It has been a busy 7 days of school for my minions! As I mentioned before, I am moving up from 6th grade to 7th grade this year. I have about 1/3 of the same kids from last year and the other 80 minions are new to me! I have spent some time the past few days getting to know my classes better and setting up procedures to make sure this year runs effortlessly.
I don't think I've ever taken this much time to go over everything...usually I am already onto content by now and am freaking out about how to fit it all in for the whole school year! For some reason, this isn't on my mind this year. It has taken me five years to chill out and realize, the content will come, but if I have chaos the learning won't happen. They need to understand my rules and procedures to make this year run flawlessly and they need to know my expectations for this year since things are going to be very different.
I had mentioned that this school year I wanted to do more centers. After reading the past two weeks Strategies that Work and going back over my Laura Robb binder Teaching Reading: A Differentiated Approach I have decided to run with more of the "idea" of Reading Workshop. My collaborating teacher, Andrea, also attended a PD on this this summer, although hers was more on Writer's Workshop. We are going to merge these ideas together for the classroom this year.
One thing I did this week was play a game with my kids called "Survival Game." The kids had so much fun with it and really enjoyed this activity. While they thought they were playing a game discussions were getting heated! I actually had an observation during this game by my principal and one comment that was made was that this was a hard assignment that led to conflict and that I needed to go over my expectations with my students for group work. This was actually the exact point I was making to my students. I wanted them to get passionate about this and make it personal. I also wanted to put them in a situation where they were going to have to work together and compromise with one another. When the game ended towards the end of class I let the groups share out and then I dropped the bomb on them...I explained that there were no right or wrong answers for our activity, but that I was actually looking at the groups working together. We then came up with group rules so that we could work well together throughout the school year. I explained that sometimes you are going to be adamant about your opinion and feel that you are right, however you are going to have to compromise with one another. I jotted down notes as they talked and made notes of really passionate and argumentative students. Students who just sat back and were more "agreeable" and students who really took leadership. I wanted to make sure I broke these students up into groups next time. I also wanted my agreeable students together to sort of make them made a decision instead of sitting back so much. This was a really fun activity and I got to see a lot of personality! It told me a lot about my new students in a very short period of time.
Ok, back on to the daily agenda for class....
I like Laura's model for 45 minute classes in her binder for Reader's & Writer's Workshop.
Monday, Wednesday & Friday will be Reader's Workshop.
Tuesday & Thursday will be Writer's Workshop.
Every day we will begin the same way. We will share a five minute read aloud for enjoyment with the kids. This allows them to see and hear good reading, enhance their vocabulary and, hopefully, get them hooked into a new book! I have lots of books in my classroom library to use for this activity, however I have no where near the 1,000 classroom library books that are recommended. I am planning on continuing to grow my classroom library for many years to get close to this one day. If I had to guess, I'd say I'm only at 200+ (which is really sad since I have approximately 120 kids in my classroom every day).
After the read aloud we will go over the agenda for the day.
On Reader's Workshop days I will be meeting with groups (and the class that my collaborating teacher is in the room she too will meet with groups). We will discuss their book, teach mini lessons on strategies that they need or teach a new skill to them, and then they will practice it using their book. Laura recommends two groups a day--each for approximately 20 minutes.
At the end of class we will all come back together for five minutes to go over what we learned, share what we are practicing, etc. This is more of a wrap-up.
The only difference between reader's and writer's workshop days are that after the read aloud and agenda we then go over a grammar lesson and teach a mini-writing lesson. The students will then work on this in their journals or on their writing piece. We will also regroup at the end of class.
I really love this model because the minions are reading books that are appropriate for their reading ability. Now, for this first time through I have pulled appropriate books for them. It is not a perfect science yet for me and I think this will be a learning process as I go through this. Our first unit is focused on greek mythology while we teach inferences, symbolism, etc. I have done so much research on different lexile levels of greek mythology books and kept a huge spreadsheet. I've then looked into each one to read reviews and see if other people liked them, age appropriateness, length, etc. This really took up a lot of time. I then pulled a list together from all over my district of what school libraries in my district have these books. My amazing school librarian is now contacting schools to gather these books for me.
Hopefully the students will enjoy them or else I will get feedback on these books for next year. I have some that are as low as 200 lexiles and as high as 1,300 lexiles. This is my first time doing this, therefore I am going to have 3-4 copies of each book and the students will pick the book as a group they want to read. They are grouped based on their lexile levels. They will come up with a reading schedule together, however they will be reading independently--not sitting in a group reading to one another. They will regroup to discuss the book with me twice a week. They will also be journaling about their book in their Interactive Student Notebook (ISN).
Laura's binder has some very specific journaling ideas to teach the standards. My students will be using many of these, although I may have to alter some of them as I teach these lessons or scaffold them for my lower kids.
The area I have really been working on this week is my mini lesson books to teach the strategies. For example, I need to teach the students about symbolism. I would like to find a mythology book to use since that is our unit of study, however I don't have time to go sit at the public library and read through all of these and the internet has been lacking in a greek mythology book with symbolism. If push comes to shove I may just use a symbolism book, such as Fly Away Home and then just have the kids apply the symbolism to their greek mythology book. :( I wish I had a greek mythology picture book for this though to really make the unit tight.
This past weekend I was also working on my other favorite part of reader/writer workshop....the independent reading! Laura says that each kid should have a book that they chose to read for when they finish the class read. So, after they have read their assigned page length (determined by the groups) and journaled they will be reading their independent book. My favorite part of this is the monthly BOOK TALKS! It is similar to a book project, however they just have to read the book and share out about their book--it is like a T.V. commercial for a book. Each book talk lasts 2 to 4 minutes. I have been working on a rubric for this using some I found online as well as some of the guidelines from Laura Robb.
I found a really neat book talk that someone else had made and the recommendation was a different genre each month. Kids can pick the book they want to read from that genre, however it should still be age appropriate and reading ability appropriate for them. (I will be talking to my students more this week about "just right" books to help with this.) For example, September I am choosing the genre of Realistic Fiction, October will be Mystery (perfect for Halloween!), November they must read Science Fiction or Fantasy (we will be getting ready to read Hunger Games), etc.
This is a big reason why I have been M.I.A. I have just really immersed myself into learning as much as I can about reader's/writer's workshop to make sure this year runs smoothly. It also takes time when you are a control freak like myself and want the kids to be on task all the time...I have that personality that has to research everything to the ends of the earth before I implement it.
Anyone else have experience doing this with middle schoolers? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas! I'm going to need all the help I can get! :)