Keeping Track of What We Value

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Early last fall, Tracy Sharp shared with me the KonMari method, a way to banish clutter from your life by focusing only on that which brings you joy and holding onto it while letting go of the rest.  Ever eager to minimize the number of piles of papers, books, and laundry decorating my home, I gave it a shot.  I filled bags for Goodwill, I folded the clothing I cherished in ways I thought the clothing would feel cherished (Yep, I did.  Really.)

I rid our bedroom of excess papers, books, folders, and more.  However, the first load of laundry that finished at 10:00 pm on a school night, I decided maybe “just this once” I would cram some clothes in drawers and not worry so much about how that shirt “wanted” to be folded.  Who would ever see inside my dresser drawers?! I wanted to sleep.

As it turns out, even though I value having a clutter-free home, I didn’t ever figure out a system that worked to support that goal.  I felt productive because I was busy folding and reorganizing drawers, but I never saw a real impact in the rest of my home or in my day-to-day decisions.  Then, I felt guilty and promised to find a system that worked this summer.  (Well, we’re well into summer and that hasn’t happened.)

As a teacher, I often found myself in KonMari-like predicaments.  I started off a school year with systems in place to support my goals: ways to track writing conferences, revisions, next steps for small groups and individuals, etc.,  but by December, some of those systems had fallen away.  I was left with guilt and the drive to “do it differently” next year.

2245563352_292011c519In reading Calkins’ One to One: the Art of Conferring with Young Writers, she believes we forget or let go of record-keeping systems because often we don’t find them useful (36).  We can become so busy with the work of filling up a records chart, that we forget to ask ourselves if we value what we are taking note of and if it will help students learn better or help us teach better.

Record keeping should matter since it has the power to “channel the mindwork that will surround the split-second, on-our-toes thinking that we do as we move among children” (37).  The forms we use have the power to focus our attention by requiring us to record whatever it is we want ourselves to notice and to think about as we listen to and watch kids (37).

Focusing Our Attention

Records of conferences, small groups, and observations can reinforce “thinking as the currency of our classroom” and can help students develop their identities as readers, thinkers, and problem solvers.  What messages do we want to send in our conferences with students: “Will we tell a single story, a story that holds out comprehension as an “it” that a student gets or doesn’t, that puts us in the position of knowing and the student in the position of not knowing?  Or will we tell stories that highlight how students know what they know, showing them the dynamic, flexible thinking and problem solving that is the essence of reading” (Barnhouse, Readers Front and Center, 41).

Your Turn

-As your teams design record keeping forms for conferring and small groups this fall, what values do you want reflected in them?


-Check out the “Orientation to the Unit” for the first unit in Calkins.  How might the section on “The Intersection of Reading Development and This Unit” (primary) or “Supporting Skill Progressions”(intermediate) help us notice and name the powerful thinking students are already doing in order to grow their thinking?




Letting Go of the Right Way: Rethinking Small Group Learning with Lucy

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There is no Right Way to support students in small groups.  There, I said it (and so does Lucy Calkins in her Guide to the

Adapted from Barnhouse’s Readers Front & Center.

Reading Workshop for Primary Grades (103) and Intermediate Grades (69)).  If the purpose of small group instruction is to design the learning to meet readers where they are in terms of their complexity of thinking and the complexity of texts they read, then how can there only be one way to design that learning?

Guided Reading

Calkins contends guided reading is not the only answer to meeting students’ needs in small groups, although it is one powerful way to support

  • English Language Learners (with work on scaffolding comprehension and vocabulary)
  • students moving up levels in text complexity
  • students who don’t use a balance of cueing systems to tackle their reading (primary mostly)
  • students who struggle to hold onto meaning across pages

One Size Does Not Fit All Readers

right-600x600-300x300However, if this is our only concept of small group work, one size does not fit all.  We need to “outgrow any feeling that every small group proceeds in the same way” (Calkins, 72, Guide to the Reading Workshop for Intermediate Grades).

At today’s chat and chew, we looked at various structures Lucy recommends for small groups, whether those groups are guided groups, strategy groups, groups self-assessing with the learning progressions, shared reading groups, interactive writing groups, or any other kind of group your mind can envision!  (See Chapter 8 in Calkins’ Guide to the Reading Workshop for Intermediate Grades or Chapter 9 in Calkins’ Guide to the Reading Workshop for Primary Grades to learn more.)

Questions We Continue Thinking About

-How can teachers use repeatable structures for small groups to reduce their time spent planning and increase their time listening to students?

-How do we balance our desire to confer with our work with small groups?

-How can we use Calkins’ tips in these chapters to shrink the time we spend with each small group and to create the time we want for conferring?

Your Turn

We’d love to hear your thoughts as you dig into this one chapter in Calkins’ Guide to the Reading Workshop for your grade level.