“Doing” Justice: More than just forms

Donalyn Miller recently tweeted about a recording sheet she uses for the 40 Book Challenge she not only “invented” but practices with her students in her classroom.  As I’ve recently added her book “The Book Whisperer” to the book study portion of a course I’ve developed, Donalyn’s tweet caught my attention:

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My curiosity over why Donalyn Miller would feel compelled to tweet an endorsement of  Debbie Ohi’s collection of forms led me to read this post from August 2014:  The 40 book Challenge Revisited.

Her point this:

… the original thinking behind an instructional idea becomes lost when it’s passed along like a game of Telephone. You heard about it from a 60-minute conference session. Your teammate attended a book study and she gave you the highlight reel. The teacher down the hall is doing something innovative. You should try it. We’ve all seen the quick adoption of shiny, new ideas without a full picture of how these concepts fit into best practices (or don’t).

I’ve frequently heard fellow educators reference that they are “doing” the Daily Five or the Daily CAFE. However, digging in a little deeper, misinformed yet well-intentioned educator’s idea of the “doing” is more likely to be incorporating some of the “centers” (sorry Gail and Joan, I know that’s not what you intended) or using some printable for students downloaded from one of the educator enterprise sites.

The Daily Five practice is based on developing a trusting relationship between learners and teacher. The development of this trusting relationship is every bit as important as the student activities.  A gradual release of responsibility leads to developing students independence and accountability.  Joan and Gail’s commitment to research and development of their own practice is the powerful glue that, in my opinion, holds the Daily Five and CAFE together. This becomes the basis for educator changes that lead to best practice.

Shiny new ideas are terrific, of course. That is the basis of being “green and growing”, as one of my former administrators used to say.  However, without fully understanding a method for management of teacher, the practice become so simplified that it often becomes just another tedious fill-in-the-blank task to keep students occupied.


And that, is not a best practice of any kind.


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.