Friday, February 17th was a PA Day (Professional Activity Day), and it was one of those days that changed me as a teacher. In the afternoon on the 17th, the Grade 1 and 2 teachers at my school and another local school had a Skype call with Angie Harrison (@techieang). She spoke to us about her writing program, but in the midst of doing so, she also showed us how she structured her literacy block. This really intrigued me!
Please don’t get me wrong here. I loved the way that my literacy centres were currently structured, but I wanted to have more time for guided reading and to conference with students. With my current system, we were spending 10-15 minutes a day reviewing old centres, and this was taking away from time on task. This bothered me. I was also struggling here because I didn’t just want the literacy centres to be “practice time.” I wanted to create meaningful activities where students would be thinking and problem solving as well as practising. If there was a practice component, I didn’t want it to take up the whole 40 minute block. I also wanted to increase the amount of time that students were reading each day. There was always a reading component to my centres, but I found that the follow-up activities were so intense, that the students would spend more time on them than on reading. Students need to continue to work on fluency, and to do so, they need to read.
So when Angie started her Skype call with a video of how she gets her students to plan their own literacy block, I was mesmerized. I knew that this was the change that I needed. Since I have a split class, I do integrate most of the science and social studies through literacy, and I wanted to continue to do so. I decided to use the Listening to Reading centre for this. Yes, I pick the story that they listen to, but I don’t pick how they respond to this story. I also leave some of the Nelson literacy books and other science and social studies resources and storybooks out for students to read during Read to Self or Read to Someone times. A few students have even accessed them during Word Work. It’s great when they choose to use them, as then they are creating their own integration opportunities as well!
Thanks to this Skype call, I had some fantastic conversations with people on Twitter, including Karen Lirenman, Celina Brennan, and Carmel Crevola, and I was able to make the change that my students needed. I created some laminated pages of suggestions of activities for each centre (free choice independent work stations). Students don’t need to use these suggestions, but this provides some structure for those that need it. I also made bookmarks with the centre names on them that students use each day to select their centres. They have a pocket chart (created using Ziploc bags, magnets, labels, and Bristol Board) where they put their two centre selections for the day. If they go to guided reading, I put this in for them, and then they only get to select one centre for the day. I also made a tracking sheet, where students write down the date and check off the two centres that they went to. It is their responsibility to make sure that they go to all five centres over the course of the week. Students choose where they work, and they choose if they are working alone or with a partner. They are accountable for their learning though.
At the end of literacy centres, a couple of students share what they did during the day, and they reflect on what they did well and on their next steps. The other students in the class provide suggestions as well. Students are offering quality descriptive feedback to each other, which is a school goal of ours right now too. Thank you, Angie, for this suggestion!
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Yes, I’m a teacher that likes control. I like to feel as though the classroom is organized and I need to ensure that the students are learning. I was sure that this could only happen if I was the person making the decisions. I think back to my concerns with the Full Day, Every Day Kindergarten model, and my biggest concern was that the students would never learn anything if they were in charge of their own learning. How would the teachers ensure that all students were reading and writing every day? How would they know that conversations were on topic and demonstrating learning? Can students this young really be in charge of their own learning? I now know that students can be in control if we believe that they can make these good decisions, and if we model how to do so. Students love choice, and they love when they have this choice of where to go and what to do. All of my students made it to all of the centres throughout the week, but with them deciding when they would be going where, they were all much happier to go to the centres and all far more engaged while they were there.
Change is good! With this new model, students are continuing to develop their reading and writing skills, and I have way more time to work with the students on their individual reading and writing needs. I just wish that I had tried this out sooner, but with 3 1/2 months until the end of the school year, I still have lots of time to see success. Yeah!!
How have you changed your classroom practices thanks to ideas that other people have shared? What were the results? I would love to hear your stories!
Wow, you continue to amaze me. You take one idea and reflect on how it can be used to improve student learning in your classroom. You give credit to me, but it’s you who truly deserves the credit. You are always looking for ways to get even better. You never coast and say, things are good the way they are. We are very similar in that regard. I’m always trying to find a more efficient or better way to make my students’ day run smoothly. I’m so glad you found a way that works for you and your students.
Thanks Angie! I never changed as much as I did after I joined Twitter. Interacting with amazing educators like you continue to show me the importance of making changes to better meet the needs of my students. Thank you for inspiring me!
Change is good, and choice is even better! So happy to hear this system is working for you and your students. You always had them at the front of every conversation, and because of that you are all reeping the benefits.
It’s great to see visuals of what you have put in place, as well as the feedback occuring. It is hard to approach a mid-year change, and I remember awhile back how you were hesitating a bit going forward with making a change in the middle of a school year. However, you did exactly the right thing and now the rest of the school year your students will be learning on such a different level, as you have empowered them.
I too have been completely changed by Twitter, as well as blogging. Interacting with like-minded people is so inspiring. I am thankful to have been a part of this conversation and look forward to the many more in the future!
Thanks for the comment, Celina! I absolutely agree with you: student choice is so important, and while I tried to work some into my old literacy centres, there’s far more choice with this set-up. Yes, I had some reservations with changing now, but I’m glad that I made the choice to do so. I know that my students are benefiting as a result. Hearing ideas from others on how I could help prepare my students with autism for this change also helped. I am able to give them more support in choosing centres, but still give them the opportunity to choose. I’ve also kept the timer, but not as a “you must transition when you hear this timer,” but instead as a clue for people to think about finishing up and moving along, so that they get everything done in the given time. This has helped my students a lot, and I see them completing some great work, and also being very willing to share what they’ve done. They know that they are accountable for their learning, and this is a good thing!
Thanks for chiming in on these discussions and giving me so much to think about! I really appreciate it!