About 3 years ago, I had the privilege of hearing Debbie Miller, author of “Reading with Meaning” and “Teaching with Intention”, speak. It couldn’t have come at a better time. A little while later, my principal sent me “The Daily 5” in the mail before school started. I quickly read the book and let the concepts swirl around in my mind. Everything made sense. I liked knowing what was essential in reading instruction so that I could filter what I was having my students do. The Two Sisters and Debbie Miller both emphasize designing lessons and activities with purpose in mind. During my journey into reader’s workshop and the Daily 5, I explored a lot about word work specifically. In the beginning, I couldn’t say what the essential elements of word work were. I didn’t even know that word work was synonymous for spelling. After obsessively reading, I learned from Fountas & Pinnell and Donald Bear that word sorts, high frequency words, and vocabulary instruction are the key components of an effective word study program. This knowledge completely transformed my teaching. My cupboards were overflowing with commercial reading games, which can be fun and motivating, but I set them aside and took an entire school year developing word sorts for each guided reading level. Fountas and Pinnell’s “Continuum of Literacy Learning” was my road map. It is such an amazing resource! It has a section on word work at each guided reading level which helps any teacher differentiate and meet the diverse learning needs in their classroom. Now, when teachers ask me about what I have my students and why, I don’t skip a beat in my response. I know the purpose behind what I am doing and that my word work activities meet the standards I am responsible for teaching (and that the main reason my class is doing it isn’t because it looked good in a catalog).
Today I had a revelation! (I find myself saying that a lot this year…). As I am helping prepare my students for the end of the year assessments that my school district administers to ensure that all students meet minimum requirements in math, I had a conversation with my first graders about what they thought it would take for them to get a proficient score (a 3) with basic facts. Of course, going in to the conversation, I already knew. What I wanted, at this critical point in the year, was for students to take ownership in their role in the learning process. After reading “Guided Math” by Laney Sammons, I realized that involving students in self-assessment is essential. Students need to hear both what they are doing right as well as what they need to improve upon. I have been mulling this over in my head for quite sometime now. Students need to know the grading criteria, but what exactly would that look like for elementary students? I started the conversation off by asking students what a 3 (confident score) might look like. I modeled adding using my fingers without counting on and right away hands shot up. They knew that wouldn’t be a 3! We ended up concluding that students would need to solve facts quickly and accurately by using strategies and that a 1 would be working slowly, making many mistakes and using no strategies at all. This all makes sense, right? As a teacher, I know the grading criteria but is it necessary to lay it all out for students? Ask me in person and a resounding “Yes!” would spring forth from my lips. Here’s a case in point…The student that doesn’t attempt parts of a multi-step number story now sees that doing so would warrant a 1. Nobody really wants to get a 1 and this student is no different. He now attempts each portion and tries his best. (True story from my classroom…). Another student who writes down 8+3=5 and later explains that he wrote 5 because that was the first number that he thought of, now must reflect on his thought process and acknowledge what he has earned and is inspired to be more metacognitive. My students aren’t the only ones self-reflecting. All our talk this year about goal setting has forced me to be reflective myself. I have spent a lot of time trying to think of how I can connect all of our learning, make it as coherent as possible, and communicate the purpose of each skill we are learning. (Sometimes the purpose wasn’t even readily recognizable to me and so I knew I had to examine the activity more closely so that I could better articulate the objectives before I started teaching the lesson.). If you are anything like me, this all might be a bit new to you. I invite you to at least give it a try. If you’ve ever caught yourself saying “I don’t know what they were thinking today! They just don’t get it!”. Try involving your students in the process more. Start small. Pick one skill and go from there. I sure am glad I did!