Let’s Toss All the Balls in the Air

Last week, we created our last I-Chart; the one for Listen to Reading. So now we have all the components of the Daily Five in place. It’s an exciting yet frightening time .It has not always been smooth sailing. I find I have to keep pinching myself as a reminder that one of the most important parts of the Daily Five is that the responsibility for our classroom environment, for developing independent learners, is for me to give up control. Kind of a challenge for an obsessive, compulsive control-freak.

This week I’m identifying some of my barometer kids – I have 3 – those kids who have difficulty maintaining stamina and who need to build their independence with smaller steps. Each of these children have difficulty throughout the day with attending/listening; their hands are always in motion (I’ve never seen a third grader disassemble a pencil sharpener before!). This is going to be a challenge.

Now with all the components in place, it is a matter of logistics -though  my students concept of time is somewhat off reality. What some students feel is about 20 minutes – the time I would ideally like them to spend Reading to Self each day – falls somewhat short; the students like to move through all five choices. We are working through the intermediate Daily Five structure and some days there isn’t enough time to complete 5 activities.

What is gratifying is to have students choose to read, choose to write. There is a subtle change in attitude that makes all the hard work we have been doing to build independence worthwhile.  There is a lot of work we have to do yet, but the Daily Five is making a positive difference in transferring the responsibility for learning to my students.

Whew – 4 down one to go

We are still laying down the routines and expectation for the Daily Five. Here’s how my morning goes: Get up (usually before the alarm), start coffee, sit down with my laptop, check email (and Facebook, okay I admit I’m addicted) and then watch one of the Sister’s videos on the Daily Cafe website.

Most of my students – with the exception of two who are exceptional in that they have significant developmental delays – are able to sustain 15 minutes of Read to Self  followed by 15 minutes of Writing.  I don’t suppose it is that unusual at this point in the year to find my students can sustain stamina for nearly 30 minutes for the first choice session, but the stamina in the second choice session  is about 2/3 of that.

There are a few glitches. I can hear my students using Check for Understanding when they Read to Someone. But the voice levels are so loud – or at least I think they are. Coming from a background in constructivist mathematics where the classroom can be a noisy place, I am torn about stopping and restarting the students – they are talking on topic after all.

Next week we will add Listen to Reading — without the benefit of a listening center. (shameless plug: I’ve written a proposal on Donorschoose.org if you are feeling supportive). We will be using our boombox for that… wish us luck!

What I am seeing is a powerful transfer of responsibility to my students. They are starting to feel empowered by choosing what they will work on. And I am delighted that I was able to give a complete Fountas & Pinnell benchmark test without waving off at least one student who didn’t know what to do next and who wanted to interrupt me.

I think we’re getting somewhere.




I’ve been working – really working – at the conferencing table for the last several session of D5 choice. Up until this point, I have been “fake working” — monitoring students without their knowledge — so as to regroup if and when stamina for an activity is broken. We are nearly pros with Read to Self now and becoming much more independent with Writing; just a few missteps in the “”work quietly” department.

Word Work is still a work in progress as is Read to Someone. The kids are getting very accustomed to setting their goals for independently working (hurrah!) and are starting to verbalize why we do what we do in the classroom (extra hurrah).

When I hear other educators talk about the Daily Five, it is often said that D5 is simply an organizational structure. Well, yes, there is that aspect. However, for me, the beauty, the benefit of working with this structure is the explicit guide for creating independent students – students who become responsible learners.

It is not enough for students to comply in school just because teacher “said so.” Think about it: when you were a kid, you were probably often told to just do something. When you didn’t understand the point of the activity or the routine, did you find it easy to remember and to comply? I didn’t.

Building stamina for independence has been a painfully slow process. It is natural to want to get the show on the road, to be able to get in the routines of the day – all of them – as quickly as possible.

Independent habits of mind take time. We are building our stamina this year and already the payback is becoming obvious.

D5 One Day at a Time

We have been in session with our students for 3 days now. At one point yesterday afternoon I came to the realization that these third graders are funny and likeable and want to learn. Being somewhat superstitious I’m a little nervous about saying that out loud so early, but there you go.

We started our journey with the Daily Five on our very first day of school – just like the Sisters advocate.  I picked out one of my favorite read alouds, Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems and began by asking students about the ways they thought this book could be read. That resulted in a blank look that telegraphed, “Lady, if you don’t know how to read a book, we’ve got a big problem here.”

It took some coaxing, but we finally came up with 2 bullet items to add to our anchor chart. We tried reading the pictures for Knuffle Bunny first and then I modeled reading the words. I have quite a few students for whom reading is a challenge, the permission to read by pictures gave them a sense of accomplishment — just as the Sisters said it would.

We continued building the anchor chart for 3 Ways to Read on the second day of school by adding “Retelling the story”.  We’ve been talking about good fit books and will continue to develop that concept over the next week.

Working on developing the I-Chart for “Read to Self” was quite an eye-opening experience for me. It took a bit of coercing to get kids to realize that reading to yourself can be fun — but it also makes you smarter.  That’s a term I use a lot with my students as I am a big proponent of using attribution theory in developing habits of mind for effective effort. So instead of “becoming a better reader”, I’ve tweaked the sense of urgency to get smarter by reading.

As teachers, I think we assume that children intuit that we are working hard when they are working hard. my students had absolutely no clue what I might be doing while they were reading to self… really.  Blank stares followed by tentative guesses that I might be walking around the room.  So we stopped and took the opportunity to talk about teachers listening to students read, coaching students to improve their reading, and meeting with a small group.

I’ve paid close attention to the purposeful use of a good model and a  not-good model of nearly every routine we are working on. What a powerful way to get my barometer kids to buy in to successfully participating in focused and meaningful reading activities!

I find it is challenging to resist the urge to just dive into a fully developed schedule; I want to get everything rolled out all at once, but I know that doesn’t work. This year as I implement the Daily Five more purposefully, I am resisting the urge to rush building stamina and go right to sustaining a block of reading for 15 minutes. I learned from experience last year that even though I felt like the kids could sustain their attention, in reality, they could not. We’re up to 5 minutes as of today; five minutes when they are truly independent, when they are truly employing those 3 ways to read a book, 5 minutes when they are totally ignoring me because they are focused on reading. Awesome!

So far…. so good.