Building Student Independence

I often hear what I hope are compliments when visitors walk into my classroom, and I am able to attend to this new intermission in our day’s work.

DSC_0162It wasn’t always this way of course. Kids are kids.  Their natural inclination is that the moment teacher is distracted it will seem like a golden opportunity to do “something else”. So, when I started reading and researching the Daily Five some years ago, I was  drawn to the idea that the students can be taught to make their own choices, that the kids can work with greater independence and self-responsibility.

Before the Daily Five entered my teaching life, I felt that I needed to whip the kids into shape. I was in charge. All the kids had to do was sit back and comply – and mostly they did. But they didn’t own anything. I’m sure that for most kids, that was not all that motivating.

From the first day, everything – and I do mean every routine – is presented and practiced using the Daily Five 10 Steps to Independence.  For me, along with the brain-based research, this nugget of pedagogy has been the most exciting part of adopting the Daily Five model in Literacy and in Math workshops. When I say everything, I mean every single routine in our day has been practiced with independence in mind – line ups, transitions, emergency drills, finding a spot to read within the room. It sounds and often is tedious, but the end result has been that the kids know what is expected and rise to meet the expectations for increased responsibility.

Learning to trust 8, 9, and 10 year olds to make good decisions isn’t easy for teachers who are held accountable for everything in our current teaching environment. But building that trusting relationship is essential to the human back-and-forth that breathes life into our relationships with kids. And for me, that is worth every moment it has taken to build student independence.

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.


D5 and Barometer Kids

One of the most powerful and admirable things about Gail and Joan – the Sisters – is how they openly share their teaching life.  They don’t preach that they have all the answers, and anyone who has spent more than a nanosecond in a classroom knows that absolutely no one can have all the answers. Teaching is organic; it changes from day to day and sometimes from minute to minute. It changes from year to year as well as the culture of the classroom is fluid and dependent on the humans that make up the class.

According to The Sisters, one of their most frequent troubleshooting queries is about children who don’t seem to develop the stamina required during independent work periods.  Fake reading, avoidance tactics (bathroom visits, taking FOREVER in the bathroom), whatever you call these behaviors, the kids aren’t reading and are often sucking away valuable teaching and learning time.

Joan and Gail call these kids “barometer” kids — depending on which way they are going directly impacts the entire atmosphere in the classroom.Last year I think I had quite a few kids who could make or break the learning in the day. Some of this distraction was a cry for attention and some was something deeper. Whatever the cause – attention or organic — the impact on all of us in the room was immense.  Here’s a link to what they have to say about one of their students who had difficulty building stamina.

The Daily Five structure demands that children learn to own some of the responsibility for their own learning — and that includes building the stamina it will take so that I, the teacher, will not always need to be the ring-master.

It will take a bit of trust for me to let go, to trust that my students are capable of learning how to do just that — to be trusted to make good learning choices without me getting in the middle of things.

We will all be learning new things this school year.

Writing within the Daily 5

I was never much of a writer as a student, so working over the last 4 years within the structure of the Writing Workshop has sometimes posed a challenge. As a professional learning community, we’ve explored Lucy Calkins, Regie Routman, and other nationally known experts  in writing literacy. We’ve incorporated these ideas in to our Writers’ Workshops and the level of writing for our students has definitely improved.

But my dilemma in rolling past writing practices into the Daily 5 has been that I don’t want to mess what has been successful with something else that I’ve become interested in. And I don’t feel very confident in my teacher-of-writing abilities.

Yesterday, I took another look at Lucy Calkins and Ted Kesler’s First Hand book for writing in Grades 3-5.  Our grade level team will begin writing personal narratives with students in the coming week, a two-month writing focus that will take us in to November.

This time, as I read Lucy’s and Ted’s words, I had the structure of the Daily 5 in the back of my mind. In place of trying to blow through teaching students how to select a topic for a small moment narrative, I’m thinking of taking 4 to 5 20-minute mini lessons based in mentor or touchstone texts to practice gathering the seeds or ideas for possible narratives. We won’t be incorporating everything from this book; as it is intended for teaching writing to 3rd through 5th graders, I don’t believe that is necessary.

We’ll use Patricia Polacco’s Thundercakes as a mentor text for a memorable event in one’s life, Jane Yolan’s Owl Moon to explore the first/last time the author did something important or meaningful, and finally Mo Willem’s Knufflebunny to highlight picking an emotion (frustration) to write about. If things turn out the way I hope, students will have many ideas for personal narratives; ideas that can be used for independent writing throughout the year during the Daily 5 writing periods.

Throughout the rest of our focus on personal narratives, I plan to use successful mini lessons based on modeling and shared writing before gradually releasing the responsibility for the task to my students. Will they be able to perform these writers’ tasks independently. After the unit ends I hope so. And they’ll have plenty of their own ideas ready for writing and practicing some more.

As I fleshed out what I want to teach throughout this unit, I realized that the  Daily 5 will most likely be a great way to structure the elements of narrative writing for my third graders. We will target an idea in the mini lesson and then use the balance of the 45 minute block to practice it while, at last, I will be able to pull students who need extra help with a skill into a smaller support group. For me, that’s the most exciting part.