once you begin to see books in this way, you open up a whole new world of teaching possibilities for yourself. You see, not only can mentor texts help you with your reading instruction, they are ah-mazing for writing as well! Now you can use one book to teach visualization and word choice. Connections and voice. Inference and sentence fluency. You can begin to dig deeper in to what makes a great book great, taking kids on a journey in to the love of literature, using books that interest them, intrigue them, inspire them (how's that for word choice?). All of that and you can double your literacy time because the kids are really in to it; they don't know that it's reading time or writing time, all they know is that reading these books is fun and getting to write in a similar style? Well, that's just awesome. Seriously. Try it. Find a great mentor text (start here or here), pick a reading focus and a writing focus that work with that book and go for it. You will not be disappointed.
5. Be purposeful in your planning
As mentioned above, it is really important to be purposeful in your planning and teaching when using a station-based approach. It is especially important at the independent work stations because those can make or break the tone of the classroom as you are trying to work with your guided reading groups. Well-planned, engaging activities are the key to a literacy time that runs smoothly and effectively.
Looking back, we realize now that although we thought we had some very engaging activities for working with words, they lacked depth and meaning. We even went so far as to entirely change the focus of one of our word work stations to ensure that students were meaningfully engaged in learning (more about that here).
Now, I am not trying to take away from all the fabulous teacher-authors out there who have published all sorts of word work activities but for us, for us, they just weren't right. While rainbow writing, pyramid writing and all sorts of other pretty ways of writing words out multiple times may seem fun at first they don't actually teach the students much beyond rote memorization of individual words and that just didn't fit with our philosophy.
So, when planning your station activities, plan them to reinforce the building blocks of reading and writing. There are many research-based programs out there (we often use Words Their Way) but a little bit of reading (check out some of the resources on the ACSI website here) can lead you to develop your own spelling program that fits with your style and philosophy. Tip #6 below shares some of the things we've found to be successful when it comes to working with text.
No matter what you choose to do, make sure that the work your students are doing forces them to think about the links between reading and spelling, the phonological, phonemic and comprehension connections that really matter.
6. Try out close reading strategies & interactive notebooks
Close reading has been much more prominent in the US than up here in Canada. It has also experienced it's fair share of controversy, as many people feel that it detracts from the love of reading that kids should be developing in the primary years (not to mention that many feel that elementary school students are not proficient enough readers to actually dig deeply in to the meat of the text). As mentioned above (see Tip #3), one of the fundamental building blocks of the Lit Pit is developing that love of literacy and we keep that uppermost at all times. However, we've also found that the basic tenets of close reading, including re-reading and carefully looking at certain aspects of the text can actually enhance student enjoyment by helping them understand the text better. This is the idea behind the Working With Text station.
Do we stick religiously to the close reading format? Heck, no.
We bend it and stretch it to suit our purposes. We combine it with interactive notebooks to make it engaging for students. We ensure that they use text they have already read (or, in the case of stronger readers, are going to read) with us to explore a key concept that we want them to learn.
Interactive notebooks provide the students with a clear outline for their independent work and a scaffold for their learning. Close reading strategies provide them with ways to look more carefully at a given reading concept. For the little guys, this might be word families or parts of speech; for the older kids, it might involve a closer look at author's purpose or main idea. No matter what reading skill they are working on, interactive notebooks and close reading strategies help them to better understand what they're reading, which leads to greater enjoyment of all reading (because, really, how much fun is reading if you don't understand it?).
Close reading strategies + interactive notebooks = meaningful, doable independent work. Done and done.
Whether you make one of these changes or all six, whether it happens all at once or over time, you will be rewarded with kids who cheer when you mention reading, smile widely when it's time to write and overall just thoroughly enjoy anything to do with books. And those reluctant readers? Well, they might not cheer but they probably won't groan either.
This week I wanted to share with you a couple of wonderful reminders of summer that are just fabulous for making connections, talking about word choice or simply just reading for enjoyment. Since I already mentioned My Brave Year of Firsts (which features some great summer activities like cliff jumping), I'm digging a little deeper in to my collection to find some beautifully written gems.
The first book I want to share with you comes from Orca Publishing, a Vancouver-based publisher that puts out some fabulous books. Jessie's Island (Sheryl McFarlane), is a beautiful ode to life on one of BC's Pacific islands. For any child (or adult) who has ever visited (or lived!) on an "island in the middle of nowhere", Jessie's Island will bring back memories of days spent wandering the beach, paddling in the water or simply watching the boats go by. This book has such a peaceful rhythm to it - I find it very soothing to read! In addition, the language she uses lends itself very well to upper elementary lessons on word choice. If you are using this book as a mentor text for writing, be sure to check out Sheryl McFarlane's website, as her description of how she began writing this book is just about the perfect way to get kids writing themselves! Definitely an enjoyable what-I-did-this-summer reading and writing lesson could come out of this book.
In much the same vein, Time of Wonder (Robert McCloskey) shares the story of summer on an island in Maine. The language in this book is absolutely beautiful as well and connections abound. Again, another great mentor text for word choice in the upper elementary classroom as McCloskey's text really brings to life the goings-on in the book (including the hurricane!). The only caution I have is that this book is quite long so you may need to break the reading of it in to parts for younger kids but there is fun to be had for them as well, finding all the treasures in the pictures and searching for the young children and their dog on each page.
My final book is a great read-aloud for the grade 3-5 set. Summer in the City (Marie-Louise Gay, David Homel) tells the story of a young boy whose family (sounding very much like the Griswold's of National Lampoon's fame) decide to take a "stay-cation" and stay home this summer. Home is Montreal, QC, so this book is a great one for all those kids who spend their summers in the city, although the hilarious antics that happen throughout the book may be a little more than your students got up to this summer! I recommend it as a read-aloud because it is highly entertaining and I love to read funny books aloud; so much more fun, don't you think?
Recently, I was telling my kids about the blog and about IMWAYR. My 2.5 year old was non-plussed (shocking) but my 5 year old had a fantastic idea... She is going to be a regular contributor to IMWAYR! She had suggestions right away, of course (being her mother's daughter, she has been known to have an opinion or two). This week, we also happen to be visiting my 7 year old nephew, so he'll be chiming in with his suggestions as well.
So what do the pint-sized critics have to say? Without further ado, here are their recommendations:
2.5 year old: Giraffes Can't Dance (Giles Andreae, Guy Parker-Rees). This is a wonderful book that teaches kids the beauty of difference and the power of listening to yourself. Although it is my 2.5 year old's suggestion, I think it makes a great book for character education for K-3. The rhyming and illustrations are just wonderful to boot.
5 year old: Katy and the Big Snow (Virginia Lee Burton). An oldie but a goodie. Katy has been around for quite awhile but my daughter loves this book! A great one for teaching young kids about many of the different jobs required to keep a city up and running, Katy is also an endearing story about working hard because you want to help others. Of course, if the kids like this one, there are several others to check out too (I love easy follow up book recommendations, don't you?).
Rosie Revere Engineer & The Most Magnificent Thing. I already reviewed these two wonderful books here but my darling daughter just had to mention them again. I'm a sucker for a good female protagonist, even in picture books, so these fit the bill perfectly. Perhaps why she loves them too (a mom can dream, right?).
Fancy Nancy & the Posh Puppy (Jane O'Connor). The Fancy Nancy books might seem like an interesting follow up to Rosie Revere but, to be honest, I kind of like Fancy Nancy. While Nancy is a bit frou frou for my taste, the fact that she exposes kids to fascinating new words all the time (with kid-friendly definitions, no less) is wonderful! Plus, she engages in a wide variety of activities that you might not expect for the glittery girl, demonstrating that you can be fancy and in to bugs, art and, yes, dogs, no matter who you are. This particular book also highlights Nancy as she learns that perfect is different for everyone. Any girly-girl in your class is sure to love Fancy Nancy and, by consequence, reading. After all, that 's what this is all about, right?
7 year old: No, David! (David Shannon). The fact that my 7 year old nephew suggested this one speaks volumes about it's appeal at all ages. Absolutely everyone can relate in some way to the story of David, the young boy who is always being told no. From the kindies who are always being told no, to the 7 year olds who get a good giggle out of David's bare bum to the pre-teens who are also always being told no, this book has endless appeal. It's limited amount of text makes it great for beginning and struggling readers, as well as lending itself well to inferring & connecting. You just can't go wrong with the David books.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney). A seemingly never-ending series thst appeals to quite a broad range of ages (I think my nephew is at the young end for this one but he is certainly not alone). With fun, comic book style illustrations and hilarious goings-on, this book is a great one for struggling readers or as a read-aloud. Although it is not necessarily an easy read, it allows older readers the chance to look like they're reading a novel while still having picture support. The series is a perennial favourite in our school library from Gr. 1 - 7.
Matilda (Roald Dahl). I must admit this one gave me a little thrill. That this topped my nephew's list of recommendations speaks to the staying power of some books and some authors. Roald Dahl is certainly one of those and this book is pure fun for those who read it. A great read-aloud in younger classrooms, there is also a lot of humor that only older kids will pick up on, so don't hesitate to pull it out along with some of your newer selections for lit circles and self-selected reading time.
While there may not be anything new or extraordinary on this list, I think it's important to hear what the kids want to read. It's our job to introduce them to great new books, but also to keep bringing back the classics. After all, well-read is well-loved and love for reading is what this is all about.
See you next week!
Here in BC, we are on the Back to School countdown (I know some of you have already headed back and that seems really early to me. It is still far too hot here!). We have just a couple more weeks before we head back to Pro-D and classes so I thought it was appropriate for this week's IMWAYR post to feature some fun back to school books for the younger set (although we all know that those older guys love to be read a good picture book every now and again, right?!).
My choices this week:
My Brave Year of Firsts: Tries, Sighs and High Fives (Jamie Lee Curtis & Laura Cornell) - This is not only a great book for back to school but also for connecting. I bought it for my daughter because there are just so many things in this book that she has recently experienced or will be experiencing in the very near future. All kindergarten, grade 1 and grade 2 students should be able to find something to connect to in this book - first day of school, first lost tooth, first bike ride (and crash) and so much more! Although the rhyme is a bit awkward at times, it's still a fun book to read and the illustrations are a hoot! I even found a Bravery Certificate tie-in (check it out here) - super cute for using when the little ones do something new. Definitely a great read for your literacy and social-emotional development programs.
The Kissing Hand (Audrey Penn) - This beautiful book tells the story of Chester Raccoon, who isn't quite ready to leave his mama and head off to school. Told simply and gently, this book will help kids understand that they can hold special people in their hearts and draw strength from them even if they aren't right there. Beware: this book might make you cry!
Another great one for social-emotional development as well as connecting (although tread carefully if you have a few who are still struggling to adjust to being away from mom all day; you may have a few tears). There are lots of tie-in activities to be found on the internet for this one and there is an iPad/Android app with a read-to-me option for enjoyment at the Love to Read station or at home.
Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready For Kindergarten (Joseph Slate) - Despite the fact that every time I read this book I wonder what kind of magician Miss Bindergarten must be to be able to get her classroom all ready in just a few hours before the first day of school, it is a fun read. The rhyming text bounces along and is simple enough that young children will be helping you out in no time, while the colourful illustrations provide lots to look at. I personally like how the alphabet appears in obvious and not-so-obvious ways; each animal's name (Adam Krupp, Brenda Heath, Christopher Beaker, etc) appears alphabetically but so does the type of animal (Adam is an alligator, Brenda a beaver and so on), giving kids lots of opportunities to practice the alphabet in a fun way. Again, lots of tie-in activities on the internet and, bonus, it's a series so your kids can be reading Miss Bindergarten books all year!
On the adult reading side of things, I didn't get finished Emancipation Day (Wayne Grady) so I'm still working on finishing that one off. It is definitely getting more interesting though, so that should help (that and my upcoming flight and camping trip!). My friend invited me to join her book club and the choice was Think (Lisa Bloom), so I've started that one. My husband is getting a kick out of me reading it because I can't make it more than two sentences before I have to comment on something ridiculous Bloom has said (my apologies if you're a fan but man, I cannot handle a book premised on the idea that women need to appear less dumb that then uses words like "celebs" on a regular basis. The hypocrisy is killing me). That one doesn't get read right before bed!
For next week, I think we might continue the back to school theme a little bit, but maybe with some books for older kids. See you then!
I came upon this great little meme while taking a stroll through the amazing Adrienne Gear's website & blog (if you aren't familiar with Adrienne Gear, you need to check out her Reading & Writing Power books. Trust me.).
Hosted by Jen of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee of Unleashing Readers, It's Monday, What Are You Reading is the YA offshoot of Book Journey's adult IMWAYR. And wouldn't you know, I had to jump on that train! And I'm dragging Kristi along with me. I mean, we love kid lit, right? (We love adult lit too but honestly, I'd rather write about kid's books.) It really is a perfect fit!
So, from now on, Mondays = IMWAYR.
For our first IMWAYR post, I would love to share a YA series that I just ripped through (I love camping for all the reading time!) and two wonderful picture books that my 5 year old got for her birthday.
The Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima was quite an enjoyable fantasy read. My best description of it is Diana Gabaldon for teens; all of the key elements are there: magic, romance, war. As with the Gabaldon series though, I felt it dragged on too long and could have been wrapped up in at least one book less. That being said, it was entertaining and kept me turning the pages.
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!