Time, choice, feedback. They are key elements around which we are growing our understanding of readers and reading instruction. They are also the same elements Calkins and Ehrenworth name as the enduring elements of good writing instruction in “Growing Extraordinary Writers: Leadership Decisions to Raise the Level of Writing Across a School and a District” (The Reading Teacher, July/August 2016). Writers, they argue, need protected time to write, choice in topics, books, and strategies they want to explore, and feedback that includes compliments and next steps for them to tackle. Readers do, too.
Balancing New & Old in Writing & Reading Research
While these enduring elements are the cornerstones of reading and writing workshop, Calkins and Ehrenworth add that the newest research calls for the addition of two elements for powerful instruction: explicit expert strategy instruction and goal-setting.
The intended structure of reading workshop aims to fulfill all of these promises we make to our students: protected time, choice, feedback on where they are going, expert instruction in skills and strategies, and support in goal-setting through a crystal clear understanding of what learning looks like within and across grade levels as skills progress.
Adding Joy as an Essential Element
I would add another key aspect of any learning and teaching: joy. Joy can be just as contagious as its negative counterpart. When was the last time you celebrated something you learned? Really celebrated it? Not beat yourself up for how it wasn’t perfect the first time, but celebrated doing it?
We are all growing and learning, and we should take time to celebrate our own growth alongside our students. Find joy. Every day. We can do it. Celebrate our kids. Celebrate ourselves. Celebrate our failures because we get the chance to learn from them and do it again. Choose joy.
Finding Our Own Balance
Sounds great, right? But let’s revisit that concept of protected time. If we believe in our hearts that we and our students deserve all of the qualities listed above, what do we do about time?
Some teachers have asked for support in balance–work/life balance, learning/teaching balance, behavior/skill balance, small group/conferring balance.We hear you; we have been working alongside you to try to create supports to help you find time–or at least try to bend it to your will. Our work together is not done. It is not perfect, but it is a beginning. Here are some beginning steps we have taken toward balance:
- Reducing the number of units in reading and writing from 7 per year in each content to 4 per year in each content
- Dedicating professional development days to literacy (and science and engineering) time to work and learn
- Focusing on the minilesson as our first learning goal in our progression of implementing this new resource
- Providing reduced versions of the units of study for all 6 grade levels to use as a learning tool during implementation of this new resource
- Aligning Calkins’ pre and post-assessments for grades 3-5 with our reporting criteria in an assessment guide
And yet, we know there is never enough time as a teacher. As a learner. As a parent. As a spouse. A sibling. A person who loves others and loves herself.
Balancing Talk about Reading with Actual Reading
Some of your most heartfelt feedback has been around the demands on your time in learning about Calkins, perfecting your minilessons, and learning new assessments through FASTBridge. You value listening to your readers. You value one-on-one and small group conversations where readers are digging in and making their own meaning in a book of their choosing. Thank you for loving our readers and knowing they value and need this time as much as you do.
Here are two new tools that might be of help in making time for what you value:
A Two-Week Schedule for Small Groups and Conferring
The above schedule splits your 30 mins. of independent reading time into 10 minutes for conferring (meeting 3 kids/day) and 20 minutes for 2 small groups.
3-2-1 Conferring Structure
Similar to the structure above, in this structure, time is divided between conferring and small group instruction. This structure highlights the power of conferring with partners. It would look like this:
- 3–Meet with 3 individual students for conferring
- 2–Meet with 2 partnerships to confer
- 1–Meet with one small group
If you’re ready to take on conferring, check out the high-impact prompts below. These weave together research-based prompts from Burke’s Common Core Companion and Calkins’ Learning Progressions, Read-Aloud Prompts, and teaching points. In addition to being listed below, they are also available in your cohort folders in eBackpack.
- Kindergarten Literature Conferring Guide
- Kindergarten Informational Text Conferring Guide
- 1st grade Literature Conferring Guide
- 1st grade Informational Text Conferring Guide
- 2nd grade Literature Conferring Guide
- 2nd grade Informational Text Conferring Guide
- 3rd grade Literature Conferring Guide
- 3rd grade Informational Text Conferring Guide
- 4th grade Literature Conferring Guide
- 4th grade Informational Text Conferring Guide
- 5th grade Literature Conferring Guide
- 5th grade Informational Text Conferring Guide
Finding Joy and Celebrating Growth
Choosing joy and celebration is hard. But, as I channel my inner Glennon Doyle Melton, we can do hard things. Use the comments below to start a swell of celebration and joy. Not because things are not hard. Because we deserve joy. All of us.
- As you continue to work on honing your craft of delivering minilessons, what are you noticing about students’ thinking as readers? What can they do now that they could not do at the beginning of the year?
- What common academic language has become part of your classroom? How have students used it with one another?
- As you make time to confer and meet with small groups, share your thinking below. What growth are you noticing? Which structures work best for you? Which questions do you use as a follow up to, “How’s it going?”