Tomorrow is one small step for me, and a giant leap for my students. I’ve been selected to pilot a rocket ship to Mars. I know, right? No big deal. Now, I’ve never actually piloted a rocket ship before--or even been in one, for that matter. I did see one in a book once, which was pretty cool. In fact, I’ve had many astronauts tell me all about their experiences when they fly various spacecraft. I’ve completed more worksheets on how to fly a rocket ship than any human being ever should--matching, fill in the blank, you name it! I’ve seen pictures and diagrams of the cockpit controls and even got to touch a miniature version of a rocket ship one time. I wonder how I’ll do tomorrow…it’ll be great...I’m ready to fly a space shuttle...right?
The Need for Change
Sadly, this describes how I taught reading for more years than I care to admit. Oh, and it’s also sad that I wasn’t really asked to command a space shuttle (Linda in HR keeps telling me my application is “pending”). I spent so many years telling students how to be a good reader and explaining what makes a good reader, but I never gave them enough time to read so they could practice being a good reader. Sure, I taught reading-strategy lessons and modeled my thinking. I even had them read tiny excerpts and complete cute little worksheets (well, some worksheets were ugly, I’ll be honest). But I never really gave my students what they needed. They never had time to actually read. To get lost in a book and truly be an authentic reader. They were so busy filling out worksheets or completing activities that they didn’t get the opportunity to wrestle with reading and practice the very skills I was trying to teach. My reading instruction used to be a centers-based approach. Now, I am not knocking using centers at all. Many teachers use centers brilliantly--however, I was not one of them. My critique is aimed at me and how I used centers. I spent so much time preparing materials and creating activities that got in the way of the students actually reading. I realized that I was just giving the students busy work--well, and giving myself busy work because it gave me more to grade! Yuck! Who wants that, am I right?
The Plan for Change
Then, about two years ago, in December I had a cacophony--no excuse me, an epiphany. My language arts centers were not helping my students become better readers. I attended a Jennifer Serravallo seminar based on the Reading and Writing Strategies books and it’s like I shifted from black and white TV with Andy Griffith reruns to an Ultra High-Def LED 4K luxury viewing experience with Dolby Digital Surround Sound. Two things happened that day: I bought Jennifer Serravallo’s Reading Strategies book and I talked with a 5th-grade teacher who used something called Daily 5. The program sounded familiar and I was intrigued, so I went home and researched it. That night, I ordered the Daily 5 book on Amazon. I loved the structure and shift of Daily 5 from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered classroom. There was so much student voice and choice built into the Daily 5. Not only that, but there were also ample opportunities for the kids to read--I mean, that’s kind of the whole point of the book! My eyes had been opened to a new possibility, birds were singing, and I was tasting flavors I had never dreamed of; and yet, now I was facing a dilemma. I knew my centers-based model wasn’t cutting it, but it was also right in the middle of the school year. We’d already spent so much time learning routines and structures, the thought of having to repeat all that made me cry like I was cutting onions in allergy season while watching Simba try to wake his--you get the analogy, right? As hard as starting over sounded, I couldn’t unlearn the fact that my students weren’t learning as much as they could have been. That didn’t sit right with me as a teacher. How could it? My students’ needs have to come before my own comfort. I knew I had to make the change, and so I did. I spent my winter break learning everything I could about Daily 5 and devouring Jennifer Serravallo’s The Reading Strategies Book.
Change in Action
January came and I started implementing Daily 5 from the ground up. When it came to language arts, the students and I were starting our year over from scratch. “Hi, my name is Robin, and I’ll be your teacher this year!” The good news? I haven’t looked back since. It was easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my teaching career. That first year was amazing, and each year has gotten better. The bad news? Well...none really, aside from I wish I had done this earlier (well, I actually tried Daily 5 my second year teaching, but that’s a whole ‘nother story). Since that first year, I’ve started to become more familiar with the strategies from Serravallo’s book and have created resources from the book that make conferring with readers even easier (see links below). My favorite resource is what I call “one-pagers.” I’ve taken my “go-to” strategies from each goal in the book and put them on a one-page Cliffsnotes version. This one page gives me the teacher language to use when introducing the strategy and the visual to have my student draw on an index card as a bookmark reminder of their reading goal. I use strategies from her book for mini-lessons, guided reading in small groups, read-alouds, and basically any other time in class we’re looking at text.
What? More Change?
Then the Coronavirus struck. When our school switched to distance learning due to COVID-19, I was worried that my reading instruction would suffer. But actually...it might have improved--or at least stayed the same! I made videos of mini-lessons in which I’d teach a strategy from Serravallo’s book (see an example on right). To accompany the videos, I made a Google slide deck (link below) with a slide for each strategy I taught. This allowed students to practice the strategy with an anchor chart while watching the video and rewinding as often as necessary. Then, to help cement their use of the strategy, using Google Classroom, the students could respond to a question showing how they used the strategy with their own book. During distance learning, I also used Zoom to have one-on-one reading conferences with students. These I can say without a doubt were better than the conferences I had in the classroom--mainly because I didn’t have to worry about keeping an eye on 25 other students! I’d share my screen and have the student pick a book from Epic. While listening to the student read, I’d think about and decide on a strategy to teach. I’d pause the student and open a slide from the slide deck of that strategy. Together the student and I could go over the strategy, and then the student would have a chance to practice the strategy with me sitting alongside coaching...in other words, it’s exactly how my reading conferences went in the physical classroom. I was amazed at how seamlessly conferring with readers using the reading strategies worked in a distance learning paradigm.
The Benefits of Change
Whether through distance learning or in the physical classroom, my students got what they needed...they got to spend time reading--like, really reading! I’d look out across the class...some students would be curled up on beanbags completely lost in their books. Others would be placing sticky notes on a part that made them laugh. A small group couldn’t quite keep it down as they were passionately discussing and debating the latest chapter in their self-directed book club. Everywhere I turned, I saw examples of authentic reader behaviors. With this new structure, my students got to wrestle with reading in a way that they never had before with language arts centers. I may not be commanding a space shuttle to Mars, but I am giving my students time to read. And that is a giant leap for their lifelong learning.
Here are some of my Reading Strategies Resources (feel free to use and edit them by clicking the link and then making a copy): One-Pager Strategy Cards- Rather than lug the book around the room when I’m conferring with kids, I laminate these one-pagers that have the strategies I typically use (my go-to’s). It includes the “lesson” I’d teach the student as well as the visual or “anchor chart”. (if you want to edit, make sure to go to File and click “Make a copy”) Reading Strategy Slide Deck- A Google Slide deck that contains some of my favorite strategies. I created these for distance learning as a way to teach mini-lessons, but also to copy and paste for kids in their own slide deck, which can be used as a reader’s notebook. Each slide contains the “lesson” I’d teach the student (what the strategy is, how to do it, and why it is important) and an anchor chart example the student could draw on an index card. (if you want to edit, make sure to go to File and click “Make a copy”) Conferring Prompts for Reading (PDF)- This is a list I laminate and take with me when conferring with students during reading. It helps me determine which strategy might be beneficial for the student to learn.