Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Best Laid Plans

The bell chimes three tones. It is time to begin class. We start with independent reading. It's the second week of September, so it takes a few minutes for the class to get settled. This week, I had three students come to class early, break out a snack and a book and get started long before class time--that sort of reading behavior is much more common in February--it can mean a lot of things though, so I won't read too much into it right now.

Minutes before the bell chimes,  a teacher asks if it is okay to sit in and observe. Another student would like a sports book recommendation. Someone has a book to return. There is a lot going on in the first five minutes. I point the sports reader toward Cheripko's Imitate the Tiger which, as it turns out, is not shelved where I thought it was. I redirect him to When I Was the Greatest and see what happens as he previews the book. Two others are book shopping next to him and the room begins to settle.

Did I greet the class and say hello? Did I review our plan for the day?
We won't be able to have two discussions on Thursday-- one is part of our formative assessment and the other is
routine in my room, but I have not yet revised the plan. Plans in my room are flexible. I revise them
before or after each class based on what kids understood or were able to do. 

Today was a C day; our schedule rotates A-D. I am still getting used to all of the moving pieces. My last class of the day, block three, are freshmen. They are excited, energetic, connected and ready. I have five students sitting in the "u" (a u-shaped collection of desks at the front of the classroom). They have their reading journals open, some have underlined their claims and they are ready to talk to me about the writing they practiced this week. One students asks how to return a book. Another needs a book recommendation.  Two more students are camping out in the "u"  just to sit together and read.

 At year's start, settling into story at the beginning of class can take a few minutes. These independent reading routines are new to kids. I remind myself that readers have needs. Not all readers need the same thing at the same time either.

One of my personal-professional goals is to personalize reading and writing instruction. One way I aim to get to this goal is through regularly scheduled reading-writing conferences.  I create a schedule.

Students sit in small group on their assigned day (or jump into the group if they want additional feedback and there is an additional seat). I wrote about this last year and I am still working on it.

I set a timer for twelve minutes for independent reading  and we are off. I confer with a small group while the rest of the room reads. They record their reading weekly on our Reading Record. The record has changed in the past year or two, but that is another post. One goal for year's start is to get independent reading routines running smoothly in the first two weeks of school, so that I can use that time to work with individuals. It often takes more than two weeks.

When my classes met every day of the week, the schedule was, perhaps for me, easier to remember and routinize. On a rotating block schedule, I am seeing kids one every two weeks, but with holidays and altered schedules, I have yet to meet with all of the Monday kids.

Ideally, I see a different group of students in small group five days a week.  I talk with them individually, so it's not a group conference. The seating arrangement just maximizes the time and my ability to confer. This first quarter of the year, we are talking about what kids write about what they are reading.

I am teaching students how to read closely in order to analyze theme or tone. The practice writing they do in their reading journal prompts them to do just that. I've been working on this practice for a while--its coming along.  That is one of the joys of teaching--figuring out what works best for the learners that are sitting with you right now. No two years are exactly the same for me. Routines are. Procedures may be, but specifics often shift.

This week, we are on our second round of conferences for most. As I talked with students today, I thought about last year.

I want to make a shift from:

  • me taking notes in/on students entries to students recording notes from our conversations.
  • me talking to kids talking.
Those are two starting points I'm focused on for our conferences this year. I am not there yet. I realized it as I wrote (scribbled) notes while talking to readers today. I need to hand off the responsibility for noting a student's goals for next week.

 How do I do that ? What words should I use? 

That's what I am thinking about  this evening. Well, that and Hurricane Irma.


  1. Hi LeeAnn! The subtext of this entire piece is how lucky your students are to have such a reflective teacher willing to try new things. The fact that you have high school students reading books of choice, and that you meet with them individually is so best practice! And, you obviously walk the talk of being a writer yourself as you teach writing. Thanks for sharing your reflections!

  2. I know how deliberate you are in your planning, and hope it goes well this year. If I was still teaching, I would use your ideas, Lee Ann, so wonderful!

    1. Your encouragement always makes me stand up a little taller, Linda. Thank you!

  3. It is so inspirational to read through how meticulously you have planned to optimize each student's chance for individualized instruction Lee Ann. Did you read Vicki Vinton's new book? The work you are doing aligns so closely with her wise philosophy.

    1. I have not read Vicki Vinton's new book. I will go order it now. Thanks, Tara.