Reading Licenses

When I first began teaching elementary school, the only “independent” books kids had were the books they checked out of the library. And maybe a borrowed read-aloud left of the chalk (!) ledge. Can you imagine how boring that must have been?

newbasketsMorphing to Reading Workshops and Daily Five gave our students opportunities to self-select books for reading independently. And of course, that was a lot more engaging for students. Kids being kids though, were they always doing the right thing at self-selection time?

We teach kids explicitly how to find “just right” books that are neither frustrating nor so easy that kids don’t grow as readers. In my classroom, students received a readers’ license to help them remember where their proximal reading level was. (For information on how my classroom library was leveled, see The Leveled Library Project above.)

The license included a digitized photo of the student created on one of the first days of school, the student’s name, and a color code sticker as a reminder of what just-right-level should be the current target. Students were encouraged to choose 1 book from a level down and 1 book from a level up (the challenge) as well as 2 just-right books. I usually printed all this on a 4×6 plain index card or some heavy card stock paper.

At conferencing time, the student arrived with book box and license and we’d always spend a minute or two making sure selections were a match. New color code stickers were added throughout the year as the student progressed; we’d talk about a goal or next step to work on, record that idea in the student’s reading notebook and move on.

Did I have students who tried to fake their way into a level because a friend was there? Some did from time to time. But I also had students who wanted to prove that they could read more challenging books. How I loved when a student was so bent on proving that higher challenging level was really “just right” that the student doubled down on effort to move forward!

A “license” to read… just another way to track whether book choices match independent reading levels.

What IS Important to Elementary Kids

The Daily Five Tip of the Week had a wonderful cover story this week. In it, Lori Sabo writes about the lasting impact Joan Moser had on a former first grader, recent high school graduate. In the end, the former student describes her current self through the books she loves.

IMG_0190Beyond the well-deserved thanks that Joan received I think is a far more important message to all who work with elementary students. What matters to elementary kids, what they will take away, is a love of learning.

Clearly, Joan’s former student learned to love to read, not from the rigor of the Common Core (which was not part of our educational landscape 12 year ago), but through the nurturing environment created within the walls of the classroom. That environment included coaching this student through some reading challenges, instilling a sense of confidence and independence, and creating a safe and relaxing physical space to learn.

Planning for the upcoming year will inevitably include achievement data and plans for improvement. And there will be pressure to meet incredibly (ridiculously) rigorous curricula. But, hopefully, it will also include some serious thought given to what’s important – really important – to elementary students. A place and a space in which to learn to love learning.

Beginning student led discussions

“I can” statements are part of our lesson planning. I craft these statements for each segment of our day, direct student attention to them before, sometimes during, and after a lesson.

One of the mini lessons I planned this week was to introduce students to an FQR organizer (Facts-Questions-Response). Of course that included a link to the Common Core AND and “I can” statement.

After the mini lesson, students were directed to work in partnerships to read a nonfiction text found in our Reading Street books (not a fan of basals, but a great way to find multiple copies of a text) and with the partner jot on the FQR. Mindful of the role that academic language plays, I planned for students to collaborate in partnerships to complete the FQR and then use Turn and Talk to encourage discussion with another partnership.

I usually go into discussion-based activities expecting glitches and expecting that I may need to reteach and redirect students who enjoy social language a lot more than academic language 🙂  This time, however, as I moved from group to group, I heard…. actual discussion of what facts were learned, wonderings, questions, and reactions to the text.

Mindful attention to the “I can” helped me to think about what my students would need to become successful. We not only worked on the process for an FQR, we reviewed our norms for discussion. And that allowed me to be an observer on the sidelines.206Books

I can turn and talk about facts, questions and responses to a nonfiction text. YES!

Text to Self Connection

When I was an undergraduate, practicing piano or flute was a drudgery that I could barely tolerate. I put in what I needed to put in to get through a performance, and, given that I was an adept reader of scores, that was pretty minimal.  I can recall sitting in several Form and Analysis classes and wondering how the heck I could cut it without affecting my grade.

This winter, as I have begun to become reacquainted with my piano, I’ve been mentally revisiting those music analysis classes. And I’ve discovered that while I struggle to activate the muscle memory for reaches on keys that I used to be able to just do, I’ve missed some things. I have been so focused on playing the notes accurately I have missed the nuance.

When I finally reached a level of note-playing that I could pay attention to the meaning of the melodic line, it was very freeing. Suddenly (well that’s not the right word!) I could hear what the piece should sound like. I understood.

And isn’t that exactly what happens with readers and writers. Our struggling readers and writers do their best to decode and mimic the writing elements of a genre. We offer up mentor texts, but unless we can take the time to analyze these texts with depth (and rigor), the students can only uncover the basics.

I think we try to do too much too quickly these days. A mile wide and an inch deep should not be the curriculum model we aspire to. Students need time and guidance to understand and to write agilely.

My connection? Learning to play a piece of music, moving beyond simply playing the score accurately, is very much like reading and writing.

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.