My students are writing their last exam with me today. I have my room packed up and my schedule for next year is sort of set. This weekend I looked back at a few things and asked the questions all teachers should ask. What went well? What didn’t? What are my steps to improve?
What went well
So let’s start with the good news. My students reported on average having read more books than they did in the past and “actually liking reading” As a key goal after our start of the year conversations I was very happy to hear this. I have had students popping in the last few days to tell me they plan to come to visit my classroom library and get recommendations from me because it made it easier to find good books, another huge compliment. I saw massive gains in their writing, I witnessed poets finding their voice, and some great narrative works begin. We had a pretty good year and I am grateful for those things.
I want to start this section with the disclaimer, I am pretty hard on myself. I wouldn’t say things didn’t work at all but not as well as I had hoped. Ok now that is out of the way, Voice and Choice is great and I know some of my readers might disagree with me but too much voice and choice is like absolute power, where one corrupts absolutely the other leads can lead students to a point of not getting their work done in a timely manner or always matching curricular outcomes. My second not so great will be reading conferences. I am still trying to work out the best way organizationally to run these in my room. I feel like I spent too much time stand and deliver teaching and then working around the room with all students when the ones that needed more of my time did not get it because I was always working with the whole class. We would have some good periods where conferencing and checking in was going great but then life got busy and kids fell behind on work and we would have work periods and silent reading fell to the side at times and…and…and My last one and it hurts my heart to say it was Notice and Note and BHH reflection, another victim of too much voice and choice emphasis I introduced these terms and things went great at the start, for some went great all year but as I know the potential power of these tools is great my regret is they were less than realized by a large chunk of my students.
Ok so here is the fun part. Looking at where I feel I went wrong I have two choices, one stick with it and say it must be the kids or be honest and look at what I can do to improve. I will go ahead and choose the latter.
With my new schedule in mind, I am looking at a variety of things that I can put in place that get me off the stage and working with those students in need. I have never had much luck with traditional guided reading beyond the elementary setting, my grade 6 students found it boring but that was a product of the crap texts that we had available. So with the knowledge that I can and will purchase good texts, real books that are engaging I want to build in Guided Reading again for my striving readers. The gaps just get bigger as kids get older and the only way to fill those gaps is targetted instruction that whole class just can’t do. TO assist in getting time to work in smaller groups I am bringing in Workshop model for some of my class periods. With 6 LA periods a week and the responsibility to incorporate the health outcomes into my work I am left with 5 strictly LA periods. I plan to have more of a curricular focus, targetted lessons and practice and my cherished read aloud time 3 times a week. The other 2 periods I have set aside for workshop. This will be a bit more free choice in nature with different options including independent reading and free writing but also skills practice like working through MC tests, grammar work and perhaps some technology time utilizing Newsela and other online literacy platforms. This structure should allow me to do small group conferencing and guided reading with those who need that extra push or those that are looking to be challenged.
I am going back all in on Notice and Note and BHH. This move to reading being about thinking is more and more important in the days we are in with false information spread as truth and children moving away from books towards video games and other forms of media for entertainment. The Notice and Note books are powerful in the way it teaches students to look at a text as more than words and information but as a deliberate map to get the readers thinking. When students are looking for signposts as they read not as a scavenger hunt but as a natural awareness to the words that surround them their comprehension increases and so does their confidence as readers. Students realizing that a character’s actions will lead to a conflict and making those informed predictions are great when they shout out “I knew it because….” it makes it even better. The conversations are the best part and I plan to not give up and move on when it gets harder I plan to double down. More time with different texts, building the skills. I see all these posts about rigor and I am not about drilling something to the point of kids giving up but things should be a bit harder than is comfortable, that is how we grow. Notice and Note and BHH are making students (and myself) grow in our thinking. We have to work through the discomfort of change to get to the prize at the end.
Voice and Choice Light. That is what I am going to call it. I want my students to have a say in how they show their learning but I need to be a bit more selective on what those ways might be. Students need to take ownership but I found this year that like everything more time modeling, setting expectations and practice is needed before allowing them to make those decisions without my intervention. I think the new schedule will make this possible.
Funny I have these same thoughts, same moments every year. I am happy about some things, disappointed in others and eager to try things a little bit differently. Nothing is ever going to be perfect and if you think everything is you might want to ask your students because they will tell you 🙂
Time for summer reading, tanning, and learning.