Ahhh, I started this post more than a month ago!! School life really is a whirlwind. I'm so glad that I started this blog over the summer, when I had time to devote to launching it, but I want to find more time to write now that we're back to the real world.
The year so far has been so much! Mostly great and exciting and happening, with sprinkles of magic and hiccups of frustration here and there. I have SO MANY things to write about, including:
To be honest, I made that list as a reminder to myself of all the things I want to write about. For now, I'm going to start with our reading life. There will be some cute photos, and much geeking out.
One of the commitments I made at the start of this year was to increase our time spent on independent reading. I know there's so much research telling us that this is the most important thing we can do to improve reading skills, to devote time to practice at the just-right level. And yet in the past it's something I haven't done enough, or well.
This year, I started with a few things. One was a rearranged and spruced-up library in our new room. Another was a good routine involving book bags from day one, a book return basket and two librarians on the class job list, and a plan to include book shopping as part of the daily arrival routine. The routines both got us into the mindset of centering independent reading, and made sure we are (mostly) prepared when that time rolls around.
Then, for the first week, we really just read. We started a book log, so after reading everyone records their books, but I didn't require any written responses. I just wanted them to enjoy time with books. The first day, we went over some expectations and guidelines about independent reading time. You find a spot in the room and stick to it, you read the whole time, you read silently or in a low voice. I told them they could read anywhere, and started to say, "except under the tables." As I opened my mouth to say that, though, I stopped to think for a second. I realized, there's actually nothing wrong with that. In this space, I have no safety concerns, and with this group, no real behavior concerns. So, under the tables are fair game! This alone adds so much choice, levity, and fun. Some kids sprawl on the floor, others crawl under their desk, and someone usually tucks themselves into the small space between the two bookshelves.
We also used a timer (a quick google led me to this page, from which we choose a different timer each day that I project on the board, but heads up, the sounds are kooky and distracting, so I mute it and only turn the sound on for the final minute), and set a class goal of 100 minutes. Of course we also made a quick little chart to color each day, and talked about some of the "reading treats" we could choose from to celebrate when we reached our goal.
And then we read! And it really happened! My group is mixed 4th and 5th graders, all of whom I had last year (and some longer). They range in Guided Reading Level from E to N right now. We started with 10 minutes, then upped to 20, where we have been hanging out. Things get a little ragged at the very end, but for the most part, we're all reading. The room gets this great, low buzz of reading sounds, since most of us like to read quietly aloud to ourselves, and they're just sprawled all over, surrounded by books. It's simply so wonderful, and so far they've been excited to do it every day.
In the second week, I added a written response, following some simple forms that we practiced in Reading Workshop. With some practice and a little support, this is happening, too. In fact, here's what it looked like the other day, while I worked with two readers at my table:
Oh, before we did written responses, we also added book talking with a buddy. I kept this pretty easy-breasy, too. After an independent reading session, we selected partners at random, found spots around the room, and shared what book we read, what it was about, and how we liked it. Quickly the room was a-buzz again, so buzzy that I didn't notice our (awesome) literacy coach come in the room. By the time I did, she'd already spoken to one of the pairs, and when I got to her to ask what she needed, she was a little wide-eyed.
"They're talking about their reading," she said, slightly incredulous. She gestured to the two third graders tucked under the computer table, knee-to-knee with their books.
"I know, " I replied cheerfully.
"I leaned over to ask what they're doing under the table, and they said, 'We're talking about our reading!' He's reading Happy Pig Day, and he's reading, I don't remember, but they both told me." Oh. I'd assumed she just heard kids talking, but it was actually a pretty big deal for those two kiddos to spontaneously tell her that. I think my reading heart grew three sizes that day.
With this kind of attention, it didn't take long at all to achieve 100 minutes. We had a meeting and a vote, but it was a pretty quick, unanimous decision: tents! Part of the reason this was easy is that one of our summer school themes was camping and the great outdoors, so we spend most of our summer session working in tents we made from sheets in the classroom, and they were pretty psyched to recreate this situation. So we did!
It was pretty great. There was somewhat more chaos and mess than I prefer, but it was also fun and celebratory and made my munchkins pretty happy. On top of the tents, we also agreed that everyone could bring a stuffed animal from home, so at one point earlier in the day a student left for the bathroom, and I turned while teaching to see that her tablemate had done this:
Hilarious. Fourth and fifth graders rock. And mine are also reading rockstars.
Writing about practicing literacy and freedom with my small humans.