As I type out this blog I have 60 hours before the start of a new school year. I am very excited to begin a new journey, in a new grade, a new school, new kids and new coworkers. It has been a summer of reading and thinking about the best way to teach my students to become life long thinkers and readers. I wanted to take a moment to share how I plan to do this and some other beginning of the year thoughts.
I have given a lot of thought to the idea of individual instruction. I have a smaller class than I am use to this year by about 10 kids and want to take advantage of it. When you have classes of 30+ kids it can be near impossible to give quality individual instruction. The top students are often left to “enrichment” while the middle kids get some assistance but most teachers, rightfully so, will focus on those who are most behind, the ones who need the most help. This year my goal is to give a quick whole class lesson then use the majority of my time working with students on what they need. Through both reading and writing conferencing I will have the opportunity to see what I can help each student or perhaps small group of students with that will help them to the next level of achievement.
In the past I have asked students to do book reports, projects, essays, all kinds of tasks to “prove” they have read a book, that they have reflected on that reading. Maybe I would have given them a test and some vocabulary sheets. I am not saying those things are bad because they are of course not “bad”. They also are not ways to create a life long reader. Parents reading this please ask yourselves when the last time you did a shoe box diorama or re-enacted a scene from your last book read? These are not realistic or authentic tasks. This is where journalling is going to come in to my classroom. A daily opportunity to reflect on reading. A few sentences here, maybe a picture or summary of the days reading. There are many different ways to reflect that will all be discussed, modelled and practiced in class. These will come in handy when students are doing “book commercials” or in book clubs with fellow students. Students as part of the curriculum must respond to text, reflect on text and share their thoughts with others. Journals will be the way we collect those thoughts.
At least a couple times a year the students will be asked to participate in book clubs with books that are common that they can choose from. Each Friday during book clubs students will share their reflections and keep “minutes” of their book club meeting. The hope for me is to sit in on a couple meetings per week but the minutes will help me keep track.
Notice and Note/Disrupting Thinking
Two years ago I began looking at Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst. I really took to heart the idea they suggest in helping students reflect more on what they are reading, what is happening in the text and how authors give us “signposts” to guide us as readers that we should be paying attention to. These signposts are things that I like to teach to the students and then leave it up to them to use them as they see fit. Last year Disrupting Thinking (another Beers and Probst book) was released and I have integrated its teachings as well into my class instruction. These important tools will help our developing readers and thinkers strengthen their skills.
I look at both writing and reading as a growing skill set. We do not just start writing and turn out novels, we do not just sit down and read Hamlet and leave with a complete understanding as developing readers. Learning is growing. Journals and portfolios will help to keep track of that growth throughout the year. Students will pick their “best” writing assignments and submit it for feedback and as a portfolio item. The goal being at the end of the year students will be able to see their growth and development as a writer.
I want my new year in teaching to be one built around the joy of writing and the adventures found in reading. I do not believe in the idea that all students are readers of novels but I do think all students have the potential to be readers. Sports Illustrated or Hunting Magazines, Graphic Novels and Picture Books, these choices need to be just as accessible to young readers as the novels on our shelves.
I want my students to know that I care about what they think about a book we are reading, or what their favourite part is in the story they just finished. I want them to know it is ok to not understand everything they come upon in a text because well…I don’t always understand either. I want them to know that school is not about just following rules but that it is about growing as readers, thinkers and people. I want them to know that within my class failure is not the end but just the first steps in success. That is my goal for this year.
60 hours give or take…Here we go.