July 18, 2007

Back to school fever!

Posted in big picture planning, lesson plans at 2:41 pm by mrsmauck

I start school August 13, and the students comeback on the 16th. I’m getting so excited! I have a couple ideas on which I’d really like some expert feedback, if anyone gets a moment:

Reading workshop day. As I’ve mentioned before, I’d like to use some of Nancie Atwell’s ideas from In the Middle, and one of them is having a reading workshop once a week. However, I’m nervous about relying on our fairly meager library to keep all my students interested and reading all year long, and about keeping them accountable for reading. I know if I want this to work, I need to talk with students a lot about how to select books they’ll like, and that it’s okay to abandon a book they don’t like. I’m also concerned about some of the books I found in our library yesterday: Classics Illustrated, People magazine celebrity profile books, and professional athlete profile books. Should I outlaw these for reading workshop day?

I don’t want to make students responsible for reading a certain number of books, as some books will be longer and/or more challenging than others, but I do want to make sure they’re reading. Here’s what Atwell does: 1) Go around and conference with each student for a couple minutes during the reading workshop to see how they’re enjoying the book, what they think of it, and how they’re progressing. 2) Have students write a letter about what they’re reading to me once a week (and I respond), 3) Allow students to select a writing project to do after they finish a book (poems, essay, short story, etc.). However, a writing assignment for each book read might encourage students to take their sweet time reading books so they don’t have to get to a writing assignment. (Am I not trusting students enough when I think this?) Any ideas on making this reading workshop day work?

Classroom ownership projects: Instead of worrying about getting my classroom looking perfect before the big day, I thought I would have my students take some ownership of the classroom by having them make wall decor in small groups. Here’s how I thought I would do it: each class decides what kind of projects they want to do: poetry, authors, quotes, or books. They must come to an agreement any way they see fit. Then, in small groups, students choose something from their class’ category and make a visual representation of it to put on the wall. To structure this a little more, I thought I would talk with them about assigning roles for each group member: each person must have a responsibility in the project. And of course, I would monitor the group work closely, not just use the time to say, read blogs. What do you think? Is this a bad idea for one of the first projects of the year, because it might be too unstructured? (An experienced teacher I know thought it might be.) Any feedback on this project idea is very appreciated!



  1. Liz said,

    I’m also concerned about some of the books I found in our library yesterday: Classics Illustrated, People magazine celebrity profile books, and professional athlete profile books. Should I outlaw these for reading workshop day?

    In my experience, students enjoy reading more when they get to choose their own books freely. Books of these type appeal to students who may be struggling readers for various reasons. I wouldn’t outlaw them completely but maybe limit the choices. You could do this by having a booklist for them to choose from and allow them to “write-in” up to 5 as personal choice. (5 is a random number off the top of my head.)

    In my state, students are supposed to read 25 books per year; a “book” is considered 100 pages or more, so for instance, a Harry Potter book might actually count as 3 or 4 “books.” One of the ways we encouraged students at my previous school to read is that everyone on the faculty is required to keep a running list in a visible location (on a bulletin board, or outside the door, say) of Book I Just Finished, Book I’m Currently Reading, Book I Plan to Read Next, with appropriate commentary. Model your love of reading for your students.

    You are exactly right think students may stall so they don’t have to do a writing assignment; differentiate! Offer some alternative assignments for the differently abled students. Maybe they don’t have to do a writing assignment every time, but sometimes, they can put on a skit, do a rap, create a collage, etc. What you really want to see is that they read and got something out of it right?

    Re classroom ownership, it sounds great in theory. Just remember that many students must be taught to work in groups, and it is a LOT to manage right off the bat. In practice, just know that it might not go as well as planned, or then again, it might be wonderful. Be prepared with a backup plan, just in case.

    Best of luck!

  2. Redkudu said,

    Reading Workshop Suggestion:

    To make sure students can’t put off the writing assignment, set goals with them. That they will have X amount read by such date, and they can begin working on their writing assignment as they finish reading. So by X date, no matter where they are in the reading, they will begin the assignment.

    As to outlawing types of books – it’s going to depend on what type of readers you have. In my school, for many students, the challenge is simply extended reading, so if they would sit and read a magazine for a period, I have no problem with it. (As long as I see them actually reading articles, etc.) If you have better readers, you might want to show them books which are acceptable, and have them check with you on their selections. For instance, I’d be perfectly happy to have a student sit and read a Cicada magazine, which is all written content, so I wouldn’t want to outlaw “magazines” per se, if that makes sense. I know a LOT of my very reluctant readers will read Guinness books and Ripley’s-type books for extended periods too, and that’s also fine with me. I can get them to move up from there with a little wheeling and dealing.

    Classroom Project: I agree with your friends. This is too unstructured for the classroom at the beginning of the year, before you have any clear idea of how these classes and personalities work together. And if you haven’t already established a clear procedure with them, this might make some feel anxious, others feel like it’s an opportunity to goof off. Another concern would be for those kids who get anxious over being graded on group work and group presentations, etc, if they’re not comfortably familiar with how you are as a grader. I’d say save this for after the holidays, when it could be something exciting and new to come back to, they will have experienced some of the genres and authors already to draw upon, and will have done the Reading workshops as well.

  3. Jennie said,

    I love, love, love reading workshop! Here’s what I do to fulfill the “accountability” part of it.
    1) They write one of three things per week
    a) an entry in their “reading journal” (small composition book–not a lot of work) on the book they are reading
    b) a letter to the author (of the book they are reading)
    c) some sort of “response project” art/poetry/short story on the book they are reading
    I allow only “novels” for this section because (as I explain to them) they really need to have something that has “meat” to it to get thinking about. I do allow collections of short stories, but I have a personal bias against the “Chicken Soup” series (they make me gagg) so they are outlawed.
    I do reading workshop three days a week. Actually, if you count SSR as part of it, I do it everyday!
    But, the number one rule is that they never stop reading. When they finish a book, they pick up the next one! I find that this gets rid of the “number of books or number of pages” issue.
    Scholastic book orders are an excellent way to expand a classroom library. You will NEED a classroom library! Also, garage sales and library thrift stores.
    There are some amazing books out there to go along with reading workshop, and it will change the way you and the kids view reading for school!
    (p.s. this is a super long post, but if you have any questions, just drop me an email. I have tons of stuff you could use if you like…)
    Good luck!

  4. CaliforniaTeacherGuy said,

    About your classroom ownership idea: I was in a middle school a couple of years ago where each student was given a section of wall space that belonged exclusively to him or her, and the student could decorate it as he or she saw fit–as long as nothing offensive was posted. The kids loved it! Now THAT’S ownership!

  5. Emily said,

    I taught for a year in one of the toughest school districts in St. Louis County. We broke into small groups for an assignment the very first day. Educationally, it worked out well, but politically … not so much. Our administrators were used to seeing the kids sitting in rows at their desks, filling out worksheets, so when they saw my kids up, milling around the room and talking animatedly, they incorrectly assumed that the new teacher had totally lost control of her class.

    For that reason alone, I would recommend waiting at least a month before you do any small-group work.

    Here’s a magic phrase:

    “You look at me when I’m talking to you!”

    Seriously: I have no idea why this works, but it does. Learn it. Use it. It will save your career.

    Oh … and you need to know that everything you were told in your discipline class boils down to five words:

    Kids operate on pack instinct.

    If you don’t understand pack instinct, read Barbara Woodhouse. If I ran the universities, nobody would get a teaching certificate without first obedience training a dog. It would make life a lot easier for new teachers.

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