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
Ok, so the space is important. And it is fun to put together. But a beautiful space does not a great lesson make. So we had to go further, obviously, than just putting together a great space; we had to come up with a great plan for the learning that would occur in this space. Here, then, is a brief(-ish) outline of some of the ideas that we came up with, borrowed, bought and modified to create engaging, appropriate activities for each station in the Lit Pit.
Before we begin, we'd just like to say a big, heartfelt "thank you" to all the wonderful teachers out there who see fit to post their work on their blogs, on Teachers Pay Teachers and on Pinterest. We truly could not have done it without you (since we took a lot of your stuff!). As we get more accomplished with this blogging thing, maybe, just maybe, we'll figure out how to include some of you on our blog. For now, though, thank you.
Or, more specifically, our theory. We looked at current best practices in learning assistance and literacy instruction, we looked at our caseload and we looked at our own beliefs about education and we combined them to come up with a plan that involved both direct instruction and individual practice in reading, writing and word work. The plan involves close collaboration with the classroom teacher to ensure that we are meeting the needs of all students in their class; it also means focused, in-class intervention for Tier 2 and 3 students that is in addition to their daily classroom literacy instruction. In this way, we hoped to move the Tier 2 students forward more quickly by ensuring that their support dovetails with what they are doing in the classroom and frees us up to meet with the Tier 3 students for even more targeted instruction in a pull-out setting.
We knew that we did not have the time or resources to offer small group pull-out support to all of the Tier 2 students (those who are minimally meeting expectations), nor do we believe this is the most effective model. By dividing students in to leveled groups we are able to target our instruction and practice activities at each station to suit the needs of a wide variety of learners, thereby reducing the need for pull-out instruction. By integrating both the classroom teacher, the learning assistance teacher and support staff we are not only able to meet with each group more often for guided practice but we are also able to ensure a common language and activity link between learning assistance and the classroom. We still provide pull-out support to some of most needy students (Tier 3) but now we know that what we are doing with them matches what is going on in the classroom and in the Lit Pit. In theory, we can reach more students, more effectively using the Lit Pit.
The set-up of The Lit Pit is based loosely on the set-up of The Daily 5 by "The Sisters", Gail Boushey & Joan Moser. The bonus? By having classroom teachers come to us we have two teachers and often 1 or 2 support staff working together to support all of our students. Because we have, at minimum, two teachers in the room at any given time, we were able to make some meaningful changes to the standard Daily 5 set-up. Instead of Read to Others, we subbed in 2 opportunities for guided reading, ensuring that each student receives 40 mins of extra guided reading practice per week. Instead of just one Working with Words station we were able to create two, one focused on kinesthetic practice with words and the other focused on extension activities, allowing students to use multiple methods to learn spelling rules and patterns (most of our teachers are using the Words Their Way). We have a bazillion fabulous writing prompts to inspire kids to write and have several otions that they can choose from each week. Our Listening to Reading station incorporates iPads and iPods so that students can have a chance to listen to some great stories read to them.
All in all, we have a space that allows students to experience literacy in many different forms, all deliberately selected to help them grow as readers and writers.
The best part? By allowing students to work at a level that is appropriate for them they are all experiencing success. They feel proud of their accomplishments and look forward to coming down to the Lit Pit. And that is exactly what we hoped for!
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!