Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Summer's right around the corner for most of us in teacher land. Dreaming of far away places, warm sand, and no students! But...if you're anything like me, it also means you're thinking back about this year with your kiddos and reflecting on what went well, and what you can improve for next year. Like many (or probably all) of you, I have a Professional Development Plan, or PDP, that I've been focusing on this year in regards to my personal goals as a teacher. My most essential goal was to add rigor to my 90-minute reading block by focusing on Thinking Strategies, aka "The Big 7". You've heard me talk a lot about these in previous posts. Coming from a Reading First background, I didn't know much about The Big 7. We focused on the 5 reading components (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension) within basal texts and scripted programs. I had never heard of schema, or inferring... 

Fast forward 2 years and I'm among the teachers on my staff who are training others on The Big 7 by means of our Literacy Team, professional development, seminars, and book studies. This knowledge has had a tremendous impact on my reading instruction. I now understand what it means to help students become proficient readers through metacognition. I think one of the greatest changes in my instruction has been the implementation of Reader's Workshop Model, which facilitates Gradual Release of Responsibility. Typically my 90-minute block includes one anchor lesson per week in which I introduce the strategy or skill within a mentor text. I model the skill/strategy for the students through think aloud and will typically record my thinking on an anchor chart. Then, I continue the reading while students become responsible for the thinking- focusing on what I modeled for them and applying that skill or strategy with their own thinking. Finally, students become responsible for reading within the shared text and also are responsible for the thinking. In addition to the anchor lesson, I plan mini-lessons that are driven by student feedback, observations, conferring, and data from various sources (DRA, SuccessMaker, FAIR...the list goes on and on). The same structure applies in a mini-lesson (model, guide, independent) just in a shorter amount of time.

Another significant change in my instruction revolves around conferring within daily independent reading. This is a big, scary beast for a lot of us-including me! We all think “I don’t have time. I don’t know what questions to ask, It’s too hard, I don’t know what to write in my notes, I don’t even take notes, I've never read that book, I don’t know how to go that deep. .  .” I speak from experience, IT IS WORTH IT! Conferring has proven to be the most essential part of my reading block. It allows me to see exactly what the student is able to do within an appropriate text, as well as what they are almost doing. As the students are reading in their Just Right books, I am meeting with students one-on-one, side-by-side. I pull up next to them and get them talking about their books, "How is it going?" "What are you working on?" "Take me to that confusing part" "Walk me through your thinking". By listening intently to what they're telling me, I'm able to:
1. Determine the student's strength right now and give a compliment.
2. Notice what they're almost doing and decide on my teaching point.
3. Model within their text, or my "under arm book" (mentor text-typically a previous shared text)
4. Guide them to show me how they can apply this in their text.
5. Hold them accountable- "I'll come back by to see how you're doing with..."

As I begin to look ahead for next year, I'm looking forward to attempting to incorporate the Big 7 and the workshop model in other content areas. I think it is important for myself and the students to understand that the Big 7 are not reading strategies, they are thinking strategies that we use to help us understand. I plan on expanding conferring across content as well, as it has proven to be such a useful tool as an assessment and planning guide.

I hope you are finding that your reflections on this year yield many more positives than "I should haves". As teachers, I think we can be our own worst critics and we need to be able to reflect on our practice in a way that moves us forward.


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