It May Just Be a Good Time to Cry “Uncle”

I’ve heard all manner of reasons for why this year is exceptionally difficult.  I’m a believer in the Daily Five. It makes sense, it’s based on research – brain research AND literacy research. I saw my students grow.

But I feel that it is time to give it up.

The message I’ve been getting is that in order to follow the curriculum guides, particular lessons need to be implemented.  I tried to creatively roll these mandatory lessons into the CAFE, but sadly, there just isn’t time to do the CAFE justice.  Trying to do both the Daily Five/CAFE and the required curriculum is driving me insane.

So even though I believe the Daily Five/CAFE is a powerful tool toward helping my students become independent and become better readers than I ever thought possible, I am giving it up. Reading groups, here we go.

Sometimes it is better to admit defeat. But better for whom? Of that I’m not sure.


Finding my compass – again

I’ve put it off for nearly as long as I dare. It is time to start getting ready for a new school year. Completing my list for summer has suddenly kicked in to overdrive: there’s still much (re)painting to complete, sorting and throwing to do, cleaning and gardening/landscaping. But suddenly, there is a pressing need to squeeze it all in quickly — the students return in about a week.

I used to get pretty worked up about starting room preparations as soon as we turned the calendar to August. This year for the first time in my career, I’ve managed to make it all the way to the last 10 days before school begins. I suppose that’s growth. Hopefully it’s not burnout.

I love what I have chosen for my life’s work. But sometimes, more often now than in the beginning of my career, there are far too many experts telling me how to do my job. And demanding proof that I am doing it. This week,  I am in the processing of completing my self-assigned professional reading: The Cafe Book by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser – better known as “The Sisters”. Reading this book is helping me to find the balance between all the frenetic demands made on teachers today and a calm and purposeful learning experience for my students. Here is a quote from Debbie Miller that the Sisters included in their book (page 60) which caused me to sit up and take notice:

…when getting done takes precedence over the doing, when finishing becomes more important than the figuring out, we’ve lost sight of why we became teachers in the first place. (Miller, D. Teaching with intention: Defining beliefs, aligning practice, taking action, Grades K-5. (2008). Portland, ME: Stenhouse. p 106

As I read and reread Debbie Miller’s words, I realized that this is what has been causing me unease with what I do. In the rush to turn in this, that, or the other evidence, I have lost my bearing: why I am a teacher. I chose to teach because I believe that it is important to give every child the opportunity to soar to heights neither of us imagined possible. I do this on a selfish level because, when that moment of connection happens, when child and teacher both realize that something wonderful has happened, it is the most exquisite of emotions that makes all the hard, hard work worth everything.

This year, my personal goal as teacher, will be to refocus on why I teach, to not let outside forces undermine why my students and I are here, working together. And if I let some of those demands for evidence slip, if I’m late with something someone somewhere wants in order to show that I have been working, that is what will be.

You can find me here in Room 207 helping my students figure out how to take the next step in their learning path.

Balancing Reading Assessment

I’ve just started reading a professional book by the Sisters (Gail Boushey and Joan Moser) called The Cafe Book. The Sisters wrote The Daily Five which I’ve been partially using in my own classroom during Reading Workshop to help manage what the “other kids” are doing while I’m conferencing or working with a group.

When I began my career, like the Sisters, I was uncomfortable if I met one of my reading groups more often than another. But after being encouraged by my Principal to “get out of the way” of more adept readers and not meet with them so often, I’ve been a bit more willing to let go of the fairness is equal philosophy. What this means for me as a third grade teacher is that my more advanced readers meet with me as a group just once a week. They read longer, chapter-based texts, and I’ve taught them (a painful process I have to admit) to work as an independent literacy circle. The time I’ve carved out is spent on my Safety Net and Below Level students – who need more support in order to become more proficient as readers.

So now that I’ve divided up my time so that the students who need more of me, get more of me, what’s next?  Well, if you say Assessment and Conferencing, the kind of assessment that lets you know where your students and and what they need help with, we’re in agreement. However, once you’ve conferenced or assessed a student, a teacher needs to actually do something with that information.

Like the Sisters, I’ve been through a ton of different models and suggestions for keeping track of what my students know and what they need to know next.  Sticky notes seem like a good idea — but like Joan, I kept having to retrieve them from the floor and try to figure out in retrospect who the note was about. Not exactly efficient. Clipboards, file cards, the whole gamut of record keeping is enough to drive one crazy. Trying to find an effective and efficient way to gather information about my students — one that I can sustain when the year’s pace becomes high pressure and crazy — is key for me right now.  I know data gathering is a fact of my teaching life that will probably never disappear.

And then, once I’ve got all this fabulous data, what to do next? I’m hopeful that the Sisters, who seem to have a practical and realistic handle on balancing assessment with putting the results of assessment into practice, have a few ideas.